Marx the obstinate

Image: Nico Becker


Let us live up to the hope that Marx left as an inheritance

"A Revolution"just in time”, without risks or surprises, it would be an event without an event, a kind of revolution without a revolution. Carrying out a possible revolution is, in essence, untimely and, to some extent, always premature. A creative recklessness. If humanity only asks itself the problems it can solve, shouldn't everything happen in time? If a social formation never disappears before all the productive forces it is capable of containing develop, why force fate, and at what cost? It was premature or pathological to proclaim. from 1793, the primacy of the right to existence over the right to property? Demand social equality in the same way as political equality? Marx clearly says the opposite: the emergence of a new law expresses the actuality of the conflict. Revolutions are the sign of what humanity can resolve historically (…) A perhaps whose last word is not said. Does taking the side of the oppressed when the objective conditions for their liberation are not ripe betray a teleological view? The “anachronistic” combats of Spartacus, Münzer, Winstantley, Babeuf, would then take a desperate date in life from an announced end. The opposite interpretation seems more in line with Marx's thinking: no pre-established meaning of history, no predestination justifies resignation to oppression. Untimely (…) revolutions do not fit the pre-established standards (…) They are born on the ground, from suffering and humiliation. We are always right to revolt (Daniel Bensaïd, Marx L'intempestif).

Today, March 14, 1883, Karl Marx died. They sometimes say, maliciously, that revolutionaries are in a hurry. But the radicalism that inspires the need for a revolution is not only inspired by the anxiety that life must change suddenly, as quickly as possible. It rests, essentially, on the bet that the transformation of society is urgent in the face of the danger of irremediable catastrophes.

Revolutionaries are persevering and resilient militants because they know that the worst fate of a society is to become a prisoner of reactionary inertial forces. When you don't change, you go backwards. What does not advance, retreats. Marx believed that a revolutionary epoch had opened in the middle of the XNUMXth century. This prognosis was not confirmed, then.

The world that emerged from the industrial revolution experienced immense changes, but the path of reforms and concertations prevailed. The possibilities for transformation driven by the very movement of capital accumulation had not been exhausted. But if revolutionary earthquakes such as the continental wave of 1848 or the Paris Commune of 1871 were defeated, they paved the way for the revolutions of the XNUMXth century.

The publication of the Communist Manifesto it announced that an epoch of social revolution had opened. A prognosis, already controversial, in his time. Certainly even today, even among Marxists. The concept of epoch in the Manifesto is used interchangeably at different levels of abstraction, and in reference to processes of very different dimensions and measures.

Was Marx announcing the opening of a revolutionary epoch, or warning of the imminence of a revolutionary situation? Or both, which is perhaps the least controversial? Anyway, the use of categories of temporalities in this document is done in an indeterminate way, which most likely reveals that the elaboration of these ideas was still in an embryonic stage.

The authors of The Manifest, however, were aware of the need to seek a “fine tuning” in the analysis of the rhythms of the historical transformation that was developing before their eyes. For example, after the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, in the final balance of Class struggles in France, when it is concluded that the revolutionary stage had ended, a measure of the situation is clearly suggested, and in the famous passage of the Preface, when the theme is resumed in a more abstract way, all the references were built in a sphere of time, therefore long-lasting.

But, beyond a political characterization, the The Manifest it presented a body of ideas, a vision of the world, or even a design of a new theory of history that defined the evaluation criteria of what a revolutionary epoch would be: “The available productive forces no longer favor the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for those conditions that hinder them; and when they overcome these obstacles, they disorganize the whole of society, threatening the existence of bourgeois property. Bourgeois society is too narrow to contain its own riches”.

 This formulation refers to the crisis of capitalism on a long-term scale with its objective, materially determined, historically possible causalities. One does not embrace a fatalistic prophecy. A hypothesis and a bet inspired by the dynamics of capitalism itself are elaborated. It was built on polemics with pre-Marxist socialist thought, and on the need to go beyond the sphere of ethical-moral imperatives of breaking with social injustice.[I]

Already in The German Ideology, a few years earlier, the importance of the concept of a revolutionary epoch, as being one in which the possibility of transition would be open, emerged in an acute way. Even resorting to the paradoxical dialectic of the Hegelian formula that admits that “everything that is real is rational” and “everything that is rational is real”. Since the crisis of capitalism is real and the need for a post-capitalist or rational socialist transition, the second would be contained as a potentiality in the first.

Let us see some of the observations of Marx and Engels: “In the development of the productive forces a state is reached where productive forces and means of circulation arise which can only be harmful within the framework of existing relations and are no longer productive forces but destructive forces (the machinery and money), as well as, a fact related to the foregoing, a class is born in the course of this development process that supports the entire weight of society without enjoying its advantages, which is expelled from its bosom and finds itself in a more radical opposition than all other classes, a class which includes the majority of the members of society and from which arises the consciousness of the necessity of a revolution”.[ii]

In this paragraph, the contradiction between the maturity of the productive forces and the expiry of existing (economic-social) relations[iii] it is interpreted as a stage in which the former (which have primacy in defining the internal dynamics of the mode of production), when they do not find favorable conditions, reverse their progressive historical sign and tend to degenerate into destructive forces. That is, the possibility of the danger of a historical regression opens up.

Further on, Marx and Engels refer even more clearly to the two “material elements” of a “total subversion” and define: (i) the level reached by the productive forces trapped in social relations and (ii) the existence of a social subject , as being the necessary conditions for the opening of a revolutionary era: “It is also these conditions of life that each generation finds already elaborated that determine whether the revolutionary shock that periodically reproduces itself in history will be strong enough to overthrow the foundations of everything that exists; the material elements of a total subversion are, on the one hand, the existing productive forces and, on the other, the constitution of a revolutionary mass that makes the revolution (...) if these conditions do not exist, it is perfectly indifferent, for the practical development, that the idea of ​​this revolution has already been expressed a thousand times... as the history of communism proves.[iv]

In other words, at a certain point in the development of the productive forces, the predominant social relations, from an element of impulse of social progress, are transformed into an obstacle: the social structure no longer favors the expansion of progress, and becomes a reactionary element of blockage. , which threatens society with stagnation, or degeneration. Thus, while capitalist accumulation in medieval towns was limited, the feudal relations that established obligations over cities did not impede the economic and social advances of the bourgeoisie.

The passionate theme of historical regressions (always dear to the socialist tradition, which considers the formula, socialism or barbarism, more than a slogan, a prognosis), is often neglected. However, the pulsation of historical rhythms was, in the long durations, irregular, full of discontinuities. Or rather, more than that, very bumpy due to true fractures in time, or dangerous abysses into which the evolutionary process seems to plunge, blocking promising possibilities that were latent, but were, dramatically, aborted.

This dilemma remains current. The dangers that threaten civilized life at the beginning of this third decade of the 2007st century are unavoidable. The economic crisis of 08-1929 was the most serious since 19, the war in Ukraine is a laboratory for the threat of global confrontations for supremacy in the state system, the international pandemic of covid-XNUMX left the consequences of millions of dead and global warming global reduces the historical time of energy transition to now and now. The crisis of capitalism is structural.

Karl Marx realized that the assessment presented in 1848 had been premature. The clock of history was ticking slower than he had anticipated. But this slowness did not invalidate the prospect that capitalism, at some point, would plunge societies into a whirlwind of chronic crises. May we live up to the hope that Marx left as an inheritance.

No, Marx was neither hasty nor stubborn. Marx was a die-hard.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo).



[ii] . MARX, Karl and ENGELS, Friedrich. The German Ideology. Trans. Conceicao Jardim and Eduardo Lucio Nogueira. Porto, Presença, 1974. p.47

[iii] Em The German Ideology, Marx still does not work with the concept of social relations of production. This observation, and others equally useful, were collected from The formation of Karl Marx's economic thought, by Ernst Mandel.

[iv] . MARX, Karl and ENGELS, Friedrich. The German Ideology. Trans. Conceicao Jardim and Eduardo Lucio Nogueira. Porto, Presença, 1974. p.50

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