By now it ought to be reasonably well known that Marx before he died, declared that he was not a Marxist. Is it perhaps less well known that Engels also registered a serious problem occurring within the ranks of 19th century revolutionary anti-capitalism. He wrote;

“Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado as soon as they have assimilated its main principles, and even these not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent ‘Marxists’ from this reproach, for the most amazing stuff has been produced in that quarter too.” (Marx/Engels. Selected Correspondence. Progress. Page 396.)

This extract from a letter, along with other remarks, indicates that Marx and Engels were already in serious conflict with the distorting phenomena of ‘Marxism’ whilst they were alive. If incorrect understandings were prevalent during the lifetime of Marx and Engels whilst they were able to advise and contradict any omissions or distortions, how much more was this possible when they had passed away? The answer is considerable. To mention only some high-profile instances, for example; Young Trotsky accused Lenin; Lenin accused Trotsky; Lenin and Trotsky both accused Kautsky; Trotsky accused Stalin; Stalin accused Trotsky; the Maoists accused the Soviets; Stalinists accused Trotskyists and vice-versa; Trotskyists accused (and continue to accuse) other Trotskyists; all were accusations – in one way or another – of betraying Marx.

So the fact is that there have been numerous accusations of modifying Marx’s revolutionary-humanist perspectives. This is a fact which would require an analysis of considerable proportions to document all the cases individually. However, there is an alternative. I hope in the following section to briefly illustrate just how extensive this redaction and reduction, not to mention the almost total evisceration of Marx has been, within the ideology of ‘Marxism‘. The method, chosen will be to allow Marx and his friend Engels, to confront the senior 20th century ‘Marxists’ and their imitators in their own words. To do this I have extracted the following ten fundamental positions upheld by Marx which occur across the breadth of his writings and will demonstrate how they were ignored or modified by those claiming to be ‘Marxist‘ followers of Marx.

1. A  change in the ‘mode’ of production was required.

Marx consistently advocated the necessity for working and oppressed classes under capitalism to recognise the need for a revolutionary change in the ‘mode’ of production. Statements on this need can be found from the 1844 manuscripts to the later editions of Das Capital. In one he expressed it in the following way;

“In all revolutions up to now the mode of activity always remained unscathed and it was only a question of a different distribution of this activity, a new distribution of labour to other persons, whilst the communist revolution is directed against the preceding mode of activity, does away with labour, and abolishes the rule of classes themselves..” (Marx. German Ideology. P 69.)

The key word in this section and within the above extract is ‘mode’. The ’mode of production’ is not to be confused with the ’means of production‘. Many alleged followers of Marx have assumed that by taking over the ‘means of production’ during or after a revolution, that the main objective of an anti-capitalist revolution has been or would be realised. But attention to the detail of Marx reveals that whilst this appropriation is necessary – it is far – very far – from sufficient. The means of production are the machines, tools, workshops, capital, workers and raw materials. The ‘mode’ in Marx’s use of the term, means the overall socio-economic system. The mode refers to how these ‘means’ are brought together and under whose control they are deployed.

As will be seen below, for Marx the future post-capitalist ‘mode’ of production would involve the workers themselves (organised in communes and associations) controlling the means production. This has rarely been made clear in the programmes of even the most revolutionary-sounding political formations. For example, after the nationalisation of all land and capital, Lenin, at the Extraordinary 7th Congress of the RCP told the delegates;

“..the transformation of the whole state economic mechanism into a single huge machine, into an economic organism that will work in such a way as to enable hundreds of millions of people to be guided by a single plan….” (Lenin. Complete Works. Vol. 27 page 90/91.)

Note this only involves a new distribution of labour. Note also the continued existence of a state together with its function as a controlling economic organism and mechanism. All the means of production mentioned above, (even in more ancient systems) were used by workers in some form or other. Slaves and serf workers, in previous modes of production based on slavery and serfdom, worked with raw materials, tools, primitive machines, on farms, in mines and workshops using early forms of capital. Simply taking over all these means, by the state as the Bolsheviks, the Maoists and the 13 other so-called communist states did, does not (and cannot) of itself change the ‘mode’ of production, as the following sections will make clear.

2. The abolition of private and state forms of capital.

Under capitalism, the components of labour and capital, are locked together like the opposed negative and positive forces in a bar magnet. The capitalist system is dependent upon both poles. If you have one pole you must also have the other. If you have capital you must have workers, if you have workers you must have capital – in one form or another. This interdependence appears everywhere in Marx, but its full implications have frequently been ignored or overlooked. These implications exist whether the capital is held private hands or controlled by a public body, such as the state. Engels, in full knowledge of the political economy of Das Capital by Marx, offered the following observation;

“But neither conversion into joint-stock companies [and trusts] nor conversion into state property deprives the productive forces of their character as capital……The more productive forces it takes over into its possession , the more it becomes a real aggregate capitalist, the more citizens it exploits….State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict….” (Engels. Anti-Duhring. Peking page 360.)

This understanding was in line with Marx’s 1844 manuscripts in which he said in such cases, ‘society would then be conceived as an abstract capitalist‘. Nationalisation of the means of production, therefore, is not the answer to the problem posed by a division of labour between labour and capital. And the division needs to be overcome because capital in its aggregated form, if not controlled by labour, dominates, oppresses and exploits labour. Every element of surplus labour produced goes to that private or state aggregate and increases the power of capital (or state capital) over labour. Which is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union etc., and was promoted by Lenin. Thus;

“Economic success, however, can be assured only when the Russian proletarian state effectively controls a huge industrial machine; that means electrification. The entire Republic is faced with the task of accomplishing this single economic plan at all costs.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 31. Page 421.)

It is clear that the leaders of the so-called communist countries, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao etc., did not abolish capital nor wage labour. The autocratic power of state capital over the workers grew with every increase in productivity by the workers. State Capitalist forms are able to force the accomplishment of such plans – at all costs – because the workers remain wage slaves employed by the state and the state has always had considerable coercive powers.

3. The ending of wage labour in all its forms.

Wage-labour (or now salary-labour) is the form in which surplus value extraction is hidden away from sight. It is the form of recompense for labour which on the surface appears to be a fair exchange of work for an equivalent in money. However, it masks the fact that the wage or salary only repays part of the labour expended by the worker, but the worker works on beyond that point. Under capitalism, the profits come from this surplus labour, which after a certain period of time, produces commodities or services which have cost the employer nothing. Wage or salary work also depends upon the worker having no ownership or control of the means of production and must submit to the authority of those who do. Marx again;

“At the same time, and quite apart form the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not….…to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects;……Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wages system!” (Marx. Value, Price and Profit. Page 70.)

Of course the ‘abolition of the wages system’ involves the abolition of capital (in all forms –  its polar opposite) but also the freedom of workers to decide for themselves how to develop and distribute the instruments of production along with their own allocation to them and on what terms. The inability of workers to do this requires a continuation of the wages system. In contrast to this crucial viewpoint of Marx, the ‘Marxists’, Trotsky and Lenin advocated the exact opposite.

“The labour state considers itself empowered to send every worker to the place where his work is necessary. And not one serious socialist will begin to deny to the labour state the right to lay its hands upon the worker who refuses to execute his labour duty.” (Trotsky. Terrorism and Communism. Page 153.)

With the ‘labour state’ dictating and controlling everything it was compelled to pay workers a wage or salary also determined by the state. And Lenin even wanted to go further in exploiting the labour power of the workers;

“Our aim is to ensure that every toiler, having finished his eight hours ‘task’ in productive labour, shall perform state duties without pay.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 27 page 273.)

4. The emancipation of workers should be by their own self-activity.

During the whole period of Marx and Engels lives, there were people who thought the working classes were too backward to emancipate themselves. Rebutting this type of thinking occupied a great deal of their output for a time and resulted in some sharp exchanges in their numerous letters. For example;

“The emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who openly state the that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic persons from the upper and lower middle classes.” (Marx/Engels Selected Correspondence. Progress. Page 307.

Those familiar with the works of Lenin and Trotsky, will be aware of their strident advocacy of a professional revolutionary vanguard who would at all times and during all stages ‘lead’ the working and oppressed classes. Extracts on the Bolshevik insistence of the ’backwardness’ of the working classes, could be also produced in large quantities. However, for the sake of brevity, let a couple of unambiguous ones from Lenin and Trotsky suffice.

“The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be organised through an organisation embracing the whole of that class…..an organisation taking in the whole of the proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard…The whole is like an arrangement of cogwheels.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Vol. 32 page 21.)


“What is indispensable is the awareness, so to speak, of the revolutionary historical birthright of the party to maintain its dictatorship in spite of the temporary wavering in the spontaneous moods of the masses.” (Totsky. Quoted in T. Cliff. ‘Trotsky’ Volume 2. Page 174.) 

5. The abolition of the state.

We have seen from section 1 that Lenin thought the main economic activity of a country should be run as a single huge machine guided by a disciplined state plan. In the above section Lenin thought the machine should be run by the ‘vanguard’ like a system of cogwheels, in which workers would be the lower cogs. For both of them the advancement of the state was crucial.  Contrast that much repeated position with that of Marx.

“From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognise that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery used against itself, and on the other safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.” (Marx. Class Struggles in France. Peking edition. Page 15. Emphasis added. RR.)


“..as soon as the functions have ceased to be political ones, there exists 1) no governmental function, 2) the distribution of the general functions has become a business matter, that gives no one domination, 3) election has nothing of its present political character.” (Marx. Conspectus of Bukharin’s Statism and Anarchy‘.)

From previous extracts from Lenin and Trotsky, we have seen their emphasis on the state as the necessary controlling mechanism of production along with the allocation and distribution of labour. It will therefore come as no surprise that Lenin could write the following.

“We took over the old machinery of state, and that was our misfortune….In 1917, after we seized power, the government officials sabotaged us…we pleaded ‘Please come back. They all came back…here at the top, where we exercise political power, the machine functions somehow…Down below…old officials….work against us.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 33 pages 428/429.)

And Trotsky even prior to his period of senior elevation in the Bolshevik Party and state could argue that:

“…the only co-operative body which could utilise the advantage of collective production on a wide scale is the state.” (Trotsky. Results and Prospects. New Park. Page 90.) 

6. The ending of political authority.

Despite a few comments by Marx and Engels on the need for some political forms of anti-capitalist struggle, for Marx they were only temporary organisational means for specific purposes, under certain bourgeois parliamentary conditions. It has been easy for some people to seize on these few comments and run with them introducing and merging their own preferences with them and thus further modifying Marx. Any serious and in depth study of Marx will reveal far more instances of the extreme anathema Marx felt for politics and the political mode of thinking. Let this one on post-capitalist society for the moment suffice.

“Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination culminating in a new political power? No. …The working class in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society.” (Marx ’The Poverty of Philosophy’ Collected Works Vol. 6 page 211-212.)

Contrast that clear statement from Marx, denying the formation of a new political power, with the following arrogantly dogmatic ones from the ‘Marxists’ Trotsky and Lenin.

“In the last analysis, the party is always right, because the party is the sole historical instrument that the working classes possess for the solution of its fundamental tasks…(Trotsky. Challenge of the left Opposition. Pathfinder. 161.)


“Yes it is a dictatorship of one party! That is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position.“ (Lenin. Complete Works. Volume 29. Page 535.)

7. Ending specialist/exclusivist divisions of labour.

“The old mode of production must therefore be revolutionised from top to bottom, and in particular the former division of labour must disappear. Its place must be taken by an organisation of production in which,……by giving each individual the opportunity to develop and exercise all his faculties, physical and mental, in all directions; in which, therefore, productive labour will become a pleasure instead of a burden.” Engels. Anti-Duhring. Page 371.)


“The all-round development of the individual will only cease to be conceived as ideal, as vocation, etc. when the impact of the world which stimulates the real development of the abilities of the individual comes under the control of the individuals themselves..” (Marx. German Ideology.)

We need only recall the previous statements by Lenin and Trotsky which contain such phrases as the right to send every worker to a place where his work is necessary and the whole system as cogs and wheels. However, Lenin did not countenance such choice by self-activity, self-determination and self-organisation. Instead he proposed state dictation and direction.

“All citizens of both sexes between the ages of sixteen and fifty-five shall be obliged to perform work assigned to them. (Lenin. Complete Works. Vol. 27 page 258.)

Indeed, the Complete Works of Lenin show at various points, that he was a keen supporter of industrial and commercial labour intensification known as Taylorism (See Collected Works. Volume 27. Page 259.). Fredrick Taylor was the North American, time and motion study guru, who reduced every motion into its finite component parts with the expectation that workers would be required to hone their specific tasks into the most effective, efficient and exhausting for the sake of extracting surplus value.

8. A radical reduction of working intensity and time.

Marx in Capital and the Grundrisse frequently mentions, the importance and possibility of lessening the time of work to secure the necessaries of life. A possibility already achieved at 19th century levels of technological development. Engels, speaking of the future post-capitalist society, repeats these exact sentiments;

“With the present development of the productive forces, the increase in production given by the very fact of their socialisation……will already suffice, given general participation in labour, to reduce the time needed for work to a point which will be small indeed in the light of our present conceptions.” (Engels. Anti-Duhring. Peking. Page 382.)

Elsewhere, (particularly in Capital and the Grundrisse) Marx had noted the tendency of 19th century capital to force production to levels which not only exhausted the workers, shortening their lives in the process, but also rapidly consuming the fertility of soil and natures resources. However, working from an entirely different frame of reference, Lenin in the 20th century, talking about subotnics (Saturday working without pay) drew the opposite conclusion.

“…a condition for economic revival is the raising of the working people’s discipline, their skill, the effectiveness, the intensity of labour and its better organisation.” (Lenin. Complete Works. Vol. 27. P 258)

This was no mere temporary post-war proposal, advocated by the workers themselves, but a policy direction from the very summit of political and state power. The firmness of this opinion can be established by its reappearance in a slightly different form a year later.

“Communism is the higher productivity of labour – compared with that existing under capitalism. – of voluntary, class-conscious and united workers employing advanced techniques. Communist Subotniks are extraordinarily valuable as the actual beginning of Communism…..(Lenin. Complete Works. Vol. 29 page 427.)

This drive toward long working hours at high intensity eventually became personified in the person of Aleksei Stakhanov. He became famous in 1935, by shovelling102 tons of coal in less than 6 hours (14 times his quota). This example was promoted across the Soviet Union and resulted in claimed improvements of up to 82% in production. This super-exploitation of wage-labour was promoted by the ‘Marxists’ loyal to Stalin, but nevertheless was fully in line with the views of Lenin and Trotsky.

9. The abolition of economic authority.

Marx’s virulent, almost emotional, levels of antipathy to the autocratic demands of capital upon labour frequently surface. Labour under capitalism he consciously labelled wage-slavery, to emphasis, the often degrading and exhausting nature of capitalist induced mass-production work. He noted;

But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its were-wolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working day“ [and]….“The factory code in which capital formulates, like a private legislator, and at his own good will, his autocracy over his workpeople,…… The place of the slave-driver’s lash is taken by the overlooker’s book of penalties. (Marx Capital Volume 1 page 381 and 608.)

Marx at no time considered that the forced economic authority of the capitalist or the state over workers should be exchanged for a voluntary submission to any economic system – not in their own control. Once again, contrast Marx’s humanist concern for workers in opposition to the autocratic despotism of capital, with the authoritarian outpourings from Lenin and Trotsky.

“..not a single rogue (including those who shirk work) to be allowed to be at liberty, but kept in prison, or a severe sentence of compulsory labour of the hardest kind…one out of ten idlers will be shot on the spot.” (Lenin Complete Works. Volume 26. Page 414.)


“The very principle of compulsory labour service is for the Communist quite unquestionable…..we can have no way to socialism except by authoritative regulation..” (Trotsky. Terrorism and Communism. Page 153.)

10. Post-capitalist workers self-government.

We have noted that the anti-capitalist revolution and post-capitalist reconstruction in line with the thinking of Karl Marx involved the nine inter-connected factors abbreviated in the above headings. This final one involves the control of all aspects of economic and social life being retained in the hands of the co-operative and communal associations of working people. Thus Marx, studying the Paris Commune, noted the following;

“The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but on the contrary, to be organised by the Commune Constitution, and to become a reality by the destruction of the State power which claimed to be the embodiment of that unity independent of, and superior to, the nation itself, from which it was a parasitic excrescence.” (Marx. Class Struggles in France. Peking. Page 72.)

The safeguard against their own elected representatives recommended by Marx was to be exercised by the ability to recall their elected representatives ‘without exception’ and at any moment. Yet in contrast to this liberating concept, the ’Marxists’ Lenin and Trotsky argued, demanded and obtained the following;

“There is, therefore, absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (that is socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individuals ….unquestioning subordination to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of processes organised on the pattern of large-scale machine industry.” (Lenin Complete Works Vol. 27 pages 268/269.)

And in a debate about whether workers in a post-capitalist society, such as the Soviet Union, should have the right to elect their own representatives, Trotsky also thought otherwise;

“They seem to have placed the workers right to elect their representatives above the party, as thought the party did not have the right to defend its dictatorship….” (Trotsky. Quoted in T. Cliff. Trotsky. Volume 2, page 174.)

11. Finally.

If we examine the works of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, we find that not one of these ten principles were fully preserved (with the exception of Lenin’s rhetorical stance in ’State and Revolution’) or even advocated in their actions or writings. Only, one, the ending of private capital ownership was partially fulfilled, but later rescinded with the introduction of the new economic policy (NEP) in 1921. These omissions are an amazing collection in view of the fact that all these revolutionary leaders called themselves Marxists and thought themselves following the tradition of Karl Marx. These omissions are also remarkable, when we recall that the Leninist, Trotskyist and Stalinist rank and file followers of these three revolutionaries, also considered they were following in the tradition of Marx yet did not appear concerned to highlight or question these fundamental omissions.

Between the death of Marx in 1870 and the formation of the 1917 Soviet government, all ten of the fundamental principles, Marx advocated had been either ignored, rejected or distorted. When Stalin later ruthlessly pursued the policy and principles of the Bolshevik ‘Marxists’ to their logical ends, most anti-capitalist workers and intellectuals were horrified. However, the horror for many was only against the extremes of authoritarian brutality, particularly when directed against themselves and their families. This extreme brutality was not seen as the logical extension of a hierarchical system ruthlessly defending itself against the challenges directed against it by workers.

Possibly for this reason, the genetic modification of Marx continued in the sectarian laboratory of 4th International Trotskyism. To this day there has been no noticeable desire, from within this milieu, to seriously challenge the substantial deformities of ’Marxism’ and re-establish the ‘organic’ product of Marx‘s revolutionary-humanist research. An important and possibly unpopular chore of modern, anti-capitalists who wish to follow in the tradition of Marx, is to facilitate the criticism of the sectarian assumption that the solution for humanity, lies in the exclusive leadership of a vanguardist political party. A corollary of this chore is to assist intellectually and practically the replacing of that task back into the hands of the working and oppressed classes themselves.

Roy Ratcliffe (June 2012.)

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