The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Theory of History
Well as any teacher knows on any grade level that is taught to what we call world history. What you begin talking about at this point is the age of discovery and exploration. The new commercial the commercial revolution the printing press the opening up of new mines both in Central Europe and in the newly discovered America as this is what accounts for the fact that the new world comes into being a modern world. The translation from feudal to modern doesn't come about because certain man in feudal times sat down and said My we are backward. Let's push ahead and become modeling. This is what happens. It's the mode of production says marks the way men live in their economic system as a result of these new worlds and discoveries and inventions and techniques makes the old way of life no longer
relevant to the new situation. And so the old way of life has to give to a new corresponding way of life in which even new kinds of people come to the fore again. That is the bourgeoisie the middle class. Well let us go on. Six from forms of development of the forces of production. These relations turn into their fetters. Now all this really means is that once new techniques and a new economic way of life comes into being then the old way of life which might have been perfectly good and relevant and efficient at one time now becomes its own prison house. And for example the system of feudalism in which land was the one and chief source of all value. Well this became completely irrelevant to a society based upon the commercial revolution and where the power
where the expression money talks indicates that the power went from the land owning nobleman to the the commercial to the man of commerce and trade and later industry so that the old system of feudalism which was once fine presumably and progressive in its day better than the primitive capitalism came before the system of feudalism then becomes a maybe a restriction a limitation. Then says Marx number 7 comes the period of social revolution. One wishes that he defined the revolution more carefully because on the one hand when Mark says revolution one does get the idea that he's talking about a long historical process. And yet another time he talks about revolution. You can see that he's talking about a violent political catastrophe of the moment. Ate with the change of the economic foundation the entire immense
superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. See what I'm talking about the more or less rapidly What does a rapid mean to a historian who has 6000 years of recorded history to tussle with. Let me give you an exact example of the precise example of this again in Russian history. Karl Marx says that to the capitalist age like any other age must work itself out. So how long did it have in Russia. Well maybe 50 years. And how long was their capitalist government in Russia. Nine months. That is between that the march revolution and the November Revolution of 1917 the provisional government representing the middle class revolution in Russia had only nine months of life that's all Lenin gave it. And many people non-Socialists as well a socialist asked now are we
really giving Marxism of the fair chance here have we have we permitted this system to work itself out and I think the answer is No. From a strictly theoretical standpoint now in considering such transformations the distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production which can be determined with the precision of natural science and the legal political religious aesthetic or philosophical. In short it illogical forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. I might point out that in this whole scheme of structure and superstructure there is a great deal of difficulty. First of all in the unevenness with which these elements in the superstructure. Respond to any given mode of production we know that in some ways we respond very quickly let's say changes including in other ways we
respond very slowly that same religion and religious forms at least are outward forms so that not all of these changes take place at the same rate of speed. 10. Oh I'm excuse me I might go away again on this point and say that though I have arrows pointing upwards from modes of production to science government long so far there are a couple of problems involved here. One of the problems is already it's nice for me to put arrows up there. But what really makes this thing go up. And what are the actual mechanics. And this is a very tangled subject. The other part of this problem is even more interesting to me as a historian and that is shouldn't the arrows go the other way too. Even if one accepts the fact that economics influences Science government law our religion and so forth is it not also true that science government law art and religion and ethics influenced
the substructure. And many Marxists have been thinking about this quite seriously as a matter of fact. Stalin himself was forced on more than one occasion to give some public thought to this rather and VeriSign subject. It's one thing to be able to control the modes of production and then watch everything else proud of it. Naturally it's easier to control a factory than it is to control the people who work in the factory. Human beings are not that controllable. Well let us go on to the tenth proposition. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself. So we cannot judge. So we cannot judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness. On the contrary this consciousness must rather be explained from the contradictions of material life from the existing conflict between the social forces the production and the relations of production.
If you forgive me for rather homely footnote on this aspect what Marx would say to the capitalist who is trying to defend his own system and Marx would say with the kind of smile we give the errant little children who are much too transparent in their desires to cheat us. They say look you of course you're defending the system in which your livelihood is based on the course you have fine and elegant ideas about how good your system is not only to yourself but everybody else. But look here says Marx would say I can't take you at your word about this. Even if one assumes that you are perfectly sincere in what you're saying to me you're giving me a capitalist view of capitalism and just let me go back to Marx's words. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself. So we cannot judge a period of transformation by its own consciousness but rather by explaining the contradictions of
material life. Here of course one has to ask who is capable of rising above all of these influences and seeing the thing perfectly objectively. And Mark seems to fly in the face of his own theories when he says what he can't. I mean that there are intellects in the world who can rise up above these matters and see the world as it really is because they have no particular stake or vested interest in any given part of it. But I wish well to the whole process of history. Well something more to think about. 11 no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed. I want to stress this because over this thought comes the big struggle between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in Russia and between Socialists Marxian socialists and the revisionists in the rest of
Europe and the rest of the world so let me repeat no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed. Now we take Marx at his word and I see no reason why we should not in this case. What Marx is really saying is that just as feudalism did not disappear. Until every last opportunity for making the system going at was used up. So capitalism will not disappear just because certain people want it to disappear. This has nothing do with man's will man's consciousness. But capitalism will go on as long as it can and do its own tasks. As long as the productive forces the modes of production within capitalism go on producing it is only when capitalism fails through its own inner contradictions through its own inner faults. That something else will
come to the fore. No one needs to stress this for several reasons because. Especially in view of what has happened in the last 50 years. Marx could not conceive conceive of capitalism coming to end just because there was a strong revolutionary underground party of subversives that had the military strength to overthrow it. This is exactly what happened in Russia in 1917 under Lenin at the transition from capitalism to socialism and Karl Marx as thought was based on the idea that this would happen only when and as capitalism could not solve its own problems. Not that capitalism would die of a death from forces from without but from within. Now this does not mean that. Marx saw the transformation as gradual and I keep repeating that he saw a violent
revolution is perhaps the only way. I say perhaps because he did. I'm not one occasionally say that in the United States and England and perhaps Holland places with the political democracy the workers might take over. Peacefully through political democratic means. But in most countries believe that a violent revolution is necessary but even so. The force that would overthrow capitalism when it was already on its last legs would be not the Red Army or some outside force but the a force created by capitalism itself. Labor. This is why Khrushchev soon after he made that statement we will bury you said in Rumania that when the red flag flew over the United States and he means the red flag of socialism in general that it would be put there by patriotic Americans
and not by others. So this is an inner process that is conceived of by Mark something going on with him and capitalism will die only when it can no longer solve its problems well what problems Marx was writing at a time when capitalism was indeed in deep trouble. And there was a great deal of social misery going on in Britain in France and the United States and elsewhere. But as Professor Barbash pointed out so effectively Marx missed took the birth pangs for the death pangs. Not of those who talk about the problems of capitalism. I have talked about such things as the need for further more and more markets and what happens when you don't have anymore markets when all the rich will will have gotten so richer and the poor are so poor that there really aren't any markets left. This is one dead and another dead end is monopoly. One capitalist kills many
capitalists as the phrase get Marx in phrase goes and after a while the system will just eat itself up like the Kilkenny cats aty each other up so that only the tails were left. Economic recurring economic depressions crises economic crises are another indication of a dead end to capitalism. Marx believed that these were dead ends and that capitalism given the laws of progression simply could not solve the very problems that it had created with in itself. So let me repeat. No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society. 12 therefore mankind always takes up only such problems as it can
solve. Since looking at the matter more closely we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its Aleutian already exist or are at least in the process of formation. 13 in broad outlines we can designate the Asiatic the ancient The feudal and the modern bourgeois methods of production. As so many parks in the progress of the economic formation of society I shall have more to say about that as soon including that curious word Asiatic. 14. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production and tag and mistake not in the sense of individual untag Unism but of one arising from conditions surrounding the life of individuals in society at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb were Joie society create the material conditions for the solution of that and tag innocent.
15 and last. This social formation constitutes therefore the closing chapter of the prehistoric stage of human history. It's an interesting phrase that capitalism is the last stage of prehistory and only after capitalism is succeeded by socialism and will man really come into an age that he can call history. Now turning from this rather tangled prose. The natural question that arises is first of all one of definition what is meant by modes of production. Here one has to grope around in Marxian writings because sometimes the definition of Marx and Engels give us rather precise and narrow sometimes it is rather broad. But speaking broadly modes of production would include first of all the personal activities of a man as a producer. That is the work he does and how he does it. That is the skills the techniques.
Furthermore the mode of production would include the object of his work. What does he use the natural resources the raw materials. If he can use only wood for making weapons he belongs to one age of history once he learns to make weapons out of steel he belongs to another age of history. Once he learns how to make weapons out of atoms and molecular energy he belongs to still another at a stage of history so that the materials with which man works also are important. Note that long before Marx historians used to refer to the Iron Age the Bronze Age and so forth and so on and dependent on the materials which which have men worked in primarily in those periods. Finally there are the instruments used in the labor. What tools does man use. Not only tools in his own hand but the use of canals for
example or machines or farm animals. I society that has learned to use animals for work is different from a society that has no such confection and so on. All of these things together. Are subsumed under the phrase mode of production and as these basic factors differ and change says Marc so does the older about the superstructure of science. Government law and all the rest. And this change takes place in history intact and logically by rational dialectical progression in accordance with natural laws. You have been listening to Professor Michael B Petrovich of the University of Wisconsin as he offered the first of a two part discussion of Marxism as a theory of history. Next week Marxism as a theory of history part 2. These lectures on the theory and practice of communism drawn from the
- Marxism as a Theory of History
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- University of Wisconsin
- WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- For series info, see Item 3358. This prog.: Marxism as a Theory of History, part I
- Politics and Government
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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-18-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- MLA: “The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Theory of History.” 1968-04-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 16, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-8w384c35>.
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