Marxism is a current of political, sociological and economic thought founded on the ideas of Karl Marx (and to a lesser extent of Friedrich Engels) and his followers. Politically, Marxism is based on participation in the real movement of the class struggle, in order to achieve a classless society as a step after capitalism.
Indeed, Karl Marx considers that “the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves”, therefore that it is by collective action that the economic and social organization can and must be changed.
Communism, Marxism and Marx’s Socialism
Marx and communism
Karl Marx approached both philosophy, sociology, the economic analysis of capitalism in the context of materialism and science. He applied, always within the materialist framework, a critical analysis of the thoughts of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, etc. He therefore constructed a new conception of the study of societies called the materialist conception of history.
Within the ethical framework, he militates for the revolutionary communist project, that is to say a society free from wage labor, capitalism, social classes, States, and borders.
Within the framework of the League of Communists, Engels, Wilhelm Wolff, Marx and a few others aimed to subject “to ruthless criticism the mixture of Anglo-French socialism or communism and German philosophy, which then formed the secret doctrine of the League ”; they established that “only the scientific study of the structure of bourgeois society could provide a solid theoretical basis”. They finally exposed “in a popular form that it was not a question of bringing into force a utopian system, but of intervening, knowingly, in the process of historical upheaval which was taking place in society”.
Thus in the Manuscripts of 1844, Marx writes: “Communism is the necessary form and the dynamic principle of the immediate future, but communism as such is neither the goal of human development nor the form of the human society.” In 1845, in The German Ideology, for Marx and Engels, “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. ” They call “communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence “.
In 1847, Engels defined this real movement in the first of the Principles of Communism, “What is communism?”:”Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.”
In the Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848, Marx and Engels remark that “Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property”, a condition for the liberation of the proletariat. Therefore: “Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.”
In 1875, Marx indicated in one of his last texts (the critique of the Gotha Program) his vision of communism:
“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wanted us not to speak of Marxism, but of “critical rationalist socialism” or “critical materialist socialism” or even of “scientific socialism” for the doctrine of science to avoid attributing in his person what is the theoretical heritage of the proletariat.
Marx himself, on several occasions in the last years of his life, said to Paul Lafargue: “If this is Marxism, what is certain is that I am not a Marxist”, indicating his will. to distance itself from the “Marxism” proclaimed by the nascent French Workers’ Party. Indeed, “the Guesdists engage in a popularization of Karl Marx and Engels… better suited to the French public”. It is in this context that “Karl Marx, who wrote the “considerations” of the program of the Guesdists”, would have pronounced this expression. The term was coined at the end of the 1870s by opponents of those close to Marx (the Guesdists, German Social Democracy) within the International Association of Workers. The expression appears verbatim for the first time in 1882 with Paul Brousse’s brochure Marxism in the International.
However, this statement by Marx should not be understood to mean that he was opposed to all forms of popularization. His statement is above all an opposition to any hagiographic theory. For the rest, Marx asserts that “scientific essays, intended to revolutionize a science, can never be truly popular. But once the scientific basis is laid, popularization is possible… ”.
The expression “scientific socialism” is used, from the middle of the 19th century, to designate a form of socialist thought based on a scientific analysis of social, historical and economic realities. It is part of the renewal of materialist philosophy induced by new scientific and technical discoveries. Its final objective is to provide an answer to the social question agitating the European nineteenth century. By force of circumstances, this expression has become, through its use by various socialist and then communist circles, a synonym of the term Marxism. This is often divided between several strong concepts: historical materialism, the class struggle or theory of surplus value, etc.
Nevertheless, the expression fits into its century. Modern science is then invented and in some ways becomes “the new religion of the industrial age”. Science participates in the common culture of scientists of the moment, just as it is found in philosophical and political discourses. Socialism is no exception. It can thus be defined as a sociological thought, a knowledge on the social that its members diffuse in the society in order to transform it.
Scientific socialism is then just as much the socialism theorized by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as well as by those claiming their descent, as socialism which mobilizes the knowledge of its time and offers a “scientific” explanation of the social world.
But like all thought, it is difficult to account for its diversity, just as it is complex to bear witness to its diffusion. The history of political ideas very often remains dependent on its sources, and much more on the memorial imprint of certain “great thinkers”. If “the workers can think”, even for some, to be “worker philosophers”, the fact remains that they left much less traces than the journalists, the intellectuals and other socialist professional thinkers. Moreover, due to their daily life and their education, they do not have an equal relationship to the sciences and to philosophical, political and epistemological theories. Finally, the theories are disseminated within various local, national and international networks.