By James P Cannon, from Socialism on Trial, 1941. This is an extract from Cannon's evidence in the court where, during World War 2, he and other American Trotskyists and trade unionists were put on trial and jailed for hindering the US war effort.
Q: And how will the dictatorship of the proletariat operate insofar as democratic rights are concerned?
A: We think it will be the most democratic government from the point of view of the great masses of the people that has ever existed, far more democratic, in the real essence of the matter, than the present bourgeois democracy in the United States.
Q: What about freedom of speech and all the freedoms that we generally associate with democratic government?
A: I think in the United States you can say with absolute certainty that the freedoms of speech, press, assemblage, religion, will be written in the program of the victorious revolution.
Capitalists responsible for violence
Q: Now, what is the opinion of Marxists with reference to the change in the social order, as far as its being accompanied or not accompanied by violence?
A: It is the opinion of all Marxists that it will be accompanied by violence.
A: That is based, like all Marxist doctrine, on a study of history, the historical experiences of mankind in the numerous changes of society from one form to another, the revolutions which accompanied it, and the resistance which the outlived classes invariably put up against the new order. Their attempt to defend themselves against the new order, or to suppress by violence the movement for the new order, has resulted in every important social transformation up to now being accompanied by violence.
Q: Who, in the opinion of Marxists, initiated that violence?
A: Always the ruling class; always the outlived class that doesn’t want to leave the stage when the time has come. They want to hang on to their privileges, to reinforce them by violent measures, against the rising majority and they run up against the mass violence of the new class, which history has ordained shall come to power.
Q: What is the opinion of Marxists, as far as winning a majority of the people to socialist ideas?
A: Yes, that certainly is the aim of the party. That is the aim of the Marxist movement, has been from its inception.
Marx said the social revolution of the proletariat—I think I can quote his exact words from memory—“is a movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority” He said this in distinguishing it from previous revolutions which had been made in the interest of minorities, as was the case in France in 1789.
Q: What would you say is the opinion of Marxists as far as the desirability of a peaceful transition is concerned?
A: The position of the Marxists is that the most economical and preferable, the most desirable method of social transformation, by all means, is to have it done peacefully.
Q: And in the opinion of the Marxists, is that absolutely excluded?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say absolutely excluded. We say that the lessons of history don’t show any important examples in favor of the idea so that you can count upon it.
Q: Can you give us examples in American history of a minority refusing to submit to a majority?
A: I can give you a very important one. The conception of the Marxists is that even if the transfer of political power from the capitalists to the proletariat is accomplished peacefully—then the minority, the exploiting capitalist class, will revolt against the new regime, no matter how legally it is established.
I can give you an example in American history. The American Civil War resulted from the fact that the Southern slaveholders couldn’t reconcile themselves to the legal parliamentary victory of Northern capitalism, the election of President Lincoln.
Q: Can you give us an example outside of America where a reactionary minority revolted against a majority in office?
A: Yes, in Spain—the coalition of workers’ and liberal parties in Spain got an absolute majority in the elections and established the People’s Front government. This government was no sooner installed than it was confronted with an armed rebellion, led by the reactionary capitalists of Spain.
Q: Do you believe you can accomplish the control or acquisition, shall we say, of governmental power by being elected to it?
A: We can accomplish it if we are not interfered with by violence on the part of the capitalists.
Q: You mean, the capitalists are not going to let you be elected?
A: When we say that it is an illusion to expect that we can effect the social transformation by parliamentary action, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to do it, or that we wouldn’t gladly accept such a method. We don’t believe, on the basis of our knowledge of history, and on the basis of our knowledge of the greed and rapacity of the American ruling class, that they will permit that kind of solution.