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What is Marxism?


In these extracts, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky explain some of the basic ideas, methods and philosophy of Marxism.  

The Committee or a Workers' International applies these ideas and methods in its contemporary Marxist analysis of events. For an introduction to the socialist alternative to capitalism in today's language, go to Socialism in the 21st Century

Marx and Engels called the ideas explained in these extracts 'communism' or 'scientific socialism.'

Today the Socialist Party uses the word 'socialism' rather than 'communism', but we mean the same scientific approach to changing society.

In addition to the extracts below, the Socialist Party recommends Marx's Communist Manifesto with the new Introduction.  We also recommend Trotsky's In Defence of October and Stalinism and Bolshevism on our What About Russia? section, and Lenin's State and Revolution.  These publications (which open in a new window) are also available as pamphlets from Socialist Books.

The Committee or a Workers' International is always available to discuss any questions you may have about these pamphlets. Why not contact us?


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Lenin's Speech at unveiling of a monument to Marx and Engels on November 7, 1918, first anniversary of the Russian revolution

Lenin:  The Historic Service Of Marx And Engels

We are unveiling a monument to the leaders of the world workers' revolution, to Marx and Engels.

Humanity suffered and languished for ages under the oppression of a tiny handful of exploiters who tortured millions of toilers. But while the exploiters of the previous epoch, the landlords, robbed and pressed down the peasants, the serfs, who were disunited, scattered and ignorant, the exploiters of the new period saw before them, among the down-trodden masses, the vanguard of these masses: the industrial factory workers of the towns. The factory united them, town life enlightened them, the common struggle in strikes as well as revolutionary action hardened them.

The great world-wide historic service of Marx and Engels lies in the fact that they proved by scientific analysis the inevitability of the downfall of capitalism and its transition to communism under which there will be no more exploitation of man by man.

The great world-wide historic service of Marx and Engels lies in this, that they indicated to the proletarians of all countries their role, their task, their calling: to be the first to rise in the revolutionary fight against capital and unite around themselves in this struggle all the toilers and the exploited.

We are living in a happy time, when the forecast of the great socialists is beginning to come true. We all see the dawn of the international socialist revolution in a whole number of countries. The unspeakable horrors of the imperialist butchery of the peoples are evoking the heroic upsurge of. the oppressed masses, and are increasing their forces tenfold in the struggle for emancipation.

May the monument to Marx and Engels remind the millions of workers and peasants that we do not stand alone in the struggle. The workers of the more advanced countries are rising side by side with us. Hard battles are still in store for them and ourselves. The yoke of capital will be broken in the common struggle and socialism will finally triumph!


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Lenin: The Three Sources And Three Component Parts Of Marxism

The teaching of Marx evokes throughout the civilized world the greatest hostility and hatred on the part of all bourgeois science (both official and liberal), which regards Marxism as something in the nature of a "pernicious sect." No other attitude is to he expected, since there can he no "impartial" social science in a society which is built up on the class struggle. 

All official and liberal science defends wage-slavery in one way or another, whereas Marxism has declared relentless war on that slavery. To expect science to be impartial in a society of wage-slavery is as silly and naive as to expect impartiality from employers on the question as to whether the workers' wages should be increased by decreasing the profits of capital.

However this is not all. The history of philosophy and that of social science shows with perfect clearness that there is nothing in Marxism resembling "sectarianism" in the sense of a secluded fossilized doctrine originating somewhere away from the high road of development of world civilization. On the contrary, the genius of Marx manifested itself in that he provided the answers to questions which had already been put by the advanced brains of humanity.

His teaching came as a direct and immediate continuation of the teaching of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy, and socialism.

The teaching of Marx is all-powerful because it is true. It is complete and harmonious, providing men with a consistent view of the universe, which cannot be reconciled with any superstition, any reaction, any defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the lawful successor of the best that has been created by humanity in the nineteenth century -- German philosophy, English political economy, and French socialism.

It is these three sources, which are also the three component parts of Marxism, that we will briefly dwell upon.

 

One

The philosophy of Marxism is materialism. Throughout the recent history of Europe, and particularly at the end of the eighteenth century in France, which was the scene of the decisive battle against every kind of medieval rubbish, against serfdom in institutions and ideas, materialism proved to be the only consistent philosophy, true to all the teachings of natural science, hostile to superstitions, cant, etc. The enemies of democracy tried, therefore, with all their energy, to "overthrow," undermine and defame materialism, and defended various forms of philosophic idealism, which always leads, in one way or another, to the defence and support of religion.

Marx and Engels always defended philosophic materialism in the most determined manner, and.repeatedly explained the profound error of every deviation from this basis. Their views are more dearly and fully expounded in the works of Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and Anti-Duhring, which, like the Communist Manifesto, are household books for every conscious worker.

However, Marx did not stop at the materialism of the eighteenth century but moved philosophy forward. He enriched it by the achievements of German classical philosophy especially by Hegel's system, which in its turn had led to the materialism of Feuerbach. Of these the main achievement is dialectics, i.e., the doctrine of development in its fuller, deeper form, free from one-sidedness-the doctrine, also, of the relativity of human knowledge that provides us with a reflection of eternally developing matter. The latest discoveries of natural science-radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements-are a remarkable confirmation of the dialectical materialism of Marx, despite the doctrines of bourgeois philosophers with their "new" returns to old and rotten idealism.

While deepening and developing philosophic materialism, Marx carried it to its conclusion; he extended its perception of nature to the perception of human society. The historical materialism of Marx represented the greatest conquest of scientific thought.

Chaos and arbitariness, which reigned until then in the views on history and politics, were replaced by a strikingly consistent and harmonious scientific theory, which shows how out of one order of social life another and higher order develops, in consequence of the growth of the productive forces how capitalism, for instance, grows out of serfdom.

Just as the cognition of man reflects nature (i.e., developing matter) which exists independently of him, so also the social cognition of man (i.e., the various views and doctrines-philosophic, religious, political, etc.) reflects the economic order of society. Political institutions are a superstructure on the economic foundation. We see, for example, that the various political forms of modern European states serve the purpose of strengthening the domination of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat.

The philosophy of Marx completes in itself philosophic materialism which has provided humanity, and especially the working class, with a powerful instrument of knowledge.

 

Two

Having recognized that the economic order is the foundation upon which the political superstructure is erected, Marx devoted all the greater attention to the study of that economic order. The principal work of Marx, Capital, is devoted to a study of the economic order of modern, i.e., capitalist society.

Classical political economy, before Marx, was built up in England, the most developed capitalist country. Adam Smith and David Ricardo, in their investigations of the economic order, laid the foundations of the labour theory of value. Marx continued their work. He strictly proved and consistently developed this theory. He showed that the value of every commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labour time spent in its production.

Where the bourgeois economists saw a relation of things (the exchange of one commodity for another) Marx revealed a relation between men. The exchange of commodities expresses the connection between individual producers by means of the market. Money signifies that this connection is becoming closer and closer, inseparably combining the entire economic life of the individual producers into one whole. Capital signifies a further development of this connection: the labour power of man becomes a commodity. The wage labourer sells his labour power to the owner of land, of factories and instruments of labour. The worker uses one part of the labour day to cover the expenditure for the maintenance of himself and his family (wages), and the other part of the day he toils without remuneration and creates surplus value for the capitalist, which is the source of profit, the source of wealth of the capitalist class.

The doctrine of surplus value is the cornerstone of the economic theory of Marx.

Capital, created by the labour of the worker, presses upon the workers, ruins the petty owners and creates an army of unemployed. In industry the victory of large-scale production may be seen at once, but we also see the same phenomenon in agriculture: the superiority of big capitalist agriculture becomes greater, the application of machinery grows, peasant economy is caught in the noose of money-capital, it declines and becomes ruined under the burden of a backward technique. In agriculture, the forms of decline of petty production are different, but the decline itself is an indisputable fact.

By beating petty production, capital leads to the increase of the productivity of labour and to the establishment of a monopoly position for associations of the biggest capitalists. Production itself becomes more and more social; hundreds of thousands and millions of workers are linked up in a systematic economic organism, but the product of the collective labour is appropriated by a handful of capitalists. Anarchy of production, crises, a furious hunt after markets, and the insecurity of existence for the masses of population are on the increase.

While increasing the dependence of the workers upon capital, the capitalist system creates the great power of combined labour.

Marx traced the development of capitalism from the first germs of commodity economy and simple exchange, to its highest forms, to large-scale production.

And the experience of all countries, whether old or new, dearly shows year after year, to an ever greater number of workers, the truth of Marx's teaching.

Capitalism has been victorious all over the world, but this victory is only the eve of the victory of labour over capital.

 

Three

After the overthrow of serfdom, when a "free" capitalist society appeared, it was at once discovered that this freedom signified a new system of oppression and exploitation of the toilers. Various socialist doctrines immediately began to arise as a reflection of this oppression and protest against it. But socialism in its first origin was utopian. It criticized the capitalist society, it condemned it and damned it, it dreamed of its destruction, it drew fantastic pictures of a better order and endeavoured to convince the rich of the wickedness of exploitation.

But utopian socialism was unable to show a real way out. It could not explain either the essence of wage-slavery under capitalism, or discover the laws of its development, or find the social force which was capable of becoming the creator of a new society.

In the meantime, the stormy revolution which accompanied the fall of feudalism and serfdom everywhere in Europe, and especially in France, revealed ever more clearly the struggle of classes as the basis of the whole development and its motive force.

Not a single victory of political freedom over the class of feudal lords was won without desperate resistance. Not a single capitalist country was established on a more or less free and democratic basis without a life and death struggle between the different classes of capitalist society.

Marx was a genius because he was able before anyone else to draw from these facts and consistently elaborate the conclusion which world history teaches. This conclusion is the doctrine of the class struggle.

People always were and always will be the stupid victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics as long as they have not learned to discover the interests of one or another of the classes behind any moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always he fooled by the defenders of the old, as long as they will not realize that every old institution, however absurd and rotten it may appear, is kept in being by the forces of one or the other of the ruling classes. And there is only one way of breaking the resistance of these classes, and that is to find, in the very society which surrounds us, and to enlighten and organize for the struggle, the forces which can and, by their social position, must form the power capable of sweeping away the old and of establishing the new.

Only the philosophic materialism of Marx showed the proletariat the way out of the spiritual slavery in which all oppressed classes have languished up to the present. Only the economic theory of Marx explained the real position of the proletariat in the general system of capitalism.

The independent organizations of the proletariat are multiplying throughout the world from America to Japan and from Sweden to South Africa. The proletariat is being enlightened and educated in waging the class struggle, it is ridding itself of the prejudices of bourgeois society, consolidating itself ever more closely and learning to take the measure of its successes; it is hardening its forces and growing irresistibly.

Written March 1913

 

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Continued...