Marx: science and revolution

Image: Annika Elisabeth von Hausswolff


Review of the Spanish edition of the book by Márcio Bilharinho Naves

Edited and foreword by Pedro Karczmarczyk, professor at National University of La Plata, the book Marx: science and revolution, by Márcio Bilharinho Naves, finally got a version in Spanish, making it more accessible to the Latin American public. Launched more than 20 years ago in Brazil, this work by the retired professor from the State University of Campinas stands out for its precision and didacticism, being a gateway to the works of Marx and Engels,[I] Marxism and Communist politics.

Márcio Bilharinho Naves established himself as one of the main Brazilian specialists in legal Marxism and in the work of Evgeni Pachukanis, a Soviet jurist. In his academic and political trajectory, he wrote, translated and organized several Marxist publications in Brazil, with an unequivocal influence of Althusserian positions.

The subtitle “science and revolution” concisely indicates the fundamentals of Naves' Marxist reflection: the defense of the scientific character of Marxism, constituted from the fight against bourgeois theories and ideologies; and the ratification of its irreducibly revolutionary aspect, against the various attempts to disassociate it from the communist perspective. Therefore, Marx: science and revolution it reveals the direction in which Naves develops his theoretical efforts while at the same time proposing an analysis of the foundations of Marxist thought. After all, there is no way to discuss this theory without taking sides, even in the face of the polemics that constitute it.

Marx: science and revolution It is structured around seven chapters that seek to reconstruct Marx's work and carry out a genealogy of the theoretical and political field inaugurated by it: Marxism. More precisely, the passage from a “pre-Marxist” Marx to a “Marxist” Marx; the epistemological and political transformation effected in this thinker, through his discoveries and theoretical and political encounters.

From what paths was Marx able to constitute a theoretical field that makes it possible for the proletariat to be present in theory, as Balibar (1975) says? This is what Naves' investigation reconstitutes in its most important events: “your ideological past” (NAVES, 2020, p. 65) between liberalism, Hegelianism and Feuerbachianism to the more developed historical materialism in The capital, passing through works of materialist and communist rupture such as the german ideology and the communist manifesto and by the lessons learned from the revolutionary labor movement of the time.

By opposing the young and the old Marx, as proposed by the Althusserian reading, and demonstrating the conceptual mutations throughout Marx's life, Naves escapes from an illusory unity of Marxian thought due to the simple fact that it comes from the same person. Thus, the author also frees himself from fixation with the origins of this thought – as if they revealed the “essence” of all of Marx's work. Naves's interest is, on the contrary, to highlight Marx's most advanced scientific discoveries, the highest possible points of his trajectory, formed of an intense and conflicting theoretical and political process. Points on which we can and must develop Marxism, as a revolutionary instrument, and not as a content of infinite exegesis.

As Naves demonstrates, especially in chapters 6 (The refoundation of historical materialism) And 7 (The overcoming of bourgeois society: transition and communism), through continuous cuts and rectifications, Marx arrived at certain fundamental theses and concepts for science and the proletarian struggle. The primacy of production relations over productive forces and economic determination only in the last instance are two discoveries of the greatest importance.

They bring greater complexity to Marxist historical science, highlighting the class struggle as the engine of history and opposing the more simplistic economism and the thesis of the neutrality of the productive forces. At the same time, they indicate the political pillars for the transition to communism: the transformation of production relations, in addition to the expropriation and nationalization of the means of production, and the destruction of the bourgeois State, in addition to the seizure of state power.

Naves' arguments about the transition generate an impressive counterpoint to the contortions of the defenders of a supposed “socialism with Chinese characteristics” today, for example. However, in our view, when seeking a rigorous Marxist definition of socialism, based on the works of Marx and the experience of the labor movement of the XNUMXth century, Naves disregards the real scope of the revolutions of the XNUMXth century, by stating that they “never franchised the landmarks of capitalism” (NAVES, 2020, p. 186), thus incurring a certain doctrinal rigidity that sidelines the contradictory historical process.

Now, unlike what happens in capitalist China in recent decades, where there is increasing privatization of the means of production, reinforcement of class and income inequality and an immense State apparatus without control of the masses, that is, where there is no indication of destruction of the capitalist production relations and its State, several revolutions of the XNUMXth century, including the Chinese one, presented processes of socialist transition during a certain period.

Limited processes, without a doubt, with permanence of relations of capitalist production and with the survival of apparatuses of the old State. Limited, but existing, as expressions of the class struggle after the seizure of power that challenged and at some points crossed, for the first time in history, the landmarks of capitalism.

This less rigid, but no less rigorous, position seems to be Naves' own in other interventions. For example, when analyzing the contradictory measures of the first years of the Russian revolution, the author argues that “the revolutionary process was still ongoing, that it had not yet been exhausted, and that the working class and the masses as a whole had not yet suffered an irreversible defeat” (NAVES, 2005a, p. 61). In his analysis of the Chinese revolution, he also identifies in the events of the cultural revolution elements of “breaking the bourgeois state” and “free cooperation of the working mass” (NAVES, 2021, p. 615). Revolution that on another occasion considers, although partial, restricted and later defeated, a “fundamental effort to revolutionize the relations of production” (NAVES, 2005b, p. 98).

Restored capitalism today, where before there was an effort of socialist transition, cannot erase the heroic initiatives and attempts of revolutionaries and exploited classes of the last century, against all possible adversities. From the insufficiencies and strengths of these achievements, it becomes possible to conspire today, from a higher level, on a new world without exploitation. As Naves continues: “it is from Mao and the Cultural Revolution – above all its shortcomings – that it is possible to conceptually elaborate the transition and outline a strategy for effectively overcoming capital. Without this, without this essential condition, legal socialism[ii] it will always triumph over Marxism and the process of capital will never be interrupted” (NAVES, 2005b, p. 109). Chinese capitalist monopolies and their billionaires say so.[iii]

*Alexandre Marinho Pepper Master in Sociology from the University of Brasilia (UnB).

Originally published on the blog



Márcio Bilharinho Naves, Marx: science and revolution. Santiago de Chile: Double Science Editorial, 2020.



BALIBAR, E. Five Studies in Historical Materialism. Lisbon: Editorial Presença, 1975.

MASCARO, AL Márcio Bilharinho Naves, thinker of legal Marxism. Law & Reality, v. 1, no. 1, 2011.

NAVES, MB The Paris Commune in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In: MARTINS, CB; BATISTA, FR; SEFERIAN, G. (Org.). Paris Commune, State and Law. Belo Horizonte: RTM, 2021.

____. Mao, the process of revolution. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 2005b.

____. ____. Stalinism and capitalism. In: ___ (Org.). Marxist analysis of transition. Campinas: UNICAMP, 2005a.


[I] Despite the title referring only to Marx, Engels is obviously present in works analyzed by Naves throughout the book, but he is not cited by “exhibition convenience” (NAVES, 2020, p. 39). For the same reason, we will not refer to Engels in this review.

[ii] An expression that indicates the influence of legal, bourgeois illusions on the socialist movement. Naves understands legal socialism as an ideology opposed to Marxism, as it displaces the real transition to communism to the terrain of changes within the scope of the state and law.

[iii] Thanks for the critical reading of Danilo Enrico Martuscelli.

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