Home > Research > Project information

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. A History of the Concept and its Impact

Research field:Dictatorship Research
Research focus: Historical Conditions
Period: 01.2020–12.2025
Coordination: Prof. Dr. Mike Schmeitzner


During the time of the confrontation between the Eastern and Western systems, the states of the Eastern Block thought of themselves as ‘dictatorships of the proletariat’. This characterisation derived from the pertinent formula from Karl Marx, who in 1875 had described the state in the ‘political transition period’ from capitalism to communism as a ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat’. More significant than Marx’s description to later Communist Party members was Lenin's interpretation, however, which combined Marx’s formula with their own avant-garde theory to form the model of a dictatorial single-party system. The corresponding structure of the Soviet state consequently drove not only Soviet and German discussions, but theoretical and practical developments in many parts of the world as well. Mike Schmeitzner’s research accordingly begins with the ‘classical’ definition from the 19th century, in order to pursue the effective impact of the often overused formulation. His study interrelates conceptual history and historical impact and for this reason takes an approach based on the history of ideas and empirical history, as any new interpretation must be based on concrete historical contexts. It is then a matter of course that the focus does not lie solely on the German perspective and German development; besides Soviet and Eastern European development, noteworthy trends in Austria and Switzerland occurring between the wars are also analysed.