Marxist Determinism

 Mundial, December 7, 1928
Amauta, Nov./Dec. 1928, pp. 14-16


Translated specially for by Celina María Bragagnolo

A frequent attitude on the part of intellectuals who entertain themselves in the gnawing of Marxist bibliography is to exaggerate, to their own interest, Marx's and the Marxian school's determinism with the aim of declaring them, also from this interested point of view, a product of the 19th century mechanicist world view; a view which is incompatible with the heroic, voluntarist conception of life to which the modern world tends to subsequent to the War. These sorts of reproaches cannot be reconciled with the socialist movement's critique of rationalist, utopian and, at bottom, mystic superstitions. But Henri de Man could not but make use of an argument that does so much damage among 19th century intellectuals, seduced as they were by the snobbery of the reaction against the "stupid 19th century". The revisionist de Man observes, in this respect, a certain kind of prudence. "It must be made clear", he states, "that Marx does not deserve the reproach, oftentimes directed at him, of being a fatalist, in the sense of negating the influence of human will in the development of history. What he believes is that this will is predetermined." And he adds: "Marx's disciples are right when they defend their teacher against the reproach of having asserted this kind of fatalism." None of this prevents him, however, of accusing them of their "belief in another kind of fatalism, the one having to do with inevitable categorical ends" since "according to Marxist conception, there exists a social volition that is subject to laws, which comes about by means of class warfare and the inevitable result of the economic evolution that creates opposition of interests."

From a substantive point of view, neo-revisionism adopts, albeit with a few modifications, the idealist critique that reclaims and defends the action of the will and spirit. But this critique concerns only social democratic orthodoxy, which, as has already been established, is not and has never been Marxist but Lassalian, a fact that has been proved by the vigor with which the phrase "a return to Lassalle" has been disseminated in German social democratic circles. For this criticism to be valid one would have to start by proving that Marxism is social democracy, something that de Man refrains from doing. He sees, on the contrary, the Third International as the heir of the International Workers' Association, whose meetings encouraged a misticism very close to the Christianity of catacombs. In his book he makes the following judgement: "The vulgar Marxists of communism are the true benefactors of the Marxian inheritance. Not in the sense that they are able to better understand Marx in reference to their time period but because they use it more effectively for the tasks of their time period, for the carrying out of their objectives. Kautsky's image of Marx resembles the original more than the one Lenin popularized among his disciples; but Kautsky commented on a politics that Marx never influenced, while the words that Lenin took from Marx, as watchwords, refer to the same politics, subsequent to the latter's death and they continue to create new realities."

There is a phrase that has been attributed to Lenin that is exalted by Unamuno in his The Agony of Christianity in which he once invalidated someone who observed that his efforts went against reality: "so much worse for reality!" Marxism has never obeyed a passive and rigid determinism in those moments where it has been revolutionary-- that is, in those moments where it has been Marxism. The reformists resisted the Revolution during the post-bellum unrest for the most rudimentary economic deterministic reasons. Reasons that, in reality could be identified with those of the conservative bourgeoisie and which revealed the absolutely bourgeois-- not socialist-- character of that determinism. To the majority of its critics, the Russian Revolution was understood, on the contrary, as a rationalist, romantic, anti-historical effort by fanatical utopians. Reformists of all stripes disapproved, first of all, the tendency in revolutionaries to force history, labelling the tactics of the parties of the Third International as "whitist" and "putchist".

Marx could conceive and propose nothing other than a realist politics and, for this reason, aptly demonstrated that the more intense and vigorous the process of unfolding of the capitalist economy itself, the more direct the path to socialism. But he understood that, as a previous condition to a new order, there invariably needed to come into being the spiritual and intellectual conditioning of the proletariat by means of class warfare. Prior to Marx, the modern world had already reached a point in which no political or social doctrine could appear in contradiction to history and science. The decadence of religions has an origin that is too visible in its increasing distancing of itself from historical and scientific experience. And it would be absurd to ask of a political conception-- eminently modern in all its elements, as is socialism-- to be indifferent to these kinds of considerations. All contemporary political movements, beginning with the most reactionary, are characterized, as Benda observes in his Trahison de Clercs, by their attempt to attribute to themselves a strict correspondence with the course of history. For the reactionaries of L'Action Francaise, who are literally more positivist than any reactionary, the whole period inaugurated by the liberal revolution is hugely romantic and anti historical. The limits and function of Marxist determinism have been set a long time ago. Critics who are ignorant of all party criteria, as is Adriano Tilgher, subscribe to the following interpretation: "In order to have success, the socialist tactic should keep in sight the historical situation on the basis of which it must operate and-- in places where conditions are still immature for the establishment of socialism-- refrain from forcing its hand. On the other hand, one should not adopt a quietistic approach regarding the development of events; rather, intervening in the course of events, one should orient them in a socialist direction, in that way preparing them for the final transformation. Thus, Marxist tactics are, much as Marx's doctrine, dynamic and dialect itself: the socialist will does not stir in a vacuum, does not disregard the preexisting situation, does not become illusioned by calls to the good hearts of men; rather, it adheres solidly to historical reality without, however, resigning itself to it. Moreover, it reacts against historical reality energetically, in the sense of reinforcing the proletariat economically and spiritually, of instilling in them consciousness of their conflict with the bourgeoisie. When it reaches the height of exasperation, and when the bourgeoisie reaches the extreme of capitalist forces, it can be usefully torn down and substituted by the socialist regime, to the advantage of all." (La Crisi Mondiale e Saggi critice di Marxismo e Socialismo).

The voluntarist character of socialism is not, in truth, less discernible than its determinist foundation, although it is less understood by critics. In order to assess it, however, it is enough to follow the development of the proletarian movement from the action of Marx and Engels in London; in the origins of the First International up till today, dominated by the first Socialist state experiment: the USSR. In that process, every word, every act of Marxism lays accent on faith, will, heroic and creative conviction, an impulse which would be absurd to look for in a mediocre and passive determinist sentiment.


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