N.I. Bukharin: Marx's Teaching and its Historical Importance



In the harsh and terrible epoch of the catastrophic collapse of capitalism, of wars, of revolutions, of proletarian Sturm and Drang, revolutionary Marxism as it appears in its developed and enriched form as Marxism-Leninism, stands out as a system of ideas which emerges from the chaos at once powerful, energetic, destructive and creative. Even the sworn enemies of the proletariat cannot deny this, even those who see in the heroic struggle and cyclopean creative efforts of the new class as it marches to world dominion nothing but the gloomy approach of the commencement of the reign of Lucifer and who look upon the bloody suppression of the contemporary emancipation movement of the proletariat as the elementary premise for the illusory renewal of a rotten bourgeois civilisation. Marxism is, in fact, the great doctrine of our time. The teaching of "the red doctor", as the London-philistines called the genius of the proletarian revolution, has mastered millions. It has mastered the mass and the mass has mastered it. But the revolutionary proletariat is very far from the "vita contemplativa". It is the banner-bearer of the "vitae activæ", of stormy and practical life. It expresses the full tension and the full liberating "torment" of social matter; it expresses in its victory the decisively tragic character of a vast historical struggle. It is for just this reason that Marxism has grown up as its class system of ideas. Marxism is the world outlook of the proletariat which has grown out of the practice of its struggle and, after smelting all the valuable conquests of the age in the retort of revolutionary criticism till they form a precious alloy, it emerges as the perfect practical weapon for the revolutionary re-shaping of the world. Marxism is "not a dogma, but a guide to action".

Here before us is an unprecedented vista of masses in praxi. The whole of the really revolutionary movement of the century is moving under this banner, in every continent, in every state, throughout every race and nation.

Marxism is the profoundest revolutionary teaching in the whole history of humanity. Like the proletarian revolution itself, it presents two aspects of a single whole: the destructive side, the sharp edge of which is aimed against the whole world order of capitalism, from its economic foundations to its poisonous philosophical and religious reflexes1); and its creative side, the forces of which are directed to the construction of new socialist forms of social life and to a new, socialist civilisation. In the U.S.S.R., Marxism has become an ideology recognised by the state and the whole of its concentrated power is a splendid weapon for the vast construction of a new society. The "aggregate", "collective" worker in the U.S.S.R., that is the unification of the various labour powers of this construction, is the collective "philosopher" who not only "explains" the world, but also "changes" it in the most decisive fashion.

With its enormous mass influence and its powerful, revolutionary and transformatory character, Marxism is in itself an original and exceptional phenomenon. Yet its opponents and class enemies often treat it simply as a new mass religion. It is, of course, true that humanity has, at different stages in its development, in the person of absolutely different classes, advanced ideal tendencies which have lifted themselves like great mountain ridges above the surface of social life and become dominant in the world of ideas over long periods of history. To these belong in the first place those religious-philosophical conceptions which have mastered the minds of millions, the so-called "world religions": the religions of Egypt and Babylon, Parseeism, the religion of Jehovah, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, the teaching of Mahomet: to these belong the modern European ideologies, in the first place the ideology of so-called "enlightenment". The last great philosophical doctrine of the European bourgeoisie, Hegel's all- embracing system, can in no way compare with them in the breadth and depth of its actual influence. Indeed, it never even pretended to look upon itself as being, for example, a rival to historically developed Christianity. On the contrary, it declared itself to be its philosophical support. Marxism transcends all these limits, both from its social genesis, its logical composition and its social significance. At the same time it makes pretensions to exclusiveness. It is a militant doctrine, it is "intolerant" (although it assimilates critically all the really valuable heritage of bourgeois culture): it looks upon itself as the only consistent continuer of all the progressive tendencies of the age which are being strangled by capitalism: Its sociological self-cognition is expressed in the formula: the way out from capitalism is the way out from the former modes of thinking, the change of the "mode of presentation". Marxism recognises its world-historical right to the ideological hegemony of the centuries. And in spite of this, or rather, partly because of this, it becomes a world-historical mass force.

One of the most widespread forms of ideological class struggle against Marxism is its treatment as an eschatological doctrine, with all its accompaniments of chiliasm, of soteriology, of myth. From this point of view the theory of the crisis of the capitalist system, of a revolutionary uprising, etc., is represented as the apocalyptic "last things" (τά έσχατα): communism, as the "millenary kingdom of the chiliasts"; the proletariat, as the Messiah, the saviour, Σωτής: the forecasts of Marx, as "prophesy" or "promises"; the analysis of capitalist contradictions, as the denunciation of the sins of the world; the transition to socialism, as its "transformation", etc.2) All these analogies are playing with words. It is true that different types of eschatological ideologies (national-revolutionary, revolutionary and even counter-revolutionary) 3) were connected with more or less important national and social movements. The "heretical" movements in Asia, the Judæn "prophets", primitive Christianity, the immense Islamic movement, the mediæval Anabaptists, the English "true Levellers" and a whole number of other movements "for the faith" in fact reflected deep changes in the social order. But this is just what Marx's opponents did not understand. Whereas in fact what was formerly treated from the standpoint of sovereign religious thought is completely subject to a scientific treatment which can be only historical materialist.4) Consequently the above historical "analogy" must be turned against the theological historical conceptions which, in the religious forms of struggle that are historically inevitable at definite stages of social development, overlook the material content of that struggle, the movement of "social matter" which has its class agents with historically adequate ideological "forms of knowledge".

However, the general proposition which states that any ideology, any world outlook, any religion and any doctrine has its earthly roots, is far from being an argument for a summary, lifelessly empty and abstract, extra-historical examination of these systems of ideas. On the contrary, their socially determined character is connected with problems of a morphological kind, problems of the concrete phase of historical development, of a concrete "mode of production", of a concrete "mode of presentation", of concrete national and social class groupings, of concrete problems in a concrete historical struggle. This is from the sociological aspect. The logical composition corresponding to its sociological equivalent permits of concrete analysis in just the same way. Scientific judgment is only possible after such an analysis.

1. Sociologically, Marxism is the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat, of the chief exploited class of capitalist society, with its powerful technique, its specific historical and economic formation, its immense culture in general and its scientific culture in particular, with its specific "laws of movement", with its specific contradictions and with its specific prospects of transition into another social and historical phase of development. However we may praise the cyclopean struc tures of Egypt or Assyria, the Roman roads and aqueducts, Indian architecture, the textiles of China, not one of these "techniques" of the historical formations of the past can be in the slightest degree compared with the technique of machine capitalism, with its steam engines, diesel-motors, high-tension electrical machines, with the system of perfected machine-tools, telephones, wireless, aviation, motor-transport, television or cinema. However carefully we may analyse the development of money economy and the germs of usurer's and trading capital in Babylon and China, in Greece and Rome, in Carthage and on the shores of Asia Minor, these elements can in no way be compared with the modern world market. However we estimate the importance of slave "manufactories" like the Greek "ergasteria", or the insignificant scraps of wage labour in past historical epochs, nevertheless, and this is the main thing, only our own period has created a specific relationship between the owner of the means of production and the non possessor, the relationship of wage labour on a mass scale as the basis of an absolutely specific form of exploitation. The proletarian is neither the ancient slave, nor the lumpen pro letarian of Rome, nor the artisan of Greece, nor the serf, nor the colonist. The proletariat is a class deprived of the means of production, selling its labour power, a class concentrated in huge masses, schooled by the mechanism of capitalist produc tion, capable of organisation, of independent action and of independent revolutionary thought. And in just the same way the capitalist bourgeoisie is neither the Egyptian theocrats nor the Greek traders of the days of Aristophanes. These are new social categories, new classes of a new mode of production. Finally, however we may estimate the learned men of ancient China, the brilliant guesses of the Greek natural philosophers, the Alexandrine inventors, the Egyptian geometricians, the algebra of India or the Arabs, the astronomy of Babylon, these are only embryos of what the powerful exact science of modern capitalism can give us. Marxism is the product of an absolutely peculiar epoch and the system of ideas of an absolutely special class which former ages did not know.5)

2. Logically, Marxism is a scientific system, a scientific outlook and scientific practice, and for this reason alone cannot be stupidly "compared" to the prophets of Judæa to the mediaeval Taborites, etc., with their corresponding eschatologies. It is utterly foolish to compare Marx's scientific forecasts to eschatalogical Utopias. All efforts at the logical destruction of Marxism, at refuting its forecasts, all attempts at so-called scientific proofs of its logical inconsistency have themselves collapsed spectacularly beneath the heavy blows of reality. It now only remains for the dreaming bourgeois to declare the very fact of a general crisis of capitalism, the very fact of proletarian revolutions, the very fact of the existence of the U.S.S.R. to be a myth. But this means standing the real world of real relationships on its head. Werner Sombart wrote in 1909, "In 1883 Marx was considered by all theoreticians of bourgeois tendency as having been long ago 'refuted'." 6) In the same work he declared: "Marx has theoretically and practically been surpassed (überwunden), he has exhausted his historical mission." 7) But in 1923 his disciple Arthur Prinz reaches the following conclusion:

If ever any "one simple thought" has given another form (Gestalt) to the centuries, if ever any one man by what has come from him has given specific features (das Gepräge) to a whole epoch (Zeitalter), then it is Karl Marx and his theory of the collapse of capitalism. If a third of the globe from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic is now in dreadful convulsions, which Marx would welcome as the birth-pangs of a new society, then his works are one of the chief causes of this.8)

Marxism from the point of view of its logical genesis was a creative synthesis of genius which arose on the basis of the most precious products of thought of the age. The great idealist philosophy of Germany, critically refashioned and stood on its feet, the surmounting of Feuerbachism and the creation of the theory of dialectical materialism, the revolutionising of English political economy from Sir William Petty to Ricardo and the construction of a remarkable economic theory, French socialism and the "conversion" of socialism from a Utopia into a Science, these are the main lines of the ideological genesis of Marxism which had its social roots in the growth and formation of the industrial proletariat as a class. On the basis of an astonishingly complete acquaintance with all disciplines, on the basis of an obstinate study of modern natural science, from mathematics to geology, of an exceptional acquaintance with the literature and the history of all ages and peoples, of stubborn original work upon primary sources, of a first class knowledge of world literature and world art, Marxism grew as the all-embracing system of ideas of a titanic class, formed by the titanic genius of Marx. Therefore the eschatological fantasies of the movements of revolt of the past millenniums have the same relation to Marx's scientific forecasts as the magic formulas of a witch-doctor to wireless telegraphy, or as books on elementary alchemy to Mendeleev's table. Dialectical materialism, as the doctrine of the general connections and laws of being and becoming; the theory of historical materialism, as the doctrine of the laws of social development; the theory of capitalist economy, its development and collapse; the theory of proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat; the scientific anticipation of genius of further development (dictatorship of the proletariat, socialism, communism)-this is an immensely great scientific outlook such as no preceding age has known. And it is just for this reason that Marx's revolutionary theory, by organising, welding together, and leading into battle millions of proletarians, has had such an exceptional influence on the whole course of historical development.

Not only is his influence great over the whole international Labour movement, but also over official bourgeois science. It is expressed in various ways. Marxism is now the object of violent criticism, for no one can ignore it; or it is the cause of antithetic systems, and its powerful resistance is shown in theories in which each one of its principal arguments is taken over with another logical mark; or else it serves as a source from which separate parts are taken and all their revolutionary corners planed off; or else it is "accepted" in order to be crushed by the embrace, and so on. Marx in his lifetime, passionately hating the bourgeoisie and their ideologies, and mortally hated by them in turn, was, as is well known, surrounded by a con spiracy of silence. His "recognition " began with recognition as an economist, then passed into the sphere of history and the methodology of history, and to-day is showing more and more influence on philosophy and natural science. Adolf Held,9) one of the few economists who knew the works of Marx, wrote in 1878 that we must distinguish two aspects in him: "on the one hand, the element of economic socialism, i.e. the theory of value and income, which, if we look at it in itself, is, it is true, incorrect and utopian (!! N.B.) though fully deserving of dis cussion, and, on the other hand, the political, revolutionary element and the materialist tendency opposed to all recognised laws of morality, which lies behind it." This god-fearing pro fessor, from whom, by the way, Sombart drew his teaching on the dual nature of Marx the scientist and Marx the revolutionary, did not suspect that very soon it was to be just this "tendency" which would grip even his colleagues in the iron claws of its unshakable logic, and that even the most important theological historians of religion like E. Tröltsch would have to make declara tions similar to the following: "New problems grew up out of all existing decisions....And then the Marxist teaching on basis and superstructure gripped with immense force...." 10) Since Marx, who gave a powerful weapon into the hands of the proletariat, bourgeois social science is passing through a chronic decline. Its really valuable aspects, insofar as they exist at all, to a great degree have Marx for their source, who is the more harshly criticised, the more he is an object for cowardly plagiarism or conscious distortion. In the sphere of economic literature, it is enough to mention Böhm-Bawerk as an example of an anti thetical system based on a "criticism" of the foundations of Marxian theory, a doctrine which atone time prevailed very widely in official university circles. Vilfredo Pareto and M. Panta leoni are similar cases. The exceptional influence of Marx on Werner Sombart and Tugan-Baranovski, Bücher, F. Oppenheim, is well known. In European economic literature there is no writer of any importance who would dare to-day simply to "keep quiet" about Marx. In the field of history and the methodology of history, there is no one to-day who would decide to pass over the so-called "economic factor". All the most distinguished historians fall in some way or another under the influence of Marx's genius: Maxim Kovalevsky, Edward Meyer, Lamprecht, L. Humplowich, Von Below, Dopsch, Mathiez, Héritier, Seligman, Wipper and others. The methodologists and philosophers of history, and even the philosophers, pay tribute to the genius of the proletariat, Benedetto Croce, Stampler, Max Weber, Tröltsch, Tönnies, Simmel, Loria, R. Michels, Gentile (the present official philosopher of fascism)-all these have eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Even the philosophers of ultra-modern systems, such as Max Scheler, theoretician of the Catholic philosophy of to-day, draw to a great extent on the treasure-house of Marx's genius for "their" ideas. Whole schools in other spheres of knowledge which border on history sometimes develop under the fascination of Marxist doctrine. Such, for example, is the whole anthropological school in Italy led by Enrico Ferri.11) Last of all, very recently, under the influence of Russian Marxist literature, the penetration of Marxism into the sphere of theoretical natural science has begun. If this was once chiefly to be seen in connection with biological questions (especially the theme, Marxism and Darwinism), now the representatives of theoretical physics (e.g. Ph. Franck) are beginning to be drawn into the orbit of the Marxist presentation of different methodological questions. The special critical literature on Marxism is inexhaustible.12) Marx is the central problem of the ideological life of to-day in exactly the same way as communism is the central problem of the whole social-historical development of our time.13)

It follows that Marx's influence on official science has another more important aspect. Bourgeois science, both of itself, and by means of the theoreticians of social-democracy, that agency of bourgeois influence over the proletariat, falsifies and distorts Marx. It castrates him, it corrodes the revolutionary content from him, it distorts him unrecognisably. There are real barricades of ideas between revolutionary Marxism and official science in this respect. But the very fact that it is compelled to take some weapons out of the arsenal of its adversary shows how great is the ideological power of Marx's theoretical creation.

Marxism is the synthesis of revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. If the importance of Marx's theoretical conception is unusually great, if to-day millions are marching under the banner of scientific communism, some to the storming of the capitalist world, others straining their muscles and nerves on the practical problems of socialist construction, then from this also is the social and functional importance of Marxism assumed. Humanity is living through a most critical period. The catastrophe of capitalism is developing. The world is split. The powerful mountain ranges of the new socialist world order are 1 being formed as the result of the creative effort of the victorious proletariat in the U.S.S.R. Marxism is beginning to conquer ever new spheres for itself. Marx, so many times slain by his critics and falsifiers, rises again in his full stature as the allembracing genius of the centuries. Marxism is directly transformed into the theoretical practice and the practical theory of the greatest of social revolutions. Against it, all the terrorist and militant forces of the old, dying world, led by fascism, all their allies, all their reserves, are massing in a furious class struggle. Fascism's slogan, destroy Marxism, has therefore a very deep historical significance. Hegel says that philosophy is an epoch expressed in thought. But our epoch is one of bifurcation on the grand scale, for it is an epoch of the birth of a new social system, socialism; for it is an epoch in which the class struggle is lifted up to such heights of principle as never before; for it is an epoch in which a new class, the proletariat, already appears on the stage of history as its coming demiurge, a class already grasping the helm of power, of economy and of culture in the vast territory of the Soviet Union; for it is an epoch in which the contradictions of a capitalism that has outlived itself have brought its organism to the unparalleled convulsions of an unprecedented crisis; for it is an epoch in which all the real forces and potentials of a new world are marching with the slogans of a new, mercilessly bold, scientific and yet revolutionary doctrine which embraces the whole sum of the problems of our time, an outlook whose creator and founder was Karl Marx. The bourgeoisie, scared and without confidence in the security of its régime, is going over to mysticism and inventing its own apocalyptic, counter-revolutionary eschatology.14) The proletariat marches under the banner of revolutionary science.


1) See: Th. Nixon Carver, Capitalism Survives. Current History, April 1932; W. Sombart's summary, Der Proletarische Sozialismus, 2. Bände; modern fascist literature, etc.

2) See: W. Sombart, Der Proletarische Sozialismus, 1. Band, Jena, G. Fischer, 1924, pp. 317-83, 423; Dr. Fritz Gerlich, Der Kommunismus als Lehre vom Tausendjährigen Reich, Verl. Hugo Bruckmann, München, 1920 in which there is a whole chapter "Orthodox Marxism and Chiliasism" (p. 17 et seq.); J. Plenge, Revolutionierung der Revolutionäre. See also: Jevons, An Introduction to the History of Religion, 1902; Max Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, 3. Bände Tübingen, 1920; Steinbüchel,"Chiliasmus" in the Staatslexicon; "Eschatologie" and "Chiliasmus" in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2. Band, Tübingen, Verl. Mohr, 1910; Chiapelli, Le idee millenare dei Christiani (1888); Ernst Tröltsch, Gesammelte Schriften, IV. Band, Aufsätze zur Geistesgeschichte and Religionssoziologie, hrsq. von Dr. Hans Baron, Tübingen, Verl Mohr, 1925, particularly: "Glaube und Ethos der hebraïschen Propheten" and "Epochen and Typen der Sozialphilosophie des Christentums" N. Berdjajew, Christentum und Sozialismus, Das Neue Reich, WienInnsbruck, Jahrg. 7, No. 14 (3d. Jan. 1925). Mr. Ramsay MacDonald expresses the same idea of Marx: "To-day, Marx is known over as wide a world as even Christ or Mohammed. He holds a position equal to any one of the few teachers who have founded religious movements" (J. Ramsay MacDonald, Socialism, Critical and Constructive). See also, T. G. Masaryk, Die philosophischen und soziologischen Grundlagen des Marxismus. Studien Zur Sozialen Frage, Wien, 1899, p. 143.

3) Hans Dellbrück tries unsuccessfully to use the fact of an Egyptian slave rebellion against Marxism. See: Die Marxsche Geschichtsauffassung. Preussische jahrbücher, Bd. 182, Heft 2, pp. 157 ff.

4) See E. Tröltsch, Gesammelte Schriften, IV. Band, p. 122.

5) Through Marx's enormous influence a whole literature has grown up round the question of the definition of capital and capitalism. The economists and sociologists (Böhm-Bawerk, Sombart, Max Weber, and many others), the historians (E. Meyer, von Below, Dopsch), the philosophers (e.g. Simmel), each give their definition.

6) W. Sombart, Das Lebenswerk von Karl Marx, Jena, G. Fischer, 1909 p. 8.

7) Ibid., p. 1.

8) Arthur Prinz aus Guatemala, Das Marxsche System in psychologischer Betrachung, Inaugural-Dissertation, Berlin, 1923, p. 193.

9) Adolf Held, Grundriss für Vorlesungen über Nationalökonomie, 2 Aufl., 1878.

10) Tröltsch, loc. cit., p. 11.

11) See Roberto Michels, Storia del Marxismo in Italia. Compendio critico, Roma, Luigi Mongini, 1909, especially the chapter, "Lotte e inflenze del marxismo nella scienza ufficiale" (p. 91 et seq.).

12) See the bibliographical works of E. Drahn and also the Bibliographie Die Literatur über Marx, Engels and über Marxismus seit Beginor des Weltkrieges (mit Ausnahme der russischen), Zusammengestellt von E.Czobel and P. Haidu, M.-E. Archiv, 1. Band.

13) Sombart, Das Lebenswerk von Marx, p. 8. Also Tönnies, K. Marx, Leben und Lehre, Verl. Erich Lichtenstein, Jena, 1921, and Sven Helander; Marx und Hegel, Jena, G. Fischer, pp. 39, 54 and 82.

14) See, for example, N. Berdjagew, The Philosophy of Inequality, Berlin, for many pearls of this description.