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Red Star - April 2016
One of the lasting contributions of the Frankfurt School of social theorists, represented especially by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment, was the development of a philosophical critique of the domination of nature. Critical theorists associated with the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt were deeply influenced by the early writings of Karl Marx. Yet their critique of the Enlightenment exploitation of nature was eventually extended to a critique of Marx himself as an Enlightenment figure, especially in relation to his mature work in Capital. This position was expressed most notably in the work of Horkheimer and Adorno’s student, Alfred Schmidt, author of The Concept of Nature in Marx. Due largely to Schmidt’s book, the notion of Marx’s anti-ecological perspective became deeply rooted in Western Marxism. Such criticisms were also closely related to questions raised regarding Frederick Engels’s Dialectics of Nature, which was said to have improperly extended dialectical analysis beyond the human-social realm. First-stage eco-socialists such as Ted Benton and André Gorz added to these charges, contending that Marx and Engels had gone overboard in their alleged rejection of Malthusian natural limits.
So all-encompassing was the critique of the “dialectic of the Enlightenment” within the main line of the Frankfurt School, and within what came to be known as “Western Marxism” (defined largely by its rejection of the dialectics of nature associated with Engels and Soviet Marxism), that it led to the estrangement of thinkers in this tradition not only from the later Marx, but also from natural science—and hence nature itself. Consequently, when the ecological movement emerged in the 1960s and ’70s, Western Marxism, with its abstract, philosophical notion of the domination of nature, was ill-equipped to analyze the changing and increasingly perilous forms of material interaction between humanity and nature. Making matters worse, some Marxian theorists — such as Neil Smith and Noel Castree — responded by inverting the Frankfurt School critique of the domination of nature with the more affirmative notion of “the production of nature,” which conceived nature and its processes as entirely subsumed within social production.
Matters changed, however, with the rise in the late 1990s of a second-stage ecosocialism that returned to Marx’s materialist-ecological approach, and particularly to his concept of “social metabolism,” while also reincorporating elements of Engels’s ecological thought. This development represented a sharp break with the earlier Frankfurt School-influenced approach to the question of Marx and nature. Surveying this history, we will examine the debates on Marxian ecology that have emerged within the left, while pointing to the possibility of a wider synthesis, rooted in Marx’s concepts of the “universal metabolism of nature,” the “social metabolism,” and the metabolic “rift.”
Criticisms of Marx’s Concept of Nature
PAUL BURKETT described Schmidt’s The Concept of Nature in Marx in 1997 as “perhaps the most influential study ever written on Marx’s view of nature.” The book appeared in Germany in 1962, the same year as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, often seen as the starting point of the modern environmental movement. The Concept of Nature in Marx began as Schmidt’s dissertation in philosophy, written between 1957 and 1960 under the supervision of Horkheimer and Adorno, and was “impregnated with the influence of ‘critical theory.’” It thus antedated the modern environmental movement both historically and philosophically. Yet Schmidt’s work, carrying the imprimatur of the Frankfurt School, would come to shape the attitudes of many New Left theorists towards Marx in the context of the burgeoning environmental movement of the 1960s–1980s. As Marxian geographer Neil Smith put it in 1984, Schmidt’s book was considered the “definitive study” of nature in Marx.
The Concept of Nature in Marx was deeply affected by the broader Weberian pessimism of the Frankfurt School, which viewed the “domination of nature” as an intrinsic characteristic of modernity or “the dialectic of the Enlightenment.” Under Enlightenment civilization, Horkheimer and Adorno declared, “either men will tear each other to pieces or they will take all the flora and fauna of the earth with them; and if the earth is then still young enough, the whole thing will have to be started again at a much lower stage.” Although Schmidt brought a number of important, positive contributions to the understanding of nature in Marx, it was his more pessimistic conclusions about the mature Marx, in the spirit of Horkheimer and Adorno, that proved most influential. Rejecting the outlooks of “utopian” Marxist theorists such as Bertolt Brecht and Ernst Bloch who, based on the early Marx, sought a “reconciliation” between humanity and nature through socialism, Schmidt concluded,
The mature Marx withdrew from the [utopian] theses expounded in his early writings. In later life he no longer wrote of a “resurrection” of the whole of nature. The new society is to benefit man alone, and there is no doubt that this is to be at the expense of external nature. Nature is to be mastered with gigantic technological aids, and the smallest possible expenditure of time and labor. It is to serve all men as the material substratum for all conceivable consumption goods.
When Marx and Engels complain about the unholy plundering of nature, they are not concerned with nature itself but with considerations of economic utility.... The exploitation of nature will not cease in the future, but man’s encroachments into nature will be rationalized, so that their remoter consequences will remain capable of control. In this way, nature will be robbed step by step of the possibility of revenging itself on men for their victories over it.
The last phrase was a reference to Engels, whose views on the need for human beings to control their social relation to nature under socialism in order to prevent ecological crises (which he referred to metaphorically as the “revenge” of nature) Schmidt interpreted as a case for the extreme “rationalization” and external control of nature. There was no real room in Engels, any more than in Marx, Schmidt insisted, for anything but a one-sided, conqueror’s approach to nature—despite Engels’s criticisms of precisely this perspective. Engels was reinterpreted as representing a crude, one-sided domination of nature outlook, with the implication that such views could be foisted on Marx himself. In the end, classical historical materialism was reduced to a reified, mechanistic worldview, which advocated a narrow instrumentalism, geared to unrestrained productivism, as the only possible forward course for humanity. The mature Marx, in the Frankfurt School interpretation, thus led inexorably to the same Weberian iron cage with respect to the instrumentalist rationalization of nature as did both capitalism and Soviet Marxism.
Close readers of Schmidt’s work were no doubt puzzled by the contradictions in his reading of Marx. For Schmidt could not have arrived at these conclusions, in an otherwise sophisticated philosophical reading of Marx’s theory of nature, without turning the early Marx against the later Marx, Marx against Engels, Marx against Brecht and Bloch, and even, as we shall see, the mature Marx against the mature Marx. Brilliant as Schmidt’s analysis was, it was colored by a double polemic: first, against those who sought to apply the broad anthropological, humanistic, and ecologically utopian perspectives of the early Marx to the later Marx; and second, against all those, associated with a more classical historical materialism, who suggested that a more sustainable path of development could be achieved under socialism.
Schmidt’s study was further compromised by a threefold failure to comprehend the depths of Marx’s critique. First, Schmidt’s deterministic notion of technology and industrialization under capitalism, and the automatic carrying over of this into socialism, obscured the full significance of Marx’s historically specific critique of the capitalist value form, in which value, emanating from labor alone, was in contradiction to wealth, deriving from both nature and labor. For Marx, the goal was not a society aimed at endless quantitative expansion (exchange value) but at the fulfillment of qualitative needs (use value). Second, Schmidt saw Marx’s emphasis on the metabolism of nature and society as a broad philosophical “metaphor,” a form of speculative metaphysics. It was not treated as a scientific category, related to actual material exchanges and systemic (thermodynamic) processes — though he recognized that element in Marx. Third, Schmidt attributed to Marx a conception of external nature as consisting of unchanging, invariant laws — that is, a passive, dualistic, and rigidly positivist conception of nature, in which even evolutionary development within nature (outside humanity) conformed to narrowly delineated, fixed processes. Nature, outside of human nature and human society, was in this vision both passive and mechanical.
Although Schmidt briefly discussed a more dialectical concept of nature in Marx, ultimately Marx was interpreted as adhering in his mature phase to a mechanistic-positivistic scientific view. “The attitude of the mature Marx,” Schmidt wrote, “has in it nothing of the exuberance and unlimited optimism to be found in the idea of the future society prescribed in the Paris Manuscripts. It should rather be called skeptical. Men cannot in the last resort be emancipated from the necessities imposed by nature.” Hence, Marx was transformed into a forerunner of the skepticism, world-weariness, and dualistic division between natural science and social science, and between non-human nature and society, that characterized Schmidt’s own mentors, Horkheimer and Adorno. Indeed, Adorno went so far as to declare that Marx “underwrote something as arch-bourgeois as the program of an absolute control of nature.”
Adhering to a neo-Kantian epistemological outlook with respect to nature and society, Horkheimer and Adorno, along with Schmidt, rejected both the Hegelian idealist philosophy of nature and the Marxian materialist dialectics of nature (associated especially with Engels), while simultaneously rejecting the early Marx’s “unlimited optimism” toward the reconciliation of naturalism and humanism. The dialectic, in the Frankfurt School view, was applicable only to the reflexive realm of society and human history. Natural science, insofar as it was directed at the external, objective world apart from human beings, was depicted as inherently positivistic and separate from the human sciences. Hence, the early Frankfurt School thinkers were themselves for the most part caught in the contradictions of what they called the “dialectic of Enlightenment,” falling prey to a larger epistemological dualism between nature and society from which there was no exit. This did not prevent them from simultaneously developing a negative philosophical critique of the Enlightenment domination of nature; but it was one that had no meaningful relation to praxis. Here their views were closest to Max Weber’s well-known critical pessimism with respect to the Enlightenment.18 As in Weber’s tragic vision, the “iron cage” of formal rationality offered no visible escape, pointing inexorably to the disenchantment and domination of nature, against which one could only offer empty protests.
For Horkheimer, the “decay of civilization” in modern times arises from the fact that “men cannot utilize their power over nature for the rational organization of the earth” — a problem that he attributed to the formal rationalization common to both capitalism and socialism, and endemic to the modern human relation to the environment. The decay of civilization was associated with the reactionary rise of new repressive tendencies such as fascism, in which “raw nature,” in “revolt against reason,” represented animality, primitiveness, and crude Darwinism. “Whenever man deliberately makes nature his principle,” Horkheimer wrote, “he regresses to primitive usages.... Animals...do not reason.... In summary, we are the heirs, for better or worse, of the Enlightenment and technological progress.” A vain attempt to escape this trap could only lead to a world of barbarism. It followed that Marx’s notion of liberation was inevitably forced to accede to the Enlightenment vision of implacable technological progress as the determining force in history. In this sense, Horkheimer was quite distant from his Frankfurt School colleague Herbert Marcuse, who saw more room for struggle against the repressive use of technology and for the development of a non-alienated human-ecological metabolism.
Schmidt recognized the abstract possibility of a more revolutionary-critical interpretation of Marx’s view of nature. Yet he dismissed this reading, not so much in terms of Marx’s own analysis, but rather those of mid-twentieth century critical theory, represented by Horkheimer and Adorno. “We should ask,” he wrote, “whether the future society [socialism] will not be a mammoth machine, whether the prophesy of Dialektik der Aufklärung [Dialectic of Enlightenment] that ‘human society will be a massive racket in nature’ will not be fulfilled rather than the young Marx’s dream of a humanization of nature, which would at the same time include the naturalization of man.” The utopian young Marx, in his view, was refuted by the realist mature Marx, who succumbed to the technocratic rationality of the Enlightenment. As a result, Marxism offered no way out of the “massive racket in nature.”
Schmidt’s account of Marx’s concept of nature, with all of its inconsistencies and convolutions, positing one contradiction after another in Marx’s own analysis, reduced historical materialism in the end to a repressive Enlightenment vision — one that reinforced and served to justify Frankfurt School skepticism, pessimism, and worldly alienation. Such views were in many ways a product of the divisions within Marxism that began in the 1930s and deepened after 1956. Western Marxism, as a distinct, largely philosophical, tradition, tended to see classical Marxism — particularly Engels but also extending to Marx himself — as falling prey to positivism.
Commenting on this tendency, William Leiss, a former student of Marcuse, observed in The Domination of Nature that “Alfred Schmidt’s excellent book...attempts (unsuccessfully) to present Marxism as an extreme form of Saint-Simonianism” — i.e., reflecting an inherently techno-industrial relation to the conquest of nature. Likewise, for Neil Smith, Schmidt depicted the socialist relation to nature as conceived by Marx as “pretty much like capitalism except worse: the domination of nature.” In Burkett’s more critical judgment, Schmidt’s analysis of The Concept of Nature in Marx ended up “in a quagmire of environmental despair.”
Despite these limitations, Schmidt, in what can be considered the most original and profound part of his work, centered his argument on Marx’s now famous concept of social and ecological “metabolism.” Here, he wrote, “Marx introduced a completely new understanding of man’s relation to nature.” The metabolism category, as employed by Marx in relation to the labor process, made it possible to “speak meaningfully of a ‘dialectic of nature.’” The notion of social metabolism thus pointed to what Marx himself had called the possibility of a “higher synthesis” in the human-nature relation.
Nevertheless, Marx’s metabolism argument was ultimately marginalized in the later parts of Schmidt’s analysis. Schmidt suggested that Marx’s notion of metabolism as a dialectical mediation between nature and society through labor and production involved recourse to a form of metaphysical speculation—one that constituted a negative, non-historical ontology. He erroneously attributed Marx’s use of the metabolism concept primarily to the influence of the crudely mechanistic scientific materialist Jacob Moleschott—rather than Roland Daniels and Justus von Liebig, the two thinkers Marx drew on most directly. Schmidt saw it as both pre-bourgeois, in the backward-looking sense of a utopian, almost mystical attempt to resurrect a past unity, and mechanistic, leading him to dismiss what he previously described as a meaningful dialectic of nature.
Ultimately failing to comprehend the full complexity and range of possibility opened up by Marx’s concept of social metabolism—an approach that was at once philosophical, political-economic, and physiological—Schmidt rejected it as a metaphysical, metaphorical, and mechanical category, reflecting a “peculiarly unhistorical dialectic of the process of metabolism,” a “rigid cyclical form of nature” that was “anterior to man.” Recognizing that Marx had introduced a materialist dialectic that connected nature and society, human production/reproduction and the natural-material conditions of existence, Schmidt nonetheless pulled back, wishing to avoid the question of a dialectic of nature. He thus limited the dialectic to an abstracted social realm.
This general outlook on Marx’s concept of nature was carried forward and reinforced in various ways in the first-stage ecosocialism that arose in 1970s and ’80s. Early ecosocialist thinkers, following Schmidt, criticized Marx and Marxism for allegedly downplaying natural limits to economic growth, and thus ecological constraints. They therefore eclectically promoted “the greening of Marxism” by grafting onto Marx’s analysis neo-Malthusian notions of environmental constraints, together with purely ethical views of the nature-humanity interrelationship associated with deep ecology and “ecologism.” Although they constituted an important self-critique on the part of left theorists, these arguments generally avoided any close scrutiny of the foundations of historical materialism, particularly where issues of natural science were involved.
“The revival of Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s” took for granted, in the critical assessment of historian Eric Hobsbawm, “the nonapplicability of Marx’s thought (as distinct from that of Engels, which was regarded as separable and different) to the field of the natural sciences.” The new Marxism of this period, as distinct from earlier periods of historical materialism, “left the natural sciences totally to one side.” Marx’s comprehensive analysis of the natural conditions underlying production and the capitalist economy was generally elided in studies of his work, or dismissed as uninteresting and inessential — even in early ecosocialist accounts.
The Western left concluded that an ecological outlook occupied at best only a marginal place in Marx’s historical materialism, and was largely discarded in his later economic works. Expressing what was then the general view within Western Marxism, Perry Anderson wrote in 1983 that “problems of the interaction of the human species with its terrestrial environment [were] essentially absent from classical Marxism.” This claim, however, nullified not only Engels’s voluminous discussions of the relation of human beings to their natural-physical environment, but also the extensive discussions of natural-material relations and natural science — and within these, ecological concerns — by Marx himself.
For an important first-stage ecosocialist like Benton, Marx had gone overboard in his critique of Malthus, to the point of exhibiting a “reluctance to recognize ‘nature-imposed limits’ to human development” altogether. Malthus, meanwhile, was himself to be critically reappropriated in the process of the “greening of Marxism.” Gorz declared that socialism as a movement was “on its last legs,” hobbled by its narrow productivism, inherited from classical Marxism, and by its lack of a “reflexive modernist” view of nature-society relations.40 Likewise, Marxian economist James O’Connor, editor of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism, declared that “Marx hinted at, but did not develop, the idea that there may exist a contradiction of capitalism that leads to an ‘ecological’ theory of crisis and social transformation.” Alain Lipietz, writing in Capitalism Nature Socialism, went even further, declaring that Marx underestimated “the irreducible character...of ecological constraints” and adopted “the Biblico-Christian ideology of the conquest of nature.”
Such first-stage ecosocialist thinkers commonly attributed the alleged ecological blind spots in Marx’s political economy to intrinsic flaws in the labor theory of value. Since “all value was derived from labor power,” environmental sociologist Michael Redclift wrote, “it was impossible [for Marx] to conceive of a ‘natural’ limit to the material productive forces of society.” Yet what Redclift and others failed to notice was that it was this very one-sidedness of the value form in capitalism that lay at the center of Marx’s critique, associated with the contradiction between wealth (derived from natural-material use values) and value or exchange value (which left out nature altogether). For Marx, once it was recognized that nature — consituting, together with labor, one of the two sources of all wealth — was not included in the capitalist value calculus, but was treated as a “free gift...to capital,” it was impossible not to recognize both the existence of natural limits and capital’s destructive tendency to override them, in its unending drive to accumulation.
First-stage ecosocialists therefore erroneously perceived Marx’s critique of capitalism as, at best, neutral with respect to ecological issues, and, at worst, anti-ecological — even if the early Marx had alluded to the possibility of a unity of naturalism and humanism. Yet socialism itself, in the view of these thinkers, remained essential, chiefly for its critique of labor exploitation. Early ecosocialist thinkers thus grafted Green concepts onto historical-materialist analysis, creating a hybrid, Centaur-like construct. In the case of Benton, perhaps the most articulate spokesperson for first-stage ecosocialism, elements of Marx’s critique of political economy, such as his political hostility to “Malthusian ‘natural limits’ arguments”; the priority given to value theory; his neglect of ecological processes; and his alleged “Prometheanism,” or extreme productivism, all “obstructed the development of historical materialism as an explanatory theory of ecological crisis.” These presumed shortcomings of Marxism required an “interdisciplinary collaboration between a revised historical materialism and ecology.”
Yet as commendable as such a program appeared on the surface, without a thoroughgoing exploration and reconstruction of Marx’s own analysis of the nature-society dialectic, the hoped-for higher synthesis could only end up as an eclectic mishmash in which the critical power of the historical-materialist tradition would be lost. More important, the criticisms of Marx within first-stage ecosocialist theory were often distorted, not only in their understanding of Marx’s own ecological conceptions, but in the adoption of views (e.g., Malthusianism) that were antagonistic to a fully developed Marxian ecology.
The Production of Nature: A New Human Exemptionalism
OTHER left theorists took an entirely different tack, distant from both the Frankfurt School and first-stage ecosocialism. Geographer Neil Smith embraced the basic structure of Schmidt’s interpretation of Marx, but sought to stand it on its head, contending that Schmidt had himself advanced a “quintessentially bourgeois conception of nature out of his reading of Marx.” If Schmidt’s Concept of Nature in Marx had argued that the mature Marx was caught in the technological determinism and extreme productivism that characterized the dialectic of Enlightenment, Smith offered a far more positive reading, depicting Marx’s view as one of the “production of nature,” or the constant reinvention and transformation of nature through production. As Smith’s follower Noel Castree acknowledged, Smith sought to solve the problem with a one-way causality from production to nature, leading to a “hyper-constructionist” outlook. Nature was reduced to a passive concept. Smith’s production of nature analysis, Castree noted, “looked more at how capitalism produces nature and less at how produced nature affects capitalism.” For Smith, in Castree’s words, “nature becomes internal to capitalism.” This kind of anthropomorphic monism subsumed nature almost completely within society, in an effort to solve the problem of “dualism,” which Smith and Castree charged characterized nearly all other views of the environmental problem.
Hence, in Smith’s inverted Frankfurt School perspective on the domination of nature, nature as a whole was envisioned in almost Baconian terms as increasingly produced by human beings for their own ends. It was possible, he argued, to speak of “the real subsumption of nature” in its entirety within human production. The late twentieth century, he proclaimed, marked the infiltration of society into the last “remnant[s] of a recognizably external nature.” Indeed, there was no longer any meaningful nature anywhere apart from human beings: “Nature is nothing if it is not social.” “The production of nature,” in Smith’s words, was “capitalized ‘all the way down.’” From this perspective, the historical production of nature represented “the unity of nature toward which capitalism drives.” In this ever-increasing, capitalist-generated unity, “first nature” (i.e., nature at its most elemental) was “produced from within and as a part of second nature” (i.e., nature as transformed by society). Smith effectively dismissed any recognition of “external nature” as a dynamic, evolutionary force outside and beyond, and often interacting with, humanity itself, as “dualism,” “fetishism of nature,” and “nature washing.” Natural science was itself to be faulted for focusing on “so-called laws of nature” outside society.
“Given Marx’s own treatment of nature,” Smith went so far as to argue, “it may not be unreasonable to see in his vision also a certain version of the conceptual dualism of nature.” Marx himself was therefore partly to blame for the rise of “left apocalypticism,” which Smith identified with contemporary environmentalism with its dualistic outlook.
Castree followed the same line as Smith, emerging as a major proponent of the production of nature approach, though in a slightly more nuanced form. Castree stated that “Marx did not himself provide a systematic account of nature. This task was left to Alfred Schmidt.” The brilliance of Schmidt’s analysis, for Castree, was reflected in the fact that he detected a “fundamental flaw” in Marx. Although “Marx apparently envisioned a harmonious balance of nature and society” in his “anticipatory-utopian vision,” this pointed to “a subtext of a will to power: that is, an affection for technology in the service of human well-being which could unintentionally turn into the domination of nature, and ironically (after Adorno and Hokheimer) into the domination of humans themselves.” Following Smith, Castree leveled the accusation of “dualism” at almost all Marxist analysts of nature-society relations, from classical Marxism to the present—hardly sparing Marx himself, whose saving grace, in Castree’s view, was that he had inspired Smith’s unifying conception of the “production of nature.” In this view, the production of nature perspective eliminated the dualism arising from the separateness of nature by subsuming nature in society. Yet most contemporary ecosocialists, Castree suggested, had failed to incorporate this advance of Smith, and had “reintroduced nature’s putative separateness” in their treatments of Marx.
Production of nature analysis, Smith and Castree declared, had gone beyond classical Marxism, in that it rejected altogether the idea of “external nature,” which had infected even Engels’s Dialectics of Nature. “As Smith correctly observes,” Castree pronounced, “nature separate from society has no meaning.” A developed Marxian approach in this realm rejected the notions of “universal” and “external” nature, since such conceptions inevitably led to the crudities of naturalism and dualism. On this basis, Smith and Castree discarded entirely Marx’s vision of a materialist, open dialectic in which human beings and society form a part of nature, and exist within it, in a complex, mediated, co-evolutionary relationship.
The production of nature argument was itself rooted in a binary conception that pitted dualism against monism. In this view, which lacked the concept of dialectical mediation, in order to escape dualism, one was forced to choose between either a “monistic doctrine of universal nature,” or, at the opposite extreme, a monistic doctrine of the production of nature by society (sometimes given an added nuance by reference to “co-production,” and to a double or hyphenated reality). The production of nature school itself chose the latter: a monist, hyper-social constructivism, such that nature and natural conditions were entirely subordinated to human production. This in essence is the view that environmental sociologists criticize as human exemptionalism — the anthropocentric notion that human beings are largely exempt from natural laws, or can imperialistically transform them as they wish.
The logical result was Smith’s critique of environmental apocalypticism, directed at the environmental movement. Writing in 2015 about the political consequences of Smith’s production of nature analysis, Castree noted that “certain strands of environmental and body-politics operative outside universities are now [like Smith himself] dispensing with ‘nature’ as an ontological referent.” Here he cited the book Break Through by leading ecological modernists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. “In a generic sense,” Castree declared, “this mirrors Smith’s insistence that we need new terms of radical political discourse.”
Ironically, Castree failed to note that Shellenberger and Nordhaus’s analysis represented exactly the opposite: new terms of reactionary political discourse. The Breakthrough Institute, which Shellenberger and Nordhaus head, is the principal ideological think tank in the United States dedicated to the single-minded promotion of capitalist ecological modernization. As self-designated “post-environmentalists,” thinkers associated with the Breatkthrough Institute see technological innovation and market mechanisms as the solution to all environmental problems, and as entirely compatible with unlimited economic growth and capital accumulation. They are thus sharp critics of radical ecology and of environmentalism in general.
Marx, Metabolism, and the Metabolic Rift
TO ESCAPE such one-sided views — whether idealist or mechanistic, monist or dualist — which have dominated much left analysis of the nature-society relation since Schmidt, it is necessary to turn to Marx’s ecology itself, in which the materialist conception of history and the materialist conception of nature formed a dialectical unity. By excavating the ecological foundations of classical historical materialism, second-stage ecosocialist theorists since the late 1990s have moved well beyond earlier misconceptions, creating the basis for a wider ecological synthesis. Here the analysis has pivoted on the dialectical approach implicit in Marx’s triadic scheme of “the universal metabolism of nature,” the “social metabolism,” and the metabolic rift.
Although, as in Marx’s analysis, it still makes sense abstractly to differentiate nature and natural processes from the labor and production process, there is no longer any pure nature untouched by human society; nor is there any pure realm of society free from the dire natural-material consequences of human actions. In the Anthropocene epoch, it is therefore all the more necessary to explore the complex, dialectical natural-social interconnections between the Earth system as a whole and capitalism as a system of alienated social metabolic reproduction within that Earth system. Today the drive to capital accumulation is disrupting the planetary metabolism at cumulatively higher levels, threatening irreversible, catastrophic impacts for countless species, including our own. It is in the theorization of this ecological and social dialectic, and in the development of a meaningful praxis to address it, that Marx’s analysis has proven indispensable.
Second-stage ecosocialism sought to return to Marx and earthly questions. The aim was to draw on the ecological foundations of classical historical materialism to develop a more unified socio-ecological critique. British Marxist sociologist Peter Dickens was among those who took initial steps to open up such an analysis. In his 1992 book Society and Nature: Towards a Green Social Theory, he focused on Marx’s early writings, such as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, insisting that this work provides key insights into how the organization, processes, and relations of the capitalist system alienated humanity from nature. He proposed that people’s understanding of nature tends to be shaped by their lived experiences within a society dominated by commodity production. Although some of the baggage of first-stage ecosocialism, such as an assumption that Marx in his mature works largely ignored natural limits and promoted an extreme productivism, still remained, Dickens’s work nonetheless represented a turning point. He was critical of simply grafting deep-ecology positions onto a revised Marxism. He insisted on the need to extend Marx’s method, which included both a historical-materialist and dialectical assessment of the relationship between society and nature. From a critical-realist orientation, he explained that larger emergent properties and boundaries within the biophysical world must be recognized, and that the capitalist system was “overloading these self-regulating ecosystems and stretching them to a point at which they [could] no longer cope.”
Second-stage ecosocialist scholarship called into question the tendency to pit the young Marx against the mature Marx, Marx against Engels, and natural science against social science. Paul Burkett explained that elemental ecological ideas ran throughout Marx’s work, even though the language in which he expressed them changed. Marx had moved over the course of his studies from highly “abstract” to “more consistently historical and social-relational” concepts. Burkett also pointed out that Marx and Engels were both committed to a “materialist and social-scientific approach to nature,” which served as the basis for extending and developing their analysis, creating opportunities for complementary work between the social and natural sciences. In other words, they insisted upon employing both a materialist conception of history and a materialist conception of nature as necessary counterparts.
Their efforts to analyze the interactions and transformations in the dialectical nature-society relationship was greatly enhanced by Marx’s use of metabolic analysis. Here Marx’s critique of political economy merged with his assessment of ecological relations, illuminating the interpenetration of nature and society, as well as the scale and processes through which these interactions had historically developed. Marx embedded socioeconomic systems in ecology and explicitly studied the interchange of matter and energy between the larger environment and society. Ecological economist Marina Fischer-Kowalski has proposed that social-metabolic analysis, arising out of Marx’s work, can illuminate the coupling of human and natural systems, because it “cut[s] across the ‘great divide’ between the natural sciences...and the social sciences.”69 The engagement and development of Marx’s triadic scheme—metabolism of nature, social metabolism, and metabolic rift—helped solidify the second stage of ecosocialist analyses and served as the springboard for the third stage, with the result that this methodology is now widely used to address many of today’s most pressing ecological challenges.
In developing his metabolic analysis, Marx drew on a long scientific and intellectual history. In the early nineteenth century, physiologists introduced the concept of metabolism to examine the biochemical processes between a cell and its surroundings, as well as the interactions and exchanges between an organism and the biophysical world. The physician and communist Roland Daniels, who was Marx’s friend and comrade, extended the use of metabolism to whole complexes of organisms, foreshadowing its application in ecosystem analysis. Although Daniels’s work was not published for more than a century, due to his untimely death in his mid-thirties (he contracted pneumonia while in prison during the Cologne communist trials), the broad idea he represented would, through the investigations of other thinkers, become the basis for examining higher levels of organization and interdependency, including the interchange of matter and energy, between human societies and the larger environment. The German chemist Justus von Liebig helped generalize the concept of metabolism, using it to study the exchange of nutrients between Earth and humans. He explained that soil required specific nutrients — such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium — to produce vegetation. As plants grew, they absorbed soil nutrients. To maintain soil fertility, these nutrients had to be recycled back to the land.
Marx, who closely followed scientific debates and discoveries, incorporated the concept of metabolism into his critique of political economy, explaining that he employed the word to denote “the ‘natural’ process of production as the material exchange [Stoffwechesel] between man and nature.” He recognized that humans are dependent on nature and “can create nothing without” it. For “the earth itself is a universal instrument...for it provides the worker with the ground beneath his feet and a ‘field of employment’ for his own particular process.” As a result, there is a necessary “metabolic interaction” between humans and the earth. Labor serves as “a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature.” The labor process, including exchanges with ecological systems, is influenced by the dominant economic systems and social institutions, defining what Marx saw as the social metabolism.
The complex, nuanced ecological worldview in Marx’s formulation is evident in his conception of both the “universal metabolism of nature” and the social metabolism. The “universal metabolism of nature” stood for the broader biophysical world. Specific cycles and processes constitute and help regenerate ecological conditions. Human society exists within the earthly metabolism, continually interacting with its external natural environment in the production of goods, services, and needs. As a result, the social metabolism operates within the larger universal metabolism. Under capitalist commodity production, this relationship takes on such an alienated form that it generates ecological crises, manifesting as a “rift” in the metabolism between society and nature (or disjunctures within both the social metabolism and the wider universal metabolism). This demands the “restoration” of these necessary conditions. “The natural boundary” to human production, as Lukács, following Marx, stated, “can only retreat, it can never fully disappear.”
Marx avoided subordinating nature to society, or vice versa, allowing him to elude “the pitfalls of both absolute idealism and mechanistic science.” His metabolic analysis recognizes that humans and the rest of nature are in constant interaction, resulting in reciprocal influences, consequences, and dependencies. These processes emerge within a relational, thermodynamic, whole, the universal metabolism of nature.
Humans transform nature through production. However, “they do not do so just as they please; rather they do so under conditions inherited from the past (of both natural and social history), remaining dependent on the underlying dynamics of life and material existence.” Each mode of production generates a distinct social metabolic order that influences the interchange and interpenetration of society and ecological systems. The social metabolic order of capital, for example, is expressed as a unique historical system of socio-ecological relations developed within a capitalist mode of social organization. Human social systems exchange with, work within, and draw on ecological systems in the process of producing and maintaining life and sociocultural conditions.
Yet within the social metabolic order of capital, this process materializes in a manner unlike other previous socio-ecological systems. The practical activities of life are shaped by the expansion and accumulation of capital. Marxian economist Paul Sweezy explained that in their “pursuit of profit...capitalists are driven to accumulate ever more capital, and this becomes both their subjective goal and the motor force of the entire economic system.” The compulsion to accumulate leads to continuous cycles of creative destruction (and destructive creation), as novel productive and distributive methods are developed and exploitable resources expanded to power industry and manufacture commodities. The needs of capital are imposed on nature, increasing the demands placed on ecological systems and the production of wastes.
To illustrate such social-metabolic analysis, it is useful to consider how Marx, drawing on the work of chemists and agronomists, analyzed the transformations associated with capitalist agricultural production. He explained that soil “fertility is not so natural a quality as might be thought, it is closely bound up with the social relations of the time.” In many precapitalist societies, farm animals were directly utilized in agricultural production. They were fed grains from the farm, and their nutrient-rich manure was reincorporated into the soil as fertilizer. People who lived in the countryside primarily consumed food and fiber from nearby farms. Their waste was likewise integrated into the nutrient cycle, helping maintain soil fertility.
This particular metabolic interchange was transformed in large part by the enclosure movement, the rise of the new industrial systems, and social relations associated with capitalist development. A wider, more alienated division between town and country emerged, as food and fiber from farms were increasingly shipped to distant markets, which transferred the nutrients from one location to another. The nutrients in food were squandered, and treated as mere waste accumulated as pollution within cities and rivers. Liebig, in his Letters on Modern Agriculture, argued that these emerging social conditions contributed to the disruption of the soil nutrient cycle. In the introduction to the 1862 edition of his Organic Agriculture in its Application to Chemistry and Physiology (better known as Agriculural Chemistry), he described the modern intensive farming practices of Britain as a system of “robbery” that exhausted the nutrients within the soil. In Capital, Marx similarly suggested that new agricultural practices, including the application of industrial power, increased the scale of operations, transforming and intensifying the social metabolism while exacerbating the depletion of the soil nutrients.
As a result, large-scale capitalist agriculture, Marx argued, progressively “disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth.” Along with the various mechanisms used to intensify production and increase profits, it created a metabolic “rift” in the soil nutrient cycle, “robbing the soil” and “ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility.” As it violated the universal metabolism associated with the soil nutrient cycle (also conceived as a law of restitution), the rift undermined soil fertility and the conditions that supported human society. These nutrients from the consumption of food and fiber in the urban centers of the capitalist world were lost to the soil, and were turned into mere waste polluting the cities.
Reflecting on the industrialization of farming, Marx lamented that “agriculture no longer finds the natural conditions of its own production within itself, naturally, arisen, spontaneous, and ready to hand, but these exist as an independent industry separate from it — and, with this separateness the whole complex set of interconnections in which this industry exists is drawn into the sphere of the conditions of agricultural production.” In his discussion of “The Genesis of Capitalist Ground Rent” in volume three of Capital, he explained that the drive to capital accumulation “reduces the agricultural population to an ever decreasing minimum and confronts it with an ever growing industrial population crammed together in large towns; in this way it produces conditions that provoke an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself. The result of this is a squandering of the vitality of the soil, which is carried by trade far beyond the bounds of a single country.”
In the nineteenth century, the rift in the soil nutrient cycle posed a significant environmental problem for European agriculture and societies. Numerous attempts were made to find affordable means of enriching the soil. Bones were ground up and spread across fields, and massive quantities of guano and nitrates were imported from Peru and Chile to Britain and other regions of the global North to sustain agricultural production. The social relations associated with this metabolic rift expanded from the local to the national and international levels, as the bounty of the countryside and distant lands was transferred to urban centers of the global North. Just prior to the First World War, the process for producing nitrates by fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere was developed, allowing for the large-scale production of artificial nitrogen fertilizer. Nevertheless, the failure to recycle nutrients still contributes to the ongoing depletion of soil by intensive agricultural practices. As a result, the metabolic rift in the soil nutrient cycle remains a persistent problem of the modern social metabolic order.
Dickens’s 2004 book Society and Nature: Changing Our Environment, Changing Ourselves highlighted the important advances of the second stage of ecosocialism, especially the centrality of a historical-materialist conception of both nature and society, the nature-society dialectic, and metabolic analysis. He engaged a broad range of Marx’s works, exploring the depth of Marx’s ecology. He considered how distinct modes of production involved different demands and interactions with the larger environment, and explained — based on earlier research into “Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift” — that “the notion of an ecological rift, one separating humanity and nature and violating the principles of ecological sustainability, continues to be helpful for understanding today’s social and environmental risks.” Importantly, Dickens showed how to extend this analysis to contemporary environmental problems, especially those associated with cities. He proposed that “three metabolic problems” plague modern cities, namely “the provision of an adequate water supply, the effective disposal of sewage and the control of air pollution.” These problems highlight how “humanity’s metabolism with nature [is] not being ultimately destroyed but [is] being overloaded in the context of a particular kind of social and spatial organization.”
Marxist metabolic research continues to thrive. In many ways, as the late Del Weston argued in The Political Economy of Global Warming, the “metabolic rift is at the crux of Marx’s ecological critique of capitalism, denoting the disjuncture between social systems and the rest of nature.” It has been employed to analyze metabolic relations and ecological rifts in contemporary agricultural, climatic, oceanic, hydraulic, and forest systems.96 Other theorists have used the concept of the metabolic rift, and Marx’s ecological materialism in general, to develop a “Marxist ecofeminism” that explores the relation between rifts in nature and in gender relations.
Much of this work examines how the social metabolism of capitalism as a global system has created specific environmental problems in the modern era by transgressing the universal metabolism of nature. The intensification of the social metabolism demands more energy and raw materials, generating an array of ecological contradictions and rifts. Other analysts consider how, as capitalism confronts environmental problems or obstacles — such as a shortage or exhaustion of particular natural resources — it pursues a series of shifts and technological fixes to maintain its expansion. In this way, environmental problems are addressed by incorporating new resources into the production process, changing the location of production, or developing new technologies to increase efficiency. Yet far from mending ecological rifts, such shifts often simply create new cumulative problems, generating additional disruptions on a larger scale. It is clear that the required “metabolic restoration” necessitates an ecological and social revolution to overturn the social metabolic order of capital — aimed at the creation of a higher society in which the associated producers rationally regulate the social metabolism in accord with the requirements of the universal metabolism of nature, while allowing for the fulfillment of their own human needs.
Marx and Nature in the Anthropocene: Toward a Critical Synthesis
HORKHEIMER and Adorno wrote the Dialectic of Enlightenment during the Second World War while in exile in the United States. They intended it as an account of the extreme domination of nature and domination of humanity that characterized all of the warring countries, all of which were in various ways heirs of the Enlightenment. It was followed several years later by Horkheimer’s Eclipse of Reason, which argued that through fascism in Europe and social Darwinism in the United States, the domination of nature had provoked a “revolt of nature,” which was being harnessed in reactionary ways to reinforce the domination of both nature and society. For Horkheimer, “whenever nature is exalted as a supreme principle and becomes the weapon of thought against thinking, against civilization, thought manifests a kind of hypocrisy, and so develops an uneasy conscience.... Indeed, the Nazi regime as a revolt of nature became a lie the moment it became conscious of itself as a revolt. The lackey of the very mechanized civilization [capitalism] that it professed to reject, it took over the inherently repressive measures of the latter.”
Social Darwinism emerged, Horkheimer argued, as “the main growth of the Enlightenment,” and thus represented a repressive force harnessed to a naturalistic revolt against machine civilization, creating an even greater repression. The result, he wrote, was a huge Faustian tragedy. “The history of man’s efforts to subjugate nature,” he explained, “is also the history of man’s subjection of man.” Yet, he insisted, there was no going back: “We are the heirs, for better or worse, of the Enlightenment and technological progress. To oppose these by regressing to more primitive stages does not alleviate the permanent crisis they have brought about. On the contrary, such expedients lead from historically reasonable to utterly barbaric forms of social domination.” Projecting a highly abstract, idealist philosophical argument, he concluded that “the sole way of assisting nature is to unshackle its seeming opposite, independent thought.”
It was in this context, as indicated above, that Schmidt wrote The Concept of Nature in Marx. As in Horkheimer and Adorno’s work, Schmidt treated the dialectic of the Enlightenment as a form of the domination of nature, from which there was virtually no escape. Schmidt insisted that Marx, like Hegel, saw the labor process as the mere “outsmarting and duping of nature.” Even when Marx pointed, according to Schmidt, to nature as a “co-producer” with labor, it was in the context of the promotion of narrow human ends. The needs of external nature were entirely “foreign” to Marx’s whole outlook. Bloch’s humane Marxian “philosophy of hope” was thus in reality a hopeless utopian quest, which turned into an empty “apocalyptic vision.”
Smith accepted the main formulations of Schmidt’s analysis, while inverting the Frankfurt School critique, and promoting the “production of nature” as the Marxian ideal — a view that Smith acknowledged could not be found in Marx himself. Here the problem of the domination of nature simply disappeared before the unceasing expansion of the human production of nature. He thus dismissed the environmental movement’s growing resistance to this unsustainable economic exploitation of nature as “left apocalypticism,” condemning such so-called “apocalypticism” even more absolutely than Schmidt had in his criticism of Bloch’s “apocalyptic vision.” Nature, in Smith’s view, was increasingly without any reality at all, outside of its production by human beings.
It is here, however, that we discover, by way of contrast to the social monism of the production of nature thesis, the liberatory potential that still lingered in the work of the more adamantly socialist-humanist thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School. For in their concern with the domination of nature alongside the domination of humanity, the more critical and praxis-oriented representatives of the Frankfurt School never ceased to notice the contradictions of capitalism and the possibility of transcending contemporary reality. At the very inception of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, in 1932, Erich Fromm, in his seminal paper “The Method and Function of an Analytic Social Philosophy,” pointed to Marx’s notion of the labor process as a metabolic relation, an integrated dialectic of nature and society. Here he underscored the significance of Bukharin’s 1925 book Historical Materialism, often dismissed for its mechanistic materialism, for its insight into this aspect of Marx’s analysis.
Georg Lukács, writing only a few years after History and Class Consciousness (in his Tailism manuscript of 1925–26) — though this reflected in part his break with Western Marxism — argued that a meaningful dialectics of nature in Marx was embodied in his theory of the labor process as the metabolic relation between humanity and nature. What is more, the fact that “human life is based on the metabolism with nature” meant, for Lukács, that “certain truths which we acquire in the process of carrying out this metabolism have a general validity.”
Marcuse, the most directly ecological of the early Frankfurt School thinkers (though this was mainly manifested in his later writings), declared: “History is also grounded in nature. And Marxist theory has the least justification to ignore the metabolism between the human being and nature, and to denounce the insistence on this natural soil of society as a regressive ideological conception.”
In Marcuse’s more hopeful, dissenting Frankfurt School vision, rooted in Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, it was possible to conceive of an ecologically based liberation movement. “What is happening,” he wrote in Counter-Revolution and Revolt, “is the discovery (or rather rediscovery) of nature as an ally in the struggle against the exploitative societies in which the violation of nature aggravates the violation of man. The discovering of the liberating forces of nature and their vital role in the construction of a free society becomes a new force in social change.”
Dickens likewise drew inspiration from Marx’s early writings, emphasizing in his early Society and Nature: Towards a Green Social Theory that a sociology of ecological liberation could be developed on the basis of the work of the young Marx. In his later book, Society and Nature: Changing Our Environment, Changing Ourselves, Dickens criticized Horkheimer and Adorno’s “fearsome anti-Enlightenment critique” as sheer “pessimism.” Instead, Dickens argued for a more positive, ecological-revolutionary vision, rooted in Marx’s theory of metabolic rift. “Marx’s early [naturalist-humanist] background,” he observed,
led him to undertake no less than an analysis of what would now be called “environmental sustainability.” In particular, he developed the idea of a “rift” in the metabolic relation between humanity and nature, one seen as an emergent feature of capitalist society.... The notion of an ecological rift, one separating humanity and nature and violating the principles of ecological sustainability, continues to be helpful for understanding today’s social and environmental risks.
The goal ultimately needed to be the creation of a sustainable and egalitarian society, able to “mend the ‘metabolic rift’ between nature and society.”
Still, not all on the left would agree with second-stage ecosocialists in this respect; nor with the need to focus on the question of the ecological rift or domination of nature engendered by capitalist society. According to Smith, writing in the 2007 Socialist Register, the Frankfurt School — referring mainly to Horkheimer, Adorno, and Schmidt — always dualistically conceived the “domination of nature” as “an inevitable condition of the human metabolism with nature.” Similarly, “ecological essentialists [his term for radical ecologists generally] recognize a parallel attempt at domination, but they see it not as inevitable but as a destructive social choice.” In sharp contrast, Smith’s own “production-of-nature thesis” rejected both of these so-called dualistic views: “The domination-of-nature thesis [encompassing both perspectives] is a cul-de-sac...the only political alternatives are an anti-social (literally) politics of nature or else resignation to a kinder, gentler domination.” For Smith, “The externality and universality of nature...are not to be taken as ontological givens. The ideology of external-cum-universal nature harks back to a supposedly edenic, pre-human, or supra-human world.”
Indeed, Smith, in the name of combatting dualism, went so far as to dismiss the entire ecological struggle to mitigate climate change, writing: “In the end, the attempt to distinguish social [i.e., anthropogenic] vis-à-vis natural contributions to climate change is not only a fool’s debate but a fool’s philosophy: it leaves sacrosanct the chasm between nature and society—nature in one corner, society in the other—which is precisely the shibboleth of modern western thought that the ‘production of nature’ thesis sought to corrode. One does not have to be a ‘global warming denier’...to be a skeptic concerning the way that a global public is being stampeded into accepting wave upon wave of technical economic, and social change, framed as necessary for immediate planetary survival.” On this basis, he condemned what he called “the apocalyptic tone of imminent environmental doom,” associated with much of science and the environmental movement.
By inverting the Frankfurt School’s critical domination of nature thesis, and turning that into an uncritical production of nature notion (a kind of anthropomorphic social monism), Smith, Castree, and other like-minded thinkers effectively de-naturalize social theory to an extreme, imposing ecological blinders. What is excluded is a more developed, dialectical perspective, pointing to the alienation of nature under capitalism.
In contrast, the enduring value of Marx’s ecological materialism, incorporating such critical concepts as the universal metabolism of nature, the social metabolism, and the metabolic rift, is that it points in a co-evolutionary and co-revolutionary direction — highlighting the need for a new order of social metabolic reproduction rooted in substantive equality. Here social and natural necessity, natural science and social science, humanity and the earth become one human-mediated totality, in a wider universal struggle—one pointing to a revolutionary dialectic of humanity and the earth in which the necessary outcome is a world of sustainable human development. It is this higher synthesis of the various Marxian ecological and social critiques — building on the foundations of historical materialism — that we are most in need of today.
(John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. His most recent book, coauthored with Paul Burkett, is Marx and the Earth: An Anti-Critique (Brill, 2016). Brett Clark is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah and the author, with Stefano B. Longo and Rebecca Clausen, of The Tragedy of the Commodity (Rutgers University Press, 2015).
Today, Engels says (he means the 1870s in Europe but his comments are still as true now as then), there is a growing sense that something is basically wrong and unfair in how our national and international economic system operates. It can’t employ all who wish to work, millions of people are living in poverty, famines and droughts brought about by human activity engulf large sections of the globe, and hunger stalks the streets of many of our largest cities, families are homeless and uprooted, and our schools and colleges fail to properly educate the youth to understand the world they live in. Yet a very small group of wealthy people grow richer and richer while the vast majority of humanity suffers and wastes away.
This shows, according to Engels, that new ways of production and distribution have evolved and that the social order we live in has not kept up with these developments. In fact, our social order has become dysfunctional and is holding back all the possible potential improvements in human welfare that the new productive and distributive powers could provide. It is the task of socialists to discover and point out the current impediments which prevent the productive system from reaching its full potential and to discover the means of benefiting all humanity rather than just a small portion. And, he says: “These means are not to be invented, spun out of the head, but discovered with the aid of the head in the existing material facts of production.”
Our present society is the creation of a class of people consisting of merchants, shopkeepers,and owners of small manufacturing concerns, all those who made their living either by buying, selling, and trading commodities, small farmers who trucked their product to market and those who ministered to them (doctors, lawyers, teachers and preachers). Underneath this class was a class of laborers who made the commodities, or helped in their storage and distribution, upon which the former relied for their income. This latter class became the working class of today and the former the class of people living off of the surplus value created by the working class. Marx and others referred to them as the bourgeoisie or capitalists.
This mode of production, the creation of commodities for a market, has come to be called capitalism. The first capitalists found themselves subservient to a powerful ruling class of nobles consisting of feudal lords and (mostly) hereditary monarchs who lived by means of the agricultural exploitation of serfs and taxation of the income of the developing bourgeoisie. This ruling class stifled the productive capacity of the of the bourgeoisie and prevented it from reaching its true potential. In other words, the bounds within which the feudal system restricted the capitalists were incompatible with that class’s growing mode of production and so, Engels says, the “bourgeoisie broke up the feudal system and built upon its ruins the capitalist order of society.”
Once the feudal bonds were broken (the French Revolution was one of the most dramatic instances), the capitalist mode of production flourished and developed the productive forces of society to unprecedented heights, only in its turn to find that its own associated method of distribution contradicted its mode of production. The social product is a collective creation of working people in all the branches of production but it is appropriated by a small number of capitalists who own and control the means by which this social product is created. The social product is then distributed in a way that increases the social wealth of the capital class at the expense of the well being of the working people, ultimately leading to their impoverishment. The only way the working people can free themselves from the exploitation of the capitalist class is by uniting together and abolishing it.
This conflict is waged daily in every work place, factory, field, and mine where the capitalist mode of production holds sway. This very active and real class warfare is a feature, 24/7, of daily life in almost every country on the face of the earth, and just like high blood pressure (the silent killer), it is going on and even intensifying whether the people involved are aware of it or not.
Engels says, “Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought of this conflict, in fact; its ideal reflection in the minds, first, of the class directly suffering under it, the working class.” The fact that in many countries many, and even most, working people are lacking this “reflex in thought” is testament to the power of the capitalist class, through its mass media and control of the education system, means of entertainment, and professional sports, to fill the heads of working people with illusions and a false sense of reality.
How did this class warfare between workers and capitalists begin? It is not to be found in the Middle Ages, because the peasant farmers and handicraft men, or their families, made their own necessities, by and large, and the products of their labor belonged to them. They could use them themselves or take them to market as commodities or pay their taxes and feudal dues in kind or exchange them with one another.
With the progress of invention it was possible for a person to set up shop with, say, many looms, and put many hands to work side by side with the peasant with his own loom in his hut making products for himself. Now the product of the man with many looms belonged to him and loom workers were given wages.
Engels says the old division of labor of the peasant village, with products being exchanged in kind, began to break up as this primitive factory system began to evolve. “In the midst of the old division of labor, grown up spontaneously and upon no definite plan, which had governed the whole of society, now arose division of labor upon a definite plan, as organized in the factory; side by side with individual production appeared social production.” Planning locally, and eventually central planning, was a major feature of the success of capitalism. Whatever the problems 20th century socialism were, they did not result from the use of central planning per se.
As the capitalist system evolved it eventually replaced individual production with social production but kept in place individual appropriation of the products that were produced— thus creating a new class of exploited human beings that became known as the proletariat who soon began to stand outcast and starving amid the wonders they had made, which wonders were now the property of the bourgeoisie.
As production for a market became more and more widespread it was soon discovered, Engels points out, that: “Anarchy reigns in socialized production.” This is because no one can really tell what the fate of the the commodities they are making will be: will there be a demand for them, will they be sold at a profit or loss? Even with the planning involved in setting up the factory system, there always remains this risk factor under capitalism.
Capitalism thus finds itself subject to the laws of EXCHANGE (“the only persistent form of social interrelations”) which manifest themselves in competition. The anarchy becomes exacerbated since capitalism destroys competing modes of production and will not co-exist with them; thus handicrafts were replaced by the system of manufacture and manufacture by steam-powered machinery.
This all happened under the pressure of the age of discovery, starting roughly with the voyages of Columbus, and the planting of colonies which vastly increased the number of markets and sealed the fate of the handicraft system, which could not keep up with demand. It also led to the outbreak of wars between nations fighting for market share— a form of anarchistic behavior that still marks the world capitalist system.
It is at this point that Engels turns to Darwinian images to describe the relations of capitalists to one another. Both Marx and Engels were very impressed with The Origin of Species, but neither were so-called “social Darwinists.” Nevertheless, today’s globalization is simply an extension of the world market of the nineteenth century that Engels described as a universal struggle of existence between different capitalist elites, and whole nations and those who fail are “remorselessly cast aside”— unless, of course they get government stimulus money and bailouts.
“It is,” Engels says, “the Darwinian struggle of the individual for existence transferred from nature to society with intensified violence.” Capitalism reduces humanity back to its natural animal form of existence. This is the result of the intensification of the contradiction between socialized mode of production and the private capitalist appropriation of the social product.
One of the results of the unfettered competition between capitalists is that they lose control of their own economic system, as we see going on at present, and, as it crashes, the anarchy of production (which also reigns in the financial sector) forces “the great majority” of the people into becoming “proletarians.” The current Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWSM) reflects the fact that the “middle class” (actually a better paid stratum of the working class mixed with small business people and professionals) is being forced into lower paid jobs, unemployment, bankruptcy, and debt, and sees no way out for itself in this economy. They are becoming part of the surplus population (from the point of view of the capitalists) and don’t like it. They have yet to fully realize that this is the natural outcome of capitalism and that their only hope for a better life is to support socialist economic measures.
The OWSM is a natural response to what is the latest breakdown in the capitalist system. Engels dates the first general breakdown to the Crisis of 1825— caused by over-speculation by the banks (especially the Bank of England) in unsound investments in Latin America (particularly in Peru). Just as in our current crisis, investors were given misinformation about the soundness of their investments and when the market collapsed were left holding bag. The banks use the term “asymmetric information” to note that what they know about the investment and what you know is different. The term fraud would be more to the point. In 1825 France bailed out England. In our current crisis the US taxpayers bailed out the banks.
These panics used to occur about every ten years, but there was some stabilization after World War II and we had about 60 years of minor panics and recessions before the current worldwide, ongoing economic crash of the capitalist system, with no end in sight. However, for Engels, what looks like a financial crisis is really a crisis in production. Socialized production had made too many goodies for the markets, so factories laid off working people, who then could not pay their bills— especially their fraudulent mortgages. Since the financial sector had cooked up so many mortgages based on “asymmetric information,” the whole economy began to fall apart.
So many factories remain closed or under-utilized that unemployment balloons, and the great productive forces available to our economy are dormant until the capitalists can figure how to get them going again in such a way that they, not the American people, can once again appropriate the wealth that will be created by the workers. The added twist of our day is that capitalists, their industries having become unproductive during the downturn, add to their profits by getting out of paying taxes, by adding fees and surcharges to service products, and by hiking interest rates to private borrowers (credit cards for example), even while commercial interest rates are held low by government intervention via the Federal Reserve.
As the corporate world flounders, as the auto industry recently did, it relies on “its official representative” — namely the state — to come to its aid. It should be obvious to all that the state which Lincoln called “of the people, for the people, by the people” is now “of, for, and by the corporations” — it is their referee.
Engels says that the state will eventually be forced to take over the commanding heights of the economy, simply because the capitalists can no longer control them due to the growing contradiction between the socialized productive forces (masses of workers united with or without unions in the creation of the social product in factories and industries and subject to increasing unemployment and poverty) and the private appropriation of the social product by the 1 to 10% of the ruling class and its top functionaries. The tipping point has not yet been reached, but it is coming— if not in this crisis, then it will present itself in the next.
Such state takeover under capitalism is not yet socialism, Engels tells us, even though the commanding heights will have been converted into state property. However, the takeover reveals that all the functions of running the economy can be taken over by state “salaried employees.” Since the “modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine,” as it is forced to nationalize failing industries “it actually becomes the national capitalist.” The state directly exploits the working people, having done away with individual, and incompetent, private capitalists (done in by their own creation).
This is not a stable situation and in a democracy it cannot last. The contradiction between the state and the people brings to a head the capitalist relation between the people and their government and this must “topple over.” State capitalism is not, therefore, the answer to the class conflict, “but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements” leading to that answer.
Once the people understand the source of their problems is the private appropriation of the social product, then the 99% can really set an agenda to put the 1% in their place. Here is what Engels thinks should happen. The people should set about “the harmonizing of the modes of production, appropriation, and exchange.” Hopefully, they can do this through political action and the regulation of the three modes. Engels says “it depends only upon ourselves to subject them to our own will,” and if we don’t do so, these forces will continue to work against us and master us. State capitalism will be transformed in the direction of socialism.
The greatest challenge is to become conscious of the need for what is to be done, especially when that need is the take over of the economy by the people, because “this understanding goes against the grain of the capitalist mode of production and its defenders”—i.e., the capitalists, the major political parties, the mass media, the mainstream churches, and the public and private education systems, as well as the leadership of most unions and mass organizations as presently constituted.
Nevertheless, according to Engels, as the crisis deepens this consciousness will begin to develop in all of the above institutions except for the capitalist class itself and those completely dependent upon it. The working people and its allies and friends, the 99%, will have to take political power out of the hands of the corporations and their flunkies, if they have not already been nationalized, and turn the current privately held means of production into state property.
A by-product of this action, the abolition of private property, is that the 1% will no longer have the means to dominate the 99%— all people will be equally working for their own and the common good. This is what Engels means when speaking of the ending of classes and class exploitation.
An even more startling consequence, in both his own time and ours, is Engels’ (and Marx’s) belief that the state will disappear. Even the most jaded Libertarian or demented tea-bagger could never hope to get government reduced to zero. But Engels points out that throughout history the role of the state has been to control the 99% in the interests of the 1%— be they slave owners, feudal lords, or capitalists. This role will no longer exist in a society where everything (economically speaking) is owned and managed by the people collectively at the points of production and distribution. There will still be planning commissions and civic associations, but the state, as we know it, will be superfluous.
This does not mean that the state will be formally abolished by some sort of declaration or proclamation. It will just slowly wither away over time as its functions become moribund. At least this is the ideal that Engels has in mind for it. Perhaps, like “liberty and justice for all,” it will remain an ideal that every generation comes closer to but never 100% attains, and then again maybe Engels will be right.
We must be mindful that all of this speculation about the coming to power of the working people, the disappearance of the 1%, the transition to socialism, etc., is dependent on the development of the productive forces of society to such a high degree of perfection that they can eliminate scarcity, and there will be the possibility of an abundance of food and other necessities and luxuries for all, and that the only reason for poverty and suffering is the control of society by the 1% in its own selfish interests.
In the language of philosophy, this means that Sartre’s proposition in the Critique of Dialectical Reason: “Scarcity is a fundamental relation of our History and a contingent determination of our univocal relation to materiality,” leading to his assertion that “there is not enough for everybody,” does not hold. It has been overcome and negated, for our world. Indeed, Engels thought it did not hold even in the nineteenth century. We have the productive capacity, but we cannot use it due to the capitalist framework within which it exists. It is like the sick person— the medicine exists to cure him but he doesn’t have the money to buy it, so he dies.
If this is ever done, and it is a big if, the world humanity will find itself in after the passing of the capitalist mode of production will be very different from the world of today. Commodity production will cease, as there will be no market and no anarchy of production. Objects with use values will be made according to a central plan and they will be made to satisfy human needs, not to be sold for profit. There will be no more struggle for existence as all humans will be provided for and, Engels says, for the first time humanity will live as humans should and not be subject to an animal existence. For the first time, the humanity will control the laws of its own social existence and economy and not be subjected to them. The prehistory of humanity will be over and the true history of humanity will begin. It will be the beginning, not the end, of history. It will be the leap of humanity “from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”
As the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I hope we have made that step on September 17, 2011 a few blocks from Wall Street in Liberty Square. But even if we haven’t and Engels was at heart an utopian and his vision of the future a dream, still a dream, if that is all it is, can, as Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, inspire people to fight for a better world.
(The Monthly Review)
November 4, 2011
These artillery fires together with the attacks of workers-peasants against bourgeois government were an assault against the very grounds of feudal imperialist Russian empire. For the first time in the world history, central state power of bourgeoisie was destroyed through an armed insurrection initiated under the Bolshevik/communist leadership.
In Russia, a dictatorship of the proletariat was established. After the October Revolution, Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union was created under the ruins of the old society during which a violent civil-war against counter-revolutionary forces backed directly by so many imperialist states took place. One sixth of the world was disconnected from the imperialist exploitation system, one sixth of the world was liberated from the sovereignty of the capital and one sixth of the world became red! Red Star shining above Kremlin since 7 November 1917 has been lighting the path of the revolution.
The revolution appeared on 25th of October according of the old calender. This is 7th of November of the new calender, that is used today.people who are mistreated, oppressed and seek the proletarian world revolution. It was this Red Star that enlightened the path of the Partisans and the Red Army defeating Hitler-Fascism. This red star has nevertheless faded away through revisionists’ total grip on power. The dictatorship of the proletariat was replaced by a new bureaucrat-technocrat dictatorship of state bourgeoisie. However, this fact cannot be ignored: 7 November 1917 marks a historical milestone which casts light upon the future of the humanity and which brings honour into the humanity.
Bourgeoisie of the all countries have tried and still try to do their best to make people forget and to mock the memory of the glorious victory of the Russian proletariat. On the centenary of the Great Socialist October Revolution, class conscious workers of all countries’, all labours who disagree the current situation will commemorate the epoch-making action of the Russian proletariat by intensifying their current struggle against imperialist barbarism. They will continue to complete the task of the October Revolution which was suspended by revisionist counter-revolution by reclaiming and internalizing the guiding principles of the October Revolution.
The October Revolution: A Call To Rebellion Against Hegemonic Situations. How was the hegemonic situation in Russia before the October Revolution? Imperialist world was facing the First World War which was one of the deadliest wars in the history of humanity. The peoples were told that this war was waged on behalf of ‘’Motherland’’, ‘’Honour’’, ‘’Independence’’, ‘’Democracy’’ and indeed ‘’God”, “Allah’’. However in reality the war was nothing more than to make people against each other clash on the way to the redistribution of the world by imperialist powers. Poverty, starving, death, forced migration and genocide against the peoples were everywhere. Over the tough years of the war, nationalist-patriotic atmosphere which was initially created by bourgeois propaganda and through which workers were made loyal to the bourgeoisie faded away. Workers and peasants who were forced to wear military uniforms started to realize this bare truth day by day: they were just an instrument used for the interest of their own bourgeoisie in a war of bourgeoisies.
This truth which was from the beginning defended by the Bolsheviks became more and more formative in the minds of workers and labours: this war was an imperialist war against the peoples. In each imperialist country, the arch-enemy was inside the country. It was our own bourgeoisie. Anybody who demands peace should first of all struggle against his own bourgeoisie should point the guns towards them and should destroy bourgeois power through an armed revolution of the proletariat. The only way for a genuine and permanent peace is a revolution. The rest is a revisionist non-sense.
The October Revolution demolished the eight months old bourgeois Kerensky government which was established right after the 1917 February Revolution that abolished the Tsardom and insisted on the continuation of the war with the so-called intention of protecting the revolution. One of the first executive orders of the Soviet power was to introduce peace declaration. This executive order was declaring that Russia would no more a part of the war and would abandon it. Workers and labours from all nations who fought in the war were immediately called on armistice and solidarity in the trenches. All the secret agreements introduced by Tsardom and bourgeois government were made public as the bourgeois countries who participated the war were called on to attend talks for ceasefire and peace without annexation.
The October Revolution in Russia demonstrated this practical wisdom to the soldiers of the all countries: Peace is possible only when we destroy our own bourgeoisie through revolutions. The October Revolution was a call on peace, a call to eradicate hegemonic situations through an armed revolution.
Today in 2017 how is the hegemonic situation facing workers and labours of all the countries? Wars are waged everywhere in the name of freedom, democracy, western type of life, independence, counter-terrorism and Allah. The weapons used in today’s wars are hundreds times more destructive than the ones used in the last century.
Millions of people have been migrating because of the wars. Material wealth produced by the labour of the workers has excessively increased compared to the last century. Yet billions of people are still in poverty and moreover they are made to believe that it is a ‘’fate’’. In spite of that, a small portion of the world population which equals to even less than one percent owns more than half of the entire wealth in the world. In addition to that, capitalist mode of production which knows no bounds to exploit damages the natural environment in a way that destroys life-sustaining basis of the humanity. That is to say, even today there are enough reasons for all the oppressed and exploited people to do what is necessary and to respond to that permanent call of the Great October Revolution:
Revolt against the hegemonic situations! It is really possible to change them only through revolutions under the leadership of the proletariat! The October Revolution: All the Rights to Workers and Labours ‘’The Soviet system provides the maximum of democracy for the workers and peasants; at the same time, it marks a break with bourgeois democracy and the rise of a new, epoch-making type of democracy, namely, proletarian democracy, or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Let the curs and swine of the moribund bourgeoisie and of the petty-bourgeois democrats who trail behind them heap imprecations, abuse and derision upon our heads for our reverses and mistakes in the work of building up our Soviet system.
We do not forget for a moment that we have committed and are committing numerous mistakes and are suffering numerous reverses. How can reverses and mistakes be avoided in a matter so new in the history of the world as the building of an unprecedented type of state edifice! We shall work steadfastly to set our reverses and mistakes right and to improve our practical application of Soviet principles, which is still very, very far from being perfect. But we have a right to be and are proud that to us has fallen the good fortune to Begin the building of a Soviet state, and thereby to usher in a new era in world history, the era of the rule of a new class, a class which is oppressed in every capitalist country, but which everywhere is marching forward towards a new life, towards victory over the bourgeoisie, towards the dictatorship of the proletariat, towards the emancipation of mankind from the yoke of capital and from imperialist wars ’’Big bourgeoisie and big landlords were dispossessed by means of the first executive orders of the Soviet power. Their properties were confiscated without compensa-tion on behalf of the state. The dictatorship of the proletariat gives back to the society what belongs to the society. The dictatorship of the proletariat takes social production directly on itself. A dictatorship is imposed on the former exploiters of the capitalist society. All attempts by them to recapture the power are crushed with relentless force. However, the most inclusive democracy for the workers is secured by the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Organized in the soviets of the Worker, Peasant and Sol-dier which are the organizational apparatus of a direct democracy, the mass of the workers take the duty of socialist construction of the country in their own hands under the conditions of civil war and imperialist intervention. Democratic collective organizing of the workers in all areas of life, direct participation of the workers in the organization of production and revolutionary democratic transformation of the society, full equality for women in the struggle against the patriarchy, right to work, six hours’ workday, work safety, enough holiday leave for all, workers’ right to rest and vacation, a legal order for the benefit of the people, a free public access to cultural activities, child rights, socialization of child (Lenin, “Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution”, Collected Works, Volume 33, pages 51-59, 1921, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965), education and domestic labour, medical care for all, a public discussion for all the social problems... Even in 1930’s, Soviet Unions were already in a better position than the most advanced capitalist countries in terms of the improvements in workers’ daily life. Unlike the profit principle in the capitalist countries, Soviet Unions provided the growing material and moral needs of the working masses as much as possible. It is nevertheless quite clear that was impossible to eliminate the backwardness of Tsarist Russia at the very time. For instance, in 1930’s housing problem could not still be solved completely.
Despite all, huge progress, great construction projects and the workers’ growing life standards were all proving the superiority of socialism every single day. Trying to condemn the progress made in Soviet Unions, Bourgeois propaganda has been ignoring and disregarding all the achievements during that period. In this case, they have nothing to say.
It is today the duty of the communists to reaffirm the realities and enormous success made in the struggle for creating a new society in Soviet Union concretely. In today’s world, workers and labours are not satisfied with the existing order and their lives. However, bourgeois propaganda is casting a dark shadow over the consciousness and heart of the workers through constant media bombardment on the discussions over the alternatives.
It is extremely important today that the lessons of revolution in Russia should come to our mind when we discuss over alternatives, that is to say we should learn from Russian revolution.
“But the primary reason that we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution is the world-shaking importance of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union for mankind, in bringing mighty deathblows against the world capitalist system, in leading the struggle of the world’s peoples a long way down the path of eliminating the system of exploitation of man by man from the face of the earth.” (The Role of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the International Marxist-Leninist Movement: The October Revolution VsThe “Cultural Revolution,” Youth for Stalin, April 1968)
Indeed, little more than twenty-five years after the victory of Red October, the Soviet-led defeat of world fascism in World War II featured the Soviet Red Army’s rout of the previously undefeated Hitler-led German fascist army all the way to Berlin, as this triumphant Soviet Red Army march through Europe paved the way for the creation of peoples democracies across Eastern Europe in its wake. And just a few years later, little more than thirty years after the October Revolution, strongly backed by invaluable aid from the Soviet Union, the Chinese Communist Party-led victorious national democratic revolution over the U.S. imperialist-backed Chiang Kai-shek-led Kuomintang drove the Chinese reactionary regime and its army literally into the sea, that is, entirely off of the Chinese mainland onto Taiwan, liberating one-quarter of humanity.
By the early 1950’s, thirty-five years after Red October, approximately one-third of the world’s peoples still lived under direct capitalist rule, while one-third now lived in the so-called “nonaligned” countries taking an allegedly third “neutral” path, and one-third lived in the newly created socialist camp! It seemed that nothing could stop the world’s peoples from creating a socialist world in short order. Mystery Quote at end of this article
It is difficult to comprehend the fact that almost as much time has passed since then as had elapsed from the time of the Victorious October Revolution until that time. For the titanic Soviet and Soviet-led achievements in that prior fifty year period dominated the world stage. In the fifty years since, the plight of the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples has grown ever worse as U.S.-led imperialism has been riding roughshod over us.
Marx and Engels and then Lenin had examined with great care the experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 when the working class first “seized heaven” and held state power for seventy days. Enriching the magnificent arsenal of scientific socialism, these great leaders of the international working class had turned the defeat of the Paris Commune into a treasured resource from which the Great October Socialist Revolution could draw strength that helped crown the Bolshevik Revolution with a stable victory for at least a few generations of humanity.*
*Mindful of the Commune’s great historical significance, Lenin reportedly danced in the snow when the October Revolution had lasted beyond the number of days of the Paris Commune.
With comparable seriousness, dedication, courage and proletarian internationalist spirit on the part of the international proletarian vanguard in the early 1950’s, an historical analysis of Red October and its aftermath could have itself been the foundation for the triumph of the world proletarian revolution, leading to the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement by world socialism without the people of the USSR having to experience the reversal of fortune that has actually occurred there. The rest of the world’s proletariat and peoples owed them that much.*
*With the advent of open Russian capitalism in the Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin period, beginning in the late 1980’s, for the first time in modern history a people in a developed country, Russia, has suffered a sharp decrease in life expectancy, underscoring the defective economic-social system of capitalism represented by this step backwards into the past.
Today, at long last, Leninists should use this 100th anniversary year of the Great October Socialist Revolution to carefully examine and draw the positive and negative lessons of this world shaking Revolution and its aftermath in the cause of fighting and winning a socialist future going forward.
Historical Highlights of the October Revolution
1. The October Revolution was the work of the workers, the peasants and the soldiers and sailors themselves. The mass character of the October Revolution was based on the ruthless and consistent Bolshevik struggle against opportunism waged by a disciplined and responsible vanguard party among the toiling masses and among the working class in particular and on the Bolshevik mobilization of the masses around the urgent concrete demands for “peace, land and bread.” The masses were undergoing a rich experience in class struggle. This was especially true regarding their bitter and sorrowful participation in World War I. This experience proved to them the correctness of the Bolshevik political line, including the fact that the Bolshevik Party was the only political party that was sufficiently independent of the feudal and international capitalist rulers to satisfy the mass demand for “peace,” that is, for withdrawal from the imperialist war.
The Bolsheviks also immediately carried out their promise of land to the tillers, consolidating the proletarian party’s alliance with the main mass of the peasantry. After Lenin read the Decree on Land, according to John Reed, “the leader of the Maximalists, the Anarchist wing of the peasants [stated] ‘We must do honor to a political party which puts such an act into effect the first day, without jawing about it!’” (Page 135, Ten Days that Shook the World)
2. Tsarist Russia had been known as the “Prison house of Nations.” One of the keys to the Bolshevik-led victory in the October Revolution and the subsequent civil war and imperialist intervention was the implementation of the Bolshevik policy toward the nations oppressed by Old Russia. This was based on the Lenin-Stalin position on the national question. The First Congress of Soviets proclaimed the right of the peoples of Russia to self-determination in June 1917. After the workers took power, one of the first acts of the new Soviet government (signed by Lenin and Stalin) was a special edict entitled “Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia.” This law provided every nation formerly oppressed by Tsarist Russia the right to self-determination up to and including the right to a separate and independent existence as a state. In the immediate situation this deprived the counterrevolutionary White armies and imperialist expeditionary forces of much of the potential reserve for their reactionary war.
In the long run, Bolshevik encouragement of the free flowering of the many nationalities formerly suppressed under the Tsarist Autocracy laid the basis for the economic, political, cultural, and, ultimately, military prowess and success of the voluntary Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. Even U.S. bourgeois experts grudgingly admitted that, “...the USSR within the framework of the over-all Soviet system seemed to have found a constructive solution to its nationalities question, and is the best example afforded by the twentieth century of a multinational state.” (Our emphasis, A History of theModern World, R.R. Palmer, Second Edition, 1956, page 732)
3. In contrast with the almost bloodless initial proletarian victory, the forces of the old and dying privileged classes of Russia, backed by all the world’s imperialist powers, launched a civil war. They were not going to give up their heaven on earth without a bloody struggle. They attempted to take back riches of oil, timber and other abundant resources and the opportunity to exploit the millions of toilers there and to crush the new Soviet power before the people could begin to thrive — “to kill the revolutionary baby in its crib.”
The ferocious and bloody civil war and imperialist intervention that ensued from 1918 until 1920 caused terrible human and material damage to the new Soviet society. An estimated seven million Soviet citizens lost their lives in this conflict. Nonetheless, the toilers successfully defended their own newly won state power against the Tsarist and bourgeois Russian armies and the military expeditionary forces of fourteen imperialist countries. The Bolshevik-led victory in the Civil War and imperialist intervention and thus the Soviet Union’s survival was a remarkable accomplishment.
4. In the midst of the Civil War, in March 1919, the Bolsheviks boldly and quickly initiated the establishment of a new Communist International with which to not only defend the Soviet Union but also utilize the Soviet victory “as a means of standing up against the rest of the world, the capitalist world, and helping the proletarians of all countries in their struggle against capitalism.” (Stalin, Selected Works, Volume 9, page 120) This proletarian internationalist orientation led to the flowering of Communist Parties all over the world, many of which came to play an outstanding role in the class struggle in their countries, the USA included. It was also key to building up a socialist rather than a bourgeois nationalist economy and society in the Soviet Union.
5. In March 1921, with the Civil War ended, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was adopted to replace “War Communism” to ensure a strong economic alliance of the working class and peasantry. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party skillfully, openly and honestly led the new proletarian government in implementing the NEP, a strategic retreat economically in order to provide the Soviet regime some stability in which to consolidate the victorious seizure and defense of state power. The confidence that Lenin and the Bolshevik Party had in the working class was clearly reciprocated, for only a revolutionary army or society has the capacity to retreat in such an orderly, disciplined and confident way.
Recognizing the continued vulnerability of the new Soviet state to capitalist encirclement, Lenin led the Bolsheviks and the Soviet people in making the “Electrification” of the country a foremost revolutionary task. This was vital to bringing the Soviet economy into the twentieth century and moving toward a proletarian-led integrated urban-rural society.
6. Great Lenin died in 1924. While the Bolshevik Party had wisely not opened wide the doors to Party membership after the successful seizure and defense of Soviet state power, the Party now decided to utilize the tremendous love for Lenin to have a special Lenin Enrollment so that many of the most politically advanced workers could collectively fill the shoes of the departed comrade. The 240,000 new party members, nominated from among their peers, were trained using the brilliant new Marxist-Leninist work, The Foundations of Leninism, dedicated by comrade Stalin “to the Lenin Enrollment.”
7. By the mid 1920’s a new global capitalist stabilization had set in. Almost immediately upon Lenin’s death, Leon Trotsky and others began to more openly promote “revolutionary defeatism.” Comrade Stalin, the leader of the Party, defended and developed Lenin’s thesis that Socialism could be built in one large country, if need be. There began an epic ideological struggle that involved millions of Soviet citizens about the future of the USSR and the class struggle for socialism. Comrade Harry Haywood, in his outstanding autobiography, Black Bolshevik, who was there at the time, discusses how democratically this critical question was debated and how thoroughly the Trotskyite position was repudiated.
The most profound repudiation was expressed in the revolutionary practice of the Soviet people in two unprecedentedly successful Five Year Plans, each one completed ahead of time. And this period was characterized by the worst world-wide capitalist depression in history. In this same period between 1928 and 1937, the collectivization of agriculture, a massive revolution in its own right, and the establishment of tractor stations, incentivizing collectivization among the peasants and establishing proletarian leadership in the countryside, were implemented.
The first two five year economic plans, beginning in 1928, were so successful that virtually all bourgeois experts, even during the McCarthy Period in the USA, had to admit that, “No ten years in the history of any Western country ever showed such a rate of industrial growth ...” (A History of theModern World, R.R. Palmer, Second Edition, 1956) As Professor Palmer observed: “By 1939 it was clear that a new type of economic system had been created. However one judged the USSR no one could dismiss its socialism as visionary or impracticable.” (Ibid., page 751, my emphasis)
8. Amazing as was the economic success of the five year plans, it was accompanied by what became known as the Stalin Constitution, the most democratic document both in the process of its creation, involving millions of Soviet citizens, and also in its content.
9. At the same time, the fascist powers of Germany and Italy and Imperial Japan, with the connivance of the western imperialist powers, united against the Soviet Union and the Communist International in the so-called “anti-Comintern Axis.” With the growing threat of fascism, the Communist International, under the leadership of Bulgarian communist hero, GeorgiDimitrov, provided a new tactical vision with the United Front Against Fascism. Despite the tremendous pressure the USSR was under, it was the only country that courageously offered democratic Spain substantial concrete aid, including manpower. Moreover, inspired by the Communist International, International Brigades numbering about forty thousand, mostly but not entirely made up of Communist volunteers from all over the world, answered the call to join the struggle in defense of the Spanish Republic against the Spanish military coup leadership headed by Francisco Franco, strongly backed by both Hitler and Mussolini. With the so-called liberal democracies remaining “neutral” at best, the fascist forces won out in Spain in what was seen as a “dress rehearsal for World War II.”
Stalinist Bolshevik diplomacy enabled the Soviet Union to gain enough time to prepare for the mightiest invasion in human history, the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union. The heroic Soviet people, especially the Soviet Red Army and Communist youth, under the leadership of Stalin and the CPSU (Bolsheviks), were the decisive force in the defeat of German and world fascism.
Lest the contemporary reader think that we are exaggerating the role of the Stalin and Bolshevik-led Soviet Union, listen to tributes from two of the twentieth century’s biggest foes of the Soviet Union and communism.
In 1942, U.S. General Douglas McArthur stated: “The world situation at the present time indicates that the hopes of civilization rest on the worthy banners of the courageous Russian Army. During my lifetime I have participated in a number of wars and have witnessed others, as well as studying in great detail the campaigns of outstanding leaders of the past. In none have I observed such effective resistance to the heaviest blows of a hitherto undefeated enemy, followed by a smashing counterattack which is driving the enemy back to his own land. The scale and grandeur of the effort mark it as the greatest military achievement in all history.” (The Great Conspiracy, Sayers and Kahn, page 138)
In 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill admitted: “No government ever formed among men has been capable of surviving injuries so grave and cruel as those inflicted by Hitler on Russia. ... Russia has not only survived and recovered from those frightful injuries but has inflicted, as no other force in the world could have inflicted, mortal damage on the German army machine.” (Ibid., page 139)
10. The world historic victory over fascism in World War II represented a general weakening of the imperialist camp (though a strengthening of U.S. imperialism). At the same time, the popular forces were strengthened throughout the world in their struggles for national independence and socialism. On this basis, the fruits of the October Revolution had led directly to a new period of victories for independence movements throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Southern and Eastern Europe. In particular, the victory of the Chinese national democratic revolution in 1949, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and its Chairman Mao Tse-tung, represented the liberation of one-quarter of humanity! With Leninism, in spite of an objective situation that had been unfavorable to the proletarian revolution on a global scale, the Soviet Union had led the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples from one victory to another. Now, finally, thanks largely to those who had carried out and consolidated the October Revolution and its fruits, the proletarian revolutionary movement had shifted the balance of forces in the world in favor of socialism.
AS comrade Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and arguably the most prominent Maoist and one of the leading Marxist-Leninists in the contemporary world, has declared: “The October Revolution has come to signify all the great revolutionary achievements of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Stalin in establishing the proletarian dictatorship as a requisite of socialist revolution, overcoming civil war and foreign military intervention, reviving the economy through transition measures, building socialist industry, collectivizing agriculture, developing the educational and cultural system of the working class, supporting the international communist movement, fighting and defeating fascism and further pursuing socialist revolution and construction in the face of the threats of U.S. imperialism after World War II
“These achievements can never be belittled. Socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe, Asia and elsewhere have been inspired by the October Revolution, the achievements of the Soviet Union and the work of the Third International. The Soviet Union was unquestionably a socialist country for decades from 1917 to 1956.” (Validity and Relevance of the October Revolution in Response to the Challenges of the 21st Century, contribution to the International Communist Seminar, Brussels, May, 2007.)
This remarkable record of the accomplishments of the Great October Socialist Revolution and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to which it gave birth makes it unmistakably clear that capitalism is not “the end of history,” as the imperialist propagandists have claimed. Nor is socialism the “failed project,” condemned by the social chauvinists, social pacifists and social imperialists of our time. It is the social system whose time has come. It is up to us to continue this forward march of history in our own time.
(RAY O’ LIGHTNEWSLETTER, January-February2017, Number 2016, Publication of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA)
THE fact that everything is subject to constant change is applicable to the phenomenon of imperialism too. As all previous systems, imperialism cannot be static and is constantly evolving taking on newer and newer forms. The classical theory of imperialism including its essential characteristics that Lenin put forward in the early twentieth century in its colonial phase was a guide to political action in that particular historical context. Those essential characteristics of capitalism’s imperialist stage, which were evident at the turn of the twentieth century as identified by Lenin such as the concentration of wealth and the advent of international monopolies, the emergence and domination of finance capital in all aspects of life, imperialist oppression and plunder of dependent and weak nations, widespread militarism, etc. have continued as ever strengthening processes. Obviously, while unraveling the fundamental aspects of capitalism’s qualitatively new stage in his study Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism Lenin would not have intended it as the final epitaph of imperialism. Quite revealingly, recent researchers have indicated that the original title of Lenin’s pamphlet was Imperialism, the Newest Stage of Capitalism. At present, the universal view that twenty-first century imperialism has assumed several novel forms which require further analysis is not at all surprising from a historical materialist perspective. No doubt, the basic parameters delineated in Lenin’s pioneering work remains the central indispensable key to the understanding of finance capital. It should also be noted that the study by Lenin was in the background of the capitulation of the so called socialist parties under the “revisionist” influence of the Second International at a time when the objective situation, as proved by him in the context of Russia, was ripe for revolution and the transition to a progressive mode of production. Viewed in this perspective, today the challenge before us is to unravel the concrete reality of the twenty-first century imperialism in relation to the historical context of the internationalization capital based on a grasping of the true essence of Lenin’s pioneering analysis.
Today the situation is very complex as, for instance, propositions of a shake of the imperialist structure or what is called a “restructuring” of the imperialist hierarchy inherited from the twentieth century have become topics of discussion among left circles. For, in accordance with the complex dimensions of both accumulation and circulation of capital in this epoch of internationalization of finance capital, ‘export of capital’ identified by Lenin as one of the essential characteristics of imperialism could be seen taking place even from ‘dependent’ and oppressed countries too. This has also prompted some sections of the left camp to interpret this trend as the transformation of several “neo-colonially dependent” countries into “new-imperialist countries.” The qualitatively new developments in relation to the unquantifiable and unmanageable growth in the financial superstructure called “financialization” coupled with what is called “digitization” acting as catalyst for this “restructuring” also marks a clear departure of the present globalized imperialism from twentieth-century imperialism.
At another level, the neo-liberal restructuring of international production and the pursuit of a new international division of labour since the late 1960s have led to a massive global “disorganization” and “informalization” of the working class. Though spontaneous struggles of the workers and oppressed masses who are deprived of hard-earned democratic rights and who face an abysmal drop in real wages and decline in purchasing powers are sprouting up everywhere, the ideological-political weaknesses of the Left to unravel the current laws of motion of capital and its consequent disarray have provided the ruling classes ample room for manoeuvre to manage the crisis by strengthening the positions of financial markets and deepening the attacks against the people. Backed by far rightwing, neo-fascistic, free-market, postmodern, and reactionary ideologies that have got new respectability under neoliberalism, the level of super-exploitation, financial speculation, ecological destruction and cultural degradation unleashed by corporate capital today is threatening the very sustenance of world people. Thus Lenin’s characterization of imperialism, as “oppressive”, “parasitic”, “decadent” and “militaristic”, integrally linking up it with the subordination of every realm of social life to the diktats of finance capital, is all the more relevant today. To carry forward this perspective according to the concrete conditions of today and for successfully resisting the counterrevolution inflicted by finance capital against workers and oppressed peoples of the world, more clarity on the laws of motion of twenty-first century imperialism is indispensable.
Situating Contemporary Imperialism
IMPERIALISM’s twenty-first century neoliberal trends are not overnight developments; on the contrary, they are to be situated in the entire trajectory of postwar neo-colonial phase of imperialism. It was the international context set by socialist advancement and surging national liberation movements of the 1940s that compelled imperialism to resort to what is often called ‘decolonization’—interpreted as the passage from colonialism towards neocolonialism — as a camouflage for ensuring continuity in the global expansion of capital through the process of transferring power to the comprador classes in erstwhile colonies. Thus colonial form of domination and plunder becoming unviable, led by USA, which then had become the leader and supreme arbiter of the imperialist camp, a whole set of mutually interpenetrating political, economic, military, legal and even cultural institutions and instruments were devised for transforming and reconfiguring colonialism into neocolonialism. As is generally conceived, it imparted a qualitative dimension to the unabated global expansion of finance capital. The first coherent Marxist-Leninist formulation on neocolonialism came out from Communist Party China (CPC) led by Mao Zedong as part of its fierce ideological struggle initiated against Krushchevian revisionism soon after the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU when the latter formally theorized on the “disappearance of colonialism.” Pinpointing neocolonialism as an “extremely sharp issue of contemporary world politics” the CPC went on characterizing it as “a more pernicious and sinister form of colonialism.” Though the CPC in its polemics against CPSU correctly interpreted neocolonialism, as we know, due to the subsequent advent of left adventurism that theorized on a “weakened imperialism”, the CPC failed to make any concrete analysis of neocolonialism further. However, an objective evaluation of the post war developments makes it amply clear that the CPC’s original evaluation on neocolonialism was essentially in conformity with reality.
In the meanwhile, as a response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, Keynesianism had emerged with a redefinition of the bourgeois state for its active intervention in economic affairs. For almost a quarter century, Keynesianism coupled with Cold War had been imperialism’s ideological weapon against the “communist threat” in view of the immense prestige that the ICM got due to the inter-war economic progress of Soviet Union on the one hand, and successful resistance against fascism on the other. As such, till the 1970s, neocolonialism was pursued under the camouflage of international Keynesianism that, unlike the thirties, avoided violent interruptions of financial speculation thereby also yielding a crisis-free “golden age” for capitalism. Imperialism’s close nexus with the comprador ruling classes in erstwhile colonies or neocolonial countries as its faithful allies also led to the latter’s accelerated integration with globally expanding finance capital. Meanwhile, Keynesian policies, public sector and other forms of state capitalism promoted by imperialism to tide over its crisis, however, were misinterpreted by right opportunists and revisionist sections who upheld Krushchevite “peaceful transition to socialism” as automatic move towards planned socialist development. But their ideological bankruptcy was totally exposed when bureaucratic capitalists and erstwhile CEOs of state-owned and public sector undertakings in alliance with illegal financial speculators became proponents of denationalization and deregulation since the crisis of the 1970s.
As is obvious, the apparent capitalist “boom” of the1950s and 1960s was primarily rooted in the political, economic and military hegemony of US imperialism and the flourishing role of dollar in the relative absence of rivalry from other war-torn imperialist powers. During this period, even while pursuing a new balance of power through “cold war” and global expansion and multi-dimensional penetration of finance capital, the postures of UN sponsored Development Decades, welfare state, import substitution, inward looking policies, etc. were profusely used to hoodwink world people. Keynesianism provided the umbrella for the accumulation of significant share of wealth in the state treasury through progressive taxation and deficit financing and the setting up of essential infrastructures for the smooth and risk-free functioning of corporate capital. An impression of “crisis-free capitalism” with state regulation was also advanced by imperialist theoreticians. From the late 1960s onward, recovery of war-ravaged economies of Europe and Japan began effectively challenging the US even as state-led inflationary financing, high levels of military expenditures and superpower commitments by US reached an unsustainable level. Defying the central logic of Keynesianism, the US, followed by Britain and others, started facing rampant inflation, collapse of industrial production and employment. The unhindered financial expansion associated with international Keynesianism though flourished along with an increase in production during the initial years of postwar boom, the financial growth later overtook output growth leading to a situation that came to be characterized as stagflation — coincidence of economic stagnation and financial boom or inflation.
To be precise, the speculative trends and deep seated depressive forces associated with finance capital that Lenin emphasized and that became clear in the financial crash of 1929 and Great Depression of 1930s, but regimented and camouflaged through state’s regulatory framework, gathered further strength and got unleashed through stagflation of the 1970s. By this time, immense finance was accumulated in world monetary circulation channels by MNCs and global financial giants, especially emanating from USA including the huge volume of petrodollars amassed by Oil Sheikhs that was deposited in American and European transnational banks. However, this could not be deployed in the most profitable manner as the productive sphere was stagnating on account of the declining purchasing power of the people. To overcome the consequent downturn in profit, the option was to develop new avenues of financial speculation or a change in the accumulation process.
However, unlike the situation in the 1930s, the ideological and political position of the ICM was weak this time as manifested in its inability to develop Marxist-Leninist theory and practice according to the concrete transformation that was taking place in the neocolonial accumulation process. As already noted, it was the presence of socialism and prestige of the ICM that compelled US led imperialism to devise ‘state-led development’ along with decolonization as an ideological-political weapon against the Left following the economic crisis of the 1930s. But taking advantage of the new situation in the 1970s, US led imperialism could successfully resort to a change in the neocolonial accumulation process through a shift in economic policy from Keynesianism to neoliberalism or monetarism. Originating in imperialist countries in the form of Thatcherism and Reaganomics , neoliberal policies gradually spread to neocolonial countries gathering further momentum through globalization in the post Cold War period since the 1990s. The result was a downsizing and rollback of the ‘welfare state’ and abolition of erstwhile restraints on the free mobility of capital. Consequently, the decay and parasitism which are characteristics of finance capital as identified by Lenin have started assuming horrific proportions. Moreover, unlike the earlier phase of imperialism when the speculative bubble was feeding on a productive economy, the financial speculation began to thrive on a stagnant and moribund economy under neoliberalism. The collapse of East Europe and Soviet Union and capitalist restoration in China followed by their eventual integration with imperialist market that created the historical context for the altogether disappearance of the “socialist camp” opened up new avenues for finance capital by way of a further expansion of the world market and internationalization of capital.
The hallmark of this neoliberal phase of neocolonialism has been unfettered international mobility of speculative finance capital utilizing effectively utilizing the ideological setbacks of the Left on the one hand, and breakthroughs in information and communication technologies (ICT) and digitization since the turn of the 21st century on the other. Once relieved of all Keynesian state controls and regulations, the essential characteristics of finance capital such as speculation, decay and parasitism as identified by Lenin have started bouncing back with intensified vigour through what is called financial globalization. The financialization/corporatization together with stagnation and deindustrialization leading to unprecedented joblessness has resulted in hitherto unknown levels of wealth concentration with a tiny financial elite, unprecedented inequality, poverty and deprivation, corruption, cultural degradation, and gruesome ecological catastrophe. As a reflection of the depth of the crisis, in tune with continuing US and EU aggressions and plunder of workers and oppressed peoples of the world particularly in West Asia and North Africa, the international “refugee crisis” has become unmanageable even as imperialism is propping up anti-immigrant, chauvinist, neo-fascist, racist and religious fundamentalist forces to divert people’s simmering discontent against the ruling system. Obscurantist terrorist outfits such as IS are nothing but the byproducts of this terribly destructive system. As an inalienable component of this imperialist offensive, to depoliticize the people a whole set of postmodern, post-Marxist and “identity” theories including prognoses such as “end of history”, “end of ideology”, etc., are manufactured and spread by imperialist think-tanks and neoliberal funding and research institutions.
On the Striking Trends of Imperialism Today
THE major trends of contemporary imperialism situated above have certain well-defined characteristics that make it qualitatively different from its colonial phase.
Internationalization of production
THE structural foundations of imperialism in the neocolonial phase have fundamentally transformed by a dislocation and restructuring of the erstwhile centralized and nation-centered basis of production. The emergence of new technologies pertaining to production and processing, transportation, information and communication since the 1960s have immensely facilitated this transformation. For instance, the development and refinement of new production and processing technologies capable of decomposing production into multi-stages made it possible for international monopolies or MNCs to transplant different stages of production to remote global destinations using unskilled laboures who could easily be trained to perform even complex operations. This enabled finance capital to decentralize production and ‘outsourcing’ of work on an international scale thereby rendering industrial location, control and organization of production increasingly less dependent on geographic distances. As against the pre-war so called “Fordist” methods of centralized factory arrangements, the decentralization and fragmentation of workforce prompted monopoly capitalists to devise what is called “post-Fordism”. This “post-Fordist” regulation of workforce also called ‘flexible specialization’ by bourgeois pundits enabled business enterprises to weaken and fragment the collective bargaining power of workers at a global level through a ‘new international division of labour’. Outsourcing, division and categorization of workers’ unions also went hand in hand with the availability of wide variety of consumer products, market diversification, autonomous profit centres and network systems—a process that came to be characterized as internationalization of production.
Along with the unleashing of an unprecedented deindustrialization and neoliberal regimentation and regulation of labour in imperialist countries, internationalization of production enabled imperialism to tap the cheapest source of labour in neocolonial countries which is forced to sell off itself at the lowest wages. Globalized production facilitated through a whole set of super-imposed, pro-corporate laws pertaining to labour, investment, profit-repatriation, tax, trade and environment in neocolonial regimes altered the conditions of capital accumulation that enabled imperialism to temporarily overcome the crisis of the 1970s.
One of the significant changes that has brought about as a result of internationalization and the consequent “de-centered production” has been change of the spatial structure of the world economy in the past half-a-century with regard to capital exports and commodity trade. The most visible trend in this context is the relative deterioration of US and the rise of China as an important location for FDI inflows and as the leading trading country in the world. This has also given rise to a divergence of economic and military hegemony within imperialism.
Super-exploitation of working class
THE internationalization of production leading to large-scale transplantation of “global assembly lines” of production to cheap-labour ‘dependent’ “export platforms” or “export oriented” locations through outsourcing and flexible specialization created an unprecedented growth in unemployment and underemployment in imperialist countries. Together with this, 21st century corporatization-enforced deindustrialization and depeasantization leading to large scale displacement and migration and cross border flow of refugees have resulted in an unprecedented growth in the ranks of unorganized or informal working class as the most “wretched” social class on earth today whose number has already crossed 1000 million the world over- characterized as “informalization” of the workforce. Wiping out vast job opportunities in imperialist countries on the one hand, and subjecting the remaining workers to “hire and fire” and part-time jobs, (euphemistically called “casualization” of workforce) on the other have become the general trend in US, and other imperialist countries. To cover up the class essence of this imperialist restructuring, postmodern theorists have characterized this phenomenon as “post-industrialism.”
But the defining transformation associated with internationalization or “multi-nationalization” of production as manifested in global shift of production to cheap-labour destinations has been super-exploitation of labour (the prevalence of lower than global average wages) and the widening international divergence in wages between imperialist and neocolonial countries, and the consequent large-scale shift of wealth from the latter to the former. In this regard, erstwhile classical Marxist formulation based on nineteenth and early twentieth-century production that the extraction of value from ‘dependent’ countries was of “peripheral” importance needs to be reexamined for further development of the Marxist-Leninist theory of contemporary imperialism. The ever-growing profits of MNCs and wealth of world’s billionaires and relative decline in wages and living standards of workers and masses in ‘dependent’ countries are ample proof of the concrete reality of super-exploitation of neocolonial countries. Today MNCs aim to drive down the share of wages globally and increase their profits by installing a system of global competition among workers as part of the ‘divide and rule’ policy of today’s imperialism. Clarity on this issue is essential to comprehend Lenin’s characterization of the “essence of imperialism” as “the division of nations into oppressor and oppressed” according to the concrete conditions of today.
Internationalization of production is not leading to a global “equalization of wages” eliminating “local obstacles”; on the contrary, so many extra-economic factors are in full swing under the comprador regimes to keep wages much below the ‘value of labor power’ such that pushing down wages in the dependent countries has become the principal form of accumulation and surplus extraction today. In imperialist countries, racism and xenophobia are not meant to completely stop the migration of workers and refugees from poor countries; rather the neo-fascist, anti-immigrant laws are effectively used to ensure migrants’ and refugees’ vulnerable, second-class status for pushing down wages further. An academic analysis of imperialism based on a mere parroting of quotations from Marx or Lenin is unable to reveal this reality. For instance, a major attraction of outsourcing is the length of the working day in backward countries and through outsourcing MNCs use this as an alternative to investment in new technology. And the predominant form of national oppression in the neocolonial phase of imperialism is the forcing down of the ‘value of labor power’ in low wage countries. This relation of production (capital-labour relation) while plundering the workers of imperialist countries on the one hand, is pushing down the broad masses of working people including youth and women in neocolonial countries into destitution on the other. Most analysts of imperialism dwell on the inter-imperialist rivalry associated with distribution of global wealth while attention is diverted away from the badly needed development of Marxist value theory scientifically analyzing the growing monopoly profits arising from super-exploitation of workers in the globalized production process. That is, the ultimate source of profit lies in globalized production and not in its distribution as is manifested in inter-imperialist contradictions.
The riddle of “export of capital”
THE internationalization of production has given rise to a new trend by which both private and state-owned companies from neocolonial countries have started entering into the globalized production stream through cross-border alliances and joint ventures with MNCs. This has prompted some scholars of the Left, as already noted, to interpret such neocolonial countries as “capital exporters” and their transformation as imperialist countries. Here at the outset, it is to be stated that this ‘riddle’ connected with “export of capital” remains only at the level of ‘form’ while the essence is production relations that determine the process of value extraction. Today MNCs can capture surplus value and exploit workers in low-wage countries even without resorting to export of capital, as the sources of funds mobilized by MNCs are from the countries themselves where investments are made. The lack of correlation between FDI inflows and wealth extraction (or profit repatriation) from the oppressed nations as revealed by latest international country-wise data is ample proof of this. At the same time, while MNCs from US, EU, Japan etc., exploit Latin American, African and Asian workers, there are no reports of Brazilian, South African or Indian bourgeoisie participating in the expropriation and exploitation of the proletariat in imperialist countries. Of course, the comprador ruling classes of the dependent countries are not the victims of neocolonial oppression and together with the imperialist bourgeoisie they accumulate profit mainly through exploiting the workers and toiling masses of their own countries. However, this is not sufficient for establishing world level domination by the comprador bourgeoisie. Though internationalization of production is a qualitative trend, capital still is continuing to operate within the historical structures of the imperialist order that establishes a line of demarcation between oppressors and oppressed.
It is in this context that the effort to characterize certain “neocolonially dependent countries” as “new imperialist countries” based on the emergence of so called “super monopolies” and growing “capital export” from them needs more explanation. At the outset, it should be stated that this is not a strictly new trend. That is, the accumulation of vast wealth by the big bourgeoisie and consequent development of monopoly in certain Asian, African and Latin American countries are not at all new phenomena, as the same trend had been there during the colonial era itself. For instance, the fabulous financial accumulation and heights of wealth reached by Tata, Birla, etc., the leading Indian monopoly houses during the inter-war period were definitely at par with the international monopolies emanating from imperialist Britain. But unlike the development of capitalism in today’s imperialist powers, the big bourgeoisie from erstwhile colonial and semi-colonial countries have been incapable of leading their respective countries to normal capitalist development. It is widely recognized that while the growth of monopolies in imperialist countries was due to the concentration and centralization of capital and production in a particular industry leading to unprecedented increase in the “organic composition of capital,” in today’s neocolonial countries the centralization of capital with the big bourgeoisie has been oriented not to the sphere of production but to circulation.
Here, the position taken on the class character of the bourgeoisie in colonial and semi-colonial countries by the 1928 Sixth Congress of the Comintern in its Theses on “The Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies and Semi-colonies” still continues to be a valid proposition. Based on the concrete evaluation of the betrayal of democratic revolution and anti-imperialist movements particularly in China and India, the Comintern at that time had reached the conclusion that being “comprador” in character the big bourgeoisie in colonial and semi-colonial countries was incapable of leading the anti-imperialist, anti-feudal struggles to victory. Even much before this Comintern evaluation, in 1926, Mao Tsetung had characterized the comprador bourgeoisie as a class that directly served imperialism in many ways and explained how top sections of the comprador bourgeoisie could develop a peculiar form of “monopoly capital” integrally linking with state power. Far from being an independent capitalist class with a national character, these comprador bourgeoisie being born and brought up under the umbrella of imperialist finance capital in its decadent stage and satisfied with its position as a “sub-exploiter” has been faithfully serving imperialism. In the postwar neocolonial phase of imperialism, in direct proportion to the horrific levels of wealth appropriation by this ruling class, its compradorisation, often in the garb of nationalistic pretensions with the concomitant political ramifications, has been an ever-strengthening process.
Despite this inherent structural weakness of the comprador bourgeoisie, internationalization of production has yielded new opportunities for them to break through the confines of national economy and enter into licensing agreements, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions with MNCs to operate at a global level. Globalized production and trend towards integration of market have also provided new avenues for greater interlinking between MNCs and dominant fractions of the comprador bourgeoisie from neocolonial countries. Moreover, as exploitation, inequality and poverty are intensifying in imperialist countries too, this interlinking is likely to spread further. But this has not yet yielded any sufficient condition for the transformation of neocolonial countries into imperialist ones. On the other hand, the new liaison between comprador bourgeoisie and MNCs continues to be an obstacle to self-expanding internal accumulation and national development; it encourages added flight of wealth to imperialist havens leading to domestic distortions and unfeasibility of “inward-looking policies.” This aspect is very relevant in the case of the imperialist-trained technocratic elite and higher bureaucracy in comprador regimes whose loyalty towards IMF, World Bank, WTO and similar other neocolonial-neoliberal institutions has always been stronger than that towards the national states they represent. Further, imperialist servitude of the ruling regimes in neocolonial countries makes even international or regional groupings and associations of poor countries irrelevant.
Thus, the so called association among the ruling classes in both imperialist and neo-colonial countries and the consequent intensified loot of the workers and oppressed peoples, rather than leveling out the differences, actually strengthens the historical gap between the two. No doubt, UN and its Security Council, Fund-Bank combine, WTO, various military arrangements and so on which are still controlled by a handful of leading imperialist powers still ensure imperialism’s hegemony over the planet.
Neoliberal role of the state
INTERNATIONALIZATION of capital along with the catchwords of privatization and liberalization has also led to the emergence of such prognoses as “non-state capitalism”, “trans-national capitalism”, etc. Of course, the situation today is qualitatively different compared with time when Lenin conceptualized on “state capitalism” defined as the merger of finance capital and state, a process that got strengthened in the imperialist world under international Keynesianism through planning and programming of the economy, growth of public sector, emergence of “military-industrial complexes”, etc. that continued till the “stagflation” of 1970s. However, the neoconservative-neoliberal redefinition of the state reversing the erstwhile trend towards “state-led development” and granting of unfettered freedom to MNCs and financial giants since then has subjected every sphere of social and economic life to the discipline of international capital flows. Global mergers and acquisitions among big firms have enabled them to become ever bigger entities even as privatization and the consequent “downsizing and rollback” of the state have prompted pundits to postulate on “state-less capitalism” that is not in accord with facts. No doubt, privatization has been an effective ideological weapon in the hands of ruling classes to evade responsibility for the people’s suffering caused by the system by blaming everything on impersonal market forces. On the contrary, after withdrawing itself from social spending and dismantling all erstwhile laws pertaining to labour, tax, environment, etc., and removing its welfare mask altogether, it is the very same neoliberal state that takes a pro-active role in unleashing the tyranny of finance capital on workers and peoples everywhere. To frame repressive labour laws and install pro-corporate tax and environmental regimes, finance capital is relying on the state as much as ever, and therefore it needs to be reiterated that “non-state capitalism” is a misnomer both internationally and intra-nationally.
The argument that imperialism today has become “transnational” is still more problematic as ‘national character’ is inherent in capital since its birth itself. The conceptualization on a “trans-national capitalist class” is purely hypothetical. For, even after several decades of internationalization of production, the world’s leading manufacturing companies still branches out from the so called “home country.” That is, majority of the shares of MNCs are still owned within their home country. The great majority of US, German, British, French, Japanese and Chinese firms remains overwhelmingly nationally owned and has the majority of their assets concentrated in a single country. According to latest data, 96 percent of the world’s 200 largest MNCs has their headquarters in only eight countries; they are legally registered as incorporated companies of eight countries and their boards of directors also sit in these eight imperialist countries. Only less than 2 percent of their board members are non-nationals. That is, despite their “global reach”, the wealth and ownership of MNCs still have a clear ‘national base’.
These MNCs firmly rely on their home state for the establishment of appropriate multilateral investment, trading and monetary institutions and arrangements for orderly regulation of trade and commercial relations, for coercing dependent countries to have an “investor-friendly” atmosphere and for ensuring “ease of doing business”, for avoiding fluctuations in international currency and capital markets, for the protection of a captive domestic market, for bailing them out during crises, and above all for using military might against an adversary or “competitor” or recalcitrant element as the last resort. Thus crisis-ridden imperialism cannot exist without state and greater the threat of crisis, the greater the need for the state. Historically, “speculative capital” has been less tightly rooted in the state than industrial capital. However, the financial crash of 1987 and the onset of recession in the last decade of the 20th century brought home very strongly its need also for the imperialist state. The provision of trillions of dollars worth “stimulus packages” and “rescue operations” extended to corporate capitalists the world over following the 2007-08 “global meltdown” has been the latest example. Immediate response of finance capitalists to a crisis is to rush back to the relative security of their imperialist states. Suffice it to say that true internationalism and the move towards a “stateless society” are implanted to socialism and not to capitalism.
However, the generally accepted Marxist model of inter-imperialist rivalry of the colonial era which still acts as a factor in capital accumulation is qualitatively different in today’s postwar neocolonial context of internationalization of capital. Though protectionist tendencies are strong, the compulsions arising from globalization of commodity and financial markets have made it keen on the part of imperialism to keep dimensions of such rivalries under check so as to avoid a repetition of the “beggar-thy neighbour” policies, trade wars, currency and military confrontation, etc. which were reminiscent of the interwar period. In the post Cold War neoliberal period, in spite of aggressions in Iraq, West Asia and other regional interventions, this situation has been more or less the same. Free cross-border capital movements, stability of investment, liberal trade policies, etc. which are essential pre-requisites for internationalization of capital prompts imperialism to strive to postpone an open military confrontation among imperialist powers. However, imperialism can camouflage its aggressive and war-mongering character only temporarily. The collusion or contradiction among imperialists in any given situation is integrally linked up with the development of international class struggle. No doubt, ignorance of this basic Leninist proposition and talk of “peaceful imperialism” will invariably lead into erroneous theses like “trans-nationalism”, “ultra-imperialism”, “trans-state capitalism”, etc.
Globalization of finance capital or “financialization”
HOWEVER, since the stagflation of the 1970s and collapse of Keynesianism and removal of controls on speculative capital, internationalization of finance or financilization has proceeded much faster than the internationalization of production. In fact, as a corollary of stagnation and lack of ‘profitable’ investment opportunities in imperialist countries, finance capital had started fast moving into the sphere of speculation even when Keynesian policies were in vogue. Immense money capital accumulated by MNCs and global financial giants, especially those emanating from the US and EU including the huge volume of euro dollars and petrodollars deposited in American transnational banks and European banks had to be deployed in the most profitable manner. Since the productive sphere was stagnating and confronting a downturn in the rate of profit, the other option was to develop new avenues of financial speculation. Large scale FDI flows into the cheap-labour “export enclaves” of neocolonial countries were only part of the solution. In 1974 itself, the US abolished all restrictions on international capital movements, while EU removed controls on capital, following the fall of Berlin Wall and collapse of Soviet Union. Along with these, a multidimensional network of financial institutions and services and bewildering variety of financial assets and devises called “derivatives” and transaction methods were built up. Under Keynesian policy of apparent restrictions on speculation, financial expansion was allowed more or less in tandem with production and employment or rather speculation was feeding on a productive economy. But under neoliberal globalization there emerged a clear dichotomy between “the financial” and “the real” and financial growth started gearing itself for self-expansion through unhindered speculation. Unlike the past history of imperialism, today the global speculative bubble is thriving on a stagnant economy. To be precise, internationalization of finance or financialization that drives today’s imperialism is undermining the very basis of capitalist commodity production itself.
During the early twentieth century, though finance capital was in its early stage, Lenin was farsighted enough to note its destructive nature. In today’s imperialism, this reactionary essence of finance capital pinpointed by Lenin has assumed a qualitative leap through financialization and has become terribly destructive. Lion’s share of international financial transactions today does not serve any productive function, but serve purely financial speculation such that production can be compared to “a bubble on a whirlpool of speculation.” Taking the US as an example, the dollar value of financial transactions there that was more than two times of the GDP in 1970, rose to more than five times in 1980 and to more than fifty times in 2000. By the turn of the twenty-first century, when the floodgates of financial speculation started opening up, the total value of annual financial transactions in US had reached the $ 500 trillion mark whereas its GDP was $ 10 trillion. In 2006, just an year before the first “global meltdown” (the so called “sub-prime crisis” in US followed by the “sovereign debt crisis “ in EU and recession in China) of the twenty-first century, the value of international “derivative trading” alone reached $1200 trillion when the GDP of US amounted to $ 12.456 trillion, around one-hundredth of the former. The same trend was repeated in other countries too. Accommodation of the interests of speculative finance capital, the primary form of which has been cross-border “hot money flows” became the major concern of comprador regimes at the behest of IMF, Multilateral Investment Guaranty Agency, TRIMs provisions of WTO and so on. Thus internationalization of finance has not only reduced the maneuverability of comprador regimes but also exposed the countries to the turbulences and instabilities arising from “hot money flows” crossing ‘national’ borders within split seconds.
In such a scenario, where the driving force of profit accumulation has been financial speculation rather than production, world is witnessing the paradoxical situation of growing wealth concentration with corporate billionaires even as world economy is reeling under slump. No doubt, this accumulation of wealth by financial oligarchs and global inequality reaching hitherto unknown levels in the entire history capitalism, according to Marxist analysis, is invariably rooted in the extraction of surplus value from living labour. But in a situation where employment and mass consumption are going down (based on global data), development of cracks in the extraction of surplus value is inevitable. This specific crisis under financialization or “corporatization” is to be understood in relation to the transformation that has taken place in finance capital during the postwar neocolonial phase of imperialism. During the initial decades of neocolonial plunder, finance capital accumulated profit mainly through the provision of loans to industry, engaging in commercial banking operation and supplying loans to housing. In that sense, there was a fairly direct relationship between the extraction of surplus value from the workers by capital and the appropriation of a significant portion of that surplus value by finance capital. However, due to the inherent contradiction of capitalism, this so called “coalescence’ of finance and industry and accumulation of wealth have become unviable since the advent of “stagflation” in the 1970s. Confronted with this new crisis and downturn in profit, as already noted, through a shift in neocolonial policy towards neoliberalism, imperialism resorted to a reorganization and restructuring of both the spheres of production and circulation such that accumulation of wealth was increasingly separated from the creation of value. The outcome has been financialisation on the one hand, and deindustrialization, outsourcing, casualization, “jobless growth” (large-scale unemployment and under-employment as a permanent phenomenon), etc., on the other, leading to a galloping of profits and deterioration in the real earnings of workers as two aspects of the same process.
Obviously, there are definite limits for surplus value extraction trough financialization. As a greater proportion of surplus value is extracted from the workers and toiling masses through a whole set of complex financial processes, the purchasing power of the broad masses depreciates leading to the so called ‘realization crisis’. Ultimately, the profits from financial speculation are claims to the surplus value which is extracted from the working class. That is, though the appropriation of surplus value by finance capital apparently takes place in financial markets and speculative spheres, it is ultimately related to the extraction of surplus value from the sphere of production which is lagging behind. That is, the root of the crisis is to be traced to production relations rather than confining to the realm of finance. More precisely, in spite of world’s leading capitalists today holding greater proportion of world wealth than ever in history, the fraction of it being invested productively has never been lower. It is leading to an aggravation in inequality and loss of purchasing power for the masses leading to an intensification of capital’s “realization crisis” further.” Even as the most unproductive, conspicuous consumption by the parasitic financial oligarchy and ruling classes grows leaps and bounds, the purchasing power and consumption levels of the broad masses of people are going down everywhere. At a global level, all these have enforced a redistribution of wealth and income from the neocolonial countries to the imperialist powers and from the workers and the oppressed people to the corporate oppressors in general.
A noticeable trend in this context has been the huge accumulation of financial wealth by the comprador bourgeoisie from dependent countries acting as junior partners of imperialist monopolies. Internationalization of capital has also enabled these sections specialized in money-spinning financial, stock and real estate speculation to enter world financial and monetary circulation channels with their financial accumulation and integrate themselves with imperialist financial and investment centres. Today imperialism has succeeded to extend this financial integration even to the micro or local level under the camouflage of “financial inclusion” through micro-finance social networks linking the “global” with the “local”. This has further contributed to the undermining of the economic and political structures of neocolonial countries, as is exemplified by the efforts of ruling regimes even in countries like Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, etc., to accommodate the speculative interests of global finance capital, at the behest of IMF, World Bank, WTO, etc.
IN THE beginning of the twenty-first century digital flows that connect the world more than ever were practically nonexistent. But their impact on economic growth today is at par with the centuries-old trade in goods and broadband connections have become more important than shipping lanes. And during the past one decade, the amount of cross-border bandwidth that is used has grown around 50 times from less than 4000 gigabits per second in 2006 to more than 220000 gigabits per second in the beginning of 2016 , and is projected to increase by an additional eight times by 2020. While internet penetration in US is estimated at three-fourth of the population, the same is two-third in EU and one-third in Asia whereas the “digital divide” (people having no access to internet), as a manifestation of global inequality, is most revealing in sub-Saharan Africa. Flows of information, searches, communication, multimedia, images, video transactions, ecommerce, intra-company traffic, data, text, articles, etc., continue to surge. In addition to transmitting valuable streams of information and ideas in their own right, data flows enable the movement of goods, services, finance, and people. Virtually every type of cross-border transaction now has a digital component. According to bourgeois experts, over a decade, all types of digital flows acting together have raised world economic growth by 10.1 percent (equal to $7.8 trillion in 2014) over what would have resulted in a world without any cross-border flows!
Of course, nobody can gloss over the significant role played by “digitization” and “informatization” in differentiating contemporary imperialism from its twentieth century counterpart. As already noted, the emergence and transformation of ICT has been a catalyst in the internationalization of capital (at the sphere of both production and circulation) since the late 1960s. Digital flows which are crucial and most concentrated in the sphere of monetary and financial transactions have imparted a qualitative dimension to the global operations of finance capital in the 21st century and the domination by MNCs from imperialist countries is very striking in the sphere of digitization also. Digitization also prompts various analysts to characterize the transformation of the “industry-based” world to “information-based” and “knowledge-based” one. Some have even characterized 21st century capitalism as “informational capitalism” compared to “laissez-faire capitalism” of 19th century and “corporate capitalism” of 20th century. However, it would be an exaggeration to interpret today’s imperialism as “informational imperialism” since such a formulation would negate the centrality of production process, capital circulation, commodity trade and military aggressions. While playing an important role in today’s imperialism, digital flows are still subsumed under finance capital (class relations among and within nations), and the “digital divide” by deskilling those having no internet access is widening inequalities at all levels. Large “digital gaps” between a handful of imperialist countries and the rest of the world are conspicuous.
“Digital imperialism”, while reinforces finance capital’s global reach at minimum cost through “leaner” and more efficient ways facilitated by digital platforms and tools, the regime of flexible specialization and accumulation unleashed by digitization has created new challenges before the working class as traditional approaches of organizing labour are becoming less effective in the “digital era.” “Digital relations of production” that are shaped by informal or unorganized, unpaid, underpaid, super-exploited, “slave” labour today yield finance capital inexhaustible and complex network of interconnected, global avenues of exploitation, and plunder. Emergence of transnational cyberspace as a tool of corporatization, communication and coordination can restructure not only the economic sphere but also can manipulate political and cultural systems by creating “intangible” or “virtual” “cultural products” such as knowledge, information, ideas, symbols, codes, texts, linguistic figures, images, etc. Suffice it to say that an objective analysis of digitization as the newest frontier of contemporary imperialism from the Marxist perspective is indispensable for the proletariat.
PLUNDER of nature and ecological destruction which were inseparable from the capitalist accumulation process have reached the level of a global environmental catastrophe in today’s imperialism. In his book ‘Dialectics of Nature’ Engels had pointed out how the ‘primitive accumulation’ of capital under the colonization process led to irreparable damages to global environment in the process of installing factories, plantations, mines without any concern for vulnerable or sensitive environment and ecological balance. However, in the post World War II period, utilizing the technical advances finance capital’s intensified exploitation of people and nature has led to unprecedented pressure on the ecology of the earth. The global market expansion and change in the life styles and growth in the conspicuous consumption by a tiny elite have directly contributed to the “global warming”, which by changing existing climatic patterns will result in food scarcity on a global level, massive displacement of people, drinking water scarcity and so on leading to the worsening of already existing inequalities. It was in this context that the CPI (ML) Red Star in its Party Program has incorporated the “contradiction between capital and nature” as a major contradiction of the imperialist system. Today, as ecology has come to the centre-stage of policy decisions and as world people’s ecological consciousness is ever-growing, there has been a spurt in the activities of several agencies including international NGOs specializing in environmental questions. But most of them are conspicuously silent on finance capital’s neocolonial interests behind the issue. Thus the whole issue of ecology and environment which is inseparably linked up with imperialist globalization today is being depoliticized in the interests of ruling classes.
At this juncture, as an inseparable component of the struggle for building up an egalitarian social order, the ICM has yet to concretely put forward an alternative development paradigm that stands for a harmonious co-evolution of nature and human society. During its initial years, the Soviet Union led by Lenin upheld a level of ecological consciousness and ecological conservation which was well in advance of anything that existed in the capitalist countries at that time. However, from the 1930s onward, the whole development orientation began to shift towards a one-sided emphasis on “productive forces” and such ideas as “catching up with the West”, “GDP as yardstick of economic growth”, etc. gradually got official recognition leading to the emergence of bureaucratic and technocratic decision-making in the ‘development’ process. Though Mao Tsetung has attempted to rectify this mistake by his well-known conceptualization of “On the Ten Major Relationships” while discussing “on the problems concerning socialist construction and socialist transformation”, that was completely abandoned following the process of capitalist restoration and China’s eventual integration with imperialism.
Parallel to the rise and fall of the socialist initiative on development, in the context of the transition from colonialism to neocolonialism, imperialism took concerted efforts to use development itself as an ideological weapon against socialism and progressive people’s movements. By the time of decolonization itself, a whole set of “modernization theorists”, Keynesian policy experts and imperialist think tanks who were integrally associated with American social science institutions, US State Department and Bretton Woods organizations had propounded a ‘universal theory of development’ or ‘development paradigm’ applicable to the whole world irrespective of the historical trajectories of countries. In essence, under this mainstream development model, development itself has been institutionalized as a corollary of the unabated global expansion of finance capital and countries were required to open up their economies to the unfettered flows of foreign capital. With the collapse of this “development optimism” in the context of the advent of stagflation since the 1970s, coupled with financial speculation plunder of nature has become the major source of neoliberal accumulation today. When internationalization of finance capital has reached its farthest limits resulting in an unprecedented ecological catastrophe, what requires is a grasp of the dynamics of class relations behind the plunder of people and nature by capital, and traversing the prolonged road to a people-oriented development in harmony with nature, democracy and socialism. To reiterate, at a time when ecology has become one of the central political questions today, the inability of ICM to evolve an alternative proletarian approach to the whole question of mainstream development paradigm has become a challenging task.
De-politicization and fascistization
INTEGRAL to the global expansion and internationalization of finance capital under neoliberalism has been imperialism’s all out ideological-political offensive against socialist and democratic forces. The main task of postmodernism and post-Marxism as ideologies of neoliberalism has been diversion of people’s attention from the global operations of finance capital on the one hand, and negation of the primacy of working class political struggles in social transformation on the other. Taking advantage of the ideological and political setbacks suffered by ICM, the ultimate objective of the wide range of cultural and ideological streams relayed by postmodernism has been depoliticizing the working class and oppressed peoples. Backed by such ideologies, international funding agencies, a whole set of NGOs and so called civil society organizations are working overtime to camouflage the laws of dynamics underlying the material foundations of international finance capital and any mention of even the term imperialism itself is conspicuously absent in the diverse postmodern and post-Marxist alternatives or “discourses’ proposed by them. Negating the class essence of imperialist oppression and reorienting everything to the “cultural logic” of modern capitalism, these ideologies aim at, as already noted, depoliticizing and diverting of the working class and oppressed peoples away from anti-imperialist struggles. The entire categories associated with modernity such as enlightenment, ideals of secularism, and democracy are characterized as a “baggage”, while religion, ethnicity, race, caste and other pre-modern and pre-capitalist “identities” are suggested as the “preferred cohesion of the oppressed” against the injustices of the modern world. Postmodern romanticizing of the “orient”, glorification of past identities as “subaltern cultures”, along with the bouncing back of several religious fundamentalist, obscurantist, chauvinistic, xenophobic and autarkic reactionary trends, all in the guise of fighting the “evils of capitalism” are working in full swing to turn back the clock of history.
The tilt towards neo-fascism in its diverse manifestations at a global level today is inseparably linked up with this depoliticizing of the masses. Fascism has been the outcome of the intensification of the internal contradictions of imperialism. As Comintern rightly said, fascism outbreaks when the inherent contradictions of imperialism sharpen, the severity of which is such that it cannot be resolved through normal methods of surplus value extraction by finance capital. The concrete manifestations of fascism-”terrorist dictatorship of finance capital” as defined by Comintern- resulting from interpenetration or merger between monopoly capital and bourgeois political leadership that first appeared during the inter-war period in Germany and Italy in the form of Nazism and Fascism are a much discussed topic. The situation today where under the veil of bourgeois democracy corporate billionaires have the reins of of state power under their control, ever-mounting imperialist crisis is manifested in incessant corporate assaults on working class and oppressed peoples everywhere. Consequently, working class struggles and people’s discontent are surging in every part of the globe in one form or another. In the absence of a revolutionary leadership having a political alternative capable of leading these struggles to transform the system, the economic, social and political disruptions resulting from the crises are used by corporate neo-fascists and their political representatives to impose authoritarian and dictatorial methods on the people. The developments in Britain leading to Brexit, the advent of Trump in the US, the victory of AFD in German local elections, the rise of Marine Le Pen’s Party in France, the Brazilian coup, the ultra-right wing Hindu supremacist Modi regime in India, and so on are concrete instances of rightward, protectionist, chauvinistic, and xenophobic shift in political-economic relations at a global level. Quite reminiscent of the fascist ascendancy of the1930s, reactionaries of all hues are profusely using rhetorical, demagogic, populist, ill-digested and mutually contradictory proposals to manipulate public opinion and confuse the masses in the depoliticized context as already noted. Immigrants, refugees, low-castes, racial and religious minorities, are blamed for all the “misfortunes”. With the help of corporate media, apparatuses of the state, vigilante groups and storm troopers, hatred, suspicion and even direct attacks are systematically spread and enforced to divide and dismember people’s fighting unity against corporate capital.
WHILE analyzing the major trends in contemporary imperialism, it is to be unequivocally stated that unlike in the past crises where temporary recoveries were possible, the developments under neoliberalism have imparted an irreversible dimension to imperialist crisis. The present world crisis of imperialism that intensifies day by day has been the outcome of the reproduction and piling up of all its inherent contradictions on an unprecedented scale. Further, the internationalization of finance capital through a quarter century of globalization has transformed every crisis appearing in any part of the world into a global one. The euphoria on global expansion of market created by the collapse of East Europe and Soviet Union and capitalist restoration in China followed by their eventual integration with imperialist market is no more. The initial attraction to neoliberal ideologies backed by globalization has lost its steam. The economic, social, cultural and ecological crisis arising from globalized imperialism today is threatening the very sustenance of humankind. The crisis is systemic and irresolvable within the imperialist system and space for maneuvers is also fast depleting. However, as Lenin pointed out, there is no final crisis for capitalism. Until being thrown away, imperialism will carry on devising existential strategies putting heavier and heavier burdens on the backs of people. A revolutionary intervention led by the international working class with a political alternative is the only solution. To provide a fresh basis for this crucial task, the Marxist theory of imperialism has to be enriched further based on a concrete understanding of the laws of motion of finance capital today.
Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 25
Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
Mao Zedong, Selected Works, Vol. V
‘Fourth Comment of the CPSU’ entitled “Apologists of Neocolonialism” (Great Debate)
John Bellamy Foster and Henryk Szlajfer, “Introduction,” in Foster and Szlajfer, eds., The Faltering Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)
Samir Amin, The Law of Worldwide Value (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010)
Atilio A. Boron, Empire and Imperialism (London: Zed Press, 2005)
Geoffrey Pilling, The Crisis of Keynesian Economics: A Marxist View (Croom Helm, 1986)
P J James, Imperialism in the Neocolonial Phase (Massline Publication, Kerala, 2015)
THE Communist forces the world over are observing the centenary of the October Revolution from 7th November, 2016, to 7th November, 2017, as part of their struggle for advancing the World Proletarian Socialist Revolution by drawing lessons from it. The international Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations (ICOR) have also called for observing it internationally. These programs are being organized when the International Communist Movement (ICM) is passing through a critical period. It is generally accepted among the Marxist-Leninist forces that the communist movement started facing severe challenges and setbacks, in the main, from the time of the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956 which embraced revisionist positions abandoning the socialist path. When the ICM and the Communist movement in different countries started confronting this crisis, utilising this opportunity the imperialist camp and its lackeys further intensified the counter revolutionary offensive against the revolutionary movement as a whole, which they had started right from the time the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848. Marx and Engels had introduced it with these words:”A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered in to a holy alliance to exorcise this specter”. When the ICM was facing crises and setbacks, especially after the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991, these forces of the old world joined hands to ‘exorcise’ the Communist movement for ever in a more frenzied form, by screaming slogans like “end of history” and “socialism is dead”. The Communist movement can take significant steps forward only by recognizing the setbacks suffered, finding the reasons for them, making concrete analysis of the present situation, and by developing its theoretical orientation and practice according to present realities, taking lessons from the positive and negative aspects of the past experiences.
It is in this context the importance of the Resolution on Launching Theoretical Offensive for Communist Resurgence adopted by the Tenth Congress of the CPI (ML) Red Star in 2015 should be seen. It says: “What does such an offensive entail? (a) we have to undertake a thorough study and analysis to identify the causes of the collapse of the erstwhile socialist countries, especially Soviet Union and China; (b) we have to launch a vigorous ideological campaign to establish across society the superiority of communism over the present ruling system as well as against various alien tends; (c) we have to develop Marxism- Leninism on the basis of a concrete analysis of the concrete situation....” In the concluding paragraph it states: “...We must boldly seize the real questions before the people in today’s situation and must scientifically search out the solutions. We must unsparingly lay bare our own history, the history of the communists in India and all over the world...” It is based on this orientation the CPI(ML) Red Star has taken up the analysis of the various aspects of the experience of the October Revolution and of the socialist construction in Soviet Union. As part of this process, this paper focusses on the experience of the socialist construction in Soviet Union.
By the end of 17th century, the French Revolution had established the ideological motifs of the modern capitalist societies through its famous slogan: “liberty, equality, fraternity”. It laid the foundation for secularism and democracy based on universal suffrage. As a leap forward, the Paris Commune provided a proletarian stand point to break away from the capitalist path and to take up the socialist transition. Evaluating the lessons of the Paris Commune, Marx wrote:”The direct antithesis to the empire was the Commune. The cry of the “social republic” with which the February Revolution was ushered in by the Paris proletariat did but express a vague aspiration after a republic that was not only to supersede the monarchical form of class rule, but class rule itself. The Commune was the positive form of that republic”. Though the Commune was soon suppressed by the combined forces of the capitalist states, it had given a new fillip to the working class movement. Following October Revolution, while launching the socialist construction, the Bolsheviks led by Lenin tried to take of from the experience of Paris Commune.
In the present situation, when the ICM has suffered severe setbacks and the communists are trying to find the reasons for it, what were the positive contributions as well as the weaknesses in the socialist transition taken up in the Soviet Union calls for a serious study. Then only the role played these weaknesses and deviations in the degeneration of Soviet Union later to a bureaucratic state capitalist dictatorship and eventually to its disintegration can be correctly evaluated. Presently, what should be the revolutionary approach towards advancing socialist construction and the path of sustainable development taking lessons from these positive and negative experiences are questions of cardinal importance before the communists. It is with this perspective the evaluation of the experience of the socialist construction in the Soviet Union is attempted below.
Socialist transition in the Soviet Union
SOON after the success of the October Revolution, The Constituent Assembly was constituted which proclaimed Russia as a Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. All powers, centrally and locally, were vested in these Soviets. Besides this the Resolution stated: (1) The Russian Soviet Republic is established on the principle of a free union of free nations, as a federation of Soviet national republics. II. Its fundamental aim being to abolish all exploitation of man by man, to completely eliminate the division of society into classes, to crush the resistance of the exploiters, to establish a socialist organisation of society and to achieve the victory of socialism in all countries; (2) Private ownership of land is hereby abolished. All land together with all buildings, farm implements and other appurtenances of agricultural production, is proclaimed the property of the entire working people; (3) The Soviet laws on workers’ control and on the Supreme Economic Council are hereby confirmed for the purpose of guaranteeing the power of the working people over the exploiters and as a first step towards the complete conversion of the factories, mines, railways, and other means of production and transport into the property of the workers’ and peasants’ state. (4) The conversion of all banks into the property of the workers’ and peasants’ state is hereby confirmed as one of the conditions for the emancipation of the working people from the yoke of capital. (5) For the purpose of abolishing the parasitic sections of society, universal labour conscription is hereby instituted. (6) To ensure the sovereign power of the working people, and to eliminate all possibility of the restoration of the power of the exploiters, the arming of the working people, the creation of a socialist Red Army of workers and peasants and the complete disarming of the propertied classes are hereby decreed. Soon decrees were also issued to ensure equal wages for equal work and equal rights to women in all fields.
Expressing its firm determination to free mankind from the clutches of finance capital and imperialism, which in the most criminal of wars till then, the First World War, had drenched the world in blood, the Constituent Assembly endorsed the policy pursued by Soviet power of denouncing the secret treaties, organising most extensive fraternisation with the workers and peasants of the armies in the war, and achieving at all costs, by revolutionary means, a democratic peace between the nations, without annexations and indemnities and on the basis of the free self-determination of nations. With the same end in view, the Constituent Assembly insisted on a complete break with the barbarous policy of bourgeois civilisation, which has built the prosperity of the exploiters belonging to a few chosen nations on the enslavement of hundreds of millions of working people in Asia, Africa and Latin America, in the colonies in general, and in the small countries.
Thus the newly born socialist state confiscated the properties of the capitalist and landlord classes, brought the industries under the leadership of workers’ soviets, implemented revolutionary land reforms which established the control of ‘land to the tillers’ and took up the challenge of socialist construction mobilizing the masses. They were taken up combating the economic blockade of the imperialist forces and the backwardness of the economy of the pre-revolutionary Russia. It was a great beginning, very soon advancing towards fulfilling the basic requirements including food, clothing, housing, healthcare, education and employment for all. Along with this, significant victories were achieved in carrying forward the task of modernizing and developing the industry and agriculture, launching SU on the path of socialist transformation. For the first time in human history, the Five Year Plans were launched to organize the economy in the benefit of the toiling masses.
The Paris Commune gave a great example of how to combine initiative, independence, freedom of action and vigour from below with voluntary centralism free from stereotyped forms. So the orientation provided in SU was that the Soviets should follow the same road. The Soviets must work more boldly and display greater initiative. All “communes” — factories, villages, consumers’ societies, and committees of supplies, were asked to compete with each other as practical organisers of accounting and control of labour and distribution of products. The programme of this accounting and control were made simple, clear and intelligible to all — everyone to have bread; to have sound footwear and good clothing; to have warm dwellings; everyone to work conscientiously; not a single rogue to be allowed to shirk their work; not a single rich man who violates the laws and regulations of socialism to be allowed to escape the fate of the rogue, which should, in justice, be the fate of the rich man.
Two days after taking power in 1917 Lenin’s government issued the decree “On Land”. It declared all forests, waters, and subsoil minerals to be the property of the state and arrogated these resources to the states exclusive use. The government enacted a basic law “On Forests” [14 May 1918] provided for the creation of a Central Administration of Forests of the Republic to manage the forests on the basis of planned reforestation and sustained yield. The forests were divided into an exploitable sector and a protected one; the purposes of the latter included erosion control, protection of water basins, and significantly, “the preservation of monuments of nature”. Lenin argued: “In order to protect the sources of our resources, we must act in accordance with scientific-technical laws. For example, if the subject is the renting out of forests we must see to it that the forestry industry conducts itself properly. If we are talking about oil, then we must organise against spillage. This, it is necessary to enforce adherence to scientific-technical laws and to the principle of rational exploitation.”
For the Protection of Monuments of Nature, Gardens, and Parks, SU institutionalised the demand for Zapovednik, nature reserves that were also protected territories devoted to scientific research. On 4 May 1920 the first of them was created as the first protected territory anywhere to be created by a government exclusively in the interests of the scientific study of nature. By 1925 there were nine state zapovedniki with a gross area of nearly one million hectares, as well as fifteen local ones. In total, these reserves were larger than the Yellowstone National Park. By 1929 the USSR’s nature reserves had grown to sixty one. Territorially, their combined area had increased by nearly four times, to nearly 4 million hectares. This substantial increase was partially the result of the striking proliferation of local zapovedniki in this period; they increased to forty-six incorporating almost 2 million hectares.
As a result of all these steps, by 1930s when the whole imperialist camp was facing Great Depression and severe economic and political crisis, they did not affect the planned economy of the SU. All these great achievements through socialist construction, and the support extended by the Communist International (Comintern) formed in 1919 greatly inspired the national liberation movements in the Asian, African, Latin American countries. They helped the spread of Marxism all over the world.
Evaluating the results of the First Five year Plan Stalin wrote: “ the restoration and development of heavy industry, particularly in such a backward and poor country as ours is an extremely difficult task; for, as is well known, heavy industry calls for enormous financial expenditure and the existence of a certain minimum of experienced technical forces..... The Party knew how heavy industry had been built in Britain, Germany and America. It knew that in those countries heavy industry had been built either with the aid of big loans, or by plundering other countries, or by both methods simultaneously. The Party knew that those paths were closed to our country. What, then, did it count on? It counted on our country’s own resources. It counted on the fact that, with a Soviet government at the helm, and the land, industry, transport, the banks and trade nationalized, we could pursue a regime of the strictest economy in order to accumulate sufficient resources for the restoration and development of heavy industry. The Party declared frankly that this would call for serious sacrifices, and that it was our duty openly and consciously to make these sacrifices if we wanted to achieve our goal. The Party counted on carrying through this task with the aid of the internal resources of our country — without enslaving to credits and loans from abroad”. So, “as a result of all this the Soviet Union has been converted from a weak country, unprepared for defence, into a country mighty in defence, a country prepared for every contingency, a country capable of producing on a mass scale all modern means of defence and of equipping its army with them in the event of an attack from abroad”.
In the field of agriculture, the Soviet leadership proceeded from the fact that without collectivization it would be impossible to lead the country on to the high road of building the economic foundations of socialism, impossible to free the vast masses of the labouring peasantry from poverty and ignorance. In this connection, the task of the five-year plan in the sphere of agriculture was to unite the scattered and small, individual peasant farms, which lacked the possibility of using tractors and modern agricultural machinery, into large collective farms, equipped with all the modern implements of highly developed agriculture, and to cover unoccupied land with model state farms. The task was to convert the U.S.S.R. from a small-peasant and backward country into one of large-scale agriculture organized on the basis of collective labour and providing the maximum output for the market.
As Lenin had pointed out: “One may or may not be determined on the question of nationalisation or confiscation, but the whole point is that even the greatest possible ‘determination’ is not enough to pass from nationalisation and confiscation to socialisation. The misfortune of our ‘Lefts’ is that by their naive, childish combination of the words ‘most determined policy of socialisation’ they reveal their utter failure to understand the crux of the question, the crux of the ‘present’ situation. The misfortune of our ‘Lefts’ is that they have missed the very essence of the ‘present situation’ (the situation in a country under socialist transformation like SU- kn), the transition from confiscation (the carrying out of which requires above all determination in a politician) to socialisation (the carrying out of which requires a different quality in the revolutionary masses).
“Yesterday, the main task of the moment was, as determinedly as possible, to nationalise, confiscate, beat down and crush the bourgeoisie, and put down sabotage. Today, only a blind man could fail to see that we have nationalised, confiscated, beaten down and put down more than we have had time to count. The difference between socialisation and simple confiscation is that confiscation can be carried out by ‘determination’ alone, without the ability to calculate and distribute properly, whereas socialisation cannot be brought about without this ability.”
It is clear that Lenin was contrasting the juridical act of nationalisation (or confiscation) with the great leap of socialisation, that is, with control by society or, “in its name”, by the state, over what has been nationalised or confiscated. It is the greatest challenge any communist party shall face after the capture of political power and confiscation or nationalization of the control over the property, the challenge of socializing the ownership of the property and ralations of production. This calls for transferring the political power that was hitherto existing to the power of the hitherto exploited classes or advancing toards establishing people’s power in all fields, at all levels. The experience of the degeneration of Soviet Union and later of all hitherto socialist countries to bureaucratic state capitalism shows that in spite of all these warnings and teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin, the challenge could not be taken up and resolved. As a result, instead of socialization, bureaucratization took place in different forms in the former socialist countries. Instead of democatization, bureaucratic dictatorship came in to existence.
Compared to the global situation in the beginning of 1950s when, in spite of the beginning of these weaknesses, the proletarian revolutions were advancing in all the continents leading to one third of the world population living in socialist countries, national liberation movements were emerging and strengthening in a number of countries, and powerful communist parties were leading popular movements in a large number of countries like Indonesia, India etc. But today the situation is drastically different. The capitalist roaders who had started gaining strength in SU and other former socialist countries, later led them to degeneration to capitalist path or to disintegration as happened in Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Checkoslavia like countries. The national liberation movements went astray and almost all the countries formerly under colonial domination came under neo-colonial domination. Under the influence of right or left deviations the communist parties in almost all countries got weakened or disintegrated in to many groups. As a result, today no country is having a powerful communist party capable of leading the present people’s upsurges forward with revolutionary orientation to capture of political power. Alien thoughts and reactionary, communal, caste, racist ideologies spread from imperialist headquarters and by reactionary think-tanks have become so powerful that the Communist ideology is under severe attacks. This is causing many more counter-revolutionary deviations emerging within the existing communist organizations themselves, degenerating them to social democratic ones, talking socialism or waving red flag, but practicing capitalist path. So while observing the centenary of the October Revolution it is necessary to evaluate the history of the ICM with the perspective of finding out the reasons for these severe setbacks suffered by the once powerful movement in spite of the great advances made in socialist construction in SU as pointed out above, and in other socilist countries in the beginning years. Such an evaluation should not to be influenced by subjectivism. Instead it should help us to overcome these problems and to develop the Marxist approach towards the theory and practice of socilist transition from the capitalist path according to present conditions and the concrete situation in each country.
How to evaluate the Soviet experience?
DECLARING the rights of the working and exploited people, the Constituent Assembly constituted immediately after the October Revolution and later the Soviet Constitution had called for socialist organisation of society in all spheres. As pointed out above, the Constituent Assembly further resolved the abolition of Private ownership of land and all other properties. The Soviet laws on workers’ control and on the Supreme Economic Council guaranteed the power of the working people over the exploiters and as a first step towards the complete conversion of the factories, mines, railways, and other means of production and transport into the property of the workers’ and peasants’ state. The conversion of all banks into the property of the workers’ and peasants’ state is hereby confirmed as one of the conditions for the emancipation of the working people from the yoke of capital. For the purpose of abolishing the parasitic sections of society, universal labour conscription were instituted. To ensure the sovereign power of the working people, and to eliminate all possibility of the restoration of the power of the exploiters, the arming of the working people, the creation of a socialist Red Army of workers and peasants and the complete disarming of the propertied classes were decreed
An evaluation of the Soviet experience shows that during later years the importance of the Soviets started getting neglected or they were not developed to the extent needed as the real centers of people’s political power. As the Five Year Plans and collectivization of agriculture started, instead of experimenting how they can be carried forward through the Soviets or linking with all round democratization, ensuring increasing people’s participation, the influence of centralization increased in the name of improving efficiency. The Five Year Plan targets started getting decided with a view to overtake production figures of imperialist countries. Various studies have pointed out that probably the Stakhnovite movement of 1935 was almost the last effort to unleash people’s initiative in socialist construction. As the threat of fascist attack increased, and later when the attack did take place, in spite of calling for people’s initiative, the one sided emphasis on centralization went on increasing with the short term gains being given top priority. Naturally, these developments led to bureaucratic tendencies gaining strength in all fields. The Soviets started disappearing in practice. Of course the loss of large number of experienced comrades, first during the resistance to imperialist aggression during 1919 to 1922 and later during the anti-fascist war, also should be taken in to consideration while evaluating the reasons for the emergence of capitalist tendencies at various levels.
From the lessons of Paris Commune Marx had pointed out that the process of developing democratization after the capture of political power by the proletariat and other oppressed classes cannot be seen in abstract. It was emphatically pointed out that using the capitalist state apparatus socialist transition cannot be implemented. So, the socialist transition is integrally linked to evolving the process of destroying the reactionary state apparatus and replacing it with basically different proletarian state instruments. It means how the “the standing army and the police.” and the bureaucratic structure of the state can be overthrown and replaced by basically new ones in their place. As the Commune did not last long it could not give any lessons on organizing production under it. But, in his studies about capital and how the capitalist system works, Marx had pointed out that the proletarians have to overthrow everything the bourgeoisie consider sacrosanct and to create new models in all fields. The Commune initiated this process. That is why he upheld it as the fore runner for the future. For him the proletarians after seizing power have to build revolutionary alternatives to what the capitalist system has created. That is why Lenin, based on the lessons of the Commune, proceeded to develop the Soviets, which had emerged in the course of revolutionary struggles in Russia, as the embryonic forms of people’s political power. To ensure class line, the proletarian state had to develop the trade unions according to new conditions and ensure the role of the proletariat as a class in running the state. When the Soviets started increasingly disappearing in the name of various practical problems which were continuously coming up, and as the role of the organised working class and other sections of the masses in running the state and wielding power went on decreasing, in spite of all socialist assertions the role of the bureaucratic sections in all fields went on increasing. Another aspect which calls for serious evaluation is how far the socialist construction was taken up linked with the perspective of proletarian internationalism, seeing the SU as the base area of world revolution as Lenin had emphasised.
Evaluating the post-SWW world situation in the Problems of Socialism in the SU which was published in 1952 it was stated: “the disintegration of the single, all embracing world market must be regarded as the most important economic sequel of the SWW and of its economic consequences.... the sphere of exploitation of the world’s resources by the major capitalist countries will not expand, but contract; that their opportunities for sale in the world will deteriorate, and that their industries will be operating more and more below capacity. That, in fact, is what is meant by the deepening of the general crisis of the world capitalist system”. Yes, it was a fact that a number of countries had broken away from the imperialist system and to that extent the imperialist control on their market had weakened or lost. But the imperialists were quick to make urgent moves for transforming the hitherto colonila forms of domination with the neo-colonial forms, including the adoption of the GATT agreement besides formation of the IMF and World Bank to counter the damage caused by the advance of the socialist camp or to restrict it. Through these neo-colonial policies the imperialist camp very soon recuperated the losses to a great extent. The failure to make correct study of the post-War imperialist moves including the emergence of neo-colonial offensive by it led to erroneous evaluations which did lot of damage to the development of the Communist movement challenging the counter revolutionary offensive by the US led imperialist camp.
In A Critique of Soviet Economy, Mao wrote: “On the question of heavy industry, light industry and agriculture, the SU did not lay enough emphasis on the latter two and had losses as a result. In addition they did not do a good job of combining the immediate and the long term interests of the people. In the main they walked on one leg...Only technology was emphasized. Nothing but technology, no technical cadre, no politics, no masses. This too is walking on one leg...It mentions economics only, not politics...From first to last it says nothing about the superstructure. It is not concerned with the people, it considers things, not people. Does the kind of supply system for consumer goods help spur economic development or not? It should have touched on this at the least. Is it better to have commodity production or is it better not to? Every one has to study this”. While dealing with the crucial question of developments in the economic base and superstructure on the one hand, and between the economic problems of Soviet Union and the attempts by the imperialist camp led by US imperialism to transform the imperialist plunder from colonial to neo colonial forms on the other are not dealt with. Or as the Soviets writings during the post-war years reveal, even while the imperialist system led by US imperialism was moving ahead fast with the transformation of its colonial forms of plunder to neocolonial forms, there was almost a total lack of understanding about it within the Soviet leadership. As a result the study of the economic problems of the Soviet Union were dealt in isolation, without taking in to consideration the momentous developments taking place around the world. Later, while dealing with the problems faced by the socialist transition in China also, in the article Ten major Relationships, Mao had pointed out the one sided emphasis given to industry in general and heavy industry in particular in the SU as one of its weaknesses. That, in spite of these observations, in China also these obstacles could not be overcome point out the importance that has to be given to such questions in the course of developing a socialist alternative to the capitalist system.
On building socialist alternative to capitalist path
IT IS a fact that the ICM had reached great heights by 1950s. Then, it had looked so powerful that it seemed the socialist camp may crush the imperilist camp. In spite of these, the severe setbacks suffered by it during the last six decades starting with the usurpation of power by the capitalist roaders in SU in 1950s have created extensive frustration and deviations among the communist forces and the masses of the people, especially among the youth and students, the new generation. Still, most of the schools and tendencies including various sections of social democrats on one extreme, to the left sectarians and anarchists on the other extreme are in self-satisfied delusions. At the same time, during these decades the imperialist system has transformed its colonial forms of plunder and oppression to neo-colonial forms; it has taken monopolization and inernationalization of capital and production to unprecedented levels; speculative character of finance capital to its peak; it is imposing its hegemony at global level in more sinister forms through finance capital, market forces, technological advances, armed interventions and reactionary cultural offensive.
While observing the centenary of the October Revolution it is the task of the Marxist-Leninist forces to evaluate the basic reasons for this great setback and develop the understanding to overcome this. The revolutionary theory and practice, not only for the capture of political power, but also for developing the forms and content of socialist transition, for developing a people’s alternative development paradigm breaking away from the capitalist path of development have to be advanced. For this how the present objective situation is different from that of the period when Lenin had put forward his study on Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism should have to be correctly evaluated. Steps are needed to put forward alternative development paradigm against the capitalist path according to present conditions. For this, lessons have to be drawn from the critic of the socialist path pursued in SU given above. As abundant literature is available on this matter from various sources, a serious study of at least a selection of them is also needed to find right lessons.
Presently another major factor to be taken in to consideration while putting forward the concept of socilist alternative to development path is the devastation caused by the capitalist ‘development’ path on nature, leading to an ecological catastrophe. So, a sustainable development path calls for urgent measures to reverse present ecological destruction. It calls for struggling against present consumerist value system also. On the whole, socialist transition should envisage a break from the capitalist path.
Another important aspect is that, as imperialism as a global system is feverishly tralsforming the human society in its own image, the struggle for the socilist development perspective has to be waged with an internationalist approach. While struggling against the Trotskyist aproach towards ‘world revolution’, Lenin had made it clear. He taught that while socilaist construction should be carried forward in SU where the proletariat has succeeded to capture political power, it should be done considering SU as the base area of world revolution. Similarly, he repeated that relations of production can be continously socialised only it the political power is transferred to people as a continous process by developing the Soviets like forms of people’s political power. He also called for giving emphasis to the revolution in the field of superstructure during the socialist transition, which Mao tried to develop by launching the Cultural Revolution in China. All these aspects should be linked in a comprehensive manner while taking up the development of the path of socialist transition, a people oriented sustainable development paradigm, breaking away from the capitalist path and advancing towards Proletarian World Socialist Revolution in order to reach the stage of communism.
Presently when the neocolonization is intensified through neoliberal assault on the people, and when, in spite of increasing resistance from the masses, the rightist trend is getting strengthened imposing thehegemony of finance capital, market forces and technology along with barbarous military assaults with the assistance of communal, racist, casteist and other revanchist, divisive forces everywhere, the wining over of the masses to the revolutionary path calls for serioous efforts to put forward an alternative to the imperilist system in all fields including an alternative socialist development paradigm.
THE last issue of The Marxist-Leninist (Issue no.18) had come out in May last year. The four studies published in that issue (The Significance of Observing the Centenary of October Revolution; On Mythologizing the Past: A Strategy to make the People Uncritical; Caste and Class: Achilles Heel of the Indian Revolution; and Global Ecological Crisis: Sustainability and Equity Issues) were discussed at Central Party School to State and District level party schools. Another issue could not be published in the last eight months. Now the next issue (no. 19) is now coming out in January, 2017, with two articles to be presented in the Central Seminars organized at Hyderabad and Delhi in connection with the centenary of October Revolution. Five more such papers; October Revolution and its relevance to Indian revolution; October Revolution and the role of proletariat and the peasantry; October Revolution and women; October Revolution and culture; and October Revolutio and internationalism and nationalism to be presented in central seminars at Kolkata, Bangalore, Lucknow, Chennai, and Mumbai shall be published in the next issue. This issue also includes two articles of fraternal organizations written in the context of the centenary of October Revolution and two articles related to expanding the Marxist approach towards ecological and developmental questions.
The degeneration of the former socialist countries from the socialist path has raised the basic question regarding the building of an alternative to the capitalist imperialist system dominating the humankind today. It is focussing this aspect the paper: Approach towards Socialist Construction and Development Based on Sustainability and Equality is drafted, inviting serious discussion of this matter. Similarly, the paper: Imperialism Today deals with the transformation that has taken place in the imperialist system compared to what it was during the October Revolution. Such studies and discussions over them are very much required in the context of the setbacks suffered by the communist movement. We are reproducing two articles appeared in the central organs of Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA and Bolshvik Party (North Kurdistan-Turkey) explaining their evaluation of the contributions of October Revolution. We hope that these articles will help to understand the approach of the fraternal forces towards this question
As the gravity of the ecological catastrophe confronting the humankind is intensifying day by day important studies are coming out to analyse how the Marxist school from the beginning approached this question. Similar to vulgarization of other basic Marxist positions, the so called “left’ schools like the Frankfurt School, Ecosocialism groups, ‘Westrn Marxist’ studies etc have come out with misinterpretations of the Marxist approach towards ecological questions also. The article: Marx’s Ecology and the Left by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, reproduced from The Monthly Review is a very good attempt to expose these various schools and to show that how Marx has shown tht it is the capitalist system which primarily causes the ecological challenges faced by the humankind.
Based on his studies on capitalism, Marx had shown how the development model pursued under it has turned the relation between nature and humankind antagonistic. Based on this we have to challenge the propaganda that climate change crisis is “anthropogenic”. Just by being human, by living in a human society - we have not created the climate crisis. This is a “gift” of the dominant industrial capitalist ‘System’, and should be identified as such - a “systemic” origin crisis. There are many smaller societies who still live within the limits set by nature, who use ‘resources’ but do not plunder nature. And unless the capitalist logic of endless growth is thrown out and replaced by a nature-respecting, equity oriented, just political economy, there is no possibility of stopping catastrophic climate crisis, or the many other crises that it has spawned like global warming. The last two articles published in this issue shall help to carry forward this debate.
We look forward to critical appraisal of the views published in all these articles. Then only the theoretical offensive to develop the Marxist-Leninist understanding according to present concrete conditions will take place in the real sense.
Read The Marxist Leninist Issue # 19: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6OkiGzQ6ml1aGpyTUZIT09wdEU/view?usp=sharing