november 21, 2009 vol xliv no 47
Economic & Political
urban areas in the 1920s, and its subse-quent peasant-cum-guerrilla-based move-ment in the countryside. Theoretically, andin practice, Mao’s Marxism was enrichedby overcoming and going beyond Stalin’smechanical interpretation o Marx’s theory o history. And, Mao constantly appliedMarx’s “materialist dialectics” in helping tounderstand and resolve multiple “contra-dictions” – internal conficts tending tosplit what is unctionally united – with thelikely outcome ollowing rom the recipro-cal actions o the opposing tendencies. It isthe usion o all o this with the originalMarxism and Leninism that constitutesMaoism. Like Marxism, at its best, it is acomprehensive world view, a method o analysis and a guide to practice, not a seto dogmas. What then is meant by theMaoist dictum “learn truth rom practice”?With this preview, we are now in a posi-tion to move on. At the outset itsel, let mesay that while I speak solely or mysel, Imake no claim whatsoever to originality. I wrote this piece as a sel-clariying exer-cise and submitted it or publication in thehope that it might help others like me,striving to be educated about matters thatare not academic.
Wha i Maxm?
In searching or an answer to this question,I can do no better than what the
has taught me. In one o theounder-editor’s words (Sweezy 1985: 2):
Marxism is above all, a comprehensive world view, what Germans call a Weltanschauung– a body o philosophical, economic, politi-cal, sociological, scientic … principles, allinterrelated and together orming an inde-pendent and largely sel-sucient intellec-tual structure. … It is a guide to lie and so-cial practice, and in the long run its validity can only be judged by its ruits.
In its view, prior to the development o capitalism, civilisation had been impossi-ble without exploitation; the social surplusappropriated was (1985: 3-4)
concentrated in the hands o a ew, so thatluxury, wealth, civilisation at one pole wasnecessarily matched by poverty, misery, anddegradation at the other.It was into such a world that capitalism wasborn …incomparably the most productiveand in that sense progressive society the world had ever seen. …indeed, or the rsttime ever it made possible a society in whichexploitation and the concentration o thesurplus in the hands o a ew was no longerthe
condition or civilisation.Now humanity aced … a prospect withoutprecedent. Would it go orward to a new andhigher, non-exploitative orm o civilisation …or would the exploitation o the many by theew continue to be the way o human lie?Marx believed that … capitalism … wouldnever be able to make use o … (society’sproductive orces) or the benet o the workers who he thought were on their way to becoming the majority o the population.… Sooner or later…the workers would be-come conscious o their real class interests,organise themselves into a powerul revolu-tionary orce, seize power rom the capital-ists, and begin the transition to a communistsociety rom which exploitation and classes would nally be abolished.It hasn’t worked out that way. Workers in themore developed capitalist countries wereable to make enough gains by struggle with-in the system to orestall the emergence o arevolutionary consciousness. A signicantpart o these gains came at the expense o dependent and exploited countries o thethird world, which were thereby preventedrom using their resources or their own in-dependent development. As a result, thecentre o revolutionary struggle shited romthe advanced to the retarded parts o thecapitalist world.
While Marxists share a conception o reality, they dier in many respects in ex-plaining the world and in assessing it. Also, the intellectual structure created by the ounders o Marxism – Marx and En-gels – has been signicantly modied andadapted, as it no doubt should, with ad- vances in human knowledge and under-standing, and with the development o capitalism into a global system. But, ando course, its scientic validity should be judged in the rst instance by its contribu-tions to the ability to explain reality.However, there is something even moreexacting – in the very long run, Marxismhas to be judged by the ruits o its projecto taking humanity along the road to- wards equality, cooperation, community,and solidarity. We should have done thisearlier, but it is now apt to bring into ocusthe most crucial character o Marxism,something, ollowing Sweezy, we alludedto in the beginning o this article. The whole purpose o constructing and re-constructing its distinctive intellectualstructure to understand the world wasand is so that this exercise may lay the ba-sis o changing society or the better. Thisis stated most succinctly in Marx’s 1845
Theses on Feuerbach
: “The philosophershave only
the world; the pointhowever is to
it.” But integratingtheory and practice (developing a strategy and a set o tactics or changing the worldor the better and implementing them) isar more dicult and messy a project.Marx and Engels wrote
The Communist Maniesto
in December 1847 and January 1848, but they never even attempted to de-ne, let alone provide any blueprint o thetransitional society (their ollowers calledit socialism) which would in time – that was the expectation – evolve asymptoti-cally towards communism, never really reaching it. As Sweezy has it, in Marx andEngels’ conception, the transitional stage/society (“socialism”)
would begin its ex-istence as “primarily a negation o capital-ism which would develop its own positiveidentity (communism) through a revolu-tionary struggle in which the proletariat would remake society and in the processremake itsel” (1983: 2-3).But, rankly, the proletariat in the devel-oped capitalist countries, or reasons al-ready mentioned, was increasingly losingits quality as the source and carrier o revo-lutionary practice. The development o the working class, the advance o human capa-bility – always at the very centre o theorces o production – was not perceivedby the workers as being hindered by the re-lations o production; the latter was notdiscerned as intolerable by the workers aslong as they were able to extract betterterms rom capital through their struggles(strikes, etc) within the connes o the sys-tem. Why should they then bear the risk o losing what they were gaining in thepresent when what they could gain by re- volting against the system was highly un-certain and ar away in the uture? In other words, Marx and Engels did not blame the workers or the lack o a revolutionary con-sciousness; the objective conditions werenot there or its germination.What then o early Marxism (it was notcalled Marxism in Marx’s time, but or con- venience we are designating even that pe-riod within its scope) in its mistaken expec-tation, drawn mainly rom its analysis o the living and working conditions o the working class (in Engels’
The Condition o the Working Class in England
, written in late1844, early 1845 when he was 24) and thelogic o Marx’s the amous 1859 Preace to