25 August 2011



State and Revolution, Part 9


Lenin at this stage of his writing life (1917) is using “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 revolutionaries, but also noted that the Opportunists and the Anarchists were petty-bourgeois “twin brothers”.

Here, Lenin is 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. Download and read the entire chapter, below.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

20 August 2011

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 Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”. There is one more of Lenin's chapters 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.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

18 August 2011

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 (download linked 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.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

12 August 2011

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, 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.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

5 August 2011

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 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 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 and 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 the author of 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” (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 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 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.”

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

4 August 2011

Housing, Democracy and Communism

State and Revolution, Part 7

Lenin in 1917

Housing, Democracy and Communism

This fourth chapter of Lenin’s “The State and Revolution” (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”.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading: