Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.28 No.4, July-August 1967, pp.1-25.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.
Is Marxism-Leninism Obsolete? has been written for an anthology of articles by leading figures of the revolutionary socialist movement in various countries, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This is scheduled to be published later this year by Merit Publishers.
Where does Marxism-Leninism stand a half century after the October revolution?
This question is not academic. It has become an integral component of world politics since the end of World War II. The foreign policy of the greatest capitalist power has centered on “containing” and eventually rolling back “Communism.” The biggest witch-hunt in American history – launched by Truman, carried to a frenetic pitch under the guidance of the late Senator McCarthy, and still virulent in many fields of American life – was directed against the “Communist threat.” Washington has repeatedly intervened hi civil conflicts in other countries, toppling governments, as in Iran and Guatemala, sending US troops to Lebanon and the Dominican Republic, or financing and organizing mercenaries as in the Bay of Pigs invasion and in the Congo – all in the name of fighting “Communism.” Intervention of this kind has twice been escalated into a war of such size as to risk a major conflagration that could end hi a nuclear catastrophe: in Korea in 1950-52, in Vietnam today.
The principal source of this “Communist threat” has been the Soviet Union – at least up to the time of Mao and Fidel Castro. Behind the Soviet Union, the bourgeois ideologues and propagandists invariably trace the genesis of the threat to the theoretical system of Karl Marx and the political methods of V.I. Lenin.
Thus the trinity of the Soviet Union, Lenin, and Marx has been a perennial target of attack. The propaganda, like most of the war propaganda turned out by these reactionary sources, is crude enough. Its principal objective is mere brainwashing.
Something more plausible is required, however, to have deep or lasting effect on serious people genuinely concerned about truth. Thus the more sincere, or more skilled, bourgeois theoreticians make at least a pretense of examining Marxism-Leninism in an objective way. Their output is prodigious but singularly lacking in originality. The same theme is insistently repeated decade after decade: Marxism is not a science but only a dogma.
Besides the anti-Marxist literature which frankly and unashamedly defends the capitalist system, there is another current which proclaims its opposition to capitalism but finds enough truth in the attacks of the critics to warrant the overhauling of basic Marxist ideas. The term “revisionism” was used in the late nineties by Eduard Bernstein, who considered the term an honorable one. As this leading figure in the generation after Engels saw it, the evidence showed that some aspects of Marxism had become outmoded or been refuted. He attributed some of Marx’s errors to his “Hegelianism,” a rather widespread view that reflected the narrow empiricism of the times.
Bernstein concluded that the capitalists had learned to manage their system sufficiently well to avoid depressions of a catastrophic nature. He held that “reason” had gained sufficient ascendancy to lower the probability of war, and that the democratic process made it possible to achieve a gradual introduction of socialism.
The immediate social roots of Bernstein’s views were to be found in the conservative labor bureaucracy, particularly in Germany. But the ultimate source of Bernstein’s optimism about capitalism and depreciation of scientific socialism can be gathered from his view that the working class is insufficiently cultured to exercise power without first going through a long period of education; that in the colonial world, the Western powers were performing a progressive mission as a whole; and that the foreign policy of Hohenzollern Germany was not entirely without merit. To his credit, Bernstein claimed no originality for his views. In fact they reflected arguments emanating from such bourgeois theorists as Böhm-Bawerk, a leading economist of the Austrian marginal utility school.
Bernstein’s outlook has been refuted by all the major events beginning with 1914. An epoch of wars, revolutions and colonial uprisings opened; the class struggle reached pitches of intensity foreseen only by the most far-sighted socialists; the “rule of reason” gave way in Western Europe to the rule of fascist barbarism; capitalism began oscillating between catastrophic depression and feverish prosperity, an essential ingredient of which is preparation for wars of massive destructiveness. Although Bernstein’s prophecies did not survive the test of events, his arguments have lingered on to this day.
A later revisionist current took form under Stalin. Unlike the preceding Social Democratic tendency, Stalinism did not advocate or proclaim “revisionism.” Its central thesis was that it is possible to build “socialism” (and later “communism”) in a single country, and a backward one at that. This theory constituted a gross revision of Marxism, which views socialism as the coming international system based on the achievements of at least several of the most advanced capitalist countries.
Lenin and Trotsky viewed the Soviet Union as a transitional society which was compelled to carry out tasks historically belonging to the capitalist phase (agrarian reform, industrialization) by means that are socialist in principle (expropriation of private ownership of the key sectors of the economy, introduction of overall planning).
Stalin also revised the Bolshevik program of seeking, from the base secured in Russia, to foster and support socialist revolutions in other countries. The displacement of the internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky by narrow nationalistic concepts reflected the social interests of the bureaucratic caste that arose in the isolation imposed on the Russian revolution. The retrogressive outlook, of which this revisionism was an expression, was carried to monstrous extremes in the liquidation of the revolutionary-socialist leaders and cadres assembled by Lenin, vast purges of all oppositionists, including potential ones, the establishment of forced labor camps, autocratic personal rule and the virtual deification of the dictator.
This revisionist current, albeit with the elimination of the worst excesses, was continued under Khrushchev and those who followed him. Its hallmark internationally is the line of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, meaning collaboration, with the capitalist class, or at least its alleged “progressive” sectors, and promulgation of the “parliamentary road” to power – a revival of the concepts of Bernstein’s time. Little attempt is made to offer theoretical justification for this line. In the manner of Stalin it is simply advanced as a dogma; sometimes accompanied with slanderous attacks against revolutionary socialists and epithets like “adventurists,” “putschists,” “agents of imperialism,” or worse for those who adhere to the classical program of Marxism.
This school of revisionism is still strong but is on the wane.
Still another current, which has emerged in the past few years, particularly in the United States and England, is the “New Left.” While it owes heavy debts to its reformist predecessors, going back to Bern-stem, it is not inclined to acknowledge these obligations. The fresh packaging is thought to be enough to assure saleability of a rather shopworn product. The main, perhaps distinguishing, feature of its ideology is lack of confidence in the working class. The relative quiescence of organized labor for some two decades, particularly in the US and Britain, due to the long, artificially sustained prosperity, is taken to be a permanent feature, an inherent characteristic of the working class itself.
Before considering the arguments of these schools at closer range, it would provide a useful counterpoint to state briefly the central postulates of scientific socialism.
(1) It is humanist. Economic activities involve human beings. Whatever the technological and sociological conditions may be, human beings in a given social formation work up the materials taken from nature into the means needed to sustain them as individuals, as groups, as a species. In the final analysis, all economic relations and their corresponding categories originate in this human labor activity – including the enigmatic category of “value” clarified by Marx.
If this point seems obvious enough, it is not so to many bourgeois ideologists and those influenced by them. They find the source of economic categories in objects – commodities, rare metals, hi money; or vague abstractions like “wants and desires,” “ability,” “scarcity,” “supply and demand” ...
It was Marx’s great merit, following the insights provided by Ludwig Feuerbach, to disclose the reification involved in the bourgeois outlook. Underlying such things as commodities and other concrete forms of capital are relations between people, which in our time primarily take the form of relations between exploiting and exploited classes and the various sectors of these classes.
With his proof that the bourgeois outlook is largely an unconscious projection, a secular version of the religious way of viewing the world, Marx at the same time established that his own approach was based on social reality. Thus hi the case of gold, Marx showed that the “precious” quality attached to its physical properties by the miser, banker or bourgeois entrepreneur, or those who think like them, is illusory. Under Marx’s procedure, the “precious” quality of gold is seen to derive from the immense human labor exerted in searching for it, mining and refining it. Its exchange value, hi short, is derived from the real world of human activities. The bourgeois procedure, at best, puts things upside down, leads to endless confusion, and stands in the way of any genuine progress in understanding the economic system, its origin, development and future evolution. This is the fundamental basis of Marx’s claim to having founded a science of society.
(2) Scientific socialism is materialist. Nature and labor are the twin bases of society. The evolution of human society hinges hi the final analysis on the development of technology and the possibilities this opens up for more productive organization of the labor process. This criterion of productive powers, of increased efficiency of labor, provides a solid objective basis for determining progress, whatever one’s opinion may be of the dominant cultural values of a given time.
In our epoch of the production expert, the time-study man, and such an outpouring and development of labor saving devices as to give rise to the term, “cybernetic revolution,” the key role of technology and the organization of the labor process as the foundation for broadening mankind’s access to culture, leisure time and more bountiful well-being seems obvious to the point of banality. Not so with those who would debate with Marx. For them “free enterprise,” “free competition,” “the public interest,” and similar spirits still rule man’s economic enterprise.
(3) Scientific socialism recognizes the key role played by the class struggle. While Marx and Engels were not the first to perceive the class struggle or its economic roots, they did establish a firm basis for exploring its material basis and its multiple ramifications not only hi politics, government and the state, but in remoter fields such as art and literature.
It is not too difficult to determine the interests of the various classes in a completely objective way. What statesman in his real calculations proceeds today otherwise than on the basis of such a calculation? If the tangle of class interests appears obscure at times, every sharp struggle generally brings clarification, often to very wide layers.
(4) Scientific socialism is historical. Marx’s procedure enabled him to establish that capitalism had its origin in qualitatively different preceding social systems. If this irritates certain bourgeois ideologists who refuse to acknowledge anything less than timelessness for the conditions of their system, the burden of proof is on them to show how such a common, ordinary phenomenon as an economic system – merely a way of organizing the collective labor process – can be immune to the universal law of change affecting everything else. It is not sufficient to point to the invariants of “human nature.” Anthropologists have provided abundant evidence on how variable human characteristics and capacities are. Marx’s conclusions were derived from a most thorough study of the origin of capitalism as well as the inherent tendencies of this least stable and most disruptive of all economic systems.
Thus Marx was able to offer a rational explanation for the periodic appearance of revolutions – those great upsurges of collective energy that have at times taken humanity forward at great speed, toppling or engulfing every obstacle in their path.
The bourgeois view that capitalism is timeless or everlasting compels its theorists, if they are to be consistent, to view revolutions as irrational and unnecessary, even the revolutions in which their own system was born – not to speak of the revolutions bringing it to a close.
(5) Scientific socialism takes an overall view. Marx approached his subject in its totality; as a development in time with a beginning and an end. With the establishment of its time limits, the capitalist system can thus be compared both with the systems that preceded it and the one succeeding it insofar as the latter can be foreseen by extrapolating the development of technology, the organization of the labor process and the modifications in the social structure that have occurred under capitalism (constant strengthening of the social weight of the proletariat at the expense of all other classes).
From the viewpoint of the survival, well-being and advancement of the human species, a basis is thereby provided for judging how far mankind has come from its animal origins. If we utilize as our measure the gains made in modifying or controlling natural processes, then progress has certainly been made. Furthermore the nature of the progress can be stated in objective, verifiable terms (growth of productive power, population, knowledge, etc.). The laws governing the processes giving rise to this progress can be stated in a similar way.
Arguments to the contrary must, in the final analysis, advance norms of a subjective nature such as the “losses” entailed by the development of civilization. Arguments of this sort are largely irrelevant and most certainly not scientific because they disregard the most decisive factors in human history.
(6) Scientific socialism is dialectical. Marx’s procedure makes it possible in principle to study in a fruitful way reciprocal actions, modifying forces, countertendencies and combinations of the most varied nature. It is a gross distortion or misunderstanding of Marx’s scientific socialism to say, as Arthur P. Mendel does in the October 1966 Foreign Affairs (The Rise and Fall of “Scientific Socialism”), that it “represents a transposition into sociological and historical terminology of classical mechanics, now radically undermined by the theories of relativity, quantum physics, probability and indeterminacy.”
Marx was fully aware of the role of chance and probability not only in the determination of such economic categories as prices but in the outcome of specific events in the class struggle. It is not necessary to read very far in Capital to discover this. A good example in the first chapter is Section 3 on the development of money from its lowly origin in accidental acts of barter.
Mendel’s analogy is defective even if we accept it at face value. Twentieth century developments have restricted but not nullified the validity of the Newtonian mechanics. The laws of classical mechanics and quantum physics apply to different levels of phenomena. Is Mendel willing then to grant that Marx’s scientific socialism holds up as well as does classical mechanics in the field in which classical mechanics applies? The erudite academician should think this over carefully.
(7) Scientific socialism is not a set of dogmas. The essence of scientific socialism is contained in Marx’s dialectical materialist method, for this makes it possible to analyze new developments in objective reality. It is not surprising that some of today’s developments were unforeseen by Marx or foreseen unclearly or one-sidedly; by following his procedures the necessary adjustments can be made and the body of Marxist theory enriched. Scientific socialism maintains its scientific character by its hospitality to historical novelties and its capacity to recognize and incorporate them. (We leave aside the question of the quacks and cultists who profess to be “Marxists.”)
Little is said about Marx’s method – the heart of scientific socialism – by those who try to demolish his conclusions. Even the once-current fashion of assailing Marx for his “Hegelianism” is dying out. (It has been replaced by efforts to pit the young “humanist” Marx against the Marx of Capital.) His foes today generally rest their case either on the fact that some of the trends in capitalism observed by Marx have been checked in some countries by countertrends (the impoverishment of the masses) or trends which he did not anticipate (the rise of a new middle class). Their trump card is the point that, although Marx predicted that capitalism would be overturned by the working class, the goal still remains to be achieved almost a century and a quarter after the Communist Manifesto.
Where Marx has been fully confirmed with the passage of time, as in his conclusions on the accumulation and concentration of capital expressed in the dominance of big business and high finance, the extension of the factory system, the introduction of labor-saving machinery, the domination of the state by the capitalist class, the disruptive expansion of the capitalist system, its explosive contradictions, and so on, they remain silent.
They brush aside and devaluate the material accumulated, sifted, analyzed, placed in logical order and explained by Marx in his study of the processes of the capitalist system as valid for the capitalism of his day but not for the capitalism of our time. They make out the descendants of the pirates, slave traders and robber barons to be a placid and benevolent lot. Unlike their progenitors they are concerned about social security from the cradle to the grave for those who dwell in the slums and ghettos at home while their interest in other countries centers around the welfare and democratic rights of the teeming poor to be found there, particularly those inhabiting the colonial regions endowed with rich natural resources.
Is it more humane or a mark of progress to burn little children with napalm than to work them from dawn to dusk in the mills?
What Marx offered is not a mere exposé of the excesses committed by the capitalists of his day in carrying the logic of their system to extremes but an analysis of the material basis of that logic; i.e., the processes governing the operation of this system. The significance of the exposures which he and Engels made of the English factories in the past century is that the evils – whether in extreme or ameliorated form – were inherent in the working of the system itself and thus served to verify the correctness of their findings concerning the main tendencies. Hence the analysis retains its validity and relevance so that every serious student is impressed by how modernly Marx reads and how truthfully he depicted the workings of the economic system in which we still live.
(8) Marx’s forecasts concerning the future society are not of primary importance but are logical derivatives from his analysis of capitalist society. They can only provide general indications about the nature of the future transitional society and its ultimate culmination in a communist classless society of such abundance as to definitively end the millenia of poverty, with all its attendant restrictions and evils. His forecasts do not have an idealistic, Utopian or dogmatic character. They do not depend upon preconceptions of human nature other than a judgment of its demonstrated capacity to adjust within certain limits to the economic systems in which people find themselves. Still less do Marx’s extrapolations involve any “best” system under which to live.
Marx’s vision of the future is drawn from logically extending the socialization of the labor process, the advance of science and technology and the concomitant tendency to introduce planning on a massive scale. While capitalism has given enormous impetus to these trends, it has kept them within property forms based in principle on the individual ownership of the means of production. This bars science from being properly and thoroughly utilized in organizing the economy, maintains the economy on an anarchistic level, and preserves competitive forms that become more and more explosive and destructive particularly on the international arena.
If these limitations which are a heritage of the primitive stage of commodity production from which capitalism evolved were to be removed, the socialized labor process, the principle of planning, the development of technology, and the application of science would enable society as a whole to surge forward at a truly revolutionary rate.
The beneficent ramifications in all fields can scarcely be calculated. It would be pointless to attempt to visualize them in detail in any case, since this will be the work of future generations. The paramount task of the present generation is to carry out the political and social revolution necessary to establish the basis for these developments. That was the way Marx viewed the connection of the present with the future.
(9) Scientific socialism is rational. This striking characteristic has constituted its greatest appeal to those able to transcend the narrow outlook associated with capitalism and the moods of pessimism and irrationalism generated by its decay. Marxism offers a supremely rational insight into the entire rise and decline of the period of class struggles. This view in turn provides a realistic basis for ascertaining the most fruitful way to expend one’s own efforts and make a positive contribution toward bringing this difficult and painful epoch to a close. In addition to its political effectiveness, the serious student of Marxism can receive incomparably rich and rewarding insights into the philosophical, cultural, artistic and even psychological phenomena of our times.
(10) Scientific socialism is not averse to innovations but welcomes fresh acquisitions. Among the most noteworthy developments based on Marx’s contributions are Lenin’s analysis of the imperialist stage of capitalism, now shaping the major course of world politics, and Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” which offers an explanation of why capitalism, in the opening stages of the world socialist revolution, has tended to succumb at its fringes rather than in the major centers of industrial, financial and political power.
Lenin also contributed valuable teachings on the question of oppressed nationalities, the political alliance of the workers with the peasantry, and the building of a combat party to lead the masses to attainment of political power.
Trotsky’s analyses of the nature of Stalinism and of fascism were further important additions.
Most important of all, Marxism-Leninism did not remain a mere theory, a set of formulas and studies confined to the shelves of libraries. It helped direct the October revolution, actually establish a post-capitalist state, and successfully defend that revolution and workers state against a sea of foes. This remains an imperishable example of the verification of theory by actual practice.
In a most unexpected way, the practical experience of the Cuban revolution also offered a unique new verification of Marxist theory. There a youthful leadership began with the burning conviction that the Batista regime offered no recourse but armed struggle. Accepting this framework laid down by imperialism and its native agents, the Cubans went ahead – and found they had taken the road to socialism. Rather than draw back, upon making this discovery the key leaders proved intelligent and honest enough to draw the appropriate conclusions. Trotsky’s prediction that another Marx was unlikely to appear in the immediate future but that revolutionists of action were sure to move into the center of the stage thus found striking confirmation. The Cubans put this thought into a slogan – “The duty of every revolutionist is to make the revolution!”
Having indicated the leading ideas of scientific socialism, let us turn to the criticisms of the Marxist outlook by current propagandists of the capitalist system. Their line of attack is well illustrated by the article mentioned above, The Rise and Fall of “Scientific Socialism”. The author, a professor of Russian history at the University of Michigan, plays on a theme going back to the eighteen nineties. According to this, Marx spent his life in a library laboriously constructing a “myth” that abundance could be achieved for the masses if capitalism was done away with and socialism established.
This “explanation” of Marx’s achievement is given a modern dress by referring to the Soviet Union, where, Mendel claims, the myth was used to justify inhuman sacrifices in the name of progress and the generations to come. The fantasy concocted by Marx proved “irrelevant in the advanced Western countries” and is now increasingly questioned in the Soviet Union itself. Today the best Soviet thinkers, Mendel contends, are demanding “honesty” and a genuinely scientific approach instead of the “hateful obligation of corrupting their talents in the service of dogma.”
“Rational price, profit, interest calculations, marginal utility theory and advanced mathematical and ‘cybernetic’ models are, consequently, replacing primitive techniques associated with the sacred labor theory of value and the fetish of maximum ‘command’ planning.”
The basic assumption in Mendel’s argumentation is clear enough: no definite and central line of evolutionary development is discernible in human history – all that really exists at bottom are certain propensities inherent in human nature. The capitalist system, in the final analysis, is grounded in the genes. Adam Smith had it exactly right when he made the acute observation, “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.”
Others of this school, less crude in their polemics than Mendel, including some who grant a certain value to Marxism as an instrument of criticism or an ethical creed, consider that socialism has been invalidated as a science by the “failure” of the workers in the West to carry out a socialist revolution or the “failure” of the Soviet government to represent the revolutionary interests of the working class. Unwilling to concede that human society is an exception to the universal processes of evolutionary change evident in all other sectors of the universe, some find evidence of a supposed “convergence” between capitalism and the now “mellowing” planned economy of the Soviet Union. Each of the two competing industrial societies are taking on the best characteristics of the other. A liberalizing, democratic tendency, allegedly borrowed from the West, is thus appearing in Soviet society under guise of “de-Stalinization”; and more and more planning at a governmental level is appearing in the capitalist countries in response to the Soviet challenge and the Soviet example. This represents progress of a kind, in the opinion of these thinkers, but progress that deviates far from the historic pattern predicted by Marx.
This theory is quite prevalent; some even advance it in the style of a plank in an up-dated program for enlightened technocrats and partisans of the “New Left.” Thus in the summer 1966 issue of the Partisan Review George Lichtheim suggests that “the USA and the USSR are beginning to look somewhat similar, and that it is desirable (as well as probable) for them to become more alike still ...” Among its many dubious elements, this theory leaves out of account the nuclear arms race. If the two societies are converging, why are they stockpiling the bomb? This question is particularly pertinent in regard to the US which started the race towards doomsday. Viewed from this angle, the US and the USSR appear to be converging like two express trains headed toward each other on a single track.
The substance of the theory is an updated variation of the gradualism advanced by such figures as Eduard Bernstein at the turn of the century. Capitalism, it was thought, had become matured or mellowed enough, or sufficiently civilized, to bow to reason and the popular will as expressed through the democratic process. At the same time certain aspects of Marxism had been “refuted,” such as its theory of a devastating economic crisis; or had become “outmoded,” as in its formula “dictatorship of the proletariat”; or had reached the point where it could discard “doctrines” of a dogmatic nature like the Hegelian “scaffolding” of dialectics used by Marx. Thus it was now possible to bridge capitalism and socialism through the parliamentary process. The idea of a violent revolution – to the relief of everyone – could be discarded.
Today’s theory of “convergence” of antagonistic states is not argued nearly as well as in Bernstein’s time when it was presented as a convergence of conflicting classes, harmonizing the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. For instance, it fails to show how convergence can cross the borderline into merger without a violent struggle. In Bernstein’s time it was held that this could occur through electoral decision and a parliamentary majority. How and where will the gradual evolution of opposing systems reach the point of qualitative change into identity today? In the United Nations? Nobody takes that body seriously enough to even suggest it. The theorists of the “convergence” of the US and the USSR lack even parliamentary shadows to point to. To be sure, the diplomatic needs of the Soviet bureaucracy may partially coincide with those of Washington and bring the two closer together for a time. This happened in the nineteen thirties, during the second world war, and is now in the cards again. But the disruption of relations after each such essay at collaboration betrays the underlying irreconcilability of their social structures.
An associated line of argumentation would have us believe that a basic flaw has turned up in Marx’s analysis of capitalism. The Keynesian economic engineers, having gained a “sophisticated” insight into the workings of the capitalist system, are now able to take timely preventive measures which can eliminate depressions of major proportions like the one of the thirties. By manipulating taxes, interest rates, public works, money and credit, they can cool down the system when it gets “overheated” or warm it up when it is struck by a sudden chill and thus keep it in good health.
As proof that the system can actually be controlled by such means, they point to the fact that no major depression has recurred since the thirties, that on the contrary capitalism has experienced an unprecedented boom, above all in the United States.
This argument is particularly fraudulent since the necessity to utilize government controls on a vast scale to manipulate the economy shows that something is fundamentally wrong with a system that is supposed to run by itself on the basis of “private” initiative. The prolonged boom is also not very convincing or conclusive evidence of the health of the system. It began, not as a fresh normal expansion of the system but as a result of the colossal expenditures for World War II, followed by the immense outlays needed for the postwar recovery. (These “scientists” always leave out of account, too, the losses entailed by the war and the major setback dealt to civilization as a whole by the devastation and slaughter.)
It is highly significant, too, that the postwar boom has been accompanied by a continual rise in the national debt which now reaches astronomical proportions in the United States, the wealthiest of the capitalist powers. True, the same economists – unlike their forebears – argue that the existence of a colossal and growing national debt is a matter of indifference. The debt, nonetheless, does not stand exactly on the credit side of the ledger for society as a whole.
Finally, the boom has been maintained only by continual government spending on a scale never before seen in history. One of the major items in this spending is preparation for another and ultimate war.
In their own way, the vast government outlays in the development of such new fields as nuclear energy and the exploration of space likewise bespeak the limitations of capitalist enterprise – it is becoming increasingly difficult for any corporation, no matter how huge and powerful, to undertake socially required developments on the scale demanded in the modern world. The connection of private capital with these advances is becoming more and more parasitic.
It is one of the ironies of history that the contentions of the ideologues of capitalism against scientific socialism are, in essence, merely variations of a single argument – that Marxism is irrational and cannot therefore be adopted by any intelligent, fair-minded person.
In truth, the rationality of the Marxist outlook and program stands out in such sharp contrast to the irrationality and anarchism of capitalism and finds such striking confirmation today that one suffers an embarrassment of riches in citing examples.
One of the most obvious relates to the nuclear breakthrough. At one stroke the problem of tapping abundant cheap sources of energy was solved. From human muscle power to animal power, then to water, wind, and the fossil fuels, with nuclear power humanity made its biggest advance in the field of energy since the discovery of fire.
The capitalists nevertheless insist on continuing to burn up fossil fuels – while they cautiously consider how nuclear energy can be converted into a new source of profits. At the same time they have turned the development of nuclear energy toward a supremely destructive goal. The stockpile of nuclear weapons is now sufficient to wipe out all the higher forms of life, who knows how many times over? The possibility that this ultimate irrationality can actually occur grows greater with each day the capitalist system continues to endure.
Hardly less striking is the contrast between the Johnson administration wasting $24 billion to $30 billion a year in a war of aggression against the tiny country of Vietnam while investing only $2 billion a year in the “War against Poverty” at home. That the foul and bloody adventure on the mainland of Asia threatens to escalate into an attack on China and still further aggression until World War III is brought down on our heads scarcely testifies to the exercise of reason among those in charge of the destinies of American capitalism. They clearly stand in the tradition of the German and Japanese imperialists who shut their eyes on the eve of the previous world war and headed straight toward their own doom.
Aside from such supreme instances of the irrationality of the capitalist system, other examples abound. One that is currently becoming of increasing concern is the pollution of the air, the land and even the oceans from the anarchistic disposal of waste products and indiscriminate use of pesticides on an international scale. In our generation alone the number of species of animals reported to be close to extinction if not already doomed, makes appalling and depressing reading. Their disappearance is not the consequence of any “struggle for survival” as against mankind. This decimation of the animal population is merely one of the by-products of the growing irrationality of the capitalist system, merely one of the many warning signals of what is in store for the human species – and not in the distant future – unless the insanely anarchistic capitalist system is transcended.
Up until 1917, the bourgeois theorists placed heavy stress in proving the alleged fancifulness of Marxism by scoring its “utopianism.” The socialists, they maintained, had set up an illusory goal which scarcely warranted serious consideration; for human greed and inequality of native endowments would upset the most idealistically conceived plan, not to mention the little item of who would do the dirty work like sweeping the streets and cleaning the sewers.
Of course, this did not prevent those hi charge of political affairs from showing in practice that a certain gap existed between their propaganda about the ineffectiveness of socialism and their real appreciation of the class struggle. It is sufficient to cite the savage reaction of the French rulers to the Paris Commune of 1871, the hanging of the Haymarket martyrs in Chicago in 1886, the witchhunt in Germany under Bismarck in the 1880’s, and the notorious repressive measures of Czarism over the years.
Nevertheless the capitalist class came to put considerable credence in its own contention that socialism could be dismissed because of its “utopianism”; hence its surprise that World War I should end with a revolutionary upsurge, the high point of which was the actual establishment of a workers and farmers government in Russia.
While the Allies, under Churchill’s guidance, sought to smash this government by supporting the Russian counterrevolutionaries and sending in their own troops, they also argued that the Soviet experiment was doomed on the simple grounds that “it won’t work.”
Besides the alleged incompatibility of socialism and human nature, a standing theme in capitalist propaganda was the incapacity of planned economy to absorb, still less advance, the technological achievements of capitalism. Lack of Russian “know-how” assured the eventual collapse of an economic system based on overall planning.
The ideologists conveniently forgot that the source of technological advance under capitalism was not the capitalists who appropriated its fruits but the workers (including technicians) and the divisions of science most closely associated with production (mechanics, chemistry, electronics, physics).
The “know-how” argument took a staggering blow when the Soviet Union developed first its A-bomb and then the H-bomb. For a period it was maintained that “spies” were responsible; the “secret” had been stolen. This rationalization collapsed when the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite, clearly taking the lead in technology in this field.
Beyond a few belated echoes about US “sophisticated instrumentation” in its satellites and “miniaturization” in nuclear weapons, the argument about an alleged contradiction between economic planning and the development of technology is no longer heard – particularly after China’s spectacular development of nuclear weapons.
Still worse for the defenders of the capitalist system is the fact, now clearly established in the minds of the great majority of human beings on this planet, that overall economic planning has demonstrated its superiority in a practical way as the swiftest means by which a backward country can overcome a low cultural and technological level. The capitalists cannot point to a single country in the world where their system has offered results that come anywhere near the achievements of the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia, China and Cuba. Let them compare Yugoslavia and Turkey, China and India, or Cuba and Chile! The achievements under economic planning are all the more remarkable since they have occurred not under the most favorable conditions, but in face of enormous handicaps and setbacks such as was and invasion and natural disasters, coupled with the most terrible pressure from capitalism on all fronts.
This is such common knowledge today that in the economically backward countries even the indigenous bourgeoisie, including conscious agents of Western imperialism, are compelled to pose as “socialists” and at least offer lip service to the principle of economic planning, if not considerably more in some instances.
Thus the spokesmen of the capitalist system have had to narrow their arguments. Since the thirties their final defense has been that the supposed irrationality of Marxism or socialism is shown by the absence of democracy in the “socialist countries,” the purges and mass murders that took place under Stalin, the herding of millions into forced labor camps, and all the other abominations that occurred under the late dictator.
The whole argument hinges on
The historical record shows that the capitalist rulers – at least the more intelligent among them – know better. In the great struggle between the Trotskyist Left Opposition and the reactionary tendencies headed by Stalin, these rulers favored Stalin. When it was to the advantage of German imperialism, Hitler signed a pact with Stalin.
When it came the turn of American imperialism, Roosevelt even went so far as to prompt Hollywood to make a film presenting Stalin’s official version of the monstrous frame-up trials of the thirties.
What is the source of this compatibility between Stalinism and certain capitalist rulers? The bourgeois theorists never go into this question, although it would seem to offer a promising field for research for doctoral theses.
Stalin’s own claim to represent the tradition of Marx and Lenin of course facilitated the imperialist objective of presenting the crimes and evils of his regime as inherent in socialism itself rather than monstrous deviations from it.
Up to now, however, the bourgeois thinkers have not taken much interest in providing a truly rational explanation for the rise of Stalinist authoritarianism. In 1944, one of them, Prof. F.A. Hayek, published a book, The Road to Serfdom, which became a kind of bible in American management circles (the New York Times called it “one of the most important books of our times”) because it claimed to expose a basic contradiction in the Marxian “myth.” It is fraudulent to visualize a society of abundance, said Hayek.
“The reader may take it that whoever talks about potential plenty is either dishonest or does not know what he is talking about.” (p.98.)
Another school of anti-Marxists holds that capitalism – and no other system – has the potential of solving the problem of scarcity and poverty. This school extends from such well-meaning engineers as the late Walter Dorwin Teague to L.B. Johnson with his demagogic “War on Poverty.”
Hayek holds that planning leads straight to loss of individual freedom, arbitrary rule, personal dictatorship, slavery and chaos. As Hayek saw it, “the basic fact” is that it “is impossible for any man to survey more than a limited field, to be aware of the urgency of more than a limited number of needs.” Man’s powers of imagination are limited. “This is the fundamental fact on which the whole philosophy of individualism is based.” Hayek was not very original. He offered only a variation on the basic sociological argument advanced by Robert Michels in the book he published in 1911, Political Parties: the apparatus required by the revolutionary party develops its own interests, which are conservative, and the revolutionary party thus turns into its opposite.
As against the “serfdom” of planned economy, Hayek advanced a program centered around establishing an ideal economy made up of small enterprises, operating according to the laws of free enterprise and free competition. The basic premise on which he argued for this Utopia – the incapacity of man’s imagination to take into consideration the extremely complex and multitudinous factors embraced in an entire economy – appears quite ridiculous in the light of developments in technology that were only in their infancy or still in the experimental stage when he wrote his book: television, with the enormous speed which it has given to the gathering and exchange of information and opinion, and the electronic computer, the capacities of which in processing data are now common knowledge. These advances, coupled with the virtually limitless resources in energy made available by the development of nuclear energy and what this implies as to the possibilities of an economy of abundance, make Hayek’s concept, of going back to the good old days of small business, look like a relic from the horse-and-buggy age.
Hayek, too, made full use of the crimes of Stalinism, equating Stalinism and socialism. In the fashion of the day he also equated socialism, fascism and Nazism, calling them simply variants of “collectivism.” With the rehabilitation of the German capitalists, who backed the Nazis, this theory is no longer quite as fashionable as it was in 1944. Nothing better, however, has been produced to replace it since Hayek became the prophet of the American “go-getter” out to make a “fast buck.” The standard argument, now reduced to mere repetition, as in the case of Mendel, is the one concerning Stalinism.
It has thus remained to those Marxists, who have genuinely understood Marx’s method and sought to apply it, to analyze the rise of Stalinism and offer a rational explanation for it. The main contribution came from Leon Trotsky. He sought the material roots of Stalinism in the society in which it appeared. The Bolshevik party, good, bad or indifferent, was only one force in the superstructure of early Soviet society. It represented the political interests of the workers; but the working class itself was far outweighed by the peasant masses both in numbers and in specific weight in the economy. The backwardness of the country, its poverty, the ruin left by the war, the blockade set up by the imperialist powers, the decimation and exhaustion of the revolutionary forces – all these handicaps and obstacles required either time or early and substantial aid from the industrially advanced countries to be overcome. The Bolsheviks were denied both.
Stalin’s rise to power becomes explicable once it is seen that he gave up the program of Leninism to enact the role of the political figure best representing the retrogression while still retaining a facade of Bolshevism. The logic of this shift required Stalin to liquidate both the program and the cadres of Bolshevism in order to stabilize and consolidate the position of the usurping bureaucratic caste.
Scientific socialism was thus able to correctly forecast the general alternatives facing Soviet society: either further decline along the spiral of counterrevolution, with the eventual restoration of capitalism; or, with a new upsurge of the revolution, whether nationally or internationally, the break-up of Stalinism and the eventual return to the path of the world revolution.
This dual prognosis has been borne out in the most impressive way. The victory of the Soviet Union over German imperialism in World War II, representing a revolutionary success of historic import, was followed by the toppling of capitalism (if largely by bureaucratic-military means under the Soviet occupation) in Eastern Europe. The world revolution, too, resumed its march, although not along clear programmatic lines. A social revolution in Yugoslavia saved that country from being returned to the orbit of British imperialism. China, the most populous country on earth, broke the grip of both foreign and native capitalism, establishing a new workers state that is now swiftly rising, whatever the ups and downs, to first-rate standing as a world power. Then little Cuba shook the whole international scene by presenting the world with the first socialist revolution in the Western Hemisphere.
Stalinism itself is now racked with a most profound crisis, clearly portending its doom. The “de-Stalinization” process, marking a policy decided on by the bureaucracy to grant concessions to the masses, aims at gaining time and staving off a definitive settlement of accounts. When the top bureaucrats felt that they had no choice but to give up the cult of Stalin, this concession indicated the strength of the revolutionary pressures that have developed in Soviet society. The Sino-Soviet conflict and shattering of the Stalinist monolith constitute additional symptoms of the erosion of bureaucratic totalitarianism.
Taking the forecasts and the facts of the postwar revolutionary upsurge together with the decline of Stalinism, Marxist-Leninism, as maintained and developed by Trotsky and his followers, has certainly received powerful confirmation. Where, in all the literature of the economic and political “science” of the bourgeoisie – or of Stalin’s disciples – is there to be found anything that has withstood the test of events in this fashion? We are not likely to get an audible answer on this score from the defenders of capitalism or of special bureaucratic privileges.
We come now to the final considerations of how well Marxism has stood up in the past fifty years. These involve mainly the capacities of the working class.
The views of Herbert Marcuse, a student of Hegel and Freud as well as Marx, offer a convenient starting point because he speaks for an expanding trend of thought among the new radicals. At a symposium held at the University of Notre Dame in April 1966  Marcuse was assigned the topic, The Obsolescence of Marxism. He began his paper by objecting to the title. In his opinion it ought to have included a question mark, inasmuch as Marxism becomes obsolete to the degree that the basic concepts of its theory are validated.
“In somewhat plainer English,” he states, “the factors which have led to the passing and obsolescence of some decisive concepts of Marx are anticipated in Marxian theory itself as alternatives and tendencies of the capitalist system.”
Marcuse maintains that with but one exception the most fundamental notions of Marx’s analysis of the capitalist system have been validated factually. The exception is the Marxian concept that the deepest contradictions of capitalism can be broken “only if the laboring classes, who bear the brunt of exploitation, seize the productive apparatus and bring it under the collective control of the producers themselves.”
Marcuse maintains that in “the advanced industrial countries where the transition to socialism was to take place, and precisely in those countries, the laboring classes are in no sense a revolutionary potential.”
In his opinion they have been corrupted. Enjoying relative prosperity, they feel no vital need for revolution. This includes not only the trade-union bureaucracy but also the rank and file.
Despite this gloomy view, Marcuse does not give up hope as to the perspectives of socialism. He sees four categories which, taken together, can serve as a substitute: “... first the national liberation movements in the backward countries; secondly, the ‘new strategy’ labor movement in Europe; thirdly, the underprivileged strata of the population in the affluent society itself; and fourthly, the oppositional intelligentsia.” (He also adds the existence of “established Communist societies.”)
The possibility of the youth and the intelligentsia substituting for the proletariat appears particularly attractive to Marcuse. This social layer appears capable of appreciating a world reality that requires humanity to take the road to socialism. “The development not of class consciousness but of consciousness as such, freed from the distortions imposed upon it, appears to be the basic prerequisite for radical change.” To put it in class terms – which Marcuse does not do – the hope for the future in the industrially advanced countries lies with the petty-bourgeois intellectuals and student youth.
This is not a new view; it has a venerable tradition, although Marcuse does supply some new arguments. In essence, however, he stands on factual grounds. The working-class has not yet carried out a socialist revolution in the industrially advanced countries. The workers do appear somnolent, particularly in the United States. A sector of the intellectuals and student youth have recently displayed encouraging signs of radicalization.
From this, however, it is hazardous on the part of Marcuse to substitute the intellectuals and youth for the working class. Another interpretation would appear at least equally valid; i.e., that the radicalization of the intellectuals and youth foreshadows the radicalization of the working class. It constitutes the beginning of a new process rather than reflecting any alleged inherent characteristics of these social layers as formed by present-day capitalism. In short, the very causes that are arousing the youth and the intellectuals are also operating on the workers, if at a slower rate. The workers are just as inherently capable of exhibiting “consciousness as such” as allied sectors of society; for instance, reaching the conclusion that action is required to save mankind from the threat of a nuclear conflict. This growth in understanding becomes “class” consciousness when it relates to the class position of the workers and particularly to the means they turn to in order to achieve their goals.
In considering whether or not the Marxist view on the revolutionary role of the working class has been verified factually, it would seem in order to take into account the Russian experience – both in 1905 and 1917. Also the great upsurges of the working class elsewhere in the past fifty years. For example, in China in 1925-27; in Spain in 1936-39; in France and Italy and elsewhere in Europe following World War II. The pessimists who hold that the workers lack revolutionary potential fail to consider whether they themselves have not been unduly influenced by the prolonged prosperity in the United States, Western Europe and Japan which was derived first of all from the enormous destruction of World War II, and following this, the preparations for another global conflagration.
The first great new upsurge in any major city in the world will put a finish to this fundamentally anti-Marxist view by confronting an old and outworn empirical fact with a new and opposing one. A faint indication of the potential can be gained from careful study of the opening days of the uprising in Santo Domingo in April 1965.
The workers in that city gave every indication of their readiness for the most audacious action. They may even have succeeded in building a revolutionary party in the very process of moving toward power and of opening another chapter in the process started by the Cubans in the Western Hemisphere had their armed uprising not been artificially terminated by a crushing blow from abroad. It was precisely because of the revolutionary capacities of the working class that the Johnson administration immediately ordered an armed invasion and occupation of the country. As practical rulers, they must go by political realities, not doctrinal preconceptions of astigmatic intellectuals.
The significance of this fact bears stressing. In general, the wholesale disparagement to be found in “New Left” circles about the insurgent capacities of the working class is not shared by the capitalist rulers. This is the explanation for their tough anti-labor legislation, their witch-hunts, the assiduousness with which they try to maintain a collaborationist leadership at the head of the trade unions, labor parties and other organizations of the working class, and their readiness at crucial turning points to give up the parliamentary system and turn to “strongman” regimes and even fascism.
An extension of this line of reasoning is that, even if the workers succeed in conquering power, they are incapable of retaining it. George Lichtheim, for instance, argues in the summer 1966 Partisan Review that the technocrats constitute a “predestined ruling stratum.” Commenting on the USSR and the East European countries, he declares:
“The attempt to continue ‘communism’ as such an ideology [an ideology linking the technocratic stratum to the masses] has failed. Communism is historically the ideology of a revolutionary working class. This class having exhausted its mission and been subjected by the technocratic stratum which evolved from the ruling group of the Communist party, the latter employs the traditional vocabulary for the purpose of legitimizing a new form of inequality.”
Lichtheim’s concepts derive from a not very fresh theory that socialism will give rise not to a classless society but only to a new exploiting class, whether of “managers” or “technocrats,” or whatever you want to call them.
One form of this position in vogue during the late thirties and early forties held that a new “managerial” society is advancing all over the world of which communism, fascism and New Dealism were but particular variants. Some of the strongest “proofs” of this theory were drawn from fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. With the defeat of these two powers in World War II and the clear evidence that fascism was merely a form of capitalist rule, and a fairly unstable one, a major pillar of the theory collapsed. It survives only hi vestigial form in occasional lucubrations like those advanced by Lichtheim. (The origin of his views in the old, discredited theory about the coming wave of a “manageral society” appears clearly from his contention that in “our Western or Atlantic world” there has been “the gradual displacement of bourgeois society by a new social formation ...”)
The growth of “statism” in the capitalist countries, which was interpreted by theorists like James Burnham to indicate the advance of a society qualitatively different from capitalism, has been noted in Marxist theory since the time of Engels. The increasing intervention of the state in the economy in a series of capitalist countries testifies to the ripeness of the system for socialism. The need for overall controls, for overall planning, has become so imperative that even the capitalist state is forced to engage in it. That it occurs under capitalist auspices, however, entails particularly malevolent forms and pernicious results, the fascist countries providing prime examples of this.
It is a gross error to mix up Soviet planning and even Soviet mismanagement and inequalities with this phenomenon of capitalist decay. The key difference is the continued existence of private property in the means of production in the capitalist states; its absence in the workers states. Inequalities in the capitalist countries derive from a class structure required by the functioning of that system whether in depressions or booms. Inequalities in a workers state like the Soviet Union derive from a system of distribution inherited from the bourgeois past. Since the inequalities are confined to the field of distribution they are not essential to production (they hi fact hamper it). Hence they are strictly parasitic in character and can be removed without a social revolution which changes the property forms. The problem belongs to the political level and can be solved with a political revolution which transfers power from the bureaucrats to the working masses.
It is quite true that Stalin destroyed proletarian democracy in the Soviet Union (hence the need for a political overturn to restore that democracy). The reasons for this are much more complex than the simplistic explanation advanced by the various adherents of the “managerial” theory would have us believe; however, as indicated above, it can be stated briefly that the main reason was the poverty and backwardness prevailing in Russia and the fact that a series of capitalist, (not socialist) tasks still had to be accomplished. When planned economies have been extended to embrace the most industrially advanced countries and to constitute an interlocking whole, the resulting abundance will eliminate the material basis for a parasitic bureaucratic caste. Democracy, freedom, and still more important, the economic and social requisites for the flowering of the human personality will be assured. And, in the final analysis, no other assurance exists that these goals can be achieved.
Another, not unrelated, current argument is that Marx forecast that the socialist revolution would occur where capitalism had developed to its highest peak. But instead of the advanced capitalist countries, the first socialist revolution took place in backward Russia. It is strange that the bourgeois ideologists should imagine that this argument contravenes Marxism since they are compelled to admit that a socialist revolution did occur. It is still stranger that they should think that their contention bolsters their “science” in any way whatsoever. First of all, none of them predicted this course of events in advance; secondly, none of them have anything original to say about it even a half century after the event.
But a revolutionary Marxist did predict precisely this course of events – some twelve years in advance! Moreover, the total explanation (likewise presented in advance of the occurrence) showed that Marx was completely correct in predicting that socialism – the international society based on the foundation of the highest achievements of capitalism – will find its primary base in the advanced capitalist countries. The refinement in Marx’s theory consisted in noting that the anti-capitalist revolution is doubly explosive in those backward countries where a belated bourgeois revolution is telescoped with a proletarian struggle for supremacy and where capitalism in introducing its system also introduces its most modern developments both technologically and ideologically. The scientific socialist to be credited with this advance was, of course, Leon Trotsky with his famous theory of the “permanent revolution.”
Thus the Russian revolution, envisaged in its main lines by Trotsky’s theory, explodes the principal contention of the bourgeois propagandists – it proved that Marxism is not a set of inflexible dogmas but a genuine body of science perfectly capable of taking into account new developments hi the real world and providing a rational explanation for them.
Still another objection, which has been advanced in some circles, is that the Chinese revolution took a different course from the one predicted even by Trotsky. In the case of China, peasant armies – not the working class – took the lead in the revolution and did so not under the guidance of a revolutionary-socialist party but under a party strongly tainted with Stalinism.
Again, the argument – coming from adherents of the capitalist system – is singularly bizarre. There was not much about the Chinese revolution to cause the capitalists to throw their hats in the air. In fact Washington sang quite a dirge about unexpectedly and mysteriously “losing China.” Where in their literature is a viable explanation to be found of its occurrence, even seventeen years later?
The victory of the Chinese revolution proved that international capitalism is weaker and more unstable than even the Trotskyists had judged or dared hope. Capitalism has reached such a point that in a country like China, a revolution can win with inadequate leadership! Let the rulers in Wall Street and Washington comfort themselves with that indication as to the real relationship of world forces ...
Marxism was certainly not damaged or discredited by the fact that a country of the size and importance of China overturned capitalism and took the road to socialism, however tortuous that road has proved to be. The capacity of Marxism to accept the actual course taken by history shows the distance it stands from being a dogma. The greatest victory since 1917 happened in China and not Western Europe because, among other reasons, Stalin proved strong enough to block a successful proletarian revolution in such countries as Italy and France after the end of World War II but not in China. These divergent outcomes were determined by the specific conditions of the class struggle itself.
Marxism has never pretended to be able to forecast events with astronomical accuracy. Due to the complexity of the factors involved and the number of indeterminate and unknown elements, Marxism has never undertaken to specify the date in advance on which a revolution would occur or forecast all its peculiarities. Its predictions concern the major tendencies of development and the mobilization of forces under a program that correctly reflects these objective conditions.
If, in their search for material to disprove the validity of Marxism, its bourgeois opponents care to take another example of a specific event that was not predicted either as to date or to form by any Marxist, we willingly offer them the not unimportant example of the Cuban revolution. More than that, we will state that the appearance of the Cuban leadership in the international political scene foreshadows a similar development in a number of other countries.
If the bourgeois propagandists care to dispute this prediction, the issue can well be left to the test of events. Meanwhile the key political representatives of the American ruling class in both the Democratic and Republican parties, whether of the most reactionary or liberal wings, are proceeding on the assumption that this is exactly what the near future holds in store. That is why they are now staking everything on naked military dictatorships in most of the countries under their control in Latin America, Africa and Asia and why they are ready, upon receipt of an emergency call, to rush American troops by the tens of thousands wherever a puppet regime appears in danger of going down in face of a mass upsurge like that in the Dominican Republic. How thoroughly convinced the capitalist rulers are about this basic trend can be judged by the course taken by Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam.
* * *
Scientific socialism can well celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Many of its main forecasts with regard to the revolutionary process have .already been born out, particularly the primary one – that capitalism itself generates its own gravediggers. Whatever the detours, the delays or the singularities in the world revolution of our time, this conclusion of scientific socialism can scarcely be called a “myth.” It is the mightiest reality that the theoreticians and strategists of all classes have to deal with.
1. The University of Notre Dame Press has published the papers of the participants in a book, Marx and the Western World (500 pp., 1967, $8.95).
Last updated on: 2.7.2006