A Rational Critique of Marxism and Communism - XIV
(Selected from the book:
“Reason, Romanticism and Revolution”
By M. N. Roy-2)
1. “To attach class labels to ideas is evidently a false practice. Ideas are created by men, and as such belong to the entire race, and not to any particular class. They are, of course, not static; from the dawn of civilization they have been in a continuous process of evolution, having been influenced by the natural and social conditions under which various human communities and classes lived in different parts of the world, in different epochs of history. But ideas have their autonomy and a logic which is not dialectical, but dynamic. Therefore, political doctrines of the bourgeois revolution, theories of the classical capitalist economics and the principles of the Hegelian philosophy could all go into the making of Marxism which called itself the ideology of the proletariat, but the positive elements of which will survive the proletarian revolution. Marxism was not a negation, nor a negation of a negation, of the older ideas that it took over. Without those ideas there could be no Marxism. Therefore, the laws of the dynamics of ideas cannot be called dialectical.” (Pages:399, 400)
2. “As against the “utopia” of the forerunners of Socialism, Marx offered his “scientific Socialism. He criticized his predecessors because they had no knowledge of the proletariat; that they built out of their imagination fantastic pictures of a new social order that they appealed to morality; that, in short, they did not have a philosophy of history. An unbiased study of the pre-Marxian history of socialist thought shows that some of the charges against the Utopians were simply unfounded. As regards the charge of appealing to morality, they were guilty, but only from the Marxist point of view. For rejecting that appeal, Marxism was doomed to betray its professed ideas and ideals. The contention that “from the scientific point of view, this appeal to morality and justice does not help us an inch farther”, was based upon a false notion of science.” (Page: 405)
3. “Marx distinguished himself from his predecessors by declaring that he wanted to proceed scientifically; nothing was to be taken for granted or deduced from preconceived notions. He would make inferences only from the empirical laws of social evolution and forces of modern society. He proposed to prove that Socialism was bound to come, as a “necessary product of historical development”. The “evolutionary laws of history”, which enabled him to found scientific Socialism and predict the inevitable advent of Communism, was the Hegelian notion of progress through conflict. It was certainly not an empirical law; it was a preconceived notion; and Scientific Socialism was derived from it. As a notion, it belonged to idealist philosophy, even when Marx’s imagination put it on its feet. The result was that “the picture given at the end of Capital, Vol.1, answers to a conception arrived at by speculative Socialism in the forties.” The picture conjured up in the Communist Manifesto is much more so. Marx had not yet hit upon his master-key of economic determinism. Later on, to elaborate the philosophical presuppositions of Marxism, Engels wrote that a particular economic phenomenon had already ceased to exist “when the moral consciousness of the masses declares it to be wrong.” The idealism of the dialectic method cannot be suppressed. Moral consciousness is not an economic force. And Marxism, in so far as it was true to the tradition of man’s age long struggle for freedom, could not get away from the appeal to morality. Its historical significance lies in that fact. But the much vaunted historical sense failed Marx when he ridiculed his predecessors, and believed himself to be a prophet of immaculate conception, possessed of the light of revelation.” (Page: 406)
4. “The error, if not insincerity, of Marx’s rejection of the earlier socialist thought is proved by the fact that his whole fight against the German philosophical Radicals, who called themselves “true Socialists”, was a defence of the utopianism of the French Socialists. The German Socialists, whom the founder of scientific Socialism vehemently combated, characterized pre-Marxian Communism as utopian and maintained that, as against the empiricism of the French and English social reformers or revolutionaries, they reached Socialism scientifically.” (Page:407)
5. “In the same article, in which for the first time Marx advanced the theory of the inevitability of the collapse of the capitalist order and the advent of Socialism, he also for the first time advocated armed revolution for the overthrow of the established State and the social system. So, at its very conception, Marxism was self contradictory. If the decay and disappearance of any social system was inevitable, a violent revolution for its overthrow was palpably unwarranted. Conversely, if the change had to be brought about by force, it was not inevitable. Because it could be prevented by the use of superior force.”(Page:409)
6. “Trying to combine rationalism, the view that history is a determined process, with the romantic view of life which declares the freedom of will, Marxist historiology contradicts itself. Not that the two cannot be combined; they are combined in Hegel’s dialectics. The notion of progress is a product of reason and romanticism. Nature is a rational system; so is society, because it is a part of nature, social evolution being a continuation of biological evolution. If the mechanistic view is not to be tampered with, then neither a dues ex machina should be allowed to wind up the clock of the evolution of the physical Universe, nor any conscious effort of man is to influence the unfolding of social forces. And the mechanistic view of the physical, biological and social evolutions is the very essence of Materialism.” (Pages:409, 410)
7. “The recognition of the decisive role played by thinking man, that is to say, by ideas, in historical processes, runs counter neither to the rationalist notion of progress nor to the mechanistic view of evolution. The harmony between the rationalist conception of progress and the romantic idea of revolution also takes place in the materialist philosophy, which is not a negation of Idealism, but absorbs and goes beyond by tracing the roots of ideas in the rational scheme of nature. The thinking man acts upon the process of social evolution not as a dues ex machine; he is an integral part of the process. The human brain is also a means of production – of ideas, which motivate action to create history.
These philosophical implications of Marxism were not clearly thought out by its founders. Therefore, the Marxist view of history is vitiated by the contradiction between rationalism and the romantic notion of revolution. With his rationalism, which is the essence of materialist philosophy, Marx was a Humanist, and as such a romanticist. He combined, as Heinemann wrote, “the righteous fury of the great seers of his race, with the cold analytical power of Spinoza.” A different personality could not be the prophet of revolution; because, any successful revolution is conditional on a combination of thought and action inspired by a harmony of rationalism and the romantic view of life.
The harmony is in the thesis that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” This basic doctrine of the Marxist philosophy of revolution is a legacy of Renaissance Humanism, which saw the relation between history and philosophy. Inspired by the humanist tradition, Bacon in his Advancement of Learning emphasized on the necessity of shifting importance from precept to application, from theory to practice, from philosophy to history. Bacon, at the same time, was a rationalist, the exponent of inductive logic, which made Newtonian mechanistic natural philosophy possible. Inspired by Bacon’s humanist approach to history, Vico’s Scienza Nuova unfolded the romatic vista of humanity creating itself. The relation that connects Marx and Bacon can be traced backward through earlier phases in the history of philosophy.” (Pages : 410, 411)
8. “Dialectics is a rationalist notion; dialectical Materialism, therefore, is a rationalist notion and a rationalist philosophy. On the other hand, the appeal to violence, being an echo of the last phase of the Great Revolution, is a romantic extravagance. The two aspects of Marxism thus stand in the relation of thesis and antithesis. The synthesis is the statement that “by changing the world, man changes himself”. In other words, man’s ability to change the world, to expedite evolution through revolution, and the moral right to do so, result from the fact that man is a part of nature, which is a ceaseless process of change, a dialectic process, in the Hegelian language. But the world is greater than the greatest of men; and will always be so. Therefore, man’s ability to change it is limited by the axiom that the whole is greater than its part. By disregarding this self-evident truth, revolutionary activism becomes irrational and runs up against the law of nature and the nature of man. Then, revolution only mars the salutary and uninterrupted progress instead of being truly beneficial for mankind, as Godwin warned.” (Pages:412, 413)
9. “Owing to the Hegelian association of his adolescence, Marx himself was not sufficiently aware of his spiritual ancestry. Under the influence of the Hegelian dialectics, he rejected eighteenth century Materialism as mechanical. At the same time, he disowned the humanist tradition of the earlier advocates of social justice, ridiculing them as Utopians. Though he thus believed that he was beginning from scratch, as the founder of a new philosophy and the prophet of revolution, Marx belonged to the intellectual lineage of Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius, Bruno, Gassendi, Hobbes, Holbach, Diderot and Feuerbach, to mention only the most illustrious of them. His place in the history of philosophy, therefore, is no less significant and honourable than any one of his forerunners. Indeed, his contribution to the cause of human freedom was greater, because he had the advantage of living in an age when scientific knowledge could throw light on the old problems of philosophy.
To be able to offer a rational explanation of the world of experience, and to avoid the pitfalls of mysticism, philosophy must be monistic; monistic metaphysics does not preclude pluralism in the process of becoming; and only a materialist metaphysic (irrespective of the change in the concept of matter in physics) can be strictly monistic. Marx’s proposition that consciousness is determined by being placed materialist metaphysics on a sound scientific foundation. His subsequent thought, particularly sociological, however, did not move in the direction indicated by the significant point of departure. Marxism, on the whole, is not true to its philosophical tradition. In sociology, it vulgarizes Materialism to the extent of denying that basic moral values transcend space and time. With the impersonal concept of the forces of production, it introduces teleology in history, crassly contradicting its own belief that man is the maker of his destiny. The economic determinism of its historiology blasts the foundation of human freedom, because it precludes the possibility of man ever becoming free as an individual. Yet, contemporary sociological thinking has been considerably influenced by the fallacious and erroneous doctrines of Marxism which do not logically follow from its philosophy.
In addition to the accumulated achievements of the agelong struggle of metaphysics against dualism, philosophically, Marxism inherited also the liberating tradition of Humanism. The two apparently conflicting trends of thought – mechanistic naturalism and romantic Humanism – harmonized in Feuerbach, who therefore could throw off the Hegelian influence more completely than Marx. Nevertheless, in Feuerbach’s materialist Humanism, man remains an abstraction, veiled in mystery, an elementary, indefinable category, as simply given, to be taken for granted. The fiery prophet of social justice in Marx was more a Humanist than a Hegelian. But his critical mind did not miss the weakness of Feuerbach’s Humanism and realized the necessity of explaining the being and becoming of man, if his sovereignty as the maker of his destiny was to be empirically established. It was in search of a rational foundation of the humanist view of life that Marx under took his analytical study of history. At the same time, anthropology had discovered that the struggle for physical existence was the basic human urge – a biological heritage. Marx identified the primitive man’s intelligent effort to earn a livelihood with the biological struggle for existence, and came to the conclusion that the origin of society and subsequent human development were economically motivated. The point of departure of the Marxist historiology was the mistake of confounding physical urge with economic motive.” (Pages:418, 419)
10. “For a considerable time after the origin of the species, homo sapiens were not moved by any economic motive, but by the biological urge of self-preservation. He earned the means of subsistence, and for the purpose devised primitive tools out of sheer physical necessity. Anthropological research does not show any economic motive in the human struggle for existence in the earlier stages of social evolution. What it does show is that the struggle for physical existence provides stimuli for mental development. Consciousness and other rudiments of mind are a biological heritage antecedent to the appearance of homo sapiens. Thus, further evolution is determined by the physical conditions of the being and becoming of man. But economic determinism of history from the origin of society cannot be logically deduced from that fact. In other words, economic determinism is not a corollary to Materialism. Moreover, it is antagonistic to Humanism, because it subordinates man to the inexorable operation of the impersonal forces of production. In an economically determined society, man is not a producer, but a means of production.” (Pages:419, 420)
11. “Marx’s effort to place Feuerbach’s materialist Humanism on a rational foundation led to the exactly contrary consequence. Feuerbach’s mystic abstraction was replaced by an economic automation; and the abstract conception was transferred from the debased man to society, which was endowed with a collective ego.” (Page:420)
12. “Marx’s failure to work out a sociology consistent with materialist philosophy was due to his passion for social justice, inherited from his humanist predecessors, though he disdained them as Utopians. Marx, however, was not the dry-hearted mathematical prophet of history, as he has been celebrated by his followers, and as he might have believed himself to be. With a burning faith in revolution, he was a romanticist and as such a Humanist. The idea of revolution is a romantic idea, because it presupposes man’s power to remake the world in which he lives. If purposeful human effort is left out of account, social development becomes a mechanistic evolutionary process, making no room for sudden great changes and occasionally accelerated tempo. As the prophet of revolution, Marx was a romanticist. He proclaimed his faith in the creativeness of man which, accelerating the process of evolution, brought about revolutions. Marx being a Humanist, the force of his theory of revolution was its moral appeal. Even his critics, who do not depart from objectivity, honour Marx for a passionate search for truth and intellectual honesty. Without a moral fervor of the highest degree, without an intense dislike for injustice, he could not undertake the lone fight to improve the lot of the oppressed and exploited.” (Page:420)
13. “In the absence of an adequate knowledge about the origin of life, in the past, Humanism could not be placed on a rational foundation. The advance of scientific knowledge since the middle of the nineteenth century, while compelling certain revisions of mechanistic cosmology and materialist metaphysics, contributed to the triumph of rationalist Humanism. The fact that life is found to be associated with dead matter in a particular state of organization connects man, through the long process of biological evolution, with the background of the physical Universe. The supreme importance of man results from the fact that in him the physical process of becoming has reached the highest pitch so far. Humanism thus ceases to be a mystic and poetic view of life. Based on scientific knowledge, it can be integrated in the materialist general philosophy, and the latter, then, can be the foundation of a sociology which makes room for human creativeness and individual liberty without denying determinism; which reconciles reason with will; which shows that cooperation and organization need not stifle the urge for freedom. Harmonised with Humanism, materialist philosophy can have an ethics whose values require no other sanction than man’s innate rationality.”(Page:421)
(to be continued)
Reason, Romanticism And Revolution
Ajanta Publications India,