30 July 2012

Feuerbach and the End of German Philosophy

The Classics, Part 6b

Feuerbach and the End of German Philosophy

Nine years before the end of his life - he died in 1895 - and three years after Karl Marx’s death, Frederick Engels returned to the beginning with his undoubtedly classic 1886 work “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy” (downloadable via the links given below, in two separate files).

The following is how Engels confirms the place of our first “classic” book as the original work of Marxism. “The German Ideology” at that point (1886) had not yet been saved from “the gnawing criticism of the mice”. It was not published until 1932.

“In the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, published in Berlin, 1859, Karl Marx relates how the two of us in Brussels in the year 1845 set about: “to work out in common the opposition of our view” — the materialist conception of history which was elaborated mainly by Marx — to the ideological view of German philosophy, in fact, to settle accounts with our erstwhile philosophical conscience. The resolve was carried out in the form of a criticism of post-Hegelian philosophy. The manuscript, two large octavo volumes, had long reached its place of publication in Westphalia when we received the news that altered circumstances did not allow of its being printed. We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly as we had achieved our main purpose — self-clarification! Since then more than 40 years have elapsed and Marx died without either of us having had an opportunity of returning to the subject.”

“Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy” is in four parts, of which the first is nominally about George William Frederick Hegel (1770-1831).

In “Ludwig Feuerbach, Part 1” Engels says that the revolutions of 1789 and 1848 were each preceded by uproar in the field of philosophy; but with differences.

Whereas the French pre-revolutionary philosophers had been banned and proscribed, Hegel had advanced in “a triumphant procession which lasted for decades”. At times Hegelianism had held “the rank of a royal Prussian philosophy of state”. In the decade following Hegel’s death, until the denunciatory lectures of Schelling in 1841 which Engels attended, “‘Hegelianism’ reigned most exclusively.” This reign, and the subsequent fall, was the well-ploughed philosophical ground in which Marxism germinated and started to grow.

Engels says: “At that time politics was a very thorny field, and hence the main fight came to be directed against religion; this fight, particularly since 1840, was indirectly also political.”

This proxy role played in politics by religion (and philosophy) in 1840s Germany is the reason for the apparent elevation of the dichotomy of idealism and materialism, as if this dichotomy explains everything, when by itself it explains nothing. The relationship of (thinking) Subject and (material) Object is dialectical, and not absolute.

Lenin wrote: “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!”

So Hegel was much more than a John the Baptist to Karl Marx’s Christ. Hegel had gathered up everything that had gone before, and displayed it as unified history. Hegel made the methodology that served as Marx’s constant framework.

Engels writes:

“… with Hegel philosophy comes to an end; on the one hand, because in his system he summed up its whole development in the most splendid fashion; and on the other hand, because, even though unconsciously, he showed us the way out of the labyrinth of systems to real positive knowledge of the world.”

The third linked item is a return to Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach, in its fourth and final part, dealing with Engels’ now-deceased friend Karl Marx. Engels writes:

“Out of the dissolution of the Hegelian school, however, there developed still another tendency, the only one which has borne real fruit. And this tendency is essentially connected with the name of Marx (1).

“The separation from Hegelian philosophy was here also the result of a return to the materialist standpoint. That means it was resolved to comprehend the real world — nature and history — just as it presents itself to everyone who approaches it free from preconceived idealist crotchets. It was decided mercilessly to sacrifice every idealist fancy which could not be brought into harmony with the facts conceived in their own and not in a fantastic interconnection. And materialism means nothing more than this.”

Materialism, covered in the second and third parts of this work, was crucial to Marx’s theories.

Materialism gazed mercilessly at the objective universe from the point of view of the free individual human being.

But materialism did not amount to an elevation of the material universe to the status of a “prime mover” God, progenitor of life and breather of spirit into man. Materialism means nothing more than reality, as opposed to fantasy; that is reality - seen by the human Subject.

The remainder of Part 4 of “Ludwig Feuerbach” becomes one of those grand sweeping overviews of which both Engels and Marx were capable. In this case science, philosophy and class politics are interwoven in an undoubtedly dialectical way.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Feuerbach and the end of German Philosophy, 1886, Engels, Part 1 and Part 2.

28 July 2012

Origin of Family, Property and State


The Classics, Part 6a

 Family, Property and State

Origin of Family, Property and State

Today we feature Chapter 9, the chapter called “Barbarism and Civilisation”, of Engels’ book “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State”. The Chapter is linked below as an MS-Word download.

You can ignore the first three paragraphs of this chapter. They refer to previous chapters. The remainder if Chapter 9 is self-contained.

“The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State” is a classic of the first rank, both within the field of Marxism, and more widely.

Lenin relied on it, and referred to it often for the illumination that it gives to the revolutionary question of The State, and to the necessity of the withering away of the State.

But this work of Engels’ is also foundational in Archaeology and Paleoanthropology (i.e. the study of the pre-history of human society), just as Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” was foundational to the study of the formation of cities: Urbanism (also called Urban Studies or Town Planning). Engels, who never formally went to a university, is nevertheless more than once counted among the towering historic founders of scholarly disciplines.

Marx had already worked on source material for this project, including on Henry Morgan’s 1877 book called “Ancient Society”.  Engels found Marx’s working papers after Marx’s death in 1883, and immediately set to work to prepare a book from them for publication.

The particular contribution of “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” is that it shows the common, interdependent origin of private property and the State, plus the fall of the women into the oppressive condition which they subsequently continued to suffer, and also the institutions of money, writing and law.

The simultaneous revolutionary break in all of these things marks the end of pre-history and the beginning of history, which as Marx and Engels had noted in the Communist Manifesto, was from that point onwards “a history of class struggles”.

The transition from prehistoric communism into class society took place a long time ago in some parts of the world, and much more recently in other parts. In Egypt and in Iraq (Mesopotamia) it may have happened more than five thousand years ago. In most other parts of the world the transition was more recent.

The simultaneous nature of the triple catastrophe (property, state and the downfall of women) may mean that the remedy for all three will likewise have to be simultaneous. The urgent abolition or “withering away” of the State is for that reason a woman’s issue, and the socialist project is a woman’s project, because they are all part of the same complex of oppressions. Communism is a necessity for women.

The reversal of the downfall of the women can only be achieved by the abolition of property and the State. Likewise, the abolition of property and the State cannot be achieved without the conscious restoration of women to their proper place in human society. All three goals have to be achieved together. The three goals are actually the same goal, and the name of it is communism.

27 July 2012

Socialism, Utopian and Scientific


The Classics, Engels’ Classics, Part 6

Socialism, Utopian and Scientific

The main downloadable linked text below is “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific”, by Frederick Engels. It is a (relatively) short text derived from three chapters of Engels’ larger classic work, “Anti-Dühring” (which we can therefore reasonably treat as having been covered in this course on “The Classics”).

This text reflects to some extent upon what a “Classic” is. Dealing with the period subsequent to the Italian Renaissance and prior to the French Revolution, that is often referred to as “The Enlightenment”, Engels writes:

We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealized kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realization in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, the Contrat Social [Social Contract] of Rousseau, came into being, and only could come into being, as a democratic bourgeois republic. The great thinkers of the 18th century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.”

Therefore what were “Classics” in bourgeois philosophy, such as the works of the romantic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, are not necessarily classics for all time. What is “classic” is something that changes. The classics for the purposes of this ten-part course are the Marxist classics, and “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” is a typical one.

By Utopian, Engels meant imaginary, or ideal, and therefore typical of the early socialists such as Robert Owen, Henri de Saint-Simon, and François Fourier. Marx and Engels respected these pioneers but also distinguished themselves critically from them. The third part of the Communist Manifesto of 1848 discusses the differences.

Engels begins “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” with the Great French Revolution that started in 1789. From this point on we can meet the class protagonists who allied and clashed from that time on until now, in all possible permutations: alliances holy and unholy, strategic and tactical, marriages of convenience and marriages made in heaven.

These classes were the feudal aristocrats; the peasants; the bourgeoisie; and the proletariat.

This work of Engels’ has the additional benefit of introducing the rudiments of political philosophy, and also of leading our thoughts towards the “democratic bourgeois republic”, which is at one and the same time the highest form of political life before socialism - the prerequisite of concerted proletarian action - and on the other hand is a form of the State that has to be transcended and left behind.

Engels describes the limitation imposed upon the human Subject by the objective circumstances, and also the possibility of transcending such limitations. This is humanism. Humanism says that humans build humanity within the given material world and history.

There is no great need to search for modern summaries of the classics when the masters have themselves provided very good summaries of their own work. Frederick Engels in particular left great summarising, concretising texts, especially towards the end of his friend Karl Marx’s life, and after Marx’s death in 1883. 

The September 2010 SACP Discussion Document, called “Expanding Democratic Public Control over the Mining Sector”, makes good use of “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” to carry a crucial point about nationalisation: That Marxists have never asserted that state ownership, as such, is an inherently pro­gressive or socialist measure. It quotes Engels:

“the official representative of capitalist society – the state – will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. This necessity for conversion into state property is felt first in the great institutions for in­tercourse and communication – the post office, the telegraphs, the railways.” (En­gels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”, 1880).

Engels was very clear that in such cases, state ownership was NOT about abolish­ing capitalism.

On the contrary:

“the transformation…into state prop­erty, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces… The more it [the bourgeois state] proceeds to the tak­ing over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The work­ers remain wage-workers – proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head.” (En­gels, ibid.)

After this week, the Classics course moves beyond Marx and Engels to include Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, and Gramsci.

You can find a full, hyperlinked list of the main works of Marx and Engels on Marxists Internet Archive (home page reproduced above).

23 July 2012

Critique of the Gotha Programme


The Classics, Part 5b

Critique of the Gotha Programme

Today’s document, linked below, is Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme. It is a great classic. Among our twelve current Communist University courses, it is used in four of them.

In this case, our introduction can largely come from Great Lenin himself, in the fifth chapter of “The State and Revolution”. That chapter is dedicated to “The Critique of the Gotha Programme”.

Writing of the “withering away of the state”, Lenin begins by making a distinction between the “polemical” and the “positive” parts of this text of Marx’s:

“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. He 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.”

In “The State and Revolution”, Lenin quotes the following directly from “The Critique of the Gotha Programme”:

"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."

In the same chapter, Lenin notes in his own words, as follows:

“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.”

The following, directly taken from from Marx’s text, is a point for the advocates of nationalisation to ponder. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, the best that Marx can manage to say for co-ops is:

“That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

Lenin remarks (about the Gotha Programme):

“Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution.”

Socialism is not all about “delivery”.

The Critique of the Gotha Programme is a very relevant document for today, and it is short. It is a classic. It is worth studying.

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

22 July 2012

On Authority; Political Indifferentism


The Classics, Part 5a

On Authority; 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. It is a “classic” because it addresses a familiar argument. 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 for eventual publication 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 only polemic. Marx quotes Proudhon extensively, only so as all the more thoroughly to 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 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.


21 July 2012

The Housing Question


The Classics, Part 5

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 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.

There is nevertheless a continuity of solidarity. 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 these struggles were repetitions of earlier ones. This much is well illustrated by Engels’ book called “The Housing Question” (attached; downloadable extract linked below). As we have noted, the first published “classic” of Marxism (at least 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” (i.e. “The Poverty of Philosophy”), and with 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.

Hence 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 first 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 shows 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 people 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.

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.”

20 July 2012

Value, Price and Profit


The Classics, Part 4c

Value, Price and Profit

By 1863 Karl Marx had a sketch plan that was beginning to resemble the shape of the full work that was published in 1867 as “Capital, Volume 1”.

By 1865 when he did “Value, Price and Profit” (download linked below), Marx had solved most of the literary as well as the theoretical problems of his master-work.

“Value, Price and Profit” is an address delivered by Karl Marx at two sessions of the General Council of the First International on June 20 and 27, 1865. This is a point where Karl Marx’s theoretical work comes face-to-face with his activities as a political leader, and actually the principal political leader of the International Working Men’s Association, otherwise known as the First International.

The Introduction to the 1969 edition of “Value, Price and Profit” makes clear that this June 1863 moment was crucial in the history of the organised working class, and that Marx saved the day and saved the movement with this outstanding, classic piece of work.

“Value, Price and Profit” has subsequently served various purposes. Because it debunks the argument, still used by employers in South Africa today, that wage rises cause unemployment, “Value, Price and Profit” has been a mainstay for generations of shop stewards and union negotiators.

A version of the same anti-working-class “fixed fund” argument countered by Marx was used by Richard Baloyi, the employing Public Services Minister, during the 2010 public service workers’ strike in Johannesburg. Another version is the economist Mike Schussler’s argument that workers are overpaid in South Africa.

Furthermore, and prefiguring Lenin’s argument against “Economism” four decades later in “What is to be Done?”, “Value, Price and Profit” states clearly that trade unionism without political organisation will never succeed in throwing off the yoke of capital (see the excerpt from Chapter 14).

This abridged version of “Value, Price and Profit” can also serve as a “mini-Capital”, i.e. as the short version of “Capital” that so many people yearn for. It will at least help us to get a better grip on some of the key concepts such as Labour, Value, Labour-Power, Surplus-Labour, Surplus-Value and Profit.

The two quoted paragraphs that follow are particularly instructive. Hobbes’ 1651 book “Leviathan” was a tremendous groundbreaker; Karl Marx notes here that Hobbes had “instinctively hit upon this point overlooked by all his successors”, namely the distinction between Labour-Power and Labour, which Marx had worked so hard and so long to see clearly (see the remarks about the hunt for surplus value in our earlier post on Wage Labour and Capital)

What the working man sells is not directly his labour, but his labouring power, the temporary disposal of which he makes over to the capitalist. This is so much the case that I do not know whether by the English Laws, but certainly by some Continental Laws, the maximum time is fixed for which a man is allowed to sell his labouring power. If allowed to do so for any indefinite period whatever, slavery would be immediately restored. Such a sale, if it comprised his lifetime, for example, would make him at once the lifelong slave of his employer.

‘One of the oldest economists and most original philosophers of England — Thomas Hobbes — has already, in his “Leviathan”, instinctively hit upon this point overlooked by all his successors. He says: "the value or worth of a man is, as in all other things, his price: that is so much as would be given for the use of his power." Proceeding from this basis, we shall be able to determine the value of labour as that of all other commodities.’

“Value, Price and Profit” includes a counter-intuitive surprise in Marx’s statement that “Profit is made by Selling a Commodity at its Value”. Capitalism would still exist even if it had to shed its nasty price-gouging habits. Capitalism as such is not a simple swindle, but it is a system and a class relationship.

The source of the “self-increase of capital” is located in the workplace, and not in the marketplace. This is the fundamental message of “Capital”, the greatest “classic” of them all. “Capital” will not be included here but it will have its own separate, dedicated course. “Value, Price and Profit” will have to represent it here.

In the next part of this course on the classics, we will move to the period after the publication of “Capital”, when with the active involvement of Marx and Engels, the working-class movement revived, organised and expanded in Europe as never before in history.

The image is of a capitalist, by George Grosz.

18 July 2012

The First International


The Classics, Part 4b

Revolution in Paris, France: February 1848

The First International

The Communist Manifesto of 1848 is a deliberately internationalist document. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were deployed to write it by the international Communist League, of which they were members. The League was strongly based among continental workers in London, where the first edition of the Manifesto was printed (in German) while Marx was running a part of it in Brussels, Belgium, Engels was in Germany, and Communist League members were in action in many other countries including France.

The Manifesto’s publication coincided almost exactly with the outbreak of revolution in France, in February of 1848, which quickly spread to many other countries. The final Chapter IV of the Manifesto says among other things that: “… the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things,” and it finishes with the famous slogan “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

The Communist Manifesto is one of the first two published books of Marxism. The other book is “The Poverty of Philosophy”. Both were written and published in 1847/early 1848. Marxism was internationalist from the start and has never ceased to be so.

Most of the revolutions of 1848 were aimed at overthrowing feudal monarchies or in other words turning kingdoms into republics, if necessary by the proletariat supporting the bourgeoisie in the anti-monarchy revolution. The content of Marxist internationalism still includes relentless opposition to monarchy, and also class alliance with elements of the national bourgeoisie against Imperialism.

Marx’s 1864 Address to the International Working Men’s Association (The First International) was the consequence of his being invited and elected to the leadership of that organisation. It was formed in London in a hall next to where the South African High Commission now stands. Please download and read the Address in the downloadable MS-Word version attached and linked below. Marx had been in exile in London since 26 August 1849 after being banished in quick succession from Belgium, Germany and France. In 1864, Marx’s reputation was that of being the foremost internationalist of his time.

The First International survived until shortly after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. The Second International was established at a gathering in Chur, Switzerland ten years later in 1881, two years before Marx’s death in 1883 and fourteen years before Engels’ death in 1895. The Second International fostered Lenin, Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg among many others. Its collapse in 1914 marked the great division between the opportunists (such as “the renegade” Kautsky) who in the face of imperialist war folded their internationalism and became cowardly national chauvinists, and on the other hand the true internationalists like Luxemburg and Lenin who opposed the imperialist war. These latter ones, the true internationalists, were also the communists, who established the communist parties that still exist today.

The Third International, also called the Communist International (or Comintern) was launched in Soviet Russia less than two years after the October Revolution, in 1919, and in 1921 it admitted the Communist Party of South Africa into membership, thus founding the party that is today known as the South African Communist Party, the SACP.

The history of the communists is an unbroken line of internationalism, of which the SACP is an indissoluble part. There is no communism separate from internationalism. The SACP is still internationalist and continues to promote the same relentless anti-monarchical, anti-feudal, anti-colonial, anti-neo-colonial, anti-imperialist cause as before and will do so until the day of continental permanent proletarian revolution arrives in Africa.

17 July 2012

Political Economy


The Classics, Part 4a

Political Economy

This part of our course on the revolutionary Classics is concerned with the hard-working period that followed the 1848 revolutions in France, Germany and other European countries and which culminated in the publication in 1867 of Volume 1 of Karl Marx’s “Capital”, which is the greatest Marxist “classic” of them all. That book is too large to accommodate in this ten-week course. It has a ten-part course of its own, followed by a further ten-part course on Volumes 2 and 3. We have been through those courses earlier this year.

After the insurrections of 1848-1852, Karl Marx got down to work on the unsolved problem of what he called “the source of the self-increase of capital”. Marx’s working papers are collected in the enormous “Grundrisse”, of which “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” (download linked below) is Chapter 1.

Marx read everything. He compiled notes of all the Political Economy books that had been written before him (eventually published as “Capital Volume 4”, also called “Theories of Surplus Value”), and he compiled an outline or plan for the first volume of his masterpiece, “Capital”, which is fully named “A Critique of Political Economy”.

The “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” was written in 1857. It precedes another, different work of Marx’s called “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” that was published two years later, and which itself precedes Capital Volume 1 (the full “critique”) by eight years. Capital Volume 1 was published (in German) in 1867.


First and foremost, today’s text reminds us that none of these works of Marx’s are comparable to economics. On the contrary, they expose “economics” as a false and fraudulent discipline. Instead of economics, Marx’s works deal with what would now be called proper political economy, or in other words the real relations between actual classes of people.

Marx begins by clearly differentiating his argument from that of the romantic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and also from Adam Smith, and from David Ricardo, upon whom in other respects Marx relies quite heavily. It is worth quoting this passage at some length:

“The solitary and isolated hunter or fisherman, who serves Adam Smith and Ricardo as a starting point, is one of the unimaginative fantasies of eighteenth-century romances a la Robinson Crusoe; and despite the assertions of social historians, these by no means signify simply a reaction against over-refinement and reversion to a misconceived natural life.

“No more is Rousseau's contrat social, which by means of a contract establishes a relationship and connection between subjects that are by nature independent, based on this kind of naturalism. This is an illusion and nothing but the aesthetic illusion of the small and big Robinsonades.

“It is, on the contrary, the anticipation of "bourgeois society", which began to evolve in the sixteenth century and in the eighteenth century made giant strides towards maturity.

“The individual in this society of free competition seems to be rid of natural ties, etc., which made him an appurtenance of a particular, limited aggregation of human beings in previous historical epochs. The prophets of the eighteenth century, on whose shoulders Adam Smith and Ricardo were still wholly standing, envisaged this 18th-century individual – a product of the dissolution of feudal society on the one hand and of the new productive forces evolved since the sixteenth century on the other -- as an ideal whose existence belonged to the past.

“They saw this individual not as an historical result, but as the starting point of history; not as something evolving in the course of history, but posited by nature, because for them this individual was in conformity with nature, in keeping with their idea of human nature.”

A little later on in the “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”, Marx writes:

“But all this is not really what the economists are concerned about in the general part. It is rather -- see for example Mill -- that production, as distinct from distribution, etc., is to be presented as governed by eternal natural laws which are independent of history, and at the same time bourgeois relations are clandestinely passed off as irrefutable natural laws of society in abstracto. This is the more or less conscious purpose of the whole procedure.”

So Marx is saying, in 1857, that the purpose of all the economic “analysts” (the likes of Azzar Jammine et cetera) then as now, is to falsely passing bourgeois reality as the permanent and the only possible reality.

The entire text is worth reading. It will be helpful towards understanding Capital Volume 1, as well as towards understanding the politics of today’s massive price rises, which are invariably, and falsely, presented in our bourgeois media as “governed by eternal natural laws which are independent of history”!

The cartoon (“Reform Bill 1859”) is by Tenniel, from the London magazine “Punch”, made at the time when Karl Marx was working in London on his critiques of political economy. It illustrates the bourgeois turn from “protectionism” to “free trade” (now called “globalisation”). This happened when it suited the capitalists, whether it suited the workers or not. It happened in Britain approximately a century before it happened in the USA.

In this period, Marx continued to be, as we would say, “active”. In the next part, we will see the momentous role that Marx was about to play as an individual leader in the foundation of structures which were the fore-runners of many still-existing revolutionary organisations of today, including the SACP.

16 July 2012

1850 Address to the Communist League


The Classics, Revolutionary Work, Part 4

1848 in Berlin

1850 Address to the Communist League

When history is on the move the changes run all over the place. The job of the communists is invariably to urge history on, and to push all the players, including the bourgeoisie, to play their parts to the utmost extent.

The phrase "permanent revolution" belongs first to Marx (and not to Trotsky). It comes from the March, 1850 Address given by Karl Marx to the Central Committee of the Communist League, of which "permanent revolution" are the last two words. See below for a link to a downloadable file of this great document.

"Permanent revolution" only means a qualitative change that will be defended.

It does not mean that the revolution is irreversible.

Nor does it mean that the revolution has to be repeated constantly like the punishment of Sisyphus.

The March, 1850 Address to the Communist League is an internationalist document. At the time, the newly formed communist organisations were active all over Europe, in a time when monarchies were falling and feudalism was on the way out in many countries.

This document needs to be read with care and attention!

9 July 2012

The Civil War in France


The Classics, French Trilogy, Part 3b

Louis Bonaparte as a bat, balancing Thiers and the Republic

The Civil War in France

Lenin’s 1917 “The State and Revolution” is a classic that we will get to later on during this course on “The Classics”. What we can say about it now is that in that book Lenin goes through some of the other classics, just as we are doing now. In particular, he devotes a whole chapter to the Paris Commune, basing it on Marx’s classic book and today’s featured Classic, “The Civil War in France”.

A downloadable file of Chapter 5 of Marx’s book is attached and linked below. Let us defer to Lenin and use some of his work as our main introduction to it.

Early on in his “Paris Commune” chapter, Lenin refers to another classic, the 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, [i.e. 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 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 (Prussians and others) for the first time agreed among themselves to form a single nation, while at the same time licensing and assisting the defeated French bourgeoisie to destroy their own compatriots in Paris.