Iran Politics Club      
Website For Thinking Iranians
Back to index  

Marxist Thought and Monism


Marxist Thought and Monism
Sam Ghandchi
1st Edition: December 3, 2003
2nd Edition: June 20, 2019


Preface written on May 20, 2018: This paper is the result of a research about monism and pluralism which this author did in Iran after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and coming to power of the reactionary regime of Islamic Republic of Iran and 36 years ago in 1982 it was written in the United States and in English because the topic of Marxism is beyond Iran, and it was necessary that the critique to be offered internationally. This writing was first published on the Iranian SCI Usenet group in 1994. The Persian translation was published in 2003. Moreover, a paper entitled "Marxist Kon Fayakun of Iran in 1979 Revolution" was published in Persian this year from this viewpoint, but unfortunately has not been translated to English. In the last 36 years, other papers and articles have been published by this author about Marxism, including a paper entitled "Is Socialism More Just", and an article entitled "Marxism and Futurism" where I have discussed Leszek Kołakowski's views about this topic.

Introduction to the 2003 Persian Edition

If the crimes of the Islamist regime in Iran, caused the religious intellectuals of Iran to doubt about their beliefs and made them reformists, the records of socialist states from former Soviet Union and Eastern Block, to China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, has had similar effect on the leftist intellectuals in the world. If the experience of Iranian Revolution and Islamism was a direct experience for Iranian intellectuals, the experience of Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and others were indirect. But in both cases, the question has been the same, that why after so much sacrifices in Vietnam and Iran, the end result is a regime worse than the previous one.

The question was why statism is common to all the socialist states.   Is it because of a wrong understanding of Marxism or there is something in the Marxist thought that causes this result? The same way that the Aristotelians  did not do what Aristotle himself did, namely thinking and researching the nature and society, and had made it their job to interpret the works of Aristotle, many of the Marxists after the failures of Marxism, have been following the same path as the Aristotelians, and instead of doing what Aristotle and Marx did, i.e. studying the world, they keep busy interpreting this and that letter of Karl Marx.  And they have not even offered an objective analysis of Marxism either because they have remained within it and like the Islamist reformists, have spent their energy to save the founder of their ideology, namely Marx and Mohammad, from the catastrophe of the existing socialism an existing Islamic society.

In the following paper, I am looking at Marx and Marxism from outside, and the same way that I respect the achievements of Aristotle better than the Aristotelians. In here, better than those who follow Marx like a religion, I respect the achievements of Karl Marx, although I scrutinize the shortcomings of Marxism that has been responsible for the despotism of the Communist states and why there is the need to go beyond Marxism.

I hope those who are honestly in the Marxist movement to read this paper and evaluate it independently as to whether the answer to the issues of the new world, requires to look beyond Marxism, or it can be achieved by Marxist reformism.  The end of Marxism does not make the work of Marx worthless, the same way that the end of Aristotelianism did not mean that Aristotle's works were worthless.  My critic of Marx and Marxism in here in no way means discarding all the achievements of the last 150 years.

1. Historical Background of Dynamic Monism

Marxism has been one of the most influential monistic systems in the Modern Times.  Although some Marxist thinkers, were pluralist in their methodology in some fields of inquiry, but Marxist philosophy has been essentially a monistic tradition.

I view the kind of monism that Marxist philosophy has shown, to be more dynamic than the static monistic doctrines of the Catholic Church in the Medieval Times.  Nonetheless, it strives to derive its analysis of the world from a single principle.  Thus, I refer to it as dynamic monism.  For me, in contrast to both static and dynamic monism [my terminology], pluralism, a doctrine pioneered by Empedocles in Ancient Greece, is a belief in multiplicity of principles. In a separate paper I have discussed the Pluralist view in Western Philosophy, but in this paper, my focus is Monism and particularly Marxist Monism.

I believe the first consistent formulation of what I call dynamic monism in the history of philosophy, is found in the philosophy of Heraclitus in Ancient Greece.  Maybe in religion, Zoroastrians were his precursors, but in philosophy, I believe, he is the first one to present such a dynamic monistic view by postulating a Dichotomous Unity as the foundation of his philosophy.

If for Parmenides, whom I consider as a pioneer of a static outlook of monism in Ancient Greece, the immutability and indivisibility of "fundamental substance" are absolute; for Heraclitus, changes and contradictions occupy the position of absolute.  Dialectics, in the philosophy of Heraclitus was not just a methodology, it was claimed as the actual state of the universe and society.

Heraclitus considers fire as the "fundamental stuff", which is ever-changing while retaining its unity in a state of flux.  For him, even soul is made of fire and water and has a contradictory nature.  The distinguishing feature of his logic is the unity of opposites.  Use of force for people's good, and belief in war, as the father of all things, comprise the main points of his politics and ethics, and justice is considered to be nothing but strife. In sum, the whole development of nature and society is depicted by Heraclitean monism as a spiral evolutionary process which unfolds through negations and contradictions. 

Heraclitean thought gained the attention of intellectuals of Europe during Renaissance.  The end of Middle Ages witnessed two movements, both controversial to the Catholic Church- the Reformation and the Renaissance.  The Reformation was more pluralistic in its outlook relative to Catholic Theology which is discussed in the paper about Pluralism; but Renaissance favored monism, although a dynamic monism.  The new scientific discoveries were irreconcilable with static outlook of the Medieval Times. 

Copernican heliocentric theory was incompatible with the static notion of Aristotelian and Ptolemaic geocentric systems.  The discoveries of Kepler, Galileo, Harvey, Laplace, etc. dealt further blows to the static outlooks of Mediaeval thought.  Motion in its mechanical form was increasingly acknowledged by science.  Heraclitean model of monism with its stress on the notions of motion, contradiction, and evolutionary flux was more in accordance with the state of science than Parmenidean model of monism.

Dissolution of Catholic Church and the contention of antagonistic sects replaced the previous hierarchical unity of the Church.  Rival political factions and ethical groups arose in Europe in relation to prominent social issues.  Machiavelli defended monarchy, but his apologia was accompanied with a vivid demonstration of contradictory interests in politics.

Sir Thomas More framed his Utopia by negating what he considered to be the root cause of all social contradictions-private property.  Hobbes perceived struggle for survival as the motive force of life and Malthus using this principle in the economic sphere arrived at the theory of overpopulation. 

Rousseau tried to resolve social contradictions by differentiating between 'general will' and 'will of all'.  His 'general will' was a qualitative abstraction of individual wills through a dialectical approach to society [It is noteworthy that later on, the concept of "general will" was used by Hegel and then Marx, who both advocated the exercise of this will by their ideal state.]  Thus, the pros and cons of modern society acknowledge the antinomies within the social order in one way or the other.

Dynamic monism was the appropriate type of monism for resolving various intellectual dilemma in this age of antinomies, whether in science or in society.  Descartes' determinism was dynamic and his dualism of mind and matter highlighted contradictions rather than identities.  Kant's four logical categories were more dynamic than the Aristotelian categories.  Nevertheless, the true revival of dynamic monism took shape at the hands of Hegel.

The task of reviving dynamic monism was done by Hegel in a most scholarly manner and his system was strong enough to challenge the Aristotelian system after almost two thousand years.  Although Aristotle himself had more pluralistic tendencies than monistic ones as discussed in "Futurism and Aristotle's Pluralism" paper, but his followers in Mediaeval philosophy had turned his tenets into a static monistic system.  In contrast, the actual history of dynamic monism starts with Hegel which even won the Catholic Church around the end of 19th century. 

Hegel's philosophical works are still the best representation of dynamic monism as a philosophy.  His encyclopedic knowledge enabled him to discuss the application of his system in nearly all spheres of philosophical thought, from history of philosophy to human history, logic, and metaphysics.  This is why a great number of the critics of dynamic monism still prefer to address Hegel directly on most philosophical subjects, even one and a half centuries after his death.

Hegel's philosophy is idealistic dialectics.  The totality of objects is preserved by the Absolute (Absolute Idea, Absolute Spirit, etc.).  The kernel of his LOGIC, the negation of negation, is used throughout his appraisal of nature and society.  PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE reveals the Absolute as the unity of opposites in nature, which following qualitative changes undergoes qualitative change and thereby moves in a spiral of thesis-antithesis-synthesis (famous Hegelian triad).

In Hegel's Philosophy of History, the Absolute Spirit passes through the contradictions among nations and in its movement depicts historical stages in time; nevertheless, this wandering Spirit rediscovers itself in the absolute state of Prussian monarchy as the ideal government. 

The similarity between the absolutist ideal governments of Hegel and Marx on one side and Plato on another, has misled many sociologists to ignore the opposite paths which have approached the same destination: dynamic monism from one side and static monism from the other.

Let me note that I believe that dialects and especially theory of contradictions may be used as one possible conjectural theory in logic to infer unknown entities, just like "trial and error" or "induction".  What I am criticizing in Hegel's objective idealism is not just seeing dialectics as a conjectural theory, but as a religious-type belief that dialectics is the state of the universe. In a paper about Aristotle's philosophy this topic has been explained in details.

Three Historical Events

Prior to further review of dynamic monism after Hegel, it is necessary to mention three factors that influenced the nineteenth century thought in Europe.  The first one is the introduction of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, stupendous among other scientific discoveries (in a separate paper in Persian, I have discussed the significance of scientific theories in 20th Century and how they have impacted the philosophical thought of our times but here I am discussing the 19th Century). The second one is the 1848 European revolutions.  The third is the tremendous progress of industrialization and the first capitalist crises in this century.

Darwin's Theory of Evolution

Darwin's theory of evolution was a scientific claim which discarded the mechanical model of the world and replaced it with an evolutionary model.  The latter model still has the primary influence among modern thinkers.  The result of Darwin's discovery was the tilting of the balance more in favor of Hegel, who had even foreseen some of the Darwinian disclosures by dialectical speculations about nature. 

Darwin's discovery served as a scientific proof for the unity of biological life through contradictions; "struggle for life and survival of the fittest."  The notion of species in nature was considered as proper analogy to treat human society according to classes (later in Marx), or races (later in Nietzsche) and thus discarding the liberal concepts of individuality and individual lefts.

Lamarckian variations of evolutionary theory and even some of Darwin's claims about the role of individual performance and initiatives did not change the nineteenth century collectivist appraisal of his discovery.  It was thought that Darwin's theory had proved monism and unity of nature through contradictions and thus dialectics (what I call dynamic monism) could pronounce itself as the result of science.

Thus, it is no surprise that Karl Marx wanted to dedicate the first volume of his CAPITAL to Darwin.  Darwin himself always remained a liberal, though his theory was used by followers of Hegel, such as Marx and Nietzsche.  Hegel was basically against liberalism.

1848 European Revolutions

The European revolutions differed from the American and French Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century or the Seventeenth Century Revolutions of England in one important aspect.  Those previous revolutions illustrated the incompatibility of outmoded colonialism or outmoded feudalism with the developed American and European societies.  But the 1848 revolutions exemplified the social and political conflicts of interests within the modern society.  using a dialectical metaphor, these revolutions exposed the inherent contradictions of society.  Thus, contradictions not only happen in time between past socio-economic system and present socio-economic conditions, but they also exist simultaneously between various socio-political groups.  This is how 1848 European Revolutions strengthened the tenets of dynamic monism that the European unity was unity in political contradictions.

First Capitalist Economic Crisis

The progress of the industrial world showed its first antinomies in the nineteenth century.  The process of manufacturing and the organization of labor in factories was hierarchical, though it was not static and conflicts were seen in every level.  Wage and profit, production and consumption, labor and capital, ... were just a few 'dialectical' aspects of industrial production.  But the intensification of those dichotomies by the economic crisis of capitalism in this century further justified dynamic monism for social philosophy.  This economic reality especially influenced Marx in his philosophy.


After Hegel, dynamic monism was upheld by two opposing schools of thought.  The first one originated with Karl Marx who sided with the poor majority of the industrial society.  The second one was developed by Nietzsche who sided with the rich minority of modern world.

Karl Marx was not just a philosopher and his doctrine encompasses many disciplines.  Probably with the exception of religious doctrines, no other doctrine has influenced popular thought as much as Marxism.

Marx did not regard his theories separate from Western Philosophy and considered himself as 'follower of Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach'.  Nonetheless, Marxist philosophy has almost remained independent of all the later developments of Western Philosophy and has exclusively retained its debates within itself.

The above attitude of Marxist philosophy can be traced to Karl Marx himself, who in 1845, in a famous passage of his THESES ON FEUERBACH, said: "The philosophers have merely *interpreted* the world in various ways; the point, however, is to *change* it."  (Karl Marx, 'Theses on Feuerbach', Charles Lewis Edition, 1903, P. 133) Marx himself did not take any major philosophical undertaking after these theses.  Forty years later, Friedrich Engels, in his ANTI-DUHRING, only admitted the need for philosophical contemplation in the sphere of logic in future.  Ten years later, in the introduction to the same book, he completely denied the need for independence of philosophy on the ground that various sciences are capable of approaching different problems of knowledge without the need for any philosophy to embrace it all. I have explained the problem of this viewpoint in details, in an article in Persian entitled "Metaphysics and Religion".

The wish to halt new philosophical undertakings never deterred Marx and Engels from their own philosophical convictions.  In fact, Engels tried in his DIALECTICS OF NATURE, to prove that dialectical materialism (Marxist philosophy) is the direct result of scientific study of nature without any philosophical preconception.  Later in his book entitled LUDWIG FEUERBACH AND THE OUTCOME OF CLASSICAL GERMAN PHILOSOPHY, it is not Feuerbach's sensationalism, but actually Marxist dialectical materialism which is proclaimed as the end of philosophical efforts.

Considering the above, it is therefore not surprising if Marxists never bothered themselves to bring new philosophical speculations.  The most Marxist philosophers have accomplished after Marx and Engels, amounts to upholding Marxism against new philosophical schools or adversaries through opportune interpretations of their masters.  The debates within the Marxists themselves has further instigated efforts, which has caused digging up of almost every notebook and personal letter of Marx and Engels as new evidence for supporting a specific view on a current philosophical debate.  Such scrutinizing is only comparable to the study of scriptures in major religions.

The most important philosophical work of Marxists after Engels is Lenin's book MATERIALISM AND EMPIRO-CRITICISM (1908), which is to defend the purity of Marxism against positivism.  Every new question of modern physics is treated as if Marx and Engels had already furnished the proper answer for them within their system and only when a new definition of matter seems necessary, Lenin introduces his reflective theory of matter but attributes his new definition somehow to Friedrich Engels. (see V.I. Lenin Collected Works, vol 14, Moscow Edition, 1960, P.114).  More on this Lenin's theory later ...

In the following pages, I will discuss Marxist monism, dialectical materialism, as brief as I can.  I will avoid discussing Marx's economic theory (theory of surplus value), sociology (theory of alienation), politics (theory of class struggle), etc. as much as possible to focus on Marx's philosophy, though Marxism as the most influential and controversial thought of Modern Times can hardly be studied as just a philosophy or ideal and it is intertwined with the social life and experiences of a great part of humanity.

2. Marx and Marxist Monism

Karl Marx's version of Hegelian dialectics is materialistic.  As expressed in the first volume of his CAPITAL, he put Hegel's system, which was "standing on its head", back on its feet.  This materialist position was taken from Ludwig Feuerbach, who had turned from the Young Hegelians to sensationalism.  Dialectical materialism, the philosophy of Marxism, retained all the basic tenets of the Hegelian system.  Only the Absolute Idea was changed to matter.

Materialism provided the monistic unity for intellectuals who could no longer believe in spiritual unity.  The world of contradictions was once again united in a Heraclitean fashion, but not by any concrete matter like fire of Heraclitus, but a matter as absolute and abstract as the Parmenidean plenum, which guaranteed this unity and monism in face of new discoveries of components of matter.

In today's terminology, Marx's philosophy is instrumentalism, that is, he considers it as an instrument for changing the world.  It was the intellectual instrument of the working class (proletariat) and the intellectuals accepting the avant-gardism of this class for social change.  In other words, this philosophy could be fully understood and used by Marxist believers, because it could not be understood apart from its class status. In short Marxism was an instrument for those who believed in it. This viewpoint was repeated in Marxism for all areas of life. In the realm of state, this viewpoint is discussed in details in an article in Persian entitled "State and Democracy".

The special mission of proletariat was first claimed in his (and Engels's) THE HOLY FAMILY.  The book was an attempt in Hegelian style to solve the inconsistencies of both Hegel's and the Young Hegelians' systems.  In this book, for the first time, it was dialectically alleged that the proletariat is the only class interested in destroying its counterpart (bourgeoisie) as well as negating itself, since it has nothing to lose by this negation.  This would end class society which had existed ever since the birth of civilization. 

After this book, THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, was written.  This book primarily recounts human history through philosophical speculations rather than historical facts.  Nevertheless, in this book, history of philosophy is treated materialistically, that is, philosophical schools are examined, as the reflection of social conditions in the thought of prominent philosophers. 

German Ideology was followed by THESES ON FEUERBACH (1845).  In these eleven short theses Marx concludes his philosophical speculations by retaining Hegel's dialectics augmented with materialism.  Also, in contrast to Feuerbach's materialism, Marx postulates a return to 'practice' as the criteria for truth in determining the basic inquiry of epistemology: subject-object relation; hence refuting Kant's subjectivism and Hume's agnosticism.  This 'practice' was conceived as the practice of working class in Marx's later works.  All the foregoing works are prior to Marx's mature writings.

After THESES ON FEUERBACH, Marx did not write any philosophical work of importance.  However, the application of dialectical materialism in economics and politics devised his theory of history (historical materialism), with many similarities to Hegel's philosophy of history.  COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN FRANCE, THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE were examples of Marx's views of history, in which class struggle was presumed as the motive force of history.  Ten years later, in 1858, in his unpublished GRUNDRISSE and the published A CONTRIBUTION TO CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, he provided the final formulation of his theory of history, which had begun in German Ideology.

In a monistic fashion, production is envisaged as the ultimate cause and the determinant of all social activities.  Then by a dialectical approach, production is posited as a dichotomous unity of 'relations of production' and 'forces of production'.  The former is the conglomeration of social relations of producers and the latter is their instruments of production including their bodily physical and mental activity.  The connotation of the two terms is not consistent in Marx's different books, but this does not affect the monistic dichotomy of his social model. 

In Marx's model of history, forces of production outgrow the relations of production and harmony is achieved by a revolution.  This synthetic harmony is negated and changed again by the same TRIADIC MOVEMENT.  The dichotomy determines the cause of history which is proclaimed to have developed in five stages: Primitive communism, slavery (or Asiatic Mode of production), feudalism, capitalism, and communism.  The fifth stage was the negation of the primitive communism which dialectically would promise a much-developed society and it was to come after a transitional period of socialism.

Following the above scheme, Marx, in his lifelong work, CAPITAL, aimed at an evaluation of the capitalist production to show the inevitability of its overthrow by socialism.  He predicted the monopolization of capitalist production and speculated the negation of free competition by the very process of capitalist development.  Throughout all these books, his monism in respect to social questions is evident, where economics is presumed to be the *ultimate* cause of social development.  This was a materialistic ultimate principle for social sciences, which made it possible to study them as positive sciences.  Moreover, dialectics is presupposed as the actual state of affairs, both in economics and politics.  In this sense, his political economy is more philosophical than empirical.

It is true that in some letters of Marx and Engels the importance of other factors is emphasized and the need to avoid one-sidedness is noted but even in those works, like Engels's letter to Bloch, still he says that in final analysis, the development is in the above monistic way.

The crux of Marxism is five axioms:

1.  The PROLETARIAT is the most revolutionary class.
2.  Its leadership in the revolution should be executed by its vanguard COMMUNIST PARTY.
3.  This party must take over the state power and establish DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT (socialist state).
4.  This state must nationalize everything, thus negating private property by public property through state ownership. (please note SOCIALISM as defined by Sir. Thomas More did not have a plan of how to establish it.  For Marx, STATE ownership was the path as specified in Communist Manifesto).
5.  Socialism is a transitional period during which the state will wither away and COMMUNISM will be born.

The above axioms are emphatically stressed in Marx's THE CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE and in THE CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM, where the absolutism and 'magical powers' of the 'benevolent' socialist state are defended against the first revisionists- Lassa leans.  Also in THE CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM, the Marxist opposition to all liberal principles of justice, democracy, and freedom, is openly announced, although it is said that bourgeoisie's pronouncement of such principles is demagogy, but they are not replaced with any proletarian alternative forms and it is believed that only the class nature of the state is all that matters.

For Hegel, the 'historical' process ended with the Prussian state.  For Marx, it was to wait until the Russian Revolution, although Paris Commune was an example of the transitional period for him.  Marx never attacked Hegel's admiration of absolutist state and it is evident even in his first criticism of Hegelian philosophy, i.e. CRITIQUE OF HEGEL'S PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT (see the same Footnote 3).  Only Marx's last disposition for a cosmopolitan society resembles Thomas More's Utopia and has furnished a religious hope for all future generations of Marxists.  The misgivings of existing socialism were tolerated for the promised solace of future Utopia.

3. Marxist Utopia

Before I examine Marx's utopia, let me reiterate Sir Thomas More's description of his utopia.  This model was later taken by other utopians such as Fourier and St. Simon, with former adding a lot of promiscuity to it, and the latter making it a Christian doctrine.  Bertrand Russell summarizes Sir Thomas More's Utopia this way:

"In Utopia, as in Plato's Republic, all things are held in common, for the public cannot flourish where there is private property and without communism there can be no equality... there are in Utopia fifty-four towns, all on the same plane, except the one in the capital.

"All streets are twenty feet broad, and all the private houses are exactly alike, with one door onto the street and one onto the garden...Every tenth-year people change houses - apparently to prevent any feeling of ownership. All are dressed alike...The fashions never change, and no difference is made between summer and winter clothing...

"Everybody-men and women alike-works six hours a day...All go to bed at eight and sleep eight hours.  In the early morning there are lectures...some men are elected to become men of learning, and are exempted from other work while they are found satisfactory.  All who are concerned with government are chosen from the learned...

"As for marriage, both men and women are sharply punished if not virgin when they marry...The utopians think nothing of martial glory, though all learn how to fight, women as well as men. 

"They resort to war for three purposes: to defend their own territory, when invaded; to deliver territory of an ally from invaders; and to free an oppressed nation from tyranny...

"For themselves, they have no money and they teach contempt for gold...there are many religions among them, all of which are tolerated...

"More's utopia was in many ways, astonishingly liberal.  I am not thinking so much of the preaching of communism, which was in the tradition of many religious movements.  I am thinking rather of what is said, about war, about religion, and religious toleration, against the wanton killing of animals ..., and in favor of a mild criminal law...It must be admitted, however, that life in More's Utopia, as in most others, would be intolerably dull.   Diversity is essential to happiness, and in Utopia, there is hardly any.  This is a defect of all planned social systems, actual as well as imaginary.  " (Bertrand Russell, TA History of Philosophy, 1945, PP519-521)

A closer examination of Marxian Utopia reveals the monism and statism of this ideal society.  Marx defined his communist ideal as a classless society where the state has withered away.  Contrary to anarchists, who wished to eliminate the state immediately, Marx deemed it necessary to have a transitional socialist state (dictatorship of the proletariat) before the emergence of the communist ideal.  Although Marx's ideal society did not have a state with oppressive and compulsory authority, but the administrative function of the state would remain intact.

The need for the above administrative body is presupposed in Marx's formula of communism in his CRTIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAM: "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".  An administrative body is needed to determine ABILITY and NEEDS of the people.

The fortiori existence of administrative function of state in communist society is also emphasized in Engels's ANTI-DUHRING.  Marx thought of state mainly as a coercive power for class domination, therefore, he argued that communist administrative organ would not be a 'state' per se, anymore, because society would be classless and this administration would not exercise coercion.  Economically, classes would disappear by 'socialization' (nationalization) of the means of production. 

Moreover, communism emerges when capitalist individualistic habits are replaced by communist fraternal habits.  In other words, during the socialist transition, a Darwinian adaptation of people to Communist life evolves, which precludes any need of resorting to force to ensure fraternal relations in society.  Thus, regardless of plausibility of communist harmony, there is little difference between socialism and communism with regards to the central authority.  This was true even in later works such as SOCIALISM, UTOPIAN, AND SCIENTIFIC by Engels.

Marx distinguished socialism by principle of rewarding workers 'according to their work' due to their immediate transition from capitalism.  Nonetheless, both socialism and communism are social schemes, which require central authority, to achieve their assigned functions, but using different means.

The real as well as the ideal central authority result from Marx's presumption of centralized administration as a guarantee for complete equality.  In reality, the growth of central authority, whether coercive or peaceful, is the most important source of inequality itself.  Thus, monism and statism even destroy the communist ideal itself. 

Both anarchists' wish to 'explode' the state and Marxists' hope for its withering away prevent serious endeavors to correct and develop the state and law and at the best disguise the existing states with a socialist title, or leave us at the mercy of despotic forms of governments proclaiming the interests of all.  Something that was exemplified in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

If the state is to die out, efforts to study and improve forms of government and law seem futile and believers in state perishment primarily try to hasten its demise than to enhance it (same is true for family and private property).

In my opinion, humanity is worse without these institutions and humankind cannot dispose these social achievements (i.e. state, family, and private property), because of their shortcomings.  Exultant repudiation of these institutions without introducing serious alternatives results in either anarchic chaos or despotic rule of individuals who substitute themselves for all these social functions.  The former, i.e. the anarchic chaos has been short but the latter, tyranny of the likes of Russian and Chinese Communist parties have lasted for decades.

Contemplation on ideal state, family structure, and private property, has so far introduced democratic institutions as the most fruitful systems in human history.  I think foreseeing better models of social organizations or improving the existing ones is what is very valuable in social philosophy of today rather than the blanket refutation of all these social organizations as reactionary.

4. Conclusion

Philosophical work of Karl Marx started with his doctoral thesis on Democratus and Epicurus and was continued in ECONOMIC AND PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRIPTS OF 1844, THE HOLY FAMILY, THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, and THE POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY. 

Marx's philosophical endeavors were augmented and continued by Friedrich Engels both during and after Marx's lifetime.  Engels wrote several philosophical works: DIALECTICS OF NATURE, ANTI-DUHRING, LUDWIG FEUERBACH AND THE OUTCOME OF CLASSICAL GERMAN PHILOSOPHY.  Also, THE ORIGIN OF FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY, AND THE STATE is a treatise of Marx's historical materialism via historical facts.

ANTI-DUHRING was read and approved by Marx and is still the best exposition of Marxism.  In this book and DIALECTICS OF NATURE, Engels sets to prove that dialectical materialism is not a metaphysical theory and has been derived from nature and society in a scientific and disinterested effort.

Engels formulates three laws of dialectics as follows:

1- Change of quantity to quality.
2- Interpenetration of opposites.
3- Negation of negation.

He regarded those formulations as the most general laws of nature in his DIALECTICS OF NATURE. 

Later Marxists have sometimes slightly differed in their elaborations.  For example, Joseph Stalin, in his DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL MATERIALISM considered the law of motion as a separate law, divided the second law into the law of interpenetration of the phenomena in the world and the law of contradictions, and regarded negation of negation as a special case of the law of contradictions and thus enumerated four laws of dialectics.  Among later Marxists, Mao Tse Tung, in his FOUR PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS, sums up dialectics as the law of contradictions.

It is obvious that beside substitution of the Absolute Spirit, by absolute matter, there is hardly any difference between Hegelianism and Dialectical Materialism.  Moreover, except for materialistic principle of history (i.e. economics as the ULTIMATE cause), historical materialism is not much different from Hegelian spiral evolutionary historical philosophy.

Nevertheless, Marxist materialism has misled some critics to regarding Marx and Engels as economic reductionists.   Engels's letters to Joseph Bloch, at the end of his lifetime (1890s), are lucid examples to disprove this criticism.  It is true that many Marxists turned reductionist trying to explain all social problems by economic factors, and even trying to relate everything to interests of ONE specific 'class', or the other.

The above has not been because of reductionism of the original system, but to retain Marxian monism, in the wake of sociological varieties in reality, many ignorant Marxist followers had resorted to beseech reductionism to free themselves from analyzing complex social phenomena.  Marx himself in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte refuted such analysis of events.

The monism of Marxism has been best revealed by Georgii V. Plekhanov, a Russian Marxist, who was in close association with Friedrich Engels himself and whose works were considered Marxist classics in philosophy even by Lenin, his adversary.   Plekhanov's MONIST VIEW OF HISTORY is the best defense of Marxist monism in social sciences.  For him, the ultimate factor of social development is economy.  In economy, labor is the ultimate determinant which has even created man (according to Engels's THE ROLE OF LABOR IN THE TRANSITION FROM APE TO MAN).  Finally, matter is the ultimate cause in nature.

Plekhanov's definition of matter was similar to Max Planck's hieroglyphic concept, who viewed sense-data as information content of reality, which had to be deciphered.  Lenin refuted Plekhanov's definition of matter as unorthodox in his MATERIALISM AND EMPIROCRITICISM.  Lenin defended his reflexive theory of matter as Marxian notion, in which matter is conceived to be the stuff which is reflected (like in a mirror) by our sense and is independent of them.  This was just a minor difference since Plekhanov, like new realists, did not see any inconsistency between his semi-Kantian notion of perception and objectivism.  Moreover, Lenin defended monism much more than Plekhanov himself and this outlook continuously grew in Marxism.

Marx considered himself as the continuer of Hegel and Feuerbach in philosophy, Smith and Ricardo in economics and finally Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Robert Owen in socialism.  After his death in 1883, Marxism increasingly disassociated itself from Western Philosophy, paltry because of its disdain for independent philosophical speculations, and paltry because Marxism increasingly spread in the non-Western world. 

Various branches of Marxism grew, each claiming to promulgate the 'true' Marxism.  Kautskyism and Trotskyism were defeated in Russia and Leninism for a while became victorious.  After Lenin's death in 1924, more branches of Marxism sprouted, i.e. Stalinism and Maoism as the main ones, and even more branches have grown after Stalin and Mao's death.

All the above 'sects' of Marxism in this age of MARXIST GREAT SCHISM still prevail the original monistic aspects of Marxism.  Whether 'orthodox' or 'revisionist', they all start from 'the ultimate principle'.  Discarding any of the tenets of Marxism in Communist countries was like disclaiming TRINITY in the Middle Ages. 

At first Marxism tried to criticize dogmatism in the social sciences and to establish a scientific basis.  As time had passed it, Marxism has become a 'religious' creed worse than that of the Mediaeval Church.  Even the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages was never successful at building hierarchical absolute states like the ones built by the former Soviet and Eastern Block, or the current Chinese, Vietnamese, or North Korean Communist parties.  These parties are embodiment of Church and State in one single institution.  Renegades were treated worse than the witches and sorcerers of the Middle Ages, at the times of Stalinist Purges and Maoist Cultural Revolution. 

Of the excellent works analyzing history of Marxism, I should mention Kolakowski's MAIN CURRENTS OF MARXISM and Karl Popper's OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES written at the time of WWII and published later is still an excellent book to read in this area.

The new left is the latest opposition to orthodox Marxism.  Gyorgy Lukacs in the 1920s and the Frankfurt School of 30s were followed by Louis Althuser, Karl Korsch, Lucio Colleti, Paul Sweezy, Charles Bettleheim, Habermas, and many others in the twentieth century.  They have tried to return to the traditions of Western Philosophy. e.g., Louis Althuser, in one of his phases introduced STRUCTURALIST MARXISM inspired by Levi-Straus, which is a pluralistic tendency.  Paul Sweezy, a prominent Marxist economist, in his POST-REVOLUTIONARY SOCIETIES, admits the need to re-evaluate the fundamental principles of Marxism due to its incompatibility of achievements and ideals. 

I believe all the above efforts, although very sincere, may not have much fruit.  I think criticism of Marxism from within is doomed to become a sect of Marxism itself.  New Left limited by Marxism does not seem to have an ample potential for new thinking.

Back to Philosophy Index
Back to Sam Ghandchi Index

Support IPC
IPC operating since March 30, 2000
          Duplication of contents are allowed, only by naming the source & link to IPC
All rights are protected & reserved by Iran Politics Club © 2000 IPC