The Proletarian Revolution

The Proletarian Revolution with Marx and dialectical materialism. Liberal political thought developed largely as an elaboration of two fundamental social or moral ideas, that politics is distinctively an art of reaching non-coercive adjustments between antagonistic interests and that democratic procedures are the only effective ways for making such adjustments.

Consequently, though its later history undertook to take into account Hegel’s valid critique of individualism, it never accepted the two major assumptions in Hegel’s social philosophy. These were, first, that society is a moving balance of antithetical forces which generate social change by their tension and struggle, and second, that social history is an internal or quasi-logical evolution of the forces themselves.

These elements of Hegel’s thought, however, played a large part in the political theory of the nineteenth century and later. This was due in the main to the transformation of Hegel’s philosophy effected by Karl Marx. Marx removed from Hegel’s theory the assumption that national cultures are the effective units of social history-an assumption that never had any close logical relation to his system-and replaced the struggle of nations with the struggle of social classes.

Thus he took away from Hegelianism its distinctive qualities as a political theory-its nationalism, its conservatism, and its counter-revolutionary character-and transformed it into a new and very powerful type of revolutionary radicalism. Marxism became the progenitor of the more important forms of party socialism in the nineteenth century and ultimately, with very important modifications to be sure, of present-day communism.

In important respects, however, Marx’s philosophy was continuous with Hegel’s. In the first place he continued to believe that the dialectic was a powerful logical method uniquely capable of demonstrating a law of social development, and in consequence his philosophy, like Hegel’s was a philosophy of history.

For both men the ground of any social change is its necessity or inevitability, and this term was as ambiguous in Marx as it had been in Hegel, combining as it did the concepts both of casual explanation and of moral justification. Though Marx construed his philosophy as a form of materialism, he still used the dialectic to support a theory of social progress in which higher moral values are necessarily realized. In the second lace, for Marx as for Hegel the driving force of social change is struggle, and the determining factor in the last resort is power.

The struggle is between social classes rather than nations, and the power is economic rather than political, political power being in Marx’s theory g consequence of economic position. But for neither Marx nor Hegel was the struggle for power amenable to peaceful adjustment for the mutual advantage of the contending parties.

Marx shared with Hegel a profound skepticism about the ability of human foresight or good intentions to modify the action of social forces, and both temperamentally and by reason of his social philosophy he had almost no be lief in the power of legislation to remedy economic abuses.

It is true that Marx hoped and expected that his revolutionary radicalism would issue in a form of socialism, in social equality and a genuine liberty, which would complete the equality and liberty of political democracy, But in fact he offered no good reason to believe that the power politics of radicalism would prove to be less authoritarian in practice than the power politics of conservative nationalism.

His social philosophy, therefore, harbored a discrepancy between his democratic aspirations and the internal logic of the system. In Marx’s lifetime this remained latent, because the social revolution he envisaged was never a practical political issue. It became explicit in the communist version of revolutionary Marxism.

The Proletarian Revolution:-

Marx’s social philosophy depended upon and first clearly brought into the focus of attention a social change of absolutely first-rate importance which occurred in the nineteenth century the rise to political self consciousness and finally to political power of an industrial working class. Became responsible for changing the course of liberal thought, but Marx perceived its importance far sooner than the liberals.

Especially in the historical studies which formed an integral part of his philosophy he presented capitalism for the first time in what might be called its human aspect, as an institution that had produced and was continually enlarging a class of men who must live wholly from wages and who were therefore related to their employers only by a cash-nexus.

Their power to work is a commodity, the only economically valuable commodity they have, which must be sold in a competitive market where the only obligation of the purchaser is to pay the current price. The relationship of employer and employee in industry tends thus to be stripped of human significance and of moral obligation and becomes simply one of power.

Marx rightly saw in this situation potentially the most revolutionary fact in modern history on the one hand a class defined by its ownership of the means of production and motivated chiefly by the necessity of creating profits, on the other an industrial proletariat having no power except through the pressure of well organized masses and obliged to set as its end not political liberty but the maintenance or improvement of its standard of living.

Understanding this as an historical fact, Marx was aware of capitalism as an institution, not the result of timeless economic laws but a phase in the evolution of modern society. Starting therefore from the fact of divergent class interests, already made abundantly clear by the classical economists, he set himself both to interpret political liberalism as the ideology characteristic of the middle class and also to create a social philosophy for the rising proletariat, suitable for its use in the struggle for power.

This project, like Hegel’s theory of the state, depended upon an estimate of the historical importance of the French Revolution. Like Hegel, Marx believed that the Revolution had signaled the collapse of feudal society, but while Hegel believed that the Revolution would be consummated in the emergence of national states, Marx regarded it as preliminary to a more drastic and thoroughgoing revolution.

The Revolution, he believed, had been at once fundamentally important and yet in a sense superficial. It was important because it realized a necessary stage in the development of civilization, and yet it was superficial in the sense that it merely opened the way to a higher stage. The abolition of feudalism meant for Marx the rise to power of the middle class and the creation of a political system which made its power effective.

In its most developed form, as yet only partially searched, this system would be the democratic republic. The French Revolution, therefore, had been essentially a political revolution. It had transferred social dominance from the nobility and the clergy to the industrial and commercial middle class; it had created the state as a typical organ of middle-class repression and exploitation; and its philosophy-the system of natural rights in politics and economics was the ideal justification and rationalization of the middle-class right to exploit the worker.

The manifest next step beyond the political revolution was a profounder social revolution. This must be the work of the rising proletarian class of workers, which must displace the middle class from power as the middle class had displaced the older feudal class.

The rising class, too, must have its philosophy, and as the philosophy of the middle class was in substance a claim to the natural rights of property, so a proletarian philosophy must be a socialist claim to the human rights of men without property.

But just because the proletariat lay at the bottom of the social structure, with no class below it to be exploited, a proletarian revolution would not merely transfer the power to exploit but would abolish exploitation would be the first step to a society without distinctions of social class and a true beginning of history as a record of full human self-realization. This was the grandiose mission which Marx’s philosophy set for itself.

In intention, therefore, Marx’s philosophy was profoundly practical, as indeed Hegel’s had been. Both men believed that effective political action depended on understanding the general direction in which history is moving-what Marx called the natural phases of evolution and upon accepting the tasks imposed by ones position in it.

Whereas Hegel had supposed that European history culminates in the rise of the Germanic nations including the Germans, the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, and the English; Marx believed that social history had culminated in the rise of the proletariat, and he looked forward to the advance of that class to a dominant place in modern society.

In Hegel’s philosophy of history the driving force was a self-developing spiritual principle that embodied itself successively in historic cultures, in Marx’s it was a self-developing system of productive forces that embodied itself in basic patterns of economic distribution and in the social classes consequent thereto.

For Hegel the mechanism of progress was warfare between cultures; for Marx it was antagonism between social classes. Both men regarded the course of history as rationally necessary, a pattern of stages unfolding according to a logical plan and advancing toward a predetermined goal.

This majestic march of human civilization invites men to cooperate and to serve. Both philosophies were powerful incitements to action and most effective forms of moral exhortation. While Hegel appealed to national patriotism, Marx appealed to the fidelity of workers to their fellow workers. In both cases the appeal was quite different from the individualism of liberal political philosophies.

It was addressed to loyalty rather than to self-interest, to duties rather than to rights; and it offered no reward except the hope that ones private life would gain meaning through service to a cause greater than oneself. Marx’s philosophy was conceived by him as providing a plan and a motive for a social revolution that should free the workers from poverty and exploitation.

This union in Marx of a program of revolutionary action with a philosophical theory of the necessary course of social development is unintelligible unless one understands the peculiar sense which the dialectic imparts to words like necessary and inevitable. If they meant merely the relation of cause and effect, human cooperation with the course of history would be meaningless; its implication would be political quietism.

But obviously neither Marxian communists nor Hegelian nationalists have been quietism; on the contrary they have been determined or even ruthless activists, often at the cost of their private interests. The distinction that commentators have often drawn between Marx the social philosopher and Marx the organizer of party socialism is one which no Marxist-indeed no Hegelian-would ever draw.

The necessity which both men attributed to history calls for participation and active cooperation; it is a goad to action and to self-dedication. It has less affinity with scientific cause and effect than with the predestination which Calvinists attributed to the will of God. Like the latter, History provides the Marxian revolutionist with his vocation, with his assurance of ultimate success, and perhaps with absolution for the crimes he commits in History’s name.

Historical necessity, therefore, means not merely cause and effect, or desirability, or moral obligation, but all three at once-a kind of cosmic imperative which creates and guides human interest and human calculation and makes them its servants. But while Calvinists called this theology, Hegelians and Marxists call it science.

Marx’s social philosophy fell into two periods divided roughly at about 1850 or a few years thereafter. To the earlier period belongs the plan of the system, an outgrowth of Marx’s study of Hegel at the University of Berlin. But this time some five years after Hegel’s death, the school was divided into an idealist wing, largely concerned with religious apologetics, and a materialist wing led by Ludwig Feuerbach.

In later years Marx described Feuerbach as a small figure compared with Hegel but epoch-making after Hegel, because he freed Hegelianism from its idealist my stratification and thus, as Marx believed, both relieved it of its conservative implications and brought it into line with science.

When Marx left Germany for Paris he was already deeply involved with French socialism, which was part of the whole revolutionary ferment that culminated in 1848. This convinced Marx that socialist theory had been superficial because it lacked understanding of the dynamics of social evolution, which, he believed, was supplied by Hegel’s dialectic.

The product of this line of thought was dialectical or economic materialism-the theory that social development depends upon the evolution of the forces of economic production. This theory was sketched in a variety of works, largely occasional and controversial, of which the Communist Manifesto (1848) was the most notable, but neither then nor later was it stated systematically or freed from vagueness or ambiguity.

With the cessation of revolutionary outbreaks after 1848 Marx’s life as an active revolutionist ended and the remainder of his life was spent as an exile in England. Here he devoted himself to the writing of his great work Capital, the first volute of which he published in 1867; the second and third volumes were put together from his papers by his friend Friedrich Engels after Marx’s death in 1883.

Capital too, economic materialism for granted but here too the theory was new, developed. Marx had now conceived the idea of underpinning his philosophy with a thoroughgoing critique of Classical Economic, which he took to be a valid theory of a capitalist economy.

Against, this Marx set his own theory of surplus value, designed to show dialectical that a capitalist system is inherently self-contradictory, to consequence discussion of Marxism in the latter part of the nineteenth century turned almost wholly on Marx’s economics; his earlier revolutionary pamphlets tended to be overlooked, and economic materialism hardly began to be much discussed until after Marx’s death.

Thus it happened that Marx’s social philosophy was never systematically expounded by him and it contained in a few very compact pronouncements in occasional writings, while the systematic theorizing in Capita (as distinguished from the historical chapters) can hardly count today as more than economic scholasticism.

Yet it can hardly be denied that Lenin was right when he said that economic materialism is the central point around which the entire network of ideas, expressed and discussed, turns The theory of surplus value may therefore be left to the history of obsolete economic theories.

Considered as a social philosophy, Marxism depends upon the meaning and the validity of Marx’s main thesis: that the evolution of economic production in a society determines its institutional and ideological superstructure.

The sources for the study of economic materialism fall into two groups, First, there are several works by Marx written before 1852, These are polemic writings written while he was formulating his theory of social revolution and occasional pamphlets analyzing the failure of revolutionary movements in France.

Second, there are several works by Engels, including a number of important letters written after Marx’s death, explaining the theory and criticizing what he regarded as distortions of it by younger socialist writers in Germany toward the close of the century.

Since an interval of more than twenty-five years separated these two groups of works, it is desirable to deal with each by itself. While it is certain that Engels never intentionally departed from Marx’s meaning, his explanations were sometimes rather different.
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