In ‘The Marxists versus Marx – 1’, I have previously demonstrated the fact that substantial theoretical and practical differences of understanding of capitalism and the essence of post-capitalism existed between Karl Marx and many of those who later claimed to be ‘Marxists’. However, the question arises as to how and why these differences arose. Why did those who claimed to be followers of Marx, depart so fundamentally from his revolutionary-humanist understandings and institute socio-economic systems which in fact mirrored capitalism but on a ‘state-controlled’ basis?
Of course, one possible reason is that so much of what Marx wrote, particularly his early humanist references were not published until the 1939/41 period, so many of his followers cannot be blamed for not having read or studied them. However, since humanist ideas were not exclusive to Marx and were available to anyone during that period, that does little to explain why the thinking of those self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’, such as Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin etc., steadfastly ignored his revolutionary-humanist principles and in the end differed so greatly from Marx.
It could be the case that for some of these ‘Marxist‘ followers of Marx, even ‘a substantial amount of knowledge was a dangerous thing’. There are many instances of people, particularly those, with above average levels of knowledge, who assume they have enough understanding to embark on impressive projects. Could this be the case for a generation of Bolsheviks and Maoists? Having read some of Marx’s writings, the opinions of other intellectuals and popularisations of Marx along with their own opinions, could these middle-class radicals have assumed they were competent enough to lead the whole of humanity on their own fantasy inspired journey?
Fredrick Engels, Marx’s close friend and collaborator thought this a clear and potential danger in the 19th century when 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 those 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.”
Indeed the amazing stuff from self-appointed Marxist experts only got worse in the 20th century. So there could be some merit in the above opinion expressed by Fredrick Engels who did much to popularise Marx’s writings. Could it be that after Marx died, Engels became considered by later generations as the original ‘Marxist’ from which they drew some or all of their inspiration and intellectual sustenance? Given the close collaboration of Marx and Engels it could be an assumption easily made by those who, to save themselves the trouble of independent research, like to borrow their thinking in regurgitated form. Yet everything coming from Engels pen would not necessarily be exactly what Marx also thought. And indeed such accuracy was not an assumption Engels shared.
Engels never considered himself on the same level of critical research as Marx. This is why he decided to go to work at his fathers cotton mill (which he despised) in order to fund Marx’s research from his salary. After Marx died, Engels took on the onerous job of reading all Marx’s copious notes on political economy and form them into the intended second and third volumes of Das Kapital. This was a task he admitted, in a preface to Capital Volume 2, that he found extremely difficult to unravel and reassemble. Also in a graveyard speech Engels concluded that Marx was the “greatest living thinker” and made the following observation;
“..in every single field which Marx investigated – and he investigated very many fields, none of them superficially – in every field, even in that of mathematics, he made independent discoveries.”
Clearly Engels did not consider himself as the equal of Marx, or as proficient as him in the many fields of study he undertook. And during Marx’s lifetime he often deferred to Marx on most issues. Nevertheless, with Marx no longer available Engels undoubtedly did his best to ensure that his friend was not misunderstood or misrepresented. However, this does not mean Engels did not make mistakes, which others might replicate. Marx died before he had chance to complete the volumes of Das Capital which Engels then undertook to finish. It is in volume 3, that Engels added a note to Marx’s discussion of the development of monopoly concentrations of capital. It is this note which provides some evidence of a potential mistake. Engels added the following;
“…competition has been replaced by monopoly in England and the road has been paved, most gratifyingly, for future expropriation by the whole of society, the nation. FE” (Capital Volume 3 chapter 27.)
We can detect in this editorial note a departure from Marx. Marx’s concept of future social control of social production by workers is transformed into the whole of society and the ‘nation’ by Engels. This subtle (?) difference potentially paves the way for his own departure as well as others from Marx. In some contexts all abstractions inevitably obscure details, but the abstraction ‘nation’ in this context serves to obscure a vitally important fact. The whole of society in modern nations comprise of a hierarchy of classes and elite classes invariably control the state – which through its armed bodies of law enforcement – in turn controls the working population.
So the concept of a nation controlling the monopolised means of capitalist production, therefore logically results in an elite controlling those means via a nation-state who then view the workers as the value-adding element of these means. This is entirely different than the concept of socialisation of the means of production as envisaged by Marx. This altered frame of reference by Engels is not an isolated incident. Indeed, in a popularisation of Marx’s and his ideas containing those about the future, entitled ‘Anti-Duhring’, Engels made the following assertion with regard to proletarian revolution.
“The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialised means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act, the proletariat frees the means of production from the character of capital they have thus far borne, and gives their socialised character complete freedom to work itself out.”
Practically every sentence in that extract, and those which follow, is an abstraction that is either ambiguous or contrary to the ideas of Marx. The abstraction ‘public power’ can only be understood as a reference to political power, the dangers of which Marx repeatedly warned against. Public property in the context of a nation can only be interpreted as state property. Transforming the ‘means of production’ into public (ie state) property does not free the means of production from the character of capital. For as Marx wrote in Das Capital;
“…capital can grow into powerful masses in a single hand because there it has been withdrawn from many individual hands. In any given branch of industry centralisation would reach its extreme limit if all the individual capitals invested in it were fused into a single capital. In a given society the limit would be reached only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company.” (Marx. Capital volume 1 chapter 25, section 2.)
In the Marxist-led Bolshevik model, social capital was united in the hands of a bureaucratic state controlled by a single political party, acting in the manner of an abstract capitalist company. Moreover, the essential character of capital lies in the fact that the material products of past labour (buildings, machines, raw materials auxiliary motive power) are not owned or controlled by those who collectively produce and operate them. State ownership or nationalisation did not transfer ownership and control of the means of production to the producers, but to a single political party acting like a board of directors of a single nation-wide capitalist country. Therefore the characteristic capitalist control of past labour and current labour, is not altered by production and surplus-production being transferred into public (ie political) ownership or control. In chapter 27, volume 3 of Das Capital Marx added that the development of stock- companies leads to;
“1) An enormous expansion of the scale of production and of enterprises, that was impossible for individual capitals. At the same time, enterprises that were formerly government enterprises, became public. 2) The capital, which in itself rests on a social mode of production and presupposes a social concentration of means of production and labour-power, is here is directly endowed with the form of social capital (capital of directly associated individuals) as distinct from private capital and it’s undertakings assume the form of social undertakings as distinct from private undertakings. It is the the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself.”
The last sentence is important to consider: The advent of huge joint-stock companies was out competing and replacing the individual capitalist concern with a collective (thus social) group of capitalists and this development represented: ‘The abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself’. Marx recognised a dialectical transformation occurring with private aspects of capital becoming collectivised – but only within a framework of capitalist production. In this development capitalism was not being abolished – only certain privately owned and controlled aspects of it were being modified. [A similar development is also the case with the 20th century creation of non-profit co-operatives and public services.] Yet despite this emphasis by Marx, in the same chapter Engels added the earlier noted inaccurate ‘national’ concept of his own.
Marx has in mind the social concentration of social production, under the control of the producers. Engels, however, seems to consider the whole of society as embodied in the “nation”. The concept and establishment of nations is a bourgeois invention deliberately obscuring the fact that nations comprise of classes, states and elites. As noted above, elites control the state, and the state controls the people. Which is exactly what occurred in every 20th century so-called socialist experiment in Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Cuba etc. Were their leaders, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Tito, Castro etc., following Marx or Engels? And why did these Marxists want to be leaders in the first place, when Marx had emphatically stated;
“The emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves. We cannot therefore cooperate with people who openly state 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)
Why would Marx (and presumably Engels at the time) make such a definitive statement as that above? A life time of familiarity with representatives of ‘left’ reformers and philanthropists from the upper and lower middle-classes had clearly convinced him of the incompetence of those from the educated classes who had the arrogance to teach before they had rigorously learned. A study of the revolutionary events of the Paris Commune (scathing revealed in Marx’s ‘Civil War in France’) also provided abundant evidence of their unsuitability to any such role. And which class did Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Castro and all the other Marxist self-appointed ‘vanguard’ leaders of the 20th century come from? You bet they did.
Moreover it is obvious that nations are not ‘natural’. They are artificial, elite-determined divisions of humanity into separate geo-political boundaries achieved by armed warfare mostly against the wishes of the native inhabitants. So it is not immediately obvious why nationalism features so much in Engels? Elsewhere (in ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’, ) Engels continues that earlier confused and/or mistaken line of reasoning ;
“Socialised production upon a pre-determined plan becomes henceforth possible. The development of production makes the existence of different classes of society thenceforth an anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production vanishes , the political authority of the state dies out.”
Again Engels inserts a factual error. Social production on the basis of a pre-determined national plan has always been possible when the need has arisen. In war time, for example, as far back as Persia and Greece elite predetermined political plans involving huge social production efforts were made and implemented as it was in the middle ages. Furthermore, the historical development of production does not make the existence of classes an anachronism. Instead it can merely replace the former military and economic basis for elites to rule, by a political basis for elites to rule. Nor does the political authority of the state die out when planning replaces the anarchy of competition. In fact as the Bolshevik, Maoist and Fascist models illustrated, state and political authority increases along with planning. In such cases, an armed state was needed precisely to enforce the workers to adhere to the political elites pre-determined plan. Engels continues;
“Man, at last the the master of his own form of social organisation, becomes at the same time the lord over Nature, his own master – free. To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat.”
Humanity as the “lord over nature” is very far from the metabolic relationship between humanity and nature which Marx analysed and depicted. And the historic mission of the proletariat, according to Marx, was certainly not to accomplish humanist emancipation by any form of ‘lordship’ over anything or anyone. Emancipation was to be achieved by the ending of all varieties of enslaved labour – which is not even mentioned in any of these points produced by Engels. So clearly the above formulation by Engels, does not conform to the revolutionary-humanist ideas of Marx.
However, these formulations do conform to what actually transpired in the Soviet Union, under the Bolsheviks and in China under the Maoists. The means of production were taken into national (public) ownership It is easy to see how ‘Marxists‘ who simply read Engel’s ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’, which contains the above sentences, might take them as ‘gospel’ coming from a true disciple of Marx and follow them dogmatically. Obviously, such a process is a distinct possibility if not probability, for the curse of ‘borrowed thinking’ from so-called ‘experts’ occurred then as it still does now. Whilst this lack of rigour suggests a possible contributing reason for the way the political revolutions in the Soviet Union, China and elsewhere, turned out, it does not remove culpability from those who forcefully led working people up these authoritarian state-capitalist cul-de-sacs.
And Engels had anticipated this borrowed thinking problem (even though he replicated it himself) In a letter to Joseph Bloch in 1890, well before the 1917 Bolshevik-led Revolution in Russia. He again referred to the amazing stuff coming from ‘Marxists’. Those who had thoroughly read Engels would have come across his warnings – even if they had been incapable of working this possibility out for themselves. Engels also mentions the twisting of Marx’s views and transforming his concepts into meaningless, abstract, senseless, phrases. Engels also suggested the following remedy;
“I would furthermore ask you to study this theory from its original sources and not second-hand; (ie borrowed thinking RR) it is really much easier…. Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it….we had not always the time , the place or the opportunity to allow the other elements involved in the interaction to come into their rights.” (emphasis added RR)
Before accepting such a generous offer of partial responsibility by Engels in order to off-load responsibility from the shoulders of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and others and onto his own and Marx’s, it is worth stating what should be obvious. Any movement which seeks to assist and facilitate the working classes to end regimes of enforced labour including the wage-slavery of the capitalist mode of production, ought to be consistently modest and self-critical as well as outwardly critical. Modesty and self-criticism are also rarely applied guides for good practice among left individuals as well as left groups.
Whenever, an individual becomes sure of something, then, as Bertrand Russel advised, it is best to maintain it with doubt. Being open to further evidence from any source – even those opposed to the methods and purpose of revolutionary-humanist struggle – is a strength not a weakness. So we can confirm the fact that Marx was certainly not a ‘Marxist’ and anyone who has studied Marx seriously would not imagine that he would have become what we now know as a Socialist, Communist, Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist or Maoist, had he lived long enough. Indeed, after a serious study of Marx it is hard not to classify him as a self-critical revolutionary – humanist. As he noted, in response to the almost total lack of humanity involved in the slavery and wage-slavery of the 20th and 21st century global capitalist system, the aim of working people and revolution needs to be the redemption of humanity as a whole.
In other words, one section of oppressed people cannot liberate themselves, from a system based upon ideological and practical forms of relative enslavement without ending all enslavement and by ending the system based upon it by a revolutionary-humanist transformation. If it were possible to radically reform sectional discrimination and oppression such as those based upon gender, skin-colour, class, disability and sexual preference, then one or more of these oppressions would have already been ended. Moreover, the object is not to invent new reasons why ensuring humane treatment for all human beings is a desirable aspiration. That has long been self evident. The object is to achieve the long held ideas of humane treatment for all in this world. So the problem is not a lack of ideas of what is humanely desirable, but the lack of ideas and serious motivation needed to achieve that situation.
Karl Marx, is the only profound thinker unambiguously on the side of the oppressed, who fully analysed the capitalist mode of production and thus removed the veil of mysticism surrounding the source of profit, alienation and alienated labour within the capitalist mode of production. And even as early as the 1844 Manuscripts Marx noted that a state-determined increase in wages proposed by some ‘socialists’ at the time – and some even now;
“…would therefore be nothing but better payment for the slave, and would not conquer either for the worker or for labour their human status and dignity….Society is then conceived as an abstract capitalist.
“…..the emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation – and it contains this, because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and every relation of servitude is but a modification and consequence of this relation.”
The above few sentences clearly establish Marx as one of the few that saw the universal nature of the servitude involved in the capitalist mode of production and the alienation of all classes from their essential and potential humanity. The working classes are enslaved to the capitalist system by the need for a wage, but the capitalist and pro-capitalist classes are also enslaved to the capitalist system by their role as investors and controllers of social capital (claimed as their own) and it’s profitable increase by exploitation of working people. Both sides of this socio-economic contradiction have their personalities and characters distorted by this fundamental alienation, albeit differently. And of course under capitalism, the classes are dis-proportionally rewarded.
For anyone to become fully emancipted requires all humanity to become fully emancipated; that is to be freed from all forms of oppression and enslavement.