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Our epoch is characterized by a groundswell of desire for revolution amongst the masses around the world. In many instances we have seen the masses have taken to earth-shaking action to achieve change. Yet as Leon Trotsky explained: “Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box.” The guiding organisation that can channel the steam of the masses is the revolutionary party, and it needs to be built ahead of decisive events.
The depth of the capitalist crisis through which we’re living makes revolutionary leadership more urgent than ever. It’s up to us to build it!
The great philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel led a revolution in philosophy by breaking with the mechanical bourgeois materialism, dominant in the Europe of his day, in favour of a worldview that embraced contradiction and constant change. Marx and Engels’ scientific socialism placed Hegel’s ideas on a materialist basis, culminating in the highest accomplishment of philosophy: dialectical materialism.
Today, the most-advanced discoveries and theories in science continually validate Marx and Engels’ ideas. Rather than a world consisting of fixed, discrete, static entities moving in a predictable way for all eternity, or even a gradual shift from one state to another, science increasingly uncovers a cauldron of revolutionary transformation.
From chaos and complexity theory in mathematics, to the Gouldian theory of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary zoology, to quantum mechanics in physics, the limits of formal logic are being exposed by the march of discovery. Scientists have to reckon with a world where particles behave like waves and vice versa, where matter and energy are equivalent, and species undergo sudden and dramatic flourishes and extinctions. In other words: nature is defined by motion, change and revolution!
- Scientific Revolution and Materialist Philosophy
- Reason in Revolt – Alan Woods
- Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen – Mark Buchanan
The American Revolution of the late 18th century was followed by an even greater, and bloodier, revolution in the 1860s. Usually presented as the American Civil War, it was in reality a revolutionary conflict between the historically progressive industrial capitalism of the North, and the plantation and slave-owning counterrevolution of the South. This clash resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and was followed by the smouldering revolution and counterrevolution of Reconstruction.
The legacy of the Civil War is still felt to this day, particularly in the former slave states. But throughout the entire country, the impact of slavery can be seen in the institutional racism that continues to plague American society. What is needed today is a third revolution that will break with the root source of oppression and exploitation – the capitalist system – and lead to the establishment of socialism in the USA.
- Marxism and the USA, The Second American Revolution
- Writings on the US Civil War – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Engels described the emergence of the patriarchal family as humanity’s first counterrevolution. For hundreds of thousands of years, under conditions of what Engels calls primitive communism, there was no private property, marriage as we know it today did not exist, and there were no classes. But agriculture and the production of a surplus (more resources than was necessary for sheer survival) laid the material basis for a division of labour, and with it the emergence of social classes: exploiters and the exploited.
The burgeoning ruling class needed a way to pass their accumulated wealth to their offspring, down the male line, which in turn necessitated a way of determining paternity and controlling reproduction. The only way that could be done was by demoting women to the position of domination by men. This is the historical basis for marriage in its present form and the family. The family, private property, the state, and class society all have a shared origin. Today, we strive to free human relations from the shackles of coercion and oppression; and put them on a healthy basis under a socialist society.
- Origin of the family: In Defence of Engels and Morgan
- Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State – Friedrich Engels
The defenders of capitalism like to tell us stories about free competition and the wonders of the market mechanism. But can we really talk about a ‘free’ market, when the world economy is dominated by 500 monopolies?
The development of capitalism has brought into being massive multinational corporations, most of them ‘too big to fail’, as we saw in 2008, when the state intervened to prop up many of them. These companies engage in planning on a massive scale, whilst, of course, claiming that planning is impossible.
Yet, at the same time the world market still maintains its chaotic existence, dominating everything and wreaking havoc across the world. How would socialist planning be different and what advantages do modern technology bring?
- Capitalism is dying – and a new socialist society is trying to be born
- Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism – V.I. Lenin
The great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg has often been misrepresented, when not openly slandered, by bourgeois academics and Stalinists as an opponent of the October Revolution – or as an advocate for a ‘softer’, ‘anti-authoritarian’ Marxism, as opposed to that of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Some contribute to distorting Luxemburg’s legacy through the invention of ‘Luxemburgism’, as a set of ideas opposed to Bolshevism.
In this session, Marie Frederiksen, author of a new biography of Luxemburg, will explain the true content of her political thought, and how it developed as the international class struggle unfolded. A class-conscious revolutionary and staunch defender of Marxist theory to the end, Luxemburg waged a battle against revisionism, opportunism, class-collaboration national chauvinism and pacifism, always on the side of the socialist revolution. Marxists today must reclaim Luxemburg’s revolutionary legacy.
- Reclaiming the revolutionary legacy of Rosa Luxemburg
- Rosa Luxemburg and the Bolsheviks: dispelling the myths
- The Revolutionary Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg – Marie Frederiksen
In February 1848 the Communist Manifesto declared, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Only days later, the workers of Paris overthrew their king and ignited a revolutionary inferno that scorched the whole of Europe. In just a couple of months, the old absolutist powers of Europe buckled under the pressure of the masses. Universal male suffrage, national liberation and the end to the last vestiges of feudal oppression were fought for heroically by the masses and even won, for a time.
In all countries, the working class formed the most determined fighting force of the revolution, but in France the workers went so far as to challenge directly for power in the great June insurrection: “the most colossal event in the history of European civil wars”. But trembling at this first bold attempt at a “Communistic revolution”, the ruling classes in every country ran directly into the arms of military and clerical repression, and carried out a vicious counter-revolution which destroyed even the most basic democratic gains of the revolutions of 1848.
To understand these titanic events, Marx and Engels had to grapple with questions that still confront revolutionaries today, and the conclusions they drew, on the permanent revolution, the national question, the dictatorship of the proletariat and more, still provide us with an inexhaustible armoury of lessons. In this session we will draw out these lessons in the context of 1848, and discuss the impact of these events on the future class struggle, and on Marxism itself.
- The 1848 Revolutions: the hoped-for prelude to the proletarian revolution
- The Class Struggles in France – Karl Marx
- The Revolutions of 1848 – Karl Marx
- Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany – Friedrich Engels
How do we acquire knowledge? This central question in philosophy has confounded thinkers for millennia. On the one hand you have the idealists, who argue that truth exists a priori of the material world and finds its reflection in our minds – ultimately implying that knowledge comes from outside of nature – from a higher being.
Then there are the bourgeois materialists, whose main theory of knowledge (empiricism) states we can only know the content of our senses, making it impossible to talk with confidence about generalisation, causation – or even the existence of material reality outside of our own, direct experience.
Marxists argue that knowledge comes from the world, and it is by generalising our experience of the particular (e.g. burning ourselves) that we can form abstractions that let us comprehend the general (e.g. fire is hot). Thus, practice and concrete experience are the basis of knowledge. Meanwhile, passing our experiences on to one another allows us to develop human society, production, science and technique to ever-higher levels of complexity, thus deepening our knowledge of the world.
- Anti-Duhring, Part One.
- Reason In Revolt, The Theory of Knowledge
The spectre of inflation hangs over world capitalism, putting a major squeeze on the masses around the world. The cost of basic necessities like food and fuel is skyrocketing, and is already provoking major social eruptions, like the insurrection in Kazakhstan in January.
Right-wing economists such as the monetarists blame workers for causing a ‘wage-price spiral’, refusing to point the finger at the real culprit for inflation: capitalism.
To avoid complete collapse as a result of the pandemic, capitalist governments spent trillions on stimulus and bailouts. But this has now upset the economic equilibrium, leading to instability and volatility in the global economy. Meanwhile, war and supply-chain chaos have pushed up the prices of many key commodities.
This all shows the limits of attempts to manage and reform capitalism. Despite the voodoo economics advocated by Keynesianism and so-called Modern Monetary Theory, you cannot spend money you don’t have without consequences.
The solution is not tinkering with the money supply, but democratic ownership and socialist planning of production, geared towards human needs, rather than maximising the profits of a parasitic few.
- What is Money
- Inflation and instability: contradictions mount for capitalism
- Marxism vs Modern Monetary Theory