Synthesizing German philosophy and British political economy from the perspective of the exploited, Marx formulated an intellectually powerful and spiritually moving vision that discerned meaning and purpose in human history. It focused primarily on the development of systems of production and technology and the structures of domination that emerged from them. Marx viewed technological development as tending to increase the level of domination but also as establishing new possibilities for human progress. Accordingly, he believed that the unfolding economic and social forces of his time were creating unprecedented forms of human exploitation and alienation, but they also were establishing the conditions that would make possible a new era of human freedom.
Marx identified five stages in human history. He saw technological development as integral to the transition from one stage to the next: the invention of agriculture led to the transition from tribal (hunting and gathering) society to ancient society; the invasion by “barbarians” led to the emergence of feudal society; the invention of the factory established the foundation for capitalist society; and the development of automated industry would establish the conditions for the transition to socialism. On giving centrality the development of the material forces, Marx formulated an understanding more advanced than the idealism of German philosophy and at the same time more comprehensive than the limited historical consciousness of British political economy (Bottomore 1964; Marx 1963, 1967, 1970, 1973; Marx and Engels 1948, 1965).
But the possibilities for advances in social scientific understanding established by Marx’s work were not realized in the subsequent development of knowledge in the world of the university. Academic structures were shaped in accordance with bourgeois interests, leading to the fragmentation of philosophy, history, and the social sciences and facilitating the marginalization of Marx’s work (see “History from below” 12/4/2013). Thus it would be the charismatic leaders lifted up by popular movements who would further develop the important insights that Marx had formulated. Therefore, we must turn to the writings of charismatic leaders of popular movements to find further formulation of a comprehensive historical social science, the foundations of which were established by Marx. I will endeavor in future posts to formulate the key insights of the major charismatic leaders, whose insights constitute the evolution of Marxism as a science.
In reflecting on Marx’s work, we must keep in mind the context and the specific purpose of Marx’s intellectual project. Marx was writing during the nineteenth century, and his goal was to overcome the limitations of the idealism of German philosophy and the ahistorical empiricism of British political economy in order to formulate an analysis of human history from the vantage point of the emerging Western European proletarian movement. In this blog, I am writing of course in a different historical time, and I am seeking to write from the vantage point of the movements of the neocolonized of the Third World. As a result, my writing has a tendency to give more emphasis than did Marx to the role of conquest in human development, seeing technological development as occurring on a foundation of conquest (see “Dialectic of domination and development” 10-30-2013; “The French Revolution in Global Context” 11/26/2013). But this is merely a difference in emphasis reflecting different historical, social and intellectual contexts.
Certainly Marx understood the central role of conquest in human history, as is clear from the final part of Volume One of Capital, in which he maintains that force is the secret of the primitive accumulation of capital (Marx 1967:713-74). “In actual history,” he writes, “it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part. . . . The methods of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic” (1967:714). It is a question of forcibly separating the producer from the means of production, as for example, when peasants at the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth were forcibly driven from the land, thus producing the surplus labor that formed the English proletariat (1967:714-718). Furthermore, he understood that forceful appropriation in vast regions of the planet was the foundation for the primitive accumulation of industrial capital: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the running of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.... These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. . . . Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power” (1967:751).
Accordingly, I view the perspective that I am seeking to formulate, the perspective of the dialectic of domination and development, as a Marxist formulation that shares with Marx basic concepts and orientations. It searches for meaning, direction, and purpose in human history. It recognizes the fundamental role of conquest and class domination in human technological, economic, and cultural development, and it sees the unfolding of these dynamics as establishing definitive possibilities for a new era of human freedom and liberation. It views these possibilities as being seized in our time by the dominated neocolonized peoples, who act in their own defense, and in so doing, act in defense of all humanity. What I am seeking to express is not classical Marxism, but it is Marxism. It rejects the idealist philosophy and the fragmented empiricism that rules in higher education. It seeks to formulate a form of Marxism adapted to and appropriate for the current phase in human development.
Since 1850, those struggling for social justice in a variety of social contexts throughout the world have found in Marx’s writing a powerful analysis of their own conditions of exploitation, domination and struggle. Many reformulated some of his basic concepts to adapt his analysis to their reality, thus establishing that his work would have global political implications: it would provide powerful analytical tools for those who sought to create an alternative political-economic system.
For those of us who are intellectuals of the developed countries of the North, Karl Marx is our exemplar. It was he who first discovered the key to understanding the modern world: encounter the social movements formed by the dominated, combining this with study of the most advanced forms of understanding that have been formulated by our species in its present stage of development. He has shown us the road to the true and the right.
Bottomore, T.B., Ed. 1964. Karl Marx: Early Writings. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Marx, Karl. 1963. The Poverty of Philosophy. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1967. Capital, Vol. I. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1970. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1973. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Random House, Vintage Books.
Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. 1948. The Communist Manifesto. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1965. The German Ideology. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marx, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, dialectic of domination and development