"Contradictions," Seena Mavaddat, 2019

March 2021

Marxism as Method and Theory

If you’re a communist, or socialist of any kind, it’s necessary to think about how your politics might be achieved. Any communist’s political vision must be centered on the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, leading to the ushering in of socialist transition. So how can communists make revolutionary change happen? Or, to pose the question another way, how does a revolutionary intervene in the class struggle? Following Lenin’s declaration in What is to be Done?, we can say that “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”[1] Lenin is arguing that the development of revolutionary theory is a precondition of a communist politics. If communists don’t grapple with theorizing how to intervene in the class struggle, which presupposes an analysis of the conjuncture, then we may be led down dead-end paths.

The application of Marxism to our conjuncture is the starting point for the development of a communist politics. Using Marxism, we can pose the following questions:

  1. What classes exist in our social formation? What are the relations between them?
  2. Which class relations are contradictory? And if these relations are contradictory, are they antagonistic or non-antagonistic?
  3. What ‘communist’ organizations exist right now? Are these organizations capable of organizing the revolutionary classes in our society? Are these organizations opportunistic or dogmatic in any way? Can this opportunism or dogmatism be overcome without doing significant damage to revolutionary optimism?
  4. If there are no strong communist organizations right now, how might they emerge?

Even though I will not be answering them in this piece, I believe every communist should be posing these questions, which stem from the terrain of Marxist theory. Marxism furnishes us with the means to answer these questions, and with the aid of decades worth of revolutionary practice, we have historical precedent for how these questions have been answered by Marxists before us.

One might object and ask: why should we use Marxism as our theory for revolutionary politics? What gives Marxism authority over other revolutionary theories? And furthermore, there are many different conceptions of Marxism which pose and answer these questions in different ways. Which conception of Marxism are we referring to?

I will argue that Marxism is a scientific method of analyzing social formations, which provides a solid foundation for communists to intervene in the class struggle. It has become fashionable to disavow Marxism as being dogmatic, Eurocentric, or outdated, but I believe these critiques all rest upon misunderstandings of Marxism.[2] Many Marxists and communists are also skeptical, rightfully so, of labelling Marxism as a science because of the USSR’s dogmatic and formulaic understanding of this subject.[3] Science itself carries negative connotations because it is now understood, in general amongst Western society, in a vulgar positivist way. Common sense knowledge distinguishes between objectivity and subjectivity, where anything that is ‘objective’ is absolutely true, and anything that is subjective is merely an opinion or belief. Science obviously falls in the domain of objectivity, while philosophy, history, and other disciplines in the humanities are considered subjective and are therefore incapable of becoming objective. Of course, such a dichotomy only exists because of the hegemony of empiricism in contemporary common sense. How many insufferable people are there in STEM who consider themselves the authorities on objective knowledge because they study a “science”? The ideological hegemony of ‘objectivity’ can be seen in the prioritization of STEM throughout academia and the school system, while the humanities are constantly underfunded and deprioritized. Science is now viewed as something sacred since its disciplines are considered the only ones where objective knowledge can be ‘found’. Revolutionary theory is generally considered to be in the domain of the humanities. Therefore, to introduce science in this context seems dogmatic, at best, according to contemporary common sense. I reject empiricism’s hard line distinction between objectivity and subjectivity as blurrier than it appears at face value.[4] Regardless, when I say Marxism is a science, I am not doing so in the common sense understanding of the term.

I am not necessarily presenting new ideas in this piece, and the arguments I make draw heavily on arguments made by V. I. Lenin, Louis Althusser, and Walter Rodney. The purpose of this essay is to clarify Marxism as a concept, which, considering all of the different ways Marxism is currently understood and misunderstood, is necessary. My goal here is to demonstrate why Marxism is a tool revolutionaries ought to utilize in their interventions in the class struggle of their social formation. And to reiterate, the reason we ought to use Marxism is because it is a scientific method. If I am going to defend Marxism as a science, I am obligated to define Marxism. I will advance two theses:

Thesis 1: Marxism is not a system of thought, but rather a methodology that is used to produce scientific knowledge of societies and history.

Thesis 2: The totality of Marxist analysis, or the aggregate of knowledges produced by Marxist methodology, can be considered Marxist theory, which as a whole is not necessarily scientific. When Marxism is labelled as a philosophy, it is usually with this conception in mind. There is a distinction between Marxism, a methodology, and Marxist theory.

Thesis 1: Marxism as Method

Marxism is a methodology used to analyze history and societies, with the purpose of producing scientific knowledge of particular social formations. This knowledge is then used to intervene in the class struggle of the social formation. I place emphasis on intervention, because Marxism is, at its best, a critical tool that can be used to change the world.[5] Marxist methodology is built on some key premises and concepts.

Premise 1 - Mode of Production: People cooperate with each other in order to produce their means of subsistence (survival). In technical terms, people form modes of production, which is a system of producing things. Every mode of production has the following elements: tools/technology, raw materials inherited from nature, agents (people), and a process of transforming raw materials via tools into products that possess a use-value. A given mode of production can be considered a unity between the productive forces (technology, tools, labor-power, etc.) and the relations of production.[6]

Premise 2 - Relations of Production: Or “the system of relations involving the distribution of the means of production, the objective of production, and the relations between the performance of physical labor and the appropriation of the fruits of the labor."[7] In capitalist society, the two major classes are the bourgeoisie and proletariat. A ‘class’ is a social category that expresses an individual’s or group of people’s relationship to the mode of production. The bourgeoisie owns the means of production, and they purchase the labor-power of the proletariat, who do not own any means of production themselves and are therefore forced to sell their labor-power in order to survive. Since the wealth of the bourgeoisie is derived directly from exploiting the labor-power of the proletariat, this is an antagonistic relationship.

Of course, neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat are homogenous. Not every member of the bourgeoisie is the same, and each individual may be of a different race, sex, or cultural background, and can possess different ideas about how to run society. Members of the bourgeoisie may even be in contradiction with other members over political or ideological matters. Likewise, not every member of the proletariat is the same. The proletariat cuts across race, gender, and ethnicity, and some members of the proletariat may also possess different relationships to the means of reproduction. Some members of the proletariat may have gotten a college education, a masters degree, or had no schooling at all. The point here is that classes are a matter of one’s relationship to the means of production, but this doesn’t mean that every member of a class is the same. Some contradictions are internal to a given class, and navigating these contradictions is the art of politics.

Furthermore, the bourgeoisie and proletariat are not necessarily the only two classes in a capitalist social formation. Marxists have attempted to theorize the development of the middle class, the people that are not quite bourgeois or proletarian. One of these classes is the petty-bourgeoisie, which traditionally describes small business owners and landlords. The petty-bourgeoisie are not a part of the bourgeoisie themselves, but they still exploit the working class. The development of the productive forces in the imperialist countries and the shifting nature of the capitalist mode of production has seen the emergence of industries and jobs that didn’t exist pre-World War II, mainly in the domain of information technology. The concept of the labor aristocracy, while I’ll expand on later, was developed to explain this strata of workers who earn higher salaries and greater benefits. Then, there is the lumpenproletariat or industrial reserve army, which includes homeless and incarcerated people.[8] The industrial reserve army functions as a mass of surplus-laborers, who are called upon in times of crises. While there is not space here to further explore these concepts, my intention for listing them here is to demonstrate that Marxists don’t believe that there are only ever two classes in a society, and that the nature of classes are always much more complex than they appear.

Premise 3 - The Social Formation: The mode of production is the basis of any social formation (society). People need to guarantee survival before they do anything else. The way in which people survive and exist, i.e. the way they communicate with each other (language), prepare and eat food, raise and nurture children, care for elders, and so on, are a part of a society’s culture. Culture also involves the way people entertain themselves and each other, whether through sport, art, or other play-based activities. Politics refers to the ways people in a social formation make decisions and organize decision making. Intellectual practices, such as philosophy and theology, are where people seek to understand and explain the world they live in. Cultural, political, and intellectual practices (among others) form the superstructure of a society.

The important point is that, at the end of the day, the way a society organizes its survival via production determines the way that society organizes political administration, cultural practices, and their understanding of the world and themselves through philosophy, history, and religion. Marxism doesn’t deny the fact that knowledge can be produced in ways that are not directly determined by the mode of production. Political institutions, cultural practices, and ideas do influence the mode of production and the way a class struggle unfolds. For example, people protesting the factory conditions in 19th century England on moral grounds led to the Factory Acts and slightly improved conditions for workers. However, the bourgeoisie adjusts to these new conditions in order to continuously extract surplus value. The Marxist conception of the social formation is a live and dynamic one, in the sense that the different components of society, embodied by institutions and individuals, always react to each other, create plans and ideas, and so on. The conditions through which politics and class struggle unfold are determined by the mode of production.

Another way of conceptualizing this is in terms of production and reproduction. Production obviously refers to the mode of production in the social formation. However, the people that participate in production all have needs. A worker, if they are going to show up at work every day, needs to eat food, have a home, have a social life, be entertained, and so on. The ways in which people reproduce their own existence can only take place within the parameters set by the mode of production. If the mode of production is primarily agricultural, as in pre-industrial Ireland, then the members of that social formation will primarily eat dairy products, vegetables, and meat. The dietary culture of this social formation is already confined within the framework set by the mode of production, which itself is already confined within the framework set by the land and nature. I am painting a very schematic and abstract picture here, but I believe I have demonstrated the relationship between the base and superstructure in a way that isn’t dogmatic and mechanical.[9] 

Premise 4 - On Development/Contradiction: The way people in a social formation interact with nature to survive can be called the struggle between humans and nature. For example, people living in a forested area might use wood from trees in order to build shelter. This constitutes a struggle between humans and nature, as the former solve a problem (shelter/survival) by manipulating nature to satisfy their needs. The environment always poses problems for humans, such as natural disasters, and humans solve these problems by developing technology which allows them to manipulate nature and prevent or minimize disasters. Another example of this is the construction of dams to solve the problem of flooding. We can therefore call the relationship between humans and the environment reciprocal: nature poses problems and we solve them in a constant cycle. Humans also have the capacity to change the environment: we’ve manipulated nature to the point of climate change through capitalist production.

Returning to the point, a society develops in two ways: through struggles with nature and struggles between groups of people. In the former, people overcome their struggle with nature by creating tools that will allow them to have more control over their environment. In the latter, different groups of people may compete with each other for resources (external conflict), or classes within a social formation may struggle against each other to alter or revolutionize the mode of production. In other words, a society either develops through class struggle, developing technology/the productive forces, or through warfare/diplomacy.

Premise 5 - Class Struggle: Class struggle has its basis in the relations of production, and is the process of conflict that necessarily follows between antagonistic classes. Marx, in the Manifesto, argues that the class struggle is central to human history. When a social formation contains antagonistic classes, there will be class struggle. As I stated above, capitalist society is defined by the class relationship between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, which is antagonistic. Class struggle is always, already taking place. Or as Althusser says,

It is impossible to separate the classes from class struggle. The class struggle and the existence of classes are one and the same thing. In order for there to be classes in a “society”, the society has to be divided into classes: this division is the exploitation of one class by another. It is therefore the class struggle, for exploitation is already class struggle. You must therefore begin with the class struggle if you want to understand class division and the class.

Your boss cutting your wage at work or laying off workers is an example of class struggle. You and your workers demanding higher wages from your boss is class struggle. The government setting a minimum wage is a response to class struggle. Class struggle can take place on a micro and macro scale, but the point is that class struggle structures the social formation. Every day you go to work, you are selling your capacity to work in exchange for survival. You necessarily experience class struggle every day, regardless of whether you’re conscious of it.

Marxists argue that if you’re going to break free from the chains of capitalist exploitation, you need to convert individual struggle into collective struggle. You need to connect with your co-workers, and recognize that without your labor-power, your employer would make no money. The members of the working class must be organized if they are going to defeat the bourgeoisie. If not, the bourgeoisie will be conducting the class struggle on their terms, and will continue to win. As long as capitalism exists, and the conditions for its existence are reproduced, the bourgeoisie will have the upper hand. However, a source of optimism for Marxists is that while the bourgeoisie needs the proletariat’s labor power in order for capitalist production to occur, the proletariat does not, in the grand scheme of things, need the bourgeoisie. The proletariat, which already does the work in a social formation, has the capacity to administrate and direct the labor process themselves, rather than the bourgeoisie. While the bourgeoisie needs the proletariat, we do not need them.

So, why is this method scientific?

Well, it depends on how one defines a science. As I mentioned in the introduction, I am not operating with a common sense understanding of science, which only comprises the ‘hard’ sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics. Rather, I believe Marxism is a science in the sense that J. Moufawad-Paul articulates in Continuity and Rupture. He says,

I believe that [Marxism] must be understood as a science according to its own terms in order for it to have any significant meaning. Hence, what makes historical materialism important as a theory is its adherence to the basic notion of science that defined enlightenment thought: its ability to provide an explanation according to its own boundaries, historical/social causes for historical/social phenomena, rather than appealing to supernatural and mystified explanations; its ability to theoretically develop according to its fundamental laws of motion (i.e. that class revolution is the motive force of history) and thus be open to the future rather than a closed circuit in which no new truths/insights can be developed.

Marxism is a scientific method because its laws of class struggle and contradiction explain how social formations develop, and why they develop in a particular way. These explanations are based on premises that are grounded in the mechanisms by which humans produce and reproduce their existence through various practices.

The scientific method used in hard sciences is scientific partly because it is applied in any experiment. Likewise, Marxism is universally applicable in the sense that it can be used to analyze any social formation. In, “Marxism and African Liberation,” Rodney says, “Marxism, as a methodology… [is] independent of time and place. You will use the methodology at any given time, at any given place. You may get different results, of course, but the methodology itself would be independent of time and place.”[12] Social formations, and consequently modes of production, relations of production, and struggle (either between humans and nature or between different groups of people) will always exist and have always existed. Or as Rodney says,

A methodology which begins its analysis of any society, of any situation, by seeking the relations which arise in production between men. There are a whole variety of things which flow from that: man's consciousness is formed in the intervention in nature; nature itself is humanised through its interaction with man's labor; and man's labor produces a constant stream of technology which in turn creates other social changes. So this is the crux of the Scientific Socialist perception. A methodology that addresses itself to man's relationship in the process of production on the assumption, which I think is a valid assumption, that production is not merely the basis of man's existence, but the basis for defining man as a special kind of being with a certain consciousness.

However, the specificity of each social formation and mode of production is always different, and this is why applying Marxism is necessary. Furthermore, if Marxist analysis revolves around the goal of realizing communism, then any communist and communist organization is obligated to apply a Marxist analysis to their own social formation. A Marxist analysis of the social formation should produce knowledge of the mode of production, how the mode of production developed, and in what direction it is developing towards. It should also produce knowledge of the classes within the social formation, the relations between the classes, which class relations are contradictory, and which contradictions are antagonistic. In other words, Marxism answers the questions I posed in the introduction.

The methodology of Marxism, when applied, yields different results in different contexts. Marx, analyzing the development of capitalism in Western Europe, saw the proletariat as the revolutionary agent since they were the direct class antagonist to the bourgeoisie, and since capitalist production would bring together workers which would make it likely that they’d collectively experience exploitation and organize against the bourgeoisie. Lenin, analyzing the development of capitalism in Russia, saw the proletariat as the primary revolutionary agent, even though it wasn’t the biggest class in the social formation, while the peasantry would be an ally. Since capitalism was becoming the dominant mode of production in Russia, the most revolutionary class would eventually be the proletariat, which is antagonistic to capitalist production. Mao, analyzing the Chinese social formation, identified the peasantry as the primary revolutionary agent, and pinpointed other classes which had revolutionary or reactionary potential. China was a predominantly feudal social formation, and it was colonized by both Britain and Japan in the late 19th and 20th century. There was no proletariat, and no proletariat that was in the process of emerging, for communists to organize. Since the dominant mode of production was feudalism, the peasantry was the class antagonistic to that mode of production. The Black Panther Party, analyzing the US in the 1960s, identified the lumpen-proletariat as a revolutionary agent. Such contrasting conclusions of the same method demonstrate how applying Marxism to a social formation can produce knowledge that may deviate from ‘Orthodox Marxism.’[14]

To conclude, Marxism is a scientific method which is used to experiment via interventions in class struggle. Marxism, the methodology, is scientific because it formulates laws that explain social phenomena and can be universally applied. The concepts of the social formation, the mode of production, the relations of production, the law of contradiction, and the class struggle are scientific concepts.[15] I want to emphasize that so far I have only argued why Marxism as a method is scientific. However, to quote Althusser, “a true science is a science of premises (principles) and conclusions in the integral movement of the demonstration of their necessity.”[16] So far, I have only demonstrated that the first component of the equation, the premises of Marxism, are scientific. But Marxism, like any other science, produces conclusions through its application, and the question is whether these conclusions are also scientific. This seems like a strange thing to say, since if Marxist methodology is applied correctly, then its conclusions should also be considered scientific according to my own framework. The problem is that Marxism, like any method, is a tool which can be used correctly and incorrectly. So before I can advance to the question of whether the conclusions of Marxism are scientific, I need to articulate my second thesis. 

Thesis 2: Marxist Theory

To reiterate my second thesis: the totality of Marxist analysis, or the aggregate of knowledges produced by Marxist methodology, can be considered Marxist theory, which as a whole is not necessarily scientific. I have already listed the concepts that ground Marxist analysis, and these concepts are distinct from concepts produced by Marxist analysis. Or in other words, applying the methodology of Marxism to a particular social formation results in the production of new concepts.[17] I will focus on the work of Marx, Lenin, and eventually Mao to illustrate my point.

Let’s start with Marx, the founder of the methodology, who produced the concept of the mode of production as used in Marxist theory. Marx is a tricky case for this exercise, since he himself developed the concepts that I am arguing are applied to produce new concepts. Regardless, Marx’s analyses were concrete analyses of the world in the mid-late 19th century. And to be even more precise, he witnessed the development of industrial capitalism, and the beginnings of imperialism proper, which can be distinguished from colonialism on the grounds that the latter was a process of primitive accumulation which was vital for the development of capitalism. Marx’s theoretical practice was concerned with understanding capitalism and its development, and how to overthrow it. In a very schematic way, it can be said that Marx applied his own methodology, while in the process of developing it, to the concrete conditions of his time.

Following the publication of the Communist Manifesto, Marx devoted the bulk of his theoretical practice to studying the capitalist system. His study and critique of classical political economy culminated in Capital, which Althusser argues is the one work, above all others, by which Marx ought to be judged.[18] Capital is a study of the capitalist mode of production, and in an abstract form, demonstrates the exploitative nature of capitalist relations of production and the role of class struggle in shaping England’s period of capitalist development.[19] Of course, Capital was also produced through a critique of classical political economy, and Marx’s polemics are littered throughout the text. So it may seem strange to argue that Capital was produced using Marxist methodology, when the text was also produced through critique of an existing theoretical terrain. However, Marx’s critique of political economy was also produced through the lens of Marxism. One of the classical political economists’ major errors was that they considered labor in the abstract, whereas Marx distinguishes between labor (as a process) and labor-power (an individual’s capacity to participate in the labor process). The classical political economists discovered that “the value of ‘labor’ is equal to the value of the subsistence goods necessary for the reproduction of ‘labor’”.[20] This sentence doesn’t really make much sense, as we are left to ask what constitutes the maintenance and reproduction of ‘labor’? It is clear that something is missing in their equation, and Althusser argues Marx filled in the blanks by changing ‘labor’ to ‘labor-power.’ The answer becomes “the value of labor-power is equal to the value of the subsistence goods necessary for the maintenance and reproduction of labor-power.[21] The question that this sentence answers changes from: what is the value of labor? → What is the value of labor power? The concept of labor-power and its value brings us into the terrain of Capital, where Marx demonstrates that the capitalist labor-process necessarily entails the exploitation of the proletariat.

Althusser argues that Marx produced, amongst others, two revolutionary concepts in Capital: surplus value and primitive accumulation. The former, as already mentioned, is the mechanism of exploitation, while the latter is the historical process that guarantees the conditions for capitalist production.[22] The concept of surplus value is a revolutionary concept because it concretely demonstrates how capitalist production is exploitative. This strengthens revolutionaries' arguments for why the capitalist system ought to be overthrown, and it is stronger than common moral arguments against capitalism. For example, a common argument against capitalism would be that we ought to modify the system because it is not fair for some people to own the bulk of the wealth in a society. These kinds of arguments against capitalism still accept the premise that the bourgeois class has rightfully earned their wealth, but argue they should share some of it. The concept of the exploitation of surplus value allows us not only to declare that capitalism is unfair, but also that it is exploitative. The rich only get rich by exploiting those who work for them. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and other representatives of the bourgeoisie did not build their wealth through hard work and personal brilliance; they built it on the exploitation of millions of people. The concept of the exploitation of surplus value opens a completely different argument to make about why capitalism is ‘bad,’ and offers a framework on which to build a revolutionary politics.[23]

Primitive accumulation is a revolutionary concept because it demonstrates the violence that the formation of capitalist production entails. Capitalism can only emerge in a given set of historical conditions which provide the bourgeoisie with the capacity to buy labor-power, land, and technology. In England, the enclosure of the commons was essential to the development of capitalism. By displacing the masses from their livelihood, they become ‘for sale’. This was the process by which the British masses flocked from the farms to the cities to find work in order to survive. However, to merely focus on the formation of the proletariat would lead us to miss a much larger process that is necessary for capitalist development: colonialism. Only by conquering most of the world could the ascending bourgeoisie access the raw materials and labor-power they needed for capitalist production. The cotton produced by chattel slavery in the United States was exported to England for capitalist production. This is why W. E. B. Du Bois, in Black Reconstruction, argues that, “Black labor became the foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce, of the English factory system, of European commerce, of buying and selling on a world-wide scale.”[24] While colonization was central to primitive accumulation, Sylvia Federici expands the concept further to include the development of patriarchy.[25] If capitalism relies on the purchase and sale of labor-power, then it is women who produce and reproduce labor-power through giving birth, nurturing children, or doing domestic work in the household.[26] Federici argues that the witch hunts define the process of the formation of patriarchal social relations by stripping women of their autonomy and terrorizing them into obedience. Even if Marx didn’t write in detail on colonialism and patriarchy, the concept of primitive accumulation deeply expands the terrain of Marxism.

To reiterate: Marx applied the methodology of Marxism to produce his greatest work, Capital. In Capital, Marx produced new concepts, such as surplus value and primitive accumulation. These concepts have then been picked up by other Marxists to produce new knowledge about the formation of capitalism and its relationship with colonialism. Furthermore, the knowledge produced in Capital has allowed others to produce knowledge of capitalism that is both particular and abstract. Or in other words, other Marxists have used the concepts developed in Capital to analyze their own social formations, or like Marx, the fundamental nature of the capitalist mode of production.

Lenin, who is obviously one of the most well known and influential Marxists in its history, also utilized the methodology of Marxism. He produced The Development of Capitalism in Russia in 1899, but his larger contribution to Marxist theory, in the domain of political economy at least, came through Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism in 1917. Lenin’s overall argument is that capitalism necessarily leads to imperialism, which itself leads to world war.[27] Lenin begins by arguing that the capitalist system necessarily leads to the development of monopolies.[28] This is because of capital’s tendency to always look for self-expansion. In Capital, Marx distinguished between different processes of circulation for capital. The process of circulation, or circuit, which defines capital is M-C-M (money → commodity → money).[29] In this process, an individual spends money on a commodity (M-C), and then sells the purchased commodity for more than they paid for (C-M). For example, let's say I purchase a used video game for $20, but then I discover I don’t like the game, so I sell it on eBay to someone else for $30. I started with $20, and at the end of the circuit I ended up with $30. Who knew it was so easy to make money? The capitalist, with their money, buys raw materials, technology, and labor-power (which is a commodity) for production, and then sells the products of the labor process for more money than they originally spent to make a profit.[30] The circuit of M-C-M, which Marx says is really just M-M[31], is what drives capitalism. It is within this framework that Lenin builds his theory of imperialism.

If a capitalist is successful, they’ll gradually accumulate more money over time. Accumulating increased profits means they can invest in more technology and labor-power so they can produce even more money. The biggest hurdle to a given capitalist’s never ending circuit of money accumulation is competition, as there can only be so many capitalists at a given time. Eventually, one capitalist will emerge as the top dog amongst the pack. In the oil industry of the late 19th century, this was Rockefeller; for steel, Carnegie; and for banking, JP Morgan. And just like in any other ecosystem, the big fish consumes the others. Rockefeller consumed the smaller oil companies, Carnegie consumed the smaller steel companies, and JP Morgan consumed the smaller banks. Capitalism, Lenin argues, necessarily leads to monopolization. The development of monopolies in industry leads to an increased role for banks, whose role is to be a middleman in money exchanges. Lenin says, “when the bank “collects” in its own hands enormous amounts of capital, when the running of a current account for a given firm enables the bank — and this is what happens — to obtain fuller and more detailed information about the economic position of its client, the result is that the industrial capitalist becomes more completely dependent on the bank.”[32] In other words, since the bankers are the facilitators of capital, they indirectly control the capitalists. Lenin continues:

The supremacy of finance capital over all other forms of capital means the predominance of the rentier and of the financial oligarchy; it means a small number of financially “powerful” states stand out among all the rest… Together, these four [US, UK, France, & Germany] countries own 479 billion francs, that is, nearly 80% of the world’s finance capital. In one way or another, nearly the whole of the rest of the world is more or less the debtor to and tributary of these international banker countries, these four “pillars” of world finance capital.

At a certain point in capitalist development, the bourgeoisie produces more capital than they know what to do with. The solution is to export this capital into other countries in order to produce more capital! Since most of the world, in the 1900s, was underdeveloped due to the ravages of colonialism, investing in industry would be easy. And so the bourgeoisie begins investing in industry, primarily railroads at this time, throughout the world: in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Lenin concludes, “thus finance capital, literally, one might say, spreads its net over all countries of the world. An important role in this is played by banks founded in the colonies and by their branches… the capital exporting countries have divided the world among themselves in the figurative sense of the term. But finance capital has led to the actual division of the world.” [34]

When monopoly capitalists invest in other countries, those countries are then beholden to their interests. After conquering the world for themselves, the capitalists still want more, and their only competition is each other. They divided up the world to form a temporary peace: the British claimed parts of Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia, while the French took Northern and Western Africa, and Germany claimed parts of Africa as well. But, at a certain point, the competition between imperialist powers and their insatiable desire for more power and money led them into a World War.

Lenin’s great contribution in Imperialism was a demonstration of how capitalism necessarily leads to imperialism, which leads to nationalist tensions, and eventually, world war. Even after one World War, the imperialists re-grouped, formed new alliances, and then clashed again. The dialectic of imperialism continues to this day, where various nation-states struggle over raw materials and control over land, even if this control is now indirect, and then they clash. Lenin says, “the more capitalism is developed, the more strongly the shortage of raw materials is felt, the more intense the competition and the hunt for sources of raw materials throughout the whole world, the more desperate the struggle for the acquisition of colonies.”[35] This quote rings true even more as we enter a period of intense environmental crises produced by capitalist production. Imperialism has made it so that warfare is now concealed in the form of economic and political struggles rather than actual warfare.

To conclude, Lenin, by applying a Marxist analysis to the world economy in the early 20th century, developed the Marxist concept of imperialism. This concept was expanded on by Kwame Nkrumah in Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism and by Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Both texts are concerned with applying and developing the concept of imperialism to explain Africa’s social and economic conditions in the 20th century. Both texts produce new concepts to describe how imperialists control Africa without the need for direct military intervention. Lenin’s imperialism also led to the development of another significant concept: the labor aristocracy. In the appendix to Imperialism, he argues that some of the increased profits produced by imperialism are then re-distributed to a privileged strata of workers, creating a new group of higher-paid workers who are, in essence, ‘bribed’ into upholding the capitalist system.[36] This phenomenon could explain how the development of socialism has been stunted in the imperialist countries.

If I were to continue demonstrating all the different ways Marxism has been applied to produce new concepts, which extends its theoretical terrain, I would be writing for weeks on end. To reiterate my initial thesis, any knowledge produced using the methodology of Marxism can be considered ‘Marxist theory’. Concepts produced by the likes of Engels, Kautsky, Luxemburg, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, and hundreds of others can be considered Marxist. Marxist theory is not a science itself, it is simply a theoretical terrain, or a ‘body’ of theory. Marxism is the scientific method, which produces Marxist theory, which is not necessarily a science. When people call Marxism a ‘philosophy’ it is with this conception in mind. Within the Marxist terrain, there are many competing and distinct paths that have been forged. There are humanist Marxists, anti-humanist Marxists, Marxist-Leninists, Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, Trotskyists, ‘Orthodox’ Marxists, and many others.

My work so far leads to the posing of new questions: Can we call concepts produced by Marxism scientific? Which concepts, since many of them may compete with or contradict each other, are scientific? How would one discern which concepts are scientific, and which ones are errors produced by a misapplication of the method?

So far I’ve only touched on concepts that are ‘theoretical’. Surplus value, primitive accumulation, imperialism, and the labor aristocracy are all concepts that describe and explain reality. But isn’t Marxism concerned not only with merely understanding reality, but with transforming it? Marx and Lenin were not sitting in their pajamas next to a fire, a la Descartes, conjuring up analyses for their own enjoyment. Every Marxist is, or ought to be, a revolutionary devoted to overthrowing capitalism. At the core of Marxism is class struggle, and not merely recognizing its existence, but intervening in it. Marx intervened through the construction of the Communist League and the First International. Lenin intervened by organizing, educating, and agitating members of the working class. He helped build revolutionary organizations, and he was obviously at the forefront of one of the most significant political sequences of the past century. And, as I touched upon at the beginning of this essay, the question of intervention is at the center of Marxism. The concepts I’ve touched upon so far further increase our knowledge of the capitalist mode of production and our own social formations in order to facilitate these interventions. But these interventions, aka the question of politics, produce other concepts, like the dictatorship of the proletariat, the vanguard, and the mass line. 

Marxism and Politics

Marx was one of the first theorists to conceptualize the dictatorship of the proletariat (DotP), and it stems directly from the premises of Marxism. In a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer, who himself used the DotP before Marx[37], Marx said,

My own contribution was (1) to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; [and] (3) that this dictatorship, itself, constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Since capitalist production is dependent on the antagonistic relationship between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, and if the proletariat is to emerge victorious in the class struggle against the bourgeoisie, then this victory will have to be carried out in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Or in other words, if the proletariat is to successfully overthrow the bourgeoisie, which itself presupposes their organization as a class capable of political intervention, then this must unfold through a DotP. This DotP is both descriptive and normative. On the one hand, as Marx argued all the way back in the Manifesto, capitalist production naturally brings together large numbers of workers who cooperate in production. Through the process of cooperation and collectively experiencing exploitation, the workers can unite to overthrow the bourgeoisie. So if a socialist revolution were to occur, it would unfold through something like a dictatorship of a proletariat, who overthrow their expropriators and run things themselves. And in Marx’s view this happened in the Paris Commune, where the workers of Paris ran the city for two months before being neutralized by the French army. So on the one hand, the DotP is descriptive in that it describes how socialist revolutions have unfolded historically. On the other hand, it is a normative concept, because if the working class is to beat an opponent, the bourgeoisie, who is stronger than them, then they ought to overcome their lack of weaponry and military training by out-organizing the bourgeoisie and overcoming them with their numerical superiority. The proletariat can only win by beating the bourgeoisie and installing a dictatorship against them. So, the DotP is how mass revolutions unfold historically, and it ought to guide the political practice of revolutionaries.

Lenin developed the concept of the DotP further than Marx in The State and Revolution, where he distinguished between the high and low periods of communism. The low period, or the period of socialist construction, would necessarily be the transitionary period between capitalism and communism. The goal of this period is to consolidate the revolution by resisting and defeating the inevitable counter-revolution initiated by the fallen bourgeoisie and their imperialist allies. Think of the immediate invasion of the USSR launched by the imperialists following the Russian Revolution, leading to the Civil War. The DotP is only the beginning of the process of establishing a communist society, and should not be conceived of as an end in itself. The DotP is also only intelligible if we understand the concept of the vanguard party.

Lenin developed the concept of the vanguard in What is to be Done?, in 1902.[39] The concept of the vanguard party was developed in opposition to spontaneity. A spontaneous conception of politics is one that assumes that the exploited and oppressed will organically form their own organizations that lead down a correct path. In this case, the assumption that the proletariat will organize, form correct political lines, and struggle against the bourgeoisie without any conscious theoretical practice. The goal of socialists is then to follow, or tail, the working class as they struggle against the bourgeoisie. The spontaneous conception of politics sees the class struggle as an unconscious process. The reason Lenin disagrees with the spontaneous approach is because communist ideology cannot form spontaneously. The dominant ideology in any capitalist social formation is necessarily bourgeois ideology. While the particularity of bourgeois ideology will vary according to the social formation, its dominant features are an emphasis on individuality, freedom, humanism, and non-violence. If communist ideology is not consciously introduced to the working class, then they will necessarily fall back on bourgeois ideology in the form of trade unionism. Lenin says,

But why, the reader will ask, does the spontaneous movement, the movement along the line of least resistance, lead to the domination of bourgeois ideology? For the simple reason that bourgeois ideology is far older in origin than socialist ideology, that it is more fully developed, and that it has at its disposal immeasurably more means of dissemination.

Or in other words, bourgeois ideology is hegemonic in capitalist societies because the ruling class has the means to dictate education, the press, and in contemporary societies, the media. And this is not some conspiratorial claim that the bourgeoisie secretly controls everything with their evil agenda. On the contrary, the members of the bourgeoisie believe that their ideas are correct, and since they own the biggest institutions in the press and media, they spread their ideas far and wide.

Without conscious theoretical development and agitation, the working class movement will fall back on a trade unionist politics. Trade unionism is a form of politics where the formation of unions is the end goal. If the workers unionize, then they will be able to struggle against exploitative conditions imposed upon them by the capitalists. However, trade unionism is an inadequate politics because it fights the class struggle on the bourgeoisie’s terms. If the political practice of the proletariat merely revolves around unionization, then this does nothing to struggle against the fundamentally exploitative nature of capitalism. Althusser argues that Marx, in Capital, demonstrates how trade unionism, through fighting for better wages, fighting against automation, and the fight against the exploitation of surplus value in general, is always defensive. It can never actually win anything for the workers, it only reduces the degree of exploitation.[41] This is why Lenin says that under the influence of trade unionism “the workers were not, and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system.”[42]

Returning to the point, the concept of the vanguard, and consequently the DotP, emerges out of this opposition to spontaneity, tailism, and an unconscious conception of politics. If communists are to successfully intervene in the class struggle, then they need to consciously spread their ideas to the rest of the working class. The vanguard earns its status not through self-declaration, but by proving to the rest of the working class that their theories and methods of organizing will be successful. As is the case with any concept, Lenin didn’t pluck the ‘vanguard’ out of thin air. Marx in the Manifesto had already claimed that,

The Communists, therefore, are, on the one hand, practically the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.

Of course, Marx was writing before there was any organized communist movement, while Lenin was writing at arguably the height of the communist movement in Europe. My point here is that the goals articulated in the last sentence, the formation of the proletariat into a class (organization), overthrow of the bourgeoisie, and conquest of political power (DotP), is the task of the vanguard for Lenin. Lenin articulated and developed the vanguard into a concept by building on Marx.

The vanguard party is the type of organization that communists ought to form in order to properly intervene in the class struggle. Without the vanguard, “the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness,”[44] which is a dead-end. If the vanguard successfully harnesses the revolutionary potential of the working class, and directs it toward the overthrow of capitalism, which is no easy task, then this will lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Or in other words, the vanguard leads the masses into the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The mass line, developed by Mao and the Chinese Communists, is a further development in the concept of the vanguard. The mass line entails how the revolutionary party ought to relate to the masses. Mao says,

In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses’. This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action.

Ignoring the epistemological underpinnings of this statement, revolutionaries using the mass line synthesize and clarify the ideas of the masses, and then test them through political practice to determine their correctness. The mass line is also supposed to counter the development of revisionism within the party. Revisionism in this context meaning those who reject the core premises of Marxism, and specifically the law of class struggle. Maoists argue that the Soviet Union became revisionist because the leadership of the communist party became detached from the masses over time. Since the communist party became the leader of the state, the hierarchy of rulers and ruled was reproduced. The mass line is an attempt to counter this process by ensuring that the communist party doesn’t lose sight of those they claim to serve.[46] Lastly, the mass line is supposed to blur the supposed boundary that separates the party and the people, when, as Marx said in the Manifesto, “they [communists] have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.”[47]

The dictatorship of the proletariat, the vanguard party, and the mass line are concepts produced through interventions in the class struggle, and stem out of the methodology of Marxism. I want to emphasize here that I am merely presenting and providing the arguments for concepts produced by Marxist theorists. Not every Marxist or communist fully agrees with the concepts listed above, and there is disagreement on the meaning and applicability of each concept. Furthermore, presenting concepts like these may give the impression that I think it is easy to form a revolutionary communist organization and usher in a period of proletarian dictatorship, and this could not be further from the truth. The entire history of the communist movement is marked by failure, with only a handful of successes in 100 plus years. And by success, I mean any communist movement that successfully seized state power, which is only the beginning of building a communist society. The difficulty lies in the details of creating communist organizations, maintaining their existence, increasing membership, carrying out mass work and agitating against the bourgeoisie and the state, and all while resisting state repression and inevitable fatigue. Marxism furnishes us with the tools to navigate these difficulties, and provides a framework that can guide revolutionary practice. But merely identifying as a Marxist or a communist, and believing in the concepts that these labels entail, is not an end in itself. In a word, Marxism is a tool for revolutionaries, and not a magic formula that merely needs to be applied to produce infallible results.

Can Marxist Theory be Scientific?

To summarize so far, I have argued that Marxism is a scientific method of analyzing social formations, and the knowledge produced by applying this method furnishes communists with the knowledge needed to effectively intervene in the class struggle of their social formation. Marxist theory, on the other hand, refers to the body of theory produced by Marxist analysis. The concepts that make up Marxist theory are not necessarily scientific. I have also made a distinction between concepts produced by Marxism that explain historical and social processes, like primitive accumulation, imperialism, and surplus value, and concepts that facilitate intervention in class struggle, like the DotP, the vanguard party, and the mass line.

My theoretical labor thus far opens up new questions, which I posed earlier in this essay and will now lightly touch upon here. Mainly, are the concepts produced by Marxist analysis scientific? If Marxism is a scientific method, then it would make sense that the concepts this method produces could also lay claim to being scientific. Before proceeding further, I want to re-emphasize the distinction between concepts that explain reality, and concepts that are in the domain of political intervention. My provisional thesis is that concepts that explain reality are scientific in a theoretical sense. If Marxism is a scientific method because the premises of its method are true and, because the method is universally applicable, then if Marxism is applied correctly in an analysis, the concepts produced are also scientific. So within this framework: whether or not a concept produced by Marxism is scientific depends upon an analysis. 

This conception of science is different from the common sense view. The common view of science sees the true sciences as the hard sciences: biology, physics, and chemistry. They are all a type of science premised on the scientific method, which revolves around experimentation. Marxism is not the same type of science; it is more of a theoretical science, like mathematics. This is why Althusser says, “what makes abstraction scientific is precisely the fact that it designates a concrete reality which certainly exists but which it is impossible to 'touch with one's hands' or 'see with one's eyes'.”[48] The theoretical concepts produced by Marxists are scientific because they explain reality, even if the real is not immediately given through direct experience.[49]

The question of whether political concepts produced by Marxist analysis are scientific is murkier. One problem is that politics is by definition dependent on a concrete situation. Or in other words, if politics for Marxists revolves around intervening in class struggle, the process of formulating strategy is dependent upon the particularities of a given social formation. Therefore, the specificity of developing revolutionary strategy will necessarily be different in every social formation. Revolutionaries in Russia in the early 20th century, for example, were operating on a very different set of conditions than revolutionaries in the 21st century USA. So is it possible for Marxist methodology to produce scientific political concepts?

One example of someone answering “yes” to this question is Moufawad-Paul, who argues that Marxist political concepts are tested through political practice, where revolutionaries test concepts in their interventions in the class struggle.[50] For Moufawad-Paul, Leninism and Maoism are both scientific developments of Marxism, and each of these concepts is defined by some core insights.[51] Leninism is roughly defined by its conceptualization of the DotP, the vanguard, and imperialism.[52] Maoism is defined by its conceptualization of the mass line, a further elaboration of class struggle and how it continues into socialist construction, and a further elaboration of the relationship between base and superstructure.[53] Leninism and Maoism, for Moufawad-Paul, are both abstract concepts even if they were produced in particular conjunctures. Or in other words, even though the theoretical insights produced by Lenin and Mao, and the movements of which they were a part, in particular situations, their core concepts can be pulled out of these contexts. While the vanguard party, for example, was theorized in 20th century Russia, this concept can be applied anywhere. Regardless, Moufawad-Paul argues that Leninism and Maoism, even if the latter has supplanted the former, are scientific because they were successful in producing revolution and pushing forward the communist movement into unforeseen heights. Therefore, the political concepts that make up the paradigms of Leninism and Maoism would also be scientific.

To reiterate my provisional thesis: theoretical concepts produced by Marxism are scientific if they are produced through a correct application of the methodology. While I am unsure whether political concepts produced by Marxism can also be scientific, the important point is that Marxism provides a scientific foundation on which to conduct revolutionary practice. 

On the Applications of Marxism

There is one last problem I want to acknowledge before wrapping up this essay, which is the problem of how widely can Marxism be applied. Can we use Marxism to produce knowledge of art and aesthetics? Of the hard sciences? Of technology and agricultural methods? This problem has a historical background, as Engels claimed that dialectical materialism, the philosophy of Marxism, can explain all phenomena, including the phenomena that is the object of science.[54] n other words, he said nature itself operates according to the laws of dialectical materialism; it is the law that structures all of reality. This view of Marxism and dialectical materialism carried into the USSR, leading to the disaster of Lysenkoism.[55]

While I agree with the general premise of materialism, that matter precedes consciousness, I am opposed to the conception of Marxism as a general philosophy that explains the laws of reality in general. I support Althusser’s argument that Marxism is a finite theory. He says:

It is absolutely necessary to get rid of the idea that we find already in certain expressions of Lenin, and also in Gramsci, that Marxist theory is a “total” theory capable of concretely substituting for a philosophy of history, and thus capable of thinking of problems which are not “on the agenda,” in a form which anticipates their conditions and their solution. Marxist theory is a finite theory, and it is on the basis of its conscious finitude that it is possible to pose all of our major problems.

Althusser, in this context, is arguing that Marxism is limited to a critique of the capitalist mode of production, and it is not concerned with predicting how communism will unfold. Marxism is not a philosophy, and by philosophy, I mean a complete doctrine that encompasses every corner of knowledge. Philosophers traditionally create systems, which explain what exists (metaphysics), how we understand the world (epistemology), and what we ought to do (ethics). Each component of a philosopher’s system is integrated into a whole, where there ought to be no contradictions. While some people have attempted to convert Marxism into this kind of philosophy in order to be capable of explaining everything, this should not be conflated with the method of Marxism. Marxism’s purpose is to explain and understand a society’s mode of production in order to transform it towards a communist terrain. Marxism is not capable of understanding and explaining all phenomena, and it can not replace other domains of knowledge production.

To use an example, there have been attempts to create a Marxist aesthetics.[57] The field of aesthetics, traditionally, has clear problems: what is beauty? What is a beautiful work of art? Why do people find things beautiful? I do not think the methodology of Marxism is capable of answering these questions. There cannot be a Marxist aesthetics because Marxism will not explain why things are beautiful within its own framework. Marxism can not replace the domain of aesthetics, or create its own version of an aesthetics. However, there can still very well be a Marxist approach to aesthetics, and a Marxist theory of art and culture. Marxism can critique art theories for not properly understanding artistic and cultural practices as modes of production which occupy a definite space within a social formation. Marxism can critique aesthetics for not properly explaining the role ideologies and ideological state apparatuses have in shaping taste. In a word, Marxism cannot replace other domains, but it can be used to critique and contextualize them.


Applying Marxism (method) to a concrete situation produces new concepts. The totality of these concepts forms Marxist theory. Marxism is scientific because it formulates laws that explain social phenomena and can be universally applied. Marxism produces two types of concepts: concepts of explanation (theoretical) and concepts of intervention (political). The former are scientific if they are a proper application of Marxism, and while I am unsure if the latter are also scientific, they are valuable nonetheless for communists’ political practice.

The question of whether Marxism is scientific matters because revolutionary politics is a question of life or death. There is a tendency to treat politics like a game, where people pick and choose political labels as if they were becoming casual fans of a professional sport.[58] To take revolutionary politics seriously, one has to acknowledge the danger of trying to organize against and overthrow one of the most violent states in human history. One has to acknowledge that millions of communists throughout history have faced tremendous amounts of violence for their politics. Communists and workers have been slaughtered in the streets of Paris, Moscow, and Chicago, have died fighting Civil Wars in Russia and China, have died fighting against imperialists in Vietnam and Korea, and have been assassinated by the FBI for daring to resist the chains of capitalism and imperialism. This is not a hobby.

While the history of revolutionary politics is marked by tragedy and death, this history must be a source of inspiration and knowledge. The fact that millions of people all over the world at various points in history have come together to try to transform social relations in a quest to liberate humanity from various forms of exploitation and oppression is nothing short of inspiring. Furthermore, if one studies revolutionary history, one will learn that revolutionaries have historically faced similar problems relating to organizing a revolution, resisting counter revolution, and constructing a new society. Marxism declares that revolutionary processes are not accidental, and that they are the product of contradictions within a social formation. Marxism tells us that exposing and intensifying these contradictions while organizing the exploited class(es) in a society is how revolutionaries can intervene to transform a social formation. If communist politics revolve around a quest to end all forms of exploitation and oppression, then Marxism furnishes us with the tools to understand how exploitation and oppression come into existence. Marxism allows communists to move beyond a politics that is based solely on an ethics by placing politics on a scientific foundation.


[1] Vladimir Lenin, What is to be Done?, 1902, accessed from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/download/what-itd.pdf, 12.

[2] I deal with these arguments here: https://philosophyofconstruction.com/2021/01/08/the-vulgarizations-of-marxism/.

[3] For an example, see Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism, where Marxism = historical materialism + dialectical materialism, and the latter explains the laws of nature.

[4] What is the source of objectivity? How is ‘objective’ knowledge produced? Is there seriously no way to distinguish between different ‘subjective’ beliefs? I expand on these questions here: https://philosophyofconstruction.com/about/.

[5] Marx’s 11th Thesis on Feuerbach.

[6] The question of which component is dominant in the development of the mode of production is complicated, with plenty of arguments emphasizing either side.

[7] Goran Therborn, Science, Class & Society, (London: New Left Books, 1976) 73.

[8] However, this concept can be questioned since some prisoners and homeless people also sell their labor-power in exchange for a wage.

[9] For a better articulation of the base/superstructure relationship, I would recommend Walter Rodney’s first chapter, “What is Development?,” in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

[10] Louis Althusser, “Reply to John Lewis”, 1972, accessed from https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1663&context=alr, page 28.

[11] Josh Moufawad-Paul, Continuity and Rupture, (Zero Books, 2016), 2.

[12] Walter Rodney, “Marxism and African Liberation,” 1975, accessed from https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/rodney-walter/works/marxismandafrica.htm.

[13] Rodney, “Marxism and African Liberation.”

[14] As I’ve argued throughout, Marxists typically identify a revolutionary class(es) based on whether it is antagonistic to the dominant mode of production. The lumpenproletariat is typically not exploited by capitalist production, since it doesn’t take part in capitalist production. So even though the lumpenproletariat is oppressed under capitalism, it seems strange to argue they could be a revolutionary class. Of course, the US is a unique case as it is a settler colony built on the enslavement of black people, and it is this historical legacy that informs the BPP’s arguments for the lumpenproletariat as a revolutionary class. For more on this, see Huey Newton’s arguments in Revolutionary Intercommunalism, and Angela Davis’s arguments in, “Political Prisoners, Prisons, and Black Liberation.”

[15] Critiques of Marxism should criticize its premises and not its conclusions.

[16] Louis Althusser, “Theory, Theoretical Practice, and Theoretical Formation: Ideology and Ideological Struggle,” in Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists & Other Essays, (London: Verso, 1990), 39.

[17] In “On the Materialist Dialectic,” Althusser argues that scientific/theoretical practice is a process of transforming or producing new concepts. He says, “In the development of an already constituted science, the latter works on a raw material (Generality I) constituted either of still ideological concepts, or of scientific 'facts', or of already scientifically elaborated concepts which belong nevertheless to an earlier phase of the science (an ex. Generality III). So it is by transforming this Generality I into a Generality III (knowledge) that the science works and produces” (168).

[18] Louis Althusser, “Preface to Capital,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, (London: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 72.

[19] Althusser, “Preface to Capital,” 77.

[20] Louis Althusser, “From Capital to Marx’s Philosophy” in Reading Capital, (London: Verso, 2015), 22.

[21] Althusser, “From Capital to Marx’s Philosophy,” 24.

[22] Althusser, “Preface to Capital,” 87.

[23] If capitalist production is defined by the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, then revolutionary politics would center on this contradiction. The proletariat are exploited by the bourgeoisie, and the only way to end this exploitation is by overthrowing the bourgeoisie.

[24] W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1935), 5.

[25] Sylvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch, (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2004), 7.

[26] I want to note that this is a general, descriptive claim about roles women have often performed under capitalism. I reject any notion which asserts that a woman's role in a society in general ought to revolve around nurturing children and performing domestic labor. A communist society ought to abolish this gendered division of labor.

[27] Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, (Sydney: Resistance Books, 1999), 94.

[28] Lenin, Imperialism, 37.

[29] Karl Marx, Capital, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1887), 104.

[30] Marx, Capital, 119.

[31] Ibid, 104.

[32] Lenin, Imperialism, 53.

[33] Ibid, 67-68.

[34] Ibid, 73-74.

[35] Ibid, 87.

[36] Ibid, 125.

[37] Joseph Weydemeyer, “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

[38] Karl Marx, “Marx to J. Weydemeyer in New York.”

[39] Lenin, What is to be Done?, 21.

[40] Lenin, What is to be Done?, 24.

[41] Althusser, “Preface to Capital,” 85-87.

[42] Lenin, What is to be Done?, 17.

[43] Karl Marx, “The Communist Manifesto,” 1848, accessed from https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/. Italics in the quote were done by the author.

[44] Lenin, What is to be Done?, 17.

[45] Mao Zedong, "Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership" (Selected Works, Vol. III), 120.

[46] The concept of cultural revolution stems out of this same process.

[47] Marx, “The Communist Manifesto.”

[48] Althusser, “Preface to Capital,” 76.

[49] One does not directly experience, via the senses, surplus value; it is an abstraction.

[50] Moufawad-Paul, Continuity and Rupture, 26.

[51] I want to acknowledge that there are plenty of disagreements between Leninists and Maoists over which camp is the rightful ‘heir’ of Marxism. I am merely articulating the arguments of Moufawad-Paul, who believes that Maoism succeeded Leninism in the same way that Leninism succeeded Marxism.

[52] Ibid, 14-15.

[53] Ibid, 15.

[54] In Dialectics of Nature, Engels says, “It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. And indeed they can be reduced in the main to three: The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa; The law of the interpenetration of opposites; The law of the negation of the negation” (19). In other words, the laws of the dialectic which Marxists apply to the study of history and social formations can also be applied to produce knowledge of nature (the object of the hard sciences). 

[55] See Proletarian Science?: The Case of Lysenko by Dominique Lecourt, including an introduction by Althusser, for further reading.

[56] Louis Althusser, “Marxism as a Finite Theory,” Viewpoint Magazine, 2017.

[57] See Maynard Solomon’s Marxism and Art for an anthology of these kinds of attempts.

[58] Tarig Robinson, “Your Politics Are Not Real,” Negation Magazine.