Marx's Theory Of Revolution In Emperical Reality

Over the course of his active life, Karl Marx' philosophy concerning the revolutionary process naturally evolved and developed. His work must therefore be considered in its entirety to adequately understand his perceptions and views. It would be inaccurate to characterize Marx' analysis of the revolutionary process strictly on the basis of his early writing - such works as The German Ideology (1845-46) and The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). In order to acquire a better understanding of his theories, one must examine the evolution of the theoretical premises suggested by these introductory works when tested in revolutionary practice. Marx, being a scientific thinker understood that the ultimate test of any theory is practice. The location for testing his ideas regarding class struggle - his laboratory - was the labor movement. The two crucial texts to understanding Marx's thinking about revolution are The Communist Manifesto and The Civil War in France. Of these, The Civil War in France is perhaps more important because it demonstrates a mature statement of Marx' revolutionary theory. Written in the period prior to the great revolutions of 1848-49, The Communist Manifesto is primarily a theoretical anticipation of future revolutionary developments based upon historical research and is quite accurately expressed. However, The Civil War in France was written after the class struggle developed to the point that it introduced a new institution: the commune. This new state formation, which was the world's first workers' government, developed in spite of the influence of Blanquist conspiratorial theories and Proudhonist anti-statist anarchist ideas. Moreover, it was the first revolution that underlined Marx theory of revolution. The Paris Commune developed spontaneously from the process of class struggle; the need for a new political form arose and The Commune was created to address it. In their 1872 introduction to The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels acknowledged the important influence of the Paris Commune on their philosophy: In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848, and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in some details been antiquated. One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that "the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes." (See The Civil War in France: Address of the General Council of the International Working Men's Association, 1871, where this point is further developed.) (1) Marx claimed that among his most important contributions to sociological and political ideas was his detection of "the dictatorship of the proletariat" (the working class organized as the ruling class), Marx identified this as the key for the transition to socialism. Calling it "a new point of departure of world-historic importance" Marx recognized that the commune represented the first concrete manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The incident of the Paris Commune provided practical answers to the theoretical questions hinted at in The Communist Manifesto. The Paris Commune is the key to understanding Karl Marx' theory of revolution.Any analysis of the revolutionary theory of Karl Marx should begin with the thinker himself. A materialist approach, which is understanding that ideas and theories don't just pop out of thin air, would begin with biographical details, with the historical context and the social movements affecting the thinker. Examining these factors allows a greater understanding of Marx s theories and gives a truer sense of their importance. The best evidence of a person's ideas is not necessarily what they put down on paper. Action often provides a better gauge than rhetoric when determining the importance of ideas a person attaches his theories. In examining Marx' life, it is obvious that he was a devoted husband and father, an admirer of Shakespeare and classical Greek drama, a one-time romantic poet who was especially contemptuous of the superficial popular poet Martin Tupper, an impoverished radical journalist, chess player and social scientist. Above everything else, Karl Marx was a revolutionary. Unlike an ivory-tower intellectual, working in an isolated and sterile environment proposing abstract theorems of no real consequence, Marx was an active participant in building the revolutionary movement. Marx was a revolutionary.Marx was involved in the working-class movement across the entire continent of Europe. He was the editor of the Left Hegelian opposition newspaper Rheinische Zeitung; and for 11 tumultuous months in 1848-49 he edited the revived Neue Rheinische Zeitung. He was also a contributor to numerous journals. As a leading member of the Communist League, Marx was the primary author of its legendary manifesto. He corresponded frequently with working class activists in Europe, Russia and the United States, exchanging ideas and arguing vociferously about tactics and strategies. Marx was often called upon to conduct workshops, classes and training sessions for workers in Belgium, France and England. He attended rallies and meetings addressing working class organizations. He helped to form the International Working Men's Association, served on its General Council and wrote many of its important tracts. From his exile in England he carefully observed the development of workers' parties in Europe, and intervened to correct their activities, such as his critique of the Gotha program of the German party. As previously mentioned, one can conclude that Marx was a revolutionary activist. In addition to his immense participation and contributions to the revolution of the proletariat, Marx was also committed to theoretical analysis. At all times Marx demonstrated a combination of theory and practice, with more stress on one side or the other as events demanded. In the revolutionary upsurge prior to the events of 1848, the youthful Marx was actively involved in creating links among workers across Europe through the Communist League. During this period he continued his theoretical explorations, as demonstrated by writings such as The Poverty of Philosophy, Wage Labor and Capital and The Holy Family. After the failure of the revolutions of 1848-49, Marx was one of the few among the Communist League to admit to recognize that the prospect of immediate revolution was off the agenda. He therefore turned to more intensive research, spending hours in the British Museum in hopes to gain a greater understanding of the capitalist system. Yet even while pursuing this theoretical work (which would lead, among other things, to the first volume of Capital) Marx continued to correspond with other revolutionaries, addressed labor meetings and wrote polemical articles.After more than a decade of emphasizing theoretical work, Marx was inspired by events in Italy, Poland and elsewhere in Europe, particularly the response of the English proletariat to the US Civil War. Acknowledging the possibility of a renewed working class movement, Marx was instrumental in the 1864 founding of the International Working Men's Association (IWMA), an activist grouping of revolutionaries from Europe and North America. The period of Marx' activity with the IWMA was perhaps the most combative, prolific and eventful of his life. The IWMA had somewhat (though limited and inconsistent) influenced in the European workers' movement. The Paris Commune of 1871 marked the high point for the IWMA, with Marx vigorously defending the communards on behalf of the organization. Marx' revived political activism meant that much of his most important theoretical work, including Theories of Surplus Value, The Grundrisse and the additional planned five volumes of Capital - was suspended. It was left to Engels and others to prepare Marx' last works for publication after his death in 1883. Clearly, when faced with a choice between revolutionary activism and theoretical deliberations, Marx chose the former. In order to attain an understanding of the extreme importance of the analysis of the Paris Commune, Marx` theory of revolution must be introduced. Marx outlines his theory of revolution in The Communist Manifesto and he also explicitly projects it in the Gotha Program of 1875. Identifying class struggle as the primary dynamic in history, he characterizes the modern world as the stage for a dramatic confrontation between the ruling bourgeoisie (the capitalists) and the downtrodden proletariat (the working class). Driven by the logic of capitalism in seeking greater profit, the bourgeoisie constantly revolutionized the means of economic production, the fulcrum of history. In so doing, it unwittingly mobilizes socio-historical forces that it can no longer control, thus ironically calling into existence the destined class, the proletariat, to end its rule. As the proletariat increases in number and political awareness the result, according to the Communist Manifesto would be that heightened class antagonism would generate a revolution and the inevitable defeat of the bourgeoisie. Analyzing the experience of the short-lived revolutionary government established in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, we can interpret the formation and existence of the Commune as a historical confirmation of Marx` theory of revolution. One can conclude that it is necessary for workers to seize political power by armed insurrection and then to destroy the capitalist or in this case the monarchist state. Finally, The Commune discovers the political form under which the economic emancipation of labor could take place.The Paris Commune represented a new form of government, never before seen or imagined. In its brief existence, the commune was never a socialist one in its entirety, although it contained some elements of an early form of Socialism. Yet Marx suggested that events would force it to act in a socialist manner. The multiplicity of interpretation to which the Commune has been subjected, and the multiplicity of interests which construed it in their favor, show that it was a thoroughly expansive political structure, while all previous forms of government had been emphatically repressive. Its true secret was this: Because it was a working class government in essence, the product of a class struggle would result in lowering the income and status of the comfortable bourgeoisie, but on the other hand there would also exist a working-class with higher income and greater satisfaction thus creating greater contentment for society as a whole. The political form at last discovered under which means to work out the economical emancipation of labor. Excluding this last condition, the Communal Constitution would have been impossibility and a delusion. The political rule of the producer cannot co-exist with the perpetuation of his social slavery. The Commune was therefore utilized as a lever for uprooting the economical foundation upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class rule. With the emancipation of laborers, every man becomes a workingman, and productive labor ceases to be a class attribute. The Paris Commune, with its expansive political form, indicated how a workers' government could negate the political functionaries and the bureaucratic layers that had blocked revolutionary efforts in the past. The Commune was formed from municipal councilors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majorities of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be both legislative and executive at the same time, but not a parliamentary body. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workman's wage. The vested interests and the representation authority of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves. Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but also the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the state was laid into the hands of the Commune. Using state power, the working class, through the commune would uproot the means by which the bourgeoisie had maintained its dictatorship, through the ideologies of repression. The first decree of the Commune was therefore the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people. Once relieved of the standing army and the police (the physical force elements of the old government) the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the "parson-power", by the disestablishment of all churches as proprietary bodies. The priests were sent back to the recesses of private life, there to feed upon the alms of the faithful in imitation of their predecessors, the apostles. The whole of the educational institutions were opened to the people gratuitously, and at the same time cleared of all interference of church and state. Thus, not only was education made accessible to all, but science freed itself from the fetters which class prejudice and governmental force had imposed upon it. The Paris Commune was, of course, intended to serve as a model to all the great industrial centers of France. Once the communal regime established itself in Paris and the secondary center, the old centralized government in the provinces, too, would have to give way to the self-government of the producers. In a rough sketch of national organization, which the Commune had no time to develop, it states clearly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country and that in the rural districts the standing army was to be replaced by a national militia, with an extremely short term of service. The rural communities of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif (formal instructions) of his constituents. The few but important functions which would still remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as has been intentionally misstated, but were to be discharged by Communal and thereafter responsible agents. The highly democratic nature of the commune form of government would make it extremely efficient at performing necessary social tasks. The working class would run the "state," rather than the reverse. Without the need to repress the majority in the interests of a minority, the "state" would assume a different character; have greater legitimacy in the public perception. The commune would win middle class support by providing "good government." The Communal Constitution would have restored to the social body all the forces hitherto absorbed by the state parasite feeding upon, and clogging the free movement of society. By this one act, it would have initiated the regeneration of France. The Commune would have delivered the peasant of the blood tax, giving him a cheap government and transform the notary, advocate, executor, and other judicial vampires, into salaried communal agents, elected by, and responsible to, himself. It would have freed him of the tyranny of the garde champetre, the gendarme, and the prefect; it would have put enlightenment by the schoolmaster in the place of stultification by the priest. And the French peasant is, above all, a man [sic] of reckoning. He would find it extremely reasonable that the pay of the priest, instead of being extorted by the tax-gatherer, should only depend upon the spontaneous action of the parishioners' religious instinct. Such were the great immediate advantages, which the rule of the Commune (and that rule alone) held out to the French peasantry. With parts of their city occupied by Prussian soldiers, the Paris Commune would need the support of the international working class to survive. If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national government, it was, at the same time, as a working men's [sic] government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labor, emphatically international. Within sight of the Prussian army, that had annexed to Germany two French provinces, the Commune annexed to France the working people all over the world.


The Commune admitted all foreigners to the honor of dying for an immortal cause. Between the foreign war lost by their treason, and the civil war fomented by their conspiracy with the foreign invader, the bourgeoisie had found the time to display their patriotism by organizing police hunts upon the Germans in France. The Commune made a German workingman its Minister of Labor. The bourgeoisie s, the Second Empire, had continually deluded Poland by loud professions of sympathy, while in reality betraying her and doing the dirty work of Russia. The Commune honored the heroic sons of Poland by placing them at the head of the defenders of Paris. And, to broadly mark the new era of history it was conscious of initiating, under the eyes of the conquering Prussians on one side, and the Bonapartist army, led by Bonapartist generals on the other, the Commune pulled down that colossal symbol of martial glory, the Vendome Column. The Paris Commune also began to erode the traditional patriarchal structure of French society, allowing women greater social involvement. It was the activity of women that had launched the commune: On March 18th, the soldiers were ordered by M. Thiers, the head of the reactionary government, to transport the cannon of Paris to Versailles. The milkmaids, who were on the streets before dawn, saw what was afoot and thwarted the treacherous plans of the reactionary government. They surrounded the soldiers and prevented them from carrying out Theirs' orders. Although the men had not yet come into the streets on this early morning, and although the women were not armed, they held their own. As in every real peoples' revolution, new strata of the population were awakened. This time it was the women who were to act first. When reveille was sounded, all of Paris was in the streets. Theirs' spies barely escaped with the information that it was impossible to inform on who the leaders of the uprising were, since the entire population was involved. (2)On the first day of the Commune, March 18th, women played a crucial role in neutralizing the troops sent by Theirs to seize the cannons of the National Guard. At Montmartre General Lecomte gave the order to fire. At this the women spoke to the soldiers: "Will you fire upon us? On your brothers? Our husbands? Our children?" Faced with this unexpected intervention, the soldiers hesitated. A warrant officer stood in front of his company and shouted: "Mutiny!" Thereupon the 88th battalion fraternized with the crowd. The soldiers arrested their general. (3)The commune introduced measures to better the lot of women: The Commune also saw the first growing shoots of a new sexual morality and women's emancipation. Marriage came in for strong condemnation. The Commune decreed on 10 April a pension for widows and children of `all citizens killed defending the rights of the people', whether the children were legitimate or not. This in effect meant putting the free unions common among the working-class population of Paris on an equal footing with marriage. `This decree,' said Arnould afterwards and rather hopefully, `delivered a mortal blow to the religio-monarchical institution of marriage as we see it functioning in modern society.' (4)In the defense of the Paris Commune during the bourgeoisie's final assault, women showed exceptional courage. They fought on the barricades alongside the men, and were particularly effective incendiaries. Marx exclaimed about these brave Communards: The real women of Paris showed again at the surface - heroic, noble, and devoted, like the women of antiquity. Working, thinking fighting, bleeding Paris - almost forgetful, in its incubation of a new society, of the Cannibals at its gates - radiant in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative! (5)These were some of the positive lessons drawn by Marx from the experience of the Paris Commune. The commune demonstrated many of the steps any workers' state would have to undertake in order to protect itself: the elimination of the police and army; the undermining of the bureaucracy; the appeal to other classes and the international working class; the activation of formerly marginalized sections of the populace such as women and national minorities. However, despite a heroic struggle, the Paris Commune was eventually crushed. While never hesitating to praise the positive impact the Paris Commune had on the international working class movement, Marx also drew lessons from the negative aspects. The most important failure of the Paris Commune was its lack of relentless and decisive action against the bourgeoisie. The very magnanimity and humanity of the commune proved fatal. Only reluctantly did it use force, take hostages or keep the prisoners it captured. It had many opportunities to eliminate the threat poised by the weakened Versailles government of Thiers. The commune's hesitation allowed the bourgeoisie time to regroup, gather an army and arrange a deal with the Prussians. The commune's moderation left the way open for the vicious, vengeful retaliation the Versailles government inflicted on the workers of Paris. Marx suggested what the Communards should have done. In their reluctance to continue the civil war opened by Theirs' burglarious attempt on Montmartre, the Central Committee [of the Paris Commune] made themselves, this time, guilty of a decisive mistake in not at once marching upon Versailles, then completely helpless, and thus putting an end to the conspiracies of Thiers and his Rurals. If they [the Communards] are defeated only their "good nature" will be to blame. They should have marched at once on Versailles, first after Vinoy and then the reactionary section of the Paris National Guard had themselves retreated. The right moment was missed because of conscientious scruples. They did not want to start the civil war, as if that mischievous abortion Thiers had not already started the civil war with his attempt to disarm Paris. (6) Writing his stirring address to the IWMA mere days after the event, Marx overlooked another troublesome aspect of the Paris Commune. Marx did not recognize the second weakness of the Commune. It was elected by all of the male citizens of Paris, divided into separate wards. The exclusion of women, which is especially striking in the light of the magnificent role played by the workingwomen of Paris under the Commune. This was a reflection of the influence of Jacobinism on the French labor movement. Moreover, the election of representatives on a territorial basis meant that members of all classes chose the Commune. Just as in bourgeois elections, all citizens were treated as equal, irrespective of their class position. Normally, this formal equality conceals the real inequalities of wealth and power, which undermine bourgeois democracy. In Paris under the Commune, this method of election did not have such harmful effects because most of the bourgeoisie had fled the city. The Paris Commune was the first and only socialist revolution Marx witnessed. But for the above-mentioned reasons it was not a successful socialist revolution. The material conditions, the objective circumstances, were certainly favorable. Commenting on the Paris Commune with the same acuity he brought to so many political situations, Leon Trotsky wrote: The proletariat grows and gathers strength together with the growth of capitalism. In this sense the development of capitalism is the development of the proletariat toward dictatorship. But the day and the hour when power goes over into the hands of the working class depends immediately not on the level of the productive forces, but on the relations of the class struggle, on the international situation, and finally, on a series of subjective factors: tradition, initiative, readiness for struggle. In a country which is economically more backward, the proletariat can come to power sooner that in an advanced capitalist country. In 1871 it consciously "took into its own hands the direction of public affairs" in petty-bourgeois Paris - to be sure, only for two months, but it did not take power even for an hour in the large-scale capitalist centers of England and the United States. The idea that the proletarian dictatorship is somehow automatically dependent on the technical forces and means of the country represents a prejudice of an extremely simplified "economic" materialism. Such a viewpoint has nothing in common with Marxism. (7) Perhaps the most important lesson of the Paris Commune was suggested by Marx and developed further by later revolutionaries such as Lenin, Luxembourg and Trotsky. Marx described the problem both in his criticism of the leadership of the commune and in other arguments. In every revolution there intrude, at the side of its true agents, men of different stamp. Some of them being survivors of and devotees to past revolutions, without insight into the present movement, but preserving popular influence by their known honesty and courage, or by the sheer force of tradition. Others were mere brawlers who, by dint of repeating year after year the same set of stereotyped declarations against the government of the day, had sneaked into the reputation of revolutionists. After March 18th, some such men did also turn up, and in some cases contrived to play pre-eminent parts. As far as their power went, they hampered the real action of the working class, exactly as men of that sort have hampered the full development of every previous revolution. They are an unavoidable evil: with time they are shaken off; but time was not allowed to the Commune. In short, the political immaturity of the working class prevented a successful revolution in the 19th century. The proletariat had not and did not create the political leadership needed for a successful worker's revolution. Creating such a political leadership was the project Marx pursued throughout his life, both as an activist and as a theoretician. Objective conditions frequently presented revolutionary opportunities. Yet without political leadership that advocates socialism, instills class consciousness, understands the history of political struggle and the necessity for decisive action (including revolutionary terror) against the bourgeoisie, any revolutionary movement will fail to create socialism. Historically, the most important missing element of socialist revolution was the subjective factor: the revolutionary socialist party. However, this was not the only missing factor, according to Marx theory of revolution, the pre-requisite for a revolution to occur is the existence of a genuine worker s class. In the period of The Paris Commune, the French working-class was rather extensive, however it lacked the central authority that would supervise its activities. Moreover, Marx s prediction failed due to the fact that the Bourgeoisies continued to gain assets throughout industrialization and the suppression of workers. On the other hand, however, the suppressed workers did not get poorer but instead transformed into a low-middle class community that Marx himself labeled anti-revolutionary. While it had some members in key positions of the Paris Commune, the International Working Men's Association was not yet the revolutionary party needed for a successful transition to socialism. It lacked the theoretical clarity, critical mass and organic connection to the working class necessary to lead events. A revolutionary party cannot be created in the midst of civil war, armed occupation, social chaos and economic disruption. Long before a revolutionary situation arises, the party needs to develop its theory, test it in practice and gain credibility among the working class. When it begins to fight against the bosses, the working class looks for ideas to advance its struggle. Without a legitimate revolutionary working class party, these workers will often be tempted to follow the well-meaning, charlatan "[people] of a different stamp" as Marx described above. However, if a revolutionary party has established itself in advance of the struggle, gaining sufficient size and the respect of workers, it can lead the fight to a successful conclusion: socialism.Leon Trotsky elaborated on this lesson from the experience of the Paris Commune:The proletariat of Paris did not have such a party. The bourgeois socialists with whom the Commune swarmed, raised their eyes to heaven, waited for a miracle or else a prophetic word, hesitated, and during that time the masses groped about and lost their heads because of the indecision of some and the fantasy of others. The result was that the revolution broke out in their midst, too late, and Paris was encircled. Six months elapsed before the proletariat had reestablished in its memory the lessons of past revolutions, of battles of yore, of the reiterated betrayals of democracy - and it seized power.These six months proved to be an irreparable loss. If the centralized party of revolutionary action had been found at the head of the proletariat of France in September 1870, the whole history of France and with it the whole history of humanity would have taken another direction. (8)With the establishment and existence of The Paris Commune Marx' theory of revolution was confronted with empirical reality. The demise of capitalism is inevitable, but there is no certainty as to when. Capitalism has been able to hobble along only because of the political immaturity of its future gravediggers. The one consistent feature of Marx' life, from the time before The Communist Manifesto until his death, was his attempt both theoretically and practically - as a person of thought and a person of action - to hasten the political development of the proletariat. Marx s theory of revolution, confronted with empirical reality creates a macro-sociological dissertation as it reflects on an era where Europe was faced with social problems in relation to social class and power. In addition we witness a change in the status of women as they gain a certain degree of emancipation. In a detailed look at the French revolution one can become conscious of the major effects a certain group, or theory, more specifically the effect that Marx theory had on the State and social development of our time. Although Marx s influence during his life was not great, it increased after his death with the growth of the labor movement. Marx s ideas and theories came to be known as Marxism, or scientific socialism, which constitutes one of the principle currents of contemporary political thought. His analysis of capitalist economy and his theories of historical materialism, the class struggle and surplus value have become the basis of modern socialist doctrine. Of decisive importance with respect to revolutionary action are his theories on the proletariat. Vladimir Ilich Lenin, who developed and applied them, revived these doctrines, revised by most socialists after his death, in the 20th century. They became the core of the theory and practice of Bolshevism and the Third International. Marx ideas, as interpreted by Lenin, continued to have influence throughout most of the 20th century. In much of the world, including Africa and South America, emerging nations were formed by leaders who claimed to represent the proletariat. However, we are yet to experience a true Socialist society as Marx hypothesized.

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