The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Theory of History
Just this modern capitalism has burst the age of commercialism then the industrial revolution and now the atomic age. So modern communism comes first it a stage the Marxists call socialism and then pure communism. But this communism is no longer like the primitive ism but it is based on modern techniques. It is based on everything that capitalism has been able to teach in about techniques and production in this society of abundance and all the rest. But bring me up to date. These factors of science and art itself like now basic to this whole scheme is the concept of the class struggle. This is what makes the whole scheme move forward. The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles says the Communist Manifesto. This is the expression of the tension the conflict of opposites the thesis and the antithesis which Marx surmises to be the basis of all of this.
And the villain is self interest at the expense of others. No no it isn't just self-interest. Marx takes for granted that every man is imbued with a self-interest. That is what bothers him. What bothers him is self interest at the expense of others. What he is looking for is a system where one can pursue his own self interest without the expense of others. The greed for lust and for power at the expense of others. In classical economics self-interest is good because the harmony of interests is assume this is the way Adam Smith sought for example. But Marx and Engels did not see harmony of interests they saw a conflict of interests and they regarded as the only free stage of history where man was free from this kind of struggle. Primitive communism and they hoped that modern communism would take what was best of primitive communism and social relationships but
brought up to date through all of these other techniques of production modes of production learned through the ages. No to that marks in all of this is not concerned with individuals as such but with the generality of men in society and under certain modes of production. Marx doesn't really blame individual capitalists for anything but Marx does pass judgement on the system as a whole and what they do within the system. In the same way for Marx It is not the individual that is going to create the revolution but rather its certain objective conditions of failure within capitalism itself will provide the setting and then it is the working class as a whole that will carry it forward. This is why in strict terms Marxism is not a tall part of that 19th century theory of history exemplified by Carlyle and others which look to the hero the great leader of the
masses. This is a great paradox because in the history of communism we have Lenin. We have Stalin who are undoubtedly portrayed as the heroes pushing the world forward. This is not a part of the Marxist way of looking at history. Marx was not concerned with individual heroes or individual Billings but rather with the whole process based upon class class struggles. Now here what's a class. What does Marx mean by class. What do we mean by class. For some ten years in my Russian history course in which there have frequently been between 150 and 200 students I've asked the question. How many of you are middle class and a forest of hands would go up. How many of you belong to the poor. And on my 10 years I've had only one hand go out and there was a proletarian.
How many of you are rich and never have I had anyone admit that he was rich. Never. Even people whose fathers were millionaires were ashamed to admit it. Somewhere. Because we have the middle class ethos in America. I once was at a ceremony at the at the University of Kansas and sitting next to the wife of the president of the university and I was talking about Lawrence from the social environment there. Oh she said we were very folksy here to such a degree that I am ashamed to wear the mink still my husband bought me for our anniversary. Because it would make her seem too much above the other ladies of Lawrence Kansas. But the other ladies too might be able to afford mink stoles but there is this middle class ethos and you sort of stick to it and we have this. But when we say class in America what we're really talking about is largely this middle class. Now sociologists in America are a bit more sophisticated of course about this and I'm
a an atlas a social Atlas of the New England states in which social sociologists are armed with all of the knowledge of the various social sciences trying to determine what classes existed in the New England states this was their laboratory and how you determine these classes and you know what they came up with nine classes that the New England has nine classes and they go like this. And I don't want to make it sound funnier than it is. Upper upper middle upper lower upper upper middle middle middle lower middle and so forth all the way down from the nine. Now I don't know what this means to the sociologists or the economists but it doesn't mean anything to Karl Marx. In the Russian language there are two words for class when one when one reads about such matters in the Russian language. You get either the word slow yet
or the word class. The words US lot both mean are translated generally as class in English but the word so slow yet means really something much more like your station in life. So your status yes your social status your skin rather than the word station comes from the same thing your station in life that is are you a merchant or are you Professor or are you a landowner or whatever. This too is not what Karl Marx meant. And this is why the communists in the Soviet Union who write about such things never use the Russian words just love it when they are talking about Marxist classes. They use the Latin word class exactly k l a s s instead of C L is as as in English denoting that there is a difference between the one thing in the other. Well let's look at this by asking first of all what is not a class according to Marx
the Marxian word class has nothing to do with your source of income. If you're a doctor or if you're a farmer or you're mine or whatever and you work for yourself whatever your source of income is this is not a determinant of what class you belong to. Furthermore class is not determined in Marxism by how much you want but what you own. That is for example I know that in the Soviet Union right now there are men who qualify as millionaires. Absolutely. I'll give you one example of a man that I've met the woman the composer I don't touch it I've had to be honest a composer has little I'm sure something that would make him equivalent to an American millionaire. He has a townhouse he has a country house he may have more than one correspondence and I know he certainly has chauffeurs he's got bank
accounts both in the Soviet Union and outside. He's made a great pile of money from his royalties on his musical productions both within the Soviet Union and certainly in America. Some of you are old enough to remember the crazy year of the Saber Dance when all of us and every jukebox across the country were listening to our own culture Tuireann saber dance from the ballet guy Arnett. And if you if you can see that such a Turion got just 10 cents for every record in the United States alone that alone would make him a millionaire. And yet nobody has any qualms about having all this money or his wife having mink stoles or even better Sable. I think it's low class sable and Russian counts but this doesn't make him high class. This doesn't make him a capitalist or anything of the sort. You can own a cottage or you can own a mansion. But this doesn't determine class in the Marxian sense what does class is determined by only one thing in Marx. Those who own the
means of production and those who do not. It is not a matter of owning property but owning property that produces. If you own the means of production you're a capitalist. Now I must admit in all of this that the haziest part of this theory deals with farmers. Marx never knew what to do with farmers especially since he wasn't sure these talking about peasants or farmers. The peasant has a way of life but a farmer has a livelihood to think about. Today marks the farmer was a capitalist on the land and yet a capitalist working for himself. If if the farmer had hired hands and there was absolutely no doubt he was a capitalist. But even there one wonders how many hired hands it takes to make a farmer a capitalist class is determined however in Marx by those who own the means of production those who do not. And since labor is an instrument of production those who hire
labor to produce wealth belong to one class and those who labor for others belong to another class. Since land is an instrument of production in Technically the poorest peasant who owns his land is a member of the property class and not a laborer. The self-employed but in the Marxian scheme there are really two classes. Given this definition the exploiters and the exploited those who work for subsistence and those who live from surplus value taken from the work of others. Those who own property. Which capital produces which produces capital and those who do not. And down the ages at least these three middle ages between primitive communism and modern communism you have had this division in primitive capital exemplified by masters and slaves in feudalism exemplified by land owners and circs in modern capitalism exemplified by the capitalists and labor.
Just as feudalism had to go so capitalism must go says Marx capitalism. This most famous sentence bears with in its move the seeds of its own destruction. But there are certain problems inherent in the capitalist economy which will lead to crisis after crisis until the final one. And meanwhile our capital produces its own grave digger labor. What then. The dictatorship of the proletariat under socialism. The words a dictatorship is used here. Only to denote that in the transitional phase it is the majority that will have to dominate the minority until that minority disappears. And by disappear I don't mean individual physical liquidation of people but rather all you have to do to get rid of the capitalist and turn them into something else is to take his capital away from him. Then he's a good guy. And he joins the rest of us. You see so but until you do that there has to be a
dictatorship of the proletariat which Marx assumed to be a dictatorship by the majority over the minority and the state would take be taken over by Labor and the state in its various phases immediately would take over nationalized the major means of production and then we would come gradually at least after that into the brave new world from socialism into communism. There is the scheme the theory of history. Obviously Marx was looking at it through the prism of Western history. What astonishes me though is that Marx thought of these principles as being universal in their application that he felt that Japan and Africa and other places would have to come under this scheme just as well. Of course what he's saying is that in the normal progression of history this would happen in all societies but because of wars and other things make history abnormal that it is quite possible for one
society to skip a stage here that if the capitalist white man comes into a South Sea Island John Hall and all the rest and and of course modern capitalism of the South the island that is still in the first stage. Well that's so the island will never have to go through stages two and three. You see they've been forced artificially from one stage into another. But theoretically at least Marx believed that these principles had universal application. You have been listening to Professor Michael B Petrovich of the University of Wisconsin as he delivered the second of two lectures on Marxism as a theory of history. Next week my discussion of Marxism as an ethic and a secular religion. These lectures are drawn from the 1967 Wisconsin Alumni seminar on the theory and practice of communism and arranged for radio by W. H. A The University of Wisconsin.
- Marxism as a Theory of History
- Producing Organization
- University of Wisconsin
- WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Series Description
- For series info, see Item 3358. This prog.: Marxism as a Theory of History, part II.
- Politics and Government
- Media type
Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-18-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “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, accessed January 27, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p134.
- 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. January 27, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p134>.
- APA: The theory and practice of communism; Marxism as a Theory of History. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-r785p134