Political Philosophy Part 2
Marxism and Socialism since Marx (pp17)
Part 1: Marxism and Revisionism/Social Democracy (*)
(see also notes on the Labour Movement… here we are dealing mainly with Marxist theory)
(*) part 2 deals with the more recent issues for the left – including the New Left, Labour and New Labour, the ‘Third Way’ etc.
Links: Imagining Other Index Page
There are notes and points on inequality at:
and at: Updates on Inequality.
1. Currents in Marxism:
1.1 why the different “currents” in Marxism #why the splits
1.2 what are the main groupings #main groups
1.3 what are the theoretical differences in Marxism #theory
2. Marx’s different interpreters
2.1 Lenin and Stalin #Lenin and Stalin
2.2 Western Marxism – the ‘first generation’ #'Western Marxism'
2.3 Gramsci #Gramsci
2.4 Lukacs #Lukacs
2.5 the ‘second generation’ of western Marxists - critical theory etc. #Frankfurt School, Critical Theory
3. Social Democracy: ‘revisions’ of Marx (by those who still felt themselves to be to some extent Marxists, whilst others would say they were not):
3.1 Eduard Bernstein #Eduard Bernstein
3.2 Tony Crosland #Anthony Crosland
1. Currents in Marxism.
There are several reasons:
- theoretical differences: Marxism is a complex theory with many inter-related ‘parts’ (see pp16). Differences will obviously emerge among interpretations as a result of emphasising different features of the theory. Thus Lenin and others stressed: the economy and party organisation, the strategy of the dictatorship of the proletariat, egalitarianism. “Western Marxists” stressed Marxism as a philosophy, and such themes as alienation (in the light of Freud and modern psychology). Social democracy stressed the relative autonomy of politics and the way the economy and politics had changed since Marx’s time. The New Left and some social democrats brought out the libertarianism in Marxism. (See 1.3 below)
- the ambiguity/incompleteness of Marx's work – this led to different interpretations of key concepts e.g. materialism, the role of the economy, the state, class struggle, democracy, the transition to socialism…
- R.N. Berki, in ‘Socialism’ (see booklist) suggests that different psychological approaches lead to different “socialisms” - and maybe the same can be said of Marxism – so we could identify perhaps: authoritarian vs. libertarian, practical vs. idealist; rigid vs. flexible Marxisms…
- differences in the historical/economic
circumstances where the theory
is applied. For example, developing economies (as
- sectarianism: the tendency to see Marxism as "truth" encourages groups to fight amongst each other…
International" - followers of Lenin and the CPSU (Communist Party of the
- "revolutionary Marxism" – rejects the reformism of the pro-Moscow communist parties - e.g. Socialist Workers' Party (UK), Revolutionary Communist Party etc; since CPs tend to take part in Parliamentary elections etc, Marxists who stress the revolutionary nature of Marxism have set up separate groupings; theoretical differences obviously exist with (orthodox) CPs but differences, often bitter, also exist with each other (e.g. in UK a contentious issue is Ireland)
- council communists stress that Lenin took over the workers’ organisations (the soviets/councils) and manipulated them through the Bolshevik Party (and the secret police!) – a genuine and democratic workers’ revolution could still take place if “vanguardism” is avoided (see, for example, Pannekoek and the early ideas of Castoriadis)
"Trotskyism" – rejects Stalinism (a bureaucratic dictatorship) and
Eurocommunism/reformism – Trotskyites were an early split from the CP/Third
International, in fact formed the Fourth International, when Trotsky was exiled
"Maoists" - Mao's main alteration to/development of Marxism was to
give a role to the peasantry, in alliance with the CP of course; this has been
welcomed by some in less developed countries. In
Article by Pankaj Mishra, author of
‘Temptations of the West’, G 200711 discusses the ‘return of Mao’ – points out
that Mao’s contribution to Marxist theory and practise was to identify a nexus
between the feudal elites in the hinterland (of China) and the capitalists in
the semi-colonial coastal cities. This was the class enemy against whom the
peasants needed mobilising. He lists as Mao’s key works: Report on an
Investigation of the Peasant Movement in
Mao’s ideas then had a significant impact
Now there is the insurgency in the
forests of central
Mishra also makes the point that whilst the scale of Mao’s violence dwarfs all other crimes committed in the course of nation-building, nevertheless ‘modernisers’ everywhere have inflicted violence and suffering – especially ‘in a huge area of Asian territory, from Turkey and Iran to Indonesia and Taiwan…’
- philosophical Marxists e.g. "New Left" and “Western Marxism” - see 2.2 below, also ‘critical theory’ see 2.5 below
- there are also Marxists who want to combine Marxism with e.g. Christian socialism, or to push the Labour Party from within (Militant et al).
- economic determinism: some Marxists have a model where the economic "base" is separate from and determines the "superstructure" (politics, culture etc); Engels himself tried to restate this by saying the "economy is important in the last instance" (i.e. as a kind of ultimate constraint, rather than a determining factor); more recent writers have put the "relations of production" as fundamental - i.e. the danger with economic determinism is that it seems to attribute to non-human aspects of society the ability to push us towards socialism (material forces have a purpose?!) - at the very least it reduces the role of the human agent. But if you reduce the importance of the economy, how does Marxism differ from other theories of social change, and how does it demonstrate the necessity for socialism?
- consciousness and direction: related to the above, some (e.g. Lenin) believe(d) that workers themselves, with no outside influence, will only develop "trade union consciousness" (asking for concessions from capitalism, not revolutionary consciousness which aims to overthrow capitalism); others (e.g. Rosa Luxemburg) believe(d) that workers can "spontaneously" become revolutionary; some argue that to develop communist theory/consciousness you need a party, others reject this. Even Trotsky found the Party indispensable, and - for all his criticisms, and despite how he was treated, Lukacs never left it (see 2.4 below)
- Marxism as a scientific theory: stresses the importance of empirical observation – but if it is a science then we ought to be able to make firm predictions, e.g. of a coming "crisis of capitalism" – and this has proved very difficult! A counter view is that the development of workers’ consciousness will itself determine the direction of capitalism (after all, Marx did say we have a choice: “socialism or barbarism”! – see Castoriadis Notes on "Recommencing Revolution" by Castoriadis). On the other hand, if consciousness is a key element in the development of the proletariat before a revolution is possible - how exactly does the level of workers’ consciousness relate to the development of the economy (and couldn't such consciousness arise without a high level of economic development)?
- can you combine a scientific theory with a moral one (as Marxism seems to do)? The danger with a pseudo-science based on moral arguments is that its adherents are driven to prove their correctness by "forcing" events. Karl Popper argued that the characteristic of a scientific theory is that it must be possible to falsify it (by finding evidence that disproves it, or by testing it and the test failing). Can Marxism be ‘falsified’? How do we go about testing arguments that point to the collapse of capitalism as a result of the rate of profit declining? The rate has gone down sometimes, and up at others; there have been various ‘crises’ but no complete collapse as yet. Does this disprove the theory? No, say hard-line Marxists, as they are still waiting for the final crisis… Popper says Marx's theory suffer from historicism - the attributing to "history" of purpose and meaning outside of how humans choose to act - again, a form of determinism.
- Marxism as critique: if, as some say, the main strength of Marxism is to criticize and demystify, why at the same time does it want to assert what it does? Criticism and demystification does not of itself provide positive answers.
- Marxism as ideology: if all classes adopt theories about the world which reflect their position in it and their interests/desires, and these ideas are therefore distortions - ideologies - how can it be proved that Marxism is not itself an ideology? (Unless and until the socialist revolution has in fact occurred!) Note too that Freud contributed other thoughts on the problem of self-knowledge/self-deception... [Some of these arguments are taken from books by Sabine and Lancaster – see the booklist).
2. Marxism's interpreters (post-1917) - selected critical issues:
Lenin's revolution took many by surprise at the time: it had seemed that Marx expected revolution to start in advanced capitalist countries. Hence many (especially the Mensheviks) felt that Lenin introduced an element of "voluntarism" – as it were ‘willing’ a revolution before economic conditions were ripe.
[For another brief note on Lenin, see sm2russianrevolution.htm#Lenin. Here is a link to a pamphlet on Lenin to which I made a minor contribution: http://libcom.org/library/fresh-look-lenin-andy-brown]
These differences relate to the division between those who saw Marxism as predicting events, in a deterministic way (such as the Mensheviks) and those who believed (with Gramsci and Lukacs) that what happened depended more on how people thought and acted - a crucial aspect of this is "cultural": how ideas are presented by the ruling powers, and how workers and others respond.
Another feature of Stalinism was the centralisation of power into his own hands. To many, the Party was "substituting" itself for the proletariat, and Stalin substituted himself for the Party. With the brutal suppression of uprisings in East Germany and Hungary (1956 and after) - where ordinary working people were making demands that the original promises of the revolution be fulfilled, a good many westerners left the Communist Party, and much theoretical discussion took place (e.g. the New Left).
Perry Anderson in: Considerations on
Western Marxism, New Left Books 1976, argues that these thinkers were found
workers councils; Lukacs was expelled from the party because of his opposition to the party’s refusal to work with other workers' organisations – a line known as
‘social fascism’); Gramsci spent
years in prison (while
The Italian Marxist
thinker and politician Antonio Gramsci was politically active during the rise
of fascism in
Gramsci had warned of the danger of bureaucracy in the Party (as had Trotsky...), and called for power to workers' soviets. He argued that the scientific nature of Marxism cannot be demonstrated apart from the actions of the working class - i.e. theory and practice must be one. Intellectuals who sympathise with the workers must be "organically" linked, i.e. must "practise" by being actively involved in struggle etc.
He noted the way that classes exercise "hegemony" - i.e. control of society through ideas as well as economically (through ownership of the means of production). Therefore the struggle against the rulers must also be one on the "cultural" plane. This stressed the role of the church, the media, civil society organisations and trade unions. He thus rejected the "base/superstructure" model that many Marxists had adopted, where the economic base determines the cultural superstructure, and wrote of the ‘optimism of the will’ (from Heywood 2003). He also suggested that the state has some "autonomy" - its actions are not merely determined by economic circumstances, but the ruling class has room to manoeuvre in response to pressures put on it.
The Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs wrote "History and Class Consciousness" in 1919 - 22, and other writings through to 1963. He also attempted to theorise a more ‘humanist’ Marxism, with his emphasis on “reification” – the process by which capitalism reduces workers to passive objects or marketable commodities (Heywood).
(The notes that follow are primarily from Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism – see booklist).
Lukacs stressed that the core of Marxism was "dialectics" - however, this is not just a way of describing the world, it is a way of thinking which accepts that in thinking about the world we change it. In other words the dialectic is a part of the revolutionary process.
This enabled Lukacs to tackle the problems associated with the question of ‘scientific method’ in Marxism, and he did this by distancing himself from "empiricism" - the obsession with "facts" - which when it gets in the way of seeing the "total" movement of history, he said, produces revisionism and reformism. His approach to the epistemological (the nature of knowledge - how we know) aspect of Marxism was to subordinate ‘empirical’ facts to the ‘bigger picture’ (as it were): "...when vulgar Marxists adduce "facts" that appear to contradict the process (…whereby the time approaches for the expropriators to be expropriated), so much the worse for the facts!"
On the other hand, we must be able to fit the concrete details into the whole - this he calls "mediation": over-emphasising one aspect or the other leads to errors - too much attention to detail leads to revisionism, but too much attention to "totalities" without taking into account specific differences in the components leads to such doctrines as Nazism.
The crucial agent in bringing about socialism, which is to create a "whole" society, is the one which is itself a "whole" i.e. the proletariat (Marx's "universal class"). The dialectic is the growing self-consciousness of this class i.e. consciousness of "objective" change (all previous classes and times have suffered from "alienation" or "false consciousness"). Thus socialism is neither something we "want" nor something we "foresee", but it is the very meaning of history. Here Kolakowski observes that we have entered the world of myth... and I would add that it is hard to believe that the working class must develop in self-consciousness by becoming Marxist – yet if you believe Marxism has found the ‘truth’ about the future, so it must be…
Lukacs’s ideas were
not accepted by Stalin, and he was obliged to retract much of what he wrote
I would conclude that his (problematic) ideas were more influential on philosophers than on the workers’ movement – a dilemma that haunts many Marxist intellectuals…
2.5 The ‘second generation’ of ‘western Marxists’ (for Perry Anderson) were
formed by the experience of fascism and WWII (the
Others of the ‘second generation’ were Louis Althusser
The most important contribution of these thinkers was their attempted to integrate the psychological ideas of Freud and his successors into Marxism - much work was done on the "authoritarian personality" after the Second World War. After all, Marxism as originally formulated did not seem able to explain fascism – and yet fascism had appealed to many in the working class… They also returned to the ‘dialectics’ of Hegel, and Marx’s use of them as a ‘critique’ of existing society – hence ‘critical’ theory.
Other ‘western Marxists’ (especially Sartre) were influenced by phenomenology and existentialism.
Perry Anderson suggests that these developments
of Marxist theory were especially prevalent in
and a large radical intelligentsia.
especially given the "defeats" that
fascism and Stalinism represented, (b) they worked in universities etc e.g. the
Institute for Social Research,
gradually got more distant from the Marxist
movement, (c) in
existentialism, the conflict in Algeria etc, (d) Hungary 1956 - when a popular uprising was put down with Russian tanks - represented another defeat for traditional
Marxist thought, and (e) they were consequently not interested so much in economics, the political machinery of the bourgeois state and the class struggle; hence there
was bound to be a shift to philosophy. Many leading theorists of this ‘school’ actually had university chairs of philosophy! (cf. Althusser and Spinoza and
I am not sure that I go along with all of this, and it is worth stressing that alongside the
‘western Marxists’ identified above, there were others who stressed the
importance of workers’ councils, and a practical approach from the “bottom up”
(e.g. Karl Korsch, Anton Pannekoek and others – such ‘council communism’ was an
influence on Castoriadis). Perhaps
[Note: there are many other prominent and influential Marxist thinkers and activists that I have to leave out of these notes, at least for the time being e.g.: Erich Fromm, Jurgen Habermas, Henri Lefebvre…
(*) also: Walter Benjamin - a figure who intrigues me, since his work deals with creativity and the arts...
Comments by John
Dugdale (26.9.15 G2): ‘For devotees of
Critical Theory, he is now seen as one of the founding fathers along with his
From New Statesman, a review of several books on Benjamin: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2015/10/walter-benjamin-first-pop-philosopher
Thinkers such as these, and Marcuse, were influential on the New Left (see 4.2 below)
3. Social Democracy: (revisions of Marx, but by those who still felt themselves to be Marxists)
In 1872 he joined the precursor of the German
Social Democratic Party in
Engels. He was executor of Engels’ will, and had charge of his papers.
In 1898 he wrote Evolutionary Socialism, which
was published in 1899 in
Went back to
After his death in 1932 it was only six weeks before Hitler came to power. Bernstein never thought Nazism had a future…
2. Main Issues (Sidney Hook, Intro to 1963 edition Preconditions of Socialism):
- science should be seen as tentative, not doctrinal (i.e. it must change with changing evidence) – both the fundamental concepts and the applications must be treated in this way, so that if the ‘applications’ don’t square with the fundamental concepts then these (fundamental concepts) may need changing
- historical developments have not turned out as Marx foresaw – in particular, unemployment and impoverishment of the workers had not kept on worsening
- the basic ideas of Marxism need revising (though NB he still saw himself as a Marxist, and Marxism as ‘scientific’):
(a) historical materialism,
(b) class war,
(c) surplus value,
(d) an account of the tendencies of bourgeois society
* there is not likely to be an apocalyptic end to capitalism, rather a gradual change – which is in fact a change towards socialism
* the idea of a proletarian dictatorship should be rejected, as undemocratic – socialism is a movement towards (more/true) democracy, & the heir to liberalism
* too much emphasis on the goal of the movement is wrong (utopian) – the method and the movement are most important, and the approach must combine realism and idealism.
3. These points in more detail:
Science: involves both the possibility of proof based on experience, and proof based on logic, and the two must of course work together. There is a ‘pure’ universally valid basis of Marxism (the ‘fundamental concepts) i.e. a philosophy of the general features of history and society (though it has not yet been fully worked out), and there are ‘applications’, but these are ‘out of synch’ [my words].
(a) Historical materialism: if taken in a [too] materialist sense must be determinist, but Engels argued that changes in production are ‘final causes’ of social change and therefore not the only causes. Social institutions are not merely the products of economic development but can become social forces with a will of their own (e.g. the state has some limited autonomy in relation to the economy). Thus capitalism involves “endless parallelograms of forces” – what each person wills is hindered by what others will, and the consequences are therefore not intended by anyone. Economics is a “decisive force, [the] cardinal point of great moments of history, but not an unconditional determining influence”. Moreover, we are getting to understand economics better, and so to control it more.
(b) Class war: as public/common interests (via the state) gain in power, so the conflict between private ownership and the social character of production becomes less of a contradiction. Moreover, the class theory is based on the theory of surplus value – see next point.
(c) Surplus Value: Bernstein felt that such ‘abstractions’ as “abstract labour, average wages, socially necessary labour” were just abstractions and reductions – and that you could argue that workers do not get the full value they create (or their fair share) without these technical complications [my words]. So for Bernstein (as for many non-Marxist socialists) the problem becomes one of distribution.
(d) Tendencies of the development of capitalism: the bourgeoisie is not becoming smaller but bigger; the middle classes are not disappearing (i.e. no polarisation is taking place). There is only some concentration of industry and no concentration of capital. Restraints have been placed on capitalism: factory legislation, minimum conditions of labour, crises are being overcome etc. Bernstein also makes the point that a ‘catastrophe theory’ is objectionable in that it makes radicals oppose improvements in order to bring about the expected catastrophe.
4. Tasks for the socialist movement: Bernstein was not in favour of the state to taking over large enterprises, as this leaves many workers in small firms out of the picture – also, there is more co-operation among producers now. He supported consumer co-ops as a way of redistributing wealth (but not producer co-operatives as this would be turning workers into capitalists). The crucial developments are: more of a say for workers in the management of enterprises; and more democracy, based on a better educated citizenship. The aim is “raising the worker from the social position of a proletarian to that of a citizen, and thus to make citizenship universal.” “[The] liberal organisations of modern society (are flexible and can be changed) [so they] do not need to be destroyed, but only to be further developed.”
Socialism is a continuous process not a utopian goal. With more freedom and democracy we will move away from economic compulsion and be in charge of our own futures.
- son of civil servant and university teacher
- read Classics at Trinity College Oxford
- became economist while in the army, taught economics at Trinity until 1950 when became an MP
- originally a Marxist (at
- published The Future of Socialism in 1956
- Foreign Secretary in Callaghan government for ten months before he died.
1. Capitalism has been transformed:
- there is less class antagonism, and the standard of living has improved – including a better share of wealth for the working class
- the power of the business class has declined, and they are less confident (no lockouts as before WW II), and with full employment labour has more power;
business is becoming more ‘socially responsible’
- the power of the state has increased, through nationalisation etc (and at the expense of the business class), and through a state bureaucracy
- ownership and control have become separated (by shareholding, so they are no longer both in the hands of capitalists); managerialism replaces the profit
- these changes are permanent, and the Conservative opposition have no counter-plan – therefore the old picture of the aims socialism has to be modified
2. The ‘old’ aims are varied and come from different, and sometimes conflicting, origins:
- ‘natural law’ ideas, derived from Locke
- Owenism and co-operatives
- the labour theory of value
- Christian socialism
- William Morris and the degradation of work
- Fabian gradualism
- the ILP: the brotherhood of man
- the welfare state and paternalism
- syndicalism and guild socialism
However, these can be summarised in five aspects:
- equality, classlessness, just appropriation – still some injustices here, but cannot impose equality; question still also of attitudes (not everyone is other-
- co-operation and fraternity – but competition is not always harmful, and pursuit of profit is bad only where there is inequality
- workers’ control – trade unions have an effective say in industry, but Crosland rejected co-operatives as impractical
- social welfare – has been ‘substantially fulfilled’, but there is still squalor and distress, social antagonism, and faulty distribution of rewards and privileges (the
Beveridge report had identified vulnerable categories, but there were still exceptions and individual cases that were not covered)
- full employment – has been achieved.
This can be boiled down to three aims:
- social welfare of all
- just rewards and a responsible status to the worker
- the means to increase personal freedom and the range of choice.
Much of this has been achieved, but there is still some progress to be made in terms of:
(i) equality (there is still ‘distress’ and some poverty); there is still a strong sense of class (life-styles, status etc) and we need to diminish social antagonism and
promote social justice: wealth still allows some to buy advantages and power – hence redistribution must be pursued, and nationalisation, social services, taxation,
education and trade union action should be extended;
(ii) socialism has a reputation for being ‘dull’, and Fabians emphasise ‘solid virtues of hard work, self-discipline, efficiency, abstinence – rather it should be about
‘liberty and gaiety in [one’s] private life’, and
Labour should promote universities, the Arts council etc. See ‘The Good
Part 2 of Socialism Since Marx deals with: the New Left, the English experience, Labour and New Labour and the ‘third way’.