The Nature of Marx’s critique of capitalism


Marx’s critique of capitalism is one of the concrete historical forms of the critique of capitalism. It is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the development of the contemporary critique of capitalism. The increasingly dramatic ecological and social crisis, created by capitalism, requires a new revolutionary thought which is not based only on essential, but above all on existential humanism. It is, indeed, about the creation of a contemporary class consciousness in the proletariat (intellectual and manual workers), also bringing into question Marx’s ideas on which his conceptions of a socialist revolution and future are based, which are considered to be the unquestionable starting point in a leftist critique of capitalism.

Marx’s thought „covers“ the totality of man’s life as a social and historical being and offers the possibility of searching for answers to a number of crucial questions posed by contemporary   man.   It   lacks,   however,   the   most   important   point:   analysis   of   the development  of  capitalism  as  a  destructive  order  and,  in  that  context,  consideration  of man’s possible future. The question is not „whether Marx knew“ or „whether he could have known“ that capitalism is a destructive order (as in his time the capitalist destruction of nature and man had not acquire the dramatic proportions it has today), but that Marx’s critique  of  capitalism  overlooks  its  essence  –  which  then  casts  doubt  on  its  accuracy, political doctrine based on it and the idea of the future arising therefrom. Marx’s thought moved critique of capitalism from the existential (Fourier) to the essential sphere and thus contributed to the crippling of the class (self)consciousness of workers, as well as to the crippling of the critique of capitalism and therefore crippling of the political struggle against capitalism. In his critique of capitalism Marx overlooked the most important point: the struggle against capitalism is not only a struggle for man’s freedom, it is at the same time a struggle for the very survival of mankind.

As far as the notion that Marx’s thought indicates the destructive nature of capitalism is concerned, the question is why Marx, in his most important political paper, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, as well as in other texts in which he calls for workers to fight against capitalism, does not point out the destructive nature of capitalism and does not call for workers to fight in order to prevent the destruction of life on Earth? If Marx concluded that capitalism is a life‐destroying order, isn’t it logical that a call to fight for the preservation of life would be, if not of utmost importanance (which by its nature it is supposed to be), then certainly one of the most important parts of his revolutionary program? Would not the historical (social) being of the working class, in that case, be also conditioned by the ecocidal nature of capitalism, and would not the transformation of workers from a class in itself into a class for itself also involve the development of an emancipated ecological consciousness? Would it not be the case, then, that the workers, as a class and as human beings, not only have the „task“ of dealing with the class society and liberate mankind from oppression, but also to prevent its destruction?

The true nature of Marx’s critique of capitalism can be seen in the writings of his followers. Capitalist destruction of life and man as a biological and human being has not become the subject of a serious analysis of Marxist theoreticians. Not even the most radical Marxist critics of capitalism have pointed to the truth that capitalism is essentially a destructive order. If Marx in his own time did not emphasize the destructive tendencies in the development of capitalism, why did not his followers do that when it became obvious that capitalism destroys nature and man? The answer is simple: they did not develop a critique of capitalism that departed from the tendencies of its development, but rather engaged in interpretations of Marx’s critique of capitalism, insisting on the notions already superseded  by  capitalism. Marx’s  writings  have  become  a  peculiar  Bible,  from  which

„truths“ are elicited in the form of „true“ quotes, whose truthfulness is proved by a tautological verbal juggling. They do not contain the most important truth: capitalism destroys nature as a life‐generating  whole and man as a biological and human being, thus destroying  the very possibility of future, which means not only the possibility of the world becoming a human world, but also the possibility of its survival. The worst part is that

„defending“ Marx turns into a struggle against the attempts to show the true nature of capitalism and the ever more dramatical existential crisis created by capitalist „progress“, and thus the struggle with the critical thought and political fight based on the truth that capitalism is a totalitarian destructive order.

If we bear in mind that for Marx history is the only true science and that the idea of a historicity of the human society is the building stone of his revolutionary thought, it becomes more obvious why capitalism cannot be a destructive order. According to Marx, capitalism is a historical order. This makes up its concrete essence and is the basis for its endurance. Capitalism is a historical order in two ways: as a result and as a condition of the historical development of society. In both cases it is a historical necessity. In other words, capitalism by its historical being cannot be an order with which history ends, particularly not an order annulling history. History has its rises and falls, but no force is capable of stopping the wheel of history forever. Marx’s theory of history has a metaphorical form and anthropological character. Speaking of history, Marx actually speaks of man and his indestructible need for freedom and his ability to create, by means of developing his universal  creative  powers  and through  his  struggle  against  injustice,  a  humane  world.

Historical periods in the development of mankind are but stairs along which man climbs and falls only to attain, in spite of all obstacles and falls, the heights which open the horizon of an unconditioned freedom. Freedom is the „spirit“ giving purpose to human life and as such is the connecting tissue of history. Marx’s conception of historicity of society is based on a libertarian optimism: communism is a necessity because man’s freedom is a necessity. Libertarian optimism presuposses existential optimism based on the development of productive forces with which man becomes free from the natural determinism and develops his creative powers. Since freedom is the essential point of Marx’s conception of the historicity of society and unquestionable condition of the future, Marx’s notion of history is, naturally, based on existential apriorism.

At the methodological level, Marx’s thought offers a possibility of development of the contemporary critique of capitalism. Departing from Marx’s most important methodological postulate,  that  the  „anatomy  of  man  is  the  key  to  understanding  the anatomy of a monkey“, there is a need to develop such a critique of capitalism that takes into account monopolistic capitalism in its last („consumer“) phase of development, which fully developed the contradictions of capitalism as a destructive order, increasingly threatening the survival of mankind. The most developed forms of critique of capitalism, corresponding to the highest phase of its development, represent the starting point for understanding the previous forms of its critique: in the light of the most developed forms of critique, previous forms acquire a concrete historical legitimacy. Marx’s most important postulates become concretely historically recognizible and acquire a political (changing) value only in the context of a developed critique of capitalism as an order questioning the survival of man and life on the planet. Without that, they are reduced to abstract humanist rhetoric, which leads a critical‐changing mind away from the fundamental existential questions. Marx’s critique of capitalism as an exploitative order has not lost its significance in  the  contemporary  world. However,  it  acquires  a  concrete  historical  meaning  in  the context of capitalism’s becoming a totalitarian order of destruction. The struggle against capitalism is not only a libertarian and economic question for workers, it has rather become the basic existential question for mankind.

In spite of using a scientific method and attaining scientific results, Marx’s thought has a political rather than a scientific nature. Marx is interested neither in scientific nor in philosophical „objectivism“, but in the revolutionary practice of the oppressed. His thought is a libertarian critique of capitalism, which is meant to call for workers finally to deal with class society. Marx’s critique of capitalism is intended to develop in the proletariat an uncompromising critical‐changing consciousness, and not to direct mind to theoretical discussions. It recognizes itself as the „consciousness of practice which changes the world“, i.e., as an instrument in class struggle. The humaneness of man is not attained by empty contemplations, but through the struggle for freedom, which involves the development of man’s creative and libertarian being. Science and philosophy do not have an objective dimension, they are rather instruments in the class struggle. It is Benjamin’s and Brecht’s view when it comes to art, and Bloch’s view when it comes to sport and physical culture. Revolutionary practice of the oppressed is the power which should turn the objective possibilities of freedom into real possibilities for man’s liberation.

For Marx, truth is a synonym for freedom. It has an absolute rather than a relative character and is based on man’s nature as a universal creative being of freedom, and on the historical development of society. Truth is attained not by theoretical discussions, but through a struggle for freedom, which involves realization of genuine human powers and turning society into a community of free people. Truth has a concrete‐historical nature, which means that its essence is determined by the concrete possibilities of acquiring freedom in a concrete historical time. For Marx, revolution is not a basic ontological, gnoseological and axiological principle, but the basic libertarian principle. It is not the theoretical consciousness which should lead workers in their struggle against the ruling order and for the future, but their concrete social existence, their status as hired workers, existential uncertainty, everyday humiliation… The revolutionary consciousness of workers reflects their need for freedom and social justice. At the same time, a scientific approach to Marx’s theory does not serve only to point out the inhumane nature of capitalism and its temporary  character  and  thus  inevitable  demise,  but  to  create  barriers  to  a  natural‐ scientific determinism (fatalism) and sheer revolutionary voluntarism, which may lead to the socialist revolution being carried out too early and thus being a failure (hence his critical attitude towards the Paris Commune even before its formation), which can have unforseeable negative consequences on the development of the workers’ movement. This „detail“ also indicated the significance Marx attaches to the revolutionary enthusiasm of workers, as well as to their revolutionary self‐consciousness based on the objective assessment of concrete social (historical) conditions making a revolution possible. Marx was aware that socialist revolution could be successful, which means it could pave the way to a communist society, only if it was carried out at the right place (the most developed capitalist states of Europe) and at the right moment (at the peak of the economic and, based on that, general social crisis). Marx’s thought offers the possiblity of establishing a principle difference between a workers’ uprising and a socialist revolution. A workers’ uprising is not in itself a socialist revolution; it is a socialist revolution only to the extent it abolishes capitalism in such a way as to enable it to establish a (socialist) order which supersedes capitalism  and  opens  a  possibility  for  creating  a  communist society.  In  other  words,  a socialist revolution is possible on the basis of an economic and thus a general social crisis, which involves the completely developed contradictions of capitalism. Only on the basis of an authentic socialist revolution can a genuine socialist society be created, which, as such, presuposses a definite overcoming of capitalism. If a true socialist society is formed, capitalism is no longer possible. The true sign of the final overcoming of capitalism is when a socialist society becomes a communist society.

Marx’s  theory  is  not  concerned  with  possible  forms  of  the  development  of capitalism (and, in that context, with the possible forms of political/class struggle by both the bourgeoisie and the workers), but with their abolishment (overcoming), and, in that context, it departs from a politically instrumentalized myth that the fall of capitalism is imminent. The essential point of the XI Thesis on Feuerbach is to give primary importance to a changing practice, since, according to Marx, in the most developed capitalist states in Europe, possibilities for revolutionary changes had already been created. It is not only about the critique of bourgeois philosophy, but about the reasonable world, on which Kant and Hegel insist, not resulting from philosophers’ thought, but from the political struggle of social layers deprived of their rights. The French Revolution was carried out by the oppressed working „masses“ and the bourgeoisie deprived of their rights, while German classical philosophy took advantage of the political struggle of the despised, to turn the revolutionary  spirit  into philosophical  postulates,  which  became  the  foundation  of  a political theory and practice that was supposed to create in Germany a civil society and a single state – and at the same time to prevent a bourgeois revolution. „Mindless“ working „masses“ became a moving force in creating a reasonable world. Marx departs from the guiding ideas of the French Revolution not as a means for obtaining a „humanist“ legitimacy for the ruling order, but as the basic political principle in the fight for a humane world. He departs from the humanist ideals of modern times, wishing that they be realised. His predominant vision is that of a future which is not based on the creation of an idealized image of a future society, but on a critique of capitalism and a faith in libertarian dignity and man’s creative powers: man as a realized universal creative being of freedom – that is the „image“ of the future.

Tacitly, it is not only the nature of capitalism, attained empirically and through scientific analysis, which conditions a political struggle against capitalism, it is also the nature of a political struggle which is estimated to be able to bring about the destruction of capitalism. Ultimately, it is the concrete nature and capabilities of the working classes as the agent of a revolution which condition the attitude towards capitalism itself and thus determine its character. The very „nature of capitalism“ becomes intrumentalized for the purpose  of  a more  efficient  political  struggle  against  capitalism.  Marx’s  thesis  that  the „correct theory is the consciousness of a world‐changing practice“, indicates that changing the world is the criterion by which the accuracy of a theory should be judged. Since there is no changing of the world without the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, it follows that an correct theory can (and should) pose primarily those questions which offer a possibility of changes, and this means those which can motivate man to fight for a new world as a concrete social being, departing from concrete (existential) challenges. The question of survival of man and humankind was on the daily agenda too abstract for a man who was forced, by immediate existential threat which he experienced every day as hired labor, to start the struggle for changing his social position as a slave. For Marx, the primary question was not the ecological, but the economic crisis, and in that context the existential plight of the working class. It turned out that the economic crisis more directly and dramatically affects man than does the ecological crisis. If the ecological crisis created by capitalism  could  have  been  politically  instrumentalized  in  the  second  half  of  the  19th century and if it could have incited workers to fight against capitalism, would Marx have ignored Fourier’s warning, from the early 19th century, about destruction of nature and change in climate; namely, would he have „overlooked“ that capitalism is by its nature a destructive order, and would Engels in the last decade of his creative work, when he warned about the destruction of nature, have shifted responsibility from capitalism to humankind by using an abstract „we“?

The manner of posing a question and reaching an answer reflects the concrete relation of man towards existential and essential issues (ultimately, towards a concrete world and future) forced by a concrete historical period. Questions are posed in one way when there is existential certainty (on which the modern manner of thinking is based) and when the possible annihilation of the world has an abstract character (in five or ten million years), and in quite a different way when humankind faces an ever more realistic possibility of destruction. In the XI Thesis on Feuerbach, Marx gave priority to the creative‐changing principle over the contemplative one, but changing of the world does not appear in Marx in relation to an ever more realistic possibility of its destruction; it rather appears relative to injustice and the limited possibilities of the development of productive forces based on private property, i.e., relative to emancipatory possibilities created in the bourgeois society and man’s creative possibilities as a universal creative being of freedom. Marx’s thought is also based on existential certainty, and the relation between theory and practice is viewed in an essential context. Things acquire a different meaning when this question is posed in an existential context, i.e., when an increasingly realistic possibility that capitalism will bring about the end of humankind is taken into consideration.

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