The integrity of Marxism

In his article Karl Marx, Lenin believed that Marxism consists of three main components: Marxist philosophy, Marxist political economy, and scientific socialism. These three components, however, are often housed in three different departments in Chinese colleges and universities. As a negative consequence, professors who study and teach one theory are not quite familiar with the other two. The situation has injured the integrity and proper understanding of Marxism. Most Marxist scholars consider Marx’s Capital not only an economic work, but one of philosophy and scientific socialism that unites various components of Marxism into an organic whole. Since China’s reform and opening-up, some scholars in China have conducted interdisciplinary research. For example, many Marxist scholars have researched both the economic and philosophical issues within Capital and have produced encouraging results. These results, however, are not always taken up by political economists of Marxism, leading to lack of communication and understanding among scholars studying different components of Marxism. In recent years, different academic departments of Marxist studies have realized the issue and have given attention to the integrity of Marxism. However, textbooks compiled in the field still follow the thr ee separate tracks of Marxist components—a configuration certainly not reflective of the integrity of Marxism.

Marx and Engels' theory on the development trajectory of the oriental society is closely tied to the integrity of Marxism. This theory is neither purely philosophy, nor purely political economics, nor purely scientific socialism, but a synthesis of all three. Only by studying the integrity of Marxism may we derive authentic understandings of Marxism. As illustrated below, controversies, misinterpretations, and distortion of Marxism arise when Marxism is treated not in its integrity.

The integrity of Marxism from the perspective of its social and historical conditions

Mehring, in his 1893 book On Historical Materialism, argued:

In fact the materialist study of history is of course subject to the very laws of historical motion that it itself lays down. It is the product of historical development; it could not have been imagined in any earlier period by even the most brilliant mind. The secret of the history of mankind could only be unveiled when a certain historical level had been reached.1

Not just historical materialism, but Marxism as a whole, is the product of its historical conditions.

From the 1640s to the mid-1800s, the bourgeois revolutions, successively taking place in major Western European countries such as the United Kingdom and France, overthrew the feudal autocracy, and eliminated the obstacles for and greatly precipitated the capitalist development. The industrial revolution, beginning in England in the 1760s, preluded the capitalist production and the shift from the workshop industry to the machine industry. By the 1830s and 1840s, Britain led the completion of the first industrial revolution through massive mechanization and huge factories. In the same time, the UK became the “world factory” providing the majority of industrial products for the world. The French capitalist economy and industrial revolution, though half a century behind Britain, also developed greatly after its bourgeois revolution in 1789, particularly after the July Revolution in 1830. Lagging behind Britain and France, Germany had only a few factories by the early 19th century. But by the 1830s and 1840s, its capitalist economy garnered rapid development.

The capitalist machine industry greatly boosted productivity, science, and technology, giving unprecedented material growth. However, it also sharpened contradictions within capitalism. One such contradiction is between socialized production and private possession of the means of production. Manifestations of this contradiction were prevalent: Between organized production in individual factories and the anarchy of production in the entire society, between the economy’s booming productivity and the working class’s dwindling purchasing power. The result was cyclical economic crises that plagued Britain after 1825, all clearly indicating the severity of the contradiction between productivity and the capitalist production relations. However, due to capitalism’s internal adjustments, the contradiction was alleviated after late 1800s and particularly after WWII. Nevertheless, it is to stay as long as capitalism still exists.

The intensification of the fundamental contradictions of capitalism was visible foremost in the relation between the working class and the bourgeoisie. By the 1830s and 1840s, major social conflicts in Western Europe shifted from those between the common people and the feudal forces, to those between the working class and the bourgeoisie. Originally the allies of the bourgeoisie in the latter's fight against feudalism, the working class eventually staged their own fight and turned against the bourgeoisie. This fight was triggered by extreme poverty due to capitalist exploitation and oppression. The working class evolved from passive sufferers to revolutionary fighters. They will put capitalism into its grave by erecting a socialist system. As such, the working class was in urgent need of a revolutionary theory to enlighten and guide their historic endeavors. To meet this need, Marx and Engels formulated their theory.

With large-scale socialized production, capitalism showed rapidly changing social relations. People soon learned that no social system is permanent and

The integrity of Marxism 89 immutable. A new social form will emerge in lieu of the old to resolve the latter's problems. This is vividly presented in the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All freed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.2

Conclusion can be drawn, from the social-historical conditions in which Marxism was born, that the development of capitalism and the aggravation of its intrinsic problems, along with the fact that the working class stepped onto the historical stage as an independent political force, not only triggered changes in the theories of philosophy, political economics, and socialism, but also helped to integrate these three into a rich Marxist science. Many factors help in the revelation of laws of nature, society, and human thinking, and the founding of a philosophy about the world and its history, including the production mode of capitalism with its internal contradictions, the development of productivity and scientific technologies, and recurrent social disturbance and changes. Meanwhile, the production mode of capitalism and the development of its intrinsic contradictions revealed the nature of the capitalist mode of production and facilitated the discovery of the theory of surplus value. Based on the scientific conceptions of the world and history, and the theory of surplus value, Marx and Engels solved the theoretical problems that were left unsolved by utopian socialists. Marxist theories turned socialism from a utopian dream into a scientific system. Marxism offers a comprehensive anatomy of the capitalist production mode, the class structure in a capitalist society, and the working class’ misery and mission. Therefore, Marxism, as a science that aims to free the working class and humanity, was a unified system of philosophy, political economics, and scientific socialism.

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