The Factors of Race and Nation in Marxist Theory (1)
The impotence of the banal "denialist" position
Races, Nations or Classes?
1. The method of the Italian and international communist left has never had anything in common with the false dogmatic and sectarian extremism that seeks to abolish the forces that operate in the real process of history with empty verbal and literary denials.
In a recent article in our "Thread of Time" series ("Racial Pressure of the Peasantry, Class Pressure of the Peoples of Color", Il Programma Comunista, no. 14, August 24, 1953), which contains a series of reflections on the national-colonial and agrarian questions—and therefore concerning the principal contemporary social questions in which important forces are involved, forces that are not limited to industrial capital and the wage-earning proletariat—it was demonstrated with documentary evidence that a perfectly orthodox and radical revolutionary Marxism acknowledges the current significance of these factors and the corresponding need for an adequate class and party policy to address them; and this was undertaken not exclusively with quotations from Marx, Engels and Lenin, but also with the founding documentation, from the years 1920-1926, of the left opposition in the International and the Communist Party of Italy which during that period was a member of the International.
Only in the fatuous insinuations of the adversaries of the left, who have in the meantime followed the path of opportunism and are today shockingly floundering in the repudiation of class-based Marxism and in counterrevolutionary politics, has the left been complicit in the absolutist and metaphysical error according to which the communist party must concern itself only with the duel between the pure forces of modern capital and the wage workers, from which duel the proletarian revolution will arise, denying and ignoring the influence on the social struggle of any other class or any other factor. In our recent work involving the reconstruction of the basics of Marxist economics and of the Marxist revolutionary program we have fully proven that this pure "phase" does not actually exist in any country, not even in the most highly industrialized nations where the political rule of the bourgeoisie has been most deeply rooted, such as England, France and the United States; to the contrary, this "phase" cannot be verified anywhere, and its existence by no means constitutes a necessary precondition for the revolutionary victory of the proletariat.
It is therefore plain foolishness to say that, since Marxism is the theory of the modern class struggle between capitalists and workers, and since communism is the movement that leads the struggle of the proletariat, we have to deny any historical impact on the part of the social forces of other classes, the peasants, for example, and racial and national tendencies and movements, and that by correctly establishing the basis of our activity we shall consider such elements to be superfluous.
2. Historical materialism, presenting the course of prehistory in a new and original way, has not only considered, studied and evaluated the process of formation of families, groups, tribes, races and peoples up to the formation of nations and political states, but has precisely explained these phenomena in the context of their connection with and how they are conditioned by the development of the productive forces, and as manifestations and confirmations of the theory of economic determinism.
The family and the horde are forms that we undoubtedly also encounter among the animal species, and it is often said that even the most highly evolved animal families and herds, while they may begin to display examples of collective organization for certain purposes of defense and self-preservation and even for the gathering and storage of food, still do not display productive activity, which distinguishes man, even the most primitive man. It would be more correct to say that what distinguishes the human species is not knowledge or thought or some particle of divine light, but the ability to produce not only objects of consumption but also objects devoted to subsequent acts of production, such as the first rudimentary tools for hunting, fishing, gathering fruit, and, later, for agricultural and craft labor. This primordial need to organize the production of tools is linked—and this characterizes the human species—with that of subjecting the reproductive process to some kind of discipline and rules, overcoming the accidental nature of the sexual relation with forms that much more complex than those presented by the animal world. It is especially in the classic work by Engels, to which we shall make abundant references, that the inseparable connection, if not the identity, of the development of the institutions of the family and of production is demonstrated.
Thus, in the Marxist view of the course of human history, before social classes even appeared—our whole theoretical battle is aimed at proving that these classes are not eternal; they had a beginning and they will also have an end—the only possible explanation is provided, on scientific and material bases, for the function of the clan, the tribe and the race and of their ordering under increasingly more complex forms due to the influence of the characteristics of the physical environment and to the growth of the productive forces and of the technology at the disposal of the collectivity.
3. The historical factor of nationalities and of the great struggles for and among them, displayed so variously throughout history, becomes decisive with the appearance of the bourgeois and capitalist social form by means of which this factor is extended over the entire earth, and Marx in his time devoted the greatest attention, no less than he devoted to the processes of social economy, to the struggles and wars of national consolidation.
With the doctrine and party of the proletariat already in existence since 1848, Marx not only provided the theoretical explanation for these struggles in accordance with economic determinism, but also strove to establish the limits and the conditions of time and place for supporting insurrections and wars for national independence.
By developing the great organized units of peoples and nations, and by superimposing state forms and hierarchies on them and their social dynamism that was differentiated by castes and classes, the racial and national factors played diverse roles in the various historical epochs; slavery, local chieftains, feudalism, capitalism. The importance of these factors varied from one form to another, as we shall see in the second part of our essay and as we have shown on so many occasions. In the modern epoch, in which the transition from the feudal form, from personal dependence and limited and local exchange, began and spread throughout the world, to the bourgeois form of economic servitude and the formation of the great unitary national markets, and then to the world market, the consolidation of nationality according to race, language, traditions and culture, and the demand that Lenin summarized in his formula, "one nation, one state" (while he explained that it was necessary to fight for this although he also said that it was a bourgeois formula and not a proletarian and socialist one), possess a fundamental force in the dynamic of history. What Lenin had verified with regard to the pre-1914 era in eastern Europe was true for Marx after 1848 in all of western Europe (except England) and even in 1871, as everyone knows. And today it is true outside of Europe, in vast areas of the inhabited world, although the process is impelled and accelerated by the potential for economic exchange and all sorts of other factors on a world scale. As a result, the problem of what position must be taken with regard to the irresistible tendencies of the "backward" peoples to engage in struggles for national independence is of contemporary relevance.
Opportunism and the National Question
4. The dialectical core of the issue does not reside in equating an alliance in the physical struggle for anti-feudal revolutionary goals between bourgeois states and the working class and its party with a repudiation of the doctrine and the politics of the class struggle, but in showing that under the historical conditions and in the geographical regions in which this alliance is necessary and unavoidable, the programmatic theoretical and political critique of the goals and ideologies for which the bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements fight should remain integral and should be pursued tirelessly.
In the third and final part of our essay we shall show how Marx, at the same time that he energetically defends, for example, the cause of Polish or Irish independence, never ceases not only to condemn, but to utterly demolish and bury in ridicule the idealist conceptions of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois authors concerning democratic justice and the freedom of the peoples. Whereas for us the national market and the centralized capitalist nation-state constitute stepping stones to the international economy that will supersede the state and the market, for the famous personalities that Marx ridicules—Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth, Sobieski, etc.—the democratic consolidation into nation-states is an end-point that will terminate all social struggles, and they want the homogeneous nation-state because in such a state the employers will not appear as enemies or as elements that are foreign to the exploited workers. At this historical moment the front lines are shifted, and the working class wages civil war against the state of its own "fatherland". The advent of this moment was hastened and its conditions were being established by the process of the revolutions and bourgeois national wars of consolidation in Europe (and today in Asia and Africa as well): this is how to decipher this problem that, while changing, never ceases to offer variable directions.
5. Opportunism, betrayal, backsliding, and counterrevolutionary and philo-capitalist action on the part of today’s Stalinist false communists has a double impact on this terrain (no less than on the strictly economic and social terrain of so-called domestic politics). They contribute to the emergence of national democratic demands and values with excessive open political alliances, even in the highly advanced capitalist West where any plausible reason for engaging in such alliances was ruled out in 1871; but they also disseminated among the masses the sacred respect for the patriotic national and popular ideology identified with that of their bourgeois allies, and even court the support of the champions of these policies, who were ferociously denounced by Marx and Lenin in their time, while they pursue their mission of extirpating all class sentiment in the workers who have the misfortune of following them.
It would be stupid to offer as an extenuating circumstance for the infamy of the parties that today claim to represent the workers, and above all in Italy, under the false name of communists and socialists, the fact that they acknowledge as an admitted Marxist method, the participation in revolutionary national alliances on the part of the workers parties, on the condition that they should take place outside the 20th century and outside of the historical-geographical boundaries of Europe. When, in the conflict that recently erupted in the highly developed West (France, England, America, Italy, Germany, Austria), the Russian state and all the parties of the former Communist International then joined in the military alliance with all the bourgeois states, when there was no Napoleon III or Nicholas II or similar figures, first of all the lessons of Marx’s Address on behalf of the First International to the Paris Commune of 1871 were directly contravened, in which Marx denounced and ruled out forever any alliance with "national armies" because "the national governments are one as against the proletariat", and secondly Lenin’s theses on the war of 1914 and the founding of the Third International were also contravened, in which it was established that, once the stage of generalized imperialist wars had commenced, demands for democratic reform and national self-determination no longer had anything to do with the policies of states, condemning all social-nationalist traitors, from the Rhine to the Vistula.
A simple proposal to "reapply the terms" conceded to capitalism, transferring 1871 and 1917 to 1939 and 1953, with an incalculable subsequent extension, cannot proceed very far without completely undermining the entire Marxist method of reading history, at the crucial points in which its doctrinal force began to open up a breach in the armies defending the past: the European 1848, and the Russian 1905. Furthermore, such a proposal leads to the repudiation of all classical economic and social analysis, by claiming to assimilate the recent fascist totalitarianism with feudal remnants that still existed during that period (and even non-fascist, when Poland was divided between Germany and Russia!).
But the sentence of diametrical treason is also encountered in the second aspect: the total and integral cancellation of that critique of the "values" of bourgeois thought, which proclaim a classless world of popular independence, free nationalities, and independent and peaceful fatherlands. Marx and Lenin, however, when they were forced to reach some kind of agreement with the authors of this putrid conceptual framework, drove the struggle to liberate the working class from the fetishes of the national fatherland and democracy proclaimed by the big names of bourgeois radicalism to the highest point of virulence, and were able to in fact break with them in the historical dynamic, and when the relation of forces permitted they crushed its movement. Their successors today have inherited the function of the priests of these fetishes and myths; now it is not a matter of a historical pact that they will break later than they had foreseen, but of the total submission to the demands of the capitalist bourgeoisie in order to obtain the optimum of the regime that would allow them privileges and power.
The thesis is interesting because it conforms to the demonstration, offered in "Dialogue with Stalin" and in other inquiries in the field of economic science, that Russia today is a state that has completed the capitalist revolution, and that in its social marketplace there is a place for the flags of nationality and fatherland, as well as the most unbounded militarism.
6. It is a very serious mistake not to see, and indeed to deny, the fact that in today’s world national and ethnic factors still have an impact and exercise enormous influence, and that careful study of the limits in time and space in which campaigns for national independence, linked with social revolutions against pre-capitalist forms (Asiatic, slave and feudal) still have the character of necessary preconditions for the transition to socialism—with the founding of nation-states of the modern type (in India, China, Egypt, Persia, etc., for example)—is still relevant.
Differentiating between these situations is difficult, on the one hand because of the factor of xenophobia determined by the ruthless capitalist colonialism, and on the other due to the widespread dissemination throughout the world of productive resources that causes commodities to reach the most distant markets; but on the world scale the burning question posed in 1920 in the area of the former Russian empire, that of offering political and armed support to the independence movements of the peoples of the East, is by no means closed.
For example, to say that the relation between industrial capital and the class of the wage workers is expressed in precisely the same way in Belgium and Thailand, and that the praxis of their respective struggles should be established without taking into account in either of the two cases the factors of race or nationality, does not mean you are an extremist, but it means in effect that you have understood nothing of Marxism.
It is not by draining Marxism of all its depth and scope as well as its harsh and uninviting complexity that one conquers the right to refute, and one day to crush, despicable renegades.
REPRODUCTION OF THE SPECIES AND PRODUCTIVE ECONOMY, INSEPARABLE ASPECTS OF THE MATERIAL FOUNDATION OF THE HISTORICAL PROCESS
Labor and Sex
1. Historical materialism loses all its meaning wherever it consents to the introduction of the allegedly individual nature of the sexual urge as a factor that is alien to the domain of the social economy, which would generate derivations and constructions of an extra-economic order until it attains the most evanescent and spiritual levels.
A much greater mobilization of the scientific material would be necessary, always starting from the highest degree of mistrust towards the decadent and venal official science of the current period, if this polemic were to be aimed only at the self-proclaimed total adversaries of Marxism. As always, it is the currents that say that they accept some parts of Marxism, and then address essential collective and human problems claiming that they are beyond its purview, that concern us the most in their capacities as counterrevolutionary factors.
It is clear that idealists and fideists, having established their views upon the explanation of the natural hierarchy of values, tend to situate the problems of sex and love in a sphere and a level that is far above the economy, which is vulgarly understood as the satisfaction of the need to eat and related needs. If the element that elevates and distinguishes the species homo sapiens from the other animals really derives not from the physical effect of a long evolution in a complex environment of material factors, but descends from the penetration of a particle of an immaterial cosmic spirit, it is clear that in the reproduction of one being by another, of one thinking brain by another, we would need a more noble relation that that of the everyday filling of the stomach. If, even without depicting this personal spirit as immaterial, it is admitted that in the dynamic of human thought there is an evident virtue and a force that pre-exists or exists outside the bounds of matter, it is clear that the mechanism that substitutes the generated ego for the generative ego, with its own essential qualities, hypothetically pre-existent to any contact with physical nature and all cognition, must be sought in a more arcane domain.
For the dialectical materialist it is unforgivable to assume that the economic structure, in whose forces and laws the explanation of the political history of humanity is sought, embraces only the production and consumption of the more or less wide range of goods that are necessary to keep the individual alive; and that the material relations between individuals are limited to this domain, and that the play of forces that unite these innumerable isolated molecules composes the norms, rules and laws of social reality; while a whole series of vital satisfactions are left out of this construction; and for many dilettantes these include the ones that extend from sex-appeal to aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. This interpretation of Marxism is terribly false, it is the worst kind of anti-Marxism that is currently popular, and besides relapsing into an implicit but inexorable bourgeois idealism, it also constitutes a return, with no less harmful consequences, to full-blown individualism, which is another essential trait of reactionary thought; and this makes both the biological as well as the psychological individual central categories and standards of reference.
The material factor does not "generate" the superstructural factor (juridical, political, philosophical) by means of a process that takes place within an individual, nor by way of a hereditary generative chain of individuals, leaving the "comedies" of the economic base and its cultural culmination to be taken care of later by a social process. The base is a system of palpable physical factors that embraces all individuals and determines their behavior, even at an individual level, a system that comes into existence when these individuals have formed a social species, and the superstructure is a derivative of these conditions of the base, determinable according to the study of these conditions and subject to calculations on that basis, without concerning ourselves with the thousands of particular behaviors and of their petty personal variations.
The error that we are addressing is therefore an error of principle, which, by leading the examination of the causes of historical processes towards ideal factors that are outside of physical nature, on the one hand, and on the other by the leading role it grants to the ridiculous Individual citizen, leaves dialectical materialism no field of operations, so that it is even rendered incapable of balancing the books at a bakery or a delicatessen.
2. The position that denies the validity of Marxism on the terrain of sex and reproduction along with all its rich derivations is ignorant of the opposition between the bourgeois and communist conceptions of the economy, and therefore turns its back on the powerful conquest achieved by Marx when he demolished the capitalist schools. For the latter the economy is the totality of relations that are based on the exchange between two individuals of objects that are mutually useful for their self-preservation, and they include labor power among these useful objects. From this they deduce that there never was and never will be an economy without exchange, commodities and property. For us, the economy includes the full range of activity engaged in by the species, by the human group, that influences its relations with the physical natural environment; economic determinism rules over not only the epoch of private property but over the entire history of the species.
All Marxists consider the following theses to be correct: private property is not eternal; there was a time of primitive communism when private property did not exist; and we are advancing towards the era of social communism; the family is not eternal, much less the monogamous family—it appeared very late and in a more advanced era will have to disappear; the state is not eternal—it appears in a quite advanced stage of "civilization" and will disappear along with the division of society into classes.
It is clear that none of these truths can be reconciled with a view of historical praxis that is based on the dynamic of individuals and on a concession, however minimal it may be, to their autonomy and initiative, their liberty, conscience, will and all other such trivialities. The truths enumerated above are only demonstrable after having accepted that the determining element is an exhaustive process of adaptation and organization of the human collectives in the face of the difficulties and obstacles of the time and place in which they live, resolving not the thousands of millions of problems of adaptation faced by the individuals, but that other perspective that tends towards a unitary viewpoint, that of the prolonged adaptation of the species as a whole to the demands imposed on it by external circumstances. This conclusion is unavoidable in view of the increase in the number of members of the species, the toppling of the barriers that separate them from each other, the dizzying multiplication of the available technical means, which can only be managed by way of collective institutions composed of innumerable individuals, etc.
For a primitive people one could very well suppose that sociology is about how to get food, from the very moment when it was no longer obtained by the powers of individual effort, as is the case with animals; but public sanitation, obstetrics, eugenics and, tomorrow, the annual birth quota, are also part of sociology.
Individual and Species
3. The individual self-preservation in which the mysterious principal motor force of events is always sought is nothing but a derivative and secondary manifestation of the self-preservation and development of the species, independently of the traditional benefits conferred by a natural or supernatural providence, the play of the instincts or of reason; and this is all the more true for a social species and a society with some highly developed and complex aspects.
It might appear to be too obvious to point out that everything could very well be explained by individual self-preservation, as the basis and motor force of all other phenomena, if the individual were immortal. In order to be immortal he would have to be immutable, exempt from aging, but it is precisely the nature of the living organism and especially the animal organism, to undergo an unavoidable and uninterrupted transformation from within itself of every one of its cells, since it hosts within its body an impressive chain of movements, circulation and metabolism. It is absurd to postulate an organism that lives by continuously replacing the elements it has lost and remaining self-identical, as if it were a crystal that, immersed in a solution of its own chemically pure solid substance, diminishes or grows according to a cyclic variation of temperatures or external pressures. Some have even spoken of the life of the crystal (and today of the atom) since they can be born, grow, shrink, disappear and even duplicate and multiply.
This might seem too banal to mention, but it is useful to reflect on the fact that the fetishistic conviction held by many (even many who pass themselves off as Marxists) regarding the primacy of the factor of individual biology is nothing but an atavistic reflection of primeval and crude beliefs concerning the immortality of the personal soul. In no religion has the most vulgar bourgeois egoism, which displays a fierce contempt for the life of the species and for compassion for the species, been implanted more deeply than in those that claim that the soul is immortal, and in this fantastic form considers the fate of the subjective person to be more important than that of all the others.
It is unpleasant to meditate on the fact that the movement of our poor carcass is only transitory, and as a substitute for the afterlife intellectualoid illusions arise—and today, existentialist illusions—concerning the distinctive stigma that every subject possesses, or believes he possesses even when he sheepishly follows the fashionable trends, and passively imitates all the other human puppets. It is at this point that the hymn of praise is intoned for the ineffable virtues of the emotions, of the will, of artistic exaltation, of cerebral ecstasis, which are only attained within the individual unit—precisely where the truth is the exact opposite.
Returning to the material way that events unfold right under our noses, it is obvious that any complete, healthy and adult individual, in the full possession of his faculties, can devote himself—we are referring to an economy of an elementary nature—to the production of what he needs to consume on a daily basis. The instability of this situation, individual by individual, would soon lead to its termination (and of the species if the latter were a senseless conglomeration of individuals connected with each other only by the principle of maximization of personal gain at the expense of the others) if it were to lack the flow of reproduction that characterizes an organic group, in which individuals who just look out for themselves are rare, and in which there are elderly persons who cannot work so hard, and very young children who need to be fed so they can produce in the future. Any economic cycle would be unthinkable, and we would not be able to devise any economic equations, without introducing into the calculation these essential magnitudes: age, abilities, health. We would thus have to elaborate the vulgar economic formula of a parthenogenic and unisexual humanity. This cannot be verified, however. So we have to introduce the sexual factor, since reproduction takes place by means of two heterogeneous genders, and the hiatus in productive activity necessitated by gestation and rearing have to be taken into account, too….
Only after having addressed all these issues can we say we have drawn up the conditional equations that totally describe the "base", the economic "infrastructure" of society, from which we shall deduce (casting aside once and for all that puppet called the individual which cannot perpetuate or renew itself, and which is less and less capable of doing so as he proceeds along this great road) the whole infinite range of the manifestations of the species which have only in this way been rendered possible, right up to the greatest phenomena of thought.
In a recently-published article, a journalist (Yourgrau, in Johannesburg), in his review of the theory of the general system of Bertalanffy, who sought to synthesize the principles of the two famous rival systems, vitalism and mechanicism, while reluctantly admitting that materialism is gaining ground in biology, recalls the following paradox which is not easy to confute: one rabbit alone is not a rabbit, only two rabbits can be a rabbit. We see how the individual is expelled from his last stronghold, that of Onan. It is therefore absurd to address economics without dealing with the reproduction of the species, which is how it was approached in the classical texts. If we turn to the Preface of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State this is how Engels approaches one of the basic pillars of Marxism:
"According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. This, again, is of a twofold character. On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of articles of food and clothing, dwellings, and of the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other."
From its theoretical foundations, the materialist interpretation of history organizes the data concerning the relative degree of development of technology and productive labor and the data regarding the "production of human beings" or the sphere of sexuality. The working class is the greatest productive force, according to Marx. And it is even more important to know how the class that works reproduces, studying how it produces and reproduces the mass of commodities, wealth and capital. The classical dispossessed wage worker of antiquity was not officially defined in Rome as a worker, but as a proletarian. His characteristic function was not that of giving society and the ruling classes the labor of its own body, but that of generating, without controls or limits, in his rustic little apartment, the day laborers of tomorrow.
The modern petty bourgeois, in his vacuity, thinks that the latter function would be much more pleasant for him than the former function, which is much more bitter. But the petty bourgeois, who is just as revolting and as philistine as the big bourgeois, necessarily faces this function, too, with every kind of impotence.
4. Likewise, the first communities prepared for productive labor with the rudimentary technology that was then available, and prepared to serve the purposes of mating and reproduction, education and the protection of the young. The two forms are in continuous connection and therefore the family in its diverse forms is also a relation of production and changes as the conditions of the environment and the available forces of production change.
In this essay we cannot recapitulate the entire story of the successive stages of savagery and barbarism that the human race has traversed, and which are characterized by their different ways of life and kinship structures, and we refer the reader to the brilliant work of Engels.
After living in the trees feeding on fruit, man first became acquainted with fishing and fire, and learned to navigate the coasts and rivers so that the various tribes came into contact with one another. Then came the hunt with the use of the first weapons, and in the stage of barbarism, first the domestication of animals arose and then agriculture, which signaled the transition from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle. The sexual forms did not yet include monogamy or even polygamy; the latter was preceded by matriarchy, in which the mother exercised moral and social dominance, and the group family in which the men and the women of the same gens lived together in a fluid succession of pairing relationships as Morgan discovered in the American Indians who, even when they adopted the ways of the white man, even when they had adopted monogamy, called their paternal uncles "father", and their aunt, "mother". In these phratries, where no constituted authority ruled, there was no division of property or of the land, either.
One might consider that it is one of the traits of the higher animals to display an embryonic organization for tending to and defending their offspring, but this is due to instinct, and that it is only the rational animal, however, man, that provides himself with organizations with economic purposes, while instinct remains dominant in the sphere of the bonds of sex and family. If this were really true, then the existence of intelligence, which is commonly admitted to be a substitute for instinct and something that neutralizes instinct, would cause the whole field of inquiry to be divided into two. But all of this is metaphysics. A good definition of instinct appeared in a study by Thomas (La Trinitè-Victor, 1952) (if we quote a recent study by a specialist we do so only for the purpose of showing many people that the theories of Engels or Morgan, revolutionaries who were persecuted on the conceited terrain of bourgeois culture, were not "dated" or "superseded" by the latest scientific literature…): Instinct is the hereditary knowledge of a plan of life of the species. Over the course of evolution and of natural selection—which in the animal realm, we can admit that it derives from a clash of the individuals as such against the environment, but only in a physical, biological way—the obedience of the members of the same species to a common behavior is determined, especially in the reproductive realm. This behavior accepted by all is automatic, "unconscious" and "irrational". It is understandable that this mode of behavior is transmitted via heredity, along with the morphological and structural characteristics of the organism, and the mechanism of transmission should be enclosed (although there is much yet to be discovered by science) in the genes (not in the geniuses, my dear individualists!) and in other particles of the germinative and reproductive liquids and cells.
This mechanism, for which each individual serves as a vehicle, only provides the rudimentary normative minimum of a plan of life that is suitable for confronting environmental difficulties.
In social species collaboration in labor, no matter how primitive, obtained greater results, and transmitted many other customs and guidelines that would serve as rules. For the bourgeois and the idealist the difference lies in the rational and conscious element that determines the will to act, and this is when the free will of the fideist appears, and the personal freedom of the Enlightenment. Nor is this essential point exhausted by these variations. Our position is that we are not adding a new power to the individual, thought and spirit, which would mean reexamining all the data with respect to the physical mechanism from the perspective of this alleged vital principle. To the contrary, we add a new collective power derived completely from the needs of social production, which imposes more complex rules and orders, and just as it displaces instinct, as it applies to guiding individuals through the sphere of technology, so too does it displace instinct from the sexual sphere as well. It is not the individual that caused the species to develop and become ennobled, it is the life of the species that has developed the individual towards new dynamics and towards higher spheres.
What there is of the primordial and bestial, is in the individual. What is developed, complex and ordered, forming a plan of life that is not automatic but organized and organizable, derives from collective life and was first born outside the minds of individuals, in order to become part of them by difficult paths. In the meaning that we, too, can give, outside of all idealism, to the expressions of thought, knowledge, and science, involves products of social life: individuals, without any exceptions, are not the donors, but the recipients and in contemporary society they are also the parasites.
The fact that from the beginning, and ever since, economic and sexual regulation have been interconnected for the purpose of imposing order on the associated life of men, can be read between the lines of all the religious myths, which according to the Marxist evaluation are not gratuitous fantasies or inventions without content in which we must not believe, as the fashionable bourgeois free-thinkers proclaim, but rather the first expressions of collective knowledge in the process of its elaboration.
In the Book of Genesis (Chapter 2, Verses 19 and 20) God, before creating Eve and therefore before the expulsion from the terrestrial paradise (in which Adam and Eve had lived unaccompanied, even physically immortal, on the condition that they could easily gather all the nourishing fruits, but not those of science) creates all the species of animals from the earth, presenting them to Adam, who learned to call them by their names. The text gives the explanation for this incident: Adae vero non inveniebatur adjutor similis ejus. This means that Adam had no helper (cooperator) of his own species. He would be given Eve, but not to put her to work or to impregnate her. It seems to have been stipulated that it would be lawful for them to adapt the animals to their service. After they committed the grave error of beginning with the wise serpent, God altered the fate of humanity. It was only after they had been exiled from Eden that Eve would "know" her companion, bearing him children that she would give birth to in pain, and he would in turn have to earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Thus, even in the ancient but complex wisdom of the myth, production and reproduction are born simultaneously. If Adam domesticated animals, it was with the help, now that he had adjutores, of workers of his own species, similes ejus. Very rapidly the Individual had become nothing, immutable, unmovable, deprived of the bitter bread and the great wisdom, a sacred monster and abortion consecrated to leisure, truly affected by the lack of labor, of love and of science, to which the alleged materialists of the present century still want to sacrifice stupid incense: in its place appears the species that thinks because it labors, among so many adjutores, neighbors and brothers.
Biological Heredity and Social Tradition
5. Ever since the first human societies, the behavior of the members of the groups had become uniform by way of shared practices and functions that, having become necessary due to the demands of production and even of sexual reproduction, took on the form of ceremonies, festivals and rites of a religious character. This first mechanism of collective life, of unwritten rules that were nonetheless neither imposed nor violated, was made possible not by inspirations or innate ideas of society or of morality that were appropriate for the animal called man, but by the determinist effect of the technical evolution of labor.
The history of the customs and usages of primitive peoples, before the times of written constitutions and coercive law, and the shock produced in the life of the savage tribes when they first came into contact with the white man, can only be explained by utilizing similar investigative criteria. The seasonal periodicity of the festivals related to plowing, sowing and harvesting is obvious. At first the time of love and fertility was also seasonal for the human species which, due to subsequent evolution, would become, unlike any other animal, constantly ready to mate. African writers who have assimilated the culture of the whites have described the festivals relating to sex. Each year the adolescents who have reached puberty have certain ligatures untied that had been attached to their sexual organs since they were born, and this bloody operation carried out by the priests is then followed, amidst the excitation produced by the noise and drinking, by a sexual orgy. Evidently, this type of technique arose to preserve the reproductive capacity of the race under difficult conditions that could lead to degeneration and sterility in the absence of any other controls, and perhaps there are even more nauseating things in the Kinsey report concerning sexual behavior in the capitalist era.
That the capacity for generation and production should be conjointly guaranteed is an old Marxist thesis, as is proven by a lovely quote from Engels about Charlemagne’s attempt to improve agricultural production in the last years of his realm by the establishment of imperial estates (not kolkhozes). These were administered by monasteries, but failed, as was the case throughout the entire course of the Middle Ages: a unisexual and non-reproducing collective did not respond to the demands of continuous production. For example, the Order of Saint Benedict might appear to have ruled by means of a communist code, since it severely prohibited—imposing the obligation to work—any personal appropriation of the smallest product or good, as well as any consumption outside of the collective refectory. But this rule, due to its chastity and sterility, which rendered its members incapable of reproducing, remained outside of life and outside of history. A parallel study of the orders of monks and nuns in their first phase might perhaps be able to shed some light on the problem of the scarcity of production with respect to consumption in the Middle Ages, particularly of some of the surprising conceptions of Saint Francis and Clare of Assisi, who did not conceive of self-mortification to save their souls, but rather of social reform to help feed the starved flesh of the disinherited classes.
6. All the norms of productive technique in fishing, hunting, the manufacture of weapons, and agriculture, becoming increasingly more complex with the passage of time, coordinated by the activity of the capable adults, the elderly, young people, pregnant and nursing mothers, and couples joined together for reproductive purposes, are transmitted from generation to generation by a double road: organic and social. By the first road the hereditary elements transmit the attitudes and physical adaptations of the generative to the generated individual, and the personal secondary differences come into play; by the second road, which is becoming increasingly important, all the resources of the group are transmitted by way of an extra-physiological but no less material method, which is the same for everyone, and which resides in the "equipment" and "tools" of all types that the collectivity has managed to give itself.
In some of the articles in the "Thread of Time" series it was shown that up until the discovery of more convenient modes of transmission like writing, monuments, and then the printing press, etc., man had to rely principally on the memory of individuals, elaborating it with collective common forms. From the first maternal admonition we proceed to the conversations about obligatory themes and the litanies of the elderly and collective recitations; song and music are the supports of memory and the first science appears in the form of verses rather than in the form of prose, with musical accompaniment. A large part of the modern wisdom of capitalist civilization would not be able to circulate except in the form of horrifying cacophonies!
The course of development of all this impersonal and collective baggage that passes from some humans to others over the passage of time, cannot be explained except by approaching it systematically, but the law that governs it has already been outlined: this process increasingly does without the individual head as the organism is enriched, and everyone approaches a common level; the great man, who is almost always a legendary personality, becomes increasingly more useless, just it is more and more useless to wield a larger weapon than anyone else or to be able to multiply figures in your head more quickly than anyone else; it will not be long before a robot will be the most intelligent citizen of this incredibly stupid bourgeois world, and if some people are to be believed, the Dictator of great nations.
In any event the social force always prevails over the organic force, which is in any case the platform of the individual spirit.
Here we may refer to an interesting new synthesis: Wallon, L’organique et le social chez l’homme, Collège de France, 1953. Although he criticizes mechanistic materialism (that of the bourgeois epoch, and thus one that is operative on the scale of the individual), the author discusses examples of the systems of communication between men in society and quotes Marx, whose influence we may also discern from the language in this same part of the book. In his conclusion, however, he describes the failure of idealism and of its modern existentialist form with an apt formula: "Idealism was not content with circumscribing the real within the limits of the imaginary (in our minds). It has also circumscribed the image of what it considers to be real!" And after reviewing some recent examples, he draws the sensible conclusion: "Among the organic impressions and imaginary mental constructs, mutual actions and reactions never cease to be exhibited that show just how empty are the distinctions that the various philosophical systems have established between matter and thought, existence and intelligence, the body and the spirit." From the large number of such contributions one may deduce that the Marxist method has offered science without an adjective (or with the adjective of ‘contraband-’) the opportunity to take advantage of its discoveries, and thus overcome its handicap, for one hundred years.
Natural Factors and Historical Development
7. Over the course of a long process the living conditions of the first gentile organizations, the communist phratries, continued to develop, and naturally they did not all develop at the same rate, which varied according to the physical conditions of their environments: the nature of the soil and geological phenomena, the geography and altitude, waterways, distance from the sea, the climatology of the various zones, flora, fauna, etc. Over the course of fluctuating cycles the nomadic lifestyles of the wandering hordes gave way to the occupation of a fixed homeland, and to a decreasing availability of unoccupied land as well as more frequent encounters and contacts between tribes of different kin-groups, but also more frequent conflicts, invasions and finally enslavement, one of the origins of the nascent division into classes of the ancient egalitarian societies.
In the first struggles between gentes, as Engels reminds us, because slavery and mixing blood were not allowed, victory meant the merciless annihilation of all the members of the defeated community. This was the effect of the requirement that not too many workers should be admitted into a limited terrain and of the prohibition against breaking sexual and generative discipline, factors that were inseparable from social development. Later relations were more complex and mixing of populations and instances of breeding outside the authorized groups became more frequent, and were more easily accomplished in the fertile temperate regions that hosted the first large, stable population centers. In this first phase humans did not yet want to leave the prehistoric stage. Concerning the influence of geophysical factors in the broadest sense of the term, one may also refer to the comparison made by Engels regarding the great productive advance obtained with the domestication of animals, not only as a source of food but also as a force of labor. While Eurasia possesses almost all of the world’s animal species susceptible to domestication, America had only one, the llama, a large, sheep-like species (all the other species were introduced after the European conquest). This is why the peoples of the Americas were "arrested" in terms of social development compared to the peoples of the old world. The fideists explain this by claiming that in the time of Columbus redemption had not yet reached this part of the planet, and that the light of the eternal spirit had not yet illuminated those heads. Evidently one reasons in another manner if one explains everything not by the absence of the supreme Being, but by the absence of a few quite ordinary animal species.
But this method of reasoning was accepted by the Christian colonists who attempted to exterminate the aboriginal Indians as if they were wild animals, replacing them with African negro slaves, thus unleashing an ethnic revolution whose consequences only time will tell.
Prehistory and Language
8. The passage from the racial to the national factor may in a very general manner be assimilated to the passage from prehistory to history. For a nation must encompass a whole in which the ethnic aspect is just one among many others and in very few cases is it the dominant one. Thus, before we enter the terrain of the historical scope of the national factor the problem of the other factors that constitute the totality of the racial factor must be addressed; and first of all, language. No other explanation can be provided for the origin of language and of dialects than the one that is derived from the material environment and the productive organization. The language of a human group is one of its means of production.
Everything we said above, based on the strict connection between the bonds of blood in the first tribes and the beginning of social production with certain tools, and on the basis of the preponderance of the relation between the human group and the physical environment over the initiative and the orientation of the individual, is found in the central axis of historical materialism. Two texts separated by a half-century are there to confirm this. In the "Theses on Feuerbach" of 1845, Marx said: "the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations." By social conditions, we Marxists mean blood, the physical environment, tools, and the organization of any particular group.
In a letter from 1894, which we have often employed to combat the prejudice about the function of the individual (the Great Man, the Guignol) in history, Engels responds to the following question: what role is played by the moment (see point three) of race and historical individuals in the materialist conception of history of Marx and Engels? As we recently recalled, Engels, thus pressed to assume a position on the plane of the individual and Napoleon, who was obviously in the back of the questioner’s mind, in order to overthrow the whole question immediately, with respect to the question of race gave us no more than a single tap of the chisel: "But race is itself an economic factor."
The cretinous representatives of the bourgeois pseudo-culture can laugh when we go back in time to trace the immense line that leads from the beginnings to the final result, as the powerful and deeply entrenched Catholic school does in the renowned trajectory that leads from primitive chaos to the eternal blessedness of creation.
The first groups were based on a strictly pure kinship and are group-families. They are likewise work-groups, which is to say that their "economy" is a reaction on the part of all of them to the physical environment in which each one of them has the same relation: there is no personal property, or social classes or political power or state.
Since we are not metaphysicians or mystics—and we are therefore not under any obligation to pour ashes over our heads and meditate on such stains that have besmirched the human species and which must be cleansed—we have no problem accepting the emergence and further development of a thousand forms of mixture of blood, division of labor, the separation of society into classes, the state and civil war. At the end of the cycle, however, with a generalized and untraceable ethnic amalgamation, with a productive technology that acts upon the environment with such power that it allows for the regulation of events on the planet, we see, with the end of all racial and social discrimination, the new communist economy; that is, the worldwide end of individual property, from which transitory cults had grown into monstrous fetishes: the person, the family, the fatherland.
From the very beginning, however, the economy of each people and its degree of productive technological development was just as much of a particular identifying characteristic as was that of the ethnic type.
The latest research into the mists of prehistory has led the science of human origins to acknowledge other starting points in the appearance of the animal man on the earth, and in the evolution of other species. One can no longer speak of a "genealogical tree" of all of humanity or of its branches. A study by Etienne Patte (Faculty of Sciences at Poitiers, 1953) effectively refutes the inadequacy of this traditional image. In the evolutionary tree all the forks between two genuses or species are themselves irrevocable: as a rule the two branches never reconnect. Human generation, on the other hand, is an inextricable net whose spaces are continually being reconnected with each other: if there had not been interbreeding between relatives every one of us would have 8 great-grandfathers in three generations, or every century, but in a thousand years each person would have more than a billion ancestors, and assuming an age for the species of six hundred thousand years, which seems likely, the number of ancestors for each of us would be an astronomical number with thousands of zeroes. It is therefore a net rather than a tree. And besides, in the ethnic statistics of the modern peoples the representatives of ethnically pure types comprise a minuscule percentage. Hence the felicitous definition of humanity as a "sungameion", which is Greek for a complex that is totally mixed in every sense: the verb, gaméo, refers to the sexual act and the marriage rite. And one can refer to the somewhat simplistic rule: the cross between species is sterile, that between races is fertile.
We can understand the Pope’s position when, denying all racial differences, a very advanced point of view in the historical sense, he wants us to speak of races of animals but not of men. Despite the eagerness with which he follows the latest scientific discoveries and their often marvelous correspondence with dogma, he has not been able to abandon the biblical (the Bible is more Jewish than Catholic on the philosophical terrain) genealogical tree that descends from Adam.
Another author of a manifestly anti-materialist tendency, however, cannot resist rejecting the old separation of methods between anthropology and historiography, since the former must seek positive data, while the latter finds the data already available and prepared and above all arranged in a chronological series. No one doubts that Caesar lived before Napoleon; but it is a very big problem to know who came first, the Neanderthal or proconsul africanus….
The power of the materialist method, however, applied to the data supplied by research, easily establishes the synthesis between the two methods, although race was one of the most decisive economic factors in the prehistoric gens, and the nation, a much more complicated entity, in the contemporary world. Only in this manner can one properly situate the function of languages, at first common to a narrowly defined consanguinary and cooperative group without any connections with external groups, or only with warlike connections, which are today shared by populations that inhabit vast territories.
At first those groups that had a common circle of reproduction and productive tools and capacity for all that was necessary for material life also had a common phonetic expression. One may say that the use of sounds for communication purposes between individuals first arose among the animal species. But the modulation of the sound that the vocal organs of any particular species of animal are capable of emitting (a purely physiological inheritance in the structure and in the functional possibilities of these organs) falls far short of the formation of a language with a certain set of vocables. The vocable does not arise to designate the person who speaks or the person to whom the speech is directed, a member of the opposite sex or a part of the body or light, clouds, land, water, food or danger. Language composed of vocables was born when labor based on tools was born, the production of objects of consumption by way of the associated labor of men.
Social Labor and Speech
9. All common human activity for productive purposes demands, for useful collaboration, a system of communication among the workers. Starting from the simple effort involved in raiding or self-defense, for which instinctive incitements such as pushing or animal cries suffice, at the moment when action is necessary at a certain time or place, or with a particular means (primitive tool, weapon, etc.), and through a very long series of failed attempts and corrections, speech arose. This procedure is opposed to that of the idealist illusion: an innovator imagines the new "technological" method in his brain without having ever seen it before, which he explains by telling the others of his kind, and directs them to implement it with his orders. The way we see this process, it is not a series that proceeds from thought, then to speech, and only then to action, but precisely the reverse.
One more demonstration of the real natural process of language is found once again in a biblical myth, that of the Tower of Babel. Here we are already in the presence of an authentic state wielding immense power, with formidable armies that capture prisoners, and in possession of a huge captive labor force. This power engaged in vast construction projects, especially in its capital (the technological abilities of the Babylonians not only with regard to construction, but also hydraulic engineering and similar fields, is a matter of historical record), and according to the legend, the state sought to build a tower so high that its pinnacle would touch heaven: this is the standard myth of human presumption punished by the divinity, the same as the fire stolen by Prometheus, the flight of Daedalus, etc. The innumerable workers, overseers, and architects, are of distinct and scattered origins, they do not speak the same languages, they do not understand one another, the execution of their orders and plans is chaotic and contradictory and the building, once it reached a certain height, due to errors rooted in the linguistic confusion, collapsed into ruins, and the builders either died or else fled in terror from this divine punishment.
The complex meaning of this story is that one cannot build something if there is no common language: stones, hands, planks, hammers, and picks are no good if the tool, the instrument of production, lacks a word in the same language and with the same lexicography and formula, common to all and widely known. Among the savages of central Africa one finds the same legend: the tower was made of wood and was supposed to reach the moon. Now that we all speak "American", it is child’s play to build skyscrapers, which are much more stupid than the wonderful towers of the barbarians and the savages.
There is thus no doubt about the Marxist definition of language, according to which it is one of the instruments of production. The above-cited article by Wallon does no less than refer, when it examines the most important doctrines, to the one that we follow: "according to Marx language is linked to the human production of tools and of objects that are granted definite attributes". And the author chooses two magisterial quotations, the first from Marx (The German Ideology): "[Men] begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence"; and the second from Engels (The Dialectics of Nature): "First labour, after it and then with it speech – these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man". And Engels, when he wrote that, did not know the results that, contrary to their expectations, would later be published by writers from the pure idealist school (Saller, What Is Anthropology?, University of Munich). Today the human brain has a volume of 1,400 cubic centimeters (we know—this goes for geniuses as well as for dummies like us!). A very long time ago, in the time of Sinanthropus-Pithecanthropus with his 1,000 cubic centimeters of brain, it would seem that this ancestor of ours already had the first notions of magic, as is attested by the nature of his burials, although he was frequently a cannibal; but besides using fire for some time, he had various tools: drinking bowls made from animal skulls, stone weapons, etc. But the discoveries made in South Africa have provided yet more surprises: about six hundred thousand years ago (the figure is from Wallon), a precocious ancestor of ours, with only 500 cubic centimeters of brain, already used fire, hunted and ate the cooked meat of animals, walked upright like us and—this is the sole rectification that needs to be made with regard to the data provided by Engels (1884)—it seems that he no longer lived in the trees like his close relative "australopithecus" but bravely defended himself from wild beasts on the ground.
It is odd that the writer from whom we take this information, disoriented by this data that serves to more firmly embed the materialist theory on its foundation, should take refuge from anthropology in psychology, in order to express his regrets concerning the decline of the individual who had been elevated by a mysterious extra-organic breath; and that in the modern epoch of overpopulation and mechanicism the individual degenerates by becoming the masses, ceasing to be a man. But who is more human: our friendly pithecanthropus with 500 cubic centimeters or the scientist with his 1,400 cubic centimeters, who devotes himself to hunting butterflies under the Arch of Titus in order to erect the pious equation: official science + idealism = despair?
Economic Base and Superstructure
10. The concept of the "economic base" of a particular human society extends beyond the boundaries of the superficial interpretation that restricts it to the remuneration of labor and to commodity exchange. It embraces the entire domain of the forms of reproduction of the species, or family institutions, and while technical resources and available tools and material apparatus of every kind form an integral part of it, its content is not limited to a simple inventory of materials, but includes all available mechanisms for passing on from one generation to another all social "technological knowledge". In this sense and as general networks of communication and transmission, after spoken language we must also include under the rubric of means of production, writing, song, music, the graphic arts, and the press, as they appear as means of transmission of the productive legacy. In the Marxist view, literature, poetry and science are also higher and more highly-differentiated forms of productive instruments and were born in response to the same requirement of the immediate life of society.
With regard to this issue questions of interpretation of historical materialism arose in the camp of the workers movement: what social phenomena really constitute the "productive base" or the economic preconditions, which explain the ideological and political superstructures that are characteristic of any particular historical society?
Everyone knows that Marxism opposed to the concept of a long and gradual evolution of human society the concept of sudden turning points between one epoch and another, epochs characterized by different social forms and relations. With these turning points the productive base and the superstructures change. For the purpose of clarifying this concept we have often had resort to the classical texts, both to establish the various formulas and ideas in their correct context as well as to clarify just what it is that suddenly changes when the revolutionary crisis supervenes.
In the letters we quoted above in which Engels responded to the questions sent to him by young students of Marxism, Engels insists on reciprocal reactions between base and superstructure: the political state of a particular class is a perfect example of a superstructure but it in turn acts—by imposing tariffs, collecting taxes, etc.—on the economic base, as Engels recalls, among other things.
Later, during the time of Lenin, it was urgently necessary to clarify the process of the class revolution. The state, political power, is the superstructure that is most completely shattered in a way that we could call instantaneous, in order to give way to another analogous but opposed structure. The relations that govern the productive economy, however, are not changed so rapidly, even if their conflict with the highly developed productive forces was the primary motor force for the revolution. This is why wage labor, commerce, etc., did not disappear overnight. With respect to the other aspects of the superstructure, those that are most enduring and would survive the original economic base itself (that is, capitalism), are the traditional ideologies that had been disseminated, even among the victorious revolutionary working class, over the duration of the long preceding period of serfdom. Thus, for example, the legal superstructure, in its written and practically implemented form, would be rapidly changed—while the other superstructure of religious beliefs would disappear very slowly.
We have on many occasions referred to Marx’s lapidary Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859. It would not be a bad idea to pause and consider this text before continuing with our examination of the question of language.
The productive material forces of society: they are, in particular phases of development, the labor power of human bodies, the tools and instruments that are used in its application, the fertility of the cultivated soil, the machines that add mechanical and physical energy to human labor power; all the methods applied to the land and to the materials of those manual and mechanical forces, procedures that a particular society understands and possesses.
Relations of production relative to a particular type of society are the "definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production." Relations of production include the freedom or the prohibition of occupying land to cultivate it, of using tools, machines, manufactured products, of having the products of labor to consume them, move them from place to place and to assign them to others. This in general. The particular relations of production are slavery, serfdom, wage labor, commerce, landed property, industrial enterprise. The relations of production, with an expression that reflects not the economic but the juridical aspect, can also be called property relations or also in other texts, forms of property; over the land, over the slave, over the product of the labor of the serf, over the commodities, over the workshops and machines, etc. This whole set of relations constitutes the base or economic structure of society.
The essential dynamic concept is the determinant clash between the forces of production, in their degree of evolution and development, and the relations of production or of property, the social relations (all equivalent formulas).
The superstructure, that is, what is derived from, what is superimposed on the base economic structure, for Marx is basically the juridical and political framework of any particular society: constitutions, laws, courts, military forces, the central government power. This superstructure nonetheless has a material and concrete aspect. But Marx makes the distinction between the reality in the transformation of the relations of production and in the relations of property and law, that is of power, and this transformation such as it is displayed in the "consciousness" of the time and in that of the victorious class. This is (to this very day) a derivation of a derivation; a superstructure of the superstructure, and forms the mutable terrain of common sense, of ideology, of philosophy, and, in a certain way (insofar as it is not transformed into a practical norm), of religion.
Modes of production (it is preferable not to apply to this concept the term, "forms", which is used for the more restricted concept, forms of property)—Produktionsweisen—are "epochs marking progress in the economic development of society" that Marx summarizes broadly as of the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois types.
We must illustrate this with an example: the bourgeois revolution in France. Productive forces: agriculture and peasant serfs—the artisans and their workshops in the cities—the great manufacturing centers and factories, armories. Relations of production or forms of traditional property: glebe serfdom of the peasants and feudal authority over the land and those who cultivate it—the corporative bonds in the artisanal crafts. Juridical and political superstructure: power of the nobility and the church hierarchy, absolute monarchy. Ideological superstructure: authority of divine right, Catholicism, etc. Mode of production: feudalism.
The revolutionary transformation assumed the following form: immediately as the transfer of the power of the nobles and the church into the hands of the bourgeoisie; the new juridical-political superstructure is elective parliamentary democracy. The relations that have been abolished are: glebe serfdom and the artisanal guilds; the new relations that appear are: industrial wage labor (with the survival of independent artisans and small-scale peasant property), and free domestic trade, even with regard to the sale of land.
The productive force of the most important factories is enormously developed with the absorption of the former peasant serfs and artisans. The force of industrial machinery also develops to the same degree. The ideological superstructure undergoes a process of gradual replacement that begins before the revolution, and which has not concluded yet: fideism and legitimism are being replaced by free thought, enlightened values and rationalism.
The new mode of production which is spreading throughout France and even beyond it, replacing feudalism, is capitalism: in it, political power is not of the "people", as it appears in the "consciousness" that this "period of transformation" has with regard to itself, but of the class of the industrial capitalists and of the bourgeois landowners.
In order to distinguish the two "strata" of the superstructure one may adopt the terms of the superstructure of force (positive law, state) and the superstructure of consciousness (ideology, philosophy, religion, etc.).
Marx says that material force, or violence, is itself an economic agent. Engels, in the passages quoted above, and in his book on Feuerbach, says the same thing when he states that the state (which is force) acts on the economy and influences the economic base.
The state of a new class is therefore a powerful resource for the transformation of productive relations. After 1789 feudal relations in France were dismantled due to the advanced development of the modern productive forces that had been emerging for some time. Even the restoration of 1815, although it did once again hand over power to the landowning aristocracy by reestablishing the legitimist monarchy, was unable to overthrow the relations of production, the forms of property, and neither stifled manufacturing industry nor did it restore the great estates of the nobles. The change in power and the transformation of the forms of production can proceed historically and for limited periods of time in opposite directions.
The burning issue in Russia, in October 1917? Political power, the superstructure of force that in February had passed from the feudal elements to the bourgeoisie, passed into the hands of the workers of the cities, supported in their struggle by the poor peasants. The juridical state superstructure acquired proletarian forms (dictatorship and dissolution of the democratic assembly). The ideological superstructures obtained a powerful impulse among broad layers of the population in favor of the ideological superstructure of the proletariat, despite the desperate resistance of the old ideological superstructures and that of the bourgeois or semi-bourgeois. The productive forces with an anti-feudal nature could proceed unopposed in liberated industry and agriculture. Could one say that the relations of production, in the years immediately following October, were transformed into socialist relations of production? Of course not, and such a transformation would in any case take more than a few months. Were they simply transformed into capitalist relations of production? It is not correct to say that all of them were transformed totally into capitalist relations of production because pre-capitalist forms survived for a long time, as everyone knows. But it would also be inadequate to say that they were moving in the direction of being transformed exclusively into capitalist relations.
Even disregarding the first measures of communism and anti-market policies implemented during the civil war (housing, bread, transport), and in view of the fact that power is an economic agent of the highest order, the transformation of the relations of production under a democratic bourgeois state is one thing and the same process under the proletarian political dictatorship is another.
The mode of production is defined by the totality of relations of production and political and juridical forms. If the entire Russian cycle up until today has led to the full-fledged capitalist mode of production and that today in Russia socialist relations of production do not exist, this is related to the fact that after 1917, after October, the proletarian revolution in the West did not take place, the importance of which did not just lie in its capacity to bolster the soviet political power so that the Russian proletariat would not lose it, which is what happened later, but above all to supply to the Russian economy productive forces that were available in excess in the West, and in this manner assure the transition to socialism of the Russian relations of production.
The relations of production are not immediately transformed at the moment of the political revolution.
Once it was established that the further development of the productive forces in Russia was the other condition, just as important as the consolidation of political power (Lenin), a formulation of the following kind is incorrect: the only historical task of Bolshevik power after October was to pursue the transition from feudal to bourgeois social relations. Until the end of the revolutionary wave that followed the first world war, which lasted until about 1923, the task of the power that had arisen in October consisted in working for the transformation of the feudal social modes and relations into proletarian ones. This work was carried out by the only means possible at the time and therefore it followed the royal road: only later was it possible to formulate the claim that we are confronted by a state that is not socialist, nor does it demonstrate a tendency in that direction. The relations of production after October are actually part capitalist and part pre-capitalist and to a quantitatively minimal extent are post-capitalist; the historical form or, more precisely, the historical mode of production, cannot be defined as capitalist, but as potentially proletarian and socialist. This is what matters!
In this way one escapes from the impasse of the formula: bourgeois economic base, proletarian and socialist superstructures. And this is accomplished precisely by not denying the second term, which prevailed for at least six years after the conquest of the dictatorship.