31 May 2014

The Housing Question

State and Revolution, Part 7a

The Housing Question

In the period following the 1867 publication of Capital, Volume 1, the rise and fall of the Paris Commune in 1871, and the relative lapse of the formal International Working Men’s Association (the “First International”) in 1872, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels continued to be active and prominent leaders.

The international working-class movement continued to correspond and to meet. There was a Congress in Ghent, Belgium in 1877, and what is regarded as the Founding Congress of the Second International took place in Chur, Switzerland in 1881 (This was still within the lifetime of Karl Marx, who only died at age 65 in 1883). Between these two meetings the main body of anarchists dropped out of formal liaison with the organised communists, never to return.

Anti-communist bourgeois historians (e.g. the authors of the Wikipedia entry on the Second International) are inclined to depict a collapse and a vacuum in this period, followed by a sudden re-founding of the “socialist international” in 1889, in Paris. The fullest record of the founding of the Second International is, as usual, on the Marxists Internet Archive. It shows continuity, and not a vacuum.

Some of the struggles of the time were repetitions of earlier ones. This much is well illustrated by Engels’ book called “The Housing Question” (downloadable extract linked below).

The first published “classic” of Marxism, according to Lenin’s judgement, was “The Poverty of Philosophy”, which came out in 1847. It was a polemic against the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865).

It sometimes helps to regard Marxism as a matter of marking out boundaries, or borders. The first demarcation is the one that separates the Bourgeoisie from the Proletariat, as was done, for example, in the “Communist Manifesto” of 1848. Although this division and the consequent prospect of class struggle is contested by some liberals, yet most bourgeois intellectuals find themselves obliged to accept it, most of the time.

This boundary is not the only one that is required for an all-round definition of Marxism. From the start, a different lot of liberals, usually called anarchists or “ultra-leftists” but still essentially liberals, challenged Marx and Engels at every point. Their names crop up even before the 1845 genesis of Marxism: Stirner, Weitling, Proudhon. Later, Bakunin wastes time in the First International by opposing the organised proletarian communists.

Now, in 1872, a quarter of a century after the publication of “the first mature work of Marxism” (“The Poverty of Philosophy”), and with its author, Marx’s old antagonist, long deceased, Engels finds it necessary to re-launch the polemic against Proudhon, in this classic work “The Housing Question”. This was because of a resurgence of “Proudhonism”.

Thanks to his own 1845 book, “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, Frederick Engels was already a pioneer of urban studies; so one might approach his book “The Housing Question” (part attached, and linked below) expecting answers to the housing question. One might hope for instructions about what to build. One might expect sermons about “delivery”, or even model house-plans.

Instead, one finds severe polemic about very fundamental issues of class struggle.


Let us briefly consider what “polemic” is. The rules of polemic are roughly these: It is done in writing. It is always against another named individual’s writing. It is direct and frank and it pays little regard for bourgeois squeamishness; on the other hand, it pays the utmost respect to the meaning of the opponent’s words. Opponents in polemic never misrepresent each other. Everything is permissible, except misrepresention.

For example, Engels begins the linked text with references to his opponent Mulberger, who had complained that Engels had been blunt to the point of rudeness. Engels concedes little more than sarcasm:

“I am not going to quarrel with friend Mulberger about the ‘tone’ of my criticism. When one has been so long in the movement as I have, one develops a fairly thick skin against attacks, and therefore one easily presumes also the existence of the same in others. In order to compensate Mulberger I shall try this time to bring my ‘tone’ into the right relation to the sensitiveness of his epidermis.”

But later, admitting that he had misrepresented Mulberger on a particular (quite small) point, Engels lambastes himself as “irresponsible”.

“This time Mulberger is really right. I overlooked the passage in question. It was irresponsible of me to overlook it…”

After his remarks about “Mulberger”, Engels goes straight into a long paragraph (the second half of page 1, going over to page 2) that contains a summary of theory and practice, vanguard and mass, from the 1840s up until his point of writing, just one year after the fall of the Paris Commune. The paragraph mentions “the necessity of the political action of the proletariat and of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the transitional stage to the abolition of classes and with them of the state.”

This is the Communist Manifesto all over again. So, we can ask, why does Engels “go to town” to this extent? Is this not merely “housing” we are talking about? Is not housing something that everybody needs? Classless, surely? A win-win situation? Motherhood and apple-pie?

Engels says: NO! Engels says: the class struggle is here, and everywhere.

What we can read in Mulberger, through Engels’ eyes, is the petty-bourgeois (and full bourgeois) greed for this Housing Question as a means, or a tool, for reproducing petty-bourgeois consciousness, and this is just exactly how the post-1994 South African Government started dealing with the housing question. Yes, there should be lots of houses, it said in effect, but they must be petty-bourgeois-style houses, both in physical type, and in form of ownership.

The argument about housing is an argument about the reproduction of capitalism. It is an argument about the continuation of the ascendancy of bourgeois values over those of the working-class. For the bourgeoisie, the creation of a dwelling is an opportunity to invest the house with peasant-like values of individuality, and with petty-bourgeois ideas of “entrepreneurship”, and to regulate and control the working class according to these values.

Everything that happened in “housing” in South Africa post-1994 is pre-figured in the banal prescriptions of Mulberger that Engels lambastes. Any critique of housing in South Africa will inevitably have to follow the example of Engels if it is to be of any use. Please, comrades, read the first pages and the last paragraphs of this document, if you cannot read all of it.

As the Communist Manifesto says, the history of all hitherto-existing societies has been a history of class struggle. The coming “development” period of South African history will also be a period of class struggle. We may not necessarily win every specific struggle. But what this text of Engels says is: let us never fool ourselves. Win or lose, we are in a class struggle and there is no neutral ground, least of all on the question of housing and land development. There is much more to be studied here, but the key is political.

Pictures: Shack, Abahlali BaseMjondolo; RDP House, David Goldblatt: “Miriam Mazibuko watering the garden of her new RDP house, Extension 8, Far East Bank, Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, 12 September 2006. It has one room. For lack of space, her four children live with her parents-in-law.”

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Housing Question, 1872, Part Three, Frederick Engels, 1872.

30 May 2014

Housing, Democracy and Communism

State and Revolution, Part 7

Lenin speaking in 1917

Housing, Democracy and Communism

This fourth chapter of Lenin’s “The State and Revolution” (attached, and linked below) presents a study circle with a problem: As short as it is, yet there is too much in this chapter to discuss in a 1½ hour session.

The Freirean requirement from any text is only that it provides a good occasion for dialogue. The dialogue is where the value lies, because it generates socialised learning. We are not trying to learn the text in its entirety, as individuals.

This chapter is almost a catalogue of critical contributions made by Frederick Engels, plus remarks of Lenin’s own. The remarks on democracy are particularly challenging. So the chapter provides many topics that could be taken in a dialogue, from which comrades will have to choose. Here are some of them:

Housing Question

"How is the housing question to be settled then? In present-day society, it is settled just as any other social question: by the gradual economic levelling of demand and supply, a settlement which reproduces the question itself again and again and therefore is no settlement.” [Engels]


"Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon, all of which are highly authoritarian means. And the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries.” [Engels]

Monopoly capitalism (remarks on the Erfurt Programme)

The "proximity" of such capitalism to socialism should serve genuine representatives of the proletariat as an argument proving the proximity, facility, feasibility, and urgency of the socialist revolution, and not at all as an argument for tolerating the repudiation of such a revolution and the efforts to make capitalism look more attractive, something which all reformists are trying to do.

…the democratic republic is the nearest approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat. [Lenin]

National Question

Engels, like Marx, never betrayed the slightest desire to brush aside the national question. [Lenin]


…the party struggle against the opium of religion which stupifies the people. [Lenin]

The State (in the Paris Commune)

"... in order not to lose again its only just-gained supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old machinery of oppression previously used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any time...."

“…in Germany particularly the superstitious belief in the state has passed from philosophy into the general consciousness of the bourgeoisie and even of many workers.” [Engels]

Communist and Social-Democrat

Engels wrote that in all his articles he used the word "Communist", and not "Social-Democrat". [Lenin]

Overcoming of democracy

…it is constantly forgotten that the abolition of the state means also the abolition of democracy; that the withering away of the state means the withering away of democracy.

At first sight this assertion seems exceedingly strange and incomprehensible; indeed, someone may even suspect us of expecting the advent of a system of society in which the principle of subordination of the minority to the majority will not be observed - for democracy means the recognition of this very principle.

No, democracy is not identical with the subordination of the minority to the majority. Democracy is a state which recognizes the subordination of the minority to the majority, i.e., an organization for the systematic use of force by one class against another, by one section of the population against another.

We set ourselves the ultimate aim of abolishing the state, i.e., all organized and systematic violence, all use of violence against people in general. We do not expect the advent of a system of society in which the principle of subordination of the minority to the majority will not be observed.

In striving for socialism, however, we are convinced that it will develop into communism and, therefore, that the need for violence against people in general, for the subordination of one man to another, and of one section of the population to another, will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence and without subordination. [Lenin]

This is a very complete concretisation of the question of democracy and communism.

Image: Lenin in late 1917, probably only a few weeks after writing “The State and Revolution”.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: State and Revolution, Chapter 4, Engels’ Supplementary Explanations, Lenin.

23 May 2014

The Civil War in France

State and Revolution, Part 6a

Louis Bonaparte as a bat, balancing Thiers and the Republic

The Civil War in France

In “The State and Revolution” Lenin goes through (some of) the Marxist classics. He devoted a full chapter to the Paris Commune, basing it on Marx’s classic book “The Civil War in France”.

A downloadable file of Chapter 5 of Marx’s book is attached, and linked below.

Early on in this “Paris Commune” chapter, Lenin refers to the Communist Manifesto, pointing out that it was modified by Marx and Engels after 1871. This is what Lenin says, while quoting them:

The last preface to the new German edition of the Communist Manifesto signed by both its authors is dated June 24, 1872. In this preface the authors, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, say that the programme of the Communist Manifesto "has in some details become out-of-date", and they go on to say:

‘"... One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that 'the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'...."[1]

‘The authors took the words that are in single quotation marks in this passage from Marx's book, The Civil War in France.’

Lenin goes on:

‘Marx's idea is that the working class must break up, smash the "ready-made state machinery", and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.

‘On April 12, 1871, i.e., just at the time of the Commune, Marx wrote to Kugelmann:

"If you look up the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it [Marx's italics--the original is zerbrechen], and this is the precondition for every real people's revolution on the Continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting."

Lenin proceeds:

‘Today, [in 1917] in Britain and America, too, "the precondition for every real people's revolution" is the smashing, the destruction of the "ready-made state machinery”…

‘Secondly, particular attention should be paid to Marx's extremely profound remark that the destruction of the bureaucratic-military state machine is "the precondition for every real people's revolution". This idea of a "people's revolution” seems strange coming from Marx, so that the Russian Plekhanovites and Mensheviks, those followers of Struve who wish to be regarded as Marxists, might possibly declare such an expression to be a "slip of the pen" on Marx's part. They have reduced Marxism to such a state of wretchedly liberal distortion that nothing exists for them beyond the antithesis between bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolution, and even this antithesis they interpret in an utterly lifeless way.

‘If we take the revolutions of the 20th century as examples we shall, of course, have to admit that the Portuguese and the Turkish revolutions are both bourgeois revolutions. Neither of them, however, is a "people's" revolution, since in neither does the mass of the people, their vast majority, come out actively, independently, with their own economic and political demands to any noticeable degree. By contrast, although the Russian bourgeois revolution of 1905-07 displayed no such "brilliant" successes as at the time fell to the Portuguese and Turkish revolutions, it was undoubtedly a "real people's" revolution, since the mass of the people, their majority, the very lowest social groups, crushed by oppression and exploitation, rose independently and stamped on the entire course of the revolution the imprint of their own demands, their attempt to build in their own way a new society in place of the old society that was being destroyed.

‘In Europe, in 1871, the proletariat did not constitute the majority of the people in any country on the Continent. A "people's" revolution, one actually sweeping the majority into its stream, could be such only if it embraced both the proletariat and the peasants. These two classes then constituted the "people". These two classes are united by the fact that the "bureaucratic-military state machine" oppresses, crushes, exploits them. To smash this machine, to break it up, is truly in the interest of the "people", of their majority, of the workers and most of the peasants, is "the precondition" for a free alliance of the poor peasant and the proletarians, whereas without such an alliance democracy is unstable and socialist transformation is impossible.’

The lessons of the Paris Commune are many. Here are some of Marx’s own words from our chosen chapter:

“…no sooner do the working men anywhere take the subject [emancipation of labour] into their own hands with a will, than uprises at once all the apologetic phraseology of the mouthpieces of present society with its two poles of capital and wages-slavery (the landlord now is but the sleeping partner of the capitalist), as if the capitalist society was still in its purest state of virgin innocence, with its antagonisms still undeveloped, with its delusions still unexploded, with its prostitute realities not yet laid bare. The Commune, they exclaim, intends to abolish property, the basis of all civilization!

“Yes, gentlemen, the Commune intended to abolish that class property which makes the labour of the many the wealth of the few. It aimed at the expropriation of the expropriators. It wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labour, into mere instruments of free and associated labour. But this is communism, "impossible" communism! Why, those member of the ruling classes who are intelligent enough to perceive the impossibility of continuing the present system — and they are many — have become the obtrusive and full-mouthed apostles of co-operative production. If co-operative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the capitalist system; if united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon common plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of capitalist production — what else, gentlemen, would it be but communism, "possible" communism?”

Factual note: What had happened in France was that Louis Bonaparte, the nobody, the returned exile, who juggled the classes and deceived them all, had made himself an “Emperor”. But he ran out of options after two decades in power. He decided to make a foolish war on the Germans (Prussians), who beat the French and advanced to Versailles, outside Paris. The French government then abandoned Paris like cowards; hence the formation of the self-governing Paris Commune. In Versailles, a suburb of royal palaces, the Germans for the first time agreed to form a single German nation, while at the same time licensing and assisting the treacherous French bourgeoisie to destroy their own compatriots in Paris.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Civil War in France, Chapter 5, The Paris Commune, 1871, Karl Marx.

22 May 2014

The Paris Commune, 1871

State and Revolution, Part 6

The Paris Commune, 1871

The main text (attached) is the third part of Lenin’s “Generic Course” on The State and Revolution. It is devoted to the Paris Commune [pictured in the photograph, above, and memorialised in Soviet artwork, below] and to the lessons that Karl Marx in particular drew from that experience.

Marx’s work “The Civil War in France” was written during, and immediately after, the events of early 1871 in Paris. Lenin’s summary of Marx, as usual, is brief but misses very little. Lenin’s summary itself has its highlights and these are what we will note here.

The first is where Lenin notes that Marx would have made a correction to the Communist Manifesto of 1848 on the basis of the experience of the Paris Commune. In 1871 Marx wrote: “…the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes” - by which he meant that proletariat had to "to smash the bureaucratic-military machine" and to replace it with a state that is "the proletariat organized as the ruling class" and as an "armed people" that had disbanded the bourgeoisie's "special bodies of armed men".

Lenin wrote:

“Marx did not indulge in utopias; he expected the experience of the mass movement to provide the reply to the question as to the specific forms this organisation of the proletariat as the ruling class would assume and as to the exact manner in which this organisation would be combined with the most complete, most consistent ‘winning of the battle of democracy.’"

The Commune was “a practical step that was more important than hundreds of programmes and arguments.”

Lenin proceeds in the second and third sections of this chapter to relate how the practical steps were executed.

In the fourth part, Lenin addresses the question of centralism and clearly shows that centralism is not imposed but must be won politically, as a matter of free-willing action. All the time, Lenin is carrying on a secondary argument against the “opportunists” and the “anarchists, whom he says are “twin brothers.” Lenin writes:

“The anarchists dismissed the question of political forms altogether. The opportunists of present-day Social-Democracy accepted the bourgeois political forms of the parliamentary democratic state as the limit which should not be overstepped; they battered their foreheads praying before this 'model', and denounced as anarchism every desire to break these forms.”

“…now one has to engage in excavations, as it were, in order to bring undistorted Marxism to the knowledge of the mass of the people,” says Lenin.

As it was in 1917, so it remains in 2013: One has to engage in excavations.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: State and Revolution, Chapter 3, The Paris Commune, Lenin.

17 May 2014

The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

State and Revolution, Part 5c

Louis Bonaparte's balancing act

The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

In the following part of Marx’s outline of the events from “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (see the attached files, or click on the links below for downloads containing a longer selection) it is clear that the proletariat suffered a disaster in Paris in June of 1848, when it had no allies and was isolated and attacked by all the other classes together, and massacred.

This is the isolation that the proletariat must always avoid, and it is one reason why the working class must always have allies. Here is the brief quotation:

“a. May 4 to June 25, 1848. Struggle of all classes against the proletariat. Defeat of the proletariat in the June days.

“b. June 25 to December 10, 1848. Dictatorship of the pure bourgeois republicans. Drafting of the constitution. Proclamation of a state of siege in Paris. The bourgeois dictatorship set aside on December 10 by the election of Bonaparte as President.”

In the “18th Brumaire” the contenders of the Great French Revolution reappear, namely the Aristocracy, the Peasantry (known as the Montagne – the “Mountain”), the Bourgeoisie and the working Proletariat.

Also described are the serous contradictions within the bourgeois class; the classless, manipulative Bonaparte, who played the four main classes off against each other for more than two decades, until he lost the plot; and the “lumpen-proletariat” of idle adventurers who were Bonaparte’s willing accomplices, paid with “whisky and sausages”.

Juggling the different class interests and playing the different classes against each other, as Louis Bonaparte did for twenty years or so, is what has since then been called “Bonapartism”. Thabo Mbeki managed his juggling act for only ten years. In Swaziland, the trick has been sustained for more than four times as long as that. In all three cases the main beneficiary of the interlude turned out to be the bourgeois class.

Here are four more of the most well-known paragraphs taken from our selection from the “18th Brumaire”. They reveal a lot of the class dynamics that Marx describes in this classic work:

“Only under the second Bonaparte does the state seem to have made itself completely independent. The state machinery has so strengthened itself vis-a-vis civil society that the Chief of the Society of December 10 [Louis Bonaparte] suffices for its head — an adventurer dropped in from abroad, raised on the shoulders of a drunken soldiery which he bought with whisky and sausages and to which he has to keep throwing more sausages. Hence the low-spirited despair, the feeling of monstrous humiliation and degradation that oppresses the breast of France and makes her gasp. She feels dishonored.

“And yet the state power is not suspended in the air. Bonaparte represented a class, and the most numerous class of French society at that, the small-holding peasants.

“Just as the Bourbons were the dynasty of the big landed property and the Orleans the dynasty of money, so the Bonapartes are the dynasty of the peasants, that is, the French masses. The chosen of the peasantry is not the Bonaparte who submitted to the bourgeois parliament but the Bonaparte who dismissed the bourgeois parliament. For three years the towns had succeeded in falsifying the meaning of the December 10 election and in cheating the peasants out of the restoration of the Empire. The election of December 10, 1848, has been consummated only by the coup d'etat of December 2, 1851. [i.e. when Louis Bonaparte made himself Emperor.]

“The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is furthered by France's poor means of communication and the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production, the small holding, permits no division of labor in its cultivation, no application of science, and therefore no multifariousness of development, no diversity of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, the peasant and his family; beside it another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name, whether through a parliament or a convention. They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above. The political influence of the small-holding peasants, therefore, finds its final expression in the executive power which subordinates society to itself.”

This is the dictatorship that the peasantry, time and again, brings upon itself. The alternative to it is the dictatorship of the proletariat. The working class must supply the organising framework that the peasantry cannot produce for itself.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Chapter 1 and part of 6, and Chapter 7, Marx.

16 May 2014

Bourgeois, Proletarians and Communists

State and Revolution, Part 5b

The Communist Manifesto is constantly re-published

Bourgeois, Proletarians and Communists

The Communist Manifesto is a classic by any standards. It is never out of print and it is stocked in ordinary bookshops all over the world, selling steadily year after year.

The work was started in mid-1847 in England by Frederick Engels and Karl Marx when Marx was 29 and Engels 27, and was published in January or February of 1848, just in time for the outbreak of revolutions all over Europe.

All of the Communist Manifesto is memorable, but especially the first two parts (“Bourgeois and Proletarians”, and “Proletarians and Communists”) given in the downloadable file, linked below. The third part is called “Socialist and Communist Literature” and the fourth part of one page is called “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties”. A fifth part that was not included is the catechism- or FAQ-style document called “The Principles of Communism” drafted by Frederick Engels.

Bourgeois and Proletarians

The new masters, the formerly slave-owning but now capitalist bourgeoisie, also known as burghers or burgesses, were a class that had grown up in the towns under the rule of rural-based feudalism (“traditional leadership”). Marx and Engels were convinced that the bourgeoisie were themselves sooner or later going to be overthrown by the working proletariat, the class of free citizens owning nothing but their Labour-Power, that the bourgeoisie had brought into existence by employing them. The bourgeoisie had taken over from the feudal lords by revolution. They would themselves be toppled by revolution, said Marx and Engels.

Commissioned to write the Manifesto by the Communist League, Marx and Engels struggled to meet the agreed deadline, but came through with a magnificent text published just prior to the February, 1848 events in Paris. These events brought the proletariat as actors on to the stage of history to an extent that had never been seen before, thoroughly vindicating Engels and Marx.

Short as it is, the Manifesto is so rich and so compressed as to be saturated with meaning, and practically impossible to summarise. Here are some of the most extraordinary sentences of the first section of the Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other - bourgeoisie and proletariat.

The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

Proletarians and Communists

The second part of the Communist Manifesto contains statements about the Communist Party, about the family, about religion, and frank statements about the bourgeoisie.

The second part shows, among other things, the centrality of the relations of production that create and sustain the effect known as capital, which then in turn defines everything else in bourgeois society.

“Proletarians and Communists” also looks forward to the way that society can be changed, and thus serves to remind us that Marx’s work is always intentional, and is never merely empirical, descriptive or disinterested.

“The average price of wage labour is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the labourer in bare existence as a labourer,” wrote Marx and Engels.  

“But does wage labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage labour, and which cannot increase except upon conditions of begetting a new supply of wage labour for fresh exploitation.”

They finish the section with this unforgettable, classic vision:

“…a vast association of the whole nation… in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Bourgeois and Proletarians; Proletarians and Communists, Communist Manifesto, Marx/Engels, 1848.

15 May 2014

The Poverty of Philosophy

State and Revolution, Part 5a

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his daughters, by Gustave Courbet, 1865

The Poverty of Philosophy

In Chapter 2 of his 1917 between-revolutions work “The State and Revolution”, V I Lenin wrote that The first works of mature Marxism — The Poverty of Philosophy and the Communist Manifesto — appeared just on the eve of the revolution of 1848.” Among other things, “The State and Revolution” was Lenin’s own well-designed course on The Classics, moving through the works of Marx and Engels and revealing the spine or theme of the entire body of work.

We have elsewhere looked at this question and concluded that The German Ideology, including the Theses on Feuerbach, all written between 1845 and 1847 but not published in full until 1932, long after Lenin’s death in 1924, ought to be recognised as one of the “first works of mature Marxism”.

With all these, we have a reasonably clear-cut beginning to the “canon” of Marxism, in terms of time and of specific works. But what is the nature of this beginning, as revealed in these works?

One part of the answer to this question is polemic, which is a kind of argument that proceeds from criticism of an opponent’s ideas expressed in text, carefully examined and dissected. These works of Marx’s and Engels’ are polemical. The German Ideology was a polemic against Bruno Bauer and against Max Stirner, an anarchist who had previously published a book called “The Ego and Its Own”. Another anarchist opponent of Marx and Engels in the early 1840s was Wilhelm Weitling. The Poverty of Philosophy, started in January 1847 and published the same year, was a polemic against a third anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who had written a book called “The Philosophy of Poverty”.

In case we should get too particular about the term “anarchism”, it can help to recall what Lenin wrote in Chapter 3 of The State and Revolution, namely that “anarcho-syndicalism… is merely the twin brother of opportunism.” The imprecision of anarchism is one of its faults. Its distinction from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois liberalism is not clear, because it is actually non-existent. Marx’s polemic in “The Poverty of Philosophy” is directed against these faults, and others.

It is as well to use this opportunity to remind ourselves that there was no innocent Garden of Eden for Marxism before it was assailed by anarchists, “ultra-lefts”, revisionists, reformists and all sorts of deviationists, escamoteurs and demagogues. In fact, there was not even as much as one minute of peace for Marxism before it had to contend with all of these kinds of opponents. On the contrary, Marxism was actually conceived in this very same argument. The argument with the anarchists was itself the creative act. There was no Marxism prior to its polemical fights with anarchism, and it is fated to contend with these same foes in their many variations until the day that class struggle finally ends and the communist parties disband themselves.

The selected text from The Poverty of Philosophy, attached, and downloadable via the link given below, is a compilation of Part 3 of Chapter 2, together with the last pages of the book, which last pages comprise what is arguably the first concise full statement of Marxism.

It is not necessary for our present purposes to follow every twist and turn of Marx’s argument in Part 3 of The Poverty of Philosophy. Most of it is in any case lucid and clear, although it is sometimes not easy to tell which is Marx’s own voice, and which is Marx speaking satirically in Proudhon’s voice.

Some highlights include the following passage, where Marx anticipates both Capital Volume 3 and also the current banking crisis and US home-loan bubble:

“Competition is not industrial emulation, it is commercial emulation. In our time industrial emulation exists only in view of commerce. There are even phases in the economic life of modern nations when everybody is seized with a sort of craze for making profit without producing. This speculation craze, which recurs periodically, lays bare the true character of competition, which seeks to escape the need for industrial emulation.”

In the final part, Marx begins by advocating “combination”, which is the creation of mass democratic organisations, especially trade unions. He finds what Lenin calls the “twin brothers” - the reformist bourgeois economists and the utopian socialists - both arguing against combination (unions); yet he notes that the more advanced the countries become, the greater is the degree of combination. This kind of association then takes on a political character, says Marx.

In the final page Marx writes:

“An oppressed class is the vital condition for every society founded on the antagonism of classes. The emancipation of the oppressed class thus implies necessarily the creation of a new society… The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class…there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society... …the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is a struggle of class against class, a struggle which carried to its highest expression is a total revolution.”

This is classic Marxism.

The image above is a reproduction of a painting of Proudhon made in 1865 by the great Realist painter Gustave Courbet who in 1871 was placed in charge of all art museums by the Paris Commune, and who was as a result subsequently exiled to Switzerland, where he died.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Poverty of Philosophy, Karl Marx, 1847, excerpts.

14 May 2014


State and Revolution, Part 5

Paris, February 1848


Lenin spends the first five of the six existing chapters of “The State and Revolution” tracing the development of the thought of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. In Chapter 2 (attached), he sweeps through their accounts of the period of bourgeois revolutions in mid-nineteenth-century Europe that started in 1848.

Marx and Engels had good timing. Engels had witnessed Manchester in the early 1840s in the full bloom of its emergence as the first great industrial-capitalist city of the world. He had also, with Marx, engaged in literary disputes with the Young Hegelians in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany, and other disputes with the anarchists of the time. They had also corresponded with the Chartists. They had spent time organising the working class in Paris and in Brussels.

Berlin, March 1848

Then they found themselves on the crest of the extraordinary revolutionary wave of 1848, and so they were well-positioned to record it and to learn its lessons, just as they were with later crucial episodes, notably the Paris Commune of 1871.

In the first line of Chapter 2 Lenin describes “The Poverty of Philosophy” (together with the Communist Manifesto), written in 1847 when Marx was still in his twenties, as “the first mature works of Marxism.” The book was written as a polemic against one, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. of several anarchists that Marx had to contend with. These anarchists tested and tempered Marx’s and Engels’ resolve, in hard debate.

Lenin moves on to the Communist Manifesto, where he immediately derives the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” from the equally direct words of the Marx and Engels in the Manifesto, namely: “the state, i.e. the proletariat organised as the ruling class”.

“The state is a special organization of force: it is an organization of violence for the suppression of some class.”

The proletariat will use the state to suppress the bourgeois class.

Chartist rally, Kennington, London, 1848

Lenin then turns on the reformists. Later, in Chapter 3, Lenin calls the anarchists and the petty-bourgeois opportunists “twin brothers”.

Here in Chapter 2 he writes:

“The petty-bourgeois democrats, those sham socialists who replaced the class struggle by dreams of class harmony, even pictured the socialist transformation in a dreamy fashion — not as the overthrow of the rule of the exploiting class, but as the peaceful submission of the minority to the majority which has become aware of its aims. This petty-bourgeois utopia, which is inseparable from the idea of the state being above classes, led in practice to the betrayal of the interests of the working classes.”

The chapter proceeds to touch “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”. It returns to Marx on the dictatorship of the proletariat, this time in those very terms, in a letter written in 1852; and Lenin says: “Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: State and Revolution, Chapter 2, The Experience of 1848-1851, Lenin.