A question regarding theory, theorists, the working class & revolutionary praxis

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This topic contains 33 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  alanjjohnstone 6 months ago.

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    Without Marx and Engels, the Socialist Party would have created its own coherent socialist theory



    That’s a mighty big claim. I don’t want to seem like I’m venerating Marx, I’m certainly not. Marx was a man. He got some things right and some things wrong and its feasible that had he not undertaken his great work that some others (perhaps sharing the labour) would have done in his place. None the less, I find it a very difficult thing to believe, that the required knowledge for a Socialist revolutionary (however you wish to define that word) can be viewed as simply acquired. This seems to me to fall into the traps that Marx warned against. A lack of perspective and a lack of understanding is exactly what besets the politically active working class. What is the average working class Social Democrat that thinks themself a Socialist but someone suffering from illusions as a result of an incomplete or absent political education. What is your average young, wide-eyes and bushy tailed Leninist if not naive and uneducated? There is a chicken and egg problem here that I’m trying to solve. The working class is beset by political ignorance and apathy. The route out of this malaise has to be a combination of activity and education but there are plenty of avenues that they can follow (Social Democracy, Anarchism, Movementism or the Leninist Left) that provide activity without the education. How is it possible to intervene at the moment of awakening when their curiosity and hunger for understanding is at its most keen before they are snapped up by the reactionary elements of the Left, or are sucked back down again into lethargy and apathy?



    That’s precisely the question the Socialist Party has been trying to crack for the last 100+ years! Obviously we have not found the answer although some of us have various theories to explain it. Let me ask you what was your route to consciousness? Do you feel you are somehow different from your fellow members of the working class? If there is an answer to this riddle it might be found within the psychology of socialists like ourselves. Instead of always looking for answers to the reasons for the lack of class consciousness in others perhaps we should ask how we acquired it – insight might be the route.



    Great thread and the last two posts nail it!

    How do we engage? To me movements like Occupy and Extinction Rebellion are the point you describe. People who are awake, active but needing a nudge to get the socialist understanding.

    I don’t suggest the Trots way of hijacking movements and events, but engagement either via debate or targeted literature would be beneficial. But as a Party we need to respond rapidly towards those people, not months later.



    The Chartists appear to have written much that was genuinely revolutionary and without the inspiration of any deeply profound theorist, such as Marx.

    I think this is the essence of Marcos post.

    It was Chartism which declared a class war.

    George Julian Harney wrote:
    “As regards the working men swamping all other classes the answer is simple – other classes have no right to exist. To prepare the way for the absolute supremacy of the working class preparatory to the abolition of the system of classes, is the mission of The Red Republican.”

    A further example from the writings of Ernest Jones:
    “An amalgamation of classes is impossible … these two portions of the community must be separated distinctly, dividedly and openly, from each other, CLASS AGAINST CLASS. All other mode of procedure is mere moonshine.”

    Without Marx, would we be debating the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, or any other theory about the causes of  capitalist crises. Wouldn’t it be enough that we suffered the detrimental effects and that the solutions thrown up had not been suffice to end them? Did we need a Marx to tell us that they were periodic and offer up an economic theory to explain them?

    Is the labour theory of value,  required for workers to recognise the injustice and inequity of wage slavery?

    The importance of Marx is questioned itself by the Materialist Conception of History  – something that does not hold to the Great Man concept.

    Marx may have shaped a form of socialism but he did not create it. His influence in its progress was surprisingly limited. Who actually heeded his Gotha Programme critique? The 2nd International developed a life of its own despite Marx and Engels attempts to steer its direction.

    Am i too heretical in saying we, our class, had no need for Marx and ideas on socialism would have grown and spread without his contributions – perhaps even more so without any reference to him or Engels and all those who cite their authority as their political case.

    But perhaps i digress from your enquiry, Persnickety.



    Was Marx the first to insist on the full development of capitalism to make socialism possible? If so we owe to him the theory as to why all the leftist Bolshevik regimes failed.


    Dave B

    I think Whinstanley of leveller fame had a clear enough concept of communism and the exploitation of labour.


    If you read some of it carefully enough it also had proto historical materialist concept.


    It wasn’t available to Karl and was discovered and ‘published’ by Bernstien of all people at the end of the 19th century.


    The labour theory of value pre-dated Karl by sometime Eg Benjamin Franklin of all people.



    It is a man of the New World – where bourgeois relations of production imported together with their representatives sprouted rapidly in a soil in which the superabundance of humus made up for the lack of historical tradition – who for the first time deliberately and clearly (so clearly as to be almost trite) reduces exchange-value to labour-time. This man was Benjamin Franklin, who formulated the basic law of modern political economy in an early work, which was written in 1729 and published in 1731. He declares it necessary to seek another measure of value than the precious metals, and that this measure is labour.




    Karl’s contribution as to labour power being a commodity itself tied up some loose ends and resolved some theoretical conundrums.



    Lenin didn’t break any rules or theory by introducing state capitalism after Russian feudalism.


    Other than the pitfall of the Bolsheviks taking on the theoretical historical economic function of the capitalist class.


    All that happened was that rather the [super-structural] ideology of the Bolsheviks re-shaping the economic [base] of capitalism.


    On a road to ‘socialism’.


    Bolshevik economic [base] , state capitalism, went on re-shape or degenerate

    Bolshevik ideology.


    You could argue with the Bolshevik position they were already half way there on that before they started.


    1. I. Lenin

    Eleventh Congress Of The R.C.P.(B.)[1]

    March 27-April 2, 1922




    The state capitalism discussed in all books on economics is that which exists under the capitalist system, where the state brings under its direct control certain capitalist enterprises. But ours is a proletarian state it rests on the proletariat; it gives the proletariat all political privileges; and through the medium of the proletariat it attracts to itself the lower ranks of the peasantry (you remember that we began this work through the Poor Peasants Committees).


    That is why very many people are misled by the term state capitalism. To avoid this we must remember the fundamental thing that state capitalism in the form we have here is not dealt with in any theory, or in any books, for the simple reason that all the usual concepts connected with this term are associated with bourgeois rule in capitalist society.


    Our society is one which has left the rails of capitalism, but has not yot got on to new rails. The state in this society is not ruled by the bourgeoisie, but by the proletariat. We refuse to understand that when we say “state” we mean ourselves, the proletariat, the vanguard of the working class. State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix. This state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state is the workers, the advanced section of the workers, the vanguard. We are the state.


    State capitalism is capitalism that we must confine within certain bounds; but we have not yet learned to confine it within those bounds. That is the whole point. And it rests with us to determine what this state capitalism is to be. We have sufficient, quite sufficient political power; we also have sufficient economic resources at our command, but the vanguard of the working class which has been brought to the forefront to directly supervise, to determine the boundaries, to demarcate, to subordinate and not be subordinated itself, lacks sufficient ability for it. All that is needed here is ability, and that is what we do not have.





    But you don’t need to be a Marxist to know that;


    ‘Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’



    Wez, was Marx a strict stageist?

    Did he not suggest an alternative future for Russia based on the evolution of the Mir.





    Are you suggesting that Marx would have supported the Bolshevik programme in the name of socialism?



    How do you come to that conclusion?

    I simply referred to correspondence that explains that he did not automatically propose that his theory need every nation to go through capitalism as an answer to your question.

    “Was Marx the first to insist on the full development of capitalism to make socialism possible?”

    I may have misread my reference but it implies he did not insist on the full development of capitalism in every case. But i think if he was alive in 1917, he would have thought that the mir had socially disappeared. What faction’s programme he would have supported, who knows. Left Menshevik or Left Bolshevik perhaps, Left SR, not likely. Would he have considered February or October as the most relevant? Who can really speculate? It is all guess-work and in the end, it does not matter hypothetically what Marx thought. The SPGB just as it did with its mentor Kautsky on many things would have determined its own position and not rely on the argument from authority.

    In the case of the Bolsheviks, they were moreorless accepting the orthodox SPD “state-socialist” (and that was the original term for state-capitalism) programme and adjusting it to the conditions they found in Russia, just as they adapted the 2nd international party form to local situation.




    I would need more than that letter to convince me that Marx didn’t believe that socialism was only possible, both in terms of production and consciousness, in a society which had experienced mature capitalism (wasn’t this the Menshevik position?). If he did believe that then history has proved him profoundly mistaken. Haven’t we always maintained this position? – and as one advocated by Marx?


    Dave B

    Works of Karl Marx 1874

    Conspectus of Bakunin’s
    Statism and Anarchy




    Schoolboy stupidity! A radical social revolution depends on certain definite historical conditions of economic development as its precondition. It is also only possible where with capitalist production the industrial proletariat occupies at least an important position among the mass of the people. …………………………… But here Mr Bakunin’s innermost thoughts emerge. He understands absolutely nothing about the social revolution, only its political phrases. Its economic conditions do not exist for him. As all hitherto existing economic forms, developed or undeveloped, involve the enslavement of the worker (whether in the form of wage-labourer, peasant etc.), he believes that a radical revolution is possible in all such forms alike. Still more! He wants the European social revolution, premised on the economic basis of capitalist production, to take place at the level of the Russian or Slavic agricultural and pastoral peoples, not to surpass this level […] The will, and not the economic conditions, is the foundation of his social revolution






    Lenin 1905



    This absurd idea boils down either to the hoary Narodnik theory that a bourgeois revolution runs counter to the interests of the proletariat, and that therefore we do not need bourgeois political liberty; or to anarchism, which rejects all participation of the proletariat in bourgeois politics, in a bourgeois revolution and in bourgeois parliamentarism.


    From the standpoint of theory, this idea disregards the elementary propositions of Marxism concerning the inevitability of capitalist development where commodity production exists. Marxism teaches that a society which is based on commodity production, and which has commercial intercourse with civilized capitalist nations, at a certain stage of its development, itself, inevitably takes the road of capitalism. Marxism has irrevocably broken with the ravings of the Narodniks and the anarchists to the effect that Russia, for instance, can avoid capitalist development, jump out of capitalism, or skip over it and proceed along some path other than the path of the class struggle on the basis and within the framework of this same capitalism.

    page 44

    All these principles of Marxism have been proved and explained over and over again in minute detail in general and with regard to Russia in particular. And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism….






    Whether enough of this [ ….Russian Mir… ]commune has been saved so that, if the occasion arises, as Marx and I still hoped in 1882, it could become the point of departure for communist development in harmony with a sudden change of direction in Western Europe, I do not presume to say. But this much is certain: if a remnant of this commune is to be preserved, the first condition is the fall of tsarist despotism — revolution in Russia. This will not only tear the great mass of the nation, the peasants, away from the isolation of their villages, which comprise their “mir”, their “world”, and lead them out onto the great stage, where they will get to know the outside world and thus themselves, their own situation and the means of salvation from their present distress; it will also give the labour movement of the West fresh impetus and create new, better conditions in which to carry on the struggle, thus hastening the victory of the modern industrial proletariat, without which present-day Russia can never achieve a socialist transformation, whether proceeding from the commune or from capitalism.







    “I would need more than that letter to convince me”

    Ah, well, does that mean you are not convinced by anything in the private letter/circular, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Wez.

    His Mir letter was not some hastily scribbled scrawl but one that went through a few drafts before he thought he had expressed himself correctly.

    But i am not some Marxologist seeking to cross the t and dot the i of Marx’s works. There exists the Asiatic Mode of Production which i have very little clue about except that it reinforces that Marx only wrote on the conditions that prevailed in Western Europe (and America) and did not consider the application of his theories as universal for all parts of the globe.

    I think i explained, Marx need not have been born nor written his books for socialism to have retained much the same broad principles as we hold today in our Party. Socialism pre-dates Marx. But that there was no link between the Diggers and the Chartists show that there is no linear connections between socialist ideas, that they can spring up quite independently.

    And i have suggested that regardless of his views if he had lived, the SPGB would have derived their own interpretation of 1917 events so speculation what Marx would have thought or not thought, to me is superfluous to the debate.




    I think that Dave B’s quotes above settles the matter. The ‘Diggers’ of the English revolution prove the Marxist case that you cannot impose an idealist form of communism on an economically underdeveloped culture/system. That it was attempted at all by Winstanley and his comrades emphasizes the Bourgeois nature of the revolution. Marx was definitely a man ‘made by history’ in the sense that he represented the confluence of three traditions: German philosophy, French politics and British economics – that is what makes him so fascinating. He also represents the decisive break with socialist idealism which you would seem to be undermining. The fact is that we live now in a global capitalist system and that is precisely because once exported from Western Europe that system inevitably became ‘universal for all parts of the globe’ – as predicted by Marx.

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 1 week ago by  Wez.


    I agree Wez. I think the “wealth” of erroneous and down right reactionary ideas that masquerade as “The Left” and have done since before Marx came on the scene confirm the vital importance of Marx’s work. He was not a great man of history. The fact is that the theory, regardless of who wrote it, is of paramount importance. Newton, Einstein and Darwin are little more than the historically contingent spring from which the already bubbling water escapes but the water is still the key ingredient to life. Someone would have got there had they not but that is entirely beside the point.

    …and this brings us back to the original riddle. A necessarily rounded understanding of the science of economics, politics and philosophy is a momentous undertaking for a working class that does not possess the pre-requisites for such study.

    As to the question of how I was radicalised? A complicated mix of factors that started to some degree with my upbringing that combined grinding poverty and rudimentarily class conscious parents, mixed with the distrust of authority that comes with being abused, brutalised and neglected. That combination of class awareness and a desire for fairness, justice and solidarity and human kindness created the Socialist you speak to here.

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