26 June 2014

Which is master, mind or matter?

Philosophy and Religion, Part 1c

Which is master, mind or matter?

According to the Progress Publishers, Moscow, Dictionary of Philosophy, 1984 edition, the Fundamental Question of Philosophy is:

“…the question of the relationship of consciousness to being, of thought to matter and nature, examined on two planes, first, what is primary – spirit or nature, matter or consciousness – and second, how is knowledge of the world related to the world itself or, to put it differently, does consciousness correspond to being, is it capable of truthfully reflecting the world?”

According to the well-known series of articles by “Dialego” (John Hoffman) called “Philosophy and Class Struggle”: “Materialism Vs. Idealism [is] the Basic Question of Philosophy”. We will look at Dialego in more detail later in this series.

The Soviet dictionary proposes a unity-and-struggle-of-opposites as between human Subject and Objective nature. Dialego, on the other hand, proposes a dialectic between Materialism and Idealism.

So which is it? Which one of these two is correct?

Dialectical logic insists that its struggling opposites are interdependent. They define each other, and cannot escape each other, except through the working out of their struggle. In just this way, the Subject defines the Object, while at the same time the Object is the necessary condition for the Subject.

But Idealism and Materialism are two mutually-exclusive philosophical systems. They do not depend upon one another. If one prevails, the other one is annihilated. This is not dialectical. This is only a “zero-sum game”.

Says Dialego: “…materialism contends that people's ideas, like all other aspects of their behaviour, are the product of material causes and can only be properly understood when these causes are discovered.” This is also the position of other philosophies, such as Post-Modernism, and Social Darwinism, both of which hold that human free will is an illusion.

Says the dictionary: “The philosophers who form the camp of materialism regard matter, being, as being primary, and consciousness as secondary, and hold that consciousness is the result of influence exerted on it by the objectively existing external world.”

This “materialist” view has been orthodoxy among many communists since the 1920s. Among others who expounded it, and who consequently promoted Dialectical Materialism were Joseph Stalin and Maurice Cornforth (1909 – 1980), a British theoretician. Among those with a different view have been the late Cyril Smith, and Paolo Freire.

In this ten-part course we are going to test the question of Dialectical Materialism by interrogating the work of these and other thinkers.

The linked download, below, is relatively difficult to read. It is given for the first few of its pages, and to show that although Marx and Engels in their early writing did raise up the question of Idealism and Materialism, in a chapter title, yet it is by no means clear from this that they had any intentions to give birth to anything like Dialectical Materialism.

Although their work is saturated with philosophy, and particularly with Hegelian philosophy, yet the amount of writing that Marx and Engels did that was directly about philosophy was quite little. Much of it was in their early days such as the period prior to the writing of the linked Part 1A of “The German Ideology”, where they recall that:

"Principles ousted one another, heroes of the mind overthrew each other with unheard-of rapidity, and in the three years 1842-45 more of the past was swept away in Germany than at other times in three centuries."

The whole work was to be a "Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets”. These were the Young Hegelians, personally well known to the young Marx and Engels. The writing was polemical.

Does Marx support or advance in any way the reduction of all humanity and human history to non-human, molecular, chemical or nuclear sources? One view is that Marx is merely saying that the human Subject is only comprehensible within a material, Objective world. Or in other words, that the relationship of mind and matter is just that: a relationship. A dialectical relationship.

The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals.”

We will return to these questions.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Idealism and Materialism, 1845, Marx.

25 June 2014

The Point is to Change the World

Philosophy and Religion, Part 1b

The Point is to Change the World

Any one of the eleven short Theses on Feuerbach (download linked below) would be adequate on its own as a topic for discussion in a study circle. The most famous of them is the last, and justifiably so:

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

This shows Marx in 1845 as being firmly in the camp of those humanists for whom the active, free-willing Subject is the centre and the starting point of all philosophy and all politics. It puts Marx in the opposite camp from those “materialists” who regard the human as derivative of and secondary to the purely physical. Marx never shifted from this strong and logical position. Marx poses the Subject in a dialectical relation with the Objective universe, but the Subject is the one with the initiative. The Subject makes things happen.

This is different from the idealism that ignores the material world, and it is equally different from the materialism that prioritises the mechanical over the mental.

Ludwig Feuerbach’s intervention into the philosophical debates of the early 1840s, with his book “The Essence of Christianity”, created a sensation in the intellectual crucible that included Marx and Engels as well as the “Young Hegelians” with whom Marx and Engels were falling out at the time.

Reading the eleven “Theses” reveals that Marx immediately recognised Feuerbach as a materialist, but rejected Feuerbach’s brand of anti-religious materialism at once.

Thesis number two says that truth is a practical question. This is something that is repeated later on in the “classics” of Marxism. This, too, reinforces the assertion that the world or universe is a human world or universe. “It is men who change circumstances” says Marx in the third Thesis, and “human activity or self-change can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.”

The subsequent Theses develop this understand through to Thesis 10 which says: The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society or social humanity.”

This is a good reminder that for Marx in particular, the term “civil society” only means “bourgeois society”, and that therefore for Marxists, “civil society” is something to be overcome and transcended, and not something to be put on a pedestal and worshipped.

The image represents Leon Battista Alberti, the greatest of the renowned rational humanists of the Italian Renaissance. They upheld the idea of the “uomo universale” (universal man), and gained the confidence to surpass the achievements of the ancient world after a thousand years of backward feudalism in Western Europe.

The humanists of today are the Marxists.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Theses on Feuerbach, 1845, Marx.

24 June 2014

Soul of Soulless Conditions

Philosophy and Religion, Part 1a

Soul of Soulless Conditions

37 years before Oscar Wilde wrote the “Soul of Man Under Socialism”, Karl Marx wrote his “Introduction to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right”. Marx expressed similar impatience with the Germans as Wilde did with the English, and with similar brilliance.

Even though he writes of the end of religion, yet Marx, with words that have forever since that time been famous, expressed his tender understanding of “the heart of a heartless world”. Those who only quote the part about the “opium of the people” miss this point. One who called religion “the sigh of the oppressed creature” could not have had contempt for religion, or for religious people.

Marx was 25 years old. He was the former editor of a distinguished (and then banned) magazine, and a Doctor of Philosophy. For religion he had an appropriate, sympathetic and poetic respect. Marx did not make war on religion, but he was certainly proposing to storm the heights of philosophy. (For a version of the body of the work itself, as opposed to its Introduction attached and linked below, see Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right on MIA).

The linked text is the confident Introduction to an ambitious work that was never published in Marx’s lifetime. He was proposing to issue a critique of the “Philosophy of Right”, the most accessible of Hegel’s works; works which still had prestige. The great philosopher had died thirteen years previously.

Neither Marx nor Engels wrote very much at all about religion in their subsequent four and five decades of life. This Introduction is the most substantial of Marx’s writings on religion, insofar as it is about religion. But it is also about philosophy, and about class politics. Marx’s first sentence claims criticism of religion as the prerequisite of all other criticism. But he seldom, if ever, leaned upon this point again in his later works.

Marx is concerned to establish, not the condition of religion, but the condition of life once the illusions of religion have left the minds of the living. Towards the end of the Introduction comes this question and answer:

“Where, then, is the positive possibility of a German emancipation?

“Answer: In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat.”

This 1843 (written) statement is categorical evidence of Marx’s commitment already at that time to the historical role of the working class. This was before Marx had teamed up with Engels. The team-up only happened later in 1844 (September), in Paris, France, although they had met briefly in Cologne, Germany, in November 1842.

What it also shows is Marx’s conception of the arrival of the working class as the determining event going into the future; and this has implications, if true, for South Africa in 2013. The determining factor in South Africa’s development will be the growth of the South African working class, both objectively and in terms of its self-consciousness as a class.

Says Marx, nearly at the end of the Introduction:

“Philosophy cannot realize itself without the transcendence of the proletariat, and the proletariat cannot transcend itself without the realization of philosophy.”

This is the theme of our course. In terms of its capacity to fulfil its historic role, or not, philosophy will be the proletariat’s essential tool or weapon.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Intro, 1844, Marx.

Soul of Socialism

Philosophy and Religion, Part 1

Soul of Socialism

In the Progress Publishers (Moscow) Dictionary of Philosophy (1984 English edition) the Fundamental Question of Philosophy is defined as: “the question of the relationship of consciousness to being, of thought to matter and nature, examined on two planes, first, what is primary – spirit or nature, matter or consciousness – and second, how is knowledge of the world related to the world itself, or to put it differently, does consciousness correspond to being, is it capable of truthfully reflecting the world?”

The Communist University takes this to mean the relationship of Subject to Object, (or in other words, of mind to matter) of which the Subject – meaning ourselves, Humanity – is our primary concern and source of value, and therefore our source of morality.

We take it from Christopher Caudwell that freedom is the good that contains all good, and we take it from Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto that the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all. We will contrast this view with the contradictory view, which is that matter can be held as primary, and that human consciousness can be treated as derivative of the material that contains it.

The principal dialectic of this set will proceed in this way, without dogma and without closure.

Socialism’s Soul

Oscar Wilde [an image of him is above], perhaps with assistance from the Communist Manifesto, saw that only from the free development of each could come the free development of all, and that the purpose of Socialism is therefore, as he put it, Individualism. Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” (MS-Word format download linked below) is a very good text to discuss, if people are ready for discussion. It is not necessary to read the whole sixteen pages, but it is very rewarding to do so. Here are a few lines:

“The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.

“In its development it will be assisted by Christianity, if men desire that; but if men do not desire that, it will develop none the less surely. For it will not worry itself about the past, nor care whether things happened or did not happen. Nor will it admit any laws but its own laws; nor any authority but its own authority. Yet it will love those who sought to intensify it, and speak often of them. And of these Christ was one.

“‘Know thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be thyself’ shall be written. And the message of Christ to man was simply ‘Be thyself.’ That is the secret of Christ.

“When Jesus talks about the poor he simply means personalities, just as when he talks about the rich he simply means people who have not developed their personalities.”

This is altogether a wonderful piece of writing, full of wit, charm and surprising truth. It represents much of what the Communist University aspires towards. May it please you to persevere with it.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891, Wilde.

23 June 2014

Philosophy and Religion, Introduction

Philosophy and Religion, Part 0

Philosophy and Religion, Introduction

The series now beginning on this Communist University forum attempts to show how it is finally on the battlefield of Philosophy that the struggle for freedom is won or lost. It shows that this battlefield is a Freirean battlefield. It is the crucial battle of the free-willing human Subject, otherwise known as “The Subject of History”.

Our course attempts to show that some of the philosophical touchstones or “shibboleths” of the communist movement have been terribly mistaken. It shows that the opposition of idealism to materialism, where the latter is supposed to eliminate the former, is not dialectical.

What is dialectical is the counterposition of the human with the material world. These two can never be collapsed into one, so long as human life continues. One does not eliminate the other. Hence this is a true dialectic: a unity and struggle of opposites.

In retrospect it seems clear that at the time of the Great October Revolution in 1917 in Russia there was a philosophical deficit among the revolutionaries; and that this philosophical deficit got worse as time went on; and that this weakness eventually undermined the revolution and caused it to topple, in the “collapse of the Soviet Union” from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.

We will succeed or fail in the future, in proportion to our grasp of philosophy.

Philosophy is a beautiful study, and nothing to fear.

Illustration: “Question Everything!” – the sometime logo of the Communist University of London

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

19 June 2014

Living Communism

State and Revolution, Part 10a

Corporate image of a collaborative project

Living Communism

Bourgeois propaganda would have everyone believe that communism is an impossible utopia, and that class relations as we know them now are all-pervasive in human society, to the exclusion of every other kind of social behaviour.

But, on the contrary, the development of class relations and the State (which as Lenin says, is not only the inevitable product of such relations, but also the proof of their irreconcilability) did not expunge all previous forms of human relation.

Humans already had language, and language is a powerful, stateless system. It has no fixed centre.

There are many other examples of communistic human relations which, like language, have survived, and remain as the bulk of our social fabric. There are even apparently new kinds of communistic social structures appearing, such as the Internet.

What Andy Blunden has done in the writing that we have sampled, for the sake of illuminating the questions raised by Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, is to begin to theorise the communistic patterns of social activity, mediated by artefacts, that characterise human social existence in general.

This is the on-going body of humanity upon the back of which the class struggle is carried, for the time being, like the cross of Christ.

Andy Blunden’s book (from which these excerpts, downloadable via the link below, are taken) is called “A Critique of Activity Theory”. It is concerned in part with Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, or “CHAT”, but we can pass over the specifics of “CHAT”, and look at what Andy means by “collaborative projects” in these chapters.

Collaborative Projects and Artefacts

Collaborative Projects are how people do stuff. Even capitalist companies are collaborative projects.

One characteristic that Andy Blunden identifies is that collaborative projects are always mediated by an artefact, or artefacts. Artefacts are things made by people (but words are also artefacts, by the way).

What Andy therefore begins to theorise is the social place of things, or goods, made by people. This is different from the understanding of such goods as commodities, which is all that capitalism can manage to do.

Another insight of Andy’s is the way that collective agency is both expressed, and also formed, within collaborative projects. We may say that we are humanists, believing in the rational free will of social beings. But how does this actually proceed? Andy provides a description, rooted in politics, philosophy and educational theory.

Our own method, following Paulo Freire, is to have dialogue involving two or more people, centred on a “codification’, which is an artefact (text or image). This conforms to the structure of a “Collaborative Project”.

But the aim in this course on “The State and Revolution” is not necessarily to follow Andy into educational theory. The aim within this particular course is to consider what may already exist under the shell of the class-divided bourgeois State, so that what will remain, if and when that State withers away, can be apparent to us now, today.

What is the living communism of today? This is the question that is being answered, intentionally or otherwise, by Andy Blunden’s writings quoted here.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Collaborative Projects, 2011, Andy Blunden.

17 June 2014

Completing “State and Revolution”

State and Revolution, Part 10

Completing “State and Revolution”

The MIA endnote to “The State and Revolution” says, among other things, that “According to Lenin's plan, “The State and Revolution” was to have consisted of seven chapters, but he did not write the seventh, "The Experience of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917", and only a detailed plan has remained.”

Alas, we do not even have the “detailed plan” for the seventh chapter. But we can note that “The State and Revolution”, interrupted as it was by the Great October Revolution, is a work in progress. Even if the final chapter had been written, this would have been so. Both the book, and the circumstances of its writing, problematise the question of revolution.

In “New Tools for Marxists”, linked below, the late South African revolutionary Ron Press wrote:

‘“…the standard Marxist idea that society passes in a linear manner from primitive communism via class struggle to the ultimate victory when the working class replaces capitalism with a classless society is an unattainable myth. Especially when a classless society was taken to mean the establishment of order and stability, in fact stasis. The theories [outlined above] indicate that stasis means the inevitable sudden crossover into chaos and collapse.

‘Lenin in State and Revolution continued the work of Engels and Marx in outlining the parameters which form the basis for the definition of systems indicated by points (a) and (b). It is interesting that they did not define the form or structure which socialism will have. Lenin recognised these new structures when they emerged. He initiated the slogan “all power to the soviets”.’

Ron Press is saying that the theory of the State, and of the “withering away” of the State, in Marx, Engels and Lenin is not wrong, yet these three did not have the full theoretical means to appreciate in full how “stateless” systems can and do work in nature and in human society.

The revolutionaries of today have an advantage over those of a century ago. That being the case, we might imagine a “State and Revolution” for today, that would include not only the material that Lenin would have included in 1917 if he had had the time, but also material that Lenin would have included in the intervening period up to the present time, if he had had the knowledge of it.

Ron Press’s article gives a good start for that work. Please download it and read it. The two diagrams above, relating to the “Strange Attractor” of Chaos Theory, are from the article.

The matter sits like this: In the past, “stateless” ungoverned systems could be postulated but not described or fully imagined. The “withering away of the state” remained a somewhat mystical, and to its opponents, ridiculous concept. But now, because of the theoretical advances that Ron Press shows us, it can be seen that most systems (both human and natural) operate in fact without a “state” (or king, for that matter) and that the “state” is the exception, and not the rule. Further, the imposition of a “state”, far from being the guarantee of order, is, according to chaos theory, the certain harbinger, not of stasis, but of disorder.

This is an unexpected vindication of Marxism, but a highly useful one. It means that future revolutionaries will have the possibility to see much further forward than was the case in Lenin’s time.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: New tools for Marxists, 1994, Ron Press.

10 June 2014


State and Revolution, Part 9


Lenin at this stage of his writing life (1917) is using the word “Opportunist” to describe the Social Democrats, reformists or gradualists who had nearly all voted to take part in the Imperialist world war. He used the term “Anarchist” to refer to the ultra-leftist pseudo-revolutionaries, but also noted that the Opportunists and the Anarchists were petty-bourgeois “twin brothers”.

Lenin is also writing of “the most prominent theoreticians of Marxism”. Kautsky, a German, had been known as the “Pope of Marxism”, whereas Plekhanov was known as the “Father of Russian Marxism.” Both were by 1917 proven “renegades” – i.e. people who had “reneged”, or gone back on their word. They were supporting their respective national bourgeoisies in the inter-Imperialist Great War (First World War). The most characteristic is:

The Renegade Kautsky

Kautsky… displays the same old "superstitious reverence" for the state, and "superstitious belief" in bureaucracy…

These statements are perfectly clear. This pamphlet of Kautsky's should serve as a measure of comparison of what the German Social-Democrats promised to be before the imperialist war and the depth of degradation to which they, including Kautsky himself, sank when the war broke out. "The present situation," Kautsky wrote in the pamphlet under survey, "is fraught with the danger that we [i.e., the German Social-Democrats] may easily appear to be more 'moderate' than we really are." It turned out that in reality the German Social-Democratic Party was much more moderate and opportunist than it appeared to be!

Kautsky, the German Social-Democrats' spokesman, seems to have declared: I abide by revolutionary views (1899), I recognize, above all, the inevitability of the social revolution of the proletariat (1902), I recognize the advent of a new era of revolutions (1909). Still, I am going back on what Marx said as early as 1852, since the question of the tasks of the proletarian revolution in relation to the state is being raised (1912).

Summing up, Lenin responds:

We, however, shall break with these traitors to socialism, and we shall fight for the complete destruction of the old state machine, in order that the armed proletariat itself may become the government. These are two vastly different things.

We, however, shall break with the opportunists; and the entire class-conscious proletariat will be with us in the fight - not to "shift the balance of forces", but to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to destroy bourgeois parliamentarism, for a democratic republic after the type of the Commune, or a republic of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, for the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

The experience of the Commune has been not only ignored but distorted. Far from inculcating in the workers' minds the idea that the time is nearing when they must act to smash the old state machine, replace it by a new one, and in this way make their political rule the foundation for the socialist reorganization of society, they have actually preached to the masses the very opposite and have depicted the "conquest of power" in a way that has left thousands of loopholes for opportunism.

So Lenin knew well the arguments about “shifts”, which we in South Africa have heard all over again, and he knew about opportunism, which we have also experienced. Lenin knew that the armed proletariat itself must become the government. Read the entire chapter in the attached file, or download it, below.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The State and Revolution, Chapter 6, Vulgarisation of Marxism by Opportunists, Lenin.

04 June 2014

Critique of the Gotha Programme

State and Revolution, Part 8a

Critique of the Gotha Programme

The main text download, linked below, which is Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, is given here as a supplementary to the fifth chapter of “The State and Revolution”. This is the second last; there is one more chapter of Lenin’s book to be sent out in this series.

In this case, our introduction can largely come from Great Lenin himself. Writing of the “withering away of the state”, Lenin begins by making a distinction between the “polemical” and the “positive” parts of Marx’s text:

“Marx explains this question most thoroughly in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. The polemical part of this remarkable work, which contains a criticism of Lassalleanism, has, so to speak, overshadowed its positive part, namely, the analysis of the connection between the development of communism and the withering away of the state.”

Lenin takes the “theory of development” as a given, fixed and firm. We as CU may question this finality, using Ron Press’s essay, “New Tools for Marxists”. But Lenin writes:

“The whole theory of Marx is the application of the theory of development - in its most consistent, complete, considered and pithy form - to modern capitalism. Naturally, Marx was faced with the problem of applying this theory both to the forthcoming collapse of capitalism and to the future development of future communism.”

Lenin quotes the following from Marx:

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

Referring to the late-19th to early 20th century period of legal, constitutional democracy in Germany, Lenin says:

“during this period the Social-Democrats were able to achieve far more than in other countries in the way of "utilizing legality", and organized a larger proportion of the workers into a political party than anywhere else in the world.”

But then asks:

“What is this largest proportion of politically conscious and active wage slaves that has so far been recorded in capitalist society? One million members of the Social-Democratic Party - out of 15,000,000 wage-workers! Three million organized in trade unions - out of 15,000,000!”

For Lenin at this revolutionary moment the numbers are crucial. The proportion of workers organised, compared to the whole, is crucial. So it is with us in South Africa today. Democratisation means organising. The National Democratic Revolution is a practical job of organising people into democratic structures.

A further practical job is the management of society, where, as Lenin says:

“In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx goes into detail to disprove Lassalle's idea that under socialism the worker will receive the "undiminished" or "full product of his labor". Marx shows that from the whole of the social labor of society there must be deducted a reserve fund, a fund for the expansion of production, a fund for the replacement of the "wear and tear" of machinery, and so on. Then, from the means of consumption must be deducted a fund for administrative expenses, for schools, hospitals, old people's homes, and so on. Instead of Lassalle's hazy, obscure, general phrase ("the full product of his labor to the worker"), Marx makes a sober estimate of exactly how socialist society will have to manage its affairs.”

This is a point for the advocates of nationalisation to ponder.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx, 1875, Part 1 and Part 2.

03 June 2014

Living without a State

State and Revolution, Part 8

Living without a State

“We are not utopians, and do not in the least deny the possibility and inevitability of excesses on the part of individual persons, or the need to stop such excesses. In the first place, however, no special machine, no special apparatus of suppression, is needed for this: this will be done by the armed people themselves”

In “The State and Revolution”, and especially in Chapter 5 of the work (attached, and downloadable via the link below), Lenin treats the question of the demise of the bourgeois state, and of the demise of state in general, as a practical matter of immediate concern. The state is to be replaced by “the simple organization of the armed people” and the Russian Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies that already existed at the time of his writing the book, just before the October Revolution, were examples of such simple organization, wrote Lenin.

This simple kind of organisation is what we in South Africa today would call organs of people’s power. There is a lot in this chapter that bears upon the question of how to make the revolution permanent, using such principles. The best way to handle it seems to be to quote quite a lot of it, and then to make a few remarks at the end. So here goes (quotations are in italics):

… in capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will for the first time create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, of the minority. Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the sooner it will become unnecessary and wither away of its own accord.

… under capitalism we have the state in the proper sense of the word, that is, a special machine for the suppression of one class by another, and, what is more, of the majority by the minority. Naturally, to be successful, such an undertaking as the systematic suppression of the exploited majority by the exploiting minority calls for the utmost ferocity and savagery in the matter of suppressing, it calls for seas of blood, through which mankind is actually wading its way in slavery, serfdom and wage labour.

[Now we can] fully appreciate the correctness of Engels' remarks mercilessly ridiculing the absurdity of combining the words "freedom" and "state". So long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.

What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the "first", or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production becomes common property, the word "communism" is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism. The great significance of Marx's explanations is that here, too, he consistently applies materialist dialectics, the theory of development, and regards communism as something which develops out of capitalism.

Democracy means equality. The great significance of the proletariat's struggle for equality and of equality as a slogan will be clear if we correctly interpret it as meaning the abolition of classes. But democracy means only formal equality. And as soon as equality is achieved for all members of society in relation to ownership of the means of production, that is, equality of labour and wages, humanity will inevitably be confronted with the question of advancing farther, from formal equality to actual equality, i.e., to the operation of the rule "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".

By what stages, by means of what practical measures humanity will proceed to this supreme aim we do not and cannot know. But it is important to realize how infinitely mendacious is the ordinary bourgeois conception of socialism as something lifeless, rigid, fixed once and for all, whereas in reality socialism will only be the beginning of a rapid, genuine, truly mass forward movement, embracing first the majority and then the whole of the population, in all spheres of public and private life.

Democracy is of enormous importance to the working class in its struggle against the capitalists for its emancipation. But democracy is by no means a boundary not to be overstepped; it is only one of the stages on the road from feudalism to capitalism, and from capitalism to communism.

The Road to Freedom

The following statements by Lenin from this chapter spell out the road from capitalism via socialism to communism:

Democracy is a form of the state, it represents, on the one hand, the organized, systematic use of force against persons; but, on the other hand, it signifies the formal recognition of equality of citizens, the equal right of all to determine the structure of, and to administer, the state. This, in turn, results in the fact that, at a certain stage in the development of democracy, it first welds together the class that wages a revolutionary struggle against capitalism - the proletariat, and enables it to crush, smash to atoms, wipe off the face of the earth the bourgeois, even the republican-bourgeois, state machine, the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy and to substitute for them a more democratic state machine, but a state machine nevertheless, in the shape of armed workers who proceed to form a militia involving the entire population.

Accounting and control - that is mainly what is needed for the "smooth working", for the proper functioning, of the first phase of communist society. All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of a single countrywide state "syndicate". All that is required is that they should work equally, do their proper share of work, and get equal pay; the accounting and control necessary for this have been simplified by capitalism to the utmost and reduced to the extraordinarily simple operations - which any literate person can perform - of supervising and recording, knowledge of the four rules of arithmetic, and issuing appropriate receipts.

When the majority of the people begin independently and everywhere to keep such accounts and exercise such control over the capitalists (now converted into employees) and over the intellectual gentry who preserve their capitalist habits, this control will really become universal, general, and popular; and there will be no getting away from it, there will be "nowhere to go".

The whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labour and pay.

Easier said than done?

Clearly, the kind of stateless self-organisation of the armed people envisaged above by Lenin did not happen in the remaining six years of his lifetime, and still less did it come to pass in the USSR in the years that followed. It is true that the Soviet Union was constantly under attack, but this by itself is not an explanation. If the free organisation of an armed people is a higher form of organisation, then prima facie it ought to be the best kind of organisation in wartime, too. The argument that says that there cannot be socialism in one country is a fallacy to this extent, in the absence of further elaboration.

The history of the Soviet Union and of the other socialist countries, including China, Vietnam, DPRK and Cuba today, can never be reduced to a formula. Yet it does seem that more work of the kind that Lenin was doing on his unfinished book, The State and Revolution, is needed. Such work could resemble that of our late comrade Ron Press, in his essay “New Tools for Marxists”, where Ron Press showed how “Chaos Theory” validates and elaborates the theory of a society existing without a State. The image above is one of the diagrams that Ron Press used to illustrate his article. We will return to Ron Press’s article in the last part of this course.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: State and Revolution, Chapter 5, Economic Basis of Withering Away of the State, Lenin.

01 June 2014

On Authority and Political Indifferentism

State and Revolution, Part 7b


On Authority and Political Indifferentism

Today we have two short pamphlets, one by Engels, and one by Marx, one on “Authority” and one on “Indifferentism”, compiled together in one document, attached, and downloadable via the link below.

Says Engels: Either the anti-authoritarians don't know what they're talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reactionaries.

This was written in 1872 and published in 1874, in Italy. The “politically correct” of the day were saying that all forms of “authority” were bad and must be done away with. Engels corrects this “politically correct” error.

Marx, writing in 1873, also published in Italy in 1874, addresses what he calls “Political Indifferentism”. In this pamphlet Marx first quotes Proudhon and readers can be deceived to think that Marx is approving of Proudhon. But this is just polemic. Marx quotes Proudhon extensively, but only so as to thoroughly contradict him.

This is a very profound lesson of Karl Marx’s. What he is saying is that although, under the bourgeois dictatorship, in the bourgeois democracy, whose choices are all bourgeois choices, yet we cannot therefore say that we should have nothing to do with it, and refuse to choose.

On the contrary, we have to study it with more attention than anyone else, and then make the tactically right choices in the interest of the working class.

In South Africa in the early 21st century, clearly the communists are deeply involved in the politics of the bourgeois state, and Marx would, according to this text, say that such involvement is more than inevitable. It is deliberate and it is right. The communists cannot remain indifferent to what the bourgeoisie is doing.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Engels, On Authority, 1872; Marx, Political Indifferentism, 1873.