29 October 2014

Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

The Classics, Part 8b

1890s cartoon of Cecil Rhodes

Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” (a file of the final chapter is attached, and is also downloadable via the link below) takes its rightful place here as one of the classics of the Marxist canon.

Lenin’s classic works of the early years of the RSDLP (What is to be Done?, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, and Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution) established the revolutionary posture and methods of that party, in the face of the Menshevik, “economist”, reformist opposition within its ranks.

Marxists Internet Archive has a page of links to Selected Works of Lenin, which contains a number of other candidates for any collection of classics. There is also Lenin’s 1909 book on philosophy, called “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism”. But for this brief course of “Classics”, because space and time constrain us, we will leave most of these titles aside. The total number of documents authored by Lenin and available on the Marxists Internet Archive is 4170. They are listed and hyperlinked by date, and alphabetically.

After a few years of attenuated bourgeois democracy, what confronted the RSDLP in 1914 was an international intra-Imperialist struggle that suddenly metastasized into the most terrible war that the world had ever seen. The split that it caused in the Second International was more than a problem. It was a catastrophe for the working-class movement. But even more than that, the phenomenon called Imperialism was a problem for the world that has not yet, in 2014, gone away.

Lenin was constantly studying. From 1896 to 1899 he studied prodigiously to produce the large work called “The Development of Capitalism in Russia”. In the first decade of the new century he began to study philosophy intensively. Then he began to study Imperialism.

In those days the term “Imperialism” was not impossible for any bourgeois to utter, as is often the case today. The term was common in daily journalism. It was an English liberal, J A Hobson, who wrote the first attemptedly definitive book on the subject, published in 1902 as “Imperialism, a study”. This was immediately after the Anglo-Boer War had come to an end.

It was this Anglo-Boer War that most clearly defined modern Imperialism in its beginning, as a world system, distinct from plain colonialism. Here was a metropolitan power (Britain) demanding profits without taking responsibilities, and securing its demand by force of arms. Lenin deliberately used Hobson’s work, and that of other bourgeois writers, as he frankly admits:

“To enable the reader to obtain the most well-grounded idea of imperialism, I deliberately tried to quote as extensively as possible bourgeois economists who have to admit the particularly incontrovertible facts concerning the latest stage of capitalist economy.”

In Chapter 7 of “Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism” Lenin “sums up”, in a highly compressed way, what capitalist Imperialism actually is. In the first paragraph, among other things, he says:

“…the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts.”

Thus, Imperialism is a system dominated by monopoly.

A little later on Lenin writes: “… politically, imperialism is, in general, a striving towards violence and reaction.”

South Africa has seen Imperialism in all its aspects, but especially in war. It was the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 that announced Imperialism’s intentions to the world, as much as the Spanish-American War of 1898 did, or the defeat of the Khalifa Abdallahi's forces at Omdurman in Sudan by the British under Kitchener in the same year.

Theodore Roosevelt (US President 1901-1909) and the “Great White Fleet”

The system of state-monopoly capital, and the dominance of the mineral-energy complex over the South African productive economy, dates from that time. This system has never been fundamentally changed, and it has never brought full employment. It has failed, but to change it will require a new confrontation with Imperialism.

Imperialism is a system of war. Lenin pours scorn on “Kautsky's silly little fable about "peaceful" ultra-imperialism,” calling it “the reactionary attempt of a frightened philistine to hide from stern reality.”

Lenin concludes:

“The question is: what means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?”

The age of Imperialism, for more than 113 years, has been an age of war, just as Lenin predicted it would be. From Lenin’s work to that of William Blum’s “Killing Hope”, it is clear that Imperialism is an aggressive force which at some stage will have to be confronted and defeated. One cannot hope to be exempt from this confrontation forever. In Africa, Imperialism itself is forcing the confrontation at an increasing speed.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chapter 7, 1916, Lenin.

28 October 2014

The Mass Strike

The Classics, Part 8a

Rosa Luxemburg

The Mass Strike

The Mass Strike” (a downloadable compilation of it is linked below) is a 1906 Rosa Luxemburg classic, with a message that is similar to Lenin’s 1902 “What is to be Done?

Rosa Luxemburg, in the third paragraph of her Chapter 1, demolishes the anarchist, syndicalist, workerist, “economist” approach to the Mass Strike thus:

“either the proletariat as a whole are not yet in possession of the powerful organisation and financial resources required, in which case they cannot carry through the general strike; or they are already sufficiently well organised, in which case they do not need the general strike.”

This does not mean that the Mass Strike, or general strike, is ruled out always and forever as a tactic; but only that the Mass Strike tactic must arise necessarily and organically from the circumstances, as Rosa Luxemburg goes on to explain.

But then it may come to pass that instead of over-eager anarcho-syndicalists with no subjective or objective basis, the trade unions may be dominated by over-cautious reformists. Rosa Luxemburg records that the German trade union movement was approaching a two million membership, (roughly the same as COSATU in South Africa today), but it was reluctant to move.

Rosa Luxemburg describes the 1906 problematic of Germany thus:

“The German labour movement… assumes the peculiar form of a double pyramid whose base and body consist of one solid mass but whose apexes are wide apart… To desire the unity of these through the union of the party executive and the general commission is to desire to build a bridge at the very spot where the distance is greater and the crossing more difficult. Not above, amongst the heads of the leading directing organisations and in their federative alliance, but below, amongst the organised proletarian masses, lies the guarantee of the real unity of the labour movement.” [last page of “The Mass Strike” compilation, linked below].

This argument supports the SACP tactic of developing Voting District Branches, so that the “real unity” of the South African National Democratic Revolutionary Alliance can be structurally put into effect “below” – at local level – between the local structures of its constituent parts: ANC, SACP, COSATU and SANCO.

The relationship of the party and the class, or in Luxemburg’s particular terms “the social democracy” and "the trade-unions", opens up in Chapter 6 of The Mass Strike to a vision of a revolutionary ensemble that must necessarily go far beyond the structures of its previously-organised components, which are bound to be a minority of the whole. Luxemburg writes:

“The plan of undertaking mass strikes as a serious political class action with organised workers only is absolutely hopeless. If the mass strike, or rather, mass strikes, and the mass struggle are to be successful they must become a real people’s movement, that is, the widest sections of the proletariat must be drawn into the fight… Here the organisation does not supply the troops of the struggle, but the struggle, in an ever growing degree, supplies recruits for the organisation.

“… it is not permissible to visualise the class movement of the proletariat as a movement of the organised minority.

“…the sections which are today unorganised and backward will, in the struggle, prove themselves the most radical, the most impetuous element, and not one that will have to be dragged along…

“If we now leave the pedantic scheme of demonstrative mass strikes artificially brought about by order of parties and trade unions, and turn to the living picture of a peoples’ movement arising with elementary energy, from the culmination of class antagonisms and the political situation—a movement which passes, politically as well as economically, into mass struggles and mass strikes—it becomes obvious that the task of social democracy does not consist in the technical preparation and direction of mass strikes, but, first and foremost, in the political leadership of the whole movement.”

Luxemburg is saying that the political structure must lead. The trade union movement cannot lead the revolution. Please read Chapter 6 of The Mass Strike, linked below, and especially the concluding words.

Try this link if you wish to access a linked list of further works by Rosa Luxemburg, on MIA.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Mass Strike, 1906, Rosa Luxemburg.

27 October 2014

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution

The Classics, Part 8

The Russian Revolution of 1905

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution

The Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party (RSDLP) held its founding Congress in 1898 in Minsk, Russia (all nine delegates were arrested). At that time, and in the early 1900s, no distinction was made between “communists” and “social democrats”. Yet the underlying division was already there, as we will see from the Lenin’s 1905 book, “Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution” (download of extensive compilation linked below).

In 1899 the prominent German Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein wrote “Evolutionary Socialism”. Both Rosa Luxemburg (in “Reform or Revolution?”, 1900) and Lenin (in “What is to be Done?”, 1902) came to the defense of the revolutionary path. They opposed Bernstein’s reformism and what Lenin dubbed his “economism”.

In 1900 Lenin founded the magazine Iskra (“Spark”).

In 1903 the 2nd RSDLP Congress took place in Brussels and London. It resulted in the split between the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks, led by Julius Martov. After the 2nd Congress, control of Iskra passed to the Mensheviks (from Issue No. 52) and Lenin thereafter refers to it as “the new Iskra”.

Following “Bloody Sunday” (January 22nd 1905) a revolution against the autocracy of the Tsar broke out in Russia. One consequence was the institution of a commission to create the “Duma”, the limited Russian parliament, which eventually came into existence in 1906.

Russia 1905

The new situation was considered by the Bolsheviks at the 3rd RSDLP Congress in May, 1905. The Mensheviks were meeting at the same time in a “Conference” in Geneva.

Lenin wrote “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution” in June and July of 1905, immediately after the Congress and the Conference. This book is to the Third Congress as “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” is to the Second Congress. But it is also different, because the circumstances are different. In the “Two Tactics” Lenin refers to and continuously compares the Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks, the Congress with the Conference, and the old Iskra with the new Iskra.

The two tactics (those of the Bolsheviks and those of the Mensheviks) were both supposed to be attempts at responding to the new circumstances. These are the circumstances of bourgeois democracy, just then being set up for the first time in Russia, and the question was: What should the proletarian revolutionaries do? To understand Lenin’s true answer, you must pay close attention.

The circumstances are arguably similar in some respects to South Africa at the present time. Joe Slovo refers to the comparison in his 1988 pamphlet on “The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution”. We may say, with Slovo, that ours is not a bourgeois democratic revolution, it is a National Democratic Revolution. But the question is still: What should the partisans of proletarian revolution be doing in such a period? Studying this revolutionary manual of Lenin’s can help us to find answers to this question.

In 1914 most of the national constituents of the Second International opted to support their national governments in the terrible inter-Imperialist slaughter known as the First World War. The Bolsheviks and some others, notably some comrades in South Africa, refused, and opposed the war totally. Only after that time did the permanent distinction grow up between the class-collaborator “Social-Democrat” parties on the one hand, and the Communist Parties on the other.

Lenin was consistent. The 1905 book “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution” is already a sustained blast against the vacillating sellout liberals, and in favour of decisive revolution led by the proletariat. He finishes up with the resounding rhetorical question: “Dare We Win?” In the particular circumstances of 1905, this also meant “Dare we remove the Tsar and make a republic?”

What is a “class collaborator”? Is class collaboration the same as “class alliance”? Absolutely not! Class collaboration is a servile abdication whereby the representatives of the working class subordinate themselves to the interests of the ruling (capitalist) class. The working class is very familiar with such collaborators.

Class alliance, on the other hand, is the necessary politics of revolution. The working class must be independent and it must be autonomous, but it must also have allies from outside of its ranks. In South Africa such allies can be peasants and small business people, professionals and intellectuals, but not the principal oppressor, which is monopoly capital. Class alliance serves to prevent the isolation of the working class, and serves to split the forces available to the dominant part of the bourgeoisie. Class alliance, as unity-in-action, can also secure vital material gains and tactical victories for the working class.

From 1905 only twelve years had to pass in Russia before the two-revolution year of 1917. Many documents exist from that period that could be included in a larger “classics” collection. We will select only two, and then use our penultimate part for the revolutionary year, and the final part for the post-revolutionary situation.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Selection, 1905, Lenin.

24 October 2014

“Leninism or Marxism?”

The Classics, Part 7c

“Leninism or Marxism?”

What we have with today’s two texts – Rosa Luxemburg’s so-called “Leninism or Marxism?”, and Lenin’s reply to it, (attached; downloads are linked below) – is a partial record of an attempted comprehensive political mugging of V I Lenin at an early stage.

By 1904 Lenin was already widely recognised as the most clear-minded and exceptional revolutionary leader in the world, including by his opportunist, reformist Russian opponents, and also by the leaders of the well-established, quite large, and legal “Social Democracy” of Germany (the German Social-Democratic Party).

Reading Lenin’s 1904 reply it is clear that at this point the gains of the Second Congress of the RSDLP had already been lost, and that not only Rosa Luxemburg, but also the “Pope” of Social Democracy at the time – the German, Karl Kautsky – had turned against Lenin. So had Georgi Plekhanov, one of the founders of Russian socialist exile politics (the Emancipation of Labour Group)  who had been Lenin’s close comrade in their “brilliant three-year campaign” prior to the Second Congress, based around the magazine Iskra, of which Lenin had been the founder and editor.

The Mensheviks had got back into power after their defeat at the 1903 RSDLP Second Congress by special pleading and blackmail. Once inside the political tent, they had forced out the Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks now controlled Iskra, and hardly allowed the Bolsheviks to have any space in it. They controlled the RSDLP Central Committee, and were refusing to hold another Congress. The Mensheviks even wanted to expel Lenin for the fact that he had founded another magazine called Vperyod, which later became Proletary, to carry on the work of the old Iskra.

This is when, in 1904, we find Rosa Luxemburg, who had in 1900 resoundingly vanquished the chief reformist, Bernstein, now attacking Lenin. It is hard not to think that she has been deceived into turning 180 degrees in this way, against her natural ally, Lenin, especially in the light of the subsequent history when in 1914 Lenin and Luxemburg became the two most outstanding opponents of the capitulation of the Second International to national chauvinism, Imperialism and war.

In 1914 the German Social Democrats, under Kautsky, voted to support the Imperialist war. Rosa refused, and instead she helped start the Spartacus League, a German equivalent of the Russian Bolsheviks, who had also refused to support the war. Kautsky’s sell-out was eventually damned by Lenin in his classic 1918 work “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, but Kautsky continued spreading lies until his death in 1938. Rosa Luxemburg did not sell out. She died a martyr in 1919 at the hands of the reactionary fore-runners of German fascism, the Freikorps.

Back in 1904 it looks as if Lenin is isolated, with only Comrade Galyorka to support him. Yet he staged a comeback, to become in practice the greatest revolutionary leader the world has ever known. How did this happen? From other writings it is clear that Lenin, both before the Congress and after it, was relying not on the top leaders, nor on the more remote intellectuals, but upon those much closer to the working-class rank-and-file.

Lenin had done what the supporters of Jacob Zuma did from 2005 to 2007 in South Africa. He had made sure that the branches were with him.

With the help of the base, Lenin pulled the superstructure back into shape. The third RSDLP Congress, held in 1905, was a firmly Bolshevik Congress.

Rosa Luxemburg’s essay, when read with the benefit of Lenin’s reply, is revealed as a very poor piece of work indeed. It happens to the best of us. People make mistakes.

The subsequent history of this document of Rosa’s, as told by MIA, is one of repeated exploitation of Rosa Luxemburg’s temporary mistake. It has been reprinted several times, but always without the inclusion of Lenin’s reply. Rosa was used in her lifetime, to write this false denunciation of Lenin for “military ultra-centralism” and other spurious accusations, and after her death she continued to be so used.

The denunciation in the title (which is not Luxemburg’s title) is false, because there is no opposition between "Leninism" and "Marxism".

The whole story is a classic case-study in political deception, recovery, and triumph over deception. But to know that, you must read Lenin’s reply.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Leninism or Marxism?, Rosa Luxemburg, 1904, and Lenin’s Reply to Rosa Luxemburg, 1904.

23 October 2014

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The Classics, Part 7b

Lenin the writer

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

With Lenin’s books, the titles are often so exceptional that they pass into the language without people knowing what the book was about. Sometimes this leads to people “quoting” such a title in aid of a cause which is at odds with the actual book that Lenin wrote. Such is often the case with “What is to be Done?”, words that opportunists, utilitarians and “economists” love to use to prop up their actually anti-Leninist arguments. You have to read the book to know that.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” (1904) is another unforgettable title of Lenin’s that people are often happy to repeat, as a form of words, without any knowledge or understanding of Lenin’s work of that name or of its place in history.

“One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” is a unique work, different from all others. It is a classic. It is Lenin’s report of the 1903 Second Congress of the RSDLP, which had given rise to the terms “Bolshevik” and “Menshevik” and all that went with the famous split in the ranks of the RSDLP.

Roughly, the step forward was the winning of a majority in the Congress, while the two steps back were first the loss of Iskra, and then the loss of the Central Committee, following the lobbying of the Mensheviks after the Congress. The Mensheviks got themselves co-opted where they had not been elected, and proceeded to undermine and ruthlessly expel the good Bolsheviks who had been elected.

As unique as it was, historically speaking, yet the split between the “opportunist” Mensheviks and the revolutionary Bolsheviks does have universal resonance, and applicability as a lesson. It was not the first such split. Marx and Engels had experienced a few similar contradictions, such as the one that gave rise to Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Programme”. Lenin himself makes a comparison with the split in the Great French Revolution between the “Montagne” and the “Gironde”. Later, there was the great 1914 split in the Social-Democratic Parties at the time of the Imperialist First World War. There have been many more splits, since then, including the post-Polokwane formation of COPE in South Africa.

The Communist University has put some parts of this book together, and placed a later (1907) reflection of Lenin’s, from the Preface to Lenin’s collection “Twelve Years”, in front of them. This composite document is attached and linked below. Clearly, the division between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks had not gone away by 1907, and we know that it did not go away until it was resolved another ten years later in the October, 1917 revolution.

A little time spent with this shortened version of Lenin’s book will help to gauge the nature of Rosa Luxemburg’s response to it, which will be given next, together with Lenin’s rebuttal of Rosa.

Lenin’s final reply, also given in the next item, settled this particular matter as between these two great revolutionaries, although it was not the last of their disagreements.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Compilation, Lenin, 1904.

22 October 2014

What Is To Be Done?

The Classics, Part 7a

What Is To Be Done?

The attached and downloadable document linked below is made up of extracts from Lenin’s “What Is To Be Done?

In this book Lenin was concerned to oppose what he called “economism”, which is also called “syndicalism” and in South Africa in the past and still up to now, called “workerism”.

Lenin was concerned to show, following the publication of Eduard Bernstein’s gradualist, reformist “Evolutionary Socialism” of 1899, and Rosa Luxemburg’s “Reform or Revolution?” published in 1900, that a revolutionary transformation of society was not possible without a revolutionary political party of the working class.

In a Preface to the book, Lenin explained that various internal political matters within the Russian Social-Democratic and Labour Party (RSDLP) had caused him to hold the book back; if the outcome of these inner-party struggles had been different, then the book would have been written differently, Lenin wrote.

In Chapter 1, it is clear that the initial thrust of Lenin’s polemic is directed against Eduard Bernstein, just as Rosa Luxemburg’s was, in 1900.

Trade union organisation of the working class was never going to be sufficient for revolution. Lenin showed that the workers’ vanguard political party, the communist party, remains a “must-have”.

“What Is To Be Done?” is the book where Lenin most clearly differentiated the reformist mass organisations from the vanguard political party of the working class, the communist party. The attached and downloadable file contains the passages that are most directly relevant to this point.

“What Is To Be Done?” is for this reason regarded as the generative blueprint for the Communist Parties as we know them, and of the form that they took after the October, 1917 revolution in Russia and in particular following the formation of the Comintern in 1919.

 The SACP is one such Party, formed in 1921 under the Comintern’s rules and at the same time admitted to membership of that organisation, as it remained until the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943.

The blueprint is most precisely seen in Part C, “Organisation of Workers and Organisation of Revolutionaries”, which is included in the linked document.

Lenin concludes: “…our task is not to champion the degrading of the revolutionary to the level of an amateur, but to raise the amateurs to the level of revolutionaries.”

Next in this part, we will look at Lenin’s report of the Second Congress of the RSDLP.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: What Is To Be Done?, Parts B and C, Lenin, 1902.

21 October 2014

Reform or Revolution?

The Classics, Part 7

Reform or Revolution?

Rosa Luxemburg’s “Reform or Revolution?” (attached) is a great classic. In the first place it is a thorough polemical rejection of Eduard Bernstein’s 1899 “Evolutionary Socialism”, which book Luxemburg deals with comprehensively, to the point where she concludes:

“It was enough for opportunism to speak out to prove it had nothing to say. In the history of our party that is the only importance of Bernstein’s book.”

This was true. The reformists have never made any advance on Bernstein. But they keep coming.

“Reform or Revolution?” at once became the beginning of an even more crucial polemic, this time between Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin, which generated further “classics”, and which we will follow again in this week’s part of our course on the classics.

Luxemburg demolishes Bernstein, but then contradicts Lenin and is in turn corrected by Lenin’s final reply. In the process of these two successive polemics (first Bernstein versus Luxemburg and Lenin, then Luxemburg versus Lenin), the modern communist parties were defined sharply for the first time, and irreversibly differentiated from the reformists, and from the reformist mass organisations such as trade unions.

Lenin published “What is to be Done?” in 1902, in response to the same book of Eduard Bernstein’s and the consequent outbreak of “economism”, also called “opportunism”, or “reformism”, or “syndicalism”, (or in South Africa, “workerism”). Lenin went further than Luxemburg. Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” is regarded as the defining blueprint of the communist parties as they are now. The communist parties have no compromise with reformism.

By 1919 the Communist International (also called Third International, or Comintern) had been formed and by 1921 the CPSA (now SACP) had been admitted to it as a recognised Communist Party.

Some other notable events of this period include the founding Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic and Labour Party (RSDLP) in Minsk in 1898. Lenin was a member, and was the editor of the journal “Iskra”, which he founded in 1900.

The German Social Democrats were the most numerous, well-established and long-standing of the supposedly revolutionary parties at the time. Rosa Luxemburg, though originally Polish, was a senior member of the German party.

In 1903 the Second Congress of the RSDLP took place in Brussels and London. The consequence was the split between the Bolshevik majority and the Menshevik minority, in the course of which the Mensheviks blackmailed the majority and consequently got away with most of the spoils, including the magazine “Iskra”. Hence Lenin’s detailed 1904 report of this Congress is called “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”. It is this document that prompted Rosa Luxemburg to raise objections in the form of her 1904 work known as “Leninism or Marxism?

Lenin’s reply (1904) to Rosa Luxemburg was conclusive. It settled all the open questions.

In 1905 a revolution broke out in Russia, which resolved into a bourgeois-democratic advance and the establishment of the “Duma” (parliament) in Russia. The RSDLP held its Third Congress in that year, and Lenin wrote “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution”, a full differentiation of the revolutionaries from the reformists, which we will come to.

In 1914 at the outbreak of war between the main Imperialist powers most of the Social-Democrats of the Second International, including the German Social-Democrats led by Karl Kautsky, abandoned their internationalism and sided with their separate bourgeois ruling classes. The RSDLP held out against this collapse, while Luxemburg founded the anti-war Spartacist League in Germany. In February, 1917 a second bourgeois revolution in Russia overthrew the Tsar, and in October the Great October (proletarian) revolution was successfully carried out under Lenin’s leadership.

In January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg was murdered in Berlin by the proto-fascist “Freikorps” organisation.

The attached document, also linked below, is a redacted (shortened) version of “Reform or Revolution?” prepared for discussion purposes. Two more points can usefully be picked out at this stage. The first is the direct statement of the matter at issue in the opening lines of Luxemburg’s Introduction:

‘Can the Social-Democracy be against reforms? Can we contrapose the social revolution, the transformation of the existing order, our final goal, to social reforms? Certainly not… It is in Eduard Bernstein's theory… that we find, for the first time, the opposition of the two factors of the labour movement. His theory tends to counsel us to renounce the social transformation, the final goal of Social-Democracy and, inversely, to make of social reforms, the means of the class struggle, its aim… But since the final goal of socialism constitutes the only decisive factor distinguishing the Social-Democratic movement from bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois radicalism, the only factor transforming the entire labour movement from a vain effort to repair the capitalist order into a class struggle against this order, for the suppression of this order–the question: "Reform or Revolution?" as it is posed by Bernstein, equals for the Social-Democracy the question: "To be or not to be?"’

The second comes within the text where Luxemburg describes the “Sisyphus”-like situation of the small enterprises under monopoly capitalism, so typical of South Africa today, as follows:

“The struggle of the average size enterprise against big Capital… should be rather regarded as a periodic mowing down of the small enterprises, which rapidly grow up again, only to be mowed down once more by large industry.”

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Reform or Revolution?, Rosa Luxemburg, 1900, Part 1 and Part 2.

16 October 2014

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” (attached, and downloadable via the links given below, in two separate files).

The following is how Engels confirms the place of our first (in this course) “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 second 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 as seen by the human Subject.

The remainder, 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.

15 October 2014

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 safely pass over the first three paragraphs of this chapter. They refer to previous chapters. The remainder of 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, plus 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 happened more than five thousand years ago. In other parts of the world the transition happened almost within living memory.

The simultaneous nature of the triple catastrophe (property, state and downfall of women) may mean that the remedy for all three will likewise have to be simultaneous, or at least co-ordinated.

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.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Origin of Family, Property and State, Chapter 9, 1884, Engels.