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Arne Swabeck

On the Anniversary of Marx’s Birth

(May 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 20 (Whole No. 116), 14 May 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

Karl Marx in his early youth became a disciple of Hegel. It is not our purpose here to attempt to take up the Hegelian concept more than to say that it represented one of the first serious and thorough endeavors to break with the philosophy of the past – particularly that of the middle ages – which conceived of all things as fixed, constant and eternal, and to formulate in its place a new logic in accordance with the universal process of evolution. The essence of this was the dialectic.

To Marx, the dialectic became the method of investigation of social and economic phenomena. Through it he formulated his materialist conception of history, which belongs entirely to Marx, and Engels. But with that discovery he also separated the dialectic method from the Hegelian mysticism and idealism. It became dialectic materialism. It revolutionized the science of history.

By the means of the materialist conception Marx was able really to explain the course of history, not only in so far as it relates to the past, but also its future stages. That became possible because this conception proceeds from the basis of the economic conditions of each society. It holds that the relations of production, of each given stage are the foundation for its social order, the foundation for its legal and political superstructure, as well as for its division into contending classes. Marx did not discover the existence of classes or the class struggle. That was known long before him. But he added the contribution that its existence is bound up with, and is the result of, certain phases of the material production. He added also the essential contribution that the oppressed class today, the modern proletariat, in achieving its own emancipation must thereby liberate society as a whole from class divisions. Now this will be accomplished through its various stages Marx stated in precise formulation in his letter to Weidemeyer, written in 1852, in part it reads as follows:

“... the class struggle leads necessarily to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat; this dictatorship is but the transition to the abolition of all classes and to the creation of a society of free and equal.”

There could be no clearer exposition of the materialist conception of history than this statement. It pictures the results of the relations of production, and the social organization necessarily following from it, traced to its logical conclusion. Yet it skips none of its stages, but clearly and decisively specifies the form of class rule of the proletariat during the transition period, the period between capitalism and Communism and the economic transformation of the one into the other. Truly, with the discovery of the materialist conception of history, Socialism became elevated to a science. Yet, how pitiful are those contemptible charlatans who claim adherence to scientific Socialism but reject the Proletarian Dictatorship – that is, under the guise of the common phrase, “it might be alright for Russia, but not in America.” The truth about them is that they do not at all accept the essence of Marxism – the forceful overthrow of the capitalist system. They do not accept this sum and substance of all Marx’s teachings – the Proletarian Dictatorship. There is not a shred of the revolutionary in them. Engels says of the Communist Manifesto, that “the fundamental proposition, which forms its nucleus, belongs to Marx.” Here is traced, distinctly in the light of the materialist conception, the historical development which established the capitalist system, from the serfs of the middle ages to the burghers of the earliest towns; and next, to the first elements of the bourgeoisie. Shattering the feudal guild monopoly emerged the manufacturing system.

“Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionized industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry ... Each step in the development of the bourgeois was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class ... the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway.”

The Manifesto could therefore lay down the postulate that the class struggle is essentially a political struggle and that the proletariat must elevate itself to become the ruling class led to this goal by its revolutionary vanguard.

To this we shall here add further only by quoting the proposition:

“In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.”

Apparently forgotten, within leading circles of the Communist parties today, are these words. Apparently forgotten is also the conclusion which Marx drew of the social, the international character of the proletarian revolution. In its place has been substituted the theory of Socialism in One Country with disastrous consequences to the world Communist movement.

Viewing the developments in the great French revolution in historical retrospect Marx noted its continuous upward progress. The rule of the Constitutionalists was followed by that of the Girondists and then by the Jacobins. Each advancing force needing the indispensable support of the next succeeding one. “When each party, in turn, had conducted the revolution as far as it could or dared, and wanted to cry halt, it was pushed aside by the bolder spirits who had hitherto supported it, and cleared away by the guillotine.” But the proletariat, as Marx observed, had not yet emerged as a separate and distinct force out of the third estate.

In the fateful events of 1848–50, and proceeding them, in the July days, 1830, in France as well as the large scale strikes in England in 1842 and in Silesian weavers’ insurrection in 1844, the proletariat had emerged as a distinct class but still remained an appendage of the middle class parties. Marx noted that these movements, inspired by Communism on the continent and by Chartism in England could no longer be looked upon as chance pheoniena, but were an expression of the aspirations of an oppressed class. And, after the June defeat in France of 1848, Marx could draw the conclusion for the proletariat which groups itself “more and more around revolutionary Socialism, around Communism.” ...

“This Socialism”, he said, “is the declaration of permanent revolution, the establishment of the Class Dictatorship of the Proletariat as a necessary step towards the abolition of class distinctions in general, towards the abolition of all the conditions of production on which class distinctions depend, towards the abolition of all the social relations which depend on these conditions of production, towards the revolutionizing of all ideas which emanate from these social relations.”

Once again we can add, that here we have, on the basis of the concrete proletarian experiences, the materialist conception of history applied and set down with an indelible imprint for the future.

The revolutionary events during Marx’s life time closed with the Paris Commune. The proletariat had then reached a distinct independent class position, though not yet, as Marx observed, a position of revolutionary maturity and preparation. It had not yet created its revolutionary party. Its heroic attempt to maintain a proletarian regime was circumvented essentially because of these weaknesses. And it was on this experience that Marx, in his address to the General Council of the International, made his masterful analysis, culminating in the terse statement: “But the working class cannot simply lay hold on the ready made state machinery and wield it for its own purpose.” In these words are again forcefully reiterated the conclusions from the realistics of the material world. Today they serve as the proletarian revolutionary strategy.

Our task is today, clearer than ever, to proceed on the foundation of Marxism and to fully comprehend what Marx embodied in his thesis to Feuerbach: “Up to the present the philosophers have but interpreted the world; it is, however, necessary to change it.”

We witness today the completion of the process of a dialectic cycle in human society. We have reached the last and final period of the capitalist epoch. The blood and tears in which the pages of the history of its birth were written is again being shed at this stage of its violent decay and collapse. It is giving birth to a new and higher stage. The world is being changed. A glorious beginning was made by the proletarian revolution in Russia. In that we saw the theoretical system of Marx applied and brought to its first victorious conclusion. But in that we found also the closest approximation to the life long revolutionary friendship of Marx and Engels in the unshakable friendship and harmony of views, during the decisive revolutionary events, of Lenin and Trotsky.

The gigantic vision, the enormous and all embracing perspective unfolded in the closing paragraph of the concise statement of his materialist conception of history which Marx embodied in his introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, is about to be realized. It reads as follows:

“The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production ... the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation constitutes, therefore, the closing chapter of the prehistoric stage of human society.”

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