Sunday, 17 April 2011

Marx And The Progressive Role Of Capitalism

The greatest contribution that Marx made was the Theory of Historical Materialism. With that theory arrived at as he says by himself and Engels independently, they grasped how historical change is conditioned by the material conditions in society that Man confronts in attempting to survive and produce. The limits of the productive forces that Man finds in society condition the way he is able to produce. The very limited nature of those productive forces for Primitive Man shaped the way he met his needs via Collective, Co-operative action. In turn that conditioned the type of societies he lived in, which were themselves collective and co-operative.

The ascent of Man towards Civilisation is similarly conditioned by the way in which these productive forces are themselves developed as a consequence of the way Man himself reacts back on Nature in developing those productive forces. The ability of man to move to ever higher forms of society ultimately leading to Communism is then a reflection of this continual improvement and development of the productive forces. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels spelled out the implications of this theory for the way they understood contemporary society - Capitalist Society - and its implications for the class struggle. They spelled out how this scientific view set them aside from other types of Socialists such as the Moral Socialists like Sismondi, who criticised Capitalism for all of its cruelty and vicissitudes, but failed to see that without it, without its development of the productive forces then all of the benefits that Capitalism brings with its development of those productive forces was impossible. Not only was the development of the productive forces impossible without Capitalism, but Capitalism was impossible without all of the cruelty that went with it, because without the expropriation of the peasants a large working-class needed by the factories could not have been made available. Without the kind of exploitation of those workers by the early forms of Capitalism, via Absolute Surplus Value, the accumulation of Capital would not have been possible. But, without a working-class, Socialilism itself is impossible. That is why they concluded that what Capitalism produces most is its own gravedigger!

I had been planning to write a blog in the near future covering some of these issues in relation to the question "Progressive Imperialism?" However, in what started out as a discussion about intervention in Libya over at the Commune, two comrades led the discussion off on to a debate about these issues. To be honest, I am so shocked that anyone considering themselves a Marxist could challenge its basic assumptions, and scientific base that I wondered whether these contributors were really trolls. Whatever, some of the issues involved are important areas for discussion.

As this was a divergence from the actual thread I agreed with comrades at the Commune that I would create a discussion on these matters here. That is the purpose of this post. Anyone interested should, of course, read the series of comments over at the Commune first.


Boffy said...


Actually if you read what I actually argue you will see that I do not agree with the basic ideas of Leninism/Trotskyism on the nature of the revolutionary party, or the socialist revolution. So, although I don't really know what your comment that I "thinks that Trotsky was comrade 100%" means, it clearly isn't true!

However, to the more substantive point about the quote you provide from him. First, of all its again cherry picking quotes, to fit an argument rather than actually following the advice that Trotsky himself gave "Learn To Think". Trotsky, Lenin, Marx, Engels all made comments in the process of a polemical discussion which can, taken out of context, lead you to believe that they argued the opposite of what they actually believed. Marx in the Communist Manifesto for example says that Socialism is inevitable. But, he didn't believe that, he believed it was ONLY inevitable if workers consciousness was raise, if they organised and fought for it.

But, using even this quote in the way you do shows yet again that you do not grasp the essentials of dialectics, because the way you use the quote from Trotsky is thoroughly formalistic. You do not seem to grasp the idea that it is possible to say that Man is the greatest of all productive forces, and yet recognise that although this is potentially true, even relatively true, it is not ABSOLUTELY true. It is indeed historically conditioned, which is why your original comment was indeed ahistorical. "Learn to think", was the Native American using a bow and arrow, and collective hunting methods more productive than the 19th century wage worker in a British textile factory? Simple answer yes or no?

It was not pedantry to point out that there was no counter-revolution in 1848 only a defeat of the revolution, precisely because of your claim that Bismark was counter-revolutionary not revolutionary. It was not pedantry, because I went on to say that irrespective of what happened in 1848, Bismark was transforming Feudal relations to Capitalist relations, which was progressive and revolutinary. It could only have been counter-revolutionary had he been transforming a workers state back to Capitalism, or Capitalism back to Feudalism!!!

Given that every Marxist knows that the 1848 Revolutions were BOURGEOIS Revolutions not SOCIALIST revolutions, there is no conceivable basis upon which your argument could stand!

Boffy said...

"Dave Black",

Your comment proves beyond doubt who the pedant is. Rather than address any of the substantive debate you prefer to nit-pick over terminology. When proved wrong, you then simply nit-pick over some other term, whilst of course, not conceding that you were wrong on the first point.

Rather than debating the fact that for Marx to have denied the progressive role played by Capitalism in developing the productive forces, would have meant throwing over the whole of his and Engels Theory, which explains history precisely based upon the material changes in society emanating from the development of the productive forces, you chose instead to question whether or not Marx ever used the term "Historical Materialism", the term I like every other Marxist use to describe that theory.

In fact, it would not have mattered if I had chosen to call his Theory "Humpty-Dumpty", a term he certainly did never use to describe it, because what was at issue was not what he called his theory, but the nature and content of the theory itself.

In fact, as I showed Engels did use the term in "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific", a work proof read by marx, and for which he provided a preface in 1880. Rather than accept that even your nit-picking point was wrong, you then simply nit-pick over the term "Dialectical Materialism".

This is not the action of someone interested in genuine discussion. It is the method of the troll. But, in any case there is no record that I can find of Marx or Engels EVER having used or approved the term. It was however, adopted by Stalin and imposed as "Marxist-Leninist" doctrine.