T. A. Jackson


The Logic of Marxism, and its Critics—An Essay in Exploration


THIS essay is an attempt to clear the ground for a better and fuller appreciation of that which gives Marxism its living unity—namely, the Dialectical Materialist Method. Its special feature is that it seeks to show what this method is by means of an examination of what it did in the hands of Marx and Engels. It considers the Dialectical Materialist Method in action in the theoretical practice of these its first elaborators, and following them (so far as falls within its purpose) that of their disciples, Lenin and Stalin.

No pretence is made that this essay is in any way final or authoritative. Very much to the contrary: it is in every respect an essay, a venture—an attempt at a provisional exploration of a field which no British Marxist has hitherto attempted on anything but a most perfunctory scale. It is therefore liable to all the faults and mischances necessarily attending such provisional essays. None the less it isan attempt! If its demerits—whatever they may be—provoke ethers better qualified to cover the ground in a more worthy manner it will have more than served its purpose.

  *  *  *  *  *  

This essay has been rendered necessary by two things. The first is the appalling state of Marxist studies in English, as evidenced by the quality of all but a very few of the works purporting to treat of Marx and Marxism which have appeared in Britain in recent years; the second is the fact of the existence of a cleavage in the Marxist camp represented by the conflict—carried at times to the pitch of actual combat in arms—between the Communists on the one side and the Social-Democrats and their allies upon the other.

No Marxist can view this conflict without concern: no Marxist who takes his Marxism seriously can treat it as a mere personal squabble, arising from “faults on both sides,” which could be composed by the exercise of tact and patience. What is at stake in this conflict is the basic significance of Marxism itself, and upon such an issue no Marxist can do other than choose his side and help to fight the issue, theoretical and practical, to a finish. Full frankness is far more likely to produce union and agreement than any “diplomacy.”

As long ago as April, 1920, Stalin spoke of this cleavage in Marxism in these words:

“There are two groups of Marxists. Both are working under the flag of Marxism and consider themselves genuine Marxists. Nevertheless they are far from being identical. More than that. A complete gulf divides them, for their respective methods of work are diametrically opposed to each other.

“The first group usually confines itself to the superficial recognition of Marxism—to solemnly proclaiming it. Unable or not willing to study the essence of Marxism, unable or not willing to apply it in practical life, it transforms the living revolutionary propositions of Marxism into dead, meaningless formulas. It bases its activities, not on experience, not on the results of practical work, but on quotations from Marx. It takes its guiding lines and directives not from an analysis of living reality, but from analogies and historical parallels. Discrepancy between word and deed—such is the principal disease from which this group suffers. . . . The name of this group is, in Russia, Menshevism; in Europe, Opportunism.

“The second group, on the other hand, transfers the centre of gravity of the question from the superficial recognition of Marxism to its realisation, to its application in practical life. Indicating the path and means of realising Marxism for various situations, changing the path and means when the situation changes—this is what this group concentrates on mainly. It takes its directives and its guiding lines not from historical analogies and parallels, but from the study of surrounding conditions. In its activities it relies not on quotations and aphorisms, but on practical experiences, testing every step it takes by experience, learning from its mistakes and teaching others to build a new life. This . . . explains why in the activities of this group there are no discrepancies between word and deed, and why the teachings of Marx fully preserve their living, revolutionary force.... The name of this group is Bolshevism—Communism.”—STALIN: Lenin, pp. 5-6.

Disregarding as irrelevant the objection that might be urged that Stalin, being a partisan in the dispute, is no more than any man “a judge in his own cause,” we affirm that the issue is ultimately as Stalin here states it.

“Marxism” is either a mere abstract opinion, having only an incidental connection with the practical realities of life and struggle—in which case there is no need for a “Marxist” to feel responsible for squaring his theory with his practice—or, alternatively, the Marxist world-conception is primarily a theory of action, one derived so intimately from the facts of life and struggle that he who declares himself a Marxist thereby takes upon himself the responsibility for liming Marxism as well as preaching it.

  *  *  *  *  *  

But before Marxism can be lived it must be understood before it can be wielded as a weapon it must be grasped. And in order that a grasp of the essential logic of Marxism may become widespread in Britain it is before all things necessary to clear away the whole fabric of misconceptions and misrepresentations which stand as a blanket-veil between the ordinary British worker and Marxist understanding.

Although there have been “Marxists” of sorts in Britain since before the death of Marx, the working-class movement in Britain has never been consciously or purposefully Marxist. At best it has been adulterated by such “Marxism” as has been available, and this, the native-British “Marxism,” has in turn, “like the dyer’s hand,” been “subdued to that it works in.”

Nothing evidences this better than the quality of the literature produced by native British Marxists. Apart from a score of works, all of recent date, in which an attempt is made to elucidate current problems by the aid of Marxist theory, this native British Marxist literature consists almost wholly of works purporting to “explain” Marxist theory in the abstract, in terms suited to the (presumably infantile) understanding of the plain man.

No objection is here raised to simplification as such. On the contrary, no work could be more useful than that of presenting Marxism in such a way as can easily be assimilated by the ordinary man. What calls for protest is the fact that those who in Britain set out to “simplify” Marx commonly begin by reducing him to a simpleton, and those who offer to “explain” him are as a rule primarily concerned only to explain him away.

We take the ground here that Marx and Engels (and this applies also to Lenin and Stalin) are their own best expounders that to attempt to “simplify” that which they have already made as simple as it is humanly possible to make it, cannot fail to result in a distortion of their plain sense and a misrepresentation of their clearly-presented meaning. Not “simplification” but amplification and, above all, application is what Marxism needs in Britain.

  *  *  *  *  *  

As usually presented to the English-speaking world by its popular expositors, literary and oratorical, “Marxism” is a loosely aggregated bundle of separate and distinct “theories” which have no connection with each other beyond the fortuitous fact that they all originated with the one man, Karl Marx. Resolved thus into a jumble of “theories”—of Value, of Capital, of Crises, of History, of Class-War, of Revolution, and so on—each theory being presented as quite separate and self-contained—Marxism becomes an Old Curiosity Shop in which political amateurs and literary dilettanti can rummage for decorative oddments, just as they rummage in the Caledonian Market for old china, pewter plates, and bawdy prints.

In this way it has become quite a tradition in Britain for men to pose as “Marxists” on the strength of wearing a “Marxist” feather in the hair, or fig leaf on their intellectual nakedness. Nobody laughs in Britain to hear of “Marxists” who are also Christians, Theosophists, Spiritualists, or even Thomists-men who contrive to divide their allegiance between Karl Marx and the Blessed Saint Thomas Aquinas, even as others, with equal solemnity, seek to effect a synthesis between the philosophies of Marxism and of the Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud.

This eclectic-opportunist trick of disrupting the living unity of Marxism into a rubbish-heap of incompatible fragments has in Britain received high academic approval. Here, for instance, are the words of the learned Professor of Political Science in the University of London:

“The essence of Marx’s work lies not in any special economic doctrine so much as in the spirit by which this total accomplishment was performed. . . .

“Marxism as a social philosophy can be most usefully resolved into four distinct parts. It is first and foremost a philosophy of history . . . it is a theory of social development intended to guide the party of which he was a leader. Marx in the third place outlined a tactic. . . . He was, finally, an economic theorist.

“For Marx himself, of course, none of these aspects is properly separable from any other. They form a logical whole, the unity of which he would have passionately defended. It is, however, possible to reject the validity of his economic system, while accepting the large outlines of his social theory.”—Professor H. J. LASKI: Communism, pp. 22-26.

That this may fairly be taken as representative of what passes for “Marxism” in Britain is evidenced by the fact that Professor Laski has, without in any way modifying the opinion above cited, taken of late to calling himself a “Marxist.” As such he has been welcomed with acclaim into the “Marxist” camp, even to the extent of being chosen as the chief speaker at the function organised by the (Marxist) National Council of Labour Colleges to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Karl Marx.

Professor Laski exhibits, in the quotation given above, a characteristic common to the whole British school of “explainers” of Marx. He takes it calmly for granted that he understands Marxism far better than Marx understood it himself! Marx, he argues, would have “defended passionately” the logical unity of his theoretical system. But herein, according to Professor Laski, Karl Marx was self-deluded. Marxism, he affirms, can be “separated” into parts capable of being considered in complete isolation. So, we might retort, is Professor Laski capable of being “separated” from his head, his lights, or his liver! But in that case he would cease to be Professor Laski. And in like manner a Marxism disrupted is not Marxism, but a mangled corpse.

Professor Laski, however, sins in thoroughly respectable company. Here is a choice specimen of what has passed in Britain for a critical evaluation of Marxist doctrine:

“There are two remarkable inconsistencies between the general sociological position taken up by Marx and Engels and their persistent assertion of the economic basis of history. . . . In the first place they agreed that . . . ‘the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development.’ If that be true, is it conceivable that every department of life ‘natural, historical, intellectual’ (by the way, a very slipshod division)—is chained to economics and cannot attain an independent development and existence of its own? In the second place, Marx’s insistence that each epoch has its own characteristic law of development is inconsistent with the assertion that economic considerations are the prime movers in historic evolution.”—J. RAMSAY MACDONALD: Socialism and Society, p. 42.

This passage, so sublime in its owlish stupidity, so ludicrous in its spurious profundity, is truly characteristic of Ramsay MacDonald; but, as is apparent from its family likeness to the quotation from Professor Laski, it is none the less characteristic of the whole “British” school of Marxian interpretation.

That MacDonald, of all men living or dead, should accuse anybody (let alone Engels!) of “slipshod” thought or speech is MacDonaldite in excelsis. It should not, however, prevent us from noting that in failing to perceive any reason for the allocation of the phenomena of universal development into just those departments—of Nature, of History, and of the Thought-process in itself—MacDonald follows the fashion of his school in treating as of no account the fundamental dialectical method whereby the conclusions of Marx and Engels were reached.

Similarly MacDonald, faced with an affirmation that the entire universe is in constant movement, finds a “contradiction” between that affirmation and the assertion that history has an “economic basis.” Why? Because this latter assertion, to MacDonald (and his school), means that “every department of life” (who said “slipshod”?) “is chained to economics.”

Since to Marx the term “economics” denotes a movement—“the sum and total of human productive activity—with its objective outcome”—and was therefore “a department of life” (in the MacDonaldite sense)—to talk of mankind’s non-economic activities being “chained” to their economic ones is as illuminating as to speak of a man being “chained” to his own feet or bowels. To resent the fact that the life activities of men in their social inter-relations are, however various, all interdependent, is, in effect, to demand a physiology in which digestion goes on without intestines and is quite “independent” of food or feeding.

Likewise MacDonald sees in the assertion that historic epochs have differing laws of development a contradiction to the assertion that in historical evolution economic determinants are primary. Why? To Marx epochs are distinguishable each from each precisely by means of differences, progressively developed, in the economic constitution of society. For MacDonald, on the other hand, as for the true-blue British school of economists, “economic laws” are part of the fixed and immutable order of Nature, and can no more change than the lions in Trafalgar Square can lay eggs.

In short, MacDonald herein places himself critically on a par with that soldier in the British force sent in 1919 to overthrow the Soviet regime who was given a pot of caviare as part of his loot. “This here jam,” said he, “tastes fishy!” MacDonald complains of Marx’s doctrine that it is neither metaphysical, eclectic, nor idealist, but Dialectical and Materialist.

  *  *  *  *  *  

A significant change has overtaken the attitude of the British intelligentsia towards Marx and Marxism—a change not unconnected with the continuance of the world depression and the failure of every effort to overthrow the (Marxist) Communist regime in the U.S.S.R. Marx is now by general consent admitted to the ranks of the very greatest intellects of all time, while Dialectical Materialism—the method and world-conception of Marx and Marxism—is beginning to be discussed, for the truly “British” reason that it is “the official (!) philosophy” of the U.S.S.R.

It would therefore seem to be timely to direct attention to the essential unity of Marxism and to its validity as a guide to action. As against all the critics, belittlers, revisers and explainers of Marx, we affirm, and seek herein to prove, that in the fifty years and more which have elapsed since Marx died events have so completely vindicated his standpoint, his method, and his main conclusions that his doctrine is, in general, truer to-day than when it was first formulated.

This is, we affirm, not only true objectively in the sense that developments have in fact made actual the situations and inter-relations which Marx and Engels had the genius to foresee and to predict, but true also subjectively, in the sense that the working-class in Britain, and with it its allies in the ranks of the intelligentsia and the progressive middle and upper classes, are better prepared, theoretically, to begin to comprehend Marxist theory than they were in Marx’s own lifetime—than they ever have been at any time previous to this time present.

That consideration has determined the form of this essay as well as its substance. As to the latter, it will be perceived that, far from making any attempt to carry Marxist theory beyond the point at which Marx left it, the main, virtually the sole, purpose of this essay, is to demonstrate the point at which Marxist theory began.

The respects in which, for instance, Lenin, and following Lenin, Stalin, have extended and amplified Marxist theory are dealt with herein only so far as is necessary to establish their essential connection with the basic presuppositions and method of Marx and Engels themselves.

For that reason the earlier chapters of this essay are devoted to an attempt to elucidate, with the aid of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach—herein taken as the seminal form of Marxian Theory,—the whole philosophical and political-theoretical background from which Marxism took its rise. That this entails what will seem, at first glance, to be a highly disconnected survey of the incidentals of the Marxist world-conception, is a circumstance which was unavoidable. It has the methodological advantage of presenting Marxism in its embryonic phases as a preliminary to, and as an elucidation of, the theory in its fully matured form.

The continuity of the earlier chapters, and more or less of the whole work, is, furthermore, interrupted by frequent digressions in which the objections and mis-presentations of the would-be “simplifiers” of Marx are disposed of. This was necessary to the purpose of the essay—since it is precisely the efforts of these “simplifiers” which constitute to-day the chief obstacle to the general understanding and acceptance of Marx’s theory and practice. To those who find these “interruptions” of the argument an annoyance sympathy is extended, but no apology. To such readers I offer a hint borrowed from Heine:

“If you who read become tired of the ‘stupid’ stuff herein, just think of what a dreary time I must have had in writing it! I would recommend you, on the whole, once in a while to skip half a dozen leaves, for in that way you will arrive much sooner at the end.”—HEINE: The Baths of Lucca, Chap. IX.

For readers with stouter stomachs, and a better comprehension of the purpose in view, we note that after the survey of the Theses on Feuerbach the essay deals in succession with the relations between the Marxist conceptions of Nature and of History; and between those of History and of Revolution in general and the Proletarian Revolution in particular. Here again the purpose is not to advance any new or original speculations, but, on the contrary, to explore the route by which Marx and Engels reached the conceptions for which they are famous. Superficially these chapters might seem to be guilty of the rashness of challenging comparison with (particularly) Engels’ classic expositions, Ludwig Feuerbach and Anti-Dühring. A more careful reading will show that they are designed expressly to enable a reader to begin the reading of those masterpieces (and with them every work of Marx and of Lenin—particularly the latter’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism) with a fuller and a better comprehension of their purpose than has hitherto commonly been brought to their study in Britain.

In the culminating chapter four selected “man-handlers” of the Marxist Dialectic are critically examined at full length. This is done in order to complete the exposition by demonstrating, in sequence with the preceding chapters, the general connection between the Marxist conception of understanding (its subjective Dialectics) and its conceptions of Nature, History, and Revolution (its objective Dialectics). The four victims chosen for this special treatment have been so selected because they are typical of the main trends of divergence from the true line of Marxist advance observable in the Marxist movement in Britain to-day.

No apology is offered for the manner of this criticism:

“It’s war we’re in; not politics!
It’s systems wrastling now, not parties.
And vict’ry in the end’ll fix
Where longest will and truest heart is!”

The author has been far too occupied with the problem of attaining accuracy to find time to study politeness.

The translations from Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin which have page references are taken from the editions published by Messrs. Martin Lawrence (who were good enough to place at the author’s disposal advance copies of their more recent issues), except, of course, in the cases of Marx’s Capital (Vol. I, Sonnenschein edition; Vols. II and III, Kerr’s edition) Engels’ Socialism Utopian and Scientific and his Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (Allen and Unwin). The extracts from the Marx-Engels Correspondence have been taken from the Martin Lawrence edition translated by Dona Torr. For other translations from Marx, Engels and Heine the present author accepts all blame. I have also to thank Messrs. Martin Lawrence for many acts of help and encouragement; and those comrades who have looked over the MSS. and the proofs and made helpful suggestions deserve a public acknowledgement likewise. Neither of these comrades is to be blamed for any faults found herein; on the contrary, the reader has them to thank for the fact that there are not many more.

The corrections in this second edition have been confined almost wholly to proof-reader’s corrections. In two places, not affecting the argument, the statement of a matter oŁ fact has been rectified. Otherwise the work remains unaltered.

Next: I. The Making of Marxism