This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, the father of scientific socialism. As such he remains a beacon for the struggle for social justice and against exploitation in the modern age. Karl Marx is without a reasonable doubt the most influential philosopher and economist in modern history.
Capitalism came to replace feudalism. While more progressive with respect to the latter, it did not liquidate exploitation of man by man, as it only replaced one form of exploitation by another. Together with capitalism emerged the resistance to it from the side of the exploited masses. In this historical context utopian socialism reveals itself as a reaction to bourgeois thought and as a means to expose the contradictions of capitalism. However, as utopian socialism was not scientific, it failed to grasp the essence of the capitalist mode of production and the objective conditions that lead to the establishment of socialism. Utopian socialists did not see in the industrial proletariat that social force destined to carry out the fundamental social transformation that will engender a new mode of production void of exploitation of man by man. It was with Karl Marx and his long-time collaborator, Friedrich Engels, that the criticism of capitalism and its temporary character is embedded in a rigorous system of thoughts that we refer to as scientific socialism.
The emergence of the bourgeoisie as the ruling class and capitalism as the leading mode of production in Western Europe is coupled with fundamental changes in the perception of social phenomena. The Age of Enlightenment was an international movement that challenged the influence of the aristocracy and the Church. The Enlightenment disputed the old worldview in favour of what is referred to as a rational interpretation of man and society. The ideas of the Enlightenment paved the way towards social revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels evolve into and establish Marxism as we know it in this historical context. But unlike others, Marx surpasses and overcomes this context in that it embeds it into a historical perspective, thus establishing its transient character.
Karl Marx made a titanic effort to analyze and synthesize the work of philosophers, historians and economists before and contemporaneous to him. Here the study and criticism of Hegel plays a pivotal role for the development of a scientific method that has come to be known as Dialectical Materialism. Marx embarks in processing massive amounts of concrete historical and economic material. It is on this basis that he dissects the guts of capitalism society only to create a new, more advanced understanding of capitalism, and with that engenders a new world view. Karl Marx examines vast amounts of material though which the economic relations of capitalism are manifested. Marx goes from the surface of the phenomena to the essence of the laws that govern those same phenomena through complex chain of analysis, synthesis and dialectical categories.
Karl Marx’s contribution signifies the turning point in the history of scientific thought in that the way is paved for social disciplines to acquire the status of sciences. Karl Marx demonstrated that philosophers, political scientists, economists before him, and those that after him do not adopt the precept of the scientific method that is Dialectical Materialism, are hindered by the concrete social and historical conditions that dictate their own perception of the world. Bourgeois thought in Karl Marx’s time and nowadays is hopelessly afflicted by the belief that capitalism is the natural state of socio-economic relations.
In lacking a clearly defined methodological approach to the study of social phenomena, bourgeois thought is rendered superficial and erratic. Bourgeois thought to date presents itself as an intricate system of factors with dubious interconnections and abstract notions void of appropriate material basis. The different schools in bourgeois thought wrestle with Marxism and with each other by confronting social phenomena with a confused system of considerations and classifications. By contrast, Karl Marx places social disciplines, such as Philosophy, History, Economics on its feet, where bourgeois thought fails dramatically to provide a scientific substratum.
Karl Marx is in the best position to summarize the essence of his contribution to revolutionary thought. In a letter to J. Weydemeyer in 1852 Karl Marx states:
“And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”
The revolutionary character of Marxism lies not in the proposition that social classes and exploitation are inherent to capitalism, but that classes and exploitation are not inherent to society in that they are determined by concrete historical conditions that are impermanent. The demise of capitalism is inevitable, as a historical necessity, where the establishment of a classless society becomes objectively inexorable.
By implementing Dialectical and Historical Materialism in economics, Karl Marx becomes the founder of political economy as a scientific discipline. Marxist Political Economy is a scientific system of thoughts not just to comprehend the complexity of economic phenomena, to unveil its laws, but with which to implement tangible transformation. The dictatorship of the proletariat armed with Marxist Political Economy fulfils its historical duty to transform the economic basis and relations of society. In this sense the revolutionary character of Marxism manifests itself extensively.
In Das Kapital, Marx analyzes and synthesizes capitalism as it presented itself in the XIXth century. By following the development of scientific knowledge from the abstract to the concrete, from the simpler to the more complex, the use of dialectical categories on materialist grounds, Das Kapital becomes a symphony of scientific thought that transcends time. Marx unveils the nature of capitalist relations of production on the basis of this theory of value. The refusal of the ideologists of the bourgeoisie to grasp this basic notion renders bourgeois economic thought superficial, as Marx put it, vulgar. Modern bourgeois economic thought to date remains inherently vulgar and superficial.
Is Marxism, as displayed in the works of Marx and Engels, a static system of propositions? No, absolutely not. Marxism provides a scientific methodology with which to unveil the laws of society, with the intention to fundamentally transform it. Karl Marx studied capitalism as it presented itself in the XIXth century, where its future monopolistic character appeared in incipient forms. Does this mean that Marxism becomes outdated in the conditions of capitalism in the XXth and XXIst centuries? Absolutely not, much the contrary. It was only on the basis of Marxist methodology that Lenin was able to unveil economic laws of capitalism in its new and last phase of development, imperialism. In this context we talk about the development of Marxism, into what we know as Marxism-Leninism. It is for this reason that Stalin in “Foundations of Leninism” defined Leninism as:
“Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular.”
In essence, Marxism and Marxist notions need to evolve with the development of historical conditions. It is on the basis of Marxist methodology that Marxism evolves. In the conditions of the last stage of capitalism, imperialism, Marxism becomes Marxism-Leninism. Refuting Leninism is tantamount to decrying Marxism, as anti-Leninism is rendered a form of anti-Marxism. Marxism today cannot be understood without Lenin’s contribution to Marxism.
In this light, the discussions revolving around the feasibility to construct socialism in one country became a cornerstone at the time. It is known that, while not fundamentally opposed to the possibility of the revolution triumphing in one country, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels believed that the dictatorship of the proletariat would be victorious first in the most advanced industrialized countries. Lenin developed the Marxist political economy of capitalism in new concrete-historical conditions. This served as the theoretical substantiation of the possibility to construct socialism first in one county or a small group of countries. In Lenin’s writings of 1915-1917 he discusses the feasibility and historical necessity to construct socialism in one country. In October 1916, Lenin wrote in the “Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution”
“The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in different countries. It cannot be otherwise under commodity production. From this it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will for some time remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois.” Were Marx and Engels wrong? Did they underestimate the potential for the dictatorship of the proletariat in less industrially developed countries? Was Trotsky more of a Marxist for decrying the theory of construction of socialism in one country? We have to answer to these questions in the negative. Engels abridged the essence of Marxism, later echoed by Stalin in the 20s, in that it is not a dogma, but a guide to action. By condemning the theory of construction of socialism in one country, Trotsky lambasted Leninism, and with it Marxism. Hand in hand with the bourgeoisie, Trotskyism hysterically excoriates the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union. The construction of socialism in the Soviet Union materialized in history the correctness of Marxist scientific socialism. It is no surprise that the bourgeoisie has and continues to make every effort to tarnish this invaluable historical experience. An attack on the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union becomes invariably an attack on Marxism and scientific socialism. The bourgeoisie is terrified at the prospect that the exploited masses come to comprehend the true essence underpinning anti-Marxist fallacies. It is for this reason that it will not falter in its determination to vilify Marxism. Vituperation against the construction of Socialism in the Soviet Union plays a pivotal role in this campaign. The struggle of the bourgeoisie against Marxism today greatly relies on perpetuating a certain mythology with regards to the history of the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies.
Does the development of Marxism stop with the understanding of capitalism in its most advanced and last stage, imperialism? No, it does not. Does the development of Marxism stop with the death of Lenin? No, it most certainly does not. History does not stop with capitalism nor with Lenin’s passing. Capitalism is overtaken by socialism. The political economy of socialism comes to the fore as the old capitalist relations are superseded by relations of a new kind. Marx gave general characteristics of how the political economy of socialism would eventually emerge in history. However, Marx could not examine the vast concrete-historical material corresponding to the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies in the 30s-50s. Lenin made strides in the development of the political economy of socialism. However, Lenin did not live to see a thriving industrialized society where the main means of production are socialized. The massive concrete-historical material that ensued from the transformations of the 30s-50s inescapably brings the political economy of socialism to a whole new level of development.
Modern revisionism, Trotskyism and bourgeois ideologists have made every possible effort to conceal or to blemish the resounding success of the Soviet industrialization in the 30s-50s. The bourgeoisie upholds the fallacy where the collapse of the revisionist regimes in 1989-1991 were allegedly due to the inevitable failure of socialist ideas. In reality the collapse of revisionism bears witness of quite the opposite: the demise of the postulates of the so-called market socialism. The theories of the so-called market socialism represent the negation of Marxist scientific socialism and led to the liquidation of the socialist character of the economic relations. The revisionist, anti-Marxist political economy that became prevalent with the economic reforms of the mid to late 50s is a regression towards pre-Marxist conceptions epitomized by Bukharin, Bogdanov and, ultimately, non-scientific utopian socialism. If anything, the collapse of revisionism speaks one more time to the correctness and scientific character of Marxist political economy.Click here to return to the April 2018 index.