Learning Marxism : Where to Begin

Communists and Social Democrats

Communism means a classless society evolved on the ruins of capitalism (which is based on capitalist exploitation of wage labour). This is to be achieved by intensification of class struggle to the point of abolition of the two poles of the antagonism — capital and wage labour. Whenever communists participate in institutions of bourgeois democracy — e.g., the parliament — they do it exclusively for this end and never for harmonising (the interests of the opposing classes. By contrast social democrats take such institutions “as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty-bourgeoisie”. (From The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx) In a word, communism is essentially revolutionary: its adherents value reforms basically as stepping stones to revolution. Social democrats are essentially class collaborationist and reformist: they advocate and work for reforms to prevent revolution. They thus work for preserving the capitalist social order, albeit in a more democratic, more civilised shape. This is where their petty-bourgeois outlook converges with that of...

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Socialism and Communism

The real negation of capitalism is communism, which abolishes all forms of exploitation of man by man. But this cannot be achieved by one stroke. Socialism came to be conceptualised as the first decisive step of transition towards communism. Initially socialism carries many imperfections (economic, political, cultural, etc.), many birth-marks of the bourgeois order from whose womb it emerges. Vestiges of classes and class struggle remain, and at times the latter grows very sharp. People work wholeheartedly for the common good, for the society as a whole, and are paid according to the quantity and quality of work done. This is expressed in the motto: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” The imperfections of the first stage, or stage of transition, are gradually overcome under the leadership of the victorious Communist Party. Classes and class struggle, and with these the state machinery, become a thing of the past. The second stage of socialism or communism, arrives. Thanks to material abundance, ideological progress and the cultural revolution, society can now inscribe on its banner the motto: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” That is to say, society takes from everyone whatever s/he can contribute by way of work and gives away whatever s/ he...

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Democratic and Socialist Revolutions

Historically, democratic revolution is the bridge leading from the feudal to the bourgeois order. The English and the French revolutions (mid 17th and late 18th centuries respectively) were classic examples, which abolished serfdom and monarchy and ushered in the parliamentary republic. Being anti-feudal, the democratic revolution has as its main force the broad peasant masses. In England and France it was led by the rising capitalist class. Socialist revolution, such as the November revolution in Russia (1917), signifies the passage from capitalism to socialism. It abolishes capitalist private property, hands over to the whole people the major means of production, which are managed by the socialist state (see chapter on “the state”). The leading force of the socialist revolution is the working class allied with other working people. However, as Lenin remarked in Our Revolution, “while the development of world history follows general laws … certain periods of development may display peculiarities in either the form or sequence of this development.” What happened is that with the growing strength of the working class movement, particularly after the Paris Commune (1871), the bourgeoisie took fright, entered into a historic compromise with feudal forces against the toiling people, and abandoned the task of democratic revolution, which therefore had to be taken up by the new revolutionary class, the modern proletariat. This adds a whole new dimension to the character of democratic...

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Proletariat and Communist Party

Communist Party is the revolutionary party of the proletariat. It unites and mobilises the working class and all exploited oppressed sections of society in the struggle for their immediate interests and for putting an end to all exploitation and injustice. The Communist Manifesto defines “the proletariat, the modern working class” as “a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” The proletariat is the most revolutionary class, because it constitutes the lowest stratum, the base, of the pyramid-like class structure of a capitalist society and therefore when it stands up to liberate itself, the whole class pyramid — “the whole superincumbent strata of official society” — crumbles down. The proletariat’s great revolutionary potential, its leading role in revolution, is thus inherent in its objective location within the modern class hierarchy: in the fact that to liberate itself it has to liberate all other toiling classes. Additionally, their collective, organised, disciplined life, their live contact with modern technology, and the fact that they “have nothing to loose but their chains” make the proletarians particularly capable and consistent as the organised vanguards...

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Classes and Class Struggle

Class is determined by the objective position a social group occupies in the vast network of production and distribution, by its relation to the means of production (i.e., whether it owns or just works on these means) and consequently, by the share of gross social wealth it possesses. To take a simple example, industrialists occupy a privileged position in a country’s economic (and therefore also in the political) network because they own factories and amass huge wealth by usurping the surplus value produced by industrial workers. The workers on the other hand are underprivileged because they operate, but do not own, the plants and machinery and eat or starve depending on whether they find work or not. The class configuration of society differs from country to country and time to time (basically according to the mode(s) of production), but every class society is divided into working, exploited classes and exploiting, ruling classes. Struggle between these two sections goes on uninterruptedly in different intensities and forms like wage and land struggle, agitation for political democracy and policy changes, battle for ousting dictatorial and corrupt regimes, and so on. At critical junctures it flares up into revolutions which drastically change the economic, political and cultural character of a society. Classes carry on their struggle through their mass organisations like trade unions, chambers of commerce, etc. as well as through political parties...

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Imperialism and the US Empire

All the developed industrialised countries such as Belgium, Japan, Germany, Australia and so on are imperialist in terms of the economic essence or stage of development (decaying, parasitic, monopoly capitalism dominated by finance capital); many of them also possess, and occasionally use, their enormous military prowess. But among them there is one country which has earned the outrageous distinction of being the world people’s enemy number one. The first wave of global extension of capitalism was led by maritime and mercantile powers like Spain, Holland, England; the second wave by England to start with, (for that was the birth place of the industrial revolution); the third by the USA, the forerunner in the latest Scientific and Technological Revolution and by far the biggest economic (and also military) power. It is only natural that like Spain and England in earlier periods, today the USA aspires for continuous expansion of its sphere of influence, for a world empire. But the most crucial difference is that, as Eric Hobsbawm pointed out in a mid-2003 article in the Guardian, all other empires knew that they were not the only ones — they had to reckon with real and potential challengers. Not so Washington. After the collapse of the other superpower it thinks and acts like the monarch of all it surveys. Moreover, whereas even the British at the summit of its power operated...

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Globalisation as the Latest Phase of Imperialism

What is the relation between imperialism and globalisation? Globalisation is a euphemism for the global offensive — economic, political and, as it recently turned out, military offensive — of imperialism led by US imperialism. If we were to divide the historical stage of imperialism, which has completed a hundred years of existence, into a few distinct phases (i.e., sub-stages), we might call globalisation its latest phase. But is not globalisation an old, inbuilt tendency of capital? Yes it is. We all remember the classic, ever bright and highly insightful portrayal of the globalising impulse of capital in the Communist Manifesto. In fact this impulse has manifested itself over the centuries in three distinct but overlapping “waves”: (i) the wave of mercantile capital on its trading and colonising spree starting from the fag end of the 15th century and continuing up to early 20tn century; (ii) the wave of industrial capital since the industrial revolution in late 18th century, aimed principally at controlling/capturing sources of raw materials and markets for industrial products: (iii) the wave of finance capital (which emerged at the juncture of the 19th and 20th centuries, as the monopolistic coalescence of industrial capital and bank capital) based on the electronics revolution in the latter half (especially the last quarter) of the 20th century. The second wave did not end but merged into the third, which became particularly...

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Imperialism after Lenin

In many ways, imperialism has continued to display the major features noted in Imperialism, and all the more glaringly so. Today’s transnational corporations (TNCs) far outshine Lenin’s “trusts and cartels”. “Export of capital predominating over export of commodities” has become more pronounced and assumed newer forms such as hot money flows at lightning speed. As for “parasitism”, Lenin had already talked of “the financial strangulation” of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries — by “international banker countries” and “usury imperialism” — a trend that has assumed more institutionalized shape with the rise of the transnational financial corporations and multilateral institutions like the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc. Lenin not only drew attention to the coalescence of bank capital and industrial capital and the new role of giant banks, but referred to the still nascent trend of speculation in land, shares, etc. emerging as the most tempting field for making a fast buck: “… the development of capitalism has arrived at a stage when, although commodity production still ‘reigns’ and continues to be regarded as the basis of economic life, it has in reality been undermined and the bulk of the profits go to the ‘geniuses’ of financial manipulation. At the basis of these manipulations and swindles lies socialised production; but the immense progress of mankind, which achieved this...

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Imperialism

We propose to present the vast subject in four sub-topics Imperialism as Lenin Saw it To begin with the basics, let us see how Lenin defined imperialism. “If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism, we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism.” (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism) Monopoly refers, most obviously, to the giant corporations arising out of concentration of production — corporations which have become much more powerful today than in Lenin’s time, not only in the economic arena but also in the realms of politics and culture. In addition, Lenin referred to monopolistic control over sources of major raw materials like coal and petroleum; monopolies in banking and finance (the finance oligarchy); in possession of colonies, semi/neo-colonies or spheres of influence, etc. However, in all these areas, monopolies do not mean the end of competition. Monopoly grows out of, and further accentuates, competition. Marx had already pointed out this “unity” cum “synthesis” cum “movement” between the two opposites; Lenin corroborated this in the light of new experience. He showed, for example, why wars are inevitable under imperialism. Development of capitalism was (and remains) very uneven, so some of the capitalist great powers (like Germany) experienced more rapid development than others (Great Britain, for example) and naturally, aspired after bigger shares in the world’s resources, markets, territories....

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The “Civil Society” Viewpoint on the State

The NGOs or “non-governmental organizations” (rechristened by some as CSOs or civil society organisations) counterpose civil society against the state and describe themselves as champions and vanguards of the former, working against the apathy and bureaucratism of the latter. With the blind market forces playing havoc with people’s lives and becoming a target of widespread criticism, they now claim to represent a “third way” between “authoritarian statism” and “savage market capitalism”. The juxtaposition of the state and civil society as mutually exclusive entities is an anarchist illusion. As Marx and Engels pointed out in The German Ideology, civil society expresses itself, in its foreign relations, as the nation and inwardly organises itself as the state. In a 1846 letter to P Annenkov, Marx explained: “Assume particular stages of development in production, commerce and consumption and you will have a corresponding social constitution, a corresponding organisation of the family, of orders or of classes, in a word, a corresponding civil society. Assume a particular civil society and you will get particular political conditions which are only the official expression of civil society.” The NGOs’ glib talk on civil society seeks to obscure the fact that it is divided into the oppressor and the oppressed, the exploiter and exploited and that a life and death struggle is continually going on between these hostile camps. And for all their diatribe against the...

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Globalisation and the “Retreat” of the State

Nowadays we often hear that in this era of globalisation the nation-state has lost much of its traditional role and relevance. This assertion rests primarily on three observations : (a) the massive growth of MNCs which operate across state boundaries, (b) the mind-boggling volume and speed of cross-border flows of finance capital, (c) the growing domination of multilateral institutions like the IMF, WB and WTO. However, on closer examination all three arguments fall apart. The MNCs or TNCs are still heavily rooted in their home countries. Powerful corporations and their respective hove states serve each other in innumerable ways, with the latter engaging themselves very actively in business wars amongst MNCs based in different countries. We have seen how Washington pressured New Delhi for signing the nuclear deal and more recently, for waiving the liability clause, in the interests of US-based MNCs like General Election.several studies have pointed out that a great majority of the world’s largest corporations maintain more than half their asset-bases in their own countries and that the presence of foreign nationals on the boards of American MNCs in particular are absolutely miniscule. In sum, the rise of powerful MNCs betokens not the fading out of the nation state but, on one hand, a new mechanism of increased economic aggression and political intervention on the part of imperialist countries (lately, and to a much lesser extent,...

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The Anarchist Approach

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a contemporary of Karl Marx and the original anarchist in the socialist movement, held that the power of capital and the power of the state were synonymous, so the proletariat could not emancipate itself through the use of state power. This absolute negativism was shared by Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin, though there were substantial differences between them on details of strategy and policy. A later trend known as anarcho-syndicalism held that trade unions were to become the revolutionary instruments in the hands of the proletariat and also the basic units of the socialist order replacing the state. Lenin summed up the differences between the Marxist and the anarchist viewpoints on the question of the state in the following words : “The distinction between the Marxists and the anarchists is this : The former, while aiming at the complete abolition of the state, recognise that this aim can only be achieved after classes have been abolished by the socialist revolution, as the result of the establishment of socialism, which leads to the withering away of the state. The latter want to abolish the state completely overnight, not understanding the conditions under which the state can be abolished. The former recognise that after the proletariat has won political power, it must completely destroy the old state machine and replace it by a new one consisting of an organisation...

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The State

The state refers to the sum total of all the legislative, judicial and executive organs: the parliament and state legislatures, the courts and prisons, the civil administration including the police, the military and paramilitary forces and so on. The basic principles and policies of a modern state are enshrined in its constitution, which makes it another constituent — the ideological-political embodiment — of the state. The latter is run by governments, which are liable to change every few years even as the state remains unchanged for much longer periods of time. The difference (and the relation) between the state and the governments (central and provincial) is thus akin to that between a machine and its operators. Bourgeois and Social-democratic parties clamour for changing only the operators, revolutionary communists work for changing both the operators and the machine. The State: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Here we reproduce excerpts from Lenin’s The State, (LCW, Vol. 29), supplemented with some additional observations by Marx and Engels. The state has not always existed. There was a time when there was no state. It appears wherever and whenever a division of society into classes appears, whenever exploiters and exploited appear. Before the first form of exploitation of man by man arose, the first form of division into classes — slave-owners and slaves — there existed the patriarchal family, or, as it is sometimes called,...

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The Struggle against Reformism and Anarchism

Reformism originated with the Fabian Society in England (founded in 1884 with leading intellectuals like Sydney and Beatrice Webb, Ramsay MacDonald and Bernard Shaw) and then spread to the rest of Europe. Basically, reformism holds that capitalism can be transformed into socialism by a series of gradual changes, without any qualitative rupture, that is, without a revolution. When by the end of the 19th-century pre-Marxian reformism was more or less defeated by the Marxian doctrine in the working class movement, it reappeared on the soil of Marxism itself as amendments to Marxism, as revisionism. The father of revisionism was a one-time orthodox Marxist, Bernstein, whose catch-phrase “the movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing” was diametrically opposed to the declaration of the Communist Manifesto that in the movement of the present communists always represent and take care of the future of that movement. Lenin defined the substance of revisionism in the following words: “To determine its conduct from case to case, to adapt itself to the events of the day and to the chopping and changing of petty politics, to forget the primary interests of the proletariat and the basic features of the whole capitalist system, of all capitalist evolution, to sacrifice these primary interests for the sake of real or assumed advantages of the moment — such is the policy of revisionism. … every more or less...

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Marx on Marxist Worldview

In his 1859 Preface to An Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx gives a brilliantly concise formulation of the dialectical and materialist conception of history: “In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always...

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