On David Romagnolo’s ‘Comments on a Critique of Charles Bettelheim’

Sunil Sen

This is a rejoinder to David Romagnolo’s ‘Comments on a Critique of Charles Bettelheim’ written in reply to my article printed in this journal under the title Marxism and Mr. Bettelheim.

David Romagnolo’s ‘reading’ of my piece is made at various levels – he makes a close reading of my mind, my weaknesses and my theoretical mistakes. He accuses me of dishonesty while drawing inferences from Bettelheim’s writings but curiously tends to veer around to my point of view.1 Of course in all this he sides with Bettelheim. Romagnolo holds that I am dogmatic on the question of the materialist conception of history and how right he is. Exactly. But before we move on let me make one thing clear – the title of my writing in original print was The Basic Thought of the Manifesto and Romagnolo’s reading is from the reprint in Revolutionary Democracy. In this article Bettelheim is criticised in passing on the question of historical materialism.

Irked at my way of putting things Romagnolo writes – ‘By allowing Marx and Engels to speak for themselves, Sen cannot be accused of misrepresentation; the downside, of course, is that there is an implicit assumption that no inconsistencies exist within or between the works of Marx and Engels. The existence of various ‘clarifications’ and ‘rectifications’ during their lifetimes (not to mention unstated theoretical differences between Marx and Engels, e.g., regarding the operation of the law of value historically, wherein for Marx its existence is bound up with the capitalist mode of production, while for Engels it ‘has prevailed during a period of from five to seven thousand years’ – ‘The Law of Value and Rate of Profit’ in Capital, Volume 3) is enough to dispel any such illusion.’ It is no one’s case that Marxism jumped readymade from the head of Marx like Minerva from the head of Jupiter – there indeed was an evolution of views. But we hold like Lenin that Marx’s historical materialism is cast from a single piece of steel from which one basic premise cannot be taken out without departing from the objective truth.2 And let us remind the reader that Bettelheim finds ‘contradictory’ formulations in Marx and Engels which according to him lie many a time in juxtaposition in their works3 . Talking of inconsistency would be mild in this case. All this suggests that to Bettelheim Marxism is some eclectic mish-mash from which one can make any number of quotations to prove his point. Romagnolo's examples of theoretical difference between Marx and Engels is one such unsuccessful attempt. For Marx the existence of the law of value is not only bound up with the capitalist mode of production, it exists under simple commodity production too. As Marx writes, exchange value as a category leads an antediluvian existence,4 i.e., precedes the capitalist mode of production. This is simple enough and ought to be comprehensible to anyone. What does Engels point out? He says that ‘the Marxian law of value holds generally, as far as economic laws are valid at all, for the whole period of simple commodity-production, that is, up to the time when the latter suffers a modification through the appearance of the capitalist form of production.’5 This is the time when prices oscillate around their values and this is a period dating from before written history to the 15th century, i.e., before the capitalist mode of production. The law of value is generally and directly valid during this period. Then the capitalist mode of production introduces a modification. The law of value is not directly valid for the exchange of capitalistically produced commodities for they are exchanged at their prices of production, i.e., cost price + average rate of profit. When the capitalist process of production is viewed as a whole the law of value does dominate and regulate production. Thus Marx holds ‘values of commodities as not only theoretically but also historically prius to the prices of production.’6 Engels wrote the appendix to the third volume of Capital while examining this relationship. This was also in answer to the vulgar economist, Loria, who ridiculed the use of Marx’s concept of value at which, according to him, commodities are never sold nor can ever be sold. The whole difficulty arises from the fact that under the capitalist mode of production commodities are sold as products of capitals which claim a share proportional to their magnitude in the total amount of surplus value produced. Our friend twists this to bring forth his thesis of theoretical differences between Marx and Engels. This is how Romagnolo and his ilk read their Marx and delight in coming up with differences, inconsistencies and what have you. I had to go over all this, something which should have been avoided but since Bettelheim’s and Romagnolo’s Marxism is based on such divisions I thought it proper to take up this example and show how such demarcation lines are drawn.

Romagnolo jeers at my quotation from the Manifesto which he finds to be silent on the question of the superstructure. Engels speaks here of the political and intellectual history (superstructure) and the basis – ‘economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising therefrom’. He tells us about the primary relation between them. This is the basic proposition – Romagnolo suggests that any basic proposition should be all-embracing, should at once cover all secondary aspects (to Marx having science before science). Then Romagnolo at once pounces upon my quotation – ‘the whole vast process goes on in the form of interaction – though of very unequal forces, the economic movement being by far the strongest, the primary and most decisive and that in this context everything is relative and nothing absolute’ – and demands to know what it was that was interacting – though of course it would be clear to anyone knowing the ABC of Marxism that when we are dealing with history such interaction as is being mentioned must be that of the forces of the superstructure and the economic basis. Romagnolo is impatient as is the habit with revolutionary intellectuals and would not like to read through the end – he began his comments ‘paragraph by paragraph’ before he was through to the end. (As for the fragment concerned it was explained in another paper on the Manifesto printed along with this article on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Manifesto of the Communist Party.) Such a reading is hardly surprising considering that Bettelheim doesn’t like to see things in their integral whole and that perhaps explains why he clings now to one passage from Marx and then to another to discover inconsistencies et al.

Our friend is absolutely right when he writes – ‘Very generally, the issues taken up by Sen centre on the role of the ‘economic’ as the ‘ultimate determining factor’ in historical development, – and within the economic realm the status of the concepts ‘productive forces,’ ‘production relations,’ and the relationship between them, the manner in which the ‘class struggle’ fits into this –.’

Romagnolo in his solicitous concern for Bettelheim falls into the pit of dualism – he cannot link the development of the productive forces and the class struggle as the driving force of history. We would come back to this later. He comments: ‘Sen’s momentary gesture toward the re-assertion of the economic base as ‘the ultimate determining factor’ was merely intended as a lead into his central concern: re-affirming the classical thesis of the ‘development of the productive forces as the driving force of history’. Make no mistake. Bettelheim DOES follow Althusser et al in calling this thesis into question and characterising it as ‘economistic’. This heresy is committed in defence of another classical thesis, to wit, ‘the class struggle as the driving force of history’. He further holds that ‘– Bettelheim’s shot at Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism has as its real target Marx’s 1859 Preface7 (which Plekhanov, Stalin and Bukharin took as their fundamental text – as does Sen –).’ Romagnolo has somewhat hit the point, perhaps unwittingly. We wanted to make this clear to our readers – activists in the revolutionary communist movement. My piece was basically written on the occasion of the Manifesto’s anniversary to counter idealist ideas masquerading as historical materialism and show their insidiousness. In fact we are not in the least ashamed to show our ‘fidelity’ to Stalin or Marx or Lenin even if the Romagnolos do not like it and call us 19th century people. But all the same we don’t resort to dropping names to smuggle in theses alien to Marxism. That is why we criticised Bettelheim for taking Lenin’s name in the context of economism (more of this later). Romagnolo is perhaps doing the same when he says that the said Preface (to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy) was taken as a fundamental text by Plekhanov, Stalin and Bukharin leaving out Lenin’s name. Yet writing specifically on the materialist conception of history Lenin quotes it and says that it ‘gives an integral formulation of the fundamental principles of materialism as applied to human society and its history –’.8

I am trying to avoid all the charges levelled against my article on technical grounds, for that will serve no purpose at all but certain things really ought to be cleared up so as not to leave the reader wondering. Let us take Engels’ letter to Bloch which Romagnolo thinks corroborates his charge of inconsistency in their writings. Engels writes: ‘Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-à-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other factors involved in the interaction.’ All the same, he wrote in the same letter: ‘– According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Neither Marx nor I have ever asserted more than this. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase.’9

What is of importance in the context of our dispute is to note that the main principle does not become a secondary one just because the latter does not get proper attention. Further, when the main factor is being denied the emphasis should be on it so that it gets the required attention. But Marx and Engels nowhere held the economic factor to be the only determining one and in their application of this theory they always gave proper attention to the other factors so there is nothing that could suggest inconsistency of views. {The Webster’s dictionary gives the following meanings of inconsistency: as ‘lacking consistency: as (a) not compatible with another fact or claim (~ statements) [– when Marx and Engels say the economy is the ultimate determining factor and at another place say that other factors also influence history but the decisive is the economic one, is the former statement incompatible with the latter?]; (b): containing incompatible elements (an ~ argument); (c): incoherent or illogical in thought or actions: CHANGEABLE [Do Marx and Engels say at one place the economy is the ultimate determining factor and at another hold the realm of ideas, politics, great events of state etc. to be the ultimate one?]}

Returning to the 1859 Preface we find that Romagnolo holds that ‘what interests Bettelheim about the Preface is the apparently ‘autonomous’ character of the development of the productive forces, independent from the relations of production.’ What does the Preface say in this context? It says – ‘At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production –. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.’

The relationship between productive forces and production relations is clear enough. Men enter into relations with men in the course of production. No production takes place in society without such relations being established – relations of production. The productive forces at the disposal of men develop within these relations of production which turn into fetters at a certain stage of their development. Wherefore the ambiguity? It partly arises from Bettelheim’s ‘production relations first’ thesis. It is to sanctify his point as it were that he uses the subterfuge of making a quotation from the Appendix10 to Capital Volume I11 that is supposed to suggest that the ‘relations of production change first’ and then they develop the productive forces. Here he removes the first part of the passage where Marx writes that the formal subsumption to capital requires that: ‘Even within the framework of an earlier mode of production, certain needs and certain means of communication and production must have developed which go beyond the old relations of production and coerce them into the capitalist mould.’12 This accords perfectly well with the 1859 Preface which says that at a certain stage of their development the productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production (‘go beyond the old relations of production and coerce them’). The formal subsumption of labour to capital indeed leads to the development of productive forces – whoever denied that? But to stress this to exclusion of the former and that too by deliberate deletion is dishonest. When I write that Marx gives ‘primacy’ to the development of the productive forces I mean as much and no more. Romagnolo who occupies himself with all sorts of nitty-gritty details fails to give attention to the fact that ‘primacy’ has been kept within inverted commas and was just a riposte to Bettelheim’s production relations first thesis.

It is not my contention that new productive forces do not develop after the formal subsumption of labour to capital. This is clear from Marx’s quotation and there is no dispute over it. As if there is any doubt that relations of production spur the development of the productive forces (or fetter them). The capitalist relations of production give a tremendous boost to the growth of the productive forces. One need not ponder over what formal subsumption does to get at this. Romagnolo reproaches me for not having made a proper reading of the Appendix. Yet it is he who has not learnt much from it as we shall see (I will be focussing on the relations of production-productive forces aspect). But he does no more than read my mind and cannot even identify the issue involved. [By way of explanation, though I am loathe to do it here, I must point out that I wrote: ‘the main body of which (the book, i.e., Capital) refutes his contention’; that is, Bettelheim’s ‘production relations first’ thesis and not ‘this contention’ which might be stretched to mean the contention of the Appendix itself. Nowhere has it been suggested so – as a ‘dogmatist’ Romagnolo should not have expected otherwise from me (it is better than being creative à la Bernstein, Bettelheim et al). Moreover Capital does contain the expression ‘formal subjection to capital’ (same as formal subsumption – subsumption being a Hegelian term). Incidentally this last is something Romagnolo on his own admission cannot remember. Bettelheim took refuge in the Appendix only to refute himself and this is what was being pointed out.]

Let Romagnolo ponder over some of the observations of the said appendix regarding the production relations specific to the capitalist mode of production and different from those found under the formal subsumption to capital and how they come about on the basis of the development of the capitalist mode of production and that of the productive forces in particular.

‘As the universally necessary form of the product, as the specific characteristic of capitalist production, the commodity palpably comes into its own in the large scale production that emerges in the course of capitalist production. The product becomes increasingly one-sided and massive in nature. This imposes upon it a social character, one which is closely bound up with existing social relations, while its immediate use-value for the gratification of the needs of the producer appears wholly adventitious, immaterial and inessential. –

‘The commodity that emerges from capitalist production is different from the commodity we began with as the element, the precondition of capitalist production.’13 

‘With the real subsumption of labour under capital, all the changes in the labour process already discussed now become reality. The social forces of production of labour are now developed, and with large-scale production comes the direct application of science and technology. On the one hand, capitalist production now establishes itself as a mode of production sui generis and brings into being a new mode of material production. On the other hand, the latter itself forms the basis for the development of capitalist relations whose adequate form, therefore, presupposes a definite stage in the evolution of the productive forces of labour.’14

Romagnolo should ponder over the meaning of this passage. Large-scale production based on the direct application of science and technology forms the basis of capitalist relations of production proper which can never come into their own given the technological basis at the stage of the formal subsumption of labour to capital. The categories – commodity, the general rate of profit, prices of production, the various functions of money etc. all come into their own or their very existence is linked with the establishment of the capitalist mode of production proper. The laws of exchange and appropriation found under simple commodity production change into their dialectical opposite with the establishment of the capitalist mode of production.15

The relations of production under the capitalist mode of production give a unprecedented, tremendous boost to the development of the productive forces. How does Marx view it –

‘– scientific analysis of the capitalist mode of production demonstrates –, that it is a mode of production of a special kind, with specific historical features; that, like any other specific mode of production, it presupposes a given level of the social productive forces and their forms of development as its historical precondition: a precondition which is itself the historical result and product of a preceding process, and from which the new mode of production proceeds as its given basis; that the production relations corresponding to this specific, historically determined mode of production – relations which human beings enter into during the process of social life, in the creation of their social life – possess a specific, historical and transitory character –.’16

‘Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital. This is just the way in which it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production. What worries Ricardo is the fact that the rate of profit, the stimulating principle of capitalist production, the fundamental premise and driving force of accumulation, should be endangered by the development of production itself (growth of productive forces outgrowing the capitalist production relations, Romagnolo please mark it. – S.S.). And here the quantitative proportion means everything. There is, indeed, something deeper behind it, of which he is only vaguely aware. It comes to the surface here in a purely economic way – i.e., from the bourgeois point of view, within the limitations of capitalist understanding, from the standpoint of capitalist production itself – that it has its barrier, that it is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite limited epoch in the development of the material requirements of production.’17 

If we fail to note the significance of the growth of the productive forces which (1) meet a barrier in the capitalist mode of production and (2) prepare the ground for a higher stage of society, we cannot get at the historical and transitory character of the capitalist mode of production. It is a definite stage in the development of material production. Why should socialist relations of production replace the capitalist relations of production? What is the objective necessity of such a supersession of the capitalist mode of production? Simply put, the productive forces outgrow the relations of production and it is this contradictory movement to which the 1859 Preface draws attention. This is simple enough and should be simply understood.

Romagnolo writes –

‘Sen correctly links Bettelheim’s criticism of the thesis giving primacy to the development of the productive forces to the failure of this thesis to give ‘pride of place to the class struggle’, the other principle of classical Marxism. (Romagnolo thinks that Marxism is not monistic but dualistic – it has two basic principles – S.S.) And at this point Sen commences the task of setting the record straight, beginning with the famous letter to Weydeymeyer where Marx specifies what he considers to be his contribution to understanding the historical conditions giving rise to the existence of social classes. And what does Sen conclude from the passage? That ‘it is important to note that Marx links the existence of classes to stages of development of production,’ a ‘view which Bettelheim finds to be economistic’, even though it ‘is definitely linked to class struggle, revolutionary changes and ‘production relations’. A ‘view which Bettelheim finds to be economistic’?’ And then he writes: ‘– is a rejection of the thesis of the primacy of the productive forces at once a rejection of production as the site from which class relations are constituted in the first instance? If this is what Sen has in mind, it is ridiculous: production cannot be reduced to the productive forces (although this is exactly what Sen tends to do!) and only a thorough misreading, or a dishonest reading, of Bettelheim could reach the conclusion that the latter performs such a reduction.’

By now I positively feel that I have been summoned before a psychic who resorts to reading my mind whenever some ‘evil’ thought crosses it. Romagnolo could have done me and the readers of Revolutionary Democracy some service if he would have confined himself to what is there in print. And is he being honest when he says that Sen ‘tends’ to reduce production to the productive forces. Where? Bettelheim certainly does not reject ‘production as the site from which class relations are constituted’. The letter in question speaks about ‘particular phases in the development of production’ and not production in general. And historical phases in development of production means stages in the development of productive forces which are worked by men under certain relations among themselves (relations of production). So it links the existence of classes not only to the stages of development of production relations but also to that of the productive forces. The issue of dispute with Bettelheim was his thesis concerning the relations between classes on the one hand and productive forces and production relations and their development in history on the other. Bettelheim nowhere links the existence of classes to the stages of development of production.18 That is why we said that Marx’s view must appear to be economistic to him. What about Romagnolo who counterposes productive forces as the driving force of history with class struggle as the driving force of history.

Let us pursue the matter further. Bettelheim in his Class Struggles in the USSR writes that he had been strongly influenced by a certain conception of Marxism which later he found to be nothing but a special form of what Lenin called ‘economism’. According to him in order to break with this conception one must break with three of the fundamental theses of ‘congealed Marxism’. Two of these theses concern us here and they are: ‘(1) the basis of class relations, (2) the role of the productive forces.’19 And then immediately after this he does not discuss the basis of class relations in general but ‘class relations and legal forms of ownership.’ Elsewhere he writes:

‘Class struggles, like classes themselves, have as their material basis the forms and modes of production in which producers and nonproducers are integrated. They transform the conditions of production, cause new productive forces to emerge, break up old production relations, and engender new relations.’20

There is no historical view in the above. There is no reference to existence of classes and class struggles linked to the stages of development of productive forces and production relations. There is only talk of some haphazard ‘forms and modes of production’ as material basis. Do they always integrate producers and nonproducers? The Manifesto mentions the class struggles between the guild master and the journeyman – was the guildmaster a nonproducer? Why do classes want to transform the conditions of production? What objective basis is there to class struggles? Bettelheim does refer to the letter to Weydeymeyer but only in the context of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transitional stage to the abolition of classes.

In connection with the second thesis dealing with the ‘primacy of the productive forces’ Bettelheim reproaches Stalin for having presented the thesis of the development of productive forces as the driving force of history –

‘– Stalin in his essay – ‘Dialectical and Historical Materialism’ – wrote: ‘First the productive forces of society change and develop, and then, depending on these changes and in conformity with them, men’s relations of production, their economic relations change.’

‘The theses thus formulated does not deny the role of the class struggle – in so far as there is a society in which antagonistic classes confront one another – but relegates this to the secondary level: the class struggle intervenes essentially in order to smash production relations that hinder the development of the productive forces, thus engendering new production relations which conform to the needs of the development of the productive forces.

‘Actually, in the passage quoted above, Stalin acknowledges that the new production relations can appear independently of a revolutionary process, when he writes: ‘The rise of new productive forces and of the relations of production corresponding to them does not take place separately from the old system, after the disappearance of the old system, but within the old system –.’21 

But then finding Stalin on firm Marxist ground he writes:

‘One can certainly find passages in Marx which suggest a similar problematic: but his work as a whole shows that, for him, the driving force of history is the class struggle –.’22 

Bettelheim is unable to link the two here – the development of the productive forces with the class struggle. In holding on to his view that in the last analysis class struggle is the driving force of history he has to come up against Marx and Engels again and again. In order to carry the point further and arrive at our own conclusion we would like to quote Bettelheim again –

‘– the idea of a ‘natural orderof succession of modes of production, meaning (means) that it is not men who make their own history23 . History appears as a ‘subject’ of which men are merely the instruments. So early as in The German Ideology Marx condemned any turning of history into a ‘subject’, when he wrote: ‘History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations, each of which uses the materials, the capital funds, the productive forces, handed down to it by all preceding generations –. This can be speculatively distorted so that later history is made the goal of earlier history –. Thereby history receives its own special goals and becomes ‘a person with other persons’.’(Marx-Engels CW 5; p. 50)24 

This would bring us to the point I wanted to emphasize when I called into question Bettelheim’s conception of ‘economism’ – the relation of the activity of the masses with necessity and the stage of the development of the productive forces and this is what I dealt with in the latter half of my article which Romagnolo in keeping with his metaphysical paragraph by paragraph reading chose to ignore. I may again remind my readers that I was not dealing with Bettelheim in particular but only in the context of the understanding of the materialist conception of history. To proceed. In the above passage Bettelheim is right when he paraphrases Marx and Engels and says that history should not be treated as a ‘subject’ of which men are only the bearers (See The Holy Family). But a careful reading of the above quotation (and I would suggest that readers go through the whole passage from The German Ideology) would tell us that it is not only a teleological interpretation that Marx is warning against. To Marx history is governed by inner general laws. He writes that no generation is free to choose its own mode of production which it finds readymade. Working with this traditional material men change circumstances and themselves too. Later history is actively influenced by earlier history. It therefore appears as if the course of history was working towards this later history, towards this goal. It is this misinterpretation that Marx is warning against, which is in keeping with the intellectual stock in trade that he had to deal with. The German Ideology is also a criticism of the idealistic ideas of the Young Hegelians who turned history into a person – the full sentence in the above quotation from Marx-Engels is: ‘Thereby history receives its own special goals and becomes ‘a person ranking with other persons’ (to wit: ‘self-consciousness, criticism, the unique,’ etc.), while what is designated with the words ‘destiny’, ‘goal’, ‘germ’, or ‘idea’ of earlier history is nothing more than an abstraction from later history, from the active influence which earlier history exercises on later history.’ The Young Hegelians revolted against the Hegelian inner purpose working through history – the realisation of his Absolute Idea. They did this in the name of freedom of action for men, asserting that the dominating force was man himself – a concern shared with Bettelheim. But they turned it into a ‘caricatured consummation of Hegel’s conception of history.’ This does not mean that men are free to make their own history. The observation from history was that ‘the most favourably brilliant deeds seemed to remain without brilliant results, to end in trivialities.’25 Materialistically taken, the view that the course of history is governed by inner general laws does not lead to teleology any more than Darwinism has any place for teleology or for that matter scientific theories about the origin of the universe etc. Engels remarked:

‘In any case, even the application of the Hegelian ‘inner purpose’ – i.e., a purpose which is not imported into nature by some third party acting purposively, such as the wisdom of providence, but lies in the necessity of the thing itself – constantly leads people who are not well versed in philosophy to thoughtlessly ascribing to nature conscious and purposive activity.’26 

When we reject teleology we thereby reject speculative distortion of necessity working in nature and history. We start from the activity of real men who are the actors in history. But that doesn’t mean that their actions are free as we saw above – the activity of the masses always foundered on the rock of necessity and brought unintended results. When Bettelheim notes that it is men who make their own history and criticises teleology he should have noted this. That would have brought him to the fact that social development has its own inner general laws and this ultimately has its basis in the stages of development of the productive forces. Permit me to quote from German Ideology

‘This sum of productive forces, capital funds and social forms of intercourse (relations of production), which every individual and every generation finds in existence as something given, is the real basis of what the philosophers have conceived as ‘substance’ and ‘essence of man’, and what they have deified and attacked: a real basis which is not in the least disturbed, in its effect and influence on the development of men, by the fact that these philosophers revolt against it as ‘self-consciousness’ and the ‘unique’. These conditions of life, which different generations find in existence, determine also whether or not the revolutionary convulsion periodically recurring in history will be strong enough to overthrow the basis of everything that exists. And if these material elements of a complete revolution are not present – namely, on the one hand the existing productive forces, on the other the formation of the revolutionary mass, which revolts not only against separate conditions of the existing society, but against the existing ‘production of life’ itself, the ‘total activity’ on which it was based – then it is absolutely immaterial for practical development whether the idea of this revolution has been expressed a hundred times already, as the history of communism proves.’

‘In the whole conception of history up to the present this real basis of history has either been totally disregarded or else considered as a minor matter quite irrelevant to the course of history. History must, therefore, always be written according to an extraneous standard; the real production of life appears as non-historical, while the historical appears as something separated from ordinary life, something extra-superterrestrial. With this the relation of man to nature is excluded from history and hence the antithesis of nature and history is created. The exponents of this conception of history have consequently only been able to see in history the spectacular political events and religious and other theoretical struggles, and in particular with regard to each historical epoch they were compelled to share the illusion of that epoch.’27 

Giving pride of place to the class struggle can explain everything if we are not to ask why do classes act in the manner they do and why the ideas with which classes go into historical action prove to be illusions. Class struggle is indeed the driving force of history. But the question that one should ask is what are the driving forces of these driving forces as Engels put it, leading us to the stages of development of production.28 That is why Marx and Engels called class struggle the ‘immediate driving power of history’29 about which Romagnolo gets so worked up (the ultimate being the economic factor). We will come back to this discussion again when we close the discussion on economism.

Romagnolo accuses me of not being able to recognise economism as a general ideological trend but only able to recognize it as a particular ideological form. Let me inform him that the passage from which I quoted Bettelheim carries this note –

‘It will be seen that the term ‘economism’ is here being used not to describe one of the particular forms assumed by this conception (for example, the one that Lenin combated at the beginning of the century), but the whole set of forms in which it can appear.’30

Despite specifically mentioning that he was talking about the general, Bettelheim took Lenin’s name in the main body of the text whereas he was not at all dealing with or concerned with the particular form which Lenin fought. As such I had to warn my readers that the economism Lenin fought against had nothing to do with historical materialism, i.e., it was not a bone of contention in the struggle. This had to be done as Bettelheim was using Lenin’s name as a cover to get at the classical understanding of the materialist conception of history. This is his wont, as even testified by Romagnolo himself – ‘He was criticising Stalin to get at the 1859 Preface’. After seeming to go the Leninist way in the first and second volumes of the Class Struggles in the USSR Bettelheim denounces the Bolshevik revolution itself in the third volume –

‘– an understanding of what was radically novel in the revolutionary process that was in full bloom after February 1917, a process moreover whose potential development can only be guessed at, since it was brutally cut short by Bolsheviks’ seizure of power. This seizure of power marks the beginning of the end of the plural revolutionary process which was born in February 1917 and whose last spasms would be at Kronstadt in March 1921.’31 

This is Bettelheim’s way of doing things! I also pointed out that the economists whom Lenin fought made common cause with Bernstein, their goal being the same: turning social democracy into a party of reforms. Bernstein, as mentioned in my article, attacked Marxism on a number of points including its materialist conception of history. He charged it with fatalism, writing that the concept of historical necessity condemned men to inaction – they are taken to be the mere instruments of history. He vehemently spoke against reducing everything to the development of productive forces. These concerns are shared by Bettelheim. Lenin affirmed all that was there in the classical materialist conception of history. Bettelheim should have enlightened us as to how and when Lenin came to abjure the ‘economistic’ theses connected with historical materialism. Only after doing this Bettelheim would have been entitled to use Lenin’s name in the context of his conception of economism and historical materialism. This was Lenin’s conception –

‘– finally, another reason –(that made) – scientific sociology possible was that only the reduction of social relations to production relations and of the latter to the level of the productive forces, provided a firm basis for the conception that the development of formations of society is a process of natural history.’32 

This accords very well with Marx’s letter to P.V. Annenkov written in 1846 and which Romagnolo and Bettelheim consider to assert technological determinism (economistic). It would be instructive in this regard to remind our readers that though Romagnolo thinks that Marx’s views moved away from this determinism later, the ‘mature’ Marx in his letter to J.B. Schweitzer written in 1865 again endorses his views set in the said letter of 1846 and further asserts that ‘economic categories are (as) the theoretical expression of historical relations of production corresponding to a particular stage of development in material production –.’ (And in fact all those letters that Engels wrote during his last years which today we collectively call ‘letters on historical materialism’ affirm this viewpoint.)

The above view appears to be economistic to Bettelheim who comes up with his production relations first thesis. According to him first the production relations change and then the productive forces develop. This thesis rests on a false ground of causality. As Engels pointed out:

‘– cause and effect are conceptions which only hold good in their application to individual cases; but as soon as we consider the individual cases in their general connection with the universe as a whole33 , they run into each other, and they become confounded when we contemplate that universal action and reaction in which causes and effects are eternally changing places, so that what is effect here and now will be cause there and then, and vice versa.

None of these processes and modes of thought enters into the framework of metaphysical reasoning. Dialectics, on the other hand, comprehends things and their representations, ideas, in their essential connection, concatenation, motion, origin and ending.’34 

Bettelheim in his zeal for ‘production relations first’ uses the metaphysical method and does not see the relationship of production relations and productive forces in the context of the whole movement of history (along with prehistory to be precise). Seeing things this way is not Bettelheim’s method and he criticises Stalin for it. Stalin in his Dialectical and Historical Materialism set forth the ‘principal features of the Marxist dialectical method.’ Bettelheim criticises what he calls the first principle affirmed by Stalin (though no order of precedence is set here in Stalin’s essay – he only recounts the features pointwise. The point stated first becomes the ‘first principle’,35 courtesy Bettelheim. Some honesty here!) The point stated is:

‘a) Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and integral whole, in which things, phenomena are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other. –’

‘b) – The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being.’36 

This is in line with what Engels says above. But Bettelheim comments thus on the above –

‘Nature’ is thus presented as an organic totality in which coherence and unity take precedence over contradiction. This being so, one cannot understand any of the changes undergone by the objects and phenomena which make up nature if these changes are ‘isolated from surrounding phenomena.’37 

How can one deduce from the above that ‘coherence and unity take precedence over contradiction’?38 This is dishonest. Bettelheim again comments:

‘Correlatively with the idea of an organic totality there is thus affirmed an interdependence of phenomena, presented through the concept of an environment which is supposed to condition every phenomenon. External causes of change take precedence of internal causes. When, only at the end of his exposition of the ‘principal features’ of Marxist dialectics, Stalin says that ‘internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature,’ and that the conflict of opposites ‘constitutes the internal content of the process of development,’ this appears as a mere supplement to a body of principles already set forth, and is not articulated with them. It serves as a mode of ‘observation’ and not as a principle of explanation.’39

The point in question is point (d) and is recounted as one of the principal features ending with two quotations from Lenin:

‘In its proper meaning dialectics is the study of the contradiction within the very essence of things. And further

‘Development is the ‘struggle’ of opposites.’40 

Yet Bettelheim gratuitously (or with design) calls it a supplement to a body of principles already set forth when Stalin has not even finished recounting all the points!! As to how it becomes a ‘supplement’ perhaps Romagnolo would enlighten us. It was Hegel who asserted the necessary interconnection of the whole world. He says in his Science of Logic:

‘A determinate, a finite, being is one that is in relation to an other; it is a content standing in a necessary relation to another content, to the whole world.’41 

This theme recurs again and again in Logic. Bettelheim rejects interconnection and interdependence of phenomena which is a very important point of dialectics. Only when we see any phenomena in nature or history in its universal interconnection and reciprocal dependence along with its whole movement can we understand necessity. Taking the simplest relation in dialectics should lead us to necessity. Lenin writes: ‘Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc.’ (‘On the question of dialectics’) Bettelheim’s rejection of this proposition shows the roots of his rejection of the concept of necessity. While hitting at Stalin and thereby rejecting some basic propositions of dialectics Bettelheim had this in mind, something connected with our central concern here, the materialist conception of history –

‘The ‘development of society’ thus appears to depend mainly upon the changing of its relations with nature, these relations consisting above all in the productive forces, so that the development of the latter is seen as the driving force of social changes.’42 

The relation of man to nature is to be excluded from Bettelheim’s history. He is of course not explicit about it. This is in the idealistic manner of the Young Hegelians described above. As Marx says in the quote from The German Ideology given above such a view considers the real production of life to be non-historical. They create the antithesis of nature and history (which Bettelheim paraphrases as counterposing society to nature though he is not far from their conception as we shall see).43 Marx sees the real production of life as the basis of history. Man becomes a subject in history. Nature is the object for the subject and as such it puts limits to his activity. Of course it should be understood in the profound sense in which Marx understood it when he said that by acting on the external world and changing it man at the same time changes his own nature. It is his interchange with nature which is the basis of his life. It remains the realm of necessity even after it is understood. Before this appreciation of necessity it works blindly. As Hegel pointed out necessity is blind in so far as it is not understood. The relation between society and nature was also understood by him. It is interesting to see how he put it – ‘In his tools man possesses power over external nature, even though in respect of his ends he is, on the contrary, subject to it.’44 This of course contains only the germ of the understanding of historical materialism. Marx and Engels saw history in the development of society. Seeing things in an integral whole and in essential connection, in their motion, in their origin and ending I held that productive forces have played the main determining role in history.45 We know how Engels had to carry on a polemic with Dühring who held that ‘the political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation’ and he showed how the means of production and products of human labour came to dominate mankind. It is here that we can understand how accident reigns on the surface of human history which is but a manifestation of the working of the inner general laws. This is the concept of necessity which one finds running through the dialectical materialist understanding. When Romagnolo asks why does Sen say that Bettelheim discards this understanding he should have noted this. I wrote:

‘Marx considers the course of history to be governed by inner general laws. Each generation finds itself in definite given circumstances handed down from its predecessor. It is bequeathed a sum of productive forces and historically created relations of individuals to each other. Men enter into definite relations with nature and among themselves independent of their will. They also modify their circumstances but at the same time these conditions prescribe the material limits of life for each generation and fashions it. This means that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.

‘This view of the world should be read in conjunction with the Theses on Feuerbach where Marx writes that the ‘coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood as revolutionising practice.’ –

‘Dialectics views anything in its coming into being, growth and destruction. The development of classes too has been traced by Marx and Engels to the development in the productive forces in history. Anthropology has supplied us with rich material to corroborate this view of the coming into being of class society. It is, for example, well known that societies, which are at a lower level of development, did not take prisoners of war; they either killed them or adopted them. Only with a certain growth of productive forces and the advent of slavery were the conquered taken as slaves. This could take place only with a certain amount of growth in production which made it possible to maintain a class of people who did not work.’ –

‘The contradiction between productive forces and production relations is not a formula but a movement, a historical movement. It has got to do with the coming into being of human society, with its struggle for existence, its appropriation of nature with the help of tools (instruments of production) and labour. The stages of development of productive forces are the factor, which fashions the production relations of mankind. This does not mean that relations of production play no role in the development of the productive forces. Relations of production spur the development of productive forces up to a certain point after which they start behaving like a drag on their further development necessitating a change in these relations. This calls forth an era or social revolution.’ –-

‘Setting out from real active men historical materialism takes the activity of the masses into account. People make their own history. Individuals act according to different ideas and have different strivings. All these consciously desired ends mostly lead to results and consequences not intended. Here accident reigns on the surface. The end result shows it to be the product of a power, which operates as a whole unconsciously. By examining the totality of such strivings and activities, Marx and Engels could reduce them to the conditions of life and activity of the various classes of society. They showed that ultimately these could be traced to the conditions of the material forces of production. The products of mankind have hitherto dominated the producers.’ –

Bettelheim of course doesn’t jettison class contradictions from their ‘material basis’ in the economy:

‘At this point we find ourselves faced with formulations differing radically from those of revolutionary Marxism, for which the historical process is determined, in the last analysis by class contradictions. The material basis of these is not mere change in the instruments of production but the contradictions in the economic basis (the contradictory unity of the production relations and the productive forces), and they develop by way of the ideological forms which these contradictions themselves engender. Revolutionary Marxism does not ascribe the development of the productive forces to a spontaneous process, or to ‘contradictions’ external to the mode of production counterposing ‘society’ to ‘nature’.’46 

What a theory! How are the ‘contradictions in the economic basis’ – that between the productive forces and production relations – engendered? By the development of the productive forces which call forth changes in production relations. The reader may recall our discussion on Causality in this context. Bettelheim’s Marxism does not take the standpoint of development, is therefore ahistorical – that is why to him these contradictions develop by way of ‘ideological forms’. The development of these contradictions are not linked to any objective process. We can now understand what Bettelheim means when he says that the development of the productive forces does not take place spontaneously. Does it mean that anyone holds that productive forces are not worked by men, that it is not men who develop the productive forces. If that is what he means then it is beside the point. Franklin called man a tool making animal. But the tools come to dominate mankind. The phrase about the development of the productive forces being a spontaneous process means that the development of productive forces takes place independent of the will of man. This is indeed so and if Bettelheim rejects this he rejects the objective basis of development of society. This development cannot take place without the intervention of men. It is men who act in history, it is men who act on nature. But the fact is that history works according to inner general laws. Bettelheim implicitly goes against this necessity when he says that men are not the instruments of history as we saw. But men are dominated by their own creations. That is why it is still ‘man proposes God disposes’ so to say. And even when man cognizes this necessity it does not vanish but remains as the basis. By denying that the development of the productive forces takes place independent of the will of man which sets the limit to man’s activity and by ascribing an exaggerated role to the conscious activity of men, Bettelheim falls into the pit of subjective idealism. Class struggle devoid of its objective historical basis cannot but be reduced to the subjective will of man and no wonder that to Bettelheim the class struggle is reduced primarily to the ideological struggle47 –

‘– oblivion came to be increasingly the fate of Marx’s analyses showing the necessity, if the revolution was to advance, of ideological changes that were not at all the outcome of technological changes, but rather of revolutionary mass struggle, smashing the old social and ideological relations and making possible the building of new relations. Such a struggle was not a ‘struggle of ideas’ but a class struggle, destroying old practices and old social relations, realized in ideological apparatuses, and making possible the building of new relations and new practices.’48 

To him the class struggle for the ‘revolutionization of the production relations’ is also primarily an ideological struggle –

‘The cultural revolution represents a form of class struggle that enables the masses to appropriate proletarian ideology, but it is only a stage in a more extensive appropriation process that corresponds to an objective requirement of socialist construction.’49 

And not only during socialist construction but also afterwards when it takes on a decisive role –

‘It is an ‘economist’ illusion, analogous to that of ‘liberalism’ to believe that a ‘system’ is possible which can create complete harmony between a preoccupation with individual interest and the need to satisfy the overall interest.’50

But what does Marx hold? He holds that under communism there will be socialized production by freely associated producers where the development of each will be the condition for the development of all. He writes –

‘– the communists by no means want – to do away with the ‘private individual’ for the sake of the ‘general’, selfless man. – they alone have discovered that throughout history the ‘general interest’ is created by individuals who are defined as ‘private persons’. They know that this contradiction is only a seeming one because one side of it, what is called the ‘general interest’, is constantly being produced by the other side, private interest, and in relation to the latter it is by no means an independent force with an independent history – so that this contradiction is in practice constantly destroyed and reproduced. Hence it is not a question of the Hegelian ‘negative unity’ of two sides of a contradiction, but of the materially determined destruction of the preceding materially determined mode of life of individuals, with the disappearance of which this contradiction together with its unity also disappears’.51 

The general interest is produced by the other side, private interest, and how many times we find individuals representing the general interest sacrificing themselves so that a society where private interests dominate and where egoism becomes the necessary form of the self assertion of individuals, comes into being. The fighters for the bourgeois revolutions precisely did that. These two interests are in opposition to each other only because of the nature of the system – ‘the materially determined mode of life of individuals’. With the destruction of such a system and the building of communism this contradiction disappears. In fact the primary relation of production under communism is that men exchange their activities, their concrete labour counts immediately as social labour. Such a system has to be based necessarily on harmony of individual and social interests. To call it an ‘economist’ illusion is to discard this very basic concept, to discard the possibility of superseding the bourgeois system where concrete labour counts as social labour in a roundabout way, through the operation of the law of value. Moreover it means the inability to envision a society which can run on the principle of ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need’ or even a classless society. If one were to argue that only the ideological struggle can harmonise individual interest and social interest which cannot be created by any system then not only one is being idealistic and refusing to cross the bourgeois limitations but also suggesting that only the repetition of the idea of selflessness can create this community of interests which otherwise has no material basis. Is such an idea any different from the various forms of ‘work motivation’ found under the so-called scientific management practices of the bourgeoisie? Here we find the cloven hoof sticking out for there is to be struggle only in the realm of ideas which is otherwise in contradiction to any material basis. So class struggle is to take place primarily in the realm of ideas and not in the objective world. Such a view cannot link the struggle for the triumph of ideas with the course of the class struggle where decades become days and when in such days ideas grip the masses becoming a material force. Otherwise, it matters not if the idea has been repeated a thousand times as the history of communism shows (see Marx above). Thus, Bettelheim’s conception is idealistic because it cannot link the class struggle with the objective course of events and does not understand its dialectics. This becomes obvious when he links the triumph of communism only with the ideological struggle which makes it possible to harmonise individual interest with collective interest and completely discards the possibility of any material basis for this as an ‘economist’ illusion whereas for Marx it has its definite material basis in the overcoming of the enslavement of the individual to the division of labour, the disappearance of the anti-thesis between mental and manual labour and which has its ultimate material basis in the growth of productive forces which can ensure abundance.(Let not the reader think that the ideological struggle is of no consequence; we are talking of the objective factor here without which it would be all subjectivism.) What Bettelheim calls the ‘economist illusion’ is also shared by Marx and Lenin in their celebrated works which talk of the future society and are much quoted by the latter-day critics of ‘economism’ (The Critique of the Gotha Programme and A Great Beginning) –

‘In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!’52

After tending to identify the class struggle with primarily the ideological struggle, Bettelheim jettisons the concrete entity class from class-consciousness and class struggle –

‘The ouvriériste component in the Bolshevik ideological formation was shown also in the fact that greater significance was attributed to class origin than to class position. Consequently, there was a tendency to deny that poor and middle peasants could take up, ideologically, revolutionary proletarian positions, whereas these were supposed to develop ‘spontaneously’ among workers employed in industry.’53 

The original sin of ‘workerism’ was committed by Marx himself. When we talk of whole classes and their ideology, we talk in terms of their being. This is what materialism teaches us – the course of ideas depends upon the course of things. It is in keeping with their class position that their ideas develop. As Marx pointed out, it was a question of what the working class is and what it would be historically compelled to do. The aim and historical action is irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation. (See The Holy Family.) When we take into consideration whole classes we find that their concrete life situation brings forth demands which either take history forward or seek to block progress. Free trade could not have been the slogan of the feudal aristocracy, nor abolition of commodity production that of the bourgeoisie. When Bettelheim refuses to see the classes in their economic and consequent political position he refuses to see classes at all. By using the word ‘spontaneously’ he thinks he can smuggle in his subjectivist theses. It is by its class position that any class is compelled to take up revolutionary or reactionary positions. Every class has its political and ideological representatives who give conscious expression to the demands of that class. As such classes in keeping with their being take up these demands and endow them with material force. As a Ricardo or a Rousseau gave expression to the political and economic interests of the bourgeoisie or a Sismondi or a Proudhon to that of the petty bourgeoisie, so also there are ideological or political representatives of the proletariat who work out in theory what the proletariat is in practice led to do. The importance of class origin or class position (not in the sense of ideological position as in the quotation above) flows from the historical materialist understanding. If the poor and middle peasantry is capable of taking up ideologically revolutionary proletarian positions without regard to their life conditions, i.e., their class position, then why not the bourgeoisie? From here we are led to the thesis of ‘peaceful transition’ as a logical corollary. Of course, it is different when it is a question of representatives of any class. Marx pointed out that the relationship between the political and ideological representatives of a class and the class they represent is that they are driven to the same problems and solutions theoretically to which the social and material interests drive the latter practically.

With his ahistorical view, Bettelheim is unable to link the class struggle to the development of the productive forces and cannot link evolution with revolution. This has profound meaning for the tactics of the class struggle of the proletariat. To Bettelheim ‘class struggles develop by way of the ideological forms which these contradictions (contradictions in the economic basis) themselves engender’. But the very contradiction – productive forces and production relations – is taken in a state of immobility. It becomes a question of ideological development and not a question of objective development leading to revolutionary situations or periods of sluggish growth. Let us illustrate –

‘What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes’, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that ‘the upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way; (2) When the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) When, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in ‘peacetime’, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the ‘upper classes’ themselves into independent historical action.

‘Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution as a general rule, is impossible. – not every revolutionary situation (that) gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls’, if it is not toppled over.’54

Lenin here outlines the objective changes leading to a revolutionary situation, which are independent of the will, of not only individuals but of whole classes. Briefly put this is the economic and political crisis. This revolutionary situation is thus certainly not the outcome of any ideological struggle. It does not turn into a revolution in the absence of the subjective preparation of the revolutionary class. It is toward this that the preparation of the class struggle of the proletariat is directed. The tactics of the class struggle of the working class should be based on a proper appraisal of the objective situation. In times of so-called peaceful development the tasks consist in developing the class consciousness, organisation and fighting strength of the working class so that it and its party might stand at the head of the spontaneously rising masses during periods of revolution when ‘twenty years are embodied in twenty days’. This is the dialectics of the evolutionary and revolutionary process of which Marx wrote: ‘– in developments of such magnitude twenty years are no more than a day – though later on days may come again comprising twenty years.’55

This is how we should understand the relationship between the objective and the subjective in the context of the class struggle. The objective situation develops independent of anyone’s will and the working class and its party should be subjectively prepared for it. When Stalin describes the objectivity of the revolutionary process, Bettelheim counterposes the subjective. When he says that Stalin gets bogged down in economism it means nothing more than this. Our struggle against economism has to do with the strategy and tactics of the working class and its party. It shows that conscious struggle56 should be carried on against bowing to spontaneity, against tailism (behind events, mass demands, other classes etc.). It shows how the working class deals with politics and its relationship with the masses. It shows that it is the task of the party of the working class to bring to the fore such forms of political struggle that can bring the masses to the revolutionary front. Stalin emphasized the tremendous role of ideas in human history, in the changing of the world. In relation with the alleged theory of the productive forces in socialist construction, we might remind our readers that Stalin fought against the idea of spontaneity in socialist construction. The allegation of spontaneity is actually directed by Bettelheim and his ilk against the idea that socialism must have its material basis in advanced productive forces as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin averred. It is in keeping with this that slogans such as ‘communism is soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country’ were coined by Lenin. Such slogans were meant to figure out and emphasize the chief tasks of the day.57 Romagnolo should note our discussion of the revolutionary situation – an economic and political crisis. Is the economic crisis not a manifestation of the contradiction between the productive forces and production relations, of the fact that the productive forces have outgrown the production relations? We find that all the elements of production are present even during crises. But they cannot be used as they cannot function as capital. Means of production and labour are present, they cannot be integrated for that would not bring in profits, to put it simply. Romagnolo berates me for not talking politics. Apart from the fact that the scope of my article was limited, he forgets that we were talking about class struggle and class struggle is what politics is all about. When we were warning our readers against subjective idealist ‘readings’ of Marx we were warning them against ideas which take us to post-modernism, the intellectual fashion of the day, and the rejection of working class politics as a consequence (rejection of necessity – ‘rejection of the implicit teleological thrust’ according to post-modernism; similarly, supreme importance to the ideological struggle – ideological discourse as revolution in post-modernism; interaction of the various social factors as the determining factor in history – all relativism hence no concerted fight for the overthrow of the rule of capital, the economic basis and no concerted struggles but disparate fights, against ‘totalistic’ views; other classes can take up revolutionary proletarian positions through ideological struggle – no privileged actors, agencies according to post-modernism etc. etc.). Our assertion of the classical theory of historical materialism makes Romagnolo call us dogmatic. He ends by saying ‘dogma is less useful than cow dung.’ May we remind him that latter-day creative Marxism proved impotent before pig dung. The Spirit of revolutionization of production relations foundered before the strength of this ‘productive force’. I hope Romagnolo gets the allusion.


1. See, for example, p. 79 of Romagnolo’s article in Revolutionary Democracy; September, 2001.

2. Lenin, Collected Works; Volume 14; p. 326.

3. Charles Bettelheim; Class Struggles in the USSR; see pages 515 & 569.

4. Marx-Engels, C.W. 28; p. 38.

5. Marx, Capital Vol. III; p. 899-900.

6. Ibid. p. 177.

7. Preface to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’

8. Lenin, Karl Marx and his Teaching (materialist conception of history).

9. Engels’ letter to Joseph Bloch, September 21[-22], 1890.

10. Appendix: Results of the immediate process of production; Capital, Volume I; Harmondsworth.

11. This is not to be mixed up with the other Appendix which was once published but withdrawn from subsequent editions.

12. Ibid.; p. 1064.

13. Ibid.; p. .953.

14. Ibid.; p. 1035.

15. Marx and Engels write in the Manifesto: ‘The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.’ Marx-Engels, SW 1; p. 111.

16. Marx, Capital III; p. 878.

17. Ibid.; p. 259.

18. Romagnolo himself does manage to come up with some vague formulation about this and speaks of grounding of ‘classes in the degree of development of various social forms of production’ etc. But still he superstitiously avoids mentioning productive forces and their stages of development.

19. Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR, First Period; p. 20.

20. Ibid., Second Period; p. 509.

21. Ibid., First Period; pp. 23-24.

22. Ibid.; p. 24.

23. Cf. According to Marx’s standpoint, ‘the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history’. (Capital I, p. 21).

24. Bettelheim, op.cit., Second Period; p. 583-84.

25. Marx-Engels, CW 4; p. 84.

26. Engels, ‘Anti Dühring’; p. 81.

27. Marx-Engels, CW 5; p. 54 & p. 55.

28. See Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy: a non-economistic work according to Romagnolo.

29. Marx-Engels, Circular letter, September 17-18, 1879.

30. Bettelheim, op.cit.; First Period; p. 52.

31. Bettelheim, op.cit., Third Period; Part One; TR Publications, India; p. xix.

32. Lenin, CW 1; p. 140.

33. Yes in an integral whole. Mark it Romagnolo.

34. Engels, ‘Anti Dühring’; p. 30.

35. Bettelheim; op.cit., Second Period; p. 536 (Hope Romagnolo understands what ‘first principle’ means in philosophy.)

36. Stalin, ‘Problems of Leninism’; FLP, Peking; pp. 837-38.

37. Bettelheim, op. cit., Second Period; p. 536.

38. Cf. The standpoint of environmental science. Also see Engels’ letter to Lavrov, November 12-17, 1875. Commenting on the Darwinian doctrine whose theory of evolution he upheld, Engels writes: ‘The interaction of bodies in nature – inanimate as well as animate – includes both harmony and collision, struggle and cooperation. When therefore a self-styled natural scientist takes the liberty of reducing the whole of historical development with all its wealth and variety to the one-sided and meagre phrase ‘struggle for existence,’ a phrase which in the sphere of nature can be accepted only cum grano salis, such a procedure really contains its own condemnation.’

39. Bettelheim , ibid.; pp. 536-37.

40. Stalin, op.cit.; p. 841.

41. ‘Science of Logic’; p. 86; George Allen &Unwin Ltd.

42. Op. cit.; p. 537.

43. Cf. Or does Critical Criticism believe that it has reached even the beginning of a knowledge of historical reality so long as it excludes from the historical movement the theoretical and practical relation of man to nature, i.e., natural science and industry?’ (Marx-Engels CW 4; p. 150.)

44. ‘Science of Logic’, p. 747.

45. Cf. Marx: ‘However little our written histories up to this time notice the development of material production, which is the basis of all social life, and therefore of all real history, yet prehistoric times have been classified in accordance with the results, not of so-called historical, but of materialistic investigations. These periods have been divided, to correspond with the materials from which their implements and weapons were made, viz., into the stone, the bronze, and the iron ages.’ Capital I, p. 175.

46. Bettelheim, ibid.; p. 512.

47. We are using this in the narrow sense. Bettelheim also uses this in this sense only, for example, when he talks of the political struggle as distinguished from the ideological struggle.

48. Ibid.; pp. 521-22.

49. Bettelheim, ‘Cultural Revolution and Industrial Organisation in China’; p. 99.

50. Ibid.; pp. 101- 02.

51. Marx-Engels, CW 5; p. 247.

52. Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, Marx-Engels, SW 3; p. 19 (emphasis added).

53. Bettelheim; op.cit. p.554.

54. Lenin, ‘Collapse of the Second International’; CW 21; pp. 213-14.

55. Letter to Engels, April 9, 1863.

56. And real conscious struggle can only be based on the cognition of necessity.

57. For a discussion on politics, socialism, production relations and productive forces see my review of Raymond Lotta’s Introduction to the Shanghai textbook on political economy; also reprinted in Revolutionary Democracy.

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