From Karl Marx to Marxkism: Class struggle, two-line struggle and mass line (Part VI)

Junto a Engels, Marx foi o fundador do socialismo científico
Junto a Engels, Marx foi o fundador do socialismo científico

From Karl Marx to Marxkism: Class struggle, two-line struggle and mass line (Part VI)

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In the previous parts of the present article we have tried to demonstrate how the development of Marxism as the scientific ideology of the proletariat has been directly linked to the principal events of the class struggle in Europe, between 1848 and 1871. We have also tried to demonstrate that the Marxist formulations could only be possible because Karl Marx not only participated in but was the main leader of the more advanced revolutionary organizations of the proletariat at that time, the Communist League ( (1848-1852) and the First International (1864-1872).

As a  jefatura of these organizations, Karl Marx forfronted the Red Fraction in the two-line fight against the opportunist  stances within the international working movement. Marxism, therefore, was developed amidst the two-line struggle from which stood out the struggle against Proudhon’s positions in the period of the Communist League and the fight against Bakunin’s anarchism at the First International. Together with them the fight for defeating other variations of the petty-bourgeois socialism as Lassalle’s, in Germany, or bourgeois positions as Mazzini’s, in Italy.

On the other hand, Marxism development as a scientific ideology of the proletariat could not happen in a disconnected way of the political and revolutionary experience of the revolutionary class in Europe. Karl Marx, like no other at his time, managing the mass-line, was able to withdraw the richest lesson from the revolutionary struggles from the proletariat for the political power. The proletarian struggles in France had a particular importance, as much the Working Insurrection, on June, 1848, as the unforgettable Commune of Paris, on March 1871. In assessing these surveys, Marx could gather great teachings that have scientifically systematized and started composing the valuable treasure of the almighty ideology of the proletariat.

In the three previous parts of this article, we have also tried to demonstrate that Marxism has developed itself into two stages: firstly as marx thought and afterwards as marxism. Between these phases it does not occur, by no means, any “epistemological rupture” or something worthwhile: they are just phases which indicate a further deepening and universality of the revolutionary ideology of the proletariat. Marx thought comes up international since it did not only mean the revolution in Germany but all over Western Europe.This thought emerges with its three constitutive parts: marxist philosophy, marxist political economy and scientific socialism. The works which substantiate these three parts as marx thought are: in Philosophy, Misery of philosophy (1847); Political economy, Wage labour and capital (1847); Scientific socialism, Manifest of the Communist Party (1848) and Class struggle in France (1850).

From the theoretical point of view, what makes the passage from marx thought to marxism, in 1867, is the publication of the paramount work O Capital- Critique of the political economy, which First Book1 was the “biggest cannon fire of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie”, according to Engels. While The Capital focus on the scientific comprovation of the inevitability of the capitalist system destruction, the Commune of Paris, four years later, was a demonstration of its practical possibility. In turn, The Hague Congress, in 1872, that expelled the bakunist anarchists from the First International, was an ideological victory of the scientific socialism over the petty-bourgeois socialism. This victory of the proletariat had as the main weapons The Capital and the Message of the General Council of the International which made a precise balance of the Commune of Paris and demonstrated, among other things, the pratical need of the dictatorship of the proletariat as an indispensable condition for the the victory of the socialist revolution.

The three constitutive parts of Marxism presented themselves in a first moment as Marxist philosophy and Marxist political economy in The Capital (1867) and scientific socialism in Message to the General Council (1871). As we can analyse, it will be between hard two-line struggles, this time at the leadership of the Social-Democratic Worker Party of Germany that, for the first time, it will be elaborated and published a systematic formulation of the three constitutive parts of Marxism. Such a work, written by Friedrich Engels, was known as Anti-Düring and was published between 1877 and 1879. We will see how Engels, along the last 10  years of Marx’s life, was assuming everytime more the condition of jefatura of the International Communist Movement (ICM), in a new plight of the class struggle, a period characterized by comrade Lenin as “relatively peaceful” of the capitalism development. We will analyse how, at that period, the most important organic task was the struggle for the constitution of Marxist parties with a large mass basis in every country as a condition for the appearance of a new International. We will also see Marx and Engels’s handling of the massline, taking lessons mostly from Germany and Russia with their new condition of class struggle, including the importance to learn and combine legal and illegal work in a period of steep decline of the revolutionary struggle and enactment of the Anti-socialist Law that has made the Social-Democratic Worker Party of Germany illegal.

1. At the dawn of a new era

The Communist Manifesto from Marx and Engels, published in 1848, gives us a complete and systematic exposition of the doctrine [the marxist one, our note] which continues being the best one so far. Since then the universal history clearly divides into three principal periods: 1) from the 1848 revolution up to the Commune of Paris; 2) from the Commune of Paris up to the Russian revolution; 3) from the Russian revolution on. ( … ) At the end of the first period (1848-1871), a period of storms and revolutions, the pre-marxist socialism dies. The independent proletarian parties were born: the First International (1864-1872) and the German social democracy. ( … )The second period (1872-1904) distinguishes from the first period because of its peaceful character, the absence of revolutions. The Western finished with the bourgeois revolutions. The Eastern was not mature for them yet. The Western starts a preparation of the ‘peaceful’ phases for the period of future transformations. Socialist parties with a proletarian basis – which learn how to use the bourgeois parliamentarism to create its daily press, its educational institutions, tradeunions and cooperatives – are formed everywhere. Marx’s doctrine reaches a complete victory and grows in extension. ( … )The dialectics of history is such that the theoretical victory of marxism obliges its enemies to disguise themselves as marxists. Liberalism, internally rotten, tries to revive under the form of socialist opportunism. They interpret the periof of preparation of forces for the great battles as a renunciation to these battles. ( … ) The opportunists did not have yet finished congratulating with the ‘social peace’ and the absence of storms under ‘democracy’ when a new source of big world storms appeared in Asia. The Russian revolution was followed by the Turkish, Persian and Chinese ones. We live precisely at the time of these storms and its ‘repercussion’ in Europe. Whatever is the destination of the great Chinese republic, for which several ‘civilized’ hyenas sharpen their teeth, no power in the world will restablish the old bondage in Asia and will not sweep away from the Earth face the heroic democratization of the people’s masses in the Asian countries”. (Comrade Lenin – Historical destinations of Karl Marx’s doctrine, 1913; the bold, in the original are in italics).

These words from comrade Lenin give, in a very precise idea, the outlook of the World Proletarian Revolution in the first two periods, 1848-1871 and 1872-1904 and, at the same time, in a bright way, anticipates the great historical events of the third period from 1905 onwards. History has confirmed Lenin’s words and led by Communist Parties in October, 1917 and 1949, respectively, the Great Russian and Chinese Revolutions triumphed. The events which followed the democratic-bourgeoisie defeated in Russia, in 1905, (i.e., the revolutionary struggles in Turkey, Iran and China) were expressions of class struggle of the economic phenomenon systematized by Lenin, in 1916, that is the capitalism development in its last and superior stage: the imperialism.

The period from 1872 to 1904 was “relatively peaceful” and we explain the quotes. It was a period of preparation for the future battles, development of the base conceptions of the new type party. The fact that in this period was formed the first expression of revisionism, especifically in the German social-democracy, cannot obscure our vision and prevent us from taking great lessons that the proletariat had at that moment. It means a period of extreme paradox: the combination, on the one hand, of a great capitalist expansion, above all in Germany and USA, the extension of the democratic liberties to the proletariat, consolidation of the universal suffrage and national parliaments; and on the other hand, the reppression to the revolutionary movement intensifies, detaching the Anti-socialis Law in Germany which forced into illegality, from 1878 to 1890, the Social-democratic Worker Party. This law made the party, the socialist press and the trade-union organizations illegal, while permitted the candidacies of the members of the same Party to the parliament. The German State, in which the aparent liberties and the repression rise combined, was characterized by Marx, in 1875, like this:

“ ( … ) a State that is nothing but a military despotism of a bureaucratic framework and police screening, embellished by parliamentary forms, feudal mixture ingredients and already influenced by the bourgeoisie ( … ).” Karl Marx, Critique to the Gotha Programme.

If, particularly in Germany, this period was crowded with contradictions, at the Czarist Russia the situation was quite clear: monarchy despotism, lack of elections and of a parliament. In turn, great economic transformations have also been conceived at the Russian empire, especially with the decree of the end of servitude in 1861, It was the irrepressible development of capitalism in that country that would provoke inevitably the crisis in the Czarist monarchy and in the autocratic State.

But it is important to see, as Lenin, stresses, that this second period was not a period of open and violent massive struggles, different from 1848-1871, marked by people’s insurrections in all countries at Western Europe, by civil wars as, for instance, the Commune of Paris, 1871, civil war in the USA, from 1864 to 18652, and even by wars between European powers, as the Franco-Prussian war3 1870-1871. Right after 1872, in England, France and Germany, it consolidates the universal suffrage (masculin) and the national parliaments took place. This stability was full of contradictions in a growing antagonism which would manifest years after at the First World War (1914-1918) and , above all, at the Great October Socialist Revolution (1917).

That is why this second period (1872-1904) was the dawn of an era in which the communism founders, Marx and Engels, have actuated and their perfomance was decisive for the creation of the subjective conditions for the Proletarian Revolution. It will be from the political experience of the German social-democracy and the two-line struggle against the petty-bourgeois positions that comrade Lenin will have support to substantiate the political elements of his theory of the new type party. The Leninist concept of the Bolshevik Party appears on his complete theoretical form in the great work What to do?, written in 1902. It was systematized there the whole Lenin’s formulation on a party whose objective was to accomplish the revolutionary political propaganda and not only the trade-union politics and that the most important to be forged in the proletariat was the political consciousness of the need to fight for Power as a principal question and not an economic struggle of labour-union resistance. Lenin could draw all these aspects from the German social-democracy experience, mostly from August Bebel’s leadership, under the command of Marx and Engels.

Marx (1818-1883) and Engels (1820-1895) have devoted the last years of their lives principally to wage the two-line struggle, under the German social-democratic leadership, on different aspects of the party construction and tried to provide economic and political contributions in Russia. They did it because the centre of the working movement that, before 1848, was in England, then France up to 1871, Germany until 1905, had been displaced to Russia.

2. Marx and the perspectives for Russia

After the Hague Congress of the First International (1872), the great Marx’ health conditions have gradually worsened. That is why his activism in ICM became restricted, mostly the works of  theoretical elaboration. It was pending and it was extremely expected the publication of the remaining part of The Capital. The elaboration  of the material of the whole First Book, as well as of most part of the Second and Third Books, was completed in 1865. Nevertheless, from 1873 to 1883, Karl Marx continued a series of complementary studies to enrich the rest of his main  work. As Engels affirmed in Preface to the Third Book of The Capital, during the decade of 1870 and 1880, Marx’s attention was targeted primarily to the situation in Russia. In the decade of 1860, as we have seen previously, Marx had dedicated an important part of his studies to Russia and he studied the Russian idiom to be able to read directly the democratic authors and the rich Russian literature4.

Engels points out in the Preface to the Third Book: “ Due to the variety of the property forms of landownership and the exploitation of agricultural labourers in Russia, it was the country’s responsibility to play, in the part relative to the landholding income, the same role that, at the First Book, England did with respect to the industrial wage labour. Unfortunately, it was not possible for Marx to implement this action”. (Engels, Preface to the Third Book of The Capital).

This plan, however, would be fulfilled by an admirable Russian Marxist who wrote, in 1899, the major work The development of capitalism in Russia, applying in a creative way Marxism in the “concrete analysis of the concrete situation” of that country. Lenin’s oeuvre was obviously founded as much in the conclusions of the Third Book as in a series of articles from Marx and Engels on Russia which had been published in Marx’s last years.

Excluding the Critique to the Gotha Programme (1875), that we will handle separately, Marx’s last oeuvres elaborated for the publication at the period deal with the question of the revolution in Russia: Letter to the Editor of the magazine Patriotic Notes (1877) and the Preface to the Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1882). Besides these works, there is a text which remained long without publication but that helps us to better understand Marx’s ideas on the agrarian and peasantry question in Russia . It is a Letter to Vera Zasulitch5, 1881, as well as their preserved drafts.

 In all those works, Marx continues the two-line struggles against populist ideas. Russian populism may be considered a variation of the petty-bourgeois socialism; but diferent from Proudhon’s, Lassalle’s and Bakunin’s positions, the populists stress the importance of peasantry in the socialist revolution. The problem of the populist stance, according to Marx, is that it idealizes the Russian peasantry role and does not admit the condition of the proletariat as the most advanced class in history, therefore, the leading class of the revolutionary process. The populist positions defended that the rural Russian commune, a remainder form of the collective land tenure, could prevent the development of capitalism in Russia, thus, abbreviating the revolutionary path. Marx and Engels have studied this question deeply.

In his Letter to the Editor, Marx argues with the theoretical populist Michailovski who distorts the conclusions of the First Book of the Capital. On his letter Marx affirms that the form analysed by him on the peasantry expropriation, in the chapter Primitive accumulation, would not serve as a model for the capitalism development in all countries. It was, therefore, an example of how the phenomenon had happened for the first time in history in England. One of the main features of the development of capitalism in Russia, according to Marx, is that expropriation happened in a historical period in which the proletarian revolution progressed firmly in Western Europe. It would conequently be the development of the proletarian revolution, as Marx affirmed in the Preface to the Manifest, that would determine the role the commune could play in the Russian revolution.

Marx decided not to send the letter to the editorial board of the magazine Patriotic Notes, because he believed the publication would put at risk the existence of the magazine, serving as an excuse for the Czarist rule to prohibit its circulation. Nevertheless, the Letter to the Editor was translated into Russian and had a large circulation among the embryonic groups of the Russian social-democracy, playing an imporant role in the elaboration of the guide thought of that revolution.

Comrade Lenin, in one of his first works, Who are the “people’s friends” and how they fight against the social democracy, published in 1894, creates polemics with the same populist author, Maichailovski, against who Marx had written a letter.

The Preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto, 1882, is the last text published by Marx alive and its contents as the context of its publication give it a great meaning. One year before, March 1st , Alexandre II, Russia emperor, was justiced in a revolutionary armed action of the populist organization People’s Will. This was, at the same time, the highest point of the military strategy of the populists and their limit. The strategical crisis faced by that trend as well as the impact of this edition of the Manifesto and the mentioned preface have propelled, in 1883, the foundation of the first organization of Marxist orientation in Russia, the Emancipation of Labour Group, headed by Plekhanov.

The Preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels, besides having in perspective the standpoint that the centre of the revolution was being displaced from Germany to Russia, had at least two other fundamental aspects: the focus of the importance of the armed actions and the role played by the Russian peasantry in that revolution. Let us consider it:

“ The limited movement arena of that time ( December, 1847) is expressed in the last part of the Manifesto : the position of the communists in the case of several opposition parties in different countries. ( … )What a difference today! The European immigration has made possible to North America the agricultural production on huge proportions and the competitiveness has shaken the foundations of the rural property in Europe, as much the large as the small-sized properties. (…) And Russia? During the 1848-1849 revolution, the European bourgeoisie and monarchs saw at the Russian intervention the only way to escape from the proletariat who was awakening. The Czar was proclaimed the head of the European reaction. Today he is, at Gatchina [palace at Saint Petersburg outskirts], a prisoner of the war of the revolution, whereas Russia form a vanguard of the revolutionary action in Europe. (…) In Russia we see that, beside the fast blossoming of the capitalist mischief and the bourgeois property that starts developing, more than half of the lands is collective property of the peasants. The problem now is: could the Russian rural commune – the already deteriorating old form in common ownership of the use of the land – transform itself into a communist ownership? (…)  Nowadays the only possible answer to this is the following: if the Russian revolution is a sign for the proletarian revolution in the Western, so that one complements the other, the present land common ownership in Russia could serve as a starting point for a communist evolution”. (Marx and Engels, Preface to the second Russian edition to the Manifest of the Communist Party).

As to the first aspect, let us see Marx’s positive evaluation before the Czar’s execution, Alexander II; we can see it from his characterization of the condition of his heir to the throne, Alexander III, as a war prisoner in his own palace, afraid of the Russian revolutinaries’ actions. Besides, Marx stresses that “Russia forms the vanguard of the action in Europe”. It is clear that, because of this, despite his acknowledgment of the importane of the revolutionary movement in Russia, Marx was not placing himself totally in accordance with the tatics of individual terror of the populists.

As stated in previous parts of our article, we were able to see how many two-line stuggles Marx waged against the blanquist’s deviations, both in France and within the Communist League. What Marx stresses is the importance of the revolutionary action, since, without it, the revolution is not possible. The Russian social-democracy, its Menshevik fraction, led by Plekhanov, when split with populism, would abandon all the accumulated experience by the Russian revolutionary tradition. Comrade Lenin, on the contrary, will start from this concrete experience, reworking it and correcting it under a proletarian perspective so that, together with the German social-democracy experience, forging the theory of the new-type Party: an organization of centralized vanguard, clandestine, disciplined, for combatting, and composed by professionals of the revolution. Lenin, in his oeuvre What inheritance do we renounce to? deals equally on what should be abandonned of the populist experience and defends to preserve the positive heritage emphasised by Marx in the preface.

As to the peasant question, emphasised by Marx at the characterization of the problem of the Russian rural commune, it has also had its ramifications confirmed with the October Great Socialist Revolution. Comrade Lenin, unlike the Mensheviks who degenerated themselves for economic and tradeunionist view positions, allegedly “focusing the working class”, has followed Marx’s stances. The Bolsheviks have always performed their revolutionary agitations and propaganda among the peasants; it is suffice to recall the example given by Lenin in What to do? on the importance of the communist press dealing with the zemtvos, state bodies in charge of the public administration in regions where the rural communes prevailed. On October, 1917, the second decree of the revolutionary government, headed by Lenin, defined the “land nationalization”. This mesure answered promptly all the poor and middle peasants in Russia and, partly, based itself in the existence, though in dissolution, of this collective form of the Russian peasant land ownership. With this attitude the socialist government guaranteed the peasantry ownership of the land, threatened by the development of capitalism in Russia, and, at the same time, created the conditions for the development of socialism in the countryside. This programmatic definition established by Lenin in a bright manner – besides the acccumulation of work for the Bolsheviks among the peasants – gave a practical solution to the problems highlighted by Marx and Engels on the paramount importance of the worker-peasant alliance for the victory of the proletarian revolution. It will be with the Great October Socialist Revolution that the Marxist truths on Russia will be confirmed and developed.


1. The work, The Capital – A Critique on the political economy, is composed by four books: the First Book: The process of the capital production was published in 1867; the Second Book: The Process of the capital circulation was published in 1885, by Engels ( after Marx’s death); the Third Book: the Global process of the capitalist production was bublished in 1884, by Engels; the Fourth Book: the surplus-value theory was published in a first edition in 1905-1910, under the responsibility of the German social-democracy and a second edition in 1954-1961 by the CPSU.

2. The American Civil War, in USA, in which fought the Northern Unionists against the Southern Confederates. The main democratic achievement of this civil war was the abolition of the black slavery in USA.

3. The Franco-Prussian War occurred between the Second Empire of Napoleon III and the Prussian Empire of Wilhelm IV. Prussia was victorious in the war and the main political result was the conclusion of the Germany unification, hegemonized by Prussia, without the presence of Austria. In 1871, at Versailles Palace, it was proclaimed the creation of the German Empire which would end in 1919 with the creation of the German Republic.

4. Russia populism was a petty-bourgeois socialist trend which defended basically that the peasantry in Russia constituted the most revolutionary class and the remains of the commune ownership of the land could abbreviate the path to communism.

5. Vera Zasulitch was a Russian revolutionary who started her militancy in the ranks of the Russian populism. Later, as Plekhanov, she joined Marxism and together they founded a socialist organization, Work Emancipation. Afterwards she participated in the foundation of the Social-Democrat Labour Party of Russia. With the opening of the two-line struggle at the II Congress of the Party, Vera Zasulitch stayed against Lenin’s Red Fraction (Bolsheviks).

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