Foundations of Scientific Communism
MARX and Engels then began, in The German Ideology, to apply the materialist approach, unlike Feuerbach and other materialist philosophers before him, not only to nature, but equally to human society and history. Thus they created historical materialism. They took the decisive step which Feuerbach had been unable to take.
Marx and Engels showed that human beings, before they can concern themselves with politics, science, art and religion, must eat, drink, live and clothe themselves; that the production of things and materials essential for life, and thereby the prevailing stage of economic development of a people, is the foundation and point of departure of its historical evolution.
They came to the conclusion that philosophical, historical and other ideas, as well as juridical and political relations or State forms, cannot be explained in themselves, but that in the final instance they have their roots in the economic relations in which men live, as is the case with the overall developments of human society. “It is not consciousness that determine life, but life that determines consciousness”, they declared. All historical changes, all social transformations have their ultimate origin in the conditions of material life in society, in the development of material forces, in the productive forces.
ROLE OF PRODUCTION
Marx and Engels then showed how the shape and form of production plays a decisive role in the whole social life. By means of production they meant the people with their experience and skills in production, and the equipment with which the material products are produced; by production relations, they meant those relations between people that arise in the process of production, of the exchange and distribution, of the exchange and distribution of material goods. They showed that between the development of these means of production and these production relations there is an interconnection and interplay determined by certain laws.
Later, in Critique of Political Economy, Marx formulated the views put forward in The German Ideology in the following words:
“At a certain stage in their development, the material means of production of society come into contradiction with the prevailing production relations, or—what is merely a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they had previously functioned. From forms of development of the means of production, these relations now become fetters on the means of production. A period of social revolution begins. With the transformation of the economic basis, the entire enormous superstructure is slowly or quickly overturned…..A social system never disappears before all the means of production developed of which it is capable, and new production relations never arise before the material conditions of existence for them have been hatched in the womb of the old society. That is why mankind only sets itself those tasks that it can solve, for viewed more exactly it will always be found that the task only arises when the material conditions for its solution are already available or at least discernible in the process of becoming.”
With the dialectical materialist view of history, Marx and Engels were able to find the proper answers for all those historical-philosophical questions which previous philosophers had posed but had not been able to answer. Thus the social sciences received a really scientific basis.
HISTORICAL TASK OF PROLETARIAT
The essence of class struggle in the modern period, and above all the role of the proletariat, was also now much more comprehensively worked out than in earlier writings. When Marx and Engels wrote The German Ideology, they were well aware that a knowledge of their historical mission was, almost without exception, still absent among the workers. But that did not mislead them. They based themselves on the objective position of the proletariat in society. On the basis of this objective position the working class had to overthrow the State, which “the bourgeoisie considered essential for the mutual guaranteeing, externally and internally, of its property and its interests.” The proletariat had “to seize political power, to begin with,” and that meant “through a revolution in which..…the till then prevailing forms of production and exchange and the social structure are overthrown. Here, for the first time, Marx and Engels formulated the historical task of the proletariat to conquer political power.
Marx and Engels had, from the philosophical point of view, worked out the essential foundations of scientific communism. With scientific precision, and with a constant investigation of social practice, they had shown “that Socialism is not the invention of dreamers, but a final aim and necessary result of the development of the productive forces in modern society.” This was a great moment, an unprecedented accomplishment in the history human thought.
DEVELOPING NEW IDEAS
Certain enemies of Marxism have long endeavoured to falsify the teaching of Marx by seizing on those ideas which in Marx’s first writings had not yet fully ripened, in order to set them up as “true” Marxism against revolutionary Marxism. Naturally, there is much that is only intimated at times in the German-French Yearbook, The Holy Family and the German Ideology but which is more authoritatively and more clearly revealed in his later works. This does not in the least alter the revolutionary content of his earlier writings.
Marx and Engels could not find a publisher for The German Ideology. Marx recalled later: “We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly as we had achieved our main purpose-self clarification.” The work was not published during its authors’ life-time. The leadership of the German Right-wing Social Democracy into whose hands the manuscript fell after Engel’s death, was in no hurry to publish this revolutionary work. The German Ideology appeared for the first time as a complete book in the Soviet Union-in German in 1932 and in Russian the next year.
Already during his work on The German Ideology, Marx began “to revolutionize the existing world and to attack and to change the prevailing conditions in practice”-as he demanded of Communists in The German Ideology.
FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
For Marx it was urgent to bring his views to those people who were called upon to change revolutionary theory into revolutionary practice: the workers. That was also necessary, since the wretched economic and social situation of the proletariat, and the exclusive right to education of the ruling classes, it was impossible for the workers themselves to study scientific works to any great degree and to search for the laws of historical development on their own.
These scientific conceptions could only be worked out by educated representatives of the proletariat class, by progressive intellectual who unreservedly served the proletariat. Such intellectuals, who drew back neither from material need, nor defamation, nor persecution in order to march together with the working people, fearless and courageous, along the road they had mapped out-such intellectuals were Marx and Engels. If the theory was not to remain barren, if the fight of the workers was not to remain plan-less and without an aim, then scientific communism and the already existing organizations of the working class had to be welded together.
The first step of Marx and Engels in this direction was to set up, in February 1846, the Brussels Communist Correspondence Committee which was to promote exchange of information and clarification of differences of opinion between German, English and French Socialists. The day to day work in the Committee was carried out by Marx, Engels and the Belgian Communist Phillippe Gigot.
Before long the Committee became a centre for the propagation of Communist ideas. The revolutionary doctrine was finding supporters in different countries. Correspondence Committees in touch-with Marx and Engels sprang up in London, Paris, Le Havre, as well as in Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig and other German cities.
EXPOSING PETTY BOURGEOIS THEORIES
But it was no easy task to introduce the revolutionary theory to the masses, for various utopian Socialist doctrines were a considerable hindrance. Some of them had played a progressive role in the past, but with the emergence of Marxism and the development of the political struggle of the working class, they had outlived their usefulness. The exponents of petty bourgeois Socialist theories turned into sects and took a negative view of the class proletarian movement, political struggle and trade unions and sharply attacked the Communist theory. Therefore, in order to organize and rally the participants in the revolutionary movement on the basis of Marxism, it was necessary to expose the various forms of utopian Socialism, to wage a consistent struggle against the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois view of the world.
Among the ideological opponents Marxism encountered were the German worker Wilhelm Weitling, with his crude egalitarian Communism, a group of German intellectuals whom the founders of Marxism nicknamed “true Socialists”, who advocated ideas of “universal love” in which all the contradictions of the capitalist system would be dissolved, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, a French petty-bourgeois Socialist and his followers who put forward reformist plans to transform capitalism.
“POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY”
Proudhon believed it necessary to leave intact the economic basis of capitalism—private ownership of the instruments and means of production and capitalist production relations; thus wage-labour was to be retained. In reply to Proudhon’s The system of Economic Contradictions, or the philosophy of Poverty (1846), Marx wrote his fundamental theoretical work The poverty of philosophy (1847). This ironic title expressed Marx’s attitude to the pseudo-scientific character of Proudhon’s views, to the poverty and impotence of the philosophy.
This work, in which the theory of scientific Communism appeared in its mature form, contained the first published account of the materialist view of history as an integral doctrine and the theory of class struggle and Socialist revolution. It laid the methodological groundwork of the Marxist economic doctrine which was subsequently set forth in Capital.
Marx exposed the idealistic essence of Prodhon’s project of “practical” transformation of capitalism through the removal of the “bad” and the preservation of “good” aspects of capitalist society. He showed that Prodhon was an ideologist of the petty proprietor—the bourgeois. Proudhon’s ideas of property, social organization and equality were of a petty-bourgeois character since they expressed only the striving of small private producers to protect themselves against the onslaught of industrial capital, to seek “salvation” from the social and economic disasters brought on by capitalism in unrealizable, fantastic ideas.
Drawing on historical facts, Marx showed that small private property did not, and could not, create the idyllic little world pictured by Prodhon. It could exist only side by side with, and thanks to, the poverty of the vast majority of the population. With the advent of the epoch of industrial capitalism, the implacable trend of historical development of society was towards the destruction of small private property.
(To be continued)