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Mainstream, VOL XLIX No 32, July 30, 2011

Capital, Capitalism: A Step to Socialism of Marx

Monday 1 August 2011, by D P Sen


”The whole value of Marxism seems to me to be in its absence of dogmatism, mode of approach and its attitude to action... The success or failure of Russian social experiments does not directly affect the validity of the Marxian theory.”
—Jawaharlal Nehru1

During 1989-91 the USSR and its satellite socialist countries of East Europe collapsed like a house of cards without any resistance either from their peoples, rather with their active support. Machinations of the capitalist world had also played a part. The USSR disintegrated into several independent countries. All these countries and also the socialist countries of East Europe adopted the capitalist system of economy. After a few decades of experimentation with ultra-revolutionary practices, China, under the control of its Communist Party, has allowed, since 1978, the capitalist way of production. So is the case with Vietnam.

The present article discusses the compulsions which forced all these countries to reject the path of socialism/communism practised by the USSR or by China under Mao Zedong. It is not a scholastic article and may be considered as loud-thinking.

From the standpoint of both practical politics and academic considerations, the subject area covers a vast number of fields which include economics, political science, social science, history, science and technology, research and development, philosophy and many others. Only a bird’s eye-view and that too, in brief, has been presented here. The author will be grateful if it raises some dust.

Marxism: Science of Advancement of Human Society

DURING the 19th century, two intellectual giants of Europe announced two theories which shook the world: the first one was by Charles Darwin on the theory of evolution by natural selection and the survival of the fittest,2 and the second one was by Karl Marx on the progressive advancement of human society in accordance with the scientific logic known as dialectical materialism or historical materialism.3a, 4 It goes to the credit of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels for raising the study of progress of human society from arbitrariness to the level of science just as Darwin removed religious supernaturalism for the evolution of man and gave it a scientific base to develop. Darwin and Marx allowed conclusions to emerge from the vast amount of accumulated data. The chaos and arbitrariness that had previously reigned in the sphere of history and politics were replaced by a strikingly integral and harmonious scientific theory of Marxism which shows how in consequence of the advancement and growth of productive forces, out of one system of social life, another and higher system develops; how capitalism, for instance, grows out of feudalism. Historical materialism of Marx is a great achievement in scientific thinking.

Components of Marxism

MARXISM, in brief, has four components each with their social, economic and political ramifications.

(a) Economic System (Production and Means of Production): At anytime of history, it is the economic system that forms the ultimate and decisive factor for the structure and the other facets of human society. Political superstructure and its form, whatever it may be, is built to provide support to the economic system. Other forces like religion, tradition, culture, etc. have also their role in modelling the final form of a society. These forces, with their origin in human thinking and memory process (in brain), make the study of development of human societies at different regions of the world highly complex.

The following quotations of Engels3b show that Marx and Engels were fully conscious of the complexity of the subject due to secondary forces.
In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that we find result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus, there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite number of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant, the historical event.


but when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, it happens only too often that people think that they have fully understood a new theory and apply it without much ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent “Marxists” from the reproach for the most amazing rubbish in this quarter too...

(b) Surplus Value of Labour (Profit and Capital): The doctrine of surplus value of labour (capital formation) is the cornerstone of the economic theory of Marxism and its logic leads to unavoidable requirements for advancement and development of a society or a country. A wage worker sells his labour power to the owner of the land, factories and the instruments of production. The worker spends one part of the day covering the cost of maintaining himself and his family (wages), while in the other parts of the day he works without remuneration creating for the capitalist, surplus value of labour, the source of the latter’s profit and wealth.

Also, “bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production and thereby the relation of production with them the whole relations of the society... All fixed fast-frozen relations with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away. They are replaced with sober senses and new ethics and culture which makes a man free.3a

(c) Class Struggle: According to Marx,3a hitherto written all history of mankind including that of present day capitalism is the history of class struggle.

Under capitalism two actors are there: one is the proletariat who are exploited of their surplus value of labour and the other is the bourgeoisie, gathering its capital from the proletariat usurping their surplus value of labour.

(d) Abolition of State Power or State: Karl Marx did not give any guideline in a specific way or otherwise for a communist or socialist state after the proletariat captured power except the abolition of private property or nationali-sation of instruments of production possessed by the bourgeoisie. But in a general way he envisaged that in due course a socialist/communist state would either wither away or be replaced by an association of the nation in which class distinction will disappear and free development of each will be condition of free development
for all.

Advanced Capitalist System

MARX and Engels considered that an advanced capitalist system shall inexorably lead to socialism and Europe with developed capitalism during the 19th century was ripe for a proletarian revolution.

During the 1850s, Marx made important observations on India and interpreted the basic mechanisms of the pre-capitalist and pre-colonial civilisations.5 Apart from this, no fundamental observations on pre-capitalist countries of Asia and Africa have been attributed to him.

The whole thesis of the communist movement, as envisaged by Marx and Engels, was with reference to countries of capitalist Europe. The Manifesto of the Communist Party by the authors (1848)3a starts with the clarion call to all European countries: “A spectre is haunting Europe —the spectre of communism.” Lest one overlooks: this thesis was not a guideline for the pre-capitalist countries of the world of that period.

As a corollary to above, Marx concludes that the capitalist system would inexorably lead to a socialist revolution due to the “epidemic of overproduction” and also class contradiction. A country with a highly developed capitalist system was likely to undergo a socialist revolution first compared to a less developed one. Advanced proletariat was another requirement.

Lenin’s Theory of Weakest Link

BY the second half of the 19th century, most of the countries of Asia, Africa and elsewhere became colonies of the major capitalist countries of Europe. The ruling imperial powers were isolated from the people of these countries. Lenin proposed the theory of the weakest link in the capitalist chain keeping in view better possibility of success of the national liberation struggle followed by a proletarian revolution in many of these colonies.

November Revolution (1917) and Rise of Communist World

THE ideological debate mentioned earlier became irrelevant and was overlooked by the world communist movement when the successful November (1917) Revolution under the leadership of Lenin and the Communist Party of Russia (Bolshevik) established the first working class state (USSR) of the world where private property, that is, exploitation of man of man, was abolished. The new state was basically different from the existing capitalist or feudal states. It was hailed as a proof of the success of the theory of Marxism and also the weakest link theory of Lenin.

The Great Depression of the world capitalist system during the 1928-31 period provided additional proof of the validity of the economic theory of Marxism.

There was great euphoria among the working class people and poor of the world and India was no exception. The communist movement of different and/or underdeveloped countries was highly inspired and new Communist Parties came into existence. The Third International (Comintern) of the Communist Parties and after its dissolution in 1943, the Cominform (1947-56), came into existence. The Comintern was to guide and coordinate the world communist movement. The Cominform was formed apparently to exchange information and views. These organi-sations had absolute dictatorial power over the world communist movement.

After the Second World War (1939-45) a few East European countries came under the fold of the communist world. In 1949, after the successful revolution under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the country became another important member. Subsequently Vietnam (middle of the 1970s), Cuba 1959 and Afghanistan (1978) and a few other countries in Africa and Asia joined the camp. The world communist movement was at its zenith. World capitalism (USA) declared the USSR an evil empire.

Fall of Communist World and Change in China

AFTER the death of Lenin (1924), the leadership of the CPSU (B) passed into the hands of Stalin. In the name of Marxism and class struggle, he developed a monstrous and despotic state—a system without democracy to rule the USSR. Perhaps this had its origin in the semi-capitalist and semi-feudal social system of Russia during its pre-revolutionary period and this was inherited by the CPSU (B).

During 1989-91, the Soviet system of the USSR and East European countries collapsed and was replaced by the capitalist system which grabbed all the hard-earned capital (surplus value of labour) generated by the working people of the USSR and other socialist republics without compensation. China and Vietnam also adopted the capitalist system under the political control of their Communist Parties.

The communist movement all over the world suffered a serious setback. It lost its appeal and steam.

Capture of State Power and Subsequent Developments

LENIN’S emphasis on the theory of the weakest link in the capitalist chain seems to be quite applicable with success for the purpose of capture of state power only. Deprivation and poor quality of life of the people in a pre-capitalist or semi-capitalist or semi-feudal or an erstwhile under-developed colony make them join a party with revolutionary slogans or jargons.

This had happened in Russia, China and other countries where the revolution was successful. There are also instances in history where a reactionary populist party has captured power through demagogy, harping on deprivation of the people in a capitalist or pre-capitalist country.

For a Communist Party, the capture of power is not an end in itself. Speaking in a general way it must be followed by work for allround developmental and welfare activity and a better quality of life for all, including the poorest of the poor. But all these would require sufficient capital (accumulated surplus value of labour), people with organisational capacity, expertise, manpower and, last but not the least, entrepreneurship. But limitations of capital in the main and other factors will stand in the way of all development and other work. After capture of power, wherefrom the capital will be harnessed?

Because of the importance of capital (surplus value of labour), Marx and Engels had expressed that a most advanced capitalist country with advanced working class (for example, Germany of the 19th century) was most amenable to a socialist revolution. The weakest link theory of Lenin faced or will face the strongest difficulty in the post-revolutionary period.

Need for a Communist Movement in the Present-day World

WITH the whole world at its service, capitalism at present has initiated its offensive to erase the remnants which had their origin in Marxism and the communist movement. At present the theoretical foundation of such an offensive is provided by Milton Friedman and his school at Chicago (USA). The theory,6 also known as shock therapy, prescribes: (a) the removal of all regulations and rules that disallow accumulation of profit, (b) the privatisation of all state-owned assets which would be owned and operated by corporations for profit, and (c) dramatic reduction in funding of social programmes.

The communist and trade union movement during the 19th and 20th century had, through tenacious struggles, won many rights and privileges due to the working people from capitalism both in its raw state and subsequently in its present well-established state. World capitalism now considers itself strong enough to withdraw many of these rights and privileges which it was forced to concede earlier. These rights and privileges must be retained and, when or where necessary and legitimate, expanded. The movement is all more necessary for economic and social upliftment of the unorganised working people and the poor.

The communist movement is also necessary for the protection of national sovereignty. At present the capitalist world of the USA and Europe has announced globalisation as one of the pillars for its economic system for financing, production and marketing. It represents the supreme triumph of capitalism. However, it does not herald a new world but only indicates an alternate form of corporate imperialism.

According to Patnaik,7 an eminent academician, the perpetuation of the world divide between the advanced segment and backward segment is not in spite of but because of capitalism. In particular, the author argues, the tendency towards globalisation, which is often portrayed as the coming into being of a genuine international community as a transcendence of capitalism, represents on the contrary its supreme triumph.

However, where applicable, dictatorship of the proletariat requires to be deleted as the ultimate aim of a Communist Party. It gives rise to despotism and abolishes democracy.

Practice of Marxism Not Static

MARXISM is not a static theory with theosophical emphasis on its enviable sanctity. As the means of production (science and technology) change, social relationships among people also change as a consequence. Marxism, thus, requires continuous change through research, study and modification of practices.

More than 150 years have passed since the time the thesis on historical materialism was announced by Karl Marx. At that period capitalism, with the benefit and help of the industrial revolution, had made its appearance in Europe. Since that time the world has undergone vast changes in all spheres and for the purpose of the present article these may be divided under four categories:

(a) after the Second World War (1939-45), independence of all the colonial countries of Asia, Africa and elsewhere;

(b) amazing and astounding advancement in science and technology;

(c) rise and fall of fascism; and
(d) rise and fall of the socialist countries of Europe, including the USSR.

By utilising the advancement in science and technology, the capitalist world has improved its means of production, efficiency of production and profit (surplus value of labour). There is also a corresponding social change in human communities.

Marxist ideologues of the world, including those of India, have made valuable contributions on the socio-economic system of pre-capitalist, erstwhile colonial countries. But Communist Parties of these countries were reared in the Comintern or CPC ideology, strategy and tactics and followed their dictat. The movements of the Communist Parties were mainly concerned with the political aspect of gaining power. A leader of a party could disobey the above authorities only to face expulsion and even death. It appears that official Marxists and Marxist academicians work in parallel lines. Official parties consider academicians as “interlopers” (to use the word of D.D. Kosambi).

These ideologues are held in high esteem for their academic excellence by the Communist Parties but that is about all.


DURING the last two-three decades, there is an attempt, directly or by implication, to undermine Marxism even by the established Communist Parties of China, Vietnam and even Cuba. A section of the CPI-M of India has also joined the above bandwagon. According to many sympa-thisers, Marxism has become backdated and
is not applicable in the present era. The CPC and other parties did not offer a Marxist explanation for their economic policy to encourage capitalism in their countries. One is sorry to say, however unpleasant it may be, that these leaders have failed to appreciate and comprehend Marxism. If these countries and also the erstwhile USSR and East European socialist countries are practising capitalism, they are only fulfilling the necessity of historical materialism. Practices in the erstwhile USSR under Stalin or in Communist China under Mao Zedong were against the then demand of historical materialism and, therefore, failed. World capitalism is all the more happy to see the naivety of the “official” Marxists, not to speak of the unofficial ones.

Karl Marx in his magnum opus The Capital6

and he along with Frederick Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party3a have repeatedly stressed the importance of surplus value of labour, capital and capitalism in historical materialism.

It is better to quote them: “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. Bourgeoisie whenever it has got the upper hand has put an end to feudal, patriarchal and idyllic relations...”3a

In many erstwhile colonial countries of the former imperial powers, due to historic reasons, capital formation of the local financial leaders was highly limited; it varied from country to country. For these countries the stage of capitalism for capital formation cannot be ignored. China and Vietnam are at present practising capitalism under communist political rule. The practice is correct but, theoretically, this is an enigma. Eventually the capitalist economy will be taken over by capitalist political rule. If it succeeds, that is, a capitalist economy under communist rule, it would be a miracle for the world’s working people.

Capitalism will collapse in future in a natural process by its own contradictions, “epidemic of over production” etc. Already we have had a mild warning (recession of 2007-09). Any attempt to have a premature birth (revolutionary attempt for socialism with success for the time being) will result in a fiasco and malformed baby, eventually to die.

The stage of capitalism cannot be avoided for the development of a pre-capitalist colonial country such as India but it will be different from raw capitalism, as described by Charles Dickens in his book David Copperfield. Capitalism will be in a new form.

Finally, let us end by quoting a great saying: “There cannot be revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory”—Sajjad Zaheer, a great Communist leader of India and Pakistan. Shall we not try for a theory for the communist movement to practise Marxism in colonial countries of the past?

[While writing this article the author has greatly benefited through discussions with Dipankar Sengupta, a retired engineer and with profound interest in social science, and also by the use of his excellent collection
of Marxist literature.]


1. Jawaharlal Nehru, Autobiography as quoted by D.D. Kosambi as theme of his book entitled Exasperating Essays, India Book Exchange, Calcutta, 1957.

2. Charles Robert Darwin, On the origin of species by means of natural selection, 1859.

3. (a) Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, p. 37.
(b) Letter by F. Engels to J Block, dt 21.9.1890, p. 692.
All in Selected Works, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1968.

4. Capital (a critical analysis of capitalist production), Vol. I, II, III, Karl Marx, 1867, 1893, 1894, Progress Publishers, 1965. Daily Tribune, edited by Iqbal Habib, appreciation by Prabhat Patnaik, Aligarh Historians Society, Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2006.

5. Karl Marx on India from the New York Daily Tribune, edited by Iqbal Husain, Introduction by Irfan Habib and appreciation by Prabhat Patnaik, Aligarh Historians Society, Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2006.

6. Abigail Dawn Mcgillivary, ‘Indian Economic Reform as an Example of Disaster Capitalism’, Mainstream, XLVIII, 38 (September 11), 2010.

7. Prabhat Patnaik, Whatever happened to Imperialism and other Essays, Tulika, New Delhi, 1995.

Dr D.P. Sen is a scientist who retired several years ago from the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore.

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