"A revolution is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters." said by Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro is a Cuban socialist leader who overthrew a dictator in 1959 and established a Marxist socialist state in Cuba (born in 1927) from here.

It seems paradoxical to have a dictator and exploited group working together. What did Fidel Castro mean by this quote? Are there examples of modern parallels?

  • 3
    I think the context is important. While the quote is interesting, asking for opinions is not on-topic. Not sure, but it might on-topic if some context about when/who made this quote and ask about what it means in that context.
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 4:41
  • Strange source (uncredited of course) for the outdated Castro bio …
    – chirlu
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 7:08
  • Can the exploited, by definition, even have “dictatorship” (absolute governing power)? Once they have dictatorship, they might continue to experience hardship from having been exploited, but it would seem strange to continue to call them exploited.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 21:14
  • IMHO the big issue with all those marxist socialist states is they come from a dictatorship and miss the chance to implement (a sort of) a democratic government. They keep what they already know (dictatorship). The difference is this time they hope (in vain) a committee (even if it was formed by the originaly most altruistic ciizens from "the people") with totalitary power will not degenerate to become equal at the former (totalitary) aristocracy
    – jean
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 20:39

3 Answers 3


The Quote

Castro is referring to the "dictatorship of the proletariat". He means to say that in the revolution the workers will act as a dictatorship, controlling their former masters. There are two important elements here:

  1. This is a dictatorship, not a democracy. The workers are not going to give up any power to the owning-class through elections, public referenda, or other tools of democracy.
  2. This is an inversion of the historical power structure. Typically we would expect that the owning-class holds power over the working class. Castro is calling attention to the reversal of power.

More Generally

The dictatorship of the proletariat is a concept from more general Marxist philosophy. During the early stages of communism, it is expected that the communist system is extremely fragile. In this stage there is still a government, which means someone is still exercising control over all of society.

Problem: How can the workers be sure that the government won't be used be the remaining owner-class to take power back? A democracy is always open to their influence. Marx's apparent solution, more fully fleshed out by Lenin, was that the workers would establish a dictatorship to secure their power. Eventually the state would wither away anyway, so it's only a temporary measure.

If you want to read more, the best work is the State and the Revolution by Lenin. Although I didn't read all of it, this piece (published by the VP of the Australian Communist party) seems both accessible and interesting.

  • +1: I had a quick skim through the shorter article and it mentions 'the dictatorship of the bourgeosie'; like I said above, its the same general principle though of course you've put much more detail in. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 20:29
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    The State & Revolution is actually volume 25 of his collected works; it's pretty short - just over 100 pages long... Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 20:46
  • I hope you don't mind but I edited your bold formatting. It looked a bit over-large and 'dictatorial'. If you don't like it, of course you're free to roll it back. Its just more pleasing on the eye. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 22:16
  • The impression that I got from reading your post was that you didn't complete reading the text by Lenin as it's a 'large multi-volume text'; so you can imagine my surprise, that its actually just a short book. And Lenin does write reasonably clearly. I'd expect it to be an weekend read. I hope you don't mind me asking this - but sometimes a direct question is better than an indirect one - you weren't lying about reading it? I'm sure you can understand how my suspicions were aroused when it didn't turn out to be a 'large multi-volume set'. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 22:27
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    @jean The dictatorship of the proletariat is a transitional form. For example, in the Soviet Union it was officially abandoned in 1961, because of "full development of the socialist state".
    – Matt
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 7:31

The actual quote is

We have a theoretical concept of the Revolution which is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters.

and comes from a transcript of an interview with Fidel Castro in the book With Fidel: a portrait of Castro and Cuba at page 94 by Mankiewicz and Jones. While the context is missing (one can guess that it was about the lack of Democracy on Cuba), Castro is almost certainly referring to the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" concept.

  • 1
    Can you explain what the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is? It seems like that is the crux of the question. If OP was familiar with that, they wouldn't need to ask how to interpret Castro's quote. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 15:38
  • Your answer already does that. I just wanted to add the source of the quote! Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 16:21
  • It would be really nice if someone could verify the question.
    – user9389
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 23:35
  • @not store brought dirt: what do you mean by 'verify'? It's seems like a confusing usage of this term. At least it's not clear to me. Commented May 3, 2018 at 22:12
  • @MoziburUllah Quote what was asked of Castro. "one can guess that it was about..." but finding exactly what is on p. 93 would in my opinion make this a much better answer.
    – user9389
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 22:20

In a way what happened in Europe in the Modern era already justifies the quote by Castro.

Let's recall that towards the end of the feudal era it was the landed aristocracy that held the power, and it was the rising bourgeoisie that challenged that power; the former were exploitative and the latter were exploited. The revolutions through Europe upset and then altered that balance of power with the bourgeoisie eventually holding the dominant position and the aristocracy coming to some kind of accommodation. The details of which varied with nation.

And these were called revolutions: the English revolution, the French revolution etc.

Of course Fidel was talking in a Marxist perspective - but the same general principle holds.

In Communism & Democracy, Mike Makin-Waite described how the International Communist movement going on from its beginning in the European Enlightment, and then further inspired by Marx, split in the wake of WWI and the Bolshevik revolution on the question of how politically, the emancipation from 'wage-slavery' was to be achieved.

Two hostile camps formed. One side argued for reform, this would be exemplified by the Social Democrats in Europe; the other side argued for an armed insurrection, that is revolution. This was the side argued by Lenin, and exemplified by Russia during the October Revolution of 1917. Lenin quotes Marx in his book The State and Revolution:

Between Capitalist and Communist society lies the period of revolutionary transformation of one into the other. Corresponding to this is a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

An analogy here would be the emancipation of the black african slaves in the North America. Their emancipation was not achieved peacefully, but through violence - the American Civil War - or one might say, the American Revolution. The difference here of course, is that they had a professional standing army, and the war was of two polities, rather than a class war.

In the theory of revolution outlined by Lenin, a change in the real political conditions of a polity would need to go through a period of 'dictatorship'; this would be temporary in order to establish the political consensus. It's required because a new governing authority had to exert its authority before it's authority is accepted - hence 'dictatorship'. It shouldn't be confused with a dictatorship like that of Mussolinis fascism.

The term and the concept of 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' did not originate with either Marx or Lenin but by a Joseph Wedermeyer, a Prussian military officer; which may go some way in explaining it's unfortunate name given the associations the term dictatorship today.

Dictatorship is not the end, by which I mean the aim of a Communist revolution; the aim of Communism as in traditional Liberalism is freedom. It's probably worth remarking that in the same work Lenin admitted that liberal democracy was probably the best form of government that could be achieved before communism.

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    Can you back this up? It should be pretty easy, since this is a well-known topic from Marxist theory. But without being backed-up this sounds like your own opinion. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 19:56
  • @indigochild: Like you said, it's a 'well-known' topic from Marxist theory. You wouldn't ask me to justify adding 2+2=4 would you? So I'm afraid I'm not going to. If it happened to be a long piece of writing with a complex argument I would have. But bear in mind I originally posted this as a comment, and somebody removed it - why? Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 20:01
  • "In a way what happened in Europe in the Modern era already justifies the quote by Castro." - I fail to see how that what you describe aligns with this assumption. Neither the revolutions nor the American civil war were dictatorships of the working class, not even dictatorships of the bourgeoisie.
    – Thern
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 9:56
  • @Thern: the word 'dictatorship' is something of a red herring here mainly because of the kinds of associations it brings with it, for example like Mussolinis fascism; it mainly refers to authority. Any government by its nature must have authority. It's usually only in emergencies that authority is seen more nakedly; for example, a government might impose martial law; a dictatorship, in the sense of how we think of it, imposes martial law all the time. Commented May 3, 2018 at 12:49
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    Yes, but this is exactly the point: A "dictatorship" with no dictator and only of transitional nature is not well described by the word "dictatorship". And if you really do the reality check in Europe, you can very well see that neither the proletariat was in charge, nor was it a transitional state. That is why I am confused: What happened in Europe did prove Castro (and Lenin) profoundly wrong and did not justify the quote.
    – Thern
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 13:14

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