Tuesday, September 17, 2013



Dialectical Materialism
by J Pickard

When we discuss the method of Marxism, we are dealing with the ideas which provide the basis for our activities in the labour movement, the arguments we raise in the discussions we take part in, and the articles we write. It is generally accepted that Marxism took its form from three main roots.

One of those roots was the development of Marx's analysis of French politics, particularly the bourgeois revolution in France in the 1790s, and the subsequent class struggles during the early 19th century. Another of the roots of Marxism is what is called 'English economics', ie., Marx's analysis of the capitalist system as it developed in England.

The other root of Marxism, which was its starting point historically, is said to be 'German philosophy', and it is that aspect of it that I want to deal with here. To begin with, we say that the basis of Marxism is materialism.
That is to say, Marxism starts from the idea that matter is the essence of all reality, and that matter creates mind, and not vice versa. In other words, thought and all the things that are said to derive from thought - artistic ideas, scientific ideas, ideas of law, politics, morality and so on - these things are in fact derived from the material world. The 'mind', ie., thought and thought processes, is a product of the brain; and the brain itself, and therefore ideas, arose at a certain stage in the development of living matter. It is a product of the material world.
Therefore, to understand the real nature of human consciousness and society, as Marx himself put it, it is a question "not of setting out from what men say, imagine, conceive... in order to arrive at men in the flesh; but setting out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process demonstrating the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process.
The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, images of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence.

They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.

In the first (non-materialist) method of approach the starting point is consciousness taken as the living individual; in the second (materialist) method, which conforms to real living individuals themselves, and consciousness is considered solely as their consciousness." (The German Ideology, Chapter one).
A materialist therefore seeks an explanation not only for ideas, but for material phenomena themselves, in terms of material causes and not in terms of supernatural intervention by gods and the like. And that is a very important aspect of Marxism, which clearly sets it aside from the methods of thinking and logic which have become established in capitalist society. The development of scientific thought in the European countries in the 17th and 18th centuries displayed some really contradictory characteristics, which still remain typical of the approach of bourgeois theoreticians today.

On the one hand there was a development towards a materialist method. Scientists looked for causes. They didn't just accept natural phenomena as god-ordained miracles, they sought some explanation for them. But at the same time these scientists did not yet possess a consistent or worked-out materialist understanding; and very often, behind the explanations for natural phenomena, they also saw, at the end of the chain, the hand of God at work. Such an approach means accepting, or at least leaving open the possibility, that the material world we live in is ultimately shaped by forces from outside it, and that consciousness or ideas come first, in the sense that they can exist independently of the real world. This approach, which is the philosophical opposite of materialism, we call 'idealism'.

According to this approach, the development of mankind and of society - of art, science, etc. - is dictated not by material processes but by the development of ideas, by the perfection or degeneration of human thought. And it is no accident that this general approach, whether spoken or unspoken, pervades all the philosophies of capitalism. Bourgeois philosophers and historians in general take the present system for granted. They accept that capitalism is some kind of finished, complete system which is incapable of being replaced by a new and higher system. And they try to present all past history as the efforts of lesser mortals to achieve the kind of 'perfect society' which they believe capitalism has achieved or can achieve.

So, when we look at the work of some of the greatest bourgeois scientists and thinkers in the past or even today, we can see how they have tended to jumble up materialist ideas and idealist ideas in their minds. For example Isaac Newton, who examined the laws of mechanics and the laws of motion of planets and planetary bodies, didn't believe that these processes were dictated by mind or thought. But what he did believe was that an original impetus was given to all matter, and that this initial push was provided by some sort of supernatural force, by God.

In the same way it is possible today for many biologists to accept the idea that species of plants and animals evolved from one type to another, and that mankind itself is a development from earlier species. And yet many of them cling to the notion that there is a qualitative difference between the human mind and the animal mind, consisting of the 'eternal soul' which leaves the human body after death. Even some of the most eminent scientists jumble up the materialist method with idealist ideas of this kind, which are really backward, scientifically speaking, and are more related to magic and superstition than to science.

Marxism therefore represents a systematic and fundamental break with idealism in all its forms, and the development in it place of a materialist understanding of what is taking place in reality. Materialism in this sense provides one of the basic starting points of Marxism. The other basic starting point is dialectics.

Dialectics is quite simply the logic of motion, or the logic of common sense to activists in the movement. We all know that things don't stand still, they change. But there is another form of logic which stands in contradiction to dialectics, which we call 'formal logic', which again is deeply embodied in capitalist society. It is perhaps necessary to begin by describing briefly what this method implies. Formal logic is based on what is known as the 'law of identity', which says that 'A' equals 'A' - i.e. that things are what they are, and that they stand in definite relationships to each other.

There are other derivative laws based on the law of identity; for example, if 'A' equals 'A', it follows that 'A' cannot equal 'B', nor 'C'. On the face of it this method of thinking may again seem like common sense; and in fact it has been a very important tool, a very important device in the development of science and in the industrial revolution which created the present-day society. The development of mathematics and basic arithmetic, for example, was based on formal logic. You couldn't teach a child a table of multiplication or addition without using formal logic. One plus one equals two, and not three.

And in the same way, the method of formal logic was also the basis for the development of mechanics, of chemistry, of biology, etc. For example, in the 18th century the Scandinavian biologist Linnaeus developed a system of classification for all known plants and animals. Linnaeus divided all living things into classes, into orders, into families, in the order of primates, in the family of hominids, in the genus of homo, and represents the species homo sapiens. The system of classification represented an enormous step forward in biology.

It made possible, for the first time, a real systematic study of plants ad animals, to compare and contrast animal and plant species. But it was based on formal logic. It was based on saying that homo sapiens equals homo sapiens; that musca domestica (the common housefly) equals musca domestica; that an earthworm equals earthworm, and so on. It was, in other words, a fixed and rigid system. It wasn't possible, according to this system, for a species to equal to anything else, otherwise the system of classification would have completely collapsed.

The same applies in the field of chemistry, where Dalton's atomic theory meant a huge stride forward. Dalton's theory was based on the idea that matter is made up of atoms, and that each type of atom is completely separate and peculiar to itself - that its shape and weight is peculiar to that particular element and to none other. After Dalton there was a more or less rigid classification of elements, again based on a rigid formal logic, whereby it was said that an atom of hydrogen was an atom of hydrogen, an atom of carbon was an atom of carbon, etc. And if any atom could have been something else, this whole system of classification, which has formed the basis of modern chemistry, would have collapsed.

Now it is important to see that there are limitations to the method of formal logic. It is a useful everyday method, and it gives us useful approximations for identifying things. For example, the Linnaean system of classification is still useful to biologists; but since the work of Charles Darwin in particular we can also see the weaknesses in that system. Darwin pointed out, for instance, that in the Linnaean system some types of plants are given separate names, as separate species, but actually they are very similar to each other. And yet there are other plants with the same name, of the same species, which are said to be different varieties of the same plant, and yet they are very different from each other.

So even by the time of Charles Darwin it was possible to look at the Linnaean system of classification and say, 'well, there's something wrong somewhere'. And of course Darwin's own work provided a systematic basis for the theory of evolution, which for the first time said it is possible for one species to be transformed into another species. And that left a big hole in the Linnaean system.

Before Darwin it was thought that the number of species on the planet was exactly the same as the number of species created by God in the first six days of his labour - except, of course, for those destroyed by the Flood - and that those species had survived unchanged over the millennia. But Darwin produced the idea of species changing, and so inevitably the method of classification also had to be changed. What applies in the field of biology applies also in the field of chemistry.

Chemists became aware, by the late 19th century, that it was possible for one atomic element to become transformed into another. In other words, atoms aren't completely separated and peculiar to themselves. We know now that many atoms, many chemical elements, are unstable. For example, uranium and other radioactive atoms will split in the course of time and produce completely different atoms with completely different chemical properties and different atomic weights. So we can see that the method of formal logic was beginning to break down with the development of science itself.

But it is the method of dialectics which draws the conclusions of these factual discoveries, and points out there are no absolute or fixed categories, either in nature or in society. Whereas the formal logician will say that 'A' equals 'A', the dialectician will say that 'A' does not necessarily equal 'A'. Or to take a practical example that Trotsky uses in his writings, one pound of sugar will not be precisely equal to another pound of sugar. It is a good enough approximation if you want to buy sugar in a shop, but if you look at it more carefully you will see that it's actually wrong.

So we need to have a form of understanding, a form of logic, that takes into account the fact that things, and life, and society, are in a state of constant motion and change. And that form of logic, of course, is dialectics. But on the other hand it would be wrong to think that dialectics ascribes to the universe a process of even and gradual change.

The laws of dialectics
and here is a word of warning: these concepts sound more intimidating than they really are - the laws of dialectics describe the manner in which the processes of change in reality take place.

Let us take, to begin with, the law of the transformation of quantity into quality'. This law states that the processes of change - motion in the universe - are not gradual, they are not even. Periods of relatively gradual or slight change are interspersed with periods of enormously rapid change - change which cannot be measured in terms of quantity but only in terms of quality. To use an example from natural science again, let us imagine the heating of water. You can actually measure ("quantify"), in terms of degrees of temperature, the change that takes place in the water as you add heat to it. From, let us say, 10 degrees centigrade (which is normal tap water) to about 98 degrees centigrade, the change will remain quantitative; i.e., the water will remain water, although it is getting warmer.

But then comes a point where the change in the water becomes qualitative, and the water turns into steam. You can no longer describe the change in the water as it is heated from 98 degrees to 102 degrees in purely quantitative terms. We have to say that a qualitative change (water into steam) has come about as a result of an accumulation of quantitative change (adding more and more heat). And that is what Marx and Engels meant when they referred to the transformation of quantity into quality. The same can be seen in the development of species. There is always a great variety in every species. If we look around this room we can see the degree of variety in homo sapiens.

That variety can be measured quantitatively, for example, in terms of height, weight, skin colour, length of nose, etc. But if evolutionary changes progress to a certain point under the impact of environmental changes, then those quantitative changes can add up to a qualitative change. In other words, you would no longer characterise that change in animal or plant species merely in terms of quantitative details.

The species will have become qualitatively different. For example, we as a species are qualitatively different from chimpanzees or gorillas, and they in turn are qualitatively different from other species of mammals. And those qualitative differences, those evolutionary leaps, have come about as a result of quantitative changes in the past. The idea of Marxism is that there will always be periods of gradual change interspersed with periods of sudden change. In pregnancy, there is a period of gradual development, and then a period of very sudden development at the end.

The same applies to social development. Very often Marxists have used the analogy of pregnancy to describe the development of wars and revolutions. These represent qualitative leaps in social development; but they come about as a result of the accumulation of quantitative contradictions in society.

A second law of dialectics is 'the law of the negation of the negation', and again it sounds more complicated than it really is. 'Negation' in this sense simply means the passing away of one thing, the death of one thing as it becomes transformed into another. For example, the development of class society in the early history of humanity represented the negation of the previous classless society. And in future, with the development of communism, we will see another classless society, that would mean the negation of all present class society. So the law of the negation of the negation simply states that as one system comes into existence, it forces another system to pass away. But that doesn't mean that the second system is permanent or unchangeable.

That second system itself becomes negated as a result of the further developments and processes of change in society. As class society has been the negation of classless society, so communist society will be the negation of class society - the negation of the negation.
Another concept of dialectics is

the law of the 'interpenetration of opposite'.
This law quite simply states that processes of change take place because of contradictions - because of the conflicts between the different elements that are embodied in all natural and social processes. Probably the best example of the interpenetration of opposites in natural science is the 'quantum theory'. This theory is based on the concept of energy having a dual character - that for some purposes, according to some experiments, energy exists in the form of waves, like electromagnetic energy. But for other purposes energy manifests itself as particles.

In other words, it is quite accepted among scientists that matter and energy can actually exist in two different forms at one and the same time - on the one hand as a kind of intangible wave, on the other hand as a particle with a definite 'quantum' (amount) of energy embodied in it. Therefore the basis of the quantum theory in modern physics is contradiction. But there are many other contradictions known to science.

Electromagnetic energy, for example, is set in motion through the effect of positive and negative forces on each other. Magnetism depends on the existence of a north pole and a south pole. These things cannot exist separately. They exist and operate precisely because of the contradictory forces being embodied in one and the same system.

Similarly, every society today consists of different contradictory elements joined together in one system, which makes it impossible for any society, any country, to remain stable or unchanged. The dialectical method, in contrast to the method of formal logic, trains us to identify these contradictions, and thereby get to the bottom of the changes taking place.

Marxists are not embarrassed to say that there are contradictory elements within every social process. On the contrary, it is precisely by recognising and understanding the opposite interests embodied within the same process that we are able to work out the likely direction of change, and consequently to identify the aims and objectives which it is necessary and possible in that situation to strive for from the working class point of view.

At the same time, Marxism doesn't abandon formal logic altogether. But it is important to see, from the point of view of understanding social developments, that formal logic must take second position. We all use formal logic for everyday purposes. It gives us the necessary approximations for communication and conducting our daily activities.

We wouldn't be able to lead normal lives without paying lip service to formal logic, without using the approximation that one equals one. But, on the other hand, we have to see the limitations of formal logic - the limitations that become evident in science when we study processes in more depth and detail, and also when we examine social and political processes more closely.

Dialectics is very rarely accepted by scientists. Some scientists are dialecticians, but the majority even today muddle up a materialist approach with all sorts of formal and idealistic ideas. And if that's the case in natural science, it is much, much more the case as far as the social sciences are concerned.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious. If you try to examine society and social processes from a scientific point of view, then you cannot avoid coming up against the contradictions of the capitalist system and the need for the socialist transformation of society.

 But the universities, which are supposed to be centres of learning and study, are under capitalism far from being independent of the ruling class and the state. That is why natural science can still have a scientific method which leans towards dialectical materialism; but when it comes to the social sciences you will find in the colleges and universities some of the worst kinds of formalism and idealism possible.

That is not unrelated to the vested interests of the professors and academics who are highly paid. It is obvious and unavoidable that their privileged position in society will have some reflection, some effect on what they're supposed to teach. Their own views and prejudices will be contained in the 'knowledge' which they pass on to their students, and so on down to the level of the schools. Bourgeois historians, in particular, are among the most shortsighted of all social scientists. How many times have we seen examples of bourgeois historians who imagine that history ended yesterday!

Here in Britain they all seem to admit the horrors of British imperialism as far as the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are concerned; that British imperialism engaged in slave traffic; that it was responsible for some of the most bloody subjugation of colonial peoples; that it was also responsible for some of the worst exploitation of British workers, including women and children, in the coal mines, the cotton mills, and so on. They will accept all these iniquities - up until yesterday. But when it comes to today, of course, then British imperialism suddenly becomes democratic and progressive. And that is completely one-sided, a completely lopsided view of history, which is diametrically opposed to the method of Marxism.

The attitude of Marx and Engels was to view social processes from the same dialectical standpoint from which they viewed nature - from the standpoint of the processes that are actually taking place. In our everyday discussions and debates in the labour movement, we will often come across people who are formalists.

Even many on the left will look at things in a completely rigid and formal way, without understanding the direction in which things are moving. The right wing in the labour movement, and also some on the left, believe that Marxist theory is a dogma, that 'theory' is like a 600 lb weight on the back of an activist, and the quicker you get rid of that weight, the more active and effective you can be. But that is a complete misconception of the whole nature of Marxist theory.

In point of fact Marxism is the opposite of a dogma. It is precisely a method for coming to grips with the processes of change that are taking place around us. Nothing is fixed and nothing remains unchanged. It is the formalists who see society as a still photograph, who can get overawed by the situations they are faced with because they don't see how and why things will change. It is this kind of approach that can easily lead to a dogmatic acceptance of things as they are or as they have been, without understanding the inevitability of change.

Marxist theory is therefore an absolutely essential device for any activity within the labour movement. We need to be consciously attuned to the contradictory forces at work in the class struggle, in order to orient ourselves to the way in which events are developing. Of course it isn't always easy to free ourselves from the prevailing framework of thinking in capitalist society and absorb the Marxist method. As Karl Marx said, there is no royal road to science. You have to treat the hard path sometimes in grappling with new political ideas.

But the discussion and study of Marxist theory is an absolutely essential part of the development of every activist. It is that theory alone that will provide comrades with a compass and a map amidst all the complexities of the struggle. It is all very well to be an activist. But without a conscious understanding of the processes you are involved in, you are no more effective than an explorer without a compass and a map. And if you try to explore without scientific aids, you can be as energetic as you like but sooner or later you will fall into a ravine or a bog and disappear, as so many activists over the years have unfortunately done.

The idea of having a compass and a map is that you can take your bearings. You can judge where you are at any particular time, where you are going and where you will be. And that is the fundamental reason why we need to get to grips with Marxist theory. It provides us with an absolutely invaluable guide to action as far as our activities in the labour movement are concerned.


II.The ABC of Materialist Dialectics
by Leon Trotsky

The dialectic is neither fiction nor mysticism, but a science of the forms of our thinking insofar as it is not limited to the daily problems of life but attempts to arrive at an understanding of more complicated and drawn-out processes. The dialectic and formal logic bear a relationship similar to that between higher and lower mathematics.
I will here attempt to sketch the substance of the problem in a very concise form. The Aristotelian logic of the simple syllogism starts from the proposition that A is equal to A. This postulate is accepted as an axiom for a multitude of practical human actions and elementary generalisations. But in reality A is not equal to A.
This is easy to prove if we observe these two letters under a lens - they are quite different from each other.
But, one can object, the question is not of the size or the form of the letters, since they are only symbols for equal quantities: for instance, a pound of sugar.
The objection is beside the point; in reality a pound of sugar is never equal to a pound of sugar - a more delicate scale always discloses a difference.
Again one can object: but a pound of sugar is equal to itself. Neither is this true - all bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour, etc. They are never equal to themselves.
A sophist will respond that a pound of sugar is equal to itself "at a given moment." Aside from the extremely dubious practical value of this 'axiom,' it does not withstand theoretical criticism either. How should we conceive the word 'moment'? If it is an infinitesimal interval of time, then a pound of sugar is subjected during the course of that 'moment' to inevitable changes.
Or is the 'moment' a purely mathematical abstraction, that is, a zero of time? But everything exists in time; and existence itself is an uninterrupted process of transformation; time is consequently a fundamental element of existence.
Thus the axiom A is equal to A signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is, if it does not exist.
At first glance it could seem that these "subtleties" are useless. In reality they are of decisive significance. The axiom A is equal to A appears on one hand to be the point of departure for all our knowledge, on the other hand the point of departure for all the errors in our knowledge.
To make use of the axiom A is equal to A with impunity is possible only within certain limits. When quantitative changes in A are negligible for the task at hand, then we can presume A is equal to A. This is, for example, the manner in which a buyer and a seller consider a pound of sugar.
We consider the temperature of the sun likewise. Until recently we considered the buying power of the dollar in the same way. But quantitative changes beyond certain limits become converted into qualitative. A pound of sugar subjected to the action of water or kerosene ceases to be a pound of sugar. A dollar in the embrace of a president ceases to be a dollar. To determine at the right moment the critical point where quantity changes into quality is one of the most important and difficult tasks in all the spheres of knowledge, including sociology.
Every worker knows that it is impossible to make two completely equal objects. In the elaboration of bearing-brass into cone bearings, a certain deviation is allowed for the cones which should not, however, go beyond certain limits (this is called tolerance). By observing the norms of tolerance, the cones are considered as being equal (A is equal to A). When the tolerance is exceeded, the quantity goes over into quality; in other words, the cone bearings become inferior or completely worthless.
Our scientific thinking is only a part of our general practice, including techniques. For concepts there also exists "tolerance" which is established not by formal logic issuing from the axiom A is equal to A but by dialectical logic issuing from the axiom that everything is always changing. "Common sense" is characterized by the fact that it systematically exceeds dialectical "tolerance."
Vulgar thought operates with such concepts as capitalism, morals, freedom, workers' state, etc., as fixed abstractions, presuming that capitalism is equal to capitalism, morals are equal to morals, etc. Dialectical thinking analyses all things and phenomena in their continuous change, while determining in the material conditions of those changes that critical limit beyond which A ceases to be A, a workers' state ceases to be a workers' state.
The fundamental flaw of vulgar thought lies in the fact that it wishes to content itself with motionless imprints of reality, which consists of eternal motion. Dialectical thinking gives to concepts, by means of closer approximations, corrections, concretisations, a richness of content and flexibility, I would even say a succulence, which to a certain extent brings them close to living phenomena. Not capitalism in general but a given capitalism at a given stage of development. Not a workers' state in general, but a given workers' state in a backward country in an Imperialist encirclement etc.
Dialectical thinking is related to vulgar thinking in the same way that a motion picture is related to a still photograph. The motion picture does not outlaw the still photograph but combines a series of them according to the laws of motion. Dialectics does not deny the syllogism, but teaches us to combine syllogisms in such a way as to bring our understanding closer to the eternally changing reality.
Hegel in his Logic established a series of laws: change of quantity into quality, development through contradictions, conflict of content and form, interruption of continuity, change of possibility into inevitability, etc., which are just as important for theoretical thought as is the simple syllogism for more elementary tasks.
Hegel wrote before Darwin and before Marx. Thanks to the powerful impulse given to thought by the French Revolution, Hegel anticipated the general movement of science. But because it was only an anticipation, although by a genius, it received from Hegel an idealistic character. Hegel operated with ideological shadows as the ultimate reality. Marx demonstrated that the movement of these ideological shadows reflected nothing but the movement of material bodies.
We call our dialectic materialist since its roots are neither in heaven nor in the depths of our "free will" but in objective reality, in nature. Consciousness grew out of the unconscious, psychology out of physiology, the organic world out of the inorganic, the solar system out of nebula.
On all the rungs of this ladder of development the quantitative changes were transformed into qualitative. Our thought including dialectical thought is only one of the forms of the expression of changing matter. There is place within this system for neither God, nor Devil, nor immortal soul nor eternal norms of laws and morals. The dialectic of thinking, having grown out of the dialectic of nature, possesses consequently a thoroughly materialist character.
Darwinism, which explained the evolution of species through quantitative transformations passing into qualitative, was the highest triumph of the dialectic in the whole field of organic matter. Another great triumph was the discovery of the table of atomic weights of chemical elements and further the transformation of one element into another.

With these transformations (species, elements, etc.) is closely linked the question of classifications, just as important in the natural as in the social sciences. Linnaeus's system (eighteenth century), utilizing as its starting point the immutability of species, was limited to the description and classification of plants according to their external characteristics.
The infantile period of botany is analogous to the infantile period of logic, since the forms of our thought develop like everything that lives. Only decisive repudiation of the idea of fixed species, only the study of the history of the evolution of plants and their anatomy prepared the basis for a really scientific classification.
Marx, who in distinction from Darwin was a conscious dialectician, discovered a basis for the scientific classification of human societies in the development of their productive forces and the structure of the relations of ownership, which constitute the anatomy of society. Marxism substituted for the vulgar descriptive classification of societies and states, which even up to now still flourishes in the universities, a materialistic dialectical classification.

Only through using the method of Marx is it possible correctly to determine both the concept of a workers' state and the moment of its downfall.
All this, as we see, contains nothing "metaphysical" or "scholastic," as conceited ignorance affirm

s. Dialectical logic expresses the laws of motion in contemporary scientific thought. The struggle against materialist dialectics on the contrary expresses a distant past conservatism of the petty bourgeoisie, the self-conceit of university routinists and . . . a spark of hope for an afterlife.
Leon Trotsky

III.What is dialectical materialism?

We are publishing the first of what will be a series of Marxist study guides. The purpose is to provide a basic explanation of the fundamental ideas of Marxism with a guide to further reading and points to help organise discussion groups around these ideas. We are starting with dialectical materialism, the philosophy of Marxism.


Marxism, or Scientific Socialism, is the name given to the body of ideas first worked out by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). In their totality, these ideas provide a fully worked-out theoretical basis for the struggle of the working class to attain a higher form of human society - socialism.
The study of Marxism falls under three main headings, corresponding broadly to philosophy, social history and economics - Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism and Marxist Economics. These are the famous "Three component parts of Marxism" of which Lenin wrote.
The Education for Socialists series was launched to promote the study of Marxism. They are intended to assist the student of Marxism by providing an introduction to the subject matter, with suitable Marxist texts that we hope will whet their appetite for further reading and study. In the first of these Education for Socialists study guides, we provide a selection of material on Dialectical Materialism. The other "component parts", as well as other fundamental questions, will be dealt with in future issues. The guides are suitable for individual study or as the basis of a Marxist discussion group.
In beginning this study of Dialectical Materialism the editors are publishing an introductory article by Rob Sewell. While this is a good start to the subject, there is no substitute for proceeding from there to tackle the philosophical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Plekhanov and others.

Unfortunately Marx and Engels never wrote a comprehensive work on dialectical materialism, although they intended to do so. On his death, Engels left a pile of manuscripts, which he intended to work up into an account of dialectics, or the laws of motion of nature, human society and human thought. These were later published as the Dialectics of Nature. Even in their rough, unfinished form these notes give a brilliant insight into the method of Marxism and its relation to the sciences.
The newer reader should not be put off by the sometimes difficult and abstract ideas expressed in these writings. Whatever the initial difficulty, a certain perseverance will pay just rewards. Marxism is a science with its own terminology, and therefore makes heavy demands upon the beginner. However, every serious worker and student knows that nothing is worthwhile if attained without a degree of struggle and sacrifice.
The theories of Marxism provide the thinking worker with a comprehensive understanding. It is the duty of every worker and student to conquer for himself or herself the theories of Marx and Engels, as an essential prerequisite for the conquest of society by working people.


Do we need a philosophy?
The Limits of Formal logic
Materialism versus idealism
Dialectics and Metaphysics
The law of quantity into quality (and vice versa)
The unity of Opposites
The Negation of the Negation
Hegel and Marx
We recognise that there are real obstacles in the path of the worker's struggle for theory. A man or woman who is obliged to toil long hours in work, who has not had the benefit of a decent education and consequently lacks the habit of reading, finds great difficulty in absorbing some of the more complex ideas, especially at the outset. Yet it was for workers that Marx and Engels wrote, and not for "clever" academics. "Every beginning is difficult" no matter what science we are talking about. To the class conscious worker who is prepared to persevere, one promise can be made: once the initial effort is made to come to grips with unfamiliar and new ideas, the theories of Marxism will be found to be basically straight-forward and simple.
Once the basic concepts of Marxism are conquered, they open up a whole new outlook on politics, the class struggle, and every aspect of life.
As a further introduction to dialectics, we are also republishing in this issue Trotsky's ACB of Materialist Dialectics, also by Trotsky A Triumph of Dialectical Materialism, an extract from Lenin's The Three Sources and Three Components parts of Marxism, Lenin's Elements of Dialectics, and an extract from Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy.
For further study, we recommend the following works by Engels, especially chapters 12 and 13 in Anti-Duhring, the introduction to the Dialectics of Nature, and Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of classical German Philosophy.
Those who wish to go into greater depth should try reading Plekhanov's The Monist View of History, Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, as well as his Philosophical Notebooks (Collected Works, Vol. 38). Although these books are not an easy read, they are nonetheless very rewarding if studied thoroughly.
The editors,
October 2002

Do we need a philosophy?

Scientific socialism or Marxism is composed of three component parts: Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism and Marxist Economics. This pamphlet, the first in this series, is an introduction to the concepts of Dialectical Materialism - the method of Marxism.
For those unacquainted with Marxist philosophy, dialectical materialism may seem an obscure and difficult concept. However, for those prepared to take the time to study this new way of looking at things, they will discover a revolutionary outlook that will allow them an insight into and understanding of the mysteries of the world in which we live. A grasp of dialectical materialism is an essential prerequisite in understanding the doctrine of Marxism. Dialectical materialism is the philosophy of Marxism, which provides us with a scientific and comprehensive world outlook. It is the philosophical bedrock - the method - on which the whole of Marxist doctrine is founded.
According to Engels, dialectics was "our best working tool and our sharpest weapon." And for us also, it is a guide to action and our activities within the working class movement. It is similar to a compass or map, which allows us to get our bearings in the turmoil of events, and permits us to understand the underlying processes that shape our world.

Whether we like it or not, consciously or unconsciously, everyone has a philosophy. A philosophy is simply a way of looking at the world. Under capitalism, without our own scientific philosophy, we will inevitably adopt the dominant philosophy of the ruling class and the prejudices of the society in which we live. "Things will never change" is a common refrain, reflecting the futility of changing things and of the need to accept our lot in life. There are other such proverbs as "There is nothing new under the sun", and "History always repeats itself", which reflect the same conservative outlook. Such ideas, explained Marx, form a crushing weight on the consciousness of men and women.
Just as the emerging bourgeoisie in its revolution against feudal society challenged the conservative ideas of the old feudal aristocracy, so the working class, in its fight for a new society, needs to challenge the dominant outlook of its own oppressor, the capitalist class.

Of course, the ruling class, through its monopoly control of the mass media, the press, school, university and pulpit, consciously justifies its system of exploitation as the most "natural form of society". The repressive state machine, with its "armed bodies of men", is not sufficient to maintain the capitalist system. The dominant ideas and morality of bourgeois society serve as a vital defence of the material interests of the ruling class. Without this powerful ideology, the capitalist system could not last for any length of time.
"In one way or another," states Lenin, "all official and liberal science defends wage-slavery… To expect science to be impartial in a wage-slave society is as foolishly naïve as to expect impartiality from manufacturers on the question of whether workers' wages ought not to be increased by decreasing the profits of capital."
Official bourgeois ideology conducts a relentless war against Marxism, which it correctly sees as a mortal danger to capitalism. The bourgeois scribes and professors pour out a continual stream of propaganda in an attempt to discredit Marxism - particularly the dialectic. This has especially been the case since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the ferocious ideological offensive against Marxism, communism, revolution, and such like. "Marxism is dead", they repeatedly proclaim like some religious incantation. But Marxism refuses to lie down in front of these witch doctors! Marxism reflects the unconscious will of the working class to change society. Its fate is linked to that of the proletariat.
The apologists of capitalism, together with their shadows in the labour movement, constantly assert that their system is a natural and permanent form of society. On the other hand, the dialect asserts that nothing is permanent and all things perish in time. Such a revolutionary philosophy constitutes a profound threat to the capitalist system and therefore must be discredited at all cost.

This explains the daily churning out of anti-Marxist propaganda. But each real step forward in science and knowledge serves to confirm the correctness of the dialectic. For millions of people the growing crisis of capitalism increasingly demonstrates the validity of Marxism. The objective situation is forcing working people to seek a way out of the impasse. "Life teaches", remarked Lenin. Today, to use the famous words of the Communist Manifesto, "A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of communism."
In the fight for the emancipation of the working class, Marxism also wages a relentless war against capitalism and its ideology, which defends and justifies its system of exploitation, the "market economy". But Marxism does more than this.

Marxism provides the working class with "an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression." (Lenin) It seeks to reveal the real relationships that exist under capitalism and arms the working class with an understanding of how it can achieve its own emancipation. Dialectical materialism, to use the words of the Russian Marxist Plekhanov, is more than an outlook, it is a "philosophy of action."

The Limits of Formal logic

Men and women attempt to think in a rational manner. Logic (from the Greek logos, meaning word or reason) is the science of the laws of thinking. Whatever thoughts we think, and whatever language they are expressed in, they must satisfy the requirements of reasoning. These requirements give rise to laws of thought, to the principles of logic.

It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 - 322BC) more than 2,000 years ago who formulated the present system of formal logic - a system that is the basis of our educational establishments to this very day. He categorised the method of how we should reason correctly and how statements are combined to arrive at judgements, and from them, how conclusions are drawn. He laid down three basic laws of logic: the principle of Identity (A = A), of contradiction (A cannot be A and not-A), and the excluded middle (A is either A or non-A; there is no middle alternative).
Formal logic has held sway for more than two millennia and was the basis of experiment and the great advances of modern science. The development of mathematics was based on this logic. You cannot teach a child to add up without it. One plus one equals two, not three. Formal logic may seem like common sense and is responsible for the execution of a million and one everyday things, but - and this is the big but - it has its limits.

 When dealing with drawn out processes or complicated events, formal logic becomes a totally inadequate way of thinking. This is particularly the case in dealing with movement, change and contradiction. Formal logic regards things as fixed and motionless. Of course, this is not to deny the everyday usefulness of formal logic, on the contrary, but we need to recognise it limits.
"The dialectic is neither fiction or mysticism," wrote Leon Trotsky, "but a science of the forms of our thinking insofar as it is not limited to the daily problems of life but attempts to arrive at an understanding of more complicated and drawn-out processes. The dialectic and formal logic bear a relationship similar to that between higher and lower mathematics." (The ABC of Materialist Dialectics)
With the development of modern science, the system of classification (of Linnaeus) was based on formal logic, where all living things were divided into species and orders. This constituted a great leap forward for biology compared to the past. However, it was a fixed and rigid system, with its rigid categories, which over time revealed its limits. Darwin in particular showed that through evolution it was possible for one species to be transformed into another species. Consequently, the rigid system of classification had to be changed to allow for this new understanding of reality.
In effect, the system of formal logic broke down. It could not cope with these contradictions. On the other hand, dialectics - the logic of change - explains that there are no absolute or fixed categories in nature or society. Engels had great fun in pointing to the duck-billed platypus, this transitional form, and asking where it fitted into the rigid scheme of things!
Only dialectical materialism can explain the laws of evolution and change, which sees the world not as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, which go through an uninterrupted transformation of coming into being and passing away. For Hegel, the old logic was exactly like a child's game, which sought to make pictures out of jigsaw pieces. "The fundamental flaw in vulgar thought", wrote Trotsky, "lies in the fact that it wishes to content itself with motionless imprints of reality which consists of eternal motion."
Before we look at the main laws of dialectical materialism, let us take a look at the origins of the materialist outlook.

Materialism versus idealism

"The philosophy of Marxism is materialism", wrote Lenin. Philosophy itself fits into two great ideological camps: materialism and idealism. Before we proceed, even these terms need an explanation. To begin with, materialism and idealism have nothing whatsoever in common with their everyday usage, where materialism is associated with material greed and swindling (in short, the morality of present-day capitalism) and idealism with high ideals and virtue. Far from it!
Philosophical materialism is the outlook which explains that there is only one material world. There is no Heaven or Hell. The universe, which has always existed and is not the creation of any supernatural being, is in the process of constant flux. Human beings are a part of nature, and evolved from lower forms of life, whose origins sprung from a lifeless planet some 3.6 billion or so years ago.

With the evolution of life, at a certain stage, came the development of animals with a nervous system, and eventually human beings with a large brain. With humans emerged human thought and consciousness. The human brain alone is capable of producing general ideas, i.e., thinking. Therefore matter, which existed eternally, existed and still exists independently of the mind and human beings.

Things existed long before any awareness of them arose or could have arisen on the part of living organisms.
For materialists there is no consciousness apart from the living brain, which is part of a material body. A mind without a body is an absurdity. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is the highest product of matter. Ideas are simply a reflection of the independent material world that surrounds us. Things reflected in a mirror do not depend on this reflection for their existence. "All ideas are taken from experience, are reflections - true or distorted - of reality," states Engels. Or to use the words of Marx, "Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life."
Marxists do not deny that mind, consciousness, thought, will, feeling or sensation are real. What materialists deny is that the thing called "the mind" exists separately from the body. Mind is not distinct from the body. Thinking is the product of the brain, which is the organ of thought.
Yet this does not mean that our consciousness is a lifeless mirror of nature. Human beings relate to their surroundings; they are aware of their surroundings and react accordingly; in turn, the environment reacts back upon them. While rooted in material conditions, human beings generalise and think creatively. They in turn change their material surroundings.
On the other hand, philosophical idealism states that the material world is not real but is simply the reflection of the world of ideas. There are different forms of idealism, but all essentially explain that ideas are primary and matter, if it exists at all, secondary. For the idealists, ideas are dissevered from matter, from nature.

This is Hegel's conception of the Absolute Idea or what amounts to God. Philosophical idealism opens the road, in one way or another, to the defence of or support for religion and superstition. Not only is this outlook false, it is also profoundly conservative, leading us to the pessimistic conclusion that we can never understand the "mysterious ways" of the world. Whereas materialism understands that human beings not only observe the real world, but can change it, and in doing so, change themselves.
The idealist view of the world grew out of the division of labour between physical and mental labour. This division constituted an enormous advance as it freed a section of society from physical work and allowed them the time to develop science and technology. However, the further removed from physical labour, the more abstract became their ideas.

And when thinkers separate their ideas from the real world, they become increasingly consumed by abstract "pure thought" and end up with all types of fantasies. Today, cosmology is dominated by complex abstract mathematical conceptions, which have led to all sorts of weird and wonderful erroneous theories: the Big Bang, beginning of time, parallel universes, etc. Every break with practice leads to a one-sided idealism.
The materialist outlook has a long history stretching back to the ancient Greeks of Anaxagoras (c.500 - 428 BC) and Democritus (c.460 - c.370 BC). With the collapse of Ancient Greece, this rational outlook was cut across for a whole historical epoch, and only after the reawakening of thought following the demise of the Christian Middle Ages was there a revival of philosophy and natural science. From the seventeenth century, the home of modern materialism was England. "The real progenitor of English materialism is Bacon," wrote Marx. The materialism of Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626) was then systemised and developed by Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679), whose ideas were in turn developed by John Locke (1632 - 1704).

The latter already thought it possible that matter could posses the faculty of thinking. It is no accident that these advances in human thought coincided with the rise of the bourgeoisie and great advances in science, particularly mechanics, astronomy and medicine. These great thinkers in turn provided the breakthrough for the brilliant school of French materialists of the eighteenth century, most notably René Descartes (1596 - 1650).
It was their materialism and rationalism that became the creed of the Great French Revolution of 1789. These revolutionary thinkers recognised no external authority. Everything from religion to natural science, from society to political institutions, was subjected to the most searching criticism. Reason became the measure of everything.
This materialist philosophy, consistently championed by Holbach (1723 - 1789) and Helvetius, was a revolutionary philosophy. "The universe is the vast unity of everything that is, everywhere it shows us only matter in movement," states Holbach. "This is all that there is and it displays only an infinite and continuous chain of causes and actions; some of these causes we know, since they immediately strike our senses; others we do not know since they act on us only by means of consequences, quite remote from first causes."
This rational philosophy was an ideological reflection of the revolutionary bourgeoisie's struggle against the church, the aristocracy and the absolute monarchy. It represented a fierce attack on the ideology of the Old Order. In the end, the kingdom of Reason became nothing more than the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie. Bourgeois property became one of the essential rights of man. The revolutionary materialists paved the way for the new bourgeois society and the domination of new private property forms. "Different times, different circumstances, a different philosophy," stated Denis Diderot (1713 - 1784).
The new materialism, although a revolutionary advance, tended to be very rigid and mechanical. These new philosophers attacked the church and denied the self-sufficiency of the soul and held that man was simply a material body as all other animals and inorganic bodies. Man was regarded as a more complex and more delicate mechanism than other bodies. According to La Mettrie (1709 - 1751) in his principal work Man the Machine, "We are instruments endowed with feeling and memory."
For the French materialists the origin of knowledge - the discovery of objective truth - lay through the action of nature on our senses. The planets and man's place within the solar system and nature itself was fixed. For them, it was a clockwork world, where everything had its logical static place, and where the impulse for movement came from outside. The whole approach, while materialist, was mechanical, and failed to grasp the living reality of the world. It could not grasp the universe as a process, as matter undergoing continuous change. This weakness led to the false dichotomy between the material world and the world of ideas. And this dualism opened the door to idealism.
Others held to a monist view that the universe was one system which was not pure spirit or pure matter. Spinoza was the first to work out such a system. While he saw the need for a God, the universe was one system, which was wholly material from end to end.

Dialectics and Metaphysics

The Marxist view of the world is not only materialist, but also dialectical. For its critics, the dialectic is portrayed as something totally mystical, and therefore irrelevant. But this is certainly not the case. The dialectical method is simply an attempt to understand more clearly our real interdependent world. Dialectics, states Engels in Anti-Duhring, "is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought." Put simply, it is the logic of motion.
It is obvious to most people that we do not live in a static world. In fact, everything in nature is in a state of constant change.

 "Motion is the mode of existence of matter," states Engels. "Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be." The earth revolves continually around its axis, and in turn itself revolves around the sun. This results in day and night, and the different seasons that we experience throughout the year. We are born, grow up, grow old and eventually die. Everything is moving, changing, either rising and developing or declining and dying away. Any equilibrium is only relative, and only has meaning in relation to other forms of motion.
"When we consider and reflect upon nature at large or the history of mankind or our own intellectual activity, at first we see the picture of an endless entanglement of relations and reactions, permutations and combinations, in which nothing remains what, where, and as it was, but everything moves, changes, comes into being, and passes away," remarks Engels.
 "We see, therefore, at first the picture as a whole, with its individual parts still more or less kept in the background; we observe the movements, transitions, connections rather than the things that move, combine, and are connected. This primitive, naïve but intrinsically correct conception of the world is that of ancient Greek philosophy, and was first clearly formulated by Heraclitus: everything is and is not, for everything is fluid, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away."
The Greeks made a whole series of revolutionary discoveries and advances in natural science. Anaximander made a map of the world, and wrote a book on cosmology, from which only a few fragments survive. The Antikythera mechanism, as it is called, appears to be the remains of a clockwork planetarium dating back to the first century BC. Given the limited knowledge of the time, many were anticipations and inspired guesses. Under slave society, these brilliant inventions could not be put to productive use and were simply regarded as playthings for amusement.

The real advances in natural science took place in the mid-fifteenth century. The new methods of investigation meant the division of nature into its individual parts, allowing objects and processes to be classified. While this provided massive amount of data, objects were analysed in isolation and not in their living environment. This produced a narrow, rigid, metaphysical mode of thought that has become the hallmark of empiricism. "The Facts" became the all important feature. "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life," states the Dickensian character Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times.
"To the metaphysician things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once and for all", states Engels. "He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. 'His communication is "yea, yea; nay, nay"; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.' For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in rigid antithesis one to another.
"At first sight this mode of thinking seems to us very luminous, because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is, in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. And the metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and necessary as it is in a number of domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the particular object of investigation, sooner or later reaches a limit beyond which it becomes one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions. In the contemplation of individual things it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence it forgets the beginning and the end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees."
Engels goes on to explain that for everyday purposes we know whether an animal is alive or not. But upon closer examination, we are forced to recognise that is not a simple straightforward question. On the contrary, it is a complex question. There are raging debates even today as to when life begins in the mothers' womb. Likewise, it is just as difficult to say when the exact moment of death occurs, as physiology proves that death is not a single instantaneous act, but a protracted process.

In the brilliant words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, "It is the same thing in us that is living and dead, asleep and awake, young and old; each changes place and becomes the other. We step and we do not step into the same stream; we are and we are not."
Not everything is as appears on the surface of things. Every species, every aspect of organic life, is every moment the same and not the same. It develops by assimilating matter from without and simultaneously discards other unwanted matter; continually some cells die, while others are renewed. Over time, the body is completely transformed, renewed from top to bottom. Therefore, every organic entity is both itself and yet something other than itself.
This phenomenon cannot be explained by metaphysical thought or formal logic. This approach is incapable of explaining contradiction. This contradictory reality does not enter the realm of common sense reasoning. Dialectics, on the other hand, comprehends things in their connection, development, and motion. As far as Engels was concerned, "Nature is the proof of dialectics."
Here is how Engels described the rich processes of change in his book the Dialectics of Nature:
"Matter moves in an eternal cycle, completing its trajectory in a period so vast that in comparison with it our earthly year is as nothing; in a cycle in which the period of highest development, namely the period of organic life with its crowning achievement - self-consciousness, is a space just as comparatively minute in the history of life and self-consciousness; in a cycle in which every particular form of the existence of matter - be it the sun or a nebular, a particular animal or animal-species, a chemical combination or decomposition - is equally in transition; in a cycle in which nothing is eternal, except eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws of its movement and change.

But however often and pitilessly this cycle may be accomplished in time and space, however many countless suns and earths may arise and fall, however long it may be necessary to wait until in some solar system, on some planet appear conditions suitable for organic life, however many countless beings may fall and rise before, out of their midst, develop animals with a thinking brain that find an environment that permits them to live, be it even only for a short period, we are, nevertheless, assured that matter in all its changes remains eternally one and the same, that not one of its attributes may perish, and that that same iron necessity which compels the destruction of the highest early bloom of matter - the thinking spirit - also necessitates its rebirth at some other place, at some other time."
Along with, and following the French philosophy of the eighteenth century, arose a new radical German philosophy. Through Emmanuel Kant, the culmination of this philosophy was epitomised by the system of George F. Hegel, who had greatly admired the French Revolution. Hegel, although an idealist, was the most encyclopaedic mind of his age. The great contribution of this genius was the rescuing of the dialectical mode of thought originally developed by the ancient Greek philosophers some 2,000 years before.
"Changes in being consist not only in the fact that one quantity passes into another quantity, but also that quality passes into quantity, and vice versa," wrote Hegel. "Each transition of the latter kind represents an interruption, and gives the phenomenon a new aspect, qualitatively distinct from the previous one.
 Thus water when cooled grows hard, not gradually… but all at once; having already cooled to freezing-point, it can still remain a liquid only if preserves a tranquil condition, and then the slightest shock is sufficient for it suddenly to become hard… In the world of moral phenomena… there take place the same changes of quantitative into qualitative, and differences in qualities there also are founded upon quantitative differences.

Thus, a little less, a little more constitutes that limit beyond which frivolity ceases and there appears something quite different, crime…" (Science of Logic)
Hegel's works are full of references and examples of dialectics. Unfortunately, Hegel was not only an idealist, but wrote in the most obscure and abstruse fashion imaginable, making his works very difficult to read. Lenin, while re-reading Hegel in exile during the First World War, wrote: "I am in general trying to read Hegel materialistically: Hegel is materialism which has been stood on its head (according to Engels) - that is to say, I cast aside for the most part God, the Absolute, the Pure Idea, etc." Lenin was greatly impressed by Hegel, and, despite his idealism, later recommended that young communists study his writings for themselves.
The young Marx and Engels were followers of the great Hegel. They learned a colossal amount from this teacher. He opened their eyes to a new outlook on the world epitomised by the dialectic. By embracing the dialectic, Hegel freed history from metaphysics. For the dialectic, there is nothing final, absolute, or sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything. However, Hegel was limited by his knowledge, the knowledge of his age, and the fact he was an idealist.

He regarded thoughts within the brain not as more or less abstract pictures of real things and processes, but as realisations of the "Absolute Idea", existing from eternity. Hegel's idealism turned reality on its head.
Nevertheless, Hegel systematically outlined the important laws of change, touched upon earlier.

The law of quantity into quality (and vice versa)

"It has been said that there are no sudden leaps in nature, and it is a common notion that things have their origin through gradual increase or decrease," states Hegel. "But there is also such a thing as sudden transformation from quantity to quality. For example, water does not become gradually hard on cooling, becoming first pulpy and ultimately attaining a rigidity of ice, but turns hard at once. If temperature be lowered to a certain degree, the water is suddenly changed into ice, i.e., the quantity - the number of degrees of temperature - is transformed into quality - a change in the nature of the thing." (Logic)
This is the cornerstone of understanding change. Change or evolution does not take place gradually in a straight smooth line. Marx compared the social revolution to an old mole burrowing busily beneath the ground, invisible for long periods, but steadily undermining the old order and later emerging into the light in a sudden overturn. Even Charles Darwin believed that his theory of evolution was essentially gradual and that the gaps in the fossil record did not represent any breaks or leaps in evolution, and would be "filled in" by further discoveries. In this Darwin was wrong.

Today, new theories, essentially dialectical, have been put forward to explain the leaps in evolution. Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge termed their dialectical theory of evolution "punctuated equilibria". They explained that there were long periods of evolution where there were no apparent changes taking place, then suddenly, a new life form or forms emerged. In other words, quantitative differences gave rise to a qualitative change, leading to new species. The whole of development is characterised by breaks in continuity, leaps, catastrophes and revolutions.
The emergence of single-cellular life in the earth's oceans some 3.6 billion years ago was a qualitative leap in the evolution of matter. The "Cambrian explosion", some 600 million years ago, where complex multicellular life with hard parts exploded onto the scene was a further qualitative leap forward in evolution. In the lower Palaeozoic, some 400 to 500 million years ago, the first vertebrate fish emerged.

This revolutionary design became dominant and advanced through the amphibians (which lived both in water and on land), through reptiles, and finally branched off into warm-blooded creatures: birds and mammals. Such revolutionary leaps culminated in human beings that have the capacity to think. Evolution is a long process whereby an accumulation of changes inside and outside the organism leads to a leap, a qualitatively higher state of development.
Just as colossal subterranean pressures that accumulate and periodically break through the earth's crust in the form of earthquakes, so gradual changes in the consciousness of workers lead to an explosion in the class struggle. A strike in a factory is not caused by outside "agitators", but is produced by an accumulation of changes within the factory that finally pushes the workforce to strike. The "cause" of the strike maybe something quite small and incidental, a tea-break for instance, but it has become "the last straw that breaks the camel's back", to use a popular (dialectical) expression. It has become the catalyst whereby quantity changes into quality.
Today, a whole series of left wing electoral victories within the British trade unions are a product of a long accumulation of discontent within the union rank and file. Twenty years of bitter attacks on the working class has resulted in these changes at the top of the trade unions. Only those armed with a Marxist philosophy could foresee this development, which is rooted in the changing objective situation.

These changes of mood, which are already taking place in the trade unions, will inevitably be reflected within the Labour Party at a certain stage that will result in the demise of the right wing under Blair. The ultra-lefts on the fringes of the Labour movement have continually written off the Labour Party as something that could never be changed.

 They are incapable of thinking dialectically, and have an empirical and formalistic outlook that only sees the surface of reality. They fail to draw a distinction between appearance and reality - between the immediate appearance evident to observation and the hidden processes, interconnections and laws that underlie the observed facts. In other words, they are blind to the subterranean processes taking place before their very eyes. "Blairism dominates the Labour Party!" they exclaim and throw up their hands in despair.

They are under the spell of formal logic, and do not understand the process at work that will inevitably undermine Blairism, and lead to its collapse, as night follows day. As they wrote off the right wing unions in the past, they write off the Labour Party today. On the basis of events and the pressures of the leftward moving trade union movement, the Labour Party, given its roots in the trade unions, will inevitably move in a similar direction.
Marx stressed that the task of science is always to proceed from the immediate knowledge of appearances to the discovery of reality, of the essence, of the laws underlying the appearances. Marx's Capital is a fine example of this method. "The way of thinking of the vulgar economists", wrote Marx to Engels, "derives from the fact that it is always only the immediate form in which relationships appear which is reflected in the brain, and not their inner connections." (June 27, 1867)
The same could be said of those who in the past wrote off the Soviet Union as "state capitalist". Stalinism had nothing in common with socialism; it was a repressive regime, where workers had less rights than in the west. However, instead of a scientific analysis of the Soviet Union, they simply pronounced it state capitalist. As Trotsky explained the theorists of state capitalism looked at the USSR through the eyes of formal logic. It was either-or, black or white. The USSR was either a wonderful socialist state, as the Stalinists said, or it must be a (state) capitalist state. Such thinking is pure formalism.

They never understood the possibility of a degeneration of the workers' state into a chronically deformed variant of proletarian rule, as explained by Trotsky. It is clear that the revolution, due to its isolation in a backward country, went through a process of degeneration. However, while the nationalised planned economy remained, not everything was lost. The bureaucracy was not a new ruling class, but a parasitic growth on the state, which usurped political power. Only a new political revolution could eliminate the bureaucracy and reintroduce soviets and workers' democracy.
The supporters of state capitalism tied themselves in knots, confusing counterrevolution with revolution and vice versa. In Afghanistan, they supported the reactionary fundamentalist mujahideen as "freedom fighters" against Russian "imperialism". With the collapse of the USSR and the move to restore capitalism from 1991 onwards, they remained neutral in face of real capitalist counterrevolution.

The unity of Opposites

"The contradiction, however, is the source of all movement and life; only in so far as it contains a contradiction can anything have movement, power, and effect." (Hegel). "In brief", states Lenin, "dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics…"
The world in which we live is a unity of contradictions or a unity of opposites: cold-heat, light-darkness, Capital-Labour, birth-death, riches-poverty, positive-negative, boom-slump, thinking-being, finite-infinite, repulsion-attraction, left-right, above-below, evolution-revolution, chance-necessity, sale-purchase, and so on.
The fact that two poles of a contradictory antithesis can manage to coexist as a whole is regarded in popular wisdom as a paradox. The paradox is a recognition that two contradictory, or opposite, considerations may both be true. This is a reflection in thought of a unity of opposites in the material world.
Motion, space and time are nothing else but the mode of existence of matter. Motion, as we have explained is a contradiction, - being in one place and another at the same time. It is a unity of opposites. "Movement means to be in this place and not to be in it; this is the continuity of space and time - and it is this which first makes motion possible." (Hegel)
To understand something, its essence, it is necessary to seek out these internal contradictions. Under certain circumstances, the universal is the individual, and the individual is the universal. That things turn into their opposites, - cause can become effect and effect can become cause - is because they are merely links in the never-ending chain in the development of matter.
"The negative is to an equal extent positive," states Hegel. Dialectical thought is "comprehending the antithesis in its unity." In fact Hegel goes further:
"Contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality, and it is only insofar as it contains a Contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity…Something moves, not because it is here at one point of time and there at another, but because at one and the same point of time it is here and not here, and in this here both is and is not. We must grant the old dialecticians the contradictions which they prove in motion; but what follows is not that there is no motion, but rather that motion is existent Contradiction itself." Therefore for Hegel, something is living insofar as it contains contradiction, which provides it with self-movement.
The Greek atomists first advanced the revolutionary theory that the material world was made up of atoms, considered the smallest unit of matter. The Greek word atomos means indivisible. This was a brilliant intuitive guess. Twentieth century science proved that everything was composed of atoms, although it was subsequently discovered that even smaller particles existed. Every atom contains a nucleus at its centre, composed of sub-atomic particles called protons and neutrons. Orbiting around the nucleus are particles known as electrons.

All protons carry a positive electrical charge, and would therefore repel each other, but they are bound together by a type of energy known as the strong nuclear force. This shows that everything that exists is based on a unity of opposites and has self-movement of "impulse and activity", to use Hegel's words.
In humans, the level of blood sugar is essential for life. Too high a level is likely to result in diabetic coma, too little and the person is incapable of eating. This safe level is regulated by the rate at which sugar is released into the bloodstream by the digestion of carbohydrates, the rate at which stored glycogen, fat or protein is converted into sugar, and the rate at which sugar is removed and utilised.

If the blood sugar level rises, then the rate of utilisation is increased by the release of more insulin from the pancreas. If it falls, more sugar is released into the blood, or the person gets hungry and consumes a source of sugar. In this self-regulation of opposing forces, of positive and negative feedbacks, the blood level is kept within tolerable limits.
Lenin explains this self-movement in a note when he says, "Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they become identical - under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another - why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another."
Lenin also laid great stress on the importance of contradiction as the motive force of development.
"It is common knowledge that, in any given society, the strivings of some of its members conflict with the strivings of others, that social life is full of contradictions, and that history reveals a struggle between nations and societies, as well as within nations and societies, and, besides, an alternation of periods of revolution and reaction, peace and war, stagnation and rapid progress or decline." (Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism).
This is best illustrated by the class struggle. Capitalism requires a capitalist class and a working class. The struggle over the surplus value created by the workers and expropriated by the capitalists leads to an irreconcilable struggle that will provide the basis for the eventual overthrow of capitalism, and the resolution of the contradiction through the abolition of classes.

The Negation of the Negation

The general pattern of historical development is not one of a straight line upward, but of a complex interaction in which each step forward is only achieved at the cost of a partial step backwards. These regressions, in turn, are remedied at the next stage of development.
The law of the negation of the negation explains the repetition at a higher level of certain features and properties of the lower level and the apparent return of past features. There is a constant struggle between form and content and between content and form, resulting in the eventual shattering of the old form and the transformation of the content.
This whole process can be best pictured as a spiral, where the movement comes back to the position it started, but at a higher level. In other words, historical progress is achieved through a series of contradictions. Where the previous stage is negated, this does not represent its total elimination. It does not wipe out completely the stage that it supplants.
"The capitalist method of appropriation, which springs from the capitalist method of production, and therefore capitalist private property, is the first negation of individual private property based on one's own labour. But capitalist production begets with the inevitableness of a natural process its own negation. It is the negation of the negation," remarked Marx in volume one of Capital.
Engels explains a whole series of examples to illustrate the negation of the negation in his book Anti-Duhring. "Let us take a grain of barley. Millions of such grains of barley are milled, boiled and brewed and then consumed. But if such a grain of barley meets with conditions which for it are normal, if it falls on suitable soil, then under the influence of heat and moisture a specific change takes place, it germinates; the grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain.

 But what is the normal life-process of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilised and finally once more produces grains of barley, and, as soon as these have ripened, the stalk dies, is in its turn negated. As a result of this negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten, twenty or thirty fold."
The barley lives and evolves by means of returning to its starting point - but at a higher level. One seed has produced many. Also over time, plants have evolved qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Successive generations have shown variations, and become more adapted to their environment.
Engels gives a further example from the insect world. "Butterflies, for example, spring from the egg through a negation of the egg, they pass through certain transformations until they reach sexual maturity, they pair and are in turn negated, dying as soon as the pairing process has been completed and the female has laid its numerous eggs."

Hegel and Marx

Hegel, who had a giant intellect, illuminated a great many things. It was a debt that Marx repeatedly recognised. "The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner," states Marx. Nevertheless, Hegel's philosophical system was a huge miscarriage. It suffered from an incurable internal contradiction.

Hegel's conception of history is an evolutionary one, where there is nothing final or eternal. However, his system laid claim to being the absolute truth, in complete contradiction to the laws of dialectical thought. While Hegel defended the status quo in Germany, the dialectic embraced a revolutionary view of constant change. For Hegel, all that was real was rational. But using the Hegelian dialectic, all that is real will become irrational. All that exists deserves to perish. In this lay the revolutionary significance of the Hegelian philosophy.
The solution of this contradiction led back to materialism, but not the old mechanical materialism, but one based upon the new sciences and advances. "Materialism rose again enriched by all the acquisitions of idealism. The most important of these acquisitions was the dialectical method, the examination of phenomena in their development, in their origin and destruction. The genius who represented this new direction of thought was Karl Marx," writes Plekhanov. Spurred on by revolutionary developments in Europe in 1830-31, the Hegelian School split into left, right and centre.
The most prominent representative of the Hegelian Left was Ludwig Feuerbach who challenged the old orthodoxy, especially religion, and placed materialism at the centre of things again. "Nature has no beginning and no end. Everything in it is in mutual interaction, everything at once effect and cause, everything in it is all-sided and reciprocal…" writes Feuerbach, adding that there is no place there for God. "Christians tear out the spirit, the soul, of man out of his body and make this torn-out, disembodied spirit into their God." Despite Feuerbach's limitations, Marx and Engels welcomed the new breakthrough with enthusiasm.
"But in the meantime", noted Engels, "the Revolution of 1848 thrust the whole of philosophy aside as unceremoniously as Feuerbach himself was also pushed into the background." It was left to Marx and Engels to consistently apply the dialectic to the new materialism, producing dialectical materialism. For them, the new philosophy was not an abstract philosophy, but directly linked to practice.

"Dialectics reduces itself to the science of the general laws of motion, both of the external world and of human thought - two sets of laws which are identical in substance, but differ in their expression in so far as the human mind can apply them consciously, while in nature and also up to now for the most part in human history, these laws assert themselves unconsciously, in the form of external necessity, in the midst of an endless series of seeming accidents." (Engels)
Neither Marx nor Engels left behind them a comprehensive book on dialectics as such. Marx was preoccupied with Capital. Engels intended to write such a book, but was overtaken by the need to complete Capital after Marx's death. He nevertheless wrote quite extensively on the subject, especially in Anti-Dühring and the Dialectics of Nature.

Lenin commentated, "If Marx did not leave behind him a 'Logic' (with a capital letter), he did leave the logic of Capital, and this ought to be utilised to the full. In Capital, Marx applied to a single science logic, dialectics and the theory of knowledge of materialism (three words are not needed: it is one and the same thing) which has taken everything valuable in Hegel and developed it further."
Today, a small number of scientists, mainly from the natural sciences, have become conscious of the dialectic, which has opened their eyes to problems in their specialised fields. This relationship between science and dialectical materialism has been fully discussed in the book by Alan Woods and Ted Grant Reason in Revolt. They showed, along with Engels, that nature is completely dialectical. Apart from Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge, Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin, who regard themselves as dialectical materialists, have also written about the application of the dialectic to the field of biology in their book The Dialectical Biologist:
"What characterises the dialectical world, in all its aspects, as we have described it is that it is constantly in motion. Constants become variables, causes become effects, and systems develop, destroying the conditions that gave rise to them. Even elements that appear to be stable are in a dynamic equilibrium of forces that can suddenly become unbalanced, as when a dull grey lump of metal of a critical size becomes a fireball brighter than a thousand suns.

Yet the motion is not unconstrained and uniform. Organisms develop and differentiate, then die and disintegrate. Species arise but inevitably become extinct. Even in the simple physical world we know of no uniform motion. Even the earth rotating on its axis has slowed down in geological time. The development of systems through time, then, seems to be the consequence of opposing forces and opposing motions.

"This appearance of opposing forces has given rise to the most debated and difficult, yet the most central, concept in dialectical thought, the principle of contradiction. For some, contradiction is an epistemic principle only. It describes how we come to understand the world by a history of antithetical theories that, in contradiction to each other and in contradiction to observed phenomena, lead to a new view of nature. Kuhn's (1962) theory of scientific revolution has some of this flavour of continual contradiction and resolution, giving way to new contradiction.

For others, contradiction becomes an ontological property at least of human social existence. For us, contradiction is not only epistemic and political, but also ontological in the broadest sense. Contradictions between forces are everywhere in nature, not only in human social institutions. This tradition of dialectics goes back to Engels (1880) who wrote, in Dialectics of Nature, that 'to me there could be no question of building the laws of dialectics of nature, but of discovering them in it and evolving them from it.'" (The Dialectical Biologist, p.279)
Marxists have always stressed the unity of theory and practice. "Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it", as Marx pointed to in his thesis on Feuerbach. "If the truth is abstract it must be untrue," states Hegel. All truth is concrete. We have to look at things as they exist, with a view to understanding their underlying contradictory development. This has very important conclusions, especially for those fighting to change society. Unlike the Utopian socialists who viewed socialism as a wonderful idea, Marxists see the development of socialism as arising out of the contradictions of capitalism.

Capitalist society has prepared the material basis for a classless society with its highly developed productive forces and its world division of labour. It has brought into being the working class, whose very life existence brings it into conflict with capitalism. On the basis of experience, it will become fully conscious of its position in society and it will be transformed, in the words of Marx, from a "class in-itself" to a "class for-itself".
Dialectics bases itself on determinism, but this has nothing in common with fatalism which denies the existence of accident in nature, society and thought. Dialectical determinism asserts the unity of necessity and accident, and explains that necessity expresses itself through accident. All events have causes, necessary events and accidental ones alike.

 If there were no causal laws in nature everything would be in a state of utter chaos. It would be an impossible position where nothing could exist. So everything is dependent upon everything else, as in a continuous chain of cause and effect. Particular events always have a chance or accidental character, but these arise only as the result of a deeper necessity. In fact, necessity manifests itself through a series of accidents. Without doubt, accidents have their place, but the essential thing is to discover what laws determine this deeper necessity.
From the point of view of superficial observation, everything may appear to be accidental or open to chance. This can appear especially so when we have no knowledge of the laws that govern change and their interconnections. "Where on the surface accident holds sway, there actually it is always governed by inner, hidden laws and it is only a matter of discovering these laws," remarked Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach.
In nature, the evolution of matter follows a certain path, although how, when, and in what form this is realised, depends upon accidental circumstances. For example, whether life was created or not on earth depended on a whole series of accidental factors, such as the presence of water, different chemical elements, the earth's distance from the sun, an atmosphere, etc. "It is the nature of matter to advance to the evolution of thinking beings", states Engels, "hence, too, this always necessarily occurs whenever the conditions for it (not necessarily identical at all places and times) are present…what is maintained to be necessary is composed of sheer accidents, and the so-called accidental is the form behind which necessity hides itself."
Superficial historians have written that the First World War was "caused" by the assassination of a Crown Prince at Sarajevo. To a Marxist this event was an historical accident, in the sense that this chance event served as the pretext, or catalyst, for the world conflict which had already been made inevitable by the economic, political and military contradictions of imperialism. If the assassin had missed, or if the Crown Prince had never been born, the war would still have taken place, on some other diplomatic pretext or other. Necessity would have expressed itself through a different "accident".
In the words of Hegel, everything which exists, exists of necessity. But, equally, everything which exists is doomed to perish, to be transformed into something else. Thus what is "necessary" in one time and place becomes "unnecessary" in another. Everything begets its opposite, which is destined to overcome and negate it. This is true of individual living things as much as societies and nature generally.
Every type of human society exists because it is necessary at the given time when it arises: "No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it, have been developed: and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society. Therefore mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve, since, looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or at least are in the process of formation." (Marx, Critique of Political Economy.)
Slavery, in its day, represented an enormous leap forward over barbarism. It was a necessary stage in the development of productive forces, culture and human society. As Hegel brilliantly explained it: "It is not so much from slavery as through slavery that man becomes free."
Similarly capitalism was originally a necessary and progressive stage in human society. However, like primitive communism, slavery, and feudalism, capitalism has long since ceased to represent a necessary and progressive social system. It has foundered upon the deep contradictions inherent in it, and is doomed to be overcome by the rising forces of the new society within the old, represented by the modem proletariat. Private ownership of the means of production and the nation state, the basic features of capitalist society, which originally marked a great step forward, now serve only to fetter and undermine the productive forces and threaten all the gains made in centuries of human development.
Capitalism is now a thoroughly degenerate social system, which must be overthrown and replaced by its opposite, socialism, if human culture is to survive. Marxism is determinist, but not fatalist. Men and women make history. The transformation of society can only be achieved by men and women consciously striving for their own emancipation. This struggle of the classes is not pre-determined. Who succeeds depends on many factors, and a rising, progressive class has many advantages over the old, decrepit force of reaction. But ultimately, the result must depend upon which side has the stronger will, the greater organisation and the most skilful and resolute leadership.
The victory of socialism will mark a new and qualitatively different stage of human history. To be more accurate it will mark the end of the prehistory of the human race, and start a real history.
However on the other hand, socialism marks a return to the earliest form of human society - tribal communism - but on a much higher level, which stands upon all the enormous gains of thousands of years of class society. The negation of primitive communism by class society is in turn negated by socialism.

The economy of superabundance will be made possible by the application of conscious planning to the industry, science and technique established by capitalism, on a world scale. This in turn will once and for all make redundant the division of labour, the difference between mental and manual labour, between town and countryside, and the wasteful and barbaric class struggle and enable the human race at last to set its resources to the conquest of nature: to use Engels' famous phrase, "the leap of man from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom".

IV. From 'Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy'

by Frederick Engels

Out of the dissolution of the Hegelian school, however, there developed still another tendency, the only one which has borne real fruit. And this tendency is essentially connected with the name of Marx.
The separation from Hegelian philosophy was here also the result of a return to the materialist standpoint. That means it was resolved to comprehend the real world - nature and history - just as it presents itself to everyone who approaches it free from preconceived idealist crotchets. It was decided mercilessly to sacrifice every idealist which could not be brought into harmony with the facts conceived in their own and not in a fantastic interconnection.

And materialism means nothing more than this. But here the materialistic world outlook was taken really seriously for the first time and was carried through consistently - at least in its basic features - in all domains of knowledge concerned.
Hegel was not simply put aside. On the contrary, a start was made from his revolutionary side, described above, from the dialectical method. But in its Hegelian form, this method was unusable. According to Hegel, dialectics is the self-development of the concept. The absolute concept does not only exist - unknown where - from eternity, it is also the actual living soul of the whole existing world. It develops into itself through all the preliminary stages which are treated at length in the Logic and which are all included in it.

Then it "alienates" itself by changing into nature, where, unconscious of itself, disguised as a natural necessity, it goes through a new development and finally returns as man's consciousness of himself. This self-consciousness then elaborates itself again in history in the crude form until finally the absolute concept again comes to itself completely in the Hegelian philosophy.

 According to Hegel, therefore, the dialectical development apparent in nature and history - that is, the causal interconnection of the progressive movement from the lower to the higher, which asserts itself through all zigzag movements and temporary retrogression - is only a copy [Abklatsch] of the self-movement of the concept going on from eternity, no one knows where, but at all events independently of any thinking human brain. This ideological perversion had to be done away with. We again took a materialistic view of the thoughts in our heads, regarding them as images [Abbilder] of real things instead of regarding real things as images of this or that stage of the absolute concept.

Thus dialectics reduced itself to the science of the general laws of motion, both of the external world and of human thought - two sets of laws which are identical in substance, but differ in their expression in so far as the human mind can apply them consciously, while in nature and also up to now for the most part in human history, these laws assert themselves unconsciously, in the form of external necessity, in the midst of an endless series of seeming accidents.

Thereby the dialectic of concepts itself became merely the conscious reflex of the dialectical motion of the real world and thus the dialectic of Hegel was turned over; or rather, turned off its head, on which it was standing, and placed upon its feet. And this materialist dialectic, which for years has been our best working tool and our sharpest weapon, was, remarkably enough, discovered not only by us but also, independently of us and even of Hegel, by a German worker, Joseph Dietzgen. (2)
In this way, however, the revolutionary side of Hegelian philosophy was again taken up and at the same time freed from the idealist trimmings which with Hegel had prevented its consistent execution. The great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of readymade things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidentally and of all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end - this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality it is now scarcely ever contradicted.

But to acknowledge this fundamental thought in words and to apply it in reality in detail to each domain of investigation are two different things. If, however, investigation always proceeds from this standpoint, the demand for final solutions and eternal truths ceases once for all; one is always conscious of the necessary limitation of all acquired knowledge, of the fact that it is conditioned by the circumstances in which it was acquired. On the other hand, one no longer permits oneself to be imposed upon by the antithesis, insuperable for the still common old metaphysics, between true and false, good and bad, identical and different, necessary and accidental.

One knows that these antitheses have only a relative validity; that that which is recognized now as true has also its latent false side which will later manifest itself, just as that which is now regarded as false has also its true side by virtue of which it could previously be regarded as true. One knows that what is maintained to be necessary is composed of sheer accidents and that the so-called accidental is the form behind which necessity hides itself - and so on.
The old method of investigation and thought which Hegel calls "metaphysical", which preferred to investigate things as given, as fixed and stable, a method the relics of which still strongly haunt people's minds, had a great deal of historical justification in its day. It was necessary first to examine things before it was possible to examine processes. One had first to know what a particular thing was before one could observe the changes it was undergoing. And such was the case with natural science. The old metaphysics, which accepted things as finished objects, arose from a natural science which investigated dead and living things as finished objects.

But when this investigation had progressed so far that it became possible to take the decisive step forward, that is, to pass on the systematic investigation of the changes which these things undergo in nature itself, then the last hour of the old metaphysic struck in the realm of philosophy also. And in fact, while natural science up to the end of the last century was predominantly a collecting science, a science of finished things, in our century it is essentially a systematizing science, a science of the processes, of the origin and development of these things and of the interconnection which binds all these natural processes into one great whole.

Physiology, which investigates the processes occurring in plant and animal organisms; embryology, which deals with the development of individual organisms from germs to maturity; geology, which investigates the gradual formation of the Earth's surface - all these are the offspring of our century.
Frederick Engels

V.The Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism (extract)

by Lenin
The philosophy of Marxism is materialism. Throughout the recent history of Europe, and particularly at the end of the eighteenth century in France, which was the scene of the decisive battle against every kind of medieval rubbish, against serfdom in institutions and ideas, materialism proved to be the only consistent philosophy, true to all the teachings of natural science, hostile to superstitions, cant, etc. The enemies of democracy tried, therefore, with all their energy, to "overthrow," undermine and defame materialism, and defended various forms of philosophic idealism, which always leads, in one way or another, to the defence and support of religion.
Marx and Engels always defended philosophic materialism in the most determined manner, and repeatedly explained the profound error of every deviation from this basis. Their views are more dearly and fully expounded in the works of Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and Anti-Duhring, which, like the Communist Manifesto, are household books for every conscious worker.
However, Marx did not stop at the materialism of the eighteenth century but moved philosophy forward. He enriched it by the achievements of German classical philosophy especially by Hegel's system, which in its turn had led to the materialism of Feuerbach.

Of these the main achievement is dialectics, i.e., the doctrine of development in its fuller, deeper form, free from one-sidedness-the doctrine, also, of the relativity of human knowledge that provides us with a reflection of eternally developing matter.

The latest discoveries of natural science-radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements-are a remarkable confirmation of the dialectical materialism of Marx, despite the doctrines of bourgeois philosophers with their "new" returns to old and rotten idealism.
While deepening and developing philosophic materialism, Marx carried it to its conclusion; he extended its perception of nature to the perception of human society. The historical materialism of Marx represented the greatest conquest of scientific thought.
Chaos and arbitrariness, which reigned until then in the views on history and politics, were replaced by a strikingly consistent and harmonious scientific theory, which shows how out of one order of social life another and higher order develops, in consequence of the growth of the productive forces - how capitalism, for instance, grows out of serfdom.
Just as the cognition of man reflects nature (i.e., developing matter) which exists independently of him, so also the social cognition of man (i.e., the various views and doctrines-philosophic, religious, political, etc.) reflects the economic order of society. Political institutions are a superstructure on the economic foundation. We see, for example, that the various political forms of modern European states serve the purpose of strengthening the domination of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat.
The philosophy of Marx completes in itself philosophic materialism which has provided humanity, and especially the working class, with a powerful instrument of knowledge.

 VI. Lenin's Collected Works

Volume 38, p359:

On the Question of Dialectics

The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts is the essence (one of the "essentials", one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter.
The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science. This aspect of dialectics (e.g. in Plekhanov) usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples ("for example, a seed", "for example, primitive communism". The same is true of Engels. But it is "in the interests of popularisation ...") and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world.)
In mathematics: + and -, differential and integral,
In mechanics: action and reaction,
In physics: positive and negative electricity,
In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms,
In social science: the class struggle.
The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their "unity", - although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their "self-movement", in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites.

Development is the "struggle" of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation)! .
In the first conception of motion, self-movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external - God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of "self"-movement.
The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the "self-movement" of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to "leaps", to the "break in continuity," to the transformation into the opposite", to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.
The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.
NB: The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.
In his Capital, Marx first analyses the simplest, most ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois (commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz., the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this "cell" of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the Sum of its individual parts. From its beginning to its end.
Such must also be the method of exposition (or study) of dialectics in general (for with Marx the dialectics of bourgeois society is only a particular case of dialectics). To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., with any proposition: the leaves of a tree are green; John is a man: Fido is a dog, etc. Here already we have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognised); the individual is the universal.
Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes) etc.

Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other.
Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as in a "nucleus" (:cell") the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general.
And natural science shows us (and here again it must be demonstrated in any simple instance) objective nature with the same qualities, the transformation of the individual into the universal, of the contingent into the necessary, transitions, modulations, and the reciprocal connection of opposites. Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism. This is the "aspect" of the matter (it is not "an aspect" but the essence of the matter) to which Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention.
Knowledge is represented in the form of a series of circles both by Hegel (see Logic) and by the modern epistemologists" of natural science, the eclectic and foe of Hegelianism (which he did not understand!!), Paul Volkmann.
"Circles" in philosophy: [is a chronology of persons - essential? No!
Ancient: from Democritus to Plato and the dialectics of Heraclitus.
Renaissance: Descartes versus Gassendi (Spinoza?)
Modern: Holbach-Hegel (via Berkeley, Hume, Kant).
Hegel - Feuerbach - Marx

Dialectics as living, many-sided knowledge (with the number of sides eternally increasing), with an infinite number of shades of every approach and approximation to reality (with a philosophical system growing into a whole out of each shade) - here we have an immeasurably rich content as compared with metaphysical materialism, the fundamental misfortune of which is its inability to apply dialectics to the theory of reflection, to the process and development of knowledge.
Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, development (inflation, distension) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge, into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. True. But philosophical idealism is ("more correctly" and "in addition") a road to clerical obscurantism through one of the shades of the infinitely complex knowledge (dialectical) of man.
Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete, straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes).

Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness - voila the epistemological roots of idealism. And clerical obscurantism (= philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge.

VII.VOLUME 38, pp 221 - 222
Summary of Dialectics
by Lenin

1) The determination of the concept out of itself [the thing itself must be considered in its relations and in its development];
2) the contradictory nature of the thing itself (the other of itself), the contradictory forces and tendencies in each phenomenon;
3) the union of analysis and synthesis.
Such apparently are the elements of dialectics.
One could perhaps present these elements in greater detail as follows:
1) the objectivity of consideration (not examples, not divergencies, but the Thing-in-itself).
2) the entire totality of the manifold relations of this thing to others.
3) the development of this thing, (phenomenon, respectively), its own movement, its own life.
4) the internally contradictory tendencies (and sides) in this thing.
5) the thing (phenomenon, etc) as the sum andunity of opposites.

6) the struggle, respectively unfolding, of these opposites, contradictory strivings, etc.
7) the union of analysis and synthesis - the breakdown of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.
8) the relations of each thing (phenomenon, etc.) are not only manifold, but general, universal. Each thing (phenomenon, etc.) is connected with every other.
9) not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?].

10) the endless process of the discovery of new sides, relations, etc.
11) the endless process of the deepening of man's knowledge of the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence.
12) from co-existence to causality and from one form of connection and reciprocal dependence to another, deeper, more general form.
13) the repetition at a higher stage of certain features, properties, etc., of the lower and
14) the apparent return to the old (negation of the negation).

15) the struggle of content with form and conversely. The throwing off of the form, the transformation of the content.
16) the transition of quantity into quality and vice versa (15 and 16 are examples of 9)
In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics, but it requires explanations and development.

VIII.What is Marxism


We are reproducing a slightly edited version of What is Marxism? by Rob Sewell and Alan Woods, last published in 1983 to celebrate the centenary of the death of Karl Marx. The three articles on the fundamental aspects of Marxism, Marxist Economics, Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism were originally published separately in the 1970s. These articles are a good, brief introduction to the basic methods of Marxism and can serve as a first approach to the ideas developed by Marx and Engels.

1983 Introduction

Marxism, or Scientific Socialism, is the name given to the body of ideas first worked out by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). In their totality, these ideas provide a fully worked-out theoretical basis for the struggle of the working class to attain a higher form of human society--socialism.
While the conceptions of Marxism have been subsequently developed and enriched by the historical experience of the working class itself, the fundamental ideas remain unshaken, providing a firm foundation for the Labour Movement today. Neither before, nor since the lifetime of Marx and Engels have any superior, more truthful or scientific theories been advanced to explain the movement of society and the role of the working class in that movement. A knowledge of Marxism therefore equips the proletariat theoretically for the great historic task of the Socialist transformation of Society.
It is this fact which explains the constant and bitter attacks on all aspects of Marxism which have been delivered by every conceivable defender of the existing social order--from the Tory to the Fabian, from the Jesuit priest to the University professor. From the very spleen of these attacks, to the fact that they have to be kept up continuously despite the fact that every single one of the pundits in turn claims to have “finally disposed” of Marxism, the thinking member of the Labour Movement can deduce two facts.
First, that the defenders of capitalism recognise in Marxism the most dangerous challenge to their system, and thereby also instantly confess the truth in it, despite all their attempts to “disprove” it. Second, that far from disappearing under the heap of abuse, quack “exposures”, and flagrant distortions, the theories of Marx and Engels are steadily gaining ground, particularly within the active layers of the Labour Movement, as increasing numbers of workers, under the impact of the crisis of capitalism, strive to discover the real meaning of the forces which shape their lives, in order to be able to consciously influence and determine their own destiny.
The theories of Marxism provide the thinking worker with such an understanding--a thread which is capable of leading him through the confused labyrinth of events, of the complex processes of society, of economics, of the struggle of classes, of politics. Armed with this sword the worker can cut the Gordian knot which binds him to the mightiest obstacle in the way of the advancement of himself and his class--ignorance.
It is to keep this knot firmly in place that the hired representatives of the ruling class struggle with might and main to discredit Marxism in the eyes of the working class. It is the duty of every serious worker of the Labour Movement to conquer for himself or herself the theories of Marx and Engels, as an essential prerequisite for the conquest of society by the working people.
Yet there are obstacles in the path of the worker's struggle for theory and understanding far more intractable than the scribblings of priests and professors. A man or woman who is obliged to toil long hours in industry, who has not had the benefit of a decent education and consequently lacks the habit of reading, finds great difficulty in absorbing some of the more complex ideas, especially at the outset. Yet it was for workers that Marx and Engels wrote, and not for “clever” students and middle class people. “Every beginning is difficult” no matter what science we are talking about. Marxism is a science and therefore makes heavy demands upon the beginner.
 But every worker who is active in the trade unions or Labour Party knows that nothing is worthwhile if attained without a degree of struggle and sacrifice. It is the activists in the Labour Movement at whom the present pamphlet is aimed. To the active worker who is prepared to persevere, one promise can be made: once the initial effort is made to come to grips with unfamiliar and new ideas, the theories of Marxism will be found to be basically straight-forward and simple. Moreover--and this should be emphasised--the worker who acquires by patient effort an understanding of Marxism will turn out to be a better theoretician than most students, just because he can grasp the ideas not merely in the abstract, but concretely, as applied to his own life and work.

All exploiting classes attempt to morally justify their class rule by portraying them, as the highest, most natural form of social development, deliberately concealing the system of exploitation by disguising and distorting the truth. The present day capitalist class, through their professional hirelings and hangers on, have elaborately evolved a whole new philosophy and morality to justify their ruling position in society.
The working class, on the contrary, has no material interest in distorting the truth, and sets itself the task of laying bare the realities of capitalism in order to consciously prepare for its emancipation. Far from seeking a special position for itself, the working class has the aim of abolishing capitalism and with it all class distinctions and privileges. To do so it must reject the outlook of the capitalists, and seek for itself a new Marxist method of understanding.

The Marxist method provides a richer, fuller, more comprehensive view of society and life in general, and clears away the veil of mysticism in understanding human and social development. Marxist philosophy explains that the driving force of history is neither “Great Men” nor the super-natural, but stems from the development of the productive forces (industry, science, technique, etc.) themselves. It is economics, in the last analysis, that determines the conditions of life, the habits and consciousness of human beings.
Each new re-organisation of society--be it slavery, feudalism or capitalism--has ushered in an enormous development of the productive forces which in turn gave men and women greater powers over nature. As soon as a social system proves unable to develop these forces of production, then that society enters an epoch of revolution. However, in the case of the change from capitalism to socialism, the process is not automatic but requires the conscious intervention of the working class to carry through this task of history. Failure to do so in the long run would pave the way for the advent of reaction and eventual world war.
Capitalism has once again entered a new world economic crisis resulting in mass unemployment on the lines of the 1930s. The quack theories of capitalist economists have proved utterly incapable of preventing recessions, which has driven the ruling class to ditch Keynesianism and re-adopt the old measures of “sound finance”, of monetarism. Rather than rescue the situation this latter programme has served to deepen and prolong the crisis!
Only Marxism has been able to expose the contradictions of Capitalism which result periodically in depression and slump. Capitalism has now completely exhausted its historical role in developing the productive basis of society. Hemmed in by the nation state and private ownership, the productive forces are systematically destroyed in the face of the mass overproduction of commodities and capital.
As Marx himself explained: “In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity--the epidemic of overproduction.
“Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of monetary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of destruction has cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed. And why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.
 The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of Bourgeois property; on the contrary they have become too powerful for these conditions by which they are fettered, and so as soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of Bourgeois society, endanger the existence of Bourgeois property.”
The present pamphlet brings together for the first time the three supplements of the South Wales Bulletin of Marxist Studies (first published in the 1970s) as a small contribution to the increasing thirst for the ideas of Marxism. It is also fitting that the issue of the pamphlet coincides with the centenary of Karl Marx's death, on 14 March 1883, the co-founder with Engels, of scientific socialism.

This pamphlet however is not intended to provide a complete exposition of Marxism, but to assist the worker-student in his approach to the subject by giving a rough outline of some basic ideas, plus a selected reading list with which he may continue his studies. Marx and Engels themselves wrote many brief pamphlets and shorter explanatory works aimed at popularising their theories among the working class, and these provide the basis of the suggested reading list.
The study of Marxism falls under three main headings, corresponding broadly to philosophy, social history and economics, or, to give them their correct names, Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism and the Labour Theory of Value. These are the famous “three component parts of Marxism” of which Lenin wrote.
Rob Sewell and Alan Woods
18 February, 1983



What is a philosophy?

At each stage in human history, men and women have worked out some sort of picture of the world and their place in it. They develop a Philosophy. The pieces they use to make up this picture have been obtained by observing nature and through generalising their day to day experiences.
Some people believe they have no need of such a philosophy or world outlook. Yet in practise everyone has a philosophy, even if it is not consciously worked out. People who live by rule of thumb or “common sense” and think they are doing without theory, in practice think in the traditional way. Marx once said that the dominant ideas of society are those of the ruling class.
To maintain and justify its rule, the capitalist class makes use of every available means to distort the consciousness of the worker. The school, church, TV, and press are used to foster the ideology of the ruling class and indoctrinate the worker into accepting their system as the most natural permanent form of society. In the absence of a conscious socialist philosophy, they accept unconsciously the capitalist one.
At each point in class society, the rising revolutionary class, aiming to change society, have to fight for a new world outlook and have to attack the old philosophy, which, being based on the old order, justified and defended it.

Idealism and materialism

Throughout the history of philosophy we find two camps, the Idealist and the Materialist. The common idea of “Idealism” (i.e. honesty, uprightness in the pursuit of ideals) and “Materialism” (i.e. base, greedy, money-grabbing egoism) has nothing to do with philosophical idealism and philosophical materialism.

Many great thinkers of the past were Idealists, notably Plato and Hegel. This school of thought looks upon nature and history as a reflection of ideas or spirit. The theory that men and women and every material thing was created by a divine Spirit, is a basic concept of idealism. This outlook is expressed in a number of ways, yet its basis is that ideas govern the development of the material world. History is explained as a history of thought.
People's actions are seen as resulting from abstract thoughts, and not from their material needs. Hegel went one step further, being a consistent idealist, and turned thoughts into an independent “Idea” existing outside of the brain and independent of the material world. The latter was merely a reflection of this Idea. Religion is part and parcel of philosophical idealism.
The Materialist thinkers on the other hand, have maintained that the material world is real and that nature or matter is primary. The mind or ideas are a product of the brain. The brain, and therefore ideas, arose at a certain stage in the development of living matter. The basic corner-stones of Materialism are as follows:
(a) The material world, known to us by our senses and explored by science, is real. The development of the world is due to its own natural laws, without any recourse to the supernatural.
(b) There is only one world, the material one. Thought is a product of matter (the brain) without which there can be no separate ideas. Therefore minds or ideas cannot exist in isolation apart from matter. General ideas are only reflections of the material world. “To me,” wrote Marx, “the idea is nothing else than the material world reflected in the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.” And further, “Social being determines consciousness”.
The Idealists conceive of consciousness, of thought, as something external, and opposed to matter, to nature. This opposition is something entirely false and artificial. There is a close correlation between the laws of thought and the laws of nature, because the former follow and reflect the latter. Thought cannot derive its categories from itself, but only from the external world. Even the most seemingly abstract thoughts are in fact derived from the observation of the material world.
Even an apparently abstract science like pure mathematics has, in the last analysis, been derived from material reality, and is not spun from the brain. The school-child secretly counts his material fingers under a material desk before solving an abstract arithmetical problem. In so doing, he is re-creating the origins of mathematics itself. We base ourselves upon the decimal system because we have ten fingers. The Roman numerals were originally based on the representation of fingers.
According to Lenin, “this is materialism: matter acting on our sense organs produces sensation. Sensations depend upon the brain, nerves, retina, etc., i.e., matter is primary. Sensation, thought, consciousness are the supreme product of matter”.
People are a part of nature, who develop their ideas in interaction with the rest of the world. Mental processes are real enough, but they are not something absolute, outside nature. They should be studied in their material and social circumstances in which they arise. “The phantoms formed in the human brain,” stated Marx, “are … necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process.”

 Later he concluded, “morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development, but men, developing their material production and their material intercourses, alter along with this their real existence their thinking and the product of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.”

The origins of materialism

“The original home of all modern materialism,” wrote Engels, “from the seventeenth century onwards, is England.” At this time, the old feudal aristocracy and monarchy were being challenged by the newly emerged middle classes. The bastion of feudalism was the Roman Catholic church, which provided the divine justification for the monarchy and feudal institutions. This, therefore, had to be undermined before feudalism could be overthrown. The rising bourgeoisie challenged the old ideas and divine concepts that the old order was based upon.
“Parallel with the rise of the middle classes went on the great revival of science; astronomy, mechanics, physics, anatomy, physiology, were again cultivated. And the bourgeoisie for the development of its industrial production, required a science which ascertained the physical properties of natural objects and the modes of action of the forces of Nature.
 Now up to then science had but been the humble handmaid of the church, had not been allowed to overstep the limits set by faith, and for that reason had been no science at all. [In the 17th century, Galileo demonstrated the truth of Copernicus' theory that the earth and planets revolved around the Sun. The professors of the day ridiculed these ideas and used the power of the Index and the Inquisition against Galileo to force him to recant his views. RS] (Science rebelled against the church; the bourgeoisie could not do without science, and therefore, had to join in the rebellion.)” (F. Engels.)
It was at this time that Francis Bacon (1561-1626) developed his revolutionary ideas of materialism.
According to him the senses were infallible and the source of all knowledge. All science was based upon experience, and consisted in subjecting the data to a rational method of investigation; induction, analysis, comparison, observation and experiment. It was, however, left to Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) to continue and develop Bacon's materialism into a system. He realised that ideas and concepts were only a reflection of the material world, and that “it is impossible to separate thought from matter that thinks”. Later, the English thinker John Locke (1632-1704) provided proof of this materialism.
The materialist school of philosophy passed from England to France, to be taken up and developed further by Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and his followers. These French materialists did not limit themselves to criticisms of religion, but extended them to all institutions and ideas. They challenged these things in the name of Reason, and gave ammunition to the developing bourgeoisie in their struggle with the monarchy. The birth of the great French Bourgeois Revolution of 1789-93 took as its creed materialist philosophy. Unlike the English Revolution in the mid-17th century, its French counter-part completely destroyed the old feudal order. As Engels later pointed out: “We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie.”

The defect, however, of this materialism from Bacon onwards was its rigid, mechanical interpretation of Nature. Not accidentally, the English school of materialist philosophy flourished in the 18th century, when the discoveries of Isaac Newton made “mechanics” the most advanced and important science. In the words of Engels: “The specific limitation of this materialism lay in its inability to comprehend the universe as a process, as matter undergoing uninterrupted historical development.”
The French Revolution had a profound effect upon the civilised world, similar to the Russian Revolution of 1917. It revolutionised thinking in every field, politics, philosophy, science and art. The ferment of ideas emerging from this bourgeois democratic revolution ushered in advances in natural science, geology, botany, chemistry as well as political economy.

It was in this period that a criticism was made of the mechanical approach of the materialists. A German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), made the first breakthrough in the old mechanistic ways with his discovery that the Earth and the solar system had come into being, and had not existed eternally. The same also applies to geography, geology, plants and animals.
This revolutionary idea of Kant was comprehensively developed by another brilliant German thinker, George Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel was a philosophical idealist, believing that the world could be explained as a manifestation or reflection of a “Universal Mind” or “Idea”, i.e., some form of God.
Hegel looked upon the world not as an active participant in society and human history, but as a philosopher, contemplating events from afar. He set himself up as a measuring rod of the world, interpreting history according to his prejudices as the history of thought, the world as the world of ideas, an Ideal World. Thus for Hegel, problems and contradictions were posed not in real terms but in terms of thought, and could therefore find their solution only in terms of thought. Instead of contradictions in society being solved by the actions of men and women, by the class struggle, they instead find their solution in the philosopher's head, in the Absolute Idea!

Nevertheless, Hegel recognised the errors and shortcomings of the old mechanistic outlook. He also pointed out the inadequacies of formal logic and set about the creation of a new world outlook which could explain the contradictions of change and movement. (See below).
Although Hegel rediscovered and analysed the laws of motion and change, his idealism placed everything on its head. It was the struggle and criticism of the Young Hegelians, led by Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), which tried to correct and place philosophy back on its feet. Yet even Feuerbach--“the under half of him was materialist, the upper half idealist” (Engels)--was not able to fully purge Hegelianism of its idealist outlook. This work was left to Marx and Engels, who were able to rescue the dialectical method from its mystical shell. Hegelian dialectics were fused with modern materialism to produce the revolutionary understanding of dialectical materialism.

What are dialectics?

We have seen that modern materialism is the concept that matter is primary and the mind or ideas are the product of the brain. But what is dialectical thinking or dialectics?
“Dialectics is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring.)
The dialectical method of thinking already had a long existence before Marx and Engels developed it scientifically as a means of understanding the evolution of human society.
The ancient Greeks produced some great dialectical thinkers, including Plato, Zenon and Aristotle.

As early as 500 B.C., Heraclitus advanced the idea that “everything is and is not, for everything is in flux, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away”. And further, “all things flow, all change. It is impossible to enter twice into one and the same stream”. This statement already contains the fundamental conception of dialectics that everything in nature is in a constant state of change, and that this change unfolds through a series of contradictions.
“...the great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready made things, but as a complex of processes, in which things apparently stable, no less than their mental images in our heads, concepts go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring,)
 For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything: nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher. And dialectical philosophy is nothing more than the mere reflection of this process in the thinking brain.” (Ibid.)

Dialectics and metaphysics

The Greek Philosophers brilliantly anticipated the later development of dialectics as of other sciences. But they could not themselves carry this anticipation to its logical conclusion owing to the low development of the means of production, and the lack of adequate information about the detailed workings of the universe.

Their ideas gave a more-or-less correct general picture, but they were often more in the nature of inspired guesses than scientifically worked out theories. In order to carry human thought further, it was necessary to abandon these old methods to arrive at a general understanding of the universe, and concentrate on the smaller, more mundane tasks of collecting, sorting out and labelling a host of individual facts, of testing particular theories by experiment, of defining, etc.
This empirical, experimental, factual approach provided an enormous boost to human thought and science. Investigations into the workings of nature could now be carried out scientifically, analysing each particular problem and testing each conclusion. But in the process, the old ability to deal with things in their connection, not separately, in their movement, not statically, in their life not in their death, was lost.

 The narrow, empirical mode of thought which consequently arose is termed the “Metaphysical” approach. It still dominates modern capitalist philosophy and science. In politics it is reflected in Harold Wilson's famous “pragmatism” (“if it works, it must be right”) and the constant appeals to “the Facts”.
But facts do not select themselves. They have to be chosen by individuals. The order and sequence in which they are arranged, and the conclusions drawn from them depend upon the preconceived notions of the individual. Thus such appeals for “the Facts”, which are supposed to convey the impression of scientific impartiality, are usually just a smokescreen to conceal the prejudices of the speaker.
Dialectics deals not only with facts, but with facts in their connection, i.e. processes, not only with isolated ideas, but with laws, not only with the particular, but with the general.
Dialectical thinking stands in the same relationship to metaphysics as a motion picture to a still photograph. The one does not contradict the other, but compliments it. However, the truer, more complete approximation of reality is contained in the movie.
For everyday purposes and simple calculations, metaphysical thought, or “common sense”, suffices. But it has its limitations, and beyond these the application of “common sense” turns truth into its opposite. The fundamental shortcoming of this type of thinking is its inability to conceive of motion and development, and its rejection of all contradiction. However, movement and change imply contradiction.
“To the metaphysician things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation, fixed, rigid, given once and for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antithesis … For him a thing either exists or does not exist: a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another: cause and effect stand in rigid antithesis one to the other.” (Anti-Dühring, p. 34.)
For everyday purposes, for instance, it is possible to say with a degree of certainty whether an individual, plant or animal is alive or dead. But in reality the question is not so simple, as legal cases on abortion and the “rights of the foetus” indicate. At what point precisely does human life begin? At what point does it end? Death, also is not a simple event but a protracted process, as Heraclitus understood: “It is the same thing in us that is living and dead, asleep and awake, young and old; each changes place and becomes the other. We step and we do not step into the same stream: we are and are not.”
Trotsky, in his ABC of Materialist Dialectics characterised the dialectic as “a science of the forms of our thinking insofar as it is not limited to the daily problems of life but attempts to arrive at an understanding of more complicated and drawn-out processes.”
He compared dialectics and formal logic (metaphysics) to higher and lower mathematics. It was Aristotle who first developed the laws of formal logic, and his system of logic has been accepted ever since by the metaphysicians as the only possible method of scientific thinking.
“The Aristotelian logic of the simple syllogism is accepted as an axiom for a multitude of practical human activities and elementary generalisations. The postulate starts from the proposition that 'A' = 'A'. But in reality 'A' is not equal to 'A'. This is quite easy to prove if we observe these two letters under a lens--they are quite different from each other. But, one can object, the question is not of the size or form of the letters, since they are only symbols for equal quantities, for instance, a pound of sugar. The objection is beside the point--in reality a pound of sugar is never equal to a pound of sugar--a more delicate scale will always disclose a difference.

Again one can object; but a pound of sugar is equal to itself. Neither is this true--all bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour, etc. They are never equal to themselves. A sophist will respond that a pound of sugar is equal to itself 'at any given moment'.

Aside from the extremely dubious practical value of the 'axiom' it does not withstand theoretical criticism, either. How should we really conceive the word 'moment' a purely mathematical abstraction, that is a zero of time? But everything exists in time: and existence itself is an uninterrupted process of transformation: time is subsequently a fundamental element of existence. Thus the axiom 'A' is equal to itself if it does not change, that is, if it does not exist.

“At first glance it could seem that these 'subtleties' are useless. In reality they are of decisive significance. The axiom 'A equals A' appears on the one hand to be the point of departure for all knowledge on the other hand the point of departure for all errors in our knowledge. To make use of the axiom 'A equals A' with impunity is possible only within certain limits. When quantitative changes in 'A' are negligible for the task at hand, then we can presume that 'A equals A'. This is, for example, the manner in which a buyer and a seller both consider a pound of sugar.
We consider the Sun's temperature likewise. Until recently we considered the buying power of the dollar in the same way. But quantitative changes beyond certain limits become qualitative. A pound of sugar subjected to the action of water or Kerosene cease to be a pound of sugar. A dollar in the embraces of a president ceases to be a dollar. To determine the right moment, the critical point where quantity changes to quality is one of the most important and difficult tasks in all spheres of knowledge, including sociology.” (Trotsky, ABC of Materialist Dialectic)


The old dialectical method of reasoning, which had fallen into disuse from medieval times on, was revived in the early 19th century by the great German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, (1770-1831). Hegel, one of the most encyclopaedic minds of his time, subjected the forms of formal logic to a detailed criticism, and demonstrated their limitations and one-sidedness.
 Hegel produced the first really comprehensive analysis of the laws of dialectics, which served as a basis upon which Marx and Engels later developed their theory of dialectical materialism. Lenin characterised Hegelian dialectics as “the most comprehensive, the most right in content and the most profound doctrine of development”. In comparison with this, every other formulation was “one-sided and poor in content, and distorting and mutilating the real course of development (which often proceeds in leaps, catastrophes and revolutions) in nature and society”. (Lenin, Karl Marx.)

Hegel's View of things was that of “A development that seemingly repeats the stages already passed, but repeats them differently, on a higher basis (negation of the negation), a development, so to speak, in spirals, not in a straight line; a development by leaps, catastrophes, revolutions; breaks in continuity; the transformations of quantity into quality; the inner impulses of development, imparted by the contradictions and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society: the interdependence and the closest, indissoluble connection of all sides of every phenomenon (while history constantly discloses ever new sides), a connection that provides a uniform, a law-governed, universal process of motion, such are some of the features of dialectics as a richer (than the ordinary) doctrine of development.” (Ibid.)
“This new German philosophy culminated in the Hegelian system. In this system--and herein is its great merit--for the first time the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement and development.
From this point of view the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild whirl of senseless deeds of violence, as equally condemnable at the judgement-seat of mature philosophic reason, and which are best forgotten as quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of man himself. It was now the task of the intellect to follow the gradual march of this process through all its devious ways and to trace out the inner laws running through all its apparently accidental phenomena.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 37.)
Hegel brilliantly posed the problem, but was prevented from solving it by his idealist preconceptions. It was, in Engels' words “a colossal miscarriage”. Despite its mystical side, Hegel's philosophy already explained the most important laws of dialectics: Quantity and quality, the interpenetration of opposites and negation of the negation.

Quantity and quality

“In spite of all gradualness, the transition from one form of motion to another always remains a leap, a decisive change”. (Engels, Anti-Dühring.)
The idea of change and evolution is now generally accepted, but the forms by which changes occur in nature and society have only been explained by Marxian dialectics. The common view of evolution as a peaceful, smooth and uninterrupted development is both one-sided and false. In politics it is the “gradualist” theory of social change--the basic theoretical plank of reformism.
Hegel developed the idea of a “nodal line of measure relations”--in which at a definite nodal point, the purely quantitative increase or decrease gives rise to a qualitative leap: for example in the case of heated water, where boiling point and freezing point are the nodes at which under normal pressure the leap into a new state of aggregation takes place, and where consequently quantity is transformed into quality.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring.)
Thus, in the example cited, the transformation of water from a liquid to vapour or solid ice do not occur by a gradual congealing or dissipation, but suddenly at a particular temperature (0°C, 100°C). The cumulative effect of numerous changes of the speed of the molecules eventually produces a change of state--quantity into quality.
Examples may be produced at will, from all the branches of science, from sociology and even from everyday life (e.g., the point at which the addition of salt changes the soup from something palatable to something undrinkable).
The Hegelian nodal line of measurement and the law of the transition of quantity into quality and vice-versa are of crucial importance not only to science (where, like other dialectical laws, they are used unconsciously by scientists who are not conscious dialecticians) but above all in an analysis of history, society and the movement of the working class.

The interpenetration of opposites

Just as “common sense” metaphysics seeks to eliminate contradiction from thought and revolution from evolution, it also tries to prove that all opposing ideas and forces are mutually exclusive. However, “we find upon closer examination that the two poles of an antithesis, positive and negative, e.g., are as inseparable as they are opposed, and that despite all their opposition they mutually interpenetrate.

 And we find, in like manner that cause and effect are conception to individual cases, but as soon as we consider the individual cases in their general connection with the universe as a whole, they run into each other, and they become confounded when we contemplate that universal action and interaction in which causes and effects are eternally changing places, so that what is effect here and now will be cause there and then and vice-versa”. (Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 36.)
Dialectics is the science of inter-connections, in contrast to metaphysics which treats phenomena as separate and isolated. Dialectics seeks to uncover the countless threads, transition, cause and effect which bind together the universe. The first task of a dialectical analysis is therefore to trace the “Necessary connection, the objective connection of all the aspects, forces, tendencies etc., of the given sphere of phenomena”. (Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, p. 97.)

Dialectics approaches a given phenomenon from the point of view of its development, its own movement and life; how it arises and how it passes away; it also considers the internal contradictory tendencies and sides of this thing.
Motion is the mode of existence of the entire material universe. Energy and matter are inseparable. Furthermore, motion is not imparted “from without”, but the manifestation of the internal tensions that are inseparable not only from life, but from all forms of matter. Development and change takes place through internal contradictions. Thus dialectical analysis begins by laying bare by empirical investigation the inner contradictions which give rise to development and change.
From the dialectical standpoint all “polar opposites” are one-sided and inadequate, including the contradiction between “truth and error”. Marxism does not accept the existence of any “Eternal Truths”. All “truths” and “errors” are relative. What is true in one time and context becomes false in another: truth and error pass into each other.
Thus the progress of knowledge and science does not proceed from the mere negation of “incorrect theories”. All theories are relative, grasping one side of reality. Initially they are assumed to have universal validity and application. They are “true”. But at a certain point, deficiencies in the theory are noticed; they are not applicable to all circumstances, exceptions to the rule are found. These have to be explained, and at a certain point, new theories are developed which can account for the exceptions. But the new theories not only “negate” the old, but incorporate them in a new form.
We can exclude contradictions only by regarding objects as lifeless, at rest and individually juxtaposed, i.e. metaphysically. But as soon as we consider things in their motion and change, in their life, their mutual interdependence and interaction, we come up against a series of contradictions.
Motion itself is a contradiction between being in the same place and somewhere else at the same time.
Life, equally, is a contradiction that “a being is at each moment itself and yet something else”. (Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 167.)

Living structures constantly absorb substances from the environment, assimilate them and simultaneously other parts of the body decay, disintegrate and are expelled. Constant transformations occur also in the world of organic nature; e.g., a rock which disintegrated under the pressure of the elements. Everything is therefore constantly itself and something else at one and the same time. Thus, the desire to eliminate contradictions is the desire to eliminate reality.

Negation of the negation

Engels characterises this as “an extremely general and for this reason extremely far-reaching and important law of development of nature, history and thought; a law which … holds good in the animal and plant kingdoms, in geology, in mathematics, in history and philosophy”. (Ibid., p. 193.)
This law, the workings of which were observed in nature long before it was written down, was first clearly elaborated by Hegel, who gives a whole series of concrete examples which are reiterated in Anti-Dühring. (Ibid., pp. 186-190.)
The law of the negation of the negation deals with the nature of development through a series of contradictions, which appear to annul, or negate a previous fact, theory, or form of existence, only to be later negated in its turn. Motion, change and development thus moves through an uninterrupted series of negations.
However, negation in the dialectical sense does not signify a mere annulment or obliteration whereby the earlier stage is both overcome and preserved at the same time. Negation, in this sense, is both a positive and a negative act.
Hegel gives a simple example in his book, The Phenomenology of the Mind: “The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant's existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom.

These stages are not merely differentiated, they supplement one another as being incomparable with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they do not merely contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole.”
In this process of endless self-annulment, the disappearance of certain forms and the emergence of others, a pattern frequently emerges which seem to be a repetition of forms, events and theories already surpassed. Thus, it is a commonplace that “history repeats itself”. Reactionary bourgeois historians have thus tried to prove that history itself is merely a meaningless repetition, proceeding in a never-ending circle.
Dialectics, on the contrary, discerns within these seeming repetitions an actual … development from lower to higher, an evolution in which the same forms may repeat themselves, but on a higher level, enriched by previous developments.
This can be seen most clearly from the process of development of human ideas. Hegel already showed how philosophy developed through a series of contradictions; one school of thought negating another, but simultaneously absorbing the older theories into its own system of thought.
Similarly with the development of science. The alchemists of the Middle Ages were motivated for the search for the “Philosophers' Stone” which could turn base metal into gold. Owing to the low level of the productive forces and the lack of scientific technique, these early attempts at the “transmutation” of the elements was in reality a utopian fantasy. However, in the process of these vain attempts, the alchemists actually discovered a whole series of valuable facts about chemicals and experimental apparatus which later provided the basis of modern chemistry.
With the rise of capitalism, industry and technique, chemistry becomes a science which rejected the early “crazy” notions of the transmutation of the elements which was thus negated. However, all that was valuable and scientific in the discoveries of alchemy were preserved in the new chemistry, which maintained that the elements were “immutable” and could not be transformed one into another.
The 20th century has seen the revolutionising of science and technique with the discovery of nuclear physics, by means of which one element can actually be transformed into another. In fact, it would be theoretically possible to turn lead into gold, in modern times, but the process would be too expensive to be justified economically. Thus this particular process seems to have turned full circle:
(a) transmutation of elements (b) non transmutation of elements (c) transmutation of elements
But the repetition is only apparent. In reality, modern science, which in one sense has returned to an idea of the ancient alchemists, includes within itself all the enormous discoveries of the 19th century and 18th century science. Thus, one generation stands on the shoulders of another. Ideas which have apparently been “disproved” or “negated” make their re-appearance, but on a higher level, enriched by the previous experiences and discoveries.
Dialectics bases itself upon determinism: the thought that nothing in nature, society or thought is accidental; that seeming “accidents” arise only as the result of a deeper necessity.
Superficial historians have written that the First World War was “caused” by the assassination of a Crown Prince at Sarajevo. To a Marxist this event was an historical accident, in the sense that this chance event served as the pretext, or catalyst, for the world conflict which had already been made inevitable by the economic, political and military contradictions of imperialism. If the assassin had missed, or if the Crown Prince had never been born, the war would still have taken place, on some other diplomatic pretext. Necessity would have expressed itself through a different “accident”.
Everything which exists, exists of necessity. But, equally, everything which exists is doomed to perish, to be transformed into something else. Thus what is “necessary” in one time and place becomes “unnecessary” in another. Everything begets its opposite which is destined to overcome and negate it. This is true of individual living things as much as societies.
Every type of human society exists because it is necessary at the given time when it arises: “No special order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it, have been developed: and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society. Therefore mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve, since, looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or at least are in the process of formation”. (Marx, Critique of Political Economy.)
Slavery, in its day, represented an enormous leap forward over barbarism. It was a necessary stage in the development of productive forces, culture and human society. As Hegel put it: “It is not so much from slavery as through slavery that man becomes free”.
Similarly capitalism was originally a necessary and progressive stage in human society. However, like slavery, primitive communism and feudalism (see section 2), capitalism has long since ceased to represent a necessary and progressive social system. It has foundered upon the deep contradictions inherent in it, and is doomed to be overcome by the rising forces of socialism, represented by the modem proletariat. Private ownership of the means of production and the nation state, the basic features of capitalist society, which originally marked a great step forward, now serve only to fetter and undermine the productive forces and threaten all the gains made in centuries of human development.
Capitalism is now a thoroughly decrepit, degenerate social system, which must be overthrown and replaced by its opposite, Socialism, if human culture is to survive. Marxism is determinist, but not fatalist, because the working out of contradictions in society can only be achieved by men and women consciously striving for the transformation of society. This struggle of the classes is not pre-determined. Who succeeds depends on many factors, and a rising, progressive class has many advantages over the old, decrepit force of reaction. But ultimately, the result must depend upon which side has the stronger will, the greater organisation and the most skilful and resolute leadership.
The Marxist philosophy is therefore essentially a guide to action: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is, however, to change it”. (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach.)
The victory of socialism will mark a new and qualitatively different stage of human history. To be more accurate it will mark the end of the prehistory of the human race, and start a real history.
However on the other hand, socialism marks a return to the earliest form of human society--tribal communism--but on a much higher level, which stands upon all the enormous gains of thousands of years of class society.
The economy of superabundance, will be made possible by the application of socialist planning to the industry, science and technique established by capitalism, on a world scale. This in turn will once and for all make redundant the division of labour, the difference between mental and manual labour, between town and countryside, and the wasteful and barbaric class struggle and enable the human race at least to set its resources to the conquest of nature: to use Engels' famous phrase, “Mankind's leap from the realms of necessity to the Realm of Freedom”.


When one looks at history, it appears to be a mass of contradictions. Events are lost in a maze of revolutions, wars, periods of progress and of decline. Conflicts of classes and nations swirl around in the chaos of social development. How is it possible to understand and explain these events, when it appears that they have no rational basis?
From the beginning, human beings have sought to discover the laws which govern their existence. Theories ranging from supernatural guidance to the leadership of “Great Men” have attempted in one way or another, at one time or another to provide such an explanation. Some believe that as people act independently of each other, theories of human development are utterly worthless!
For almost 2,000 years the ideas of Genesis dominated the outlook of Western Europe. Those who attempted to undermine this concept were branded as disciples of the Devil. It is only in very recent times that the “heretical” view of history, evolution, has been generally accepted although even then in a one-sided fashion.
For the capitalist class and their functionaries in the universities, schools and places of learning, history has to be taught in an academic and biased fashion with absolutely no relevance to the present day. They continue to peddle the myth that classes and private property have always existed in a bid to justify the “eternal” nature of capitalist exploitation and the economic anarchy inherent within it. Volumes and volumes have been written by leading academics and professors to disprove the writings of Marxism and above all its Materialist Conception of History.
Marxists attach enormous importance to the study of history; not for its own sake but so as to study the great lessons it contains. Without that understanding of the development of events, it is not possible to foresee future perspectives. Lenin, for example, prepared the Bolshevik Party for the October 1917 Revolution by a meticulous analysis of the experience of the Paris Commune and the events in Russia of 1905 and February 1917.
It is precisely in this sense that we study and learn from history. Marxism is the science of perspectives, using its method of Dialectical Materialism to unravel the complex processes of historical development.
Marxist philosophy examines things not as static entities but in their development, movement and life. Historical events are seen as processes. Evolution, however, is not simply the movement from the lower to the higher. Life and society develop in a contradictory way, through “spirals not in a straight line; a development by leaps, catastrophes, and revolutions; breaks in continuity; the transformation of quantity into quality; inner impulses towards development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies.” (Lenin.)
Engels expressed dialectics as being “the great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away.” (Anti-Duhring).
This method is also materialist in outlook. Ideas, theories, party programmes, etc., do not fall from the sky but always reflect the material world and material interests. As Marx explained, “the mode of production of material life conditioned the social, political and intellectual life processes in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary their social being that determines their consciousness”.
Using this method, Marx was able to indicate:
“the way to an all-embracing and comprehensive study of the process of the rise, development, and decline of socio-economic systems. People make their own history but what determines the motives of people, of the mass of people—i.e., what is the sum total of all these clashes in the mass of human societies?
 What are the objective conditions of production of material life that form the basis of all man's historical activity? What is the law of development of these conditions? To all these Marx drew attention and indicated the way to a scientific study of history as a single process which, with all its immense variety and contradictoriness, is governed by definite laws.”. (Lenin, Karl Marx - A Brief Biographical Sketch With an Exposition of Marxism)

Primitive communism

Early humans evolved some three million years ago out of a highly evolved species of ape. Slowly primitive “humans” moved away from the forests and into the plains; a transition which was accompanied by an improvement in the flexibility and dexterity of the hand. The posture of the body became more erect. Whereas other animals had different organs for defence (cutting digging, shovelling and coats for warmth), humans had none of these. To survive they had to develop their only resources which were their hands and brain.
 Through trial and error, humans learned various skills, which had to be handed down from one generation to another. Communication through speech became a vital necessity. As Engels explained, “mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man's horizon at every new advance”. Men and women were social animals forced to band together and co-operate in order to survive. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, they developed the ability to generalise and think abstractly.
 Labour begins with the making of tools. With these tools, humans change their surrounding to meet their needs. “The animal merely uses its environment,” says Engels, “and brings about changes in it simply by his presence; Man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between Man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction.”
The economic forms were very simple. Humans, were very rare animals, and they roamed around in groups in search of food. This nomadic life was completely dominated with food gathering. Archaeologists call this period the old stone age. Henry Morgan, an early anthropologist, termed the period savagery. Then and for many thousands of years to come, private property did not exist. Everything that was made, collected, or produced was considered common property.
Between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, a new higher period emerged known as the new stone age or Barbarism. Instead of roaming for food, advances were made in cultivating crops and domesticating animals. Men and women became free to settle in a particular place and as a result new tools were fashioned to assist the new work, and a food producing economy was created. Stable tribes and communities arose at this time. Even today, for a variety of reasons, many tribes in Africa, the South Pacific and South America exist at this stage of Barbarism.
Yet with the birth of the permanent settlement, private dwellings did not come into being; on the contrary, the large ones that were built were for common use. In this period, no private family existed. The children belonged to the entire tribe.
In the stage of primitive communism (savagery and barbarism, each being a lower and higher stage respectively), no private property, classes, privileged elites, police or special coercive apparatus (the state) existed. The tribes themselves were divided into social units called clans or gentes (singular gens).

These, in fact, were very large family groups, which traced their descent from the female line alone. This is what is termed a matriarchal society. How else could it be when it was impossible to identify the real father of a child? It was forbidden for a man to cohabit with a woman from his own clan or gens, thus the tribes were made up from a coalition of clans. At certain times, a form of group marriage existed between the clans themselves.
This classless form of society was extremely democratic in its character. Everyone would participate in a general assembly to decide the important issues as they occurred, and their chiefs and officers would be elected for particular purposes. As Engels pointed out in his book, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State:
“How wonderful this gentle constitution is in all its natural simplicity! No soldiers, gendarmes and policemen, no nobility, kings, regents, prefects or judges, no prisons, no law-suits, and still affairs run smoothly. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the entire community involved in them, either the Gens or the tribe or the various Gentes amongst themselves.
 Only in very rare cases the blood revenge is threatened as an extreme measure. Our capital punishment is simply a civilised form of it, afflicted with all the advantages and drawbacks of civilisation … the communistic household is shared by a number of families, the land belongs to the tribe, only the gardens are temporarily assigned to the households … There cannot be any poor and destitute--the communistic households and the Gentes know their duties towards the aged, sick and disabled. All are free and equal--the women included. There is no room yet for slaves, nor for the subjection of foreign tribes”.
To the narrow philistine, who sees private property as a sacred god, these societies are looked upon with contempt. To the tribespeople, private property is completely alien. “The Indians,” explains the historian Heckewelder, “think that the great spirit has made the earth, and all that it contains, for the common good of mankind, when he stocked the country and gave them plenty of game, it was not for the good of the few, but of all. Everything is given in common to the sons of men. Whatever liveth on the land, whatever groweth out of the earth, and all that is in the rivers and waters was given jointly to all, and everyone is entitled to his share”.
Common tribal property came under growing strain from the development with the private family, with private houses growing up alongside the communal dwellings. As time went on Common Land became later divided up to form the collective property of each family. The Matriarchal family gave way to the Patriarchal (male dominated) form, which became essential to the maintenance of the collective property.
This “family”, however, must not be looked up on as similar to that of today. As Paul Lafargue says, “the family was not reduced to its last and simplest expression, as it is in our day, where it is composed of three indispensable elements: the father, the mother and the offspring; it consisted of the father, the recognised head of the family; of the legitimate wife, and his concubines, living under the same roof; of his children, his younger brothers, with their wives and children, and his unmarried sisters: such a family comprised many members”.

The growth of private property in the later stages of primitive communism is regarded by Marxists as elements of the new society within the old. Eventually the qualitative accumulation of these new elements led to the qualitative break up of the old society.

With the growth of new means of production, particularly in agriculture, the question arose who should own them? The possession of tools, weapons, new metals, but above all the means to make them, enabled a family to rise above the terrible life and death struggle with the force of nature.
Then with the further development (trade developed at first between the different communities) of the productive forces, inequality began to appear within society. This had a profound effect upon the Old Order. For the first time, men and women were able to produce a surplus above and beyond his own needs, resulting in a revolutionary leap forward for humanity.
In the past, where war broke out between two tribes, it was uneconomic to take captives as slaves. After all, a captive would only have been able to produce sufficient food for himself. No surplus was produced. The only use for a captive, given the shortage of food, was as a source of meat. This was the economic foundation of cannibalism.
But once a surplus was produced, it became economically viable to keep a slave who was forced to work for his master. The surplus obtained from a growing number of slaves was then appropriated by the new class of slave owners. But how were the slaves to be controlled and forced to work? The old tribes had no police force or means of coercion. Every individual was free and was a warrior.
The production of a surplus product smashed the old forms of society, enabling classes to crystallise. The existence of these classes required an apparatus of force to subject one class by another. Rich and poor, landowner and tenant, creditor and debtor all made their appearance in society. The clans which were social units of originally blood relations, began to disintegrate. The rich of different clans had more in common with each other than they had with the poor of their own clan.

Slave society

Despite all the horrors which accompanied it, the emergence of class society was enormously progressive in further developing society. For the first time since humans evolved from the ape, a section of society was freed from the labour of eking out an existence. Those who were freed from work could now devote their time to science, philosophy and culture. Class society brought with it priests, clerks, officials and specialised craftsmen. The historical justification and function of the new ruling class was to develop the productive forces and take society forward. It was at this stage that civilisation first emerged.
Special institutions were now created to protect the interests of the ruling class. Special armed bodies of men, with their gaols, courts, executioners, etc., as well as new laws were all needed to protect private property of the slave owner. The state together with its appendages came into being and the freedom and equality of the old gentile system fell into ruins. New ideas and morals developed to justify the new social and economic order.
By the 7th century B.C. the tribal aristocracy of Greece had become a ruling class of well-endowed slave owning landlords. According to the Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, the majority of the population of Attica had been enslaved by this time.
With the growth of the city-states, the increase in the division of labour greatly accelerated. Not only between town and country, but between branches of trade and finance, merchant and usurer; new crafts sprung up together with a growing band of artists catering for the tastes and culture of the upper class.
The drive of the city-states for more and more slaves, resulted in continuous war. In the war against Macedonia by the Romans in 169 B.C., 70 cities in Epirus alone were sacked and 150,000 of their inhabitants sold as slaves. The slave economy was extremely wasteful and needed for its survival a continuous supply of slaves to replace those who had been injured or died. However the natural reproduction amongst slaves was very slow owing to the harshness of their lot, thus the only real method of replenishment was by conquest.
Although the slave was much less productive than the free peasant on the land, the low cost of his maintenance made slavery far more profitable. The ruination of the free peasants led to large numbers fleeing to the town forming the de-classed lumpenproletariat of the slave societies. The latter relied upon the charity of the upper classes, who provided them with circuses for their amusement.
It was in this period that the revolutionary Christian movement emerged. Originally a group of primitive Communist sects with a deep hatred of the conquering Romans and their rich lackeys, they won much support from the poor and oppressed. These early Christian revolutionaries were prepared to use violent means to overthrow the upper classes and bring about “Heaven on Earth”.
They were therefore hounded by the authorities and were ruthlessly executed for treason against the Emperor. Later, Christianity was raised to the position of state religion after being purged of its class hatred. The ruling class used it as a weapon to dupe and pacify the lower classes into accepting their earthly lot and to encourage their illusions in a better life after death.
The greater the surpluses the slave-owners obtained from the exploitation of the slaves, the greater became their extravagance, brilliance, arrogance and idleness. As more and more wars had to be waged to increase the slave population by conquest, the Roman Empire overstretched itself. Wars cannot be fought without soldiers and the best soldiers were the peasants. They were rapidly disappearing and thus had to be replaced by highly paid foreign mercenaries. The age of the “cheap slave” came to a rapid end bringing with it the decline of the slave empires.
Despite the various slave rebellions--the most famous being led by Spartacus--the slave did not prove to be a revolutionary class that could take society forward. As Marx was to point out, the class struggle would end “either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”. Karl Kautsky, the German Marxist, explained that “the great migrations, the flooding of the Roman Empire by the swarms of savage Germans did not mean the premature destruction of a flourishing high culture, but merely the conclusion of a dying civilisation and the formation of the basis for a new upswing of civilisation”.
The mighty slave civilisations had produced an enormous leap forward for society. One is amazed at the cultural achievements of Ancient Egypt and Babylon. The Greeks and Romans developed scientific knowledge to tremendous heights. Hero, the philosopher, had discovered the basic principles of the steam engine. The contributions of Archimedes, Pythagoras and Euclid advanced mathematics to the stage where the beginnings of mechanical engineering would have been possible. Nevertheless, slave society had reached its limits and internal decay and external factors were to bring it to destruction.

The rise of feudalism

“The last centuries of the declining Roman Empire and its conquest by the Barbarians destroyed a number of productive forces: agriculture had declined, industry had decayed for want of a market, trade had died out or had been violently suspended, the rural population and urban population had decreased.” (Karl Marx, The German Ideology.)
Over the centuries, the barbarian masses overran Europe; in the East, the Goths, Germans and Huns; in the North and West, the Scandinavian; in the South, the Arabs. In their conquest of territories they proceeded to ransack the towns, and settle down in the countryside, where they lived by means of primitive agriculture.
In these communities, they elected their village chiefs, however, as time passed by, chiefs were always chosen from the same family. The head of the privileged family, through succession, became the natural chief. The villages were at constant war with their neighbours, resulting in conquered lands being divided up with the greater share accruing to the chief. He thus became the most powerful and propertied man in the community. In times of strife, he would guarantee the protection of those under him while in turn they were duty bound to grant military service to him. These peasants were later able to forgo their military service for a tribute in some form or another.
The authority of these village lords was extended into the surrounding countryside. The lord “owed justice, aid, and protection to his vassals, and these, in their turn, owed fidelity and homage to their lord”. (Lafargue, The Evolution of Property.) Wars and conquests served to crystallise these feudal relationships. The lords and barons together with their men-at-arms formed a new social hierarchy, sustained by the labour provided by their vassals. As Lafargue expressed it:
“So soon as the authority of the feudal nobility was constituted, it became in its turn, a source of trouble to the country whose defence it had been charged with. The barons, in order to enlarge their territories and thereby extend their power, carried on continual warfare among themselves, only interrupted now and again by a short truce necessitated by the tillage of the fields …
 The vanquished, when not killed outright or utterly despoiled, became the vassals of the conqueror, who seized upon a portion of their lands and vassals. The petty barons disappeared for the benefit of the great ones, who became potent feudatories, and established ducal courts at which the lords in vassalage were bound to attend”.
As feudal relations matured, the majority of farm land in Europe became divided into areas known as manors, each manor possessing its own lord and officials whose task was to manage the estate. The arable land was divided into two parts, about a third of it belonged to the lord (called a Demesne), while the rest was divided amongst his vassals. Pastures, wood and meadows were used as Common Land--a survival in fact from the days of Primitive Communism. Agriculture was to make great strides forward with the introduction of the three field system. The vassals share of the land, however, was further divided up into separate strips scattered throughout the fields which meant a massive drain on productivity.
The social structure which developed under Feudalism, gave rise to new classes and groups. The social framework resembled a pyramid structure, headed by the king, aristocracy, the great churchmen and bishops. Under them were the privileged barons, dukes, counts and knights. On the bottom rungs of the social order were the freeman, serfs (Bordars, Cotters, Villeins), and slaves.
Unlike today, where the main body of wealth is created in the factories the land produced nearly all of social requirement. So land became the most important possession of the Feudal system. The more land one held, the more powerful one became. The ruling class ruled by their virtual monopoly of land to which the serfs were tied. Theoretically, the King owned all the land but in reality areas and domains were granted to dukes, who in turn granted tenancy to counts, who would have many vassals under him granted tenancy of much smaller parcels of land. All had to provide services to their superiors in guaranteeing men-at-arms, payment of rent, etc.
Unlike the slave who owned nothing, the serf was a tenant of the lord. Unlike the slave, the serf has a vested interest in his plot of land. He had more rights than the slave: he could not be sold (neither could his family), providing some security, although the degree of serfdom and obligations varied. In return for this land and “rights”, the serf was forced to work for the lord of the manor for certain periods of the week, without pay.
Other services were demanded of him (Boon Days) at harvest time, and whenever the lord needed assistance. The lords' needs came first. The serf could not leave the land, had to have the lords' permission if his children were to marry outside his demesne. Taxes were imposed on a serf's inheritance and female heirs to land had to get the permission of their overlord.
The new organisation of society based on landed property gave rise to a further development of the productive forces. This time the surplus value created by the serf's labour was appropriated by the aristocratic lay and ecclesiastical ruling class.
In the words of the historian Meilly: “It is an economic maxim that productiveness increases in proportion as the freer constitution of society insures the workers an absolutely larger and more secure portion of the product of their labour. In other words, freer social forms have the direct effect of stimulating production.”
As the new classes crystallised, new forms of state apparatus also came into existence to preserve the feudal property forms. The new morality and ideology that arose from these forms cemented social relationships. The Church, which became more and more powerful, provided the spiritual foundations of the new order and with it the Popes became more powerful than King or Emperor, with churchlands extending to between a third and a half of the land in Christendom. The tithe that is collected amounted to a 10 per cent tax on all income, goods, etc.
In general the feudal state remained centrally weak until the rise of the absolute monarchies of the 16th century. As a result, continual baronial wars shook the outlying provinces where robber barons built up their power and prestige, threatening the position of the central monarch. The struggle of the central monarch to subdue the regions is a characteristic feature of the period. The eventual defeat of these provincial lords, with their constant strife and war, enabled trade to develop to a higher level.
Trade was at a low level. The land, in fact, produced practically everything. It was a “natural” economy geared towards self-sufficiency. However, with the launching of the crusades, the expeditions to the Holy Land, new needs arose, and the merchants who supplied these needs, began to establish huge fairs in France, Belgium, England, Germany and Italy. These periodic fairs played an essential part in the growth of European trade, and helped to establish a strong class of rich merchants. Money relations began to erode the straight jacket of feudal society.
Hand in hand with the development of trade, went the growth of the towns. The merchant class that arose in the town clashed with the traditional standards and restrictions of feudalism.
The Church, for instance, considered the practice of usury as a sin, using the threat of excommunication against those who promoted it.
In his very good book, Man's Worldly Goods, Leo Huberinan explains the nature of the conflict:
“The whole atmosphere of feudalism was one of confinement, whereas the whole atmosphere of merchant activity in the town was one of freedom. Town land belonged to feudal lords, bishops, nobles, kings. These feudal lords at first looked upon their town land in no different light from that in which they looked on the other land …

All these forms (feudal dues, taxes, services) were feudal, based on the ownership of the soil. And all these forms had changed as far the towns were concerned. Feudal regulations and feudal justice were fixed by custom and difficult to alter. But trade by its very nature is active, changing, and impatient of barriers. It could not fit into the rigid feudal frame.”
Therefore old relationships had to be challenged and changed. The towns began to demand their freedom and independence, and gradually town charters were conceded, some by agreement, others by force.
Trade itself gave rise to new forms of wealth. No longer was land the sole source of power and privilege, as money acquired in trading assumed a much greater importance. In the towns was born the wealthy merchant oligarchy which controlled and regulated the small scale individual production, through the guild system. With the further division of labour,
Craft Guilds were established comprising the guild master, apprentices and journeymen. As more and more wealth was created through production the guild masters (employers of labour) came into sharp conflict with their journeymen (workers). By the 15th century, actual journeymen's unions were formed to protect their interests.
The introduction of the money economy (which had only a very limited character in slave society) slowly undermined the basis of the feudal system. Its laws and customs were modified to correspond with the new development. As serfs ran away to the towns to make their fortunes, money values began to transcend the old relationships, Labour dues being replaced by rented property.
The impact of the Black Death, in the mid-14th century, greatly accelerated the process. Historians have estimated between 30 and 50 per cent of the population of England, Germany, the Low Countries, and France were wiped out by the Great Plague. This in turn resulted in the chronic shortage of labour, which forced many landowners to introduce wage labour to overcome their difficulties.

The rise of the absolute monarch

The nation-state as we know it today did not always exist. Peoples' allegiances at this time belonged not to the nation but to the lord, the town, the locality, or the guild. People considered themselves not French, English, etc., but people of a town or city. Every Christian was a member of the Roman Catholic Church, which in turn ruled over Christendom, and thus was the greatest power of all.
With the growth of wealth in the towns, a capitalist class began to arise which demanded conditions suitable for the unhindered development of trade and commerce. They wanted order and security. The struggle for independence of the towns from their feudal overlords, the continuous battles between local barons, the pillaging that followed, all gave rise to the need for a central authority, a nation state.
The conflict between the central monarch and the great barons (a struggle between two sections of the ruling class) ended with a victory for the king. He was supported by the merchants and middle class, who provided the money to raise the armies he required. The emergence of the nation state together with the centralised monarchy ushered in a great economic advance. For their support, the monarch granted certain monopolies and privileges to sections of the middle class and the next stage was set for the clash between the national monarch and the interests of the international church.
The late 15th century saw the beginning of the voyages of discovery. Men such as Columbus and Vasco Da Gama were financed by rich merchants to seek new areas of exploitation and “spread the Word of God”. Joint stock companies were established to promote the financing of greater exploitation, for plunder and profit.
With the massive profits from the voyages, many merchants and financiers became the real centres of power and wealth. Nobles, aristocrats and monarchs became debtors to the rich merchants. One banking family, the Fuggors, were even able to decide who was to be made Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire!
The new economic developments were giving rise to a capitalist formation. The basis of the feudal economy had begun to disintegrate with the growth in power and wealth of the rising bourgeoisie. New values, ideas, philosophies, and morals evolved out of the new relationships. The old ruling class stubbornly resisted the changes.
As Marx explained:
“At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relation of production or--this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms--with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

Then begins an era of social revolution”. Later on, Marx adds: “No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.”
The old society has been undermined during the previous period. Probably one of the greatest challenges to the old order was the attack on Catholicism. In this period, the Church was not just a religious institution but the chief bulwark of the social order. Apart from being a powerful landowner, it collected a tithe from everyone, had its courts and special privileges, controlled education and shaped the political and moral outlook of the people.
As Charles I once said: “People are governed by the pulpit more than the sword in times of peace.” The Church censored books, and used the threat of excommunication against dissenters. It is said that this was a very religious period but this is wildly exaggerated by historians. Rather than people actually living according to the precepts of the Bible, religion was rather used to justify the Old Order. Everything, including political thought, was expressed in religious terms. Those who wished to undermine the system, had to first challenge the monopoly of Catholicism.
In the early 16th century, the absolute monarchies came into conflict with the Catholic Church themselves. The Protestant Reformation ushered in by Luther, supplied the weapons in the struggle against Papal power. In England, Henry VIII broke with Catholicism and raided the wealth of the monasteries, which was dissipated in expensive European and Irish wars.

The capitalist revolution

The Puritanism of the Calvin variety suited the outlook and morality of the rising middle class in town and country with its emphasis on self-reliance and personal success. The middle class was now set to rise quickly after adapting to the inflation rampant between 1540-1640, in which prices rose by more than fourfold and came increasingly into conflict with the old ruling class.
In England, the struggle between the new bourgeoisie and the old order took the form of the civil war. The New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell led the middle class into the armed struggle against the King and Old Order. In 1649, the King was beheaded and a capitalist republic declared. Cromwell, resting for support on the army, established himself as the head of a Bonapartist military dictatorship.
The elements of left-wing democracy and its proponents (the levellers and diggers), who threatened capitalist property rights, had to be mercilessly quashed. From then on the regime rested on a narrow social basis--the armed forces. The capitalist regime under these critical crises circumstances reduced itself in the Bonapartist fashion to the rule of one man.
The feudal structures were dismantled together with the House of Lords and monarchy. The old ruling class had been defeated, and the lower classes kept in their place. The struggle of the Parliamentarians against the King has been seen by historians and even by some contemporaries as a struggle against tyranny and for religious liberty but as Marx commented:
“Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradiction of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production”.
Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution, once noted: “Revolutions have always in history been followed by counter-revolutions. Counter-revolutions have always thrown society back, but never as far back as the starting point of the revolution”. So it was in 1660 and 1689, where the big bourgeoisie hurriedly made a compromise with the “bourgeois” elements of the aristocracy.
 The monarchy and House of Lords were restored although from then on they could never play the same role as their predecessors, on the contrary, they became part and parcel of the capitalist state. The bourgeois men of property concerned themselves with their future, and of keeping the lower orders in their place with their power carefully checked.
One hundred years later, the French Capitalist revolution was carried through to completion without any compromise being struck. The French Revolution, like its English counter-part, began with a split in the ruling class. The King and his ministers clashed over a scheme to avoid state bankruptcy, with the Parliament (which represented the nobility, higher clergy, the court clique, etc.).
The latter's appeal against the government tyranny took on unforeseen flesh and rioting broke out in the streets of the towns and cities. It brought to a head all the simmering discontent of the middle class and lower orders against the regime. “The revolt of the nobility was,” explains George Rude, “perhaps, a curtain-raiser rather than a revolution which, by associating the middle and lower classes in common action against King and aristocracy, was unique in contemporary Europe.” Despite the attempts at reform from above, they were insufficient to prevent revolution from below.
As in all popular revolutions the masses burst onto the scene of history. The most self-sacrificing came to the fore, and pushed the revolution far to the left. Between 1789 and 1793 the old feudal regime and aristocracy had been completely swept away. The regime was headed by the revolutionary middle class, the Jacobins, who were supported and pushed by the plebeian masses made up of wage-earners and small craftsmen.
A shift to the right occurred in 1794 with the government of the Directory coming to power. This in its turn gave way to a new political counter-revolution, which brought to power the law and order type regime of Napoleon Bonaparte. Nevertheless, the old order had been broken, and the new bourgeois property rights were to remain intact. The shift of political power was not accompanied by a social change backwards, i.e., it did not bring a return to the feudal order but was a political change brought about through the struggles of different sections of the capitalist class itself.

The triumph of capitalism

The great Bourgeois revolutions cleared the path for Capitalism. The agrarian changes ensured the growth of capitalist agriculture, where the old feudal estates had been broken up and distributed to the peasants. In England, the conversion of a section of the aristocracy before the revolution prepared the way for the ruination of the peasantry itself. Governments now, instead of acting as a brake on trade and industry, actually championed its cause.
Through robbery, enclosure and plunder and competition, the means of production became concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The ruination of the peasantry provided a pool of labour-power in the towns and cities. The class structure became more simplified. On the one hand were the capitalists and on the other the propertyless proletarians. All that these workers possessed was their ability to work.
The only way they could remain alive was to sell their labour-power to the capitalists in return for wages. In the process of production, the proletarian produces more value than he receives in wages, the surplus value being expropriated by the capitalists. In its search for profit, amidst competition from rivals, the capitalist class is forced to introduce new methods of production, in this way Capitalism has, historically, played a progressive role continually revolutionising the productive forces.
Its export of commodities and then Capital leads the capitalist class to create “a world after its own image”. The productive forces, technique and science gradually outgrew the nation state which protected it.


The period from 1870 to 1900 saw the division of the world amongst the main powers. In 1870 one-tenth of Africa had been divided up; by 1900 some nine-tenths of the “Dark Continent” were in the hands of Britain, France or one of the other European Empires. By 1914 this process of world division had been completed, and capitalism entered its highest stage of Imperialism. Huge trusts and monopolies had grown out of the earlier period of competition. “The state had more and more fused with the monopolies and financial institutions and acted increasingly in their interest. Production in this epoch is accompanied by the export of capital itself.” (Lenin)
The imperialist stage brings with it the threat of world war, in the struggle for new markets, etc. Due to the carving up of the world and the tremendous growth in production, markets can now only be obtained by a new re-division of the world which inevitably leads to conflict on a world scale. World war indicates the contradictions between the private ownership of the means of production on the one hand and the nation state on the other. But unlike previous societies Capitalism has furnished the material pre-requisites for the new socialist order that can guarantee plenty for all.
The proletariat is the only consistent revolutionary class capable of carrying through to a conclusion the Socialist Revolution. This stems from its particular place in social production. The working class is disciplined in the factories and forced to co-operate in the productive process. It organises itself into large trade unions and then into its own independent party.
Marxism, as opposed to all other theories, provides it with a clear ideology and tasks in its mission to overthrow Capitalism. The Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin and Trotsky, provided a living model to the workers of the world.
The peasantry and the middle classes are incapable of playing a leading role, due to their social position. The peasantry is scattered in the countryside, and have no real conception of unity or internationalism. These middle layers of society follow either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.
The peasantry have been in fact, the classical tool of Bonapartism--a regime based on the armed forces, balancing between the classes. In the epoch of imperialism and the decay of monopoly capitalism, if the working class fails to win the middle layers to its Socialist banner, they will be driven into the arms of reaction.

The law of uneven and combined development

From a progressive social system, Capitalism has now become a fetter upon production and the further development of humanity. Marx believed that the proletariat would come to power first in the advanced capitalist countries of Britain, Germany, and France. However, with the emergence of Imperialism, Capitalism, in the words of Lenin, “broke at its weakest link” in backward Russia.
Society does not develop in a straight line, but according to its laws of uneven and combined development. The uneven growth of society on the world scale is constantly cut across by the introduction of new products and ideas from different social systems. The backwardness of semi-feudal Russia was supplemented by the most modern techniques of production in its cities, due to the enormous amount of foreign capital from France and Britain.
The new industrial proletariat which had recently come into being accepted the most advanced ideas of the working class: Marxism.
In many of the under-developed countries the festering sores of much needed land reform, autocracy, national oppression, and economic stagnation, have resulted in enormous discontent. The tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution, which would have laid the basis for capitalist development, have either only been partially carried out or not at all.
In these countries the Capitalist class has come on the scene too late to play a similar role as its revolutionary counter-part of the 17th and 18th century. As in Russia before 1917, they are too weak and tied by a thousand strings--through marriage and mortgage--to the land owners and imperialists. They both now acquire a common hatred of the emerging proletariat. The nationalist capitalist class prefers to cling to the old order rather than appeal to the lower classes to carry through the anti-feudal revolution.
The only class capable of carrying out the revolution is the proletariat by uniting around itself the poorer sections of the peasantry. Once the working class comes to power as in October 1917, it is then able to give the land to the peasants, expel the imperialists and unify the country. However, the proletariat would not stop at these measures but would then proceed to the socialist tasks: nationalisation of the basic industries, land, and financial institutions.
The Russian Revolution was the greatest event in the whole of human history. For the first time the working class took power, swept out the Capitalists, landlords and gangsters and organised a “democratic workers' state”. It was to be the beginning of the international socialist revolution and fully confirmed the theory of Permanent Revolution.
Unfortunately, the betrayal of the socialist revolution in Germany, and other countries, led to the isolation of the revolution in a backward, devastated country. The destruction of the War, mass illiteracy, civil war, exhaustion, placed terrible strains upon the weak working class, and contributed to the degeneration of the revolution. It was these objective conditions which encouraged the growth of bureaucratism in the state, trade unions and the Party. Stalin rose to power on the back of this new bureaucratic caste. The individual in history represents not himself, but the interests of a group, caste or class in society.
Stalinism and its monstrous dictatorship grew not from the Bolshevik Party or socialist revolution, but out of the isolation and material backwardness of Russia. It destroyed the workers' democracy in order to preserve its privileges and power.
The Stalinist regime nevertheless rested on the new property forms of nationalised industry and the plan of production. The Soviets (Workers' Councils) and workers democracy were crushed in the Stalinist political counter-revolution. Only by a new political revolution could the Russian working class have restored the workers' democracy which existed under Lenin and Trotsky. This would not mean a return to capitalism, but an end to the privileged bureaucratic elite, as the masses themselves become involved in the running of society and the state.

The socialist transformation

The socialist transformation ushers in a new and higher form of society by breaking the fetters on the development of the productive forces. The obstacle of private property and the nation state are swept away, allowing the socialised property to be planned in the interests of the majority.
The Socialist Revolution cannot be confined to one country, but puts the world revolution on the order of the day. The world economy and the world division of labour created by capitalism demands an international solution. A Socialist United States of Europe would prepare the ground for a World Federation of Socialist States, and the international planning of production. This in turn would provide the basis for the “planned and harmonious production of goods for the satisfaction of human wants”.
One of the first tasks of the victorious working class would be the destruction of the old state machine. In all class societies the state came into existence as “an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another”. This raises the question, does the working class need a state? The anarchists reply no. But they fail to understand that some form of force is required to keep the old landowners, bankers and capitalists in their place.
The proletariat therefore has to construct a new type of state to represent its interests. In a workers' state, the majority are holding a tiny minority of ex-capitalists in check and therefore the massive bureaucratic state of the past is not needed. This “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” or Workers' Democracy, as Trotsky preferred to call it, vastly broadened and extended the highest forms of bourgeois democracy.
Bourgeois democracy was defined by Marx as the workers deciding every five years which section of the ruling class would misrepresent their interests in Parliament. Everyone could say what they liked, provided that the boards of the monopolies could actually decide what was to be done.
The new workers state would extend democracy from the political to the economic sphere with the nationalisation of the major monopolies. New organs of power, such as the Soviets in Russia, based on the armed people, constitute “working bodies, executive and legislative at the same time”. Bureaucracy would be replaced by the involvement of the masses in the running of the state and society. In order to prevent the growth of officialdom, the proletariat of Paris in 1871 and of Russia in 1917 introduced the following measures:
(1) Election of all officials, with the right to recall. (2) No standing army, but an armed people. (3) No official to receive more than a skilled worker. (4) Positions in the state to be rotated amongst the people.
With the reduction of the working week, the masses are given the opportunity to involve themselves in the state, and obtain the key to culture, science and art. For as Engels once said, if art, science and government remain the preserve of the minority, they will use and abuse this position in their own interest, as was the case in the Stalinist countries.
The state arose historically with the emergence of class society. Thus, from its very inception, the workers' state begins to wither away, as classes themselves dissolve within society. This is why Engels characterised the proletarian state as a “semi-state”.
“Under socialism much of 'primitive' democracy will inevitably be revived, since, for the first time in the history of civilised society, the mass of the people will rise to taking an independent part, not only in voting and elections, but also in the everyday administration of the state. Under Socialism all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing”. (Lenin, State and Revolution.)
In this lower stage of Socialism as Marx called it, one sees society, “just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it comes”. (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme.) Although the exploitation of man by man has been ended, production has not yet reached a high enough level to completely eradicate inequality or class differences. People still have to follow the principle: “He who does not work shall not eat”. The state, despite its transitory character, remains the guardian of inequality.

Socialism, the classless society

Yet with huge strides forward in production, based on the most advanced science and conscious planning, humanity enters the higher realms of real society. Classes and the state will have completely withered away, as society now adopts the slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. The antitheses of town and country, and mental and physical labour disappear with the further revolution in the productive forces.
In the words of Lenin, “the narrow horizon of bourgeois law”, which compels one to calculate with the heartlessness of a Shylock whether one has not worked half an hour more than somebody else, whether one is getting less pay than somebody else--this narrow horizon will then be left behind. There will then be no need for society, in distributing the products, to regulate the quantity to be received by each; each will take freely according to his needs.
The barbarous nature of class society would have ended once and for all. The prehistory of humankind would have been completed. The productive forces built up over thousands of years of class rule now laid the basis for classless society where the state and division of labour were rendered superfluous. Humanity sets itself the task of conquering nature, and opens up the tremendous wonders of science and technology. In the words of Engels, “the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things”.
And Trotsky pointed out that, “Once he has done with the anarchic forces of his own society man will set to work on himself, in the pestle and retort of the chemist. For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at best as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in this sense also, that the man of today, with all his contradictions and lack of harmony, will open the road for a new and happier race”. (Leon Trotsky, In Defence of October.)



Today, under the impact of the capitalist crisis, many workers have developed a thirst for economics. They are attempting to understand the forces which dominate their lives. This brief introduction to Marxist economics attempts to provide the class conscious worker not with a complete account of economics, but a guide to the basic laws of motion of capitalist society dominating his existence.
The shallowness of capitalist economics is demonstrated by their inability to understand the crisis affecting their system. Its role is to cover up the exploitation of the working class and to “prove” the superiority of capitalist society. Their quack “theories” and “solutions” are incapable of patching up the rotten and diseased nature of capitalism. Only the transformation of society on socialist lines and the introduction of a planned economy can end the nightmare of unemployment, slump and chaos.
The right wing labour leaders have rejected their old god Keynes, to be replaced by “orthodox” economic solutions: cuts, wage restraint and deflation. The left reformists still cling to the capitalist policies of yesterday (reflation, import controls, etc.), which have been recognised as totally ineffective under capitalism.
Only with a Marxist understanding of capitalist society can the conscious worker cut through the lies and distortion of the capitalist economists and combat their influence within the Labour Movement.

Conditions for capitalism

Today, modern production is concentrated in the hands of giant companies. Unilever, ICI, Fords, British Petroleum, are some examples of the firms which dominate our lives. Although it is true that small businesses do exist, they really represent the production of the past and not the present. Modern production is essentially a mass, large-scale business.
At present, 200 top companies together with 35 banks and finance houses control the British economy, and account for 85 per cent of output. This development has come about over the past few hundred years through ruthless competition, crisis and war. At the time when the classical economists predicted free trade in the future, Marx explained the development of monopoly from competition as the weaker firms went to the wall. Monopoly capitalism grew out of and abolished free competition.
At first sight, it looks as if goods and things are produced mainly for people's needs. Obviously every society has to do this. But under capitalism, goods are not merely produced to satisfy someone's want or need, but primarily for sale. That is the paramount function of capitalist industry.
In the famous words of the ex-chairman of British Leyland, Lord Stokes, “I'm in business to make money, not cars!” This is a perfect expression of the aspirations of the entire capitalist class.
The capitalist process of production requires the existence of certain conditions. Firstly, the existence of a large class of propertyless workers who are obliged to sell themselves piece-meal in order to live.
Thus the Tory conception of a “property owning democracy” is an absurdity under capitalism, because if the mass of the population owned sufficient property to be self-sufficient, the capitalists would not find the workers to produce their profits.
Secondly, the means of production must be concentrated in the hands of the capitalists. Over the centuries, the peasants and those who owned their own means of subsistence were ruthlessly crushed and their means of life appropriated by the capitalists and landlords. They in turn hire the workers to work these means of production and produce surplus value.

Value and commodities

How does capitalism work? How are workers exploited? Where does profit come from? How are slumps caused?
In order to answer these questions, we first need to learn the key to the mystery: what is value? Having solved this problem, the other answers fall into place. An understanding of value is essential, for an understanding of the economics of capitalist society.
To begin with, all the capitalist firms produce goods or services, or more correctly they produce commodities. That is a good or service produced for sale only. Of course, someone may make something for his or her own personal use. Before capitalism existed, many people had to. But this is not a commodity. Capitalist production is above all the creation and “immense accumulation of commodities”. That is why Marx himself started his investigation of capitalism with an analysis of the character of the commodity itself.
Every commodity has a use-value for people. That means they are useful to someone otherwise they could not be sold. This use-value is limited to the physical properties of the commodity.
They also contain a value. What is it and how can it be shown?
If we leave the use of money out for the time being, commodities, when they are exchanged, fall into certain proportions.
For example:
1 pair of shoes ) 1 watch ) = 10 yards of cloth 3 bottles of whisky ) 1 car tyre )
Each of the items on the left can be exchanged for 10 yards of cloth. They also, in the same amounts, can be exchanged with one another.
This simple example shows that the exchange value of these different commodities expresses something contained in them. But what makes a pair of shoes = 10 yards of cloth? Or 1 watch = 3 bottles of whisky? And so on…
Well, obviously, there must be something common to all. Clearly it is neither weight, colour, nor hardness. Again, it is not because they are useful. Bread after all is worth less than a Roll Royce, yet one is a necessity and the other luxury. So what is the common quality? The only thing in common is they are all products of human labour.
The amount of human labour contained in a commodity is expressed in time: weeks, days, hours, minutes.
To go back to the example: all these commodities can be expressed in terms of their common factor, labour-time.
5 hours (labour) worth of shoes 5 hours (labour) worth of tyres 5 hours (labour) worth of watches 5 hours (labour) worth of whisky 5 hours (labour) worth of cloth

Average labour

If we look at commodities as use-values (their utility), we see them as a “shoe”, “watch”, etc., as products of a particular kind of labour … the labour of the cobbler, watchmaker, etc. But in exchange, commodities are looked at differently. The special character is lost sight of and they appear as so many units of average labour. In exchange we are now comparing the amounts of human labour in general contained in the commodities. All labour, in exchange, is reduced to average simple units of labour.
It is true that the commodity produced by skilled labour contains more value than that produced by unskilled. Therefore in exchange, the units of skilled labour are reduced to so many units of unskilled, simple labour. For example, the ratio of 1 skilled unit = 3 unskilled units, or simply skilled labour is worth three times as much as unskilled.
Explained simply, the value of commodity is determined by the amount of average labour used in its production. (Or how long it takes to produce). But left like this, it appears that the lazy worker produces more values than the most efficient worker!
Let us take the example of a shoemaker who decides to use the outdated methods of the Middle Ages to produce shoes. Using this method, it takes him a whole day to make a pair of shoes. When he tries to sell them on the market, he will find that they will only fetch the same as shoes produced by the better equipped more modern factories.
If these factories produce a pair of shoes in, say half an hour, they will contain less labour (and therefore less value) and will be sold cheaper. This will drive the shoemaker using medieval methods out of business. His labour producing a pair of shoes after half an hour is wasted labour, and unnecessary under modern conditions. On pain of extinction he will be forced to introduce modern techniques and produce shoes at least equal to the necessary time developed by society.
At any given time, using the average labour, machines, methods, etc., all commodities take a particular time to make. This is governed by the level of technique in society. In the words of Marx, all commodities must be produced in a socially necessary time. Any more labour-time spent over and above this will be useless labour, causing costs to rise and making the firm uncompetitive.
So to be more precise, the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour in the article. Naturally, this labour time is continually changing as new techniques and methods of work are introduced. Competition drives the inefficient to the wall.
Thus we can also understand why precious gems have more value than everyday items. More socially necessary labour time is needed to find, and extract the gems, than the production of ordinary commodities. Their value therefore being considerably higher.
Again a thing can be a use value without having any value, i.e. a useful thing that has had no labour time spent on its production: air, rivers, virgin soil, natural meadows, etc. Therefore labour is not the only source of wealth, i.e. use values, but nature too is a source.
From the above we can see that an increase in productivity will increase the amount of things produced (material wealth), but can reduce the value of the things concerned, i.e. the amount of labour in each commodity is less. Increased productivity therefore results in an increase in wealth. With two coats two people can be clothed, with one coat only one person. Nevertheless, the increase in the quantity of material wealth may correspond with a fall in the magnitude of its value.


As a result of the difficulties in exchange by using the methods of barter, more frequently a common article was used as “money”. Over the centuries one commodity--gold--became singled out to play this role as the “universal equivalent”.
Instead of saying a good is worth so much butter, meat, cloth, etc., it became expressed in terms of gold. The money expression of value is price. Gold was used because of its qualities. It concentrates much value in a small amount, can easily be divided into coins, and is also hard wearing.
As with all commodities, the value of gold itself is determined by the amount of labour-time spent on its production. For example, say it takes 40 hours labour to produce one ounce of gold. Then all the other goods that take the same time to produce are equal to that ounce of gold. Those that take half the time equal half the amount, etc.
One ounce of gold = 40 hours labour 1/2 ounce of gold = 20 hours labour 1/4 ounce of gold = 10 hours of labour Therefore: One car (40 hours labour) = 1 ounce of gold One table (10 hours labour) = 1/4 ounce of gold
Due to the changes in productive technique and the increase in the productivity of labour, all the values of commodities are continually fluctuating, like so many trains in a station pulling in and out at differing times. If you take any train as a standard which is moving off to gauge the movement of others, it would lead to confusion. Only by standing on the firm platform can you judge accurately what is happening. In relation to the changes of all goods, gold acts as the measure. Although the most stable, even this is in constant motion, as no commodity has a totally fixed value.

Prices of commodities

The law of value governs the price of goods. As explained earlier, the value of commodities is equal to the amount of labour contained in it. In theory, the value is equal to its price. Yet, in reality, the price of a commodity tends to be either above or below its real value. This fluctuation is caused by different influences on market price, such as the growth of monopoly. The differences of supply and demand also have a great effect.
For instance, there may be a surplus of a commodity in the market, and the price that day may be far below the real value, or if there was a shortage, the price would rise above it. The effects of supply and demand have led bourgeois economists to believe that this law is the sole factor in determining price. What they were unable to explain was that prices always fluctuate around a definite level. What that level is, is not determined by supply and demand, but by the labour time spent in the articles' production. A lorry will always be more expensive than a plastic bucket.


Some “clever” people have invented the theory that profits arise from buying cheap and selling dear. In Wage, Labour and Capital, Marx explains the nonsense of this argument:
“What a man would certainly win as a seller he would lose as a purchaser. It would not do to say that there are men who are buyers without being sellers or consumers without being producers. What these people pay to the producers, they must first get from them for nothing. If a man first takes your money and afterwards returns that money in buying your commodities you will never enrich yourself by selling your commodities too dear to that same man. This sort of transaction might diminish a loss, but would help in realising a profit”.

Labour power

In obtaining the “factors of production”, the capitalist looks on the “labour market” as just another branch of the general market for commodities. The abilities and energies of the worker are seen as just another commodity. He advertises for so many “hands”.
What we have to be clear about is what the capitalist has bought. The worker has sold not his labour but his ability to work. This Marx calls his labour power.

Labour power is a commodity governed by the same laws as other commodities. Its value is determined by the labour-time necessary for its production. Labour power is the ability of the worker to work. It is “consumed” by the capitalist in the actual labour-process. But this presupposes the existence and health and strength of the worker. The production of labour power therefore means the worker's self-maintenance and the reproduction of his species, to provide new generations of “hands” for the capitalist.

The labour-time necessary for the worker's maintenance is the labour-time it takes to produce the means of subsistence for him and his family: food, clothing, fuel, etc. The amount of this varies in different countries, different climates, and different historical periods. What is adequate subsistence for a labourer in Calcutta would not be adequate for a Welsh miner.
What was adequate for a Welsh miner fifty years ago would not be for a Midlands car worker today. Into this question, unlike the value of other commodities, there enters a historical and even moral element. Nevertheless, in any given country, at any particular stage of historical development, the “standard of living” is known. (Incidentally, it is precisely the creation of new needs which is the spur to all kinds of human progress).

Not cheated!

Apart from the daily reproduction of his labour power, and the reproduction of the species, at a certain stage in the development of capitalist technique, a certain amount has to be provided for the education of the workers in order to fit them for the conditions of modern industry and raise their productivity.
Unlike most commodities, labour power is paid for only after it has been consumed. The workers thus philanthropically extend credit to their employers! (weeks in hand, petty cheating and bankruptcy, leading to loss of wages).
Despite this, the worker has not been cheated. He has arrived at an agreement of his own free will. As with all other commodities, equivalent values are exchanged: the worker's commodity, labour power, is sold to the boss at the “going rate”. Everybody is satisfied. And if the worker is not, then he is free to leave and find work elsewhere � if he can�
The sale of labour power poses a problem. If “nobody is cheated”, if the worker receives the full value of his commodity, where does exploitation come from? Where does the capitalist make his profits? The answer is that the worker sells the capitalist not his labour (which is realised in the work process), but his labour power--his ability to work.
Having purchased this as a commodity, the capitalist is free to use it as he pleases. As Marx explained: “From the instant he steps into the work shop, the use-value of his labour power, and therefore also its use, which is labour, belongs to the capitalist”.

Surplus value

We will see from the following example that the capitalist purchases labour power because it is the only commodity which can produce new values above and beyond its own value.
Let us take a worker who is employed to spin cotton into yarn. He gets paid £1 per hour and works an 8 hour day.
After 4 hours he had produced 100lbs of yarn at a total vale of £20. This value of £20 is made up from the following:
Raw materials £11 (cotton, spindle, power) Depreciation £1 (wear and tear) New value £8
The new value created is sufficient to pay the workers' wages for the full 8 hours. At this point the capitalist has covered all his costs (including his total wage bill). But as yet no surplus value (profit) has been produced.
During the next 4 hours another 100lbs of yarn is produced valued again at £20. And again £8 of new value is created, but this time the wages have already been covered. Therefore this new value (£8) is surplus value. From this comes rent (to the landlord), interest (to the moneylender) and profit (to the industrialist). Thus surplus value or profit, in the words of Marx, is the unpaid labour of the working class.

The working day

The secret of the production of surplus value is that the worker continues to work longer after he has produced the value necessary to reproduce the value of his labour power (his wages). “The fact that half a day's labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive does not in any way prevent him from working a full day.” (Marx).
The worker has sold his commodity and cannot complain about the way he is used, any more than the tailor can sell a suit and then demand that his customer must not wear it as often as he likes. The working day is therefore so organised as to give the maximum benefits from the labour power he has bought. In this lay the secret of the transformation of money into capital.

Constant capital

In production itself, machines and raw materials lose their use value, they become burnt up and become absorbed into the new product. They transfer their value into the new commodity.
This is clear in relation to raw materials (wood, metal, dyes, fuel, etc.) which are wholly consumed in the process of production, only to reappear in the properties of the article produced.
Machines on the other hand, do not disappear in the same way. But they do deteriorate in the course of production, thus dying a protracted death. The exact moment when a machine is finally declared redundant is no more possible to fix with exactitude than the exact moment of a person's death. But just as the insurance company, on the basis of the theory of averages, makes very accurate (and profitable) calculations concerning the life-span of men and women, so the capitalist know by experience and calculation roughly how long a machine will last.
The depreciation of machinery, its daily loss of use value, is calculated on this basis and added on to the cost of the article produced. Thus, the means of production add to the commodity their own value in proportion as the deterioration of its use value unfolds. The means of production, therefore, cannot transfer to the commodity more than that value which they themselves lose in the process of production. It is thus called constant capital.

Variable capital

While the means of production add no new value to the commodities produced, but only deteriorate, the labour of the worker not only preserves, but adds new value to his product by merely working. If the process of work were to stop at that moment when the worker had produced articles to the value of his own labour power, e.g. in 4 hours (£8) this is the only bit of new value created.
But the work process does not stop there. This would only cover the expenses of the capitalist in hiring the workmen. The capitalist does not hire workers for charity but for profit. Having “freely” entered into a contract with the capitalist, the worker must labour on, producing extra value and beyond that sum agreed on as his wage.
The means of production on the one hand, and labour power on the other--the “factors of production” of bourgeois economics--represent the different forms assumed by the original capital in the second phase of the cycle:

(purchase) (production) (sale)
Capitalist economists treat these factors as equal. Marxism distinguishes between that part of capital which does not undergo any change of value in the process of production (machines, tools, raw materials) and that part represented by labour power which creates new value. The first part of capital called constant capital, and the latter variable capital. The total value of a commodity is made up from constant capital, variable capital and surplus value, i.e. C + V + S.

Necessary and surplus labour

The labour performed by the working class can be divided up into two parts:
(1) Necessary Labour: This is the part of the labour process which is needed to cover the cost of wages.
(2) Surplus Labour: This is the extra labour performed in addition to labour, which produces the profits.
To increase his profits, the capitalist is constantly attempting to reduce his wages bill. He does this by attempting to (1) lengthen the working day, introduce new shift patterns, etc., (2) increase productivity to cover wages more quickly, (3) resist wage rises or attempt to cut them.

Rate of surplus value

Since the whole purpose of capitalist production is to extract surplus value from the labour of the working class, the proportion between variable capital (wages) and the surplus value (profits) is of the greatest importance. One is expanding or contracting at the expense of the other. This struggle over the surplus constitutes the class struggle. What concerns the capitalist is not so much the amount of surplus value produced but the rate of surplus value. For every pound he lays out in capital he expects a big return.
The rate of surplus value is the rate of exploitation of labour by capital. It may be defined as S/V or surplus labour/necessary labour, (it is the same thing expressed in a different way), where V = Variable capital, S = Surplus value. For example in a small plant, total capital of £500 is divided between Constant (£410) and Variable (£90). Through the process of production the value of the commodities have increased by £90 surplus: (C+V) + S or (410 + £90) + £90 surplus. The total new value is £590.
It is the variable capital that is the living labour, i.e. it produces the new value of surplus value. So the relative increase in the value produced by variable capital gives us the rate of surplus value S/V = £90/£90 =100% rate of surplus value.

The rate of profit

Under the pressure of competition at home and abroad, the capitalist is compelled to constantly revolutionise the means of production and to increase productivity. The need to expand compels him to spend a larger and larger proportion of his capital on machinery and raw materials and less on labour power, thus diminishing the proportion of variable capital to constant capital. Side by side with automation goes the concentration of capital, the liquidation of the smaller concerns and the domination of the economy by giant monopolies. This constitutes a change in the technical composition of capital.
But since it is the variable capital (labour power) alone which is the source of surplus value (profit), the bigger amounts invested in constant capital results in the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, although with new investments profits can increase enormously they do not rise proportionately to the much greater capital outlay.
For example, take a small capitalist with a total capital of £150 made up of Constant Capital (£50) and Variable (£100). He employs 10 men at £10 per day making tables and chairs. After one day work they produce £250 in total value:
Total Capital : The wages paid = £100
The constant capital = £50
Surplus value = £100

The rate of surplus value can be calculated: S/V = £100/£100 = 100%. The rate of profit is calculated as the ratio between total capital and surplus value: Surplus Value/Total capital or £100/£150 = 66.66 % rate of profit. As the amount of constant capital is increased, so the rate of profit falls. In the same example given the same rate of surplus value we increase the constant capital from £50 to £100. The rate of profit = Surplus value/Total capital = £100/£200 = 50%. Again if we increase the constant capital to £200, all other things being equal, Surplus Value/Total Capital = £100/£300 = 33.33 % rate of profit. And lastly constant capital is increased to £300, the rate of profit would be £100/£400 = 25%.
This increase in constant capital expresses in Marxist terms a higher organic composition of capital, and is a progressive development of the productive forces. The tendency is therefore built into the very nature of the capitalist mode of production, and has been one of the major problems facing the capitalist class in the post-war period.

The mass of surplus value increases, but in proportion to the increased size of constant capital it results in a falling rate of profit. The capitalists have continually attempted to overcome this contradiction by the increased exploitation of the working class, to increase the mass of surplus value and therefore the rate of profit, by means other than investment.
They do this in a number of ways by raising the intensity of exploitation, increasing the speed of the machinery and the lengthening of the working day. Another method to restore the rate of profit is to cut the real wages of the workers below their real value. The very laws of capitalism gives rise to enormous contradictions. The capitalists' constant striving for profits gives the impetus for investment, but new technology forces more workers on the scrap heap. Yet paradoxically the only source of profit is from the labour of the working class.

Export of capital

The highest stage of capitalism--imperialism--is marked by the enormous export of capital. In their search for increased rates of profit, the capitalists are forced to invest huge sums of money abroad in countries of low composition of capital. Eventually, the whole world, as Marx and Engels explain in the Communist Manifesto becomes dominated by the capitalist mode of production.
One of the major contradictions of capitalism is the obvious problem that the working class as consumers have to buy back what they have produced. But as they do not receive the full value of their labour, they have not the resources to do this. The capitalists solve this contradiction by taking the surplus and reinvesting it in developing the productive further. Also they seek to sell the remaining surplus on the world market in competition with the capitalists of all the other different countries. But there are also limits to this as all the capitalists of the world are playing the same game.
In addition, the capitalists resort to credit, via the banking system, to provide the necessary cash for the mass of the population to buy the goods. But this also has its limits as the credit eventually has to be paid back, with interest.
That explains why periodically, the booms are followed in regular succession by periods of slump. The feverish struggle for markets end up in a crisis of overproduction for capitalism. The destructiveness of the crisis, which are met with the wholesale writing-off of accumulated capital, are a sufficient indication of the impasse of capitalist society.
All the factors that led to the world upswing after the war have prepared the way for downswing and crisis. The characteristic of this new epoch is the organic crisis that capitalism now faces. At some stage the working class will be faced with a 1929-type slump if capitalism is not eradicated. Only by overthrowing the anarchy of capitalist production can humanity prevent the chaos, wastage and barbarism of capitalism. Only by eliminating private property of the means of production, can society escape the laws of motion of capitalism and develop and blossom in a planned and rational way.
The mighty forces of production, built by class society, can abolish once and for all the criminal scandal of so-called overproduction in a world of want and starvation. Eradicating the contradiction of the development of the productive forces and the nation state and private ownership, will provide the basis for an international plan of production.
Using the powers of science and technology, the whole of the planet could be transformed in the space of a decade. The socialist transformation of society remains the most urgent and burning task facing the world's working class. Marxism provides the weapon and understanding to weld together this mighty army for the establishment of a socialist Britain, a socialist Europe, and the basis for the World Federation of Socialist States.

IX. What is historical materialism? - A study guide with questions, extracts and suggested reading


We are publishing our second study guide on historical materialism. Historical Materialism is the application of Marxist science to historical development. The fundamental proposition of historical materialism can be summed up in a sentence: “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Marx, in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.)

Marxism, or Scientific Socialism, is the name given to the body of ideas first worked out by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). In their totality, these ideas provide a fully worked-out theoretical basis for the struggle of the working class to attain a higher form of human society - socialism.
The study of Marxism falls under three main headings, corresponding broadly to philosophy, social history and economics - Dialectical Materialism, Historical Materialism and Marxist Economics. These are the famous “Three component parts of Marxism” of which Lenin wrote.
The Education for Socialists series was launched to promote the study of Marxism. They are intended to assist the student of Marxism by providing an introduction to the subject matter, with suitable Marxist texts that we hope will whet their appetite for further reading and study. In the second of these Education for Socialists study guides, we provide a selection of material on Historical Materialism. The remaining “component part”, as well as other fundamental questions, will be dealt with in future issues. The guides are suitable for individual study or as the basis of a Marxist discussion group.

In this study of Historical Materialism the editors are publishing an introductory article by Mick Brooks. While this is a good beginning to the subject, there is no substitute for proceeding from there to tackle the historical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Plekhanov and others. Marx and Engels wrote extensively about Historical Materialism from the German Ideology onwards. The Communist Manifesto is a masterpiece in this regard.

The newer reader should not be put off by the sometimes difficult and abstract ideas expressed in these writings. Whatever the initial difficulty, a certain perseverance will pay just rewards. Marxism is a science with its own terminology, and therefore makes heavy demands upon the beginner. However, every serious worker and student knows that nothing is worthwhile if attained without a degree of struggle and sacrifice.
The theories of Marxism provide the thinking worker with a comprehensive understanding. It is the duty of every worker and student to conquer for himself or herself the theories of Marx and Engels, as an essential prerequisite for the conquest of society by working people.

We recognise that there are real obstacles in the path of the worker's struggle for theory. A man or woman who is obliged to toil long hours in work, who has not had the benefit of a decent education and consequently lacks the habit of reading, finds great difficulty in absorbing some of the more complex ideas, especially at the outset.
Yet it was for workers that Marx and Engels wrote, and not for “clever” academics. “Every beginning is difficult” no matter what science we are talking about. To the class conscious worker who is prepared to persevere, one promise can be made: once the initial effort is made to come to grips with unfamiliar and new ideas, the theories of Marxism will be found to be basically straight-forward and simple.
Once the basic concepts of Marxism are conquered, they open up a whole new outlook on politics, the class struggle, and every aspect of life.
As a further introduction to Historical Materialism, we are also republishing the preface to Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution, an extract from Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of classical German Philosophy, his introduction to the Dialectics of Nature, and an extract from Marx's Preface to A Contribution of Political Economy.
For further study, we recommend The German Ideology by Marx and Engels, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Marx and The History of the Russian Revolution by Trotsky.
Those who wish to go into greater depth should try reading Karl Kautsky's Foundations of Christianity, Plekhanov's The Materialist Conception of History and his Role of the Individual in History. In addition, Plekhanov's The Fundamental Problems of Marxism is highly recommended, as is other material in the suggested reading at the end of this study guide.
The editors, November 2002

Historical Materialism

What is Historical Materialism?

Historical Materialism is the application of Marxist science to historical development. The fundamental proposition of historical materialism can be summed up in a sentence: “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Marx, in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.)
What does this mean? Readers of the Daily Mirror will be familiar with the “Perishers” cartoon strip. In one incident the old dog, Wellington wanders down to a pool full of crabs. The crabs speculate about the mysterious divinity, the “eyeballs in the sky,” which appears to them.
The point is, that is actually how you would look at things if your universe were a pond. Your consciousness is determined by your being. Thought is limited by the range of experience of the species.

We know very little about how primitive people thought, but we know what they couldn't have been thinking about. They wouldn't have wandered about wondering what the football results were, for instance. League football presupposes big towns able to get crowds large enough to pay professional footballers and the rest of the club staff. Industrial towns in their turn can only emerge when the productivity of labour has developed to the point where a part of society can be fed by the rest, and devote themselves to producing other requirements than food.
In other words, an extensive division of labour must exist. The other side of this is that people must be accustomed to working for money and buying the things they want from others - including tickets to the football - which, of course, was not the case in primitive society.

So this simple example shows how even things like professional football are dependent on the way society makes its daily bread, on people's “social existence”.
After all, what is mankind? The great idealist philosopher Hegel said that “man, is a thinking being.” Actually Hegel's view was a slightly more sophisticated form of the usual religious view that man is endowed by his Creator with a brain to admire His handiwork. It is true that thinking is one way we are different from dung beetles, sticklebacks and lizards. But why did humans develop the capacity to think?
Over a hundred years ago, Engels pointed out that upright posture marked the transition from ape to man, a completely materialist explanation. This view has been confirmed by the more recent researches of anthropologists such as Leakey. Upright posture liberated the hands for gripping with an opposable thumb. This enabled tools to be used and developed.
Upright posture also allowed early humans to rely more on the eyes, rather than the other senses, for sensing the world around. The use of the hands developed the powers of the brain through the medium of the eyes.
Engels was a dialectical materialist. In no way did he minimise the importance of thought - rather he explained how it arose. We can also see that Benjamin Franklin, the eighteenth-century US politician and inventor, was much nearer a materialist approach than Hegel when he defined man as a “tool-making animal.”

Darwin showed a hundred years ago that there is a struggle for existence, and species survive through natural selection. At first sight early humans didn't have a lot going for them, compared with the speed of the cheetah, the strength of the lion, or the sheer intimidating bulk of the elephant. Yet humans came to dominate the planet and, more recently, to drive many of these more fearsome animals to the point of extinction.
What differentiates humanity from the lower animals is that, however self-reliant animals such as lions may seem, they ultimately just take external nature around them for granted, whereas, mankind progressively masters nature.
The process whereby mankind masters nature is labour. At Marx's grave, Engels stated that his friend's great discovery was that “mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, and therefore work before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion etc.”
While we can't read the minds of our primitive human ancestors, we can make a pretty good guess about what they were thinking most of the time - food. The struggle against want has dominated history ever since.
Marxists are often accused of being 'economic determinists'. Actually, Marxists are far from denying the importance of ideas or the active role of individuals in history. But precisely because we are active, we understand the limits of individual activity, and the fact that the appropriate social conditions must exist before our ideas and our activity can be effective.
Our academic opponents are generally passive cynics who exalt individual activity amid the port and walnuts from over-stuffed armchairs. We understand, with Marx that people “make their own history...but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”. We need to understand how society is developing in order to intervene in the process. That is what we mean when we say Marxism is the science of perspectives.

We have seen that labour distinguishes mankind from the other animals - that mankind progressively changes nature through labour, and in doing so changes itself. It follows that there is a real measure of progress through all the miseries and pitfalls of human history - the increasing ability of men and women to master nature and subjugate it to their own requirements: in other words, the increasing productivity of labour.
To each stage in the development of the productive forces corresponds a certain set of production relations. Production relation means the way people organise themselves to gain their daily bread. Production relations are thus the skeleton of every form of society. They provide the conditions of social existence that determine human consciousness.
Marx explained how the development of the productive forces brings into existence different production relations, and different forms of class society.
By a 'class' we mean a group of people in society with the same relationship to the means of production. The class which owns and controls the means of production rules society. This, at the same time, enables it to force the oppressed or labouring class to toil in the rulers' interests. The labouring class is forced to produce a surplus which the ruling class lives off.
Marx explained:
“The specific economic form in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out of the direct producers determines the relationship of rulers and ruled, as it grows directly out of production itself and, in turn, reacts upon it as a determining element.
Upon this, however, is founded the entire formation of the economic community which grows up out of the production relations themselves; thereby simultaneously its specific political form. It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers-a relation always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity-which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure, and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short the corresponding specific form of the state.” (Capital, Vol. III.)

Primitive Communism

In the earliest stages of society people did not go into factories, work to produce things they would not normally consume, and be 'rewarded' at the end of the week with pieces of coloured paper or decorated discs which other people would be quite prepared to accept in exchange for the food, clothing, etc., which they needed. Such behaviour would have struck our remote ancestors as quite fantastic.
Nor did many of the other features of modern society we so much take for granted exist. What socialist has not heard the argument “People are bound to be greedy and grabbing. You can't get socialism because you can't change human nature?” In fact, society divided into classes has existed for no more than about 10,000 years-one hundredth of the time mankind has been on this planet. For the other 99% of the time there was no class society, that is, no enforced inequalities, no state, and no family in the modern sense.

This was not because primitive people were unaccountably more noble than us, but because production relations produced a different sort of society, and so a different 'human nature'. Being determines consciousness, and if people's social being changes - if the society they live under changes - then their consciousness will also change.

The basis of primitive society was gathering and hunting. The only division of labour was that between men and women for the entirely natural biological reason that women were burdened much of the time with young children. They gathered vegetable foods while the men hunted.
Thus each sex played an important part in production. On the basis of studying tribes such as the !Kung in the Kalahari desert, who still live under primitive communist conditions, it has been estimated that the female contribution to the food supply may well have been more important than the male's. Women were held in high esteem in such societies. They contributed at least equally to the wealth of the tribe. They developed separate skills - it seems women invented pottery and even made the crucial breakthrough to agriculture
All these tribal societies had features in common. The hunting grounds were regarded as the common property of the tribe. How could they be anything else when hunting itself is a collective activity? The very insecurity of existence leads to sharing. It's no good hiding a dead hippo from your mates--you won't be able to eat it before it rots anyway, and there may well come a time when other tribe members have a superfluity while you're in distress. It's common sense to share and share alike.
Private property did exist in personal implements, but in the most different tribal societies there existed similar rules to burn or bury these with the body of the owner, in order to prevent the accumulation of inequality.
No such institution as the state was necessary, for there were no fundamental antagonistic class interests tearing society apart. Individual disputes could be sorted out within the tribe. Old men with experience certainly played leading parts in the decision-making of the tribe. They were chiefs, however, and not kings--their authority was deserved or it did not exist. As late as the third century AD (when it was ceasing to be true) Athanaric, leader of the German tribe, the Visigoths, said: “I have authority, not power”.

Society developed because it had to. Beginning in tropical Africa, as population grew to cover more inhospitable parts of the globe, people had to use their power of thought and labour to develop - or die. From gathering fruit, nuts, etc., it was a step forward to cultivating the land - actually ensuring that vegetable food was to hand. From hunting it was a step to husbandry, penning in the animals. Tribal society remained the norm.

The First Revolution

The first great revolution in mankind's history was the agricultural, or neolithic revolution. Grains were selected and sown, and the ground ploughed up with draught animals. For the first time a substantial surplus over and above the subsistence needs of the toilers came into existence.
Under primitive communism there had been simply no basis for an idle class. There was no point in enslaving someone else, since they could only provide for their own needs. Now the possibility arose for idleness for some, but mankind could still not provide enough for everyone to lead such a life. On this basis, class societies arose - societies divided between possessing and labouring classes.

The main issue in the class struggle down the ages has been the struggle over the surplus produced by the toilers. The way this surplus was appropriated - grabbed - depended on the different mode of production inaugurated by agriculture. This change provided the base for the complete transformation of social life.
Agriculture, unlike hunting, could be more an individual activity. By working harder you could get more and, when everyone lived on the margin of survival, that was important. Moreover, the agricultural revolution - involving the use of draught animals in ploughing, etc., mainly handled by men - relegated women to the home, working up materials provided by the man. It was the lack of a direct role in production that led to the 'world-historic defeat of the female sex'.

Men wanted to pass on their unequal property to a male heir. In primitive communist society descent had been traced through the female line (inheritance had been unimportant). Now inheritance began to be traced through the male line.

We do not know exactly how class society came into being, but we can piece together the story from bits of evidence available to us. We call this process a revolution, and so it was in the profoundest sense of the word.
But we must remember that transitional forms between the different types of society were in existence for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years before the new type definitively replaced the old. Human progress did not proceed evenly but according to the law of combined and uneven development.
We have spoken of agriculture as being the breakthrough to a society where a surplus could be produced. In fact the raising of the productivity of labour made possible by agriculture allowed a more extensive division of labour - people could turn their hands to producing other things. So the agricultural revolution brought in its train associated revolutions in technique (such as in pottery and metal-working) and in the whole social structure.
Trade developed from ritual gifts between tribes. What was the measure of the value of a gift? As soon as people could form some conception of how long it took to produce the gifts they got, they would attempt to outdo the donors in generosity by giving the product of more labour in return.
As trade became more regular, the need naturally arose for a universal equivalent - something which could readily be exchanged in trade and which would be accepted generally as a measure of value. At first this need was met by cattle. (The Latin pecunia meaning 'money' is derived from pecus meaning cattle) Later this need was fulfilled more conveniently by ingots of metal, in which there was a burgeoning trade, and which were stamped by the monarchs as a guarantee of weight.

The Asiatic Mode of Production

Civilisation developed differently in different places. So far as we know, it arose first in the Nile delta of Egypt and in Mesopotamia (in what is now Iraq), though recent discoveries suggest it may also have developed independently in India and in South-East Asia at around the same time.

In both Egypt and Mesopotamia the ruling class seems to have sprung from the elevation of a stratum of priests, above the rest of society. This is because the priests had the leisure to develop a calendar, allowing them to foretell the coming of the Nile floods, and arithmetic to develop the centrally planned irrigation works which first produced a massive surplus. The interest of Egyptian priests in maths and astronomy was thus not accidental, but rooted in the requirements of production.
Because of the requirements of planned irrigation, as Marx explains: “The communal conditions for real appropriation through labour, such as irrigation systems (very important among the Asian peoples), means of communication, etc., will then appear as the work of the superior entity - the despotic government which is poised above the small communities.”

The Asiatic state, which was not accountable in any way to the village communities, will feel entitled to appropriate the surplus as a tribute. This tribute is exacted through state ownership of the land: “...the integrating entity which stands above all these small communities may appear as the superior or sole proprietor, and the real communities therefore only as hereditary possessors.'”
The villages were largely self-sufficient, rendering tribute to the Asiatic despotism in order for the “general conditions of production'” (irrigation, etc.) to be maintained. Handicrafts and agriculture were combined within each village. The dispersed villages were unable to organise effectively against their exploitation, so the whole system was very resistant to change.
This is what Marx and Engels meant when they said that such societies were “outside history'”. India, for instance, was invaded by one set of conquerors after another, but none of these political changes reached beneath the surface.
It was only after thousands of years, when British capitalism conquered India and strove to introduce private property in land in order to destroy the unity of native agriculture and handicrafts, and develop the preconditions for capitalism, that the Asiatic mode of production was finally destroyed. The result was the decline of the irrigation systems and a series of horrible famines throughout the nineteenth century.
The Asiatic mode of production saw the first development of class society, though retaining certain features of primitive communism, such as collective tilling of the soil. It raised production to a higher level than it had ever been before, and then stagnated.

Thus, in vast areas of the globe, there arose a form of society completely different from anything seen in Western Europe. Slavery was known, but it was not the dominant mode of production. In contrast with western feudalism, the surplus was extorted by the central state rather than by landlords.
Once civilisation was established and maintained, it was bound to radiate its effects all around it, whether through war or trade. Egypt was always dependent on outside areas for trade, thus stimulating the advance of civilisation in Crete and thereby giving an enormous impetus to the trading communities on the Greek coast to develop. Here civilisation found relations of production - private land-ownership providing an unlimited spur to private enrichment - which could take humanity forward again.

Ancient Greece: Slavery and Democracy

All city states in Greece and Rome were organised around the same principles. The whole city-state ('polis' in Greek) was unified against every other city-state, but divided within itself. It was divided on class lines - and between citizens and slaves.
At first the poor citizens ('plebeians' as they were called in Rome) were blocked from all political rights. Their struggle was political - to gain a say in the decision making of the state. In Athens, a predominantly trading centre with a higher concentration of merchants and artisans, the small people were eventually able to win full democratic rights. Poor men were paid for public service, and over 5,000 citizens regularly met in the assembly to discuss policy.

But Athenian democracy - democracy for the citizens - had as its foundation the exploitation of a class of non-citizens: slaves who were without political rights. Athenian democracy was in fact a mechanism for enforcing the interests of the ruling class over the exploited slave class - and for defending the interests of the ruling class in war.
The polis was an institution geared up for permanent war. The power of the city state was based on independent peasants capable of arming themselves ('hoplites'). The victory of democracy was inevitable in Athens after the poor citizens won the naval battle of Salamis against the Persians for the city. Though too poor to arm themselves, they provided the rowers for the Athenian navy. A precarious unity of interests was established between rich and poor citizens through expansion outwards and the conquest of slaves.

By comparison with later Roman slave society the Greek slave mode of production was relatively “democratic” - as far as the citizens were concerned. Even poor citizens could own a slave to help around the farm or workshop, or lease them out to work on slave gangs.
Slavery itself was only possible because labour was now capable of yielding a surplus. That surplus was appropriated by a ruling class who owned the means of production - in this case the slaves themselves. The state was the state of the ruling class. The whole structure of society was based upon slave labour - all the miracles of art, culture and philosophy were only possible because an exploited class laboured so slave-holders could have leisure.
Slave society had its own dynamic. Its success depended upon the continual appropriation of more slaves, more unpaid labour.
“Wherever slavery is the main form of production it turns labour into servile activity, consequently makes it dishonourable for freemen. Thus the way out of such a mode of production is barred, while on the other hand slavery is an impediment to more developed production, which urgently requires its removal. This contradiction spells the doom of all production based on slavery and of all communities based on it.
A solution comes about in most cases through the forcible subjection of the deteriorating communities by other, stronger ones (Greece by Macedonia and later Rome). As long as these themselves have slavery as their foundation there is merely a shifting of the centre and a repetition of the process on a higher plane until (Rome) finally a people conquers that replaces slavery by another form of production.” (Engels, in his preparatory writings for Anti-Duhring)
To illustrate this explanation, let us turn to Rome, where slavery exhausted its potential, and Western European society finally blundered out of the blind alley it found itself in.

Roman Slavery

Roman society, after the expulsion of its early kings, presents at first the same aspect as the Greek city states, when they were dominated by landlords (in Rome called “patricians” and organised in the Senate). Initially they monopolised all political rights.
The difference with Greece was that the Roman patricians hung on to power, despite the concessions wrung from them, and monopolised the benefits of this influx. They linked slave labour to the exploitation of the great farms (latifundia). In so doing they inevitably undercut the plebians who, organised in legions, provided the basis for Roman military greatness.

The dispossessed legionaires could come back after twenty years of military service to find their farms choked with weeds. Inevitably they were ruined and drifted into the town to form a rootless, propertyless proletariat. But as the nineteenth century anti-capitalist social critic Sismondi said, “whereas the Roman proletariat lived at the expense of society, modern society lives at the expense of the proletariat”.
In Rome the Gracchus brothers led a last desperate struggle to save the independent plebeians. Both were cut down by the bought mob of the patricians.

Decline of the Roman Empire

In this situation the limits of slave production showed themselves. The slave has no incentive to develop production. He only works under threat of the whip. Free men for their part despised labour, which they associated with being an “instrumentum vocale”, an “item of property with a voice”, as the Roman jurists called slaves.

The tragedy of Roman society was that the class struggle was three-cornered. The poor freemen had their quarrel with the great slave-holders, but the only pathetic bit of dignity they had to hang on to was that they were free, and thus they always made common cause with their oppressors in the army of the polis in conquering lands for slaves and holding down slave rebellions.
The slaves for their part lived in a world where slavery was universal, and so dreamed for the most part of “'enslaving the slave-holders”, not creating a world without slaves.
Slavery was beginning to die out, not because of humanitarian ideas supposedly introduced by Christianity, but because it simply did not pay. The only way slave production could take society forward was through the conquest of enormous numbers of slaves who could be worked to death in a few years and replaced.
These conquests had been made possible by the Roman legions of armed plebeians. But the plebeians had been destroyed by the very success of big slave-worked farms.

By this time the Romans could only find barbarian mercenaries to man their armies. Thus Rome was defended from the barbarians by barbarians! Clearly the empire was living on borrowed time.
Slavery was still important, particularly in domestic service to the rich, but it gradually ceased to be the dominant mode of production. As production and trade shrank, it became clear to the landlords that it was pointless feeding men to work on the fields all the year round when, because of the natural rhythms of agricultural work, they were idle half the time. Much better to get them to fend for themselves in periods of slack!
Former slaves were rented plots of land from which they had to pay a regular part of their produce to the landlord as well as wrench a subsistence for their family. In time, because of the natural tendency for peasants to get into debt in times of bad harvest, they were bound to the soil in a serf-like condition. This is called the period of the “colonate”.
Eventually the Western Empire was overthrown, not because the barbarians had become more aggressive and threatening, but because of the inner rottenness of the empire. We have seen that the productive forces were already in decline; and in the colonate some of the tendencies, that were to come to fruition under feudalism, were in the process of coming into existence.

Feudal Society

Feudal society thus emerged in the form of a pyramid of military obligations to those above in exchange for command of the land to those below.

The whole structure relied on the unpaid labour of the peasants working on the lords' land. Unlike slaves, they were not the property of the lord. Feudalism developed untidily. Some in the village were in possession of very little land and either existed still as slaves or as household servants working on the lord's land. Freer peasants had land to till and had to pay a rent in kind. Others had an intermediate status, working small plots to gain their own subsistence and forced to pay labour services the rest of the time, on the lord's land.
Exploitation under feudalism is clear and unveiled. The peasants pay services in money, labour or produce to the lords. Everyone can see what is going on. If the lord is in a position to force the peasant to work four days instead of three on his land, then it is clear to both parties that the rate of exploitation has been increased.
Under slavery, on the contrary, even the part of the working week which the slave has to work to gain his own subsistence seems to be unpaid. He therefore seems to work for nothing. Under capitalism, the wage worker is paid a sum of money which is presented as being the value of his labour. All labour seems to be paid.
In all three systems the producer is exploited: but the particular form of exploitation ultimately determined the whole structure of society.
Under feudalism the 'bodies of armed men' which comprised the state were mainly drawn from the ruling class, who had a monopoly of armed might. So political and economic power were in the same hands. Justice in the village was largely in the hands of the lords' manorial courts. The feudal lord and his men-at-arms were police, judge, and executioners all rolled into one.
Looking back, we tend to regard feudalism as a static system. But, compared with slavery, feudalism provided a limited incentive for the producer to expand production for his own advantage. Sometimes the lord took the lead in developing agriculture, sometimes the peasants. This depended on the class struggle. Whether the incentive to produce more came from the lord's desire for more revenue for luxuries, or from the ambition of the peasants to set themselves up in business as independent farmers, production crept up.
But feudalism, like slavery before it imposed limits on the development of productivity. From generation to generation agricultural productivity was largely stagnant. The easiest way for the feudal lords to gain more wealth was to exploit more people. There was therefore a perpetual impulse to warfare, the net effect of which was to waste and destroy the productive forces.

Medieval Towns

Like previous forms of class society, feudalism in its development produced the germs of a new society in the towns.
Medieval cities were centres of trade and handicrafts. As productivity developed, trade necessarily grew. Artisans, who had been attached to aristocratic households and monasteries in the dark ages, gathered together to trade with the rural areas in goods that could be produced quicker and therefore cheaper, or could only be produced by skilled specialists.
These towns represented a new principle. Unlike the universal relations of dominance and subservience of feudalism, they were free associations of trading people, producing what one representative of the feudal lords called that “new and detestable name”, the commune. Within the towns production and trade was organised in guilds, divided on craft lines. These attempted to regulate production, price and quality.
As the productivity of labour grew, so did trade, and production for the market, commodity production, and a money economy. Increasingly, grain crops were produced for sale to feed the towns. A stratum of peasants grew rich at their fellows' expense, and aspired to become land-owning farmers producing for a market.
Serfdom had largely died out in England by the end of the fourteenth century, but bondage to the soil was replaced by short-term leases and an increasing stream of poor peasants being pushed out altogether and forced into vagabondage (roaming the land in search of a living). By the seventeenth century, it was reckoned that up to quarter of the population was without any means of livelihood other than begging. Progress, as ever, was achieved at the expense of the common people.

Class Struggle Under Feudalism

Whereas the class struggle between patricians and plebians was political, concerned with access to state power, the feudal class struggle was mainly waged on the economic plane.
A constant, unremitting struggle took place between landlords and peasants. Occasionally this spilt over into revolutionary strife. The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 was the most notable such occasion in England.
After the Black Death, the peasants were in a strong position because of the shortage of labour. The landlords attempted to recoup their losses by enforcing traditional obligations all the harder. This produced a social explosion.
The revolt failed at bottom because the peasantry were a scattered class divided against themselves. King Richard II urged them to “go back to their haymaking”, and he hit them on their weak point. It was impossible to maintain the peasantry in a permanent state of mobilisation. Production had developed to a point where only a minority of the population could be maintained as fighting men, while the majority had to work on the land.

From Feudalism to Capitalism

Marx called the process of the dissolution of feudalism and emergence of capitalism “primitive accumulation'”. This process is one of piling up of fortunes in money rather than land on the one hand, and the creation of a propertyless proletariat on the other. It is the separation of the producers from the means by which they can maintain themselves.
We have seen that the feudal peasantry was attached to the land. This guaranteed them a modest subsistence except in times of famine.
Nobody will work for money, with all the insecurity that entails, unless they have to. That is why the imperialists in Africa introduced money poll taxes and, in the case of South Africa drove the Africans on to barren reserves, to force them to provide a supply of wage labour. That is why a monopoly of land in the hands of private owners is a condition for the development of capitalism.
The main lever of dispossession of the peasantry in England was the passing of private Acts of Parliament through a parliament of landlords, called Acts of Enclosure. This was simply legalised robbery. It came at a time when the wool trade was expanding, and the landlords wanted more land in order to graze flocks of sheep. Land formerly occupied by perhaps five hundred people was decreed to be the squire's land, and a couple of shepherds took the villagers' place.
Brutal as this process was, it advanced production on the land by doing away with the old inefficient strip system and laying the basis for rational agriculture. Later, the advantages of the industrial revolution - modern machinery - could be applied to these big farms.
The other pole of the process of primitive accumulation was the accumulation of money. The first forms of capital, before industrial capital transformed production, were merchant capital and money-lending capital.
The 'discovery' of America by Spanish plunderers shifted the axis of world trade. Huge fortunes were made in the 'New World'.
At the end of the middle ages absolutist monarchs like the Tudors in England sprang up in most of the West European countries. These monarchies balanced between the old landed ruling class and the up-and-coming capitalists. To start with they took society forward by forming strong, stable nation-states within which trade, and hence capitalism, could develop. They defended the interests of merchants abroad in wars of conquest for colonies.
Yet, at bottom, they were out for themselves, and could only flourish because of a deadlock in the class struggle between the capitalists and the landowners. As capitalism developed further, the rising capitalist class conceived ambitions for political power to match their growing economic power. Bourgeois revolutions aimed against the reigning absolute monarchs would become necessary for capitalism to consolidate its rule.
Merchants began to turn their attention to the peasants half-employed on tiny plots of land. They began to 'put out' weaving to these households. The peasantry became more and more dependent on their weaving income. The merchants were able to move from just supplying raw materials and supplying sales outlets, to possession of the peasants, looms and even their cottages. Through their control over outlets they held the whip hand. This was another important process whereby the feudal peasantry was reduced to proletarian status.
Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, handicraft workshops were set up. It was found that the job could be broken down into simple processes. Adam Smith begins his Wealth of Nations by explaining the division of labour in making pins, through which an enormous amount of pins could be cheaply produced compared with the old skilled processes.
More than that, the breaking down of the job into simple repetitive tasks provided the possibility of replacing manual labour with machines. Starting by taking production as it found it, capitalism was beginning to revolutionise the instruments of production.
Capitalism could not move straight into domination of the world economy without hindrance. The newly awakened productive forces were in revolt at the old relations of production. These had to be overcome and new production relations installed which corresponded to the stage of development of the productive forces.
This was the task of the bourgeois revolutions. The English Revolution of the 1640s, the American Revolution of 1776, and the French Revolution of 1789-94 were the decisive struggles that laid the foundations for the domination of capitalism on a world scale.
What precisely were the tasks of these bourgeois revolutions? Though feudalism was no longer dominant, the landed interest remained a fetter on commodity production.
Though in England the land-owning gentry switched to production for the market, in France up till 1789 the aristocracy guzzled a large part of the surplus in rents, and used their privileged position to impose all kinds of tolls on the free movement of goods.
This raised prices for everyone and enabled the bourgeoisie, in opposing the aristocracy, to claim to represent the interests of the nation as a whole. Up till the storming of the Bastille by the Parisian masses in 1789, for instance, food entering Paris was subject to a toll as a feudal privilege.
France was the classic country of the bourgeois revolution, where the old aristocracy was completely swept aside. The peasantry, increasingly producing for a market, had a tendency after the bourgeois revolution of 1789 to become divided into an aspiring capitalist class and a propertyless class of rural wage labourers.
Capitalism also had the task of setting up centralised national economies as an envelope within which the new mode of production could develop.
The capitalist class as a whole was now strong enough to bid for political power, which it needed to complete its revolution. The absolutist monarchies, from being a shield to defend the expansion of trade, had become an obstacle. They had to be done away with; and the masses of artisans and yeomen were mobilised to do the job for the capitalist class.


Capitalists measure their wealth not in land or slaves, but in money. The money fortunes found their way into production in the industrial revolution, a period as significant for mankind as the agricultural revolution thousands of years earlier.

Capitalism is a system of exploitation like feudalism or slavery. Its distinctive feature is that rather than just consuming the surplus, the capitalists are forced by the nature of their system to plough the bulk of it back into production.
Capitalism thus achieves a dynamic unheard of in earlier epochs. Instead of just exploiting more people, as feudal lords strove to do through never-ending wars, capitalism exploits people more - it develops the productivity of labour.
In so doing it provides the possibility of a society of abundance, and so for doing away altogether with the division between exploiter and exploited. It provides, in other words, the possibility of a higher stage of society than capitalism itself.
Capitalism bases itself on the monopoly of the means of production in the hands of the ruling capitalist class. The vast majority of people are cut off from the means of life unless they work on terms dictated by the capitalist class.
Formally, wage workers seem to be paid for the work they do. In reality they are exploited as much as the feudal serf or the slave.
Under capitalism, labour-power (the capacity of the worker to labour) is a commodity like any other, in that it is bought and sold on the market. It is sold by its owner, the worker, and bought by the owner of money, the capitalist.
But labour-power is different from other commodities in this respect: it has the unique property of being able to create value. This is its usefulness to the capitalist, this is why the capitalist buys labour-power (employs workers).
As labour-power is consumed in production (as workers are put to work) value is created far in excess of what the capitalist has paid (as wages) for the labour-power. This is the source of the capitalist's profit.
If labour-power is to be available in the market place, so that the capitalist can buy it, labour-power must be produced. “Given the individual,” Marx wrote, “the production of labour-power consists in his reproduction of himself, or his maintenance”. Marx adds immediately that this maintenance contains “a historical and moral element” - i.e., what a working-class family require for their maintenance, and for the raising of children as a new generation of wage-workers, will depend on standards of living which have been established through struggle as acceptable to the working class in that society.
The essence of capitalist exploitation is this: The worker is paid wages not for his/her labour but for his/her labour-power - his/her keep. The difference is taken by the capitalist.
Thus the worker's daily work is divided into “necessary labour” and “surplus labour”. The worker performs “necessary labour” during that part of the day spent in producing value which, when sold, will cover the cost of the wages. The worker performs “surplus labour” during the remainder of the working day, producing value which, when sold, will cover the rent, interest and profit which goes to the capitalist class.
Capitalists vie with each other to increase the rate of exploitation of the workers. The detailed way they do this is dealt with in our companion pamphlet on Marxist Economics, which deals specifically with the dynamics of capitalism.
The motor of capitalism is competition. Each capitalist has to undercut his competitors if he is to survive. The best way to sell cheaper is to produce cheaper. Since labour-time is the measure of value, that means producing with less labour-time.
Mechanising is the main means of continually raising the productivity of labour. Perhaps the best example of the process is the one supplied by Marx-the case of the hand-loom weavers. The invention of the spinning jenny, and the mass-production of cheaper yarn, led to the mechanisation of cloth-making. Weaving, up to then, had still been a handicraft process.
As demand for weavers expanded in the early years of the industrial revolution, the hand-loom weavers were able to bid up their wages and become a regular 'aristocracy of labour'. For capitalism they represented an obstacle to cheap production. Inevitably, as a result, the power loom was invented, for capitalist necessity is the mother and father of invention.
It would be quite clear to any casual observer that the power loom took much less labour-time to produce an equivalent amount of woven cloth.
In vain did the hand-loom weavers bid the price of their product down. In no way could they compete with the power loom. At their peak there had been a quarter of a million hand-loom weavers. Over a generation they were wiped out with thousands actually dying of starvation. A much smaller number were able to get jobs, at lower rates of pay, supervising the power looms.
That has ever been the way with capitalist progress. But in this way capitalism has developed the fantastic productive powers of modern industry.
Capitalism also develops a form of the state appropriate to its own rule. Different forms of state can exist under capitalism, each corresponding to a different stage in the development of the class struggle - from parliamentary democracy to fascism and bonapartist military-police dictatorships of the most variegated kinds.
All these forms of state have one thing in common - in the last analysis they defend private property in the means of production, and therefore the rule of capital.
Marx and Engels often emphasised that democracy is the ideal form of capitalist class rule, first because it enables the capitalists to sort out their differences; and secondly because it gives the working-class parties a semblance of a say of running society. Changes necessary for the continued existence of the system can thus more easily be made.
At the same time bourgeois democracy provides the most favourable ground for the workers to organise to overthrow their exploiters.
Capitalism has required, as a precondition of its existence, a new class of propertyless toilers. Throughout its development capitalism has created a bigger and bigger pool of wage-workers.
Even since the second world war, millions of small farmers have been driven from the land in countries such as France, Italy and Japan. This has been a progressive step in so far as it tears these people away from the isolation and backwardness of rural life, and in so far as it represents a raising of the productivity of labour, so that less people are needed to grow food and more can set their hands to producing other things.
But, at the same time, capitalism has no regard for the interests of people, and relentlessly searches out surplus value at any cost to the masses.

The Capitalist World Market

As we have seen, though it has created misery for the masses, capitalism has been a dynamic system. Its aim and impulse is more and more surplus value.
Thus industrial capitalism strives to conquer the world. Merchant capital had contented itself with exacting tribute from the existing modes of production in other countries; industrial capital, in the empires it created after the industrial revolution, flooded these countries with cheap manufactured goods.
These goods necessarily destroyed the existing system of handicrafts, which was united with agriculture in the villages.
Existing societies were forcibly broken up. Moreover agriculture was increasingly switched towards the requirements of the world market. Capitalism was striving to create a world after its own image.
This process was brought to its highest stage in the imperialist phase of capitalist development. After the Indian Mutiny, which began in 1857, the British rulers saw the need to build up a network of railways, to allow rapid troop movements, in order to keep the population pinned down. This marked the beginning of the imperialist phase of the exploitation of India. Export of capital rather than of goods became the predominant feature.


This development was the result of the growth of monopoly capitalism in the metropolitan countries, involving the fusion of finance with manufacturing capital-the epoch of imperialism, which was analysed by Lenin. National markets became too small for the giant monopolies as they swallowed up their weaker competitors, expanded production to new heights, and looked for new and profitable areas for investment.
In the case of India, this process really got going at the end of the nineteenth century when capital was exported from Britain to build up a modern Indian-based textile industry, mainly under British ownership.
“One capitalist kills many”, as Marx says. Capitalism destroys not only petty production, but also continually bankrupts the weakest of its own brethren and jettisons them into the ranks of the propertyless.
This is a two-sided process - progressive in its objective economic content, by piling up enormous productive resources for the potential benefit of mankind, but, under capitalism, concentrating colossal power in the hands of a tiny handful of rich magnates. At the end of the nineteenth century we saw the development of monopoly out of competition itself.
The banking system, Marx wrote, “places all the available and even potential capital of society that is not already actively employed at the disposal of the industrial and commercial capitalists, so that neither the lenders nor users of this capital are its real owners or producers. It thus does away with the private character of capital and thus contains in itself, but only in itself, the abolition of capital itself... Finally there is no doubt that the credit system will serve as a powerful lever during the transition from the capitalist mode of production to the mode of production of associated labour, but only as one element in connection with other great organic revolutions of the mode of production itself.”
Capitalism continually requires infusions of money capital in order for profit-making to continue uninterruptedly. Once a stock of commodities has been produced, a single capitalist would either have to wait till he had sold them before he once again had money in his pocket to restart production; or he would have to keep stocks of money-capital idle much of the time as a reserve for investment when needed; he would have to continually pay money into a fund to renew stocks of fixed capital which might be idle for ten or twenty years.
In reality, a stratum of capitalist hangers-on develop, not prepared to invest directly in production, but quite prepared to lend their money in order to cut themselves a slice of the pie of surplus-value. So there is a tendency for competition to generate unused reserves of money capital. These reserves are collected in a few rich hands - concentrations of finance capital.
Finance capital initially provided a stimulus to the capitalist system by gathering and siphoning money-capital into production. It did so, of course, only to cream off an increasing proportion of the surplus value for itself.
As Marx pointed out, finance capital also concentrates tremendous economic power in its own hands, and effectively integrates the individual manufacturing capitalist into the requirements of capitalist production as a whole through allocation and withdrawal of credits.
Imperialism is the epoch in which finance capital has fused with monopoly capital involved in production.
Under imperialism, while competition between capitalists within the boundaries of the nation-state has not been completely done away with, conflict has spilt over into the international arena.
The big monopolies and the banks exported capital rather than just commodities. A massive programme of railway building was undertaken in every continent and clime. Loans were floated for the most far-flung places. A systematic search was undertaken for every kind of raw material and mineral resource.
Conflicts now began between national capital blocs. The struggle was for nothing less than mastery of the world. Wars unparalleled in ferocity in the history of mankind broke out for colonies and a redivision of imperial spoils.
The first world war indicated that capitalism, like previous forms of class society, had ceased to be progressive. Instead of taking production forward, there was mass destruction and mass murder.
But at the same time, a new society was developing within the old. The Russian revolution served notice that the rule of the working class was at hand.

Revolutionary Role of the Working Class

The working class is unlike any other exploited class in history. We have seen how the three-sided class struggle within slave society necessarily led to the “common ruin of the contending classes”. We have seen how the feudal peasantry were for hundreds of years incapable of formulating a coherent revolutionary alternative to the system that exploited them.
This failure had not been accidental. The peasantry is an isolated class, scattered over the countryside and finding it very difficult to combine. But their problem is not just geographical, it is at bottom social. For as Marx put it, the peasantry is a class only in one sense:
“in so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as...the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organisation among them, they do not form a class.”
For the peasantry are smallholders-a class divided against itself. They are like potatoes in a sack-destined for the chipping machine under capitalist progress.
The working class, on the other hand, is concentrated in great masses by the very nature of factory production. Unlike the peasantry, their only strength lies in collective action. Through collective exploitation, the working class are trained and educated by capitalism itself to act as the system's grave-diggers.

Capitalist Crisis

Nor is the modern working class left to vegetate at a modest but constant standard of living. Insecurity is a condition of their existence.
Capitalism has produced many wonders inconceivable hitherto. It has also produced social disasters inconceivable under previous forms of society - crises taking the form of overproduction.
In pre-capitalist societies, the subsistence of the toilers was only interrupted by famine - physical shortage of necessities. Primitive people's minds may well have been clogged with all sorts of superstition, but the spectacle of people starving, while sitting idly in front of the tools necessary to make the things they need, is a unique product of our society.
Capitalism is social production. It is social in two ways. Firstly, it ties the whole world up into one economic unit through the world market, a worldwide division of labour. Everybody is dependent on everyone else for the things they need.
Secondly it introduces large scale production only workable by collective labour.
Yet, at the same time, the system runs on private appropriation and private profit. It is anarchic - nobody knows how much of any commodity is needed at any time. The capitalist plans production within his own factory, but social production as a whole is unplanned.
Marx wrote:
“Capitalist production seeks continually to overcome these immanent barriers but overcomes them only by means which again place the barriers in its way and on a more formidable scale. The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself”. (Capital, Vol. 3)
The laws of capitalism work, “despite anarchy, in and through anarchy”. Each capitalist is oblivious to the actual requirements of society for pig-iron or knicker-elastic at any time. They produce what they hope will make the maximum profit, whether pig-iron or knicker-elastic. They organise production within their factory; but anarchy reigns in production as a whole.
The possibility of crisis is inherent in such a system. All that socialists want to do is plan production in society at large in the same meticulous way the capitalists do within each separate factory.
The worker, unlike the exploited classes in pre-capitalist society, is a free person - free in that he is not subject to “relations of personal dependence” and can work for any boss he likes, and free from any attachment to the means of subsistence. But the workers' expectations and feelings of security are continually shattered by plagues of mass unemployment.
Crisis poses over and over again before the working class the need to change society. Capitalism will never collapse of its own accord. It has to be overthrown.
It is a caricature of Marxism to suggest that the revolution will be made automatically by workers made destitute by the workings of the system. It will be overthrown by a conscious and determined class, not just by a desperate class.
What is true is that the perpetual insecurity of existence under capitalism will produce a questioning in the minds of workers. Just as we have to understand nature in order to master it, so workers will have to understand the nature of their enemy before they can overthrow it.
We have outlined the progress of mankind from primitive communism to capitalism. An objective look at the record shows also the world we have lost. Chief Sitting Bull, an outstanding defender of Native American tribal society, ended up miserably as a kind of freak in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. As he toured the Western capitals he was astounded at the wealth - but also at the poverty. He said, “The white man (by which he meant the capitalist system) knows how to produce wealth, not how to distribute it”.
Yet the possibility now exists for a society where enough can be produced for each to take according to their need. The possibilities posed before mankind by science and new technology were foreseen by Marx over 120 years ago. In one of his notebooks he wrote:
“No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing as middle link between the object and himself; rather he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and unorganic nature mastering it. In this transformation it is...the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labour-time, on which the present is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself...

“The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the human head... The free development of individuals and hence...the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific, etc., development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.” (Grundrisse)
The !Kung people in the Kalahari live lives of material want and intellectual backwardness by our standards, but they know better than to make labour for others the driving force of their society. In consequence they work a week of between 12 and 19 hours!
Now mankind has the resources and technical means to reach a society of abundance. The working class, organised and conscious, can overthrow capitalism and create such a society - a society where people can plan what they need and want, produce it, and then spend the rest of the time enjoying it. It's as simple as that.

X.Preface to The History of the Russian Revolution

by Trotsky

During the first two months of 1917 Russia was still a Romanov monarchy. Eight months later the Bolsheviks stood at the helm. They were little know to anybody when the year began, and their leaders were still under indictment for state treason when they came to power. You will not find another such sharp turn in history - especially if you remember that it involves a nation of 150 million people. It is clear that the events of 1917, whatever you think of them, deserve study.
The history of a revolution, like every other history, ought first of all to tell what happened and how. That, however, is little enough. From the very telling it ought to become clear why it happened thus and not otherwise. Events can neither be regarded as a series of adventures, nor strung on the thread of a preconceived moral. They must obey their own laws. The discovery of these laws is the author's task.
The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business - kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new régime.
Whether this is good or bad we leave to the judgement of moralists. We ourselves will take the facts as they are given by the objective course of development. The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.
In a society that is seized by revolution classes are in conflict. It is perfectly clear, however, that the changes introduced between the beginning and the end of a revolution in the economic bases of the society and its social substratum of classes, are not sufficient to explain the course of the revolution itself, which can overthrow in a short interval age-old institutions, create new ones, and again overthrow them. The dynamic of revolutionary events is directly determined by swift, intense and passionate changes in the psychology of classes which have already formed themselves before the revolution.
The point is that society does not change its institutions as need arises, the way a mechanic changes his instruments. On the contrary, society actually takes the institutions which hang upon it as given once for all. For decades the oppositional criticism is nothing more than a safety valve for mass dissatisfaction, a condition of the stability of the social structure. Such in principle, for example, was the significance acquired by the social-democratic criticism. Entirely exceptional conditions, independent of the will of persons and parties, are necessary in order to tear off from discontent the fetters of conservatism, and bring the masses to insurrection.
The swift changes of mass views and moods in an epoch of revolution thus derive, not from the flexibility and mobility of man's mind, but just the opposite, from its deep conservatism. The chronic lag of ideas and relations behind new objective conditions, right up to the moment when the latter crash over people in the form of a catastrophe, is what creates in a period of revolution that leaping movement of ideas and passions which seems to the police mind a mere result of the activities of “demagogues.”
The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old régime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process of the revolution thus consists in the gradual comprehension by a class of the problems arising from the social crisis - the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations.
 The different stages of a revolutionary process, certified by a change of parties in which the more extreme always supersedes the less, express the growing pressure to the left of the masses - so long as the swing of the movement does not run into objective obstacles. When it does, there begins a reaction: disappointments of the different layers of the revolutionary class, growth of indifferentism, and therewith a strengthening of the position of the counter-revolutionary forces. Such, at least, is the general outline of the old revolutions.
Only on the basis of a study of political processes in the masses themselves, can we understand the rôle of parties and leaders, whom we least of all are inclined to ignore. They constitute not an independent, but nevertheless a very important, element in the process. Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.
The difficulties which stand in the way of studying the changes of mass consciousness in a revolutionary epoch are quite obvious. The oppressed classes make history in the factories, in the barracks, in the villages, on the streets of the cities. Moreover, they are least of all accustomed to write things down. Periods of high tension in social passions leave little room for contemplation and reflection. All the muses - even the plebeian muse of journalism, in spite of her sturdy hips - have hard sledding in times of revolution. Still the historian's situation is by no means hopeless.
The records are incomplete, scattered, accidental. But in the light of the events themselves these fragments often permit a guess as to the direction and rhythm of the hidden process. For better or worse, a revolutionary party bases its tactics upon a calculation of the changes of mass consciousness. The historic course of Bolshevism demonstrates that such a calculation, at least in its rough features, can be made. If it can be made by a revolutionary leader in the whirlpool of the struggle, why not by the historian afterwards?
However, the processes taking place in the consciousness of the masses are not unrelated and independent. No matter how the idealists and the eclectics rage, consciousness is nevertheless determined by conditions. In the historic conditions which formed Russia, her economy, her classes, her State, in the action upon her of other states, we ought to be able to find the premises both of the February revolution and of the October revolution which replaced it. Since the greatest enigma is the fact that a backward country was the first to place the proletariat in power, it behoves us to seek the solution of that enigma in the peculiarities of that backward country - that is, in its differences from other countries.
The historic peculiarities of Russia and their relative weight will be characterised by us in the early chapters of this book which give a short outline of the development of Russian society and its inner forces. We venture to hope that the inevitable schematism of these chapters will not repel the reader. In the further development of the book he will meet these same forces in living action.
This work will not rely in any degree upon personal recollections. The circumstance that the author was a participant in the events does not free him from the obligation to base his exposition upon historically verified documents. The author speaks of himself, in so far as that is demanded by the course of events, in the third person. And that is not a mere literary form: the subjective tone, inevitable in autobiographies or memoirs, is not permissible in a work of history.
However, the fact that the author did participate in the struggle naturally makes easier his understanding, not only of the psychology of the forces in action, both individual and collective, but also of the inner connection of events. This advantage will give positive results only if one condition is observed: that he does not rely upon the testimony of his own memory either in trivial details or in important matters, either in questions of fact or questions of motive and mood. The author believes that in so far as in him lies he has fulfilled this condition.

There remains the question of the political position of the author, who stands as a historian upon the same viewpoint upon which he stood as a participant in the events. The reader, of course, is not obliged to share the political views of the author, which the latter on his side has no reason to conceal. But the reader does have the right to demand that a historical work should not be the defence of a political position, but an internally well-founded portrayal of the actual process of the revolution. A historical work only then completely fulfils the mission when events unfold upon its pages in their full natural necessity.
For this, is it necessary to have the so-called historian's “impartiality”? Nobody has yet clearly explained what this impartiality consists of. The often quoted words of Clemenceau that it is necessary to take a revolution “en bloc,” as a whole - are at the best a clever evasion. How can you take as a whole a thing whose essence consists in a split? Clemenceau's aphorism was dictated partly by shame for his too resolute ancestors, partly by embarrassment before their shades.
One of the reactionary and therefore fashionable historians in contemporary France, L. Madelin, slandering in his drawing-room fashion the great revolution - that is, the birth of his own nation - asserts that “the historian ought to stand upon the wall of a threatened city, and behold at the same time the besiegers and the besieged”: only in this way, it seems, can he achieve a “conciliatory justice.”

 However, the words of Madelin himself testify that if he climbs out on the wall dividing the two camps, it is only in the character of a reconnoiterer for the reaction. It is well that he is concerned only with war camps of the past: in a time of revolution standing on the wall involves great danger. Moreover, in times of alarm the priests of “conciliatory justice” are usually found sitting on the inside of four walls waiting to see which side will win.
The serious and critical reader will not want a treacherous impartiality, which offers him a cup of conciliation with a well-settled poison of reactionary hate at the bottom, but a scientific conscientiousness, which for its sympathies and antipathies - open and undisguised - seeks support in an honest study of the facts, a determination of their real connections, an exposure of the causal laws of their movement. That is the only possible historic objectivism, and moreover it is amply sufficient, for it is verified and attested not by the good intentions of the historian, for which only he himself can vouch, but the natural laws revealed by him of the historic process itself.

The sources of this book are innumerable periodical publications, newspapers and journals, memoirs, reports, and other material, partly in manuscript, but the greater part published by the Institute of the History of the Revolution in Moscow and Leningrad. We have considered its superfluous to make reference in the text to particular publications, since that would only bother the reader. Among the books which have the character of collective historical works we have particularly used the two-volume Essays on the History of the October Revolution (Moscow-Leningrad, 1927). Written by different authors, the various parts of this book are unequal in value, but they contain at any rate abundant factual material.
The dates in our book are everywhere indicated according to the old style - that is, they are 13 days behind the international and the present Soviet calendar. The author felt obliged to use the calendar which was in use at the time of the revolution. It would have been no labour of course to translate the dates into the new style. But this operation in removing one difficulty would have created others more essential.
The overthrow of the monarchy has gone into history as the February revolution; according to the Western calendar, however, it occurred in March. The armed demonstration against the imperialist policy of the Provisional Government has gone into history under the name of the “April Days,” whereas according to the Western calendar it happened in May.
Not to mention other intervening events and dates, we remark only that the October revolution happened according to European reckoning in November. The calendar itself, we see, is tinted by the events, and the historian cannot handle revolutionary chronology by mere arithmetic. The reader will be kind enough to remember that before overthrowing the Byzantine calendar, the revolution had to overthrow the institutions that clung to it.
Leon Trotsky
Prinkipo, November 14, 1930.

XI .From Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy

Extract from Chapter Four by Frederick Engels, 1886

….What is true of nature, which is hereby recognized also as a historical process of development, is likewise true of the history of society in all its branches and of the totality of all sciences which occupy themselves with things human (and divine).
 Here, too, the philosophy of history, of right, of religion, etc., has consisted in the substitution of an interconnection fabricated in the mind of the philosopher for the real interconnection to be demonstrated in the events; has consisted in the comprehension of history as a whole as well as in its separate parts, as the gradual realization of ideas -- and naturally always only the pet ideas of the philosopher himself. According to this, history worked unconsciously but of necessity towards a certain ideal goal set in advance -- as, for example, in Hegel, towards the realization of his absolute idea -- and the unalterable trend towards this absolute idea formed the inner interconnection in the events of history.
A new mysterious providence -- unconscious or gradually coming into consciousness -- was thus put in the place of the real, still unknown interconnection. Here, therefore, just as in the realm of nature, it was necessary to do away with these fabricated, artificial interconnections by the discovery of the real ones -- a task which ultimately amounts to the discovery of the general laws of motion which assert themselves as the ruling ones in the history of human society.
In one point, however, the history of the development of society proves to be essentially different from that of nature. In nature -- in so far as we ignore man's reaction upon nature -- there are only blind, unconscious agencies acting upon one another, out of whose interplay the general law comes into operation.
Nothing of all that happens -- whether in the innumerable apparent accidents observable upon the surface, or in the ultimate results which confirm the regularity inherent in these accidents -- happens as a consciously desired aim. In the history of society, on the contrary, the actors are all endowed with consciousness, are men acting with deliberation or passion, working towards definite goals; nothing happens without a conscious purpose, without an intended aim.
 But this distinction, important as it is for historical investigation, particularly of single epochs and events, cannot alter the fact that the course of history is governed by inner general laws. For here, also, on the whole, in spite of the consciously desired aims of all individuals, accident apparently reigns on the surface.
 That which is willed happens but rarely; in the majority of instances the numerous desired ends cross and conflict with one another, or these ends themselves are from the outset incapable of realization, or the means of attaining them are insufficient. thus the conflicts of innumerable individual wills and individual actions in the domain of history produce a state of affairs entirely analogous to that prevailing in the realm of unconscious nature.
The ends of the actions are intended, but the results which actually follow from these actions are not intended; or when they do seem to correspond to the end intended, they ultimately have consequences quite other than those intended. Historical events thus appear on the whole to be likewise governed by chance. But where on the surface accident holds sway, there actually it is always governed by inner, hidden laws, and it is only a matter of discovering these laws.
Men make their own history, whatever its outcome may be, in that each person follows his own consciously desired end, and it is precisely the resultant of these many wills operating in different directions, and of their manifold effects upon the outer world, that constitutes history. Thus it is also a question of what the many individuals desire.
 The will is determined by passion or deliberation. But the levers which immediately determine passion or deliberation are of very different kinds. Partly they may be external objects, partly ideal motives, ambition, “enthusiasm for truth and justice”, personal hatred, or even purely individual whims of all kinds.
But, on the one hand, we have seen that the many individual wills active in history for the most part produce results quite other than those intended -- often quite the opposite; that their motives, therefore, in relation to the total result are likewise of only secondary importance. On the other hand, the further question arises: What driving forces in turn stand behind these motives? What are the historical forces which transform themselves into these motives in the brains of the actors?
The old materialism never put this question to itself. Its conception of history, in so far as it has one at all, is therefore essentially pragmatic; it divides men who act in history into noble and ignoble and then finds that as a rule the noble are defrauded and the ignoble are victorious. hence, it follows for the old materialism that nothing very edifying is to be got from the study of history, and for us that in the realm of history the old materialism becomes untrue to itself because it takes the ideal driving forces which operate there as ultimate causes, instead of investigating what is behind them, what are the driving forces of these driving forces.
This inconsistency does not lie in the fact that ideal driving forces are recognized, but in the investigation not being carried further back behind these into their motive causes. On the other hand, the philosophy of history, particularly as represented by Hegel, recognizes that the ostensible and also the really operating motives of men who act in history are by no means the ultimate causes of historical events; that behind these motives are other motive powers, which have to be discovered. But it does not seek these powers in history itself, it imports them rather from outside, from philosophical ideology, into history.
Hegel, for example, instead of explaining the history of ancient Greece out of its own inner interconnections, simply maintains that it is nothing more than the working out of “forms of beautiful individuality”, the realization of a “work of art” as such. He says much in this connection about the old Greeks that is fine and profound, but that does not prevent us today from refusing to be put off with such an explanation, which is a mere manner of speech.
When, therefore, it is a question of investigating the driving powers which - consciously or unconsciously, and indeed very often unconsciously -- lie behind the motives of men who act in history and which constitute the real ultimate driving forces of history, then it is not a question so much of the motives of single individuals, however eminent, as of those motives which set in motion great masses, whole people, and again whole classes of the people in each people; and this, too, not merely for an instant, like the transient flaring up of a straw-fire which quickly dies down, but as a lasting action resulting in a great historical transformation.
 To ascertain the driving causes which here in the minds of acting masses and their leaders - the so-called great men - are reflected as conscious motives, clearly or unclearly, directly or in an ideological, even glorified, form - is the only path which can put us on the track of the laws holding sway both in history as a whole, and at particular periods and in particular lands.
Everything which sets men in motion must go through their minds; but what form it will take in the mind will depend very much upon the circumstances. The workers have by no means become reconciled to capitalist machine industry, even though they no longer simply break the machines to pieces, as they still did in 1848 on the Rhine.
But while in all earlier periods the investigation of these driving causes of history was almost impossible - on account of the complicated and concealed interconnections between them and their effects - our present period has so far simplified these interconnections that the riddle could be solved. Since the establishment of large-scale industry - that is, at least since the European peace of 1815 - it has been no longer a secret to any man in England that the whole political struggle there pivoted on the claims to supremacy of two classes: the landed aristocracy and the bourgeoisie (middle class).
 In France, with the return of the Bourbons, the same fact was perceived, the historians of the Restoration period, from Thierry to Guizot, Mignet, and Thiers, speak of it everywhere as the key to the understanding of all French history since the Middle Ages. And since 1830, the working class, the proletariat, has been recognized in both countries as a third competitor for power. Conditions had become so simplified that one would have had to close one's eyes deliberately not to see in the light of these three great classes and in the conflict of their interests the driving force of modern history -- at least in the two most advanced countries.
But how did these classes come into existence? If it was possible at first glance still to ascribe the origin of the great, formerly feudal landed property - at least in the first instance - to political causes, to taking possession by force, this could not be done in regard to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Here, the origin and development of two great classes was seen to lie clearly and palpably in purely economic causes. And it was just as clear that in the struggle between landed property and the bourgeoisie, no less than in the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, it was a question, first and foremost, of economic interests, to the furtherance of which political power was intended to serve merely as a means.
Bourgeoisie and proletariat both arose in consequences of a transformation of the economic conditions, more precisely, of the mode of production. The transition, first from guild handicrafts to manufacture, and then from manufacture to large-scale industry, with steam and mechanical power, had caused the development of these two classes.
 At a certain stage, the new productive forces set in motion by the bourgeoisie - in the first place the division of labour and the combination of many detail labourers in one general manufactory - and the conditions and requirements of exchange, developed through these productive forces, became incompatible with the existing order of production handed down by history and sanctified by law -- that is to say, incompatible with the privileges of the guild and the numerous other personal and local privileges (which were only so many fetters to the unprivileged estates) of the feudal order to society. The productive forces represented by the bourgeoisie rebelled against the order of production represented by the feudal landlords and the guild-masters.
 The result is known, the feudal fetters were smashed, gradually in England, at one blow in France. In Germany, the process is not yet finished. But just as, at a definite stage of its development, manufacture came into conflict with the feudal order of production, so now large-scale industry has already come into conflict with the bourgeois order or production established in its place. Tied down by this order, by the narrow limits of the capitalist mode of production, this industry produces, on the one hand, an ever-increasingly proletarianisation of the great mass of the people, and on the other hand, an ever greater mass of unsaleable products.
Overproduction and mass misery, each the cause of the other - that is the absurd contradiction which is its outcome, and which of necessity calls for the liberation of the productive forces by means of a change in the mode of production.
In modern history at least it is, therefore, proved that all political struggles are class struggles, and all class struggles for emancipation, despite their necessarily political form - for every class struggle is a political struggle - turn ultimately on the question of economic emancipation. Therefore, here at least, the state - the political order - is the subordination, and civil society - the realm of economic relations - the decisive element.
The traditional conception, to which Hegel, too, pays homage, saw in the state the determining element, and in civil society the element determined by it. Appearances correspond to this. As all the driving forces of the actions of any individual person must pass through his brain, and transform themselves into motives of his will in order to set him into action, so also all the needs of civil society - no matter which class happens to be the ruling one - must pass through the will of the state in order to secure general validity in the form of laws. That is the formal aspect of the matter - the one which is self-evident.
The question arises, however, what is the content of this merely formal will - of the individual as well as of the state -- and whence is this content derived? Why is just this willed and not something else? If we enquire into this, we discover that in modern history the will of the state is, on the whole, determined by the changing needs of civil society, but the supremacy of this or that class, in the last resort, by the development of the productive forces and relations of exchange.
But if even in our modern era, with its gigantic means of production and communication, the state is not an independent domain with an independent development, but one whose existence as well as development is to be explained in the last resort by the economic conditions of life of society, then this must be still more true of all earlier times when the production of the material life of man was not yet carried on with these abundant auxiliary means, and when, therefore, the necessity of such production must have exercised a still greater mastery over men.
 If the state even today, in the era of big industry and of railways, is on the whole only a reflection, in concentrated form, of the economic needs of the class controlling production, then this must have been much more so in an epoch when each generation of men was forced to spend a far greater part of its aggregate lifetime in satisfying material needs, and was therefore much more dependent on them than we are today. An examination of the history of earlier periods, as soon as it is seriously undertaken from this angle, most abundantly confirms this. But, of course, this cannot be gone into here….

XII. From the Introduction to Dialectics of Nature

by Frederick Engels, 1875-6

With men we enter history. Animals also have a history, that of their derivation and gradual evolution to their present position. This history, however, is made for them, and in so far as they themselves take part in it, this occurs without their knowledge or desire. On the other hand, the more that human beings become removed from animals in the narrower sense of the word, the more they make their own history consciously, the less becomes the influence of unforeseen effects and uncontrolled forces of this history, and the more accurately does the historical result correspond to the aim laid down in advance.
If, however, we apply this measure to human history, to that of even the most developed peoples of the present day, we find that there still exists here a colossal disproportion between the proposed aims and the results arrived at, that unforeseen effects predominate, and that the uncontrolled forces are far more powerful than those set into motion according to plan.
And this cannot be otherwise as long as the most essential historical activity of men, the one which has raised them from bestiality to humanity and which forms the material foundation of all their other activities, namely the production of their requirements of life, that is today social production, is above all subject to the interplay of unintended effects from uncontrolled forces and achieves its desired end only by way of exception and, much more frequently, the exact opposite.
In the most advanced industrial countries we have subdued the forces of nature and pressed them into the service of mankind; we have thereby infinitely multiplied production, so that a child now produces more than a hundred adults previously did. And what is the result? Increasing overwork and increasing misery of the masses, and every ten years a great [economic] collapse. Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind, and especially on his countrymen, when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom.
Only conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect, in the same way that production in general has done this for men in their aspect as species. Historical evolution makes such an organisation daily more indispensable, but also with every day more possible. From it will date a new epoch of history, in which mankind itself, and with mankind all branches of its activity, and especially natural science, will experience an advance that will put everything preceding it in the deepest shade.

XIII.Extract from the Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

by Marx
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.
The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression for the same thing - with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.
Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic - in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.
No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the tasks itself arises only when the material conditions of its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation….
 The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production - antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonisms, but of one arising form the social conditions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation brings, therefore, the prehistory of society to a close.

XIV. From Karl Marx

by Frederick Engels, 1877
Of the many important discoveries through which Marx has inscribed his name in the annals of science, we can here dwell on only two.
The first is the revolution brought about by him in the whole conception of world history. The whole previous view of history was based on conception that the ultimate causes of all historical changes are to be looked for in the changing ideas of human beings, and that of all historical changes political changes are the most important and dominate the whole of history.
But the question was not asked as to whence the ideas come into men's minds and what the driving causes of the political changes are. Only upon the newer school of French, and partly also of English, historians have forced the conviction that, since the Middle Ages at least, the driving force in European history was the struggle of the developing bourgeoisie with the fuedal aristocracy for social and political domination.
Now Marx has proved that the whole of previous history is a history of class struggles, that in all the manifold and complicated political struggles the only thing at issue has been the social and political rule of social classes, the maintenance of domination by older classes and the conquest of domination by newly arising classes. To what, however, do these classes owe their origin and their continued existence? They owe it to the particular material, physically sensible conditions in which society at a given period produces and exchanges its means of sustenance.
The fuedal rule of the Middle Ages rested on a self-sufficient economy of small peasant communities, which themselves produced almost all their requirements, in which there is almost no exchange and which received from the arms bearing nobility protection from without and national or at least political cohesion. When the towns arose and with them separate handicraft industry and trade intercourse, at first internal and later international, the urban bourgeoisie developed, and already during the Middle Ages achieved, in struggle with the nobility, its inclusion in the feudal order as likewise a privileged estate.
But with the discovery of the extra-European world, from the middle of the 15th century onwards, this bourgeoisie acquired a far more extensive sphere of trade and therewith a new spur for its industry; in the most important branches handicrafts were supplemented by manufacture, now on a factory scale, and this again was supplanted by large scale industry, possible owing to the discoveries of the previous century, especially that of the steam engine. Large scale industry, in its turn, reacted on trade by driving out the old manual labour in backward countries, and creating the present day new means of communication: steam engines, railways, electric telegraphy, in the more developed ones.
Thus the bourgeoisie came more and more to combine social wealth and social power in its hands, while it still for a long period remained excluded from political power, which was in the hands of the nobility and the monarchy supported by the nobility. But at a certain stage - in France since the Great Revolution - it also conquered political power, and now in turn became the ruling class over the proletariat and small peasants.
From this point of view all the historical phenomenon are explicable in simplest possible way - with sufficient knowledge of the particular economic condition of society (which it is true is totally lacking in our professional historians), and in the same way the conceptions and ideas of each historical period are most simply to be explained from the economic conditions of life and from the social and political relations of the period, which are in turn determined by these economic conditions.
History was for the first time placed on its real basis; the palpable but previously totally overlooked fact that men must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, therefore must work , before they can fight for domination, pursue politics, religion, philosophy, etc. - this palpable fact at last came into its historical rights.
This new conception of history, however, was of supreme significance for the socialist outlook. It showed that all previous history moved in class antagonisms and class struggles, that there have always existed ruling and ruled, exploiting and exploited classes, and that the great majority of mankind has always been condemned to arduous labour and little enjoyment.
Why is this? Simply because in all earlier stages of development of mankind production was so little developed that the historical development could proceed only in this antagonistic form, that historical progress as all whole was assigned to the activity of a small privileged minority, while the great mass remained condemned to producing by their labour their own meagre means of subsistence and also the increasingly rich means of the privileged.

But the same investigation of history, which in this way provides a natural and reasonable explanation of the previous class rule, otherwise only explicable from the wickednesses of man, also leads to the realization that, in consequence of the so tremendously increased productive forces of the present time, even the last pretext has vanished for a division of mankind into rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited, at least in the most advanced countries.
That the ruling big bourgeoisie has fulfilled its historic mission, that it is no longer capable of the leadership of society and has even become a hindrance to the development of production, as the trade crisis, and especially the last great collapse, and the depressed condition of industry in all countries have proved. That historical leadership has passed to the proletariat, a class which, owing to its whole position in society, can only free itself by abolishing altogether all class rule, all servitude and all exploitation.
And that the social productive forces, which have outgrown the control of the bourgeoisie, are only waiting for the associated proletariat to take possession of them in order to bring about a state of things in which every member of society will be enabled to participate not only in production but also in the distribution and administration of social wealth, and which so increases the social productive forces and their yield by planned operation of the whole of production that satisfaction of all reasonable needs will be assured to everyone in an ever-increasing measure.

XV. From Engels' Letter to J. Bloch

London, September 21, 1890

According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase.
The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure - political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas - also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.
There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.

We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one. The Prussian state also arose and developed from historical, ultimately economic, causes.
But it could scarcely be maintained without pedantry that among the many small states of North Germany, Brandenburg was specifically determined by economic necessity to become the great power embodying the economic, linguistic and, after the Reformation, also the religious difference between North and South, and not by other elements as well (above all by its entanglement with Poland, owing to the possession of Prussia, and hence with international political relations - which were indeed also decisive in the formation of the Austrian dynastic power).
Without making oneself ridiculous it would be a difficult thing to explain in terms of economics the existence of every small state in Germany, past and present, or the origin of the High German consonant permutations, which widened the geographic partition wall formed by the mountains from the Sudetic range to the Taunus to form a regular fissure across all Germany.
In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting force, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant - the historical event.
This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion.
 But from the fact that the wills of individuals - each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) - do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.

I would furthermore ask you to study this theory from its original sources and not at second-hand; it is really much easier. Marx hardly wrote anything in which it did not play a part. But especially The Eigteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is a most excellent example of its application. There are also many allusion to it in Capital. Then may I also direct you to my writings: Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science and Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in which I have given the most detailed account of historical material which, as far as I know, exists.

Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-á-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction.
But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles, and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent “Marxists” from this reproach, for the most amazing rubbish has been produced in this quarter, too....

XVI.From The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

by Karl Marx, 1852

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living.

And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.
Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.
When we think about this conjuring up of the dead of world history, a salient difference reveals itself. Camille Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre, St. Just, Napoleon, the heroes as well as the parties and the masses of the old French Revolution, performed the task of their time -- that of unchaining and establishing modern bourgeois society -- in Roman costumes and with Roman phrases. The first one destroyed the feudal foundation and cut off the feudal heads that had grown on it.
The other created inside France the only conditions under which free competition could be developed, parceled-out land properly used, and the unfettered productive power of the nation employed; and beyond the French borders it swept away feudal institutions everywhere, to provide, as far as necessary, bourgeois society in France with an appropriate up-to-date environment on the European continent. Once the new social formation was established, the antediluvian colossi disappeared and with them also the resurrected Romanism -- the Brutuses, the Gracchi, the publicolas, the tribunes, the senators, and Caesar himself.
Bourgeois society in its sober reality bred its own true interpreters and spokesmen in the Says, Cousins, Royer-Collards, Benjamin Constants, and Guizots; its real military leaders sat behind the office desk and the hog-headed Louis XVIII was its political chief. Entirely absorbed in the production of wealth and in peaceful competitive struggle, it no longer remembered that the ghosts of the Roman period had watched over its cradle. But unheroic though bourgeois society is, it nevertheless needed heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war, and national wars to bring it into being.
And in the austere classical traditions of the Roman Republic, the bourgeois gladiators found the ideals and the art forms, the self-deceptions, that they needed to conceal from themselves the bourgeois-limited content of their struggles and to keep their passion on the high plane of great historic tragedy. Similarly, at another stage of development a century earlier, Cromwell and the English people had borrowed from the Old Testament the speech, emotions, and illusions for their bourgeois revolution. When the real goal had been achieved and the bourgeois transformation of English society had been accomplished, Locke supplanted Habakkuk.
Thus the awakening of the dead in those revolutions served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again.

From 1848 to 1851, only the ghost of the old revolution circulated -- from Marrast, the républicain en gants jaunes [Republican in yellow gloves], who disguised himself as old Bailly, down to the adventurer who hides his trivial and repulsive features behind the iron death mask of Napoleon. A whole nation, which thought it had acquired an accelerated power of motion by means of a revolution, suddenly finds itself set back into a defunct epoch, and to remove any doubt about the relapse, the old dates arise again -- the old chronology, the old names, the old edicts, which had long since become a subject of antiquarian scholarship, and the old minions of the law who had seemed long dead.
The nation feels like the mad Englishman in Bedlam who thinks he is living in the time of the old Pharaohs and daily bewails the hard labour he must perform in the Ethiopian gold mines, immured in this subterranean prison, a pale lamp fastened to his head, the overseer of the slaves behind him with a long whip, and at the exits a confused welter of barbarian war slaves who understand neither the forced labourers nor each other, since they speak no common language.
“And all this,” sighs the mad Englishman, “is expected of me, a freeborn Briton, in order to make gold for the Pharaohs.” “In order to pay the debts of the Bonaparte family,” sighs the French nation. The Englishman, so long as he was not in his right mind, could not get rid of his fixed idea of mining gold.
The French, so long as they were engaged in revolution, could not get rid of the memory of Napoleon, as the election of December 10 [in 1848, when Louis Bonaparte was elected President of the French Republic] was proved. They longed to return from the perils of revolution to the fleshpots of Egypt, and December 2, 1851 [The date of the coup d'état by Louis Bonaparte], was the answer. Now they have not only a caricature of the old Napoleon, but the old Napoleon himself, caricatured as he would have to be in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content -- here the content goes beyond the phrase.
The February Revolution was a surprise attack, a seizing of the old society unaware, and the people proclaimed this unexpected stroke a deed of world importance, ushering in a new epoch. On December 2 the February Revolution is conjured away as a cardsharp's trick, and what seems overthrown is no longer the monarchy but the liberal concessions that had been wrung from it through centuries of struggle. Instead of society having conquered a new content for itself, it seems that the state has only returned to its oldest form, to a shamelessly simple rule by the sword and the monk's cowl.
This is the answer to the coup de main [Unexpected stroke] of February, 1848, given by the coup de téte [Rash act] of December, 1851. Easy come, easy go. Meantime, the interval did not pass unused. During 1848-51 French society, by an abbreviated revolutionary method, caught up with the studies and experiences which in a regular, so to speak, textbook course of development would have preceded the February Revolution, if the latter were to be more than a mere ruffling of the surface. Society seems now to have retreated to behind its starting point; in truth, it has first to create for itself the revolutionary point of departure-the situation, the relations, the conditions under which alone modern revolution becomes serious.
Bourgeois revolutions like those of the eighteenth century storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day- but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [crapulence] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly.
On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals -- until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out:
Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
[Here is the rose, here dance!]

(“Here is the rose, here dance!” From Aesop's fable, “The Swaggerer,” referring to one who boasted that he had made a gigantic leap in Rhodes (which also means “rose” in Greek) and was challenged: “Here is Rhodes, here leap!” Marx's paraphrase, “Here is the rose, here dance,” is from the quotation used by Hegel in the preface to his book Outlines of the Philosophy of Right (1821). -- Ed. )

Questions on Historical Materialism

  1. What separates human beings from other animals?
  2. What determines our consciousness, our ideas, and view of the world?
  3. What role do Marxist explain is played by individuals in history?
  4. What do we mean by 'class'?
  5. How long did human beings exist before society was divided into classes, and what caused that division?
  6. Which group of people constituted the first ruling class and why?
  7. What was the Asiatic Mode of Production?
  8. What was the cause of the decline and fall of Roman slave society?
  9. In what way did the exploitation of serfs differ from that of slaves?
  10. What ultimately undermined the class struggle of the peasantry against the landlords during feudal times?
  11. What did Marx mean by “primitive accumulation”?
  12. What part did the “revolutionising of the means of production” play in the development of capitalism?
  13. Describe some modern day examples of this process?
  14. What were the tasks of the bourgeois revolutions?
  15. What differentiates capitalism from earlier systems of exploitation?
  16. How does the exploitation of the wage worker differ from that of the serf?
  17. Explain what Marxists mean by “Imperialism”?
  18. During what period did capitalism cease playing a progressive role?
  19. Marx described the working class as the “gravediggers” of capitalism. Why?
  20. What are the tasks of the proletarian, socialist revolution?

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