According to Karl Marx, the revolution of the worker or proletariat is a natural outcome brought about by the acquired consciousness of the proletariat and the economic pressures of capitalism. In the unfolding of history (according to Marx, Historical Materialism), a time will arise where the bourgeoisie (e.g., the landed class) would be overthrown by the proletariat (e.g., the landless class).
While communism marks the end of the age of decadent capitalism according to Marx, another viewpoint accepted by Marx is that throughClass Struggle revolution can be achieved. With the efforts of the landless class the capitalist bosses would be overthrown and a worker’s paradise would ensue.
The Metaphysics of History
Marx’s Historical Materialism, like Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, shows an unfolding of history. In Hegel’s view, spirit or mind is instrumental in the unfolding of history, but according to Marx, matter is the driving force behind history(1). While there is controversy surrounding what Hegel meant by spirit or mind in the context of his phenomenology, there is little doubt what Marx meant by materialism(2). When Marx is talking about matter, he is referring to the raw stuff of which things are made.
The important thing with matter is one’s relation to this matter, especially matter shaped by the proletariat, that is robbed by the capitalist bosses. Matter drives history through the continual myriad transformations of matter, and in the days of capitalism, the types of production determine social relations, and more specifically individual thought.
There are two basic metaphysical positions one can take, one being that that which constitutes the essence of reality are ideas, and the other, that which is most basic or essential is matter. In idealism, ideas are thought to be dependent on someone or something having the ideas. Without the subject nothing can be said to exist. This is not a problem for Marx. Marx’s theory is that matter exists whether someone is there to perceive it or not.
Everything that is thought of as mind or spirit is driven by matter according to Marx. Under capitalism the thoughts we have, the zeitgeist of a particular era, are all dependent on the modes of production(4). As the modes of production change, so do the social relations, and these relations change unceasingly. Our relation to matter determines our understanding of the world, and the way we understand each other.
Marx gives the example of commodity fetishism, where consumers desire certain material goods. These goods become a commodity, and because of this they seem to have intrinsic value. The commodity becomes almost a living thing. The commodity is reified(5). Marx gives the example that gold has no intrinsic value, but its desirability for the purchase of things gives it value, as it seems in itself. This commodity takes on a life of its own, becoming a source of affluence and power, and is no longer simply matter.
Communist Revolution and the Class Struggle View
The primary problem with Marx’s theory of revolution is that on the one hand the transformations in the material relations are constantly driving the unfolding of history (i.e., Historical Materialism). Eventually capitalism results in monopolies, and ultimately world monopoly; then comes revolution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the other hand what role does class struggle play in the equation? For if the end of revolution is not necessary, and rather the cries of injustice result in substantial benefit for the worker, then how can communist revolution be essential or even be claimed to be important?
Further, not only is the class struggle view a problem for Marx’s theory of revolution, but there are also more practical considerations. If revolution is inevitable, then would it be necessary for people to “struggle” to overthrow the government? Also, if struggle is required, then it seems the material (i.e., social) relations of the productive forces do not drive history at all, and therefore do not lead to an inevitable communist revolution. It is impossible to have it both ways.
The disagreeable solution is that revolution can happen in intransigent capitalist countries, but only as the result of sustained class struggle. It is conceivable in a world proletariat revolution, that the revolution could be smashed. It is also conceivable that capitalism could evolve into something more beneficent because of worker’s pressure on the capitalists, delaying or denying communist revolution. After a revolution, a communist paradise then would not necessarily follow (perhaps because of some lack of ideological purity), and this viewpoint would be useful in demonstrating how such repressive regimes likeStalin or Pol Pot could come out of communist revolution.
The argument then can be made that communist revolution is not always a good thing, which Marx would most certainly reject. Marx’s theory of historical materialism and the promise of a coming paradise is then relegated to little more than a well intentioned fantasy. Even the reductionist materialist position of communists is called into question.
1 Karl Marx, “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved on August 13, 2011 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/hegel.htm
2 Karl Marx, , “Afterward to the Second German Edition [Abstract]”
Capital Volume 1, Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved on August 13, 2011 from http://www.marxists.org/subject/dialectics/marx-engels/capital-afterward.htm
3 Mick Brookes, “Historical Materialism” Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved on August 13, 2011 from http://www.marxist.com/History-old/historicalMaterialism.htm
4 MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms. Marxists Internet Archives. Retrieved on August 13, 2011 from http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/m/o.htm#mode-production
5 Reification. Retrieved on August 13, 2011 from http://it.stlawu.edu/~global/glossary/reification.a.html