From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Sun Dec 14 2003 - 14:27:22 EST

The basic theme of the paper is the passage from the "pre-history of
human society" to humanity's history through revolutionary
transformation of the old society. This passage is considered as
humanity's progress in the sense of contradictory movement, as a
manifestation of the dialectic of negativity. First, the paper
restates and discusses Marx's central proposition that capital
through its inherent contradictions creates the conditions of its own
demise as well as the elements for building a union of free
individuals. Then, in the light of Marx's correspondence with the
Russians in his later years, the paper goes into the question, if the
capitalist mode of production (CMP) is the necessary precondition for
building the new society, or the old society in the absence of the
CMP could, on its own, generate the necessary conditions for passage
to the new society. Finally, the whole question of the revolutionary
transformation of society is discussed within the broad Marxian
purview of human progress where it is argued that Marx is a great
'rethinker' of progress, that his perspective has nothing in common
with any unilateral view (positive or negative) of human advancement
(or regression) and that progress in this view is an aspect of the
dialectic of negativity pervading the critique of political economy.


        The whole of Marx's 'Critique of Political Economy'
('Critique for short) is informed, one could say, by what he wrote in
two texts referring, respectively, to two great philosophers: Spinoza
and Hegel. In his Parisian manuscripts (1844), referring to Hegel's
Phenomenology, Marx underlined that its "greatness" lay in the
"dialectic of negativity as the moving and creating principle"
(1966a: 67). Many years later, in the first manuscript of Capital,
vol. 2, Marx completed Spinoza's well-known phrase thus: "all
determination is negation and all negation is determination" (1988:
316. This manuscript is not included in Engels's edition of Capital,
vol. 2). Marx shows how capital creates the subjective and objective
conditions of its own negation and, simultaneously, the elements of
the new society destined to supersede it - socialism. In the
'Critique' socialism (equivalently communism) signifies a "society of
free and associated producers" based on the "associated mode of
production (AMP)." This "union of free individuals," the crowning
point of the producers' act of self-emancipation where individuals
are subject neither to personal dependence - as in pre-capitalism -
nor to material dependence - as in

*This is a substantially revised and enlarged version of the paper
that we had presented earlier in Berlin and London
  commodity (capitalist) society - excludes, by definition, private
property in the means of production, commodity form of the product of
labor, wage labor and state. Here the freely associated "social
individuals" are the masters of their own social movement, subjecting
their social relations to their own control (Marx 1987: 110; 1965:

        The individual's freedom from material dependence,
necessarily associated with the collective (social) domination of the
conditions of production by the "union of free individuals," depends
first of all on the existence of an abundance of material wealth
based on a high degree of development of the productive forces at the
universal level including the quantitative and qualitative
development of the "greatest productive force," the proletariat - the
revolutionary class - in its "world-historical existence" (Marx 1965:
135; in Marx and Engels 1973: 34). First, the development of
productive forces, which is basically the "development of the wealth
of human nature as an end in itself," is an absolutely necessary
"practical (pre)condition of human emancipation because without it
only the penury and the necessity will be generalized and, with the
need, shall also start the struggle for necessity" (1973: 34-35; Marx
1959: 107). Not only this. With the growth in the productive powers
of labor, also increases the disposable time beyond the necessary
labor time - that is, the increase in society's free time as the
basis of all creative activities of the individuals.  On the other
hand, "only with this universal development of the productive powers
can universal intercourse (Verkehr) of human beings be posited" (in
Marx and Engels 1973: 33). Society's (collective) domination over the
conditions of production in its turn implies the mastery of the
social individuals of their own social relations. However, the
existence of universally developed individuals subordinating their
social relations to their own control is not something naturally
given, it is a "product of history" presupposing a whole series of
material conditions, themselves the product of a "long and painful
history of development"  (1953: 77; 1987: 110). And if the material
conditions of production and the corresponding relations of
circulation for a classless society do not exist in a latent form in
the society as it is, (then) "all attempts at exploding the society
would be Don Quixotism" (1953: 77). Precisely it is capital which
creates the requisite material conditions of the proletarian (and
thereby human) emancipation.

        First, the contradictory character of the necessary labor -
surplus labor relation, true for all class societies, takes on a
special meaning with labor's subsumption under capital. In the
pre-capitalist modes of production where use values and not exchange
values dominate, surplus labor is circumscribed by a definite circle
of needs. In the earlier class societies labor time is extended to
produce, beyond the subsistence of the immediate producers, a certain
amount of use values for the masters. The importance of surplus labor
beyond the labor necessary for the natural needs of subsistence
assumes a far greater importance when exchange value becomes the
determining element of production. Under capital, which is basically
generalized commodity production, the constraint on labor to extend
labor time beyond necessary labor time is maximum (1976: 174).
Compared with earlier class societies based on the extraction of
surplus labor from the immediate producers, capital extracts surplus
labor in a way and in the conditions which are more advantageous for
the development of productive forces and of social relations as well
as for the creation of the elements of "a new and higher type of
society" - which constitutes "one of the civilising sides of capital"
(1992: 837; 1964: 827). "Production for production's sake as an end
in itself (als Selbstzweck)," writes Marx, "already appears with the
formal subsumption of labor under capital as soon as the immediate
goal of production becomes the production of as big a surplus value
as possible (and) exchange value of products becomes the decisive aim
. . . This is a production which is not bound either by limited needs
nor by needs which limit it. This is one side, positive side if you
like, as distinguished from the earlier modes of production" (1988:
107; the expression "if you like" appears in English in the text).
Along with the ceaseless striving to drive society's majority to
labor beyond what is required to satisfy the immediate needs, capital
pushes labor to a greater diversity of production toward an
enlargement of the circle of needs and the means to satisfy them and
thereby the exercise of the human faculties in all directions.  To
the extent that it is capital's coercion which compels society's
masses to labor beyond their immediate needs, "capital creates
culture, it performs a historical-social function" (1976: 173, 175).
Thus the degree and the universality of the development of the
faculties (Vermögen) necessary to create "universally developed
individuals" precisely (pre)suppose production based on exchange
values which contradictorily creates, for the first time, along with
the general alienation of the individual in relation to oneself and
to others, the universality and totality of the individual's
relations and faculties (1953: 79-80).  This is the "historical
justification" of labor's separation from property.

        Wealth in its autonomous being exists only for either
directly forced labor - slavery - or indirectly forced labor - wage
labour. The directly forced labour does not confront wealth as
capital, but only as a relation of (personal) domination. Therefore
on the basis of directly forced labor there will only be the
reproduction of the relation of (personal) domination for which
wealth itself has value only as enjoyment, not as wealth as such, "a
relation, therefore, which can never create universal industry"
(1953:232). "The original unity between the laborer and the
conditions of production," writes Marx, "has two main forms (leaving
aside slavery where the laborer himself is a part of the objective
conditions of production): the Asiatic community (natural communism)
and the small family agriculture (bound with household industry) in
one or the other forms. Both are infantile forms and equally little
suited to develop labor as social labor and productive power of
social labor, whence the necessity of separation, of rupture, of the
opposition between labor and ownership (in the conditions of
production). The extreme form of this rupture within which at the
same time the productive forces of social labour are most powerfully
developed is the form of capital. On the material basis which it
creates and by the means of the revolutions which the working class
and the whole society undergoes in the process of creating it can the
original unity be restored" (1962: 419; emphasis in the text. The
expressions "the productive forces . . . developed," and "the whole
society undergoes "are in English in the text).

        Needless to add, production for production's sake takes place
under capitalism "at the cost of the human individual" along with the
general alienation of the individual in relation to oneself and to
others, as mentioned earlier. The economy of the social means of
production, the economy of cost becomes, in the hands of capital,
simultaneously "a system of robbery, during work, of the conditions
of life of the worker, of space, air, light and the personal
conditions of safety against the dangers and the unhealthy
environment of the productive process," merciless dissipation of
labor power, and the most "shameless robbery" of the normal
conditions of labor's functioning (1987: 413, 443; 1965: 959-60, 983;
1988: 107). "The capitalist production is most economical of realized
labor, labor realized in commodities. It is a greater spendthrift
than any other mode of production of man, of living labor,
spendthrift not only of flesh and blood and muscles, but also of
brains and nerves" (1976: 324. Both the sentences are in English in
the text). While the capitalist mode of production (CMP) never
considers and never holds - contrary to the earlier modes of
production - the existing form of a productive process as definitive,
rendering its technical basis revolutionary, it, at the same time,
generates the monstrosity of the reserve army of labor, creates
"incessant hecatombs (Opferfest) of the laboring class, reckless
dilapidation of powers of labor, and gives full vent to the ravages
of social anarchy," making "each economic progress a public calamity"
(1987: 466; 1965: 991). Thus under capital the "productive forces
know only a unilateral development and becomes the destructive forces
for the majority" (in Marx and Engels 1973: 60).

        Now, the development of antagonisms of a social form of
production is the "only historical (real) way toward its dissolution
and metamorphosis" (1987: 467; 1965: 993). It is capital itself which
creates the conditions of its own negation. In an early text,
addressed to the workers, Marx clearly underlines what he calls the
"positive side of capital," that is, without the big industry, free
competition, the world market and the corresponding means of
production there would be no material resources for the emancipation
of the proletariat and the creation of the new society. He adds that
without these conditions the proletariat would not have taken the
road of union nor known the development which makes it capable of
revolutionizing the old society as well as itself" (1973: 555). At
the same time capital transforms the dispersed, isolated, small-scale
labor into large scale socially organized combined labor under its
direct domination and thereby also generalizes workers' direct
struggle against this domination. With the material conditions and
social combinations of production" capital develops, simultaneously,
the contradictions and antagonisms, "the forces of destruction of the
old society and the elements of formation of a new society." Along
with the increasing misery oppression, slavery, degradation,
exploitation, there also grows the "resistance of the working class
more and more disciplined, united and organized by the mechanism of
the capitalist production itself" (1987: 475, 682; 1965: 995-96,
1239). While the capitalist mode of production, in contrast with the
earlier modes of production, generates immense progress as regards
the development of the productive powers of social labor, "it also
includes within its antagonistic form, . . . the necessity of its
downfall" (1962: 426).

        On the other hand, capital itself comes to constitute a
material barrier to the capitalist production. The limits within
which alone can the conservation and valorization of capital values
move enter continually into contradiction with the methods of
production which capital must employ toward its aim and which drive
it toward unlimited increase in production, production as an end in
itself, unconditional development of social productive powers of
labor. The means - the unconditional development of the social
productive powers - runs into continual conflict with the limited end
- the valorization of existing capital. "If, therefore, the
capitalist mode of production is a historical means to develop the
material productive power and to create world market corresponding to
it, it is at the same time a perpetual contradiction between this
historical task and the corresponding social relations of production"
(1964: 260; 1992: 324). Thus it is clear that "the material and
intellectual (geistigen) conditions of the negation of wage labor and
capital, which themselves are the negation of the earlier forms of
unfree social production, are themselves the results of its
(capital's) process of production." The increasing inadequacy of the
productive development of society in relation to its hitherto
existing production relations is expressed in sharp contradictions,
crises, convulsions. "The violent destruction of capital, not through
the relations external to it, but as the condition of its self
preservation (is) the most striking form in which advice is given to
it to be gone and to give room to a higher state of social
production" (1953: 635-16; the word "advice" and the whole expression
starting with "to be gone" is in English in the text). In this
profound sense the capitalist mode of production constitutes the
transition to the socialist or the "associated mode of production"
(1962: 426; 1992: 504, 662; 1964: 456, 621). In the well-known words
of the Gothakritik, the socialist (communist) society "comes out of
the womb" of the capitalist society (Marx 1966b: 178).


        It has been widely held that Marx in his last years
particularly and notably in his writings on Russia  - did
fundamentally change, if not contradict, his earlier central position
that the elements of the new society are generated within capital
through a process of creating the conditions of its own negation.
This was specially emphasized not so long ago by Teodor Shanin and
Haruki Wada in a book which has exercised a certain influence on
scholars - Marxist or otherwise (Shanin 1983). Later a Latin American
Marx scholar basically held, with some qualifications, the same idea
(Dussel 1990). Let us examine this argument.

        Now, in these writings, Marx was reacting to a question posed
to him by his Russian correspondents: could the already existing
Russian rural communes be the basis for building socialism
(communism) in Russia without going through the capitalist mode of
production, or must Russia pass through a capitalist stage in order
to arrive at the new society?

        In his reply Marx first observed that in Capital he had
underlined that his analysis of CMP - its genesis and development
generating, in the process, the elements of its own negation - was
confined strictly to "Western Europe,"  He derisively rejected any
claim to possess a "master key of a general historical-philosophical
theory fatally imposable" on all peoples irrespective of the specific
historical circumstances in which they found themselves (to
Mikhailovsky 1968: 1555). Thus the analysis in Capital could not
offer either a positive or a negative answer to the question posed by
the Russian correspondents. But, added Marx, from his independent
studies on Russia he had concluded that the Russian rural commune
could serve as the point of departure of "social regeneration" in
Russia. However, this transition will not be automatic. The communal
ownership in land, the point of departure of this "regeneration," has
already been affected by adverse forces - working inside and outside
the commune - tending to undermine the system. On the one hand,
parcellary cultivation of land and private appropriation of its
fruits by its members, and, on the other hand, States' fiscal
exactions, fraudulent exploitation by usury and merchant capital
happening since 1861 when the Tsarist State adopted measures for the
"so-called emancipation of the peasants." Hence, "social
regeneration" is possible provided the negative factors are
eliminated, most importantly by a "Russian Revolution" by the peasant
masses. In the process the commune could benefit from the scientific
and technological acquisitions of the existing capitalism of the west.

        According to Shanin, Marx's new familiarity with the Russian
situation would as if make Marx uphold the position that a peasant
revolution in Russia towards its immediate socialist transformation
would serve as the prototype of revolution towards immediate
transition to socialism from the peasant societies in the backward
countries like the way England served as the prototype for the
capitalist world (1983: 18). Following Shanin, the Russian case added
a fourth dimension to "Marx's analytical thought" where to the
"triple origin suggested by Engels - German philosophy, French
socialism and English political economy" should be added "a fourth
one, that of Russian revolutionary populism" (1983: 20). If this is
the reading of Marx's correspondence (on Russia) by a non-Marxist, a
Marx scholar from Mexico asserted that Marx, confronted with the
Russian communes, underwent a "change of direction" (viraje). Though
it does not mean a "fundamental change in Marx's theoretical
position," it signifies the "opening up of a broad road for the
development of Marx's discourse on the different ways" (to socialism)
- one for the central, more developed capitalism, the other for the
less developed countries of the periphery (Dussel 1990: 260-261). An
eminent Marxist, in her turn, read this correspondence as if it
signified that the Russian case lent itself to a "concept of
revolution which changed everything, including economic laws" as if
it was on a par with the Western European case, "choosing a different
path" (Dunayevskaya 2002: 259. Emphasis in text).

        Let us now put Marx's discussion on Russia in the proper
perspective to see on the basis of his relevant texts, what exactly
Marx was saying in 1877 and 1881. At the outset it is necessary to
refer to the emphasis Marx put on what he called the "uniqueness" of
the Russian case, which of course automatically excludes its
generalization into some kind of a 'law' applicable to the backward
peasant societies, as, for example, the "law of motion of capital"
would apply to the capitalist societies in general. To Marx the
Russian "agricultural communes" offered a "unique situation, without
any precedent in history" (Marx 1968: 1566, our emphasis). First,
contrary to India, the victim of a foreign conqueror who had
violently destroyed its rural communes with "common land ownership,"
Russia had no foreign conqueror, and it was the "only European
country" where "till today" its communes "have maintained themselves
on a national scale." Secondly, along with communal property of the
soil, its historical environment, the contemporaneity of the
capitalist production in Western Europe offer it "ready made the
material conditions of cooperative labour on a vast scale" which
allows it to incorporate all the "positive acquisitions of the
capitalist system," the "fruits with which capitalist production has
enriched humanity" avoiding it to go through the capitalist regime"
(Marx 1968: 1561, 1565, 1566).

        However, while considering the positive side, Marx
emphasizes, one has to reckon with the negative side contained in the
"dualism inherent in the Russian communal constitution" namely, along
with the communal ownership of land there is also "parcellary labour,
the source of private appropriation," enabling the communes' members
to "accumulate moveable property, money and sometimes even slaves and
serfs, uncontrolled by the commune" - which constituted the
"dissolvent of the original social and economic equality" (1564).
Thus the "dualism" of the communes offers an alternative: "either its
(private) ownership element will prevail (l'emportera) over its
collective element or its collective element will prevail over the
(private) ownership element" (1565). One should not forget that the
"agricultural commune" constituting the "last phase of the primitive
formation of society" is "at the same time the phase of transition to
the society based on private property including the series of
societies founded on slavery and serfdom" (1564-1565). "Theoretically
speaking," the Russian commune could conserve its soil by developing
its base, the communal ownership of the land, and by eliminating the
"principle of private ownership which it also implies," and thereby
"become a direct point of departure of the economic system to which
the modern society tends" (1565). However, "coming down from the
theory to reality," nobody can hide the fact that the "Russian
commune today is facing a conspiracy of powerful forces and
interests." Besides exercising "incessant exploitation on the
peasants, the State has facilitated the domination (within the
commune) of a certain part of the capitalist system, stock market,
bank, railway, commerce." Similarly, the commune is "exploited
fraudulously by the intruding capitalists, merchants, landed
'proprietors' as well as undermined by usury." These different
factors have "unleashed inside the commune itself the conflict of
interest already present and rapidly developed its germs of
decomposition." This "concourse of destructive influences, unless
smashed by a powerful reaction will naturally end in the death of the
rural commune" (1570, 1571, 1572). Hence Marx's emphasis on the need
of a "Russian Revolution" (1573). However, even if this "Revolution"
is victorious and defeats the commune's transformation into
capitalism, the building of communism in the peasant (and
technologically backward) Russia would absolutely require the help of
the advanced productive forces, the "positive acquisition elaborated
by the capitalist system" (1566). This material aid Russia could
obtain almost certainly not from the capitalist regimes but only from
the victorious proletariat in Western Europe which naturally would
also serve as a bulwark against any attempted capitalist armed
intervention in Russia from outside. This seems to be the clear
message that we get from the 'Preface' to the Russian edition of the
Manifesto, the last to appear under the joint signatures of its
authors. There, observing that though the Russian commune had already
been "seriously undermined" (stark untergrebene), it could still
directly go over to the "communist form of collective ownership"
provided that there is a "revolution" in Russia which gives signal to
a "proletarian revolution" in the West and that the one complements
the other (Marx, Engels 1972b: 576).

        Shanin imputes uniquely to Engels the position that the
Russian revolution needed a proletarian revolution as a complement
and asserts that "Marx was moving away from such views" (22). Wada,
in his turn, in an otherwise well researched paper, adds that the
'Preface' of 1882 "expresses the opinion of Engels, more directly
that of Marx." Marx being "in low spirits (due to his wife's death)
asked Engels to make the draft and simply put his signature to it"
(Wada in Shanin 1983: 70). As if Marx resigned himself to putting his
name to whatever Engels wanted to draft. Unbelievable! Dussel, in his
turn, though not going to Wada's extreme extent, wrote: "(the 1882
Preface) is a text of compromise between Marx and Engels on the
question of the Russian commune (that is, writing Marx's Russian
Revolution' and Engels's proletarian revolution') and the
'compromise' contained a contradiction indicative of the future"
(Dussel 1990: 262). Let us be more serious. True, in his different
drafts and the final version of his letter to Zassulitch as well as
in his letter to Mikhailovsky, Marx does not explicitly refer to
'proletarian revolution' (by name) in the West as a complement to the
Russian (peasant) revolution, so that 'proletarian revolution' in the
1882 'Preface' seems to come uniquely from Engels who had, in a
polemic in 1875 "at Marx's demand and developing their common point
of view" (Rubel in Marx 1968: 1552) - had explicitly spoken of the
necessity of this complement for successfully transforming the
existing commune system into a higher form.  However, a careful
reading of Marx's drafts shows that the question of a 'proletarian
revolution' in the West as an aid to the peasant revolution in Russia
is very much present there, though the specific term is not there. In
the very first draft (Engels was not aware of these drafts, later
discovered by Riazanov) Marx considers as a "very favourable
circumstance" for the agricultural commune to go over to a higher
form of society without passing through capitalism the fact that,
after having survived a period when the capitalist system still
appeared intact, bearing its technological fruits, the commune is now
witness to this (capitalist) system "struggling, on the one hand with
its labouring masses and, on the other, with science and the
productive forces which it has itself engendered, in a word, in a
fatal crisis which will end in the system's elimination by a return
of the present society to a higher form of the most 'archaïque' type
of collective ownership and production" (1568, 1570; our emphasis).
What else is he saying here but indicating - as if paraphrasing his
famous, much misunderstood, 'Preface' of 1859 - a situation of acute
contradiction between the relations of production and the material
forces of production within western capitalism ending in a "fatal
crisis" of the whole system and leading to its elimination and its
substitution by a society of a higher type - obviously only possible
through a revolution by its "labouring masses," that is, the
proletariat. If our textual reading of Marx is correct, Marx's
position here is basically the same as that of the 'Preface' (1882) -
only expressed in a different way - and certainly not very different
from Engels's which is easily verified when one reads Engels's two
texts closely, those of 1875 and of 1894, the first published at
Marx's demand and with his full accord (Rubel asserts this and even
Wada concedes this [in Shanin 1983:53-54]) and the second without its
author being aware of Marx's drafts (Engels in Marx and Engels 1964
and 1972).

        A couple of points should be stressed here concerning Marx's
depicting the future society (after capital) as a return, in a higher
form, of the most 'archaïque' type. This is in fact a paraphrase of a
sentence from Morgan - whom Marx mentions as an "American author" -
where this author speaks of a 'new system' as 'a revival in a
superior form of an archaïque type' towards which the modern society
tends. Now, Shanin cites Marx's expression (1983:17) and argues
(without mentioning Marx's source) that this represents a kind of
(new) enlightenment for Marx confronted with the Russian commune. We
would, however, submit that the idea underlying Marx's expression
here does not really represent a new position for Marx. Rather he
found in Morgan's statement a re-affirmation of his and Engels's
(Yes, Engels's pace Shanin, Wada e tutti quanti) earlier position,
held, it is true, in a more condensed theoretical manner without much
of an empirical reference. Thus in his 1865 lectures to the workers
Marx speaks of three "historical processes" of the relation between
what he calls the "Man of Labour and the Means of Labour" - first,
their "Original Union," then their "Separation" through the
"Decomposition of the Original Union," third, the "restoration of the
original union in a new historical form" through a "fundamental
revolution in the mode of production" (1988: 412; emphasis in
original). Earlier we referred to a passage from Marx's 1861-63
manuscript where Marx in the same way, speaks of the "Original unity
between the labourer and the conditions of production," as in family
agriculture and 'natural communism,' separation between them under
capital and the "restoration of the original unity by means of a
working class revolution" (along with the rest of society).  Engels
in his turn, in his preparatory notes towards Anti12-Dühring, writes:
"All Indo-Germanic peoples started with common ownership. In course
of social development, in almost all of these, this common ownership
was eliminated, negated, thrust aside by these forms . . . It is the
task of the social revolution to negate this negation and to restore
(wieder herzustellen) the common ownership to a higher stage of
development" (Marx, Engels 1962: 583).

        Another point in the draft has to be noted in this
connection. In the draft we find an interesting representation of the
most archaïque type of community. This representation in a 'right
form' broadly corresponds to Marx's configuration of the society
envisaged as succeeding capitalism long before Marx had read
Kovalevsky and Morgan. We mean the portrait of communism drawn in a
few bold strokes particularly in Capital (1867) and later in somewhat
greater detail in the  Gotha-Critique (1875). Here is the laconic
sentence in the draft characterizing the most archaïque type (as
opposed to its derivative, the 'agricultural commune'): "in the more
primitive communities (besides the common ownership of land) labour
is done in common and the product, which is also common, is
distributed (to the members) according to the needs of consumption
after having put aside the part reserved for reproduction" (1563).
Now, with this text in front of us when we read in Capital (volume 1)
about the "union of free individuals" labouring with the common means
of production where the product of labour is a "social product" of
which one part is reserved in order to serve again as means of
production while the rest is distributed among the members for
consumption (1987: 109) - when we read this, does not this look like
the primitive archaïque society appearing at a higher level in a new
form which Marx reaffirms in his 1881 draft citing Morgan?

        Now the crucial question: does Marx's position on the Russian
commune constitute a fundamental departure as regards his basic point
of view on the question of the transition to a society of free and
associated labour? We have already referred to the singularity and
"uniqueness" of the Russian case (underlined by Marx more than once)
sufficient to exclude any generalization of this case (as a
prototype) to the pre-capitalist peasant society anywhere else in the
world. In this sense this unique example naturally does not affect
Marx's general position.  It is quite clear from Marx's
correspondence that in its effort to go over to a higher type of
society, assuming a successful "Russian Revolution," the commune
cannot, after all, avoid capitalism, developed elsewhere, which,
through the proletarian revolution produced by capitalism itself by
its own contradictions, and the advanced forces of production which
it had created and which would be made available precisely by the
victorious proletariat in the West, would be indispensable for the
commune's survival as well as its extended reproduction. Thus the
commune's transformation into a higher type of society would be
impossible in the absence of capitalism elsewhere. All this of course
assumes a successful "Russian Revolution." However, even before
arriving at this point the Russian commune already faces a sombre
future which Marx discerns in his dissection of the elements of its
decomposition, contained integrally in its "dualism," on the basis of
the "Russian reality," as we saw earlier.  Even before he had
composed his drafts of letter to Zassulitch, Marx's letter to
Mikhailovsky (1877) already indicates the possibility of
decomposition of the commune and clearly emphasized that the path of
1861 which the commune was already traversing, if continued, would
exactly fall within the general case of Capital, which in fact turned
out to be the case.

        The Russian case also, far from invalidating, rather confirms
Marx's 1860s assertion - referred to above - that the two basic
pre-conditions of building the new, "free association" namely, the
development of labour as social labour and a high development of the
productive powers of labour, could not be generated by the "original
unity" between the labour and the conditions of production as
manifested in the different forms of natural "communism" (and small
family mode of production).

        In Russia not only the productive powers of labor were very
backward but also the rural commune was "struck by a weakness,
hostile in every sense" - besides the paracellary mode of labour -
namely, its existence as a "localised microcosm," the isolation and
the "lack of contact of its life with the life of the other communes"
(far from developing labor as social labor) (1968: 1567).

        Now this "weakness" of the commune system - even with common
ownership of land - constituting an obstacle to its transformation
into a society of a new type Marx had earlier put theoretically in
the first edition of Capital (1867) (reiterating his 1860s position)
that is, before his exposure to Chernishevsky in 1870 which,
according to Wada, was a "turning point for Marx (in Shanin 1983:
45). Very interestingly, in the second edition of Capital (1872) as
well as in its French version (1875) Marx retained the same passage
word for word. Here is the passage: "The ancient social organisms, of
production (in the "modes of production of ancient Asia, of
antiquity" etc.) are extraordinarily much simpler and more
transparent than the bourgeois (mode). But they are based either on
the immaturity of the individual human who has not yet severed his
umbilical chord connecting him with others in a natural community (of
a primitive tribe), or the direct relations of lordship and bondage.
They are conditioned by a low level of development of the productive
powers of labour and correspondingly the narrowness of the relations
of human beings as between themselves and with nature in the process
of production of material life" (1983: 48; 1987: 109-110; 1965: 614).
As we see much of this central idea about the old communal system is
carried over and gets confirmed in the concrete case of Russia, as
seen in Marx's 1881 correspondence (after he has read Kovalevaky and

        It would of course be wrong to affirm that there was nothing
new in Marx's thought in his reflections on the Russian communes.
Marx and Engels were undoubtedly impressed by the vitality of these
communes still having about half the land under communal ownership
which existed nowhere else at that period. This is seen in their
continued interest in the question for at least two decades beginning
with the early 1870s. Common ownership of the means of production by
the producers themselves, being the very basis of the new society,
its existence in the Russian communal system - absent elsewhere -
would indeed be, so thought Marx (and Engels), a very favourable
factor enabling, to that extent, the Russian peasant to skip the
stage of capitalist private ownership and start right away with this
great asset, provided of course they eliminate beforehand the Tsarist
régime, the system's principal enemy, and are helped by capitalism's
positive achievements, necessarily mediated by the victorious
proletariat in the West. However, the reason why we hold that this
does not change fundamentally, Marx's thought in general, is simply
because it does not affect Marx's general position on the transition
to a "reunion of free individuals" at a higher level whose
indispensable (pre) conditions are first, the existence of social
labour (with socialization of production) not at a local level but at
the level of the whole society and, secondly, a high level of the
productive powers of social labour contributing not only to an
abundance of material wealth in order to free the "social
individuals" from the struggle for necessity, as mentioned earlier,
but also contributing to the increasing availability of "free time"
beyond labour time, thus enabling the individuals to enjoy the wealth
produced, as well as showing them time for "free activity"
undetermined by the "compulsion of an external necessity" (Marx 1962:
255. The expressions "free time," "free activity" are in English in
the text in the original MS). Ideally, capitalism need not be the
system where these conditions are created, and it would certainly be
better if it were not. Historically, however, as Marx never tires of
repeating, it is only capital which, through its contradictions,
generates these conditions. The Russian communal system - abstracting
from its factors of decomposition already operating - even as an
exceptional case due solely to its communal land ownership, had to
depend on capitalism's positive achievements, particularly the "ready
made material conditions of cooperative labour" (Marx 1968: 1566),
that is, the conditions of socialising labour and production at the
level of society. Finally, it is only the western proletariat, itself
a product of capital, which could, through its own revolution, stand
as a bulwark against all intervention from outside in order to
ensure, a successful Russian Revolution against the Tsarist regime,
the traditional reserve and "head of European reaction," as the 1882
'Preface' observes (Marx, Engels 1972: 576).  In short, what was new
in Marx's thinking, confronted with the Russian commune, was his
theoretical non-exclusion of the possibility for a society to go over
directly to socialism without passing through capitalism, though not
without the help of capitalism prevailing elsewhere which would both
generate a proletarian revolution and make available to the society
in question, precisely mediated by the victorious proletariat, the
fruits of its advanced technology. At the same time Marx severely
qualified this idea by emphasizing the uniqueness of the Russian case
and underlining the negative factors inherent in the communal's
"dualism" working steadily towards its decomposition with the
possibility of transforming the situation into the general case as
depicted in Capital. In the event history, the 'greatest of all
Marxists,' as Hilferding used to say, vindicated Marx's dire

        At this point let us dispose of a serious confusion resulting
from an ideological reading of Marx's writings on Russia in
1881-1882. A number of distinguished people have read Marx's idea of
a "Russian Revolution" in his correspondence and in the 'Preface'
(1882) to the Manifesto as the prefiguration of the twentieth century
revolutions, particularly those led by the Marxists, beginning with
the Bolshevik seizure of power. Thus, according to Shanin, Marx's new
position was vindicated by "victorious revolution led by the Marxists
"in the backward countries, some of which starting with Russia and
led by "Lenin, Mao and Ho, proved socialist in leadership and
results, whereas "no socialist revolution came in the West" (1983:
25, 254). Similarly Dussel has written: "Russia has certainly
followed the road foreseen by Marx (siguio el camino previsto por
Marx). Without passing through capitalism it has realized its
revolution allowing the rural Russian commune to pass, in great
measure, directly from the communal ownership to the social ownership
. . . since the revolution of 1917" (1990: 261; emphasis in text).
Michael Löwy, in his turn, writes: it is often forgotten that, in
their preface to the Russian translation of the Manifesto, Marx and
Engels envisaged a hypothetical situation in which socialist
revolution could begin in Russia and then spread to western Europe"
(Löwy, 1998: 18-19). Similarly Raya Dunayevskaya interpreted the 1882
'Preface' as "projecting the idea that Russia could be the first to
have a proletarian revolution ahead of the West" (Dunayevskaya 1991:

        Now, if one reads Marx's writings under consideration
non-ideologically it is easy to see that the mentioned texts contain
no reference to a 'proletarian' or 'socialist' revolution in Russia.
In the relevant texts it is always a question of "Russian Revolution"
tout court. It is a question of a revolution by Russian communal
peasants against the principal enemy of the communal system - the
Tsarist régime. Naturally, in the thinking of Marx (and Engels),
following the materialist conception of history, there could be no
question of a proletarian revolution in the quasi absence of a
proletariat (unless Marx's Russian experience had made him abandon
his materialism for which there is no textual evidence). The idea of
the possibility of a proletarian revolution occurring in a
technologically backward society where the proletariat constitutes at
most a very small part of society gained its droit de cité through a
theory propagated around the time of the first world war advancing
the specious idea of the possibility of a proletarian revolution
breaking out in the 'weakest link' in the world capitalist chain,
supposed to be not foreseen by Marx and Engels, according to the
principal proponent of this theory.

        Apart from the absence of any idea of such a revolution
existing in Marx's texts, there is a more important point that should
be stressed in this connection. There is in fact an unbridgeable gulf
between the Marx envisaged socialist revolution led by the producers
themselves towards a society of free and associated labour as what
Marx calls producers' "self activity" (Selbstbetätigung) and the
revolutions in the twentieth century taking place under the
leadership, not of the producers themselves, but of a small compact
group in their name beginning with the Bolshevik seizure of power
which from the start excluded the immediate producers from all real
powers excepting in name. Even taking Marx's correspondence in
question one is struck by the emphasis Marx puts in the text on the
creative power of the immediate producers in the transformation of
their society. Absolutely nowhere Marx mentions the need of a special
apparatus to substitute for the spontaneous self activity of the
masses toward their own emancipation.  Thus Marx stresses the need of
"substituting the governmental institution volost' by an assembly of
peasants elected by the communes themselves and serving as the
economic and administrative organ of their interests" (1968: 1567).
This is clearly in stark contrast with the systematic elimination of
the producers' organs of self rule almost from the start of the
Bolshevik régime and culminating in the bloody liquidation of
Kronstadt's soviet democracy, "bustling, self-governing, egalitarian
and highly politicized, the like of which had not been seen in Europe
since the Paris commune (of 1871)," in the words of perhaps the most
authoritative academic historian of the question (Getzler, 1983:
246). What would, a contrario, have broadly corresponded to Marx's
idea of a "Russian Revolution" was Russia's popular uprising of
February, 1917, initiated by the producers themselves without any
party guidance, as an immense revolutionary mass movement in an
open-ended, plural revolutionary process. The Bolshevik seizure of
power, putting a brake on the process, destroyed this revolutionary
democracy (see in particular, on the whole question, Anweiler 1958,
Daniels 1967, Ferro 1967, 1980).


        Marx, it is well known, places the "bourgeois mode of
production" - that is, CMP - as the last of the "progressive epochs
of the economic-social formation" before its replacement by the AMP.
In which sense does Marx view (human) 'progress'? More precisely put,
could Marx be placed among the partisans of the idea of 'progress,'
conceived basically as a cumulative and continuing improvement in the
situation of the human beings thanks notably to the continuing
advances in science and technology - a conception associated with
Bacon, Descartes, Pascal, the Encyclopedists and the positivists of
the nineteenth century - the very idea that is coming under
increasing scrutiny today?

        Far from answering this question in the positive we submit
that Marx, on the contrary, 'rethought' progress more profoundly than
almost any of those who reflected on progress. Marx firmly placed
(human) progress in its historical context, never as an absolute,
abstract category, never unilaterally. He warns against taking the
"concept of progress in the commonplace (customary) abstract" sense
(1953: 29). Progress was always considered by him as a contradictory
movement, simultaneously positive and negative.  Indeed, most of the
criticisms of progress made today could be shown to apply to the
pre-Marxian unilateral idea of progress. As a matter of fact, the
all-round misdeeds of the capitalist progress were already emphasized
by Marx, and in a more penetrating way compared to most of the modern
critics of progress. But unlike these critics whose ideas on progress
are also equally unilateral as the ideas of their opponents, Marx
clearly saw the profoundly contradictory character of progress under

        Given the extraction of unpaid surplus labor as the common
basis of all hitherto existing social formations (at least beginning
with a certain period), Marx considers the capitalist social
formation superior to the earlier social formations precisely because
with its specific mode of extracting surplus labor from the immediate
producers, capital - unlike any earlier mode of production -
contributes to the universal development of the productive powers of
labor, a basic condition for building the new society. This is
achieved of course at a tremendous cost to society undergoing "a long
and painful history of development" (1987: 110). This tendency of
capital toward universal development of the productive powers of
labor, unconstrained by any particular limit, Marx calls the
"positive side" of capital only in comparison with the pre-capitalist
modes of production or as opposed to the earlier modes of production
the "human development in which had only a limited and local
character" (1953: 313; 1988: 107). However, Marx underlines, more
than any other critic of capital, the antagonistic character of this
"positive side" of the capitalist progress.

        Marx's position on progress follows from his rejection of the
"dogmatic distinction between the good and the bad" in favor of the
"dialectical movement" which consists of the necessary "coexistence
of two contradictory sides and their fusion into a new
category"(1965: 81). We mentioned already in the opening section of
this paper how Marx highlights the devastating misdeeds of capital
necessarily co-existing with its "positive side" (as compared with
the pre-capitalist modes of production). Thus, approvingly citing a
passage from Richard Jones where the latter, speaking precisely of
"progress" under modern society as certainly "not the most desirable
state of things" (as regards the relation between the laborers and
the "accumulated stock") but which nevertheless has to be viewed as
"constituting a stage in the march of industry which has hitherto
marked the progress of advancing nations," Marx interprets Jones as
asserting, on the one hand, that CMP constitutes an "immense progress
as opposed to all the earlier forms when one considers the productive
powers of social labor," while underlining, on the other hand, the
"antagonistic form" of this progress which contains also the
"necessity of its downfall" (1962: 425).

        The very principle of production for production's sake, the
recognition of wealth for its own sake as supreme virtue, leading to
the universal development of the productive powers of social labor
which marks the "positive side" of the "modern world," also shows, at
the same time, the other side of progress, its backward and inferior
character in the "modern world" as compared with the "ancient world,"
whatever the different types of narrowness which otherwise mark the
latter. Thus the idea of the ancients that the human being is the aim
of production, not production the aim of the human being appears
"very lofty against the modern world." Compared with the form of
"complete emptiness" which the "full elaboration of the human essence
(des menschlichen Innern)" assumes in the modern world (the
"bourgeois economy"), the "childlike ancient world appears superior"
(1953: 387). In his comments on Morgan, referring to the early period
of human evolution, Marx contrasts the absence of passion for
possession in the early humans with possession being "such a
commanding force in the human mind now" (in Krader 1974: 128;
emphasis in the text. This expression appears in English.)  Again, in
the first draft of his letter to Zassulitch Marx asserts that "one
should not be afraid of the word 'archaic'," that the "vitality of
the primitive communities was incomparably greater" not only compared
to the Semitic, Greek, Roman, but "even more so compared to the
modern capitalist societies," and adds that some bourgeois writers
"infatuated (épris) with the capitalist system and aiming to praise
this system and show its superiority are incapable of understanding
(this)" (Marx 1968: 1568).

        Years earlier Marx had written sarcastically the following:
"Antipatros, a Greek poet of Cicero's time, greeted the discovery of
the watermill as the liberator (Befreierin) of the female slaves and
the builder of the golden age. Oh those pagans! They, as the learned
Bastiat and, before him, still more gifted MacCulloch have
discovered, understood nothing of political economy and Christianity.
Among other, things. they did not grasp that the machine is the most
tested means for prolonging the working day. These pagans excused the
slavery of one as the means towards the full human development of
another. But they lacked the specific Christian charity of preaching
the slavery of the masses for turning the crude or half educated
upstarts into 'eminent spinners,' 'extensive sausage makers' and
'influential shoe black dealers'" (1987: 396-97; words under single
quotation marks appear in English in the text).

        Marx's view of progress under capital as eminently
contradictory (antagonistic) also clearly comes out in his
observations on the two great classical economists - Ricardo and
Sismondi - regarding their respective point of view on the
development of productive powers of labor under the CMP. Ricardo, who
considered the capitalist production as the absolute form of
production and who insisted on the creation of wealth for the sake of
wealth, production for the sake of production which has no barriers
and which encounters no contradiction, showed a "profound
understanding of the positive nature of capital." Sismondi, in his
turn, "profoundly grasped" capital's "limitedness" (Borniertheit),
its "negative unilaterality" with his "profound sentiment that
capitalist production is contradictory" and that the contradictions
grow with the growth of the productive powers of labor. Ricardo
understood more the universal tendency of capital, Sismondi more its
limitedness. Whereas Ricardo's viewpoint was "revolutionary" in
relation to the old society, Sismondi's was "reactionary" in relation
to the capitalist society (1953: 314; 1962: 48, 50; emphasis ours).

        It would be completely wrong to depict Marx - as some
ecologists often do - as a productionist par excellence, a high
priest of production for production's sake.  Everybody knows the
Communist Manifesto's 'compliments' to the bourgeoisie for their
material achievements, the immense development of the productive
powers of labor. We also earlier referred to the great importance
Marx attaches to the growth of these powers as a condition of human
emancipation. Indeed, Marx considers Ricardo's insistence on the need
for unlimited production without any regard for individuals as "just"
and considers Ricardo's critics in this regard as "reactionaries."
However, we should be careful to note that when, in this connection,
Marx refers to Ricardo's position of "equating the proletariat with
machines or beasts of burden or a commodity," and goes so far as to
say that this point of view is "not mean of Ricardo" and that this is
"stoic, scientific, objective," Marx is doing this, as he makes
clear, because "from his (Ricardo's) point of view 'production' is
enhanced this way," because the proletarians are "merely machines or
beasts of burden or they are really simple commodities in bourgeois
production." In other words, "Ricardo's ruthlessness
(Rücksichtslosigkeit) was not only scientifically honest, but also
scientifically necessary for his point of view," inasmuch as Ricardo,
"rightly for his time," considering the "capitalist production as the
most advantageous for creating wealth" gave a scientifically honest
representation of the bourgeois reality (1959: 106, 107, 108;
emphasis in Marx's statement is ours).  Of course this praise for
Ricardo goes hand in hand with Marx's severe critique of Ricardo for
the latter's "unilaterality," his denial of the contradictory
character of the CMP, taken by him as the "absolute form of

        Thus, far from advancing the productionist principle as his
own, Marx is highlighting the principle as reflecting the reality of
capital's ceaseless striving for producing and appropriating riches,
mediated by the unlimited development of the productive powers of
labor. Of course, Marx emphasizes that the development of the
productive powers of labor ultimately signifies the "development of
wealth of human nature as an end in itself" (1959:107; emphasis in
the text). CMP shows its "civilising side" only to the extent that,
compared with the preceding modes of production it is this mode which
contributes most to this process. At the same time, as Marx never
fails to emphasize this process, following from the very nature of
capital, cannot but be inherently antagonistic, cannot but have
profoundly destructive dimensions. For Marx, the "negative or the
contradictory character of capitalist production (is that) this
production is indifferent and in opposition to the producers. The
producer (is) a simple means of production, the material wealth is
the end in itself. Therefore the development of this material wealth
(is) in opposition to and at the cost of the human individual" (1988:
107; emphasis ours).  However, as long as capital continues, we
cannot have one without the other. In general, given a society
divided in classes, "if there is no antagonism, there is no
progress." This is the "law that civilisation has followed till our
times. Till now the productive forces have developed thanks to the
antagonistic regime of classes" (Marx 1965: 35-36; our emphasis).

        While Marx praises Sismondi for his profound analysis of
capital's contradiction (which Ricardo could not understand), Marx
also reproaches Sismondi for trying to eliminate these contradictions
by setting "moral and legal limits" to capital "from outside," which,
as "external and artificial barriers" capital necessarily throws
overboard (1953: 314) (How astonishingly modern this sounds!).
Indeed, the critics of capital's tendency toward unlimited
development of the human productive powers fail to realise that
though this development is effected "at first at the cost of the
majority of human individuals and even of the entire classes," it
"ends up by breaking through this antagonism and coincides with the
development of the singular individuals," that the "higher
development of the individuality is brought only through a historical
process in which the individuals are sacrificed" (1959: 107: emphasis
ours). This catastrophic situation - the destruction of the majority
as a cost of 'progress' - Marx certainly does not posit as a
universal law valid for all times. This is valid only during what
Marx famously calls the "pre-history of human society." Marx puts
this very clearly in almost identical terms in two texts: "It is in
fact only at the greatest waste of individual development that the
development of general men is secured in the epochs of history which
preludes to a socialist constitution of mankind" (1976: 327; 1992:
124-25; the whole sentence appears in English almost identically in
the two manuscripts; emphasis ours).


        Let us conclude. It is the old society itself which
contradictorily creates the conditions of its own negation together
with the conditions of building a society of free and associated
producers. Two basic material conditions in this regard are an
immense development of productive powers of labor and the development
of labor as social labor. The CMP alone, among all the hitherto
existing modes of production, creates these conditions. Even though
socialism could arise in an essentially non-capitalist society, given
some form of communal ownership in the means of production not
already undermined from within, the process would prove unviable
unless helped by the material acquisitions of the CMP from outside.
Such help is difficult to conceive in the absence of a victorious
proletarian revolution in capitalist countries.

        However, the creation of the material conditions in question
- commonly called material progress - under capital is necessarily
bought at a tremendous cost to human beings including their
surroundings, given the specific nature of capital. Capital cannot
create the conditions of its own negation and those for building the
new society except by devouring, à la Timur, myriads of human souls.
Many have stressed unilaterally the regressive or negative progress
under capital just as many have stressed equally unilaterally its
positive side. Marx 'rethought' progress more profoundly and more
clearly than perhaps anyone else by underlining the non-separability
of these contradictory aspects belonging to the same process of
capitalist development. You cannot simply have only the 'good' side
and not the 'bad' side of progress under this tremendously
antagonistic social formation. In fact the negative side itself
proves to be positive by generating as necessarily as it generates
the bad side - massive resistance and struggle by capital's victims
to uproot the basic cause itself.  As Marx emphasizes in the French
version of Capital, "in history, as in nature, putrefaction is the
laboratory of life" (1965: 995; not reproduced in the German version).

                Paresh Chattopadhyay
                Université du Québec à Montréal
                e-mail: r25030@nobel.si.uqam.ca


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