Hegemony of the Proletariat

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hegemony of the Proletariat


the leading role of the proletariat in an alliance of classes, social layers, and groups united by common interests in democratic and socialist revolutions, in national liberation movements, and in the building of socialism and communism. The question of the hegemony of the proletariat first arose in the middle of the 19th century, when the working class became an independent force. V. I. Lenin noted that “the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat constitutes one of the fundamental tenets of Marxism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20, p. 283), and he emphasized that “the consciousness of the idea of hegemony and its implementation through their own activities” are the necessary conditions for the transformation of the proletariat into a revolutionary class (ibid., pp. 112, 308). The problem of the hegemony of the proletariat has to do with the position of the working class in the existing social system and its historical role in the transformation of capitalist society, and it involves the question of the proletariat’s relations with other progressive forces. The form and extent of the class alliances of the proletariat are determined by the character of the historic period and by the tasks arising at any given stage of the struggle in a particular country; these factors depend, in turn, on the maturity of the working class itself, its ability to provide the leadership of the liberation struggle, the level of development of the other classes, the relationship of class forces, and the national peculiarities of the particular country. The unevenness of the development of different countries makes for differences in both the immediate and the more remote revolutionary tasks that must be solved in the interests of the progressive development of these countries.

The idea of the hegemony of the proletariat was first advanced by Marx and Engels and was based on their analysis of the historical mission of the working class as the most consistently revolutionary class. In defining the strategic and tactical orientation of the vanguard of the proletariat, the Communist Party, Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848: “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement. … The Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things” (Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, pp. 458, 459). Marx emphasized the importance of the hegemony of the proletariat in its alliance with the peasantry: “The peasants find their natural ally and leader in the urban proletariat, whose task is the overthrow of the bourgeois order” (ibid., vol. 8, p. 211).

The idea of the hegemony of the proletariat was developed by Lenin, who demonstrated that in the age of imperialism the leading role of the proletariat could be realized not only in the socialist revolution but also in the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the national liberation movement. In Lenin’s view, the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution assured the victory of that revolution and was also a basic prerequisite for its transformation into a socialist revolution. Lenin wrote that “the proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to completion, allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush the autocracy’s resistance by force and paralyze the bourgeoisie’s instability. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, allying to itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population, so as to crush the bourgeoisie’s resistance by force and paralyze the instability of the peasantry and petite bourgeoisie” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 11, p. 90). In this connection, he put forward the thesis that the strength of the proletariat is immeasurably greater than its size within the population as a whole. In the social-democratic parties of the early 20th century it was generally assumed that one of the main conditions for the victory of a socialist revolution was that the proletariat become a majority within the population. Lenin demonstrated that the proletariat, headed by the Communist Party, even if it constituted a minority in the population, was able to rally around itself the exploited masses and to assure victory over the bourgeoisie. An extremely important condition for the hegemony of the proletariat is the alliance of the working class with the peasantry. The theory of the hegemony of the proletariat was outlined by Lenin in the course of ideological struggle against the Mensheviks, who dogmatically insisted that the leading role in the bourgeois-democratic revolution would be that of the bourgeoisie, and against the Trotskyists, who ignored the revolutionary role of the peasantry in the revolution and in the building of socialism.

The theory of the hegemony of the proletariat found practical expression in the Revolution of 1905-07, in the February Revolution of 1917, and especially in the October Socialist Revolution in Russia and the people’s democratic revolutions of the mid-20th century. The dictatorship of the proletariat represents a new form of the hegemony of the proletariat in which the working class as the most advanced and organized force carries out state leadership of the society while socialism is being built. The working class maintains its leading role even under the system of an all-people state during the building of communism, all the way to the point of the complete elimination of classes. Hegemony within the world anti-imperialist struggle is held by the international working class and the world socialist system, which act as the leadership on an international level. Under modern conditions the working class conducts the struggle for emancipation in countries at various stages of development. In the advanced countries of state-monopoly capitalism the working class, headed by the Communist parties, seeks to create a broad alliance for the struggle against the omnipotent monopolies and for democracy and socialism. In those countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa where a working class exists, it takes up the task of creating a united anti-imperialist and antifeudal national front, uniting the working class, the peasantry, and the urban petite bourgeoisie—and in a number of countries, the national bourgeoisie and other patriotic forces as well (the army, the intelligentsia, and the students).

In contemporary non-Marxist, revisionist, and anticommunist literature the assertion is frequently made that the hegemony of the proletariat is a purely Russian phenomenon not having universal application, and that in the underdeveloped countries the proletariat, not having sufficient social force and political maturity, should renounce any struggle for hegemony in the democratic revolution in favor of the peasantry, which is supposedly the chief revolutionary force.

Petit-bourgeois extremists claim that the increased living standards in the advanced capitalist countries have reduced the revolutionary energy of the working class. Basing themselves on this erroneous thesis, they deny the leading role of the international working class in the world revolutionary movement and promote the idea of Blanquist and populist adventurism, which relies on conspiracy and claims the absolute and universal superiority of the armed form of struggle. They also equate revolutionary commitment with poverty. The right-wing reformists, in their turn, claim that the working class has become integrated into the capitalist system and therefore advocate opportunist attitudes of passive contemplation. Communists emphatically criticize such theories. The working class of the imperialist states has demonstrated in class battles its high state of organization, its combative, optimistic spirit, and its readiness for decisive action in the name of democratic and socialist ideals. It has shown its ability to draw the broad masses behind it in the new conditions created by profound changes in the economy, in social relations, and in the social consciousness of the working people.

Historical experience proves that the leading role of the working class is the necessary condition for success in the struggle of the masses of people for their emancipation.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Manifest Kommunisticheskoi partii. In Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. Chto delat’? In Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. Dve taktiki sotsial-demokratii v demokraticheskoi revoliutsii. Ibid., vol. 11.
Lenin, V. I. Otnoshenie sotsial-demokratii k krest’ianskomu dvizheniiu. Ibid., vol. 11.
Lenin, V. I. O lozunge Soedinennykh Shtatov Evropy. Ibid., vol. 26.
Lenin, V. I. Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma. Ibid., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. O zadachakh proletariata v dannoi revoliutsii. Ibid., vol. 31.
Lenin, V. I. Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia. Ibid., vol. 33.
Lenin, V. I. Odin iz korennykh voprosov revoliutsii. Ibid., vol. 34.
Lenin, V. I. Detskaia bolezn’ ‘levizny’ v kommunizme. Ibid., vol. 41.
Programmnye dokumenty borby za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm. Moscow, 1961.
Programma KPSS (Priniata XXII s” ezdom KPSS). Moscow, 1967.
Mezhdunarodnoe soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii, Moskva, 1969: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1969.
Materialy XXIV s” ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Mezhdunarodnoe revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie rabochego klassa. Moscow, 1964.
Velikii Oktiabr’ i mirovoi revoliutsionnyi protsess. Moscow, 1967.
Leninizm i mirovoe revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie. Moscow, 1969.
Mezhdunarodnoe kommunisticheskoe dvizhenie: Ocherk strategii i taktiki. Moscow, 1970.
Mezhdunarodnoe rabochee dvizhenie, 1970. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"In place of the hegemony of the proletariat, they proposed decentred political alliances" (10).