Eliminate Capitalism and Distrust Socialism by Alberto Martinez Delgado with Reply by Joseph Femia and Author’s Reply

PDF Versions: Main Article, Reply by Joseph Femia.

Eliminate Capitalism and Distrust Socialism: What Remains of Marxism

Alberto Martinez Delgado


Marxism claims to have two main characteristics: to be a scientific knowledge of social reality based on economics and to indicate a way to achieve the liberation of the working class and of the whole of mankind, thus entering a new era in human history. Both of these features, repeatedly proclaimed in Marxist writings, –from Marx and Engels to Stalin and other leaders and Marxist ideologues– are deeply problematic.  The liberation of the working class is denied by the historic experiences of the countries and situations where Marxist organisations have got any kind of power.  The scientific character of Marxism, on the other hand, clashes with some a priori ideas of Marxist theory, in particular with the doctrinarian imposition of dialectic thought.

Independently of the theoretical constitution of Marxism, which must, in any case also be considered, the socio-historic reality makes evident the disparity between hopes which are in some way a result of the ideological power of the socialist –Marxist theory itself, and the real social situation. While Marxism has been a great hope for millions of people for about a century and a half, Marxist-socialist reality has caused a profound disappointment in many socialist supporters, a disappointment delayed but not avoided by widely trumpeted propaganda slogans.

This situation, a sound suspicion of not being as proletarian nor as scientific as proclaimed, requires an analysis of the reality of capitalism and of Marxist ideology according to a scientific and materialist view, without being subject to the dialectical idealistic standpoint increasingly dominant within Marxism.

The subordination of reality to the development of dialectical categories and the strict bipolarity of contradiction, including the class struggle, are two especially revealing manifestations of the dialectical dogmatism and idealism that have permanently pervaded Marxism from its first moments and hinder even the study of basic material production and the capitalist class structure.

From a materialistic point of view, the root of this idealism must be analysed according to a view of social classes that goes beyond the duality capitalist class-working class; at least we ought also to take into account the presence in capitalist society of the fundamental class of cadres or managers.

Besides the dialectical bipolar view of social classes, a unitary conception of each of the social classes in a national sphere and beyond that in the international realm also seems theoretically untenable.  The national character of the dominant classes and their struggle is an undeniable historical fact – whose more acute manifestation is the war between the ruling classes of different States – that deserves to be incorporated into social theory over and above any aim of establishing general and universal categories which could possess the capacity for self-development.

Marxist Idealism

Although with some oscillations and irregularities, idealism is an essential component of Marx’s thought in all its stages.  This idealism has two main features, the idealisation of materialism by incorporating it into the Hegelian dialectic and, closely linked with this integration, the analysis of capitalist society and of socialist prospects for its future according to the action of autonomous socio-philosophical categories, absolute determinants of empirical reality[1].

The idealisation of capitalism by Marx himself, sometimes confused with the process of scientific abstraction, is reflected in key aspects of his doctrine as in the conception of the market – considered as a realm of genuine free exchange of equivalents – the theory of value and the strictly bipolar conception of social classes.

The idea of a capitalist free market is accepted by Marx as a decisive and characteristic category of economic behaviour and changes within capitalism, without raising any critical comment that might be compared to the critical equivalence established by Marx, in the context of 18 Brumaire, of the classic bourgeois banners of freedom, equality and fraternity and the less utopian reality of “Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery.”

Despite the general critique of the fetishism of commodities by Marx, often seen as a core idea in Marx’s theory, we can find some kind of fetishism in the thought of Marx himself.  The fetishist and mysterious character of commodity, wrote Marx, is produced “simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour” (Marx, K., 1974, 77). This fetishism of the commodity is shown itself “by the dull and tedious quarrel over the part played by Nature in the formation of exchange-value” (Marx, K., 1974, 86). Besides the problem of how far society, from the Marxian theory, is a manifestation of nature – where each production system is an inexorable consequence of the development of productive forces, to the extent that the intention to skip any stage is deemed utopian, wrong and misleading -, it is important to underline the fact that the idea from classical liberalism and Marx that the exchange of goods is essentially an exchange of equivalents also involves, in our view, a fetishist idealisation of commodity and is not a mere scientific abstraction.  This idealisation is reinforced by the definition of values based on the work embodied in the goods.  With this vision of fairness and free trade, claimed as a universal law, remain hidden relations of unequal exchange of goods between dominant and dominated nations that are a fundamental part of history and which are the basis of imperial dominion and inter-imperialist wars – flagrant violations of proclaimed commercial freedom and equality.

The concept of commodity becomes a dialectical category whose development, independent of material contingencies, determines history until its own dialectical negation and dialectical sublation, a consequence of the internal contradictions of the category itself (exchange value and use value). Work, really a key factor in production and exchange, becomes another category of independent development over the complexities of the different forms of work, subsuming in particular the work of organising production, a characteristic of the manager or cadre class.

The very concept of social class, especially relevant in understanding social phenomena, becomes a rigid dialectical category which prevents the taking into account of such important facts of social reality as the emergence of a new class of cadres or managers.  The consideration of this third relevant social class, gives way to a basically tri-classist theory of social structure of capitalist society (not just a bi-classist one), a theoretical approach which allows  greater conceptual enrichment in line with social reality. Michels, R. (1959, 390-391) stated that the consideration of more than two social classes in a society is not contradictory with social or historical materialism:

The principle that one dominant class inevitably succeeds to another, and the law deduced from that principle that oligarchy is, as it were, a preordained form of the common life of great social aggregates, far from conflicting with or replacing the materialist conception of history, completes that conception and reinforces it. There is no essential contradiction between the doctrine that history is the record of a continued series of class struggles and the doctrine that class struggles invariably culminate in the creation of new oligarchies which undergo fusion with the old. The existence of a political class does not conflict with the essential content of Marxism, considered not as an economic dogma but as a philosophy of history …       Thus the social revolution would not effect any real modification of the internal structure of the mass. The socialists might conquer, but not socialism, which would perish in the moment of its adherents’ triumph.

The idealisation of materialism, its placement on its head, is parallel and correlates with the intention of placing the dialectic on its feet. As Kautsky said, for the materialist application of dialectic, to eliminate idealism from dialectic, it is not enough merely to turn it off its head and place it upon its feet (Kautsky, K., 1988, p. 38); on the contrary, dialectic pulls materialism towards idealism[2].

The dialectical categories show their inherent idealism in their strict bipolarity, in their self-development independent of the facts, issues to which we have already referred to, and in the ascent towards perfection of this self-development of dialectical categories –the latter an idealistic aspect also mentioned by Kautsky, K. (1988, p. 37)[3]:

In Engels’ illustrations of the dialectic, we find, aside from self-movement, an element of an idealist rather than materialist nature, that of the steady perfection of the world through the dialectical process…    Hegel could discover in the world steady progress toward growing perfection, because he saw a world-reason at work in it setting purposes. But where can materialist thinking find a world-purpose? And if there is none, what is the origin of the striving for steady perfection through the dialectical process? Man can set purposes for himself in nature and can adapt particular phenomena of his environment to his purposes, and he can see this as perfection from his point of view. But it would be anthropocentric thinking to regard this as a perfection of the world”.

The idealism of Marx and Marxism has its main application in the idealisation of socialism, often dialectically linked to the idealisation of capitalism itself as we have noted in the case of the market and of the underestimation of the use of war to subjugate other countries and to impose the kind of free market that interests a nation that aspires to become a dominant power (interests that can be identified with those of the dominant class controlling the state and, in particular of its superior layers and sectors).

The presentation of the capitalist class as a defender of various kinds of freedom, including the free market, implies a subordination of Marxism to liberal ideology, and a unified, universal and totalising vision of the capitalist class, in a clear contradiction with reality, past and present, of clashes within and between each national bourgeoisie and all their bellicose manifestations.

The idealisation of the capitalist class by Marxism –in spite of the condemnation of capitalist exploitation, resulting from a double exchange of equivalents (of the work embodied in  commodities on the one hand, and of the power of labour on the other), but not a robbery as Proudhon called private property and Marx criticized- is accompanied by a similar idealisation of the proletariat –which is also a universalising and totalising idealisation- within which is masked the class of the cadres, the new emergent social class which contends with the bourgeoisie for economic and political power.

Although the ideologies developed within capitalism, liberalism and socialism-Marxism, highlight universality as a capitalist characteristic, it seems that the national component of capitalism should not be forgotten, even in the present epoch of globalisation.. The importance of wars, the acute manifestation of the clash between different national dominant classes and a consequence of the stubborn aim embodied in the upper classes to dominate other peoples and nations, ought not to be neglected. The relationship between the main socialist revolutions (Paris Commune, Russian, Chinese and East European) and the three important wars (Franco-German War, World War I, and World War II) is very significant in this sense.

The uniform and universalising vision of the ideal categories, the linear process upward of the historical process[4], is linked to the predominance of a temporal dialectic over the spatial reality of the societies and their changes. Balibar, E. (2010, 3) asserts the predominance of temporality over spatiality in Marx:

My general idea is that there is, in Marx and in his Marxist followers, a clear prevalence of temporal patterns over spatial patterns, resulting in much serious consequences on how to design policy and in particular on how to address issues as the revolutionary perspective, the opposition to reformism, the relationship to rebellion and resistance, the inclusion in social contexts that are both national and non-nationals, the modes of organization and generalization, etc.. This prevalence comes from Hegel, and even further: in fact it shows how Marx belongs to a tradition, in which he is also a giant, that of the philosophy of history (perhaps it might be specified: the philosophy of Western history), and more precisely in the tradition of historicist idealism, whose heart is the identification of questions of temporality and historicity

According to the prevalence of this essentially temporary vision of societies at the expense of their spatial aspects, the differences between nations and regions are reduced to different paces of growth, which tend to be reabsorbed in temporal development. Qualifying materialism as “historic” highlights the temporal focus rather than the spatial view, thus avoiding the prosaic aspects of material experience, in opposition to which time seems more appropriate to spiritual development.

Historical materialism is, from our point of view, but one aspect of social materialism. The dialectic, inseparable from idealist teleology and dogmatism can not be considered an essence or a method (even a method of exposition) of social materialism, nor as “a synonym for ‘scientific” as Marx uses it (Bhaskar, R., 1993, 97), following Hegel.

Social Classes, Class of the Cadres and Nationalism

The social roots of the idealist trend of Marx and Marxism are connected, in our analysis, with the problem of the polarity of the class structure of society and especially with the existence of the class of the cadres, aspiring to an increasing role and control over the whole of society. This class, lurking inside Marxism as a part of the proletariat in a more or less disguised manner, has expressed its revolutionary interest in removing the capitalist class through socialist and Marxist thought.

Unveiling the managerial or cadrist class nature of Marxism, and of the organisational structures (political parties and trade unions mainly) that have claimed to be representative of the working class, it is necessary not to support repetitions of socialist experiences so harmful to workers as those experienced in the 20th century, to brake the advance of idealism (Marxist, or directly Hegelian) and to raise the possibility of confrontation with capitalism, perhaps inevitably in a socialist-managerial perspective, avoiding simultaneously a harsh dictatorship of the managerial class. The current academic Marxist trend to underpin the utopian side of Marxism and to promote its idealist component are factors of mysticism which obstruct the possibility of real criticism of both capitalism and bureaucratic socialism.

The existence of the cadre class in  capitalist society has been recognised by several authors (Makhaïski, 1979; Lozinsky, 1907; Burnham, 1942; Duménil and Levy, 1998, 2011, …) and the ideological and political importance of this managerial class  has also been emphasized, with particular reference to the  connection of this class (or significant sections of it) with Nazism and Stalinism.

The emergence of the class of the cadres or managers has been seen as a relevant factor produced “at the turn of the twentieth century”, and particularly from the so called managerial revolution linked to the 1930s Great Depression (Duménil, G., Lévy, D., 2011, pp. 94, 15). However there is evidence enough to support the existence and relevance of the cadre class from the very beginning of capitalism as well as the connection between the class of the cadres, mainly of their revolutionary sectors, and the early nineteenth century socialist formulations (particularly in the case of Saint-Simon) and Marxism, as already pointed out by Makhaïski, J. W. (1979) and Lozinsky, E. (1907) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The view of Marxism as an ideology of the class of the cadres (Martinez Delgado, A. 2010) contrasts greatly with the almost permanent Marxist claim to be the ideology of the proletariat; nevertheless it seems legitimate to search for a non proletarian character of class in Marxism, given the reality of socialist social relations, inspired by Marxism, in different historical periods, some important contain of Marxian an Marxist thinking and even some significant pre-Marxist socialist theories.

According to this materialist view, Marxist ideology is mainly a consequence of the existence and development of the cadre class in a capitalist society and not conversely; the cadre class is not a result of a degenerative process in socialist countries but a class conceived within the capitalist system itself, prior to any socialist revolution to which the revolutionary sectors of the cadre class aspires. The socialist class, although not a product of socialist regimes, is boosted and strengthened inside socialist societies.

Much criticism of Marxism tries to explain the contradiction between the more overt discourse of Marxism and the reality of the systems where Marxist ideology has become dominant (at least in declarative terms) pointing out the existence of a degenerative process of Marxist theory, especially intense in certain historical situations and dependent on the great leaders of the moment: the views of Engels (who would have not been loyal enough to the positions of Marx), the Second International bureaucratization, the theories of Lenin which would have overestimated the role of professional revolutionary cadres, or the theoretical and practical aberrations of Stalinism (particularly for Trotskyism, the defence of socialism in one country) and subsequent consequences. To these explanations, focused on the theoretical errors of a degenerative evolution of Marxism, are frequently added the influence of some material factors that trigger the degenerative process or accentuate it, such as the fact that socialist revolutions have occurred in underdeveloped capitalist countries, or the blockade, sabotage and attack on socialism by the capitalist-imperialist states.

Femia, J. V. (1993, p. 146) holds that “there have broadly been three ways of explaining the “genetic” link between Marxism and authoritarianism. Each claims to find a fatal flaw in the doctrine: either its economic dogma, or its sequentialism, or its supposed messianism …”. To these  three standpoints Femia adds his “own explanation which holds that Marxism’s Achilles’ heel, the underlying cause of its deformity in practice, is its holistic conception of man” (ibidem), the “Marxist sacrifice” of “the autonomous dimensions of personhood to the communal aspects of species being” (ibid p. 162). Although we can not deny the influence of each of the above-mentioned factors in the development of the particularly striking despotic features of real socialism (the theoretical ideological deformations as well as the practical circumstances of socialist experiments) we give an explanatory primacy to the socio-economic structure of capitalist society, in particular to the rise of a new social class in capitalism: the cadre class.

The reference to ideological features as the primary determinant of social evolution of the class structure of a society seems  to us an idealistic perspective more than a scientific one. The theoretical critiques of many authors, some of them of great reputation such as Lukács, Gramsci, or the members of the Frankfurt School, of course have contributed hugely to elucidate the deep nature of Marxism, even if some of their positions could be considered idealistic or socialist-cadrist along the same lines as the Marxist main stream, and did not accomplish a real materialist analysis of Marxism.

When we have referred to the dialectic as a theoretical flaw of Marxism and when we associate this idealistic component of Marxism to its cadre class character, although our position could be deemed as fundamentally theoretical and therefore dealing with ideas, we tackle the problem giving priority to the material structure of society.

The primacy of interests over ideas commitments can be verified frequently by observing the shifting of ideas, sometimes through apparently little nuances in their expressions, according to modifications in the concrete situations.

Ideological conglomerates correspond to stable structural elements of the socioeconomic situation of the class or group, but are also affected, sometimes decisively, by circumstantial conditions of economic and social relations in which the class or group is involved. In some ways, from our own point of view, some of the flaws of the Marxist theory could be deemed successes, rather than failures, if we take into account the partial class interest of the socialist class.

The negative experience of the reality of socialist-Marxist ideological dominance, apparently affected more real socialist regimes but is also manifest in the inner life of communist parties, particularly in the idealisation of the central leadership and the response to discrepancy, and in the life of mass organisations like trade unions, even where they distance themselves from the ideology of Marxism but retain their claim to represent the working class. For a time considered a socialist alternative but soon dismissed by orthodox Marxism, the fate of cooperatives is illustrative of the forms of deception endured by the working class.

If the fit and deep link between Marxism and the new rising class (the cadres or socialist class) is supported by further studies, the critique of some events (Stalinism, bureaucracy, …) should be directed to the whole Marxist ideology and take more radical forms, directed chiefly toward its idealism -and interested utopianism- whether dialectical or not.

Although idealism and the cadre class character of Marxism are not separate aspects of Marxist ideology, they do not imply each other. The interests of the cadre class can manifest themselves through different ideologies, including fascist ideologies, and even materialist ideologies. On the other hand, idealism is not privative of Marxism but is an ideological paradigm supported by different social classes (slavers, nobility, capitalist, socialist, …). Nevertheless, once accepted these different possibilities, we can find a close accordance between idealism and the cadre class character of Marxism at least in four respects: a) the idealization of socialism (and even of capitalism) we have already mentioned, useful as a lure for the workers and the people; b) the dialectical oversimplification of social reality, analyzed as a strict bipolar contradiction, which helps in promoting an anti-capitalist front under the nominal leadership of the proletariat and the hidden hegemony of the cadre class; c) the view of society´s development as a steady process of perfection, in a clearly teleological idealism which develops confidence in the socialist future and puts a stop to possible critical attitudes towards concrete socialist activities, in socialist countries or in the fight for socialism; and d) the veneer of science and technology, viewed idealistically, which gives to Marxism an apparent deep foundation for the predominance of the cadre class in a future non-capitalist society and in the fight for socialism, even making it possible to veil some contradictions with social reality.

Much of the negative effects of the socialist-Marxist experience are accentuated by the persistence of the power of leading sectors and layers of the cadres class, as revealed in the revolutions in Russia, China and Cuba; this effect raises sociological aspects beyond the particular ideology (Marxist or other) taken by the cadres, as the problem of the tendency towards despotism of managers at different levels of business or public administration, especially developed as they maintain their power.

The classist concept of society, be it bipolar, tripolar or more complex, ought not, from a scientific perspective, attribute to each of the social classes a categorical universality that erases their national characteristics, whose extreme manifestation, as already mentioned, is war between States and the fighting within each of the classes in each country.  This national character has been strongly manifested in the case of the capitalist class but also in the case of the class of the cadres.

The study of social reality, both in the basic social class structure and in its ideological aspects, ought not to be based on the self-development of philosophical or ideological categories, whether liberal or Marxist, nor to be compelled by utopian-programmatic formulae. Both liberalism and Marxism are not wholly some kind of exciting dream or hope, from one author or another, but what social and historical reality reveals in practice. The discussion of personal intentions or of the existence of a fair and pure doctrine, betrayed by their practical experiences, lacks a scientific basis.

The Working Class: Socialism, Workers and Ideology

If the practice of Marxism and socialism is revealed as not representing the interests of the working class and its liberation, Marxist ideology can hardly be portrayed as being the representation of the working class.

A materialist analysis of Marxist ideology, not subject to the outward appearances of its declarations, seems to support the idea that Marxism (and socialism) is not an ideology of the working class, but of the class of the cadres, a class that, according to this ideological link could also be called a socialist class.

Assuming that there is no identification between the proletariat and  Marxist ideology, we may wonder what is then the ideological position of the working class? Is this a class without its own ideology? The answer to these questions must be the result of research on the same thesis from which these questions come from, and on different historical situations, revolutionary and non-revolutionary, as lived in different countries. Provisionally we argue, as an additional hypothesis, that the working class lacks its own ideology of dominion within society or of seizing economical or political power –in this sense the dictatorship of the proletariat, claimed by Marxism, really corresponds to the dictatorship of the class of the cadres. Nevertheless we can detect some ideological elements of the working class, but they are essentially of a defensive nature, when facing so much economic exploitation and political oppression.

The fact that perhaps the more exploited and oppressed working classes in history -slaves in the classical era, peasants in the feudal system and once again slaves in modern American society- were deprived of their own ideology with a view to establishing a new kind of society, in which these classes could have exercised their domination or hegemony, does not seem surprising. Nor should it be surprising that a similar situation is repeated in the case of the working class in a capitalist or socialist society.

Marx himself has analysed how bourgeois ideology managed to lead the working class, or at least a part of it, towards bourgeois goals, even employing some workers’ phraseology. Something similar seems to happen with socialist ideology which, additionally, has more possibilities to mobilize the proletariat against capitalism because there are some common elements that unite the class of the cadres and the working class.

A particularly significant case of ideological dependence, and often also of organisational dependence, is the struggle of the slaves in America against the modern system of slavery. If in some social class Marx’s words at the end of The Manifesto of the Communist Party “… nothing to lose but their chains” can be taken literally, that is the case of the enslaved class, particularly developed in America. However, the history of the breaking of these chains, for which the struggles of the slaves themselves had a fundamental role, was produced under ideological and national agencies that can not be considered ideologies proper to the class of the slaves. The Haitian revolution was a very revealing case of lack of a proper ideology of slaves which could lead to a certain new model of society.

An ideological variant, close to socialism, which has raised some hopes of an independent organisation of the working class in pursuit of genuine workers’ interests is trade-unionism. However, even in cases of formal rupture with the idea of a transmission belt practiced by the so-called workers’ parties, the consideration of the trade union as an independent organisational form of the working class does not seem to be supported by facts. The organisational principles and forms of trade unions also manifest their suitable structure for the dominion of the cadres. Trade unions history reproduces to some extent the history of workers’ cooperatives.

The acceptance of the thesis that rejects the proletarian nature of Marxism and states the managerial class character of Marxism and socialism, does not mean that the class struggle, for the type of society that best suits their respective interests, is fictional and does not deserve consideration or even intervention by the workers or weakly encadred social sectors. Despite the current dominance of neo-liberal thinking, even within large sections of the class of the cadres, capitalism is ever more clearly an economic system opposed to the objective interests of the majority of the population, whose only relevant and consistently structured alternative is socialism. The question arises then, even in terms of necessity and inevitability, of the construction of socialist systems, although it establishes a new dictatorship of the socialist class and does not entail the emancipation of the working class.

Conclusion and Open Questions

The capitalist system is becoming increasingly threatening for different populations and for economic viability; at the same time the traditional socialist alternative bears evidence of being an ideology that agrees with the deep interests of the class of the cadres and thus favourable to a new form of exploitation and domination over the majority of the population, and not to any kind of proletarian or social liberation. This twofold situation opens the possibility of new theoretical approaches and practical orientations on social reality and its development. This anti-utopian view implies that, to achieve a new kind of progressive society, people must reject blind submission to ideologies and organisations waving the banners of total liberation,  as do Marxist ideology, the political parties and the trade unions that call themselves representatives of the working class.

From this perspective of accepting the necessity of rejecting the capitalist system and of doing so under the threat that the new system replacing it may entail, even tend towards producing a new danger for most of the population, we propose the following conclusions and open problems:

1st. It is necessary to fight the idealistic component of Marxism, now in a dominant position and with increasing influence, and promote a materialist analysis of societies. The current insistent invocation of utopia is an important sign of the idealistic tendencies in fashion.

2nd. Materialism, contrary to Marxist orthodoxy, is incompatible with the Hegelian dialectic, in all of its variants.

3rd. The analysis of the class structure of societies is a basic principle of social and historical materialism.

4th. Class analysis of societies should not be subjected to the bipolarity of dialectical formulations. Strict bipolarity, among other misinterpretations of reality, veils the emergence of a new class aspiring to dominate the rest of society.

5th. The historical experience of Marxism, fundamental for the understanding of this ideology beyond the mobilizing proclamations, shows the reality of the new class of the cadres and the fact of their domination over the rest of the population in every situation where this class attains some power.

6th. The materialist theoretical analysis of Marxist theory, demonstrates the case that the dominance of the new socialist class is not a fortuitous social fact nor the result of a degenerative process but, on the contrary, this dominance of the class of the cadres consistently agrees with essential elements of Marxist theory that, therefore, can be considered an ideology of the class of the cadres.

7th. A feature of socialist practice, with clear theoretical and doctrinal connections, is the cult of the inner working of the capitalist factory, of industrial structure and discipline (socially planned under the direct responsibility of the cadres), and even of military discipline. This type of social domination relationship is a model for the party organisation (socialist, communist, workers) and for mass organizations like trade unions.

8th. The elimination of the great capitalist ownership of the means of production and finance is a goal of a socialist nature fully justified by the economic system itself and its dangers, the enormous private appropriation of concentrated wealth it brings, and its destructive aspects particularly shown in times of crisis as at the present. The situation of capitalist property is comparable to that of the great feudal property, which led to the bourgeois revolution.

9th. The relevance of socialism and its Marxist version depends on the possibilities of leaving a destructive capitalist situation and of avoiding the danger of introducing another social model with similar characteristics. From this dual approach a radical socialist perspective could be proposed, demystified (in its class character, in its utopianism and its dialectic and idealistic theorisation) and under a continuous attitude of suspicion and materialist criticism.

10th. The rejection of the idealistic component of dialectical Marxism, and of its claims of liberating the working class, emphasizing its representation, on a deep level, of the class of the cadres, raises a question of identity: can this materialist critique of Marxism be considered Marxist? Can the critique of Marxism stated in this paper be seen as a Marxist one?

11th.  Beyond the analysis of ideologies, particularly Marxism, there arises the question of the viability of the proposal for a socialist society compensated by the deepening of democratic relations and the continued warning against the domination of the new ruling class and against its excesses: Is there any hope that the organizational structures created within the current socio-economic system, even with the goal of changing the system (including promoting assembly-based methods of fighting) could not be fated, inevitably, by the very nature of capitalist and socialist systems, to reproduce capitalist or socialist forms of domination, with little chance of destabilizing the domination of the capitalist class or of the class of the cadres or, at least,  of compensating the excesses of this domination?


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[1] Orwell, G. (1981, 160) pointed out the arbitrariness of mental constructions in some doctrinal realms as religion or philosophy and the need to take account of the physical facts when one is not dealing with mere speculative, or ideal-interest matters: “Physical facts could not be ignored. In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.”

[2] Arthur, C. J. (2002, p. 10) points out:

It is my belief that Marx himself was not clear about the answer to this question … When Marx acknowledged the influence of Hegel’s dialectic on his Capital he failed to explain how an idealistic logic could assist a materialist science.

[3] We can observe, nevertheless, that Kautsky’s objection to the Marxist teleology does not exclude the possibility of considering a social teleology -not accepted in nature- which supports the idealist exaltation of the purposes and conscious functions (scientific and technical functions) claimed by the cadres class.

[4]  Russell, B. (1979, 754) emphasizes the unscientific character of the Hegelian idealism inherited by Marx, in relation to atheism, the dialectic and cosmic optimism:

Marx professed himself an atheist, but retained a cosmic optimism which only theism could justify. Broadly speaking, all the elements in Marx’s philosophy which are derived from Hegel are unscientific, in the sense that there is no reason whatever to suppose them true… It is easy to restate the most important part of what he had to say without any reference to the dialectic.

Eliminate Marxism and Distrust Socialism: A Reply to Martinez Delgado

Joseph V. Femia[1]

Martinez Delgado is right to claim that Marxism was never as scientific or as proletarian as it purported to be. Of course, this is hardly an original thesis, but he defends it in a way that is bold and worthy of comment. Let us begin with Marxism’s aspiration to scientificity. From its very origins, he maintains, Marxism has been burdened by a priori ideas, abstract dialectical categories whose logical unfolding supposedly determines the process of history. Marx and his disciples, it is argued, never managed to free themselves from Hegelian idealism, with its assumption of an ‘ascent towards perfection’ through the ‘self-development of dialectical categories’ (p. 5). Apart from being universal and abstract, these categories also tend to be bi-polar. The idealisation of ‘capitalism’, for example, is dialectically linked (as a clash of opposites) to the idealisation of ‘socialism’. Likewise, the concept of social class is deemed to have two, and only two, sub-categories, capitalist and proletariat, regardless of the evidence of our senses, which indicates the existence of a third ‘relevant’ class that emerged with capitalism, ‘ a new class of cadres or managers’ (p. 4). The precise composition of this class is left a bit vague by Martinez Delgado, but he implies that the managerial class developed a ‘revolutionary sector’; and Marxism, he claims, is their ideology (p. 7). He is at pains to tell us that Marxism did not, through some kind of degenerative process, create the elite of cadres who so visibly dominated ‘communist’ societies. To the contrary, Marxist ideology was an expression of the cadre class.  He posits a ‘close accordance’ between idealism and the ‘class character of Marxism’. Historical teleology, as well as the idealisation of socialism, provides the perfect ideological cover for ‘the hidden hegemony of the cadre class’ (p.9). To use Gramscian terminology, the ‘organic intellectuals’ – the bureaucrats, technicians, activists, and wordsmiths – associated with the working class movement became the new ruling class wherever Marxist socialism triumphed. This analysis is remindful of a similar analysis advanced a century ago by thinkers such as Weber and Michels, who dismissed Marxism as the ideological justification for a new power elite of ‘officials’ and ‘intellectuals’.

It is interesting that, when attacking Marxist idealism, Martinez Delgado is referring neither to the Hegelian mystifications of Lukacs nor to the vacuous generalities of the ‘critical theorists’. He is talking about Marx and Engels themselves, along with their ‘orthodox’ followers – thinkers who are normally described as materialists (in their ontology) and realists or even positivists (in their epistemology). Martinez Delgado is correct to challenge this description, and to contend that the classical Marxists were Hegelian in the sense that they made deductions about social conditions from abstract, a priori dialectical schemata with insufficient regard to actual facts. Like Bernstein, he insists that a science of society – which Marxism claimed to be – must be amenable to revision resulting from changing empirical reality; it ‘ought not to be based on the self-development of philosophical or ideological categories’ (p. 9). However, it is also true that abstraction from reality is fundamental to scientific inquiry. Sometimes, it is necessary to introduce simplifying assumptions for reasons of computational tractability. In formulating his Law of Falling Bodies, for example, Galileo assumed the non-existence of friction. ‘Galilean idealisation’, although it permits the introduction of false predicates into a theory, is driven by the ultimate goal of accurate representation, since it is assumed that any conclusions formed under ideal conditions will be applicable in non-ideal circumstances. Another type of familiar scientific abstraction – and one that especially pertains to Marxism – involves limiting a causal story to those factors that make a difference to the occurrence of the phenomenon, or to its essential character. Irrelevant details are stripped away in order to focus on a single property or a certain set of properties. Here abstraction serves an explanatory, instead of a computational, function, helping the scientist to demonstrate how fundamental properties of a system generate common patterns among disparate phenomena (Weisberg 2007).

The defect of Marxist ‘science’ is not that it uses abstraction to simplify reality, but that it allows these abstractions to replace reality. True scientists, once simplification has allowed them to (in their own minds) capture the essence of reality, then reintroduce detail and complexity in the hope that the theory can cope with it. If empirical evidence should contradict the theory, if sustained observation indicates that the theory has distorted rather than illuminated reality, the true scientist is prepared to modify or abandon it. In the case of Marxist ‘science’, this tended not to happen. The theory was treated as an absolute truth, regardless of any contrary evidence. Some Marxists tortured the facts so that they could fit into the Procrustean bed of theory, while others, inspired by German philosophical method, turned away from the idea of science altogether, viewing the socialist utopia as an ‘intuition’, not an empirical hypothesis. Marxism became either an elaborate tautology or the sworn enemy of scientific rigour.

My guess is that Martinez Delgado is aware of these subtle distinctions, but it is odd that he declines to address them.  A more damaging gap in his analysis relates to what he calls ‘the managerial or cadrist nature of Marxism’ (p. 7). Reducing Marxism to its class origins, he thinks, provides a sufficient and properly materialistic explanation for the bureaucratic and oppressive nature of ‘actually existing socialism’, whereas other attempts to account for the ‘genetic’ link between Marxism and authoritarianism wrongly focus on features of the doctrine itself: its consequentialism, its holism, or its alleged messianism. Such explanations must be rejected, says Martinez Delgado, as they emanate from ‘an idealistic perspective more than a scientific one’.  In other words, they seek to explain reality as a logical progression of ideas, thereby ignoring ‘the material structure of society’ (p. 8). While there is some truth in this criticism, his ‘materialist’ approach furnishes only a partial explanation of the unfortunate path taken by Marxist-inspired regimes. What was striking about these regimes was not their domination by bureaucrats and managers but the extraordinary degree of their repressive intolerance. Just as we cannot explain Nazism purely in terms of the needs of capitalism, so we cannot explain Stalinism or Maoism solely with reference to the interests of a new elite. Marxist doctrine, like its fascist counterpart, appealed to the herd-like instinct in human beings, to the desire for a collective spiritual purpose, which had been undermined by the ‘autonomous individual’ of bourgeois liberalism.  To ignore this ‘ideological’ aspect of Marxism when analysing Communist tyranny is to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room.

Notwithstanding his critique of Marxism, Martinez Delgado still denounces capitalism as ‘ever more clearly an economic system opposed to the objective interests of the majority of the population’. Moreover, the ‘only relevant…alternative is socialism’ (p. 11). But it is also his contention that not just Marxism but socialism itself reflects the interests of the cadre class. The ‘traditional socialist alternative’, we are told, is ‘favourable to a new form of exploitation and domination over the majority of the population’ (p. 11). This leaves the reader well and truly bemused. Berating capitalism for opposing the objective interests of the majority logically implies that there is an alternative system that would satisfy those interests. Otherwise, it is equivalent to criticising the weather or the setting of the sun. Some statements are inherently comparative. For example, the statement ‘John is short’ would make no sense if every other adult male on earth were the same height as John. An obvious deduction from Martinez Delgado’s assertions is that no socio-economic system can satisfy the ‘objective interests’ of the majority. In that case, we need to question his conception of objective interests. Is he defining them in an unrealistic way – in a way that parts company with the realm of possibility? Criticism of the present that is based on a utopian world of the imagination will convince no one. If we are going to ‘eliminate capitalism’, we need a practicable alternative. Perhaps sensing this flaw in his reasoning, Martinez Delgado retreats somewhat from his blanket condemnation of socialism, suggesting in his conclusion that it may be possible to develop a progressive but non-utopian and empirically-grounded (i.e. materialistic) form of socialism and socialist theory, constantly vigilant against the domination of the dreaded cadres but equally hostile to ‘the enormous private appropriation of concentrated wealth’ (p. 12). Given his pessimistic analysis, this suggestion reads like an after-thought, representing the triumph of hope over reasoned expectation.


Weisberg, M. 2007. ‘Three kinds of Idealisation’. The Journal of Philosophy, 104

(12), 639-59.

[1] Emeritus Professor of Political Theory, University of Liverpool.

Some Remarks on Femia’s Reply to ‘Eliminate Marxism and Distrust Socialism’

 Alberto Martinez Delgado

I thank Femia for the attention he paid to my paper, the work he has done and for his considerations about the article that make possible deeper thinking about the subject of the paper. As a first consequence of this process of reflection, I propose the following remarks:

1st. Science… and senses

Femia writes an extensive paragraph on science and its difference from the idealistic component of Marxism, with considerations on scientific abstraction and its dangers, and he regrets I have not made ​​a similar presentation of this topic. In general I agree with the view expressed by Femia, in particular the distinction between scientific abstraction and the danger of confusing it with the metaphysical dialectic deduction of immovable categories, regardless of or despite experience. In my article I pointed out the difference and separation between science and idealism (dialectic in this case) and the fact that Marx, in his theory, keeps to fundamental aspects of Hegelian idealism which is not transformed into materialism by mere inversion. Marx himself, without discarding of the problem of dialectical idealism and its enthronement, shows some differences between the scientific method of research and the dialectical method of exposition that later seem to merge. In the ‘Afterword to the second German edition’ of Capital, Marx widely quotes an article in the European Messenger of St. Petersburg (May 1872, pp. 427-436), which according to Marx (1974, p. 27), ‘finds my method of enquiry severely realistic, but my method of presentation, unfortunately, German-dialectical’; Marx (1974. p. 27-28) quotes the following excerpt of the article, which he welcomes and used to justify the use of dialectic, as a method of presentation:

At first sight, if the judgement is based on the external forms of the presentation of the subject, Marx is the most ideal of ideal philosophers, always in the German, i.e., the bad sense of the word. But in point of fact he is infinitely more realistic than all his fore-runners in the work of economic criticism. He can in no sense be called an idealist … The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx’s book has. Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectical method? Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction.

There can be seen in the previous text of Marx considerable ambiguity. While he gratefully selects the opinion of the Russian author who separates and opposes the scientific and the dialectical methods -although the Russian author includes within the scientific perspective the idea of the natural step towards higher forms of social organization-, on the one hand Marx repeats this idea of separation of methodologies but, on the other hand, he does not consider that both methods are opposed as suggested by the author quoted by Marx, and he even questions, when referring to Marx’s empirically-based research, ‘what else (the author) is picturing but the dialectical method?’. With even more ambiguity, on the next page, Marx (1974, p. 29), after avowing being a disciple of Hegel, seems to limit his own dialectic to some flirtation with Hegelian forms of expression and, simultaneously, supports the existence of a ‘rational kernel’ despite ‘the mystical shell’ of Hegelian dialectic:

I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him … With him it [dialectic] is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

Femia states that the Marxist binary view of social classes in capitalism is established ‘regardless of the evidence of our senses’. I think the evidence of our senses, is not very direct on this issue. The concept of social class is a complex and debatable theoretical topic, with strong scientific and ideological components, and distinguishing the number of main social classes in the capitalist society is not a mere empirical matter, although the experience of the socialist countries and of the socialist and communist movements is important to support the idea of a three-class pattern of capitalist society. Some aspects of the social classes are certainly perceivable through our senses but a deep understanding of the class phenomena cannot be reduced to the sensorial impression. The idea that our knowledge is the direct product of our senses, refusing or avoiding the principle of objective reality, independent of ourselves and of our own senses, is a main point of empiricism and even of a thriving idealist psychological constructivism. 

2nd. Novelty of the approach of the article.

Femia states that class analysis in this paper ‘is remindful of a similar analysis advanced a century ago by thinkers such as Weber and Michels, who dismissed Marxism as the ideological justification for a new power elite of “officials” and “intellectuals”’. Certainly there are similarities between the approach of the article and the trends identified by Weber in the evolution of society and elitism detected by Michels in organisations. Even some oppressive aspects of Marxist theory can be traced back to the traditional debate between Marxism and anarchism. Perhaps the views closest to our approach are those presented by Lozinsky and Makhaïski in the early twentieth century, which clearly point to the cadre class as the class whose interests are represented by Marxism, although they still identify this cadre class with the intelligentsia, putting thus more emphasis on intellectual and cognitive aspects than on social positions in directly economic, administrative and political hierarchical systems. Many authors have addressed the issue of the cadres in socialist regimes, but have been largely reluctant to accept the relationship between this new class structure and the original Marxist ideas. Even Burnham, a theorist of managerialism in capitalism, abstained from this Marx-cadres link.

3rd. Incomplete approach to the problem of socialism

Femia considers that the ‘”materialist” approach’ proposed in my paper ‘furnishes only a partial explanation of the unfortunate path taken by Marxist-inspired regimes’. I agree with Femia that to consider Marxism as an ideology of the cadres class especially of its revolutionary sectors, does not explain the whole history of the development of Marxism.

Regardless of the incomplete approach I propose, I think this perspective is important to understand the nature and the deep roots of the failure of the socialist experience. Femia points out that ‘what was striking about these regimes was not their domination by bureaucrats and managers but the extraordinary degree of their repressive intolerance’; from my point of view not only is it essential to examine the degree of violence employed by a repressive regime, but also the class the regime represents.

Marx closely analysed the characteristics of political regimes of the capitalist class, drawing attention to the class dictatorship of the bourgeois political system, independently of whether this dictatorship is exercised more or less violently, which part of the bourgeoisie predominates and whether there is some kind of election and consultation of the people (which is seen as dictatorial or as democratic in character but Marx, in a deeper sense considers a class dictatorship). A similar approach can be made regarding socialism, discussed in this article as a dictatorship, in the sense of a class dictatorship, of the cadres. Agreement or disagreement with this thesis is essential for the analysis of the historical forms of socialist regimes.

The class dictatorship of the cadres, the socialist dictatorship, like all forms of state (class state) has an important component, violence (the admitted legitimate violence of the state), but need not necessarily adopt the ‘extraordinary’ forms of oppression and repression we have known in socialist regimes. The extremely dictatorial forms of socialist regimes have been explained, from within socialism, as a result of historical circumstances that actually deserve consideration even if they have been used as a justification of these regimes. As some of these important circumstances we point out that socialism has been implemented in societies that were not the most developed from the capitalist point of view –with problems such as the need to plan an accelerated economic accumulation in order to equal the most advanced capitalist societies-, the internal problem of the continuation of class struggle and, partly connected with it, the class struggle at the internationally level, with known problems such as direct military intervention (often with the support of national anti-socialist groups), the economic siege, and covert intervention of secret agencies supporting terrorism and sabotage.

To condemn the monstrosities of dictatorial socialism cannot conceal the existence of the monstrous dictatorships of capitalism such as Nazism and fascism, and fierce attacks, even today, against regimes, countries and populations that pose an obstacle to the overwhelming hegemony of the imperialist powers.

Class analysis does not exclude the influence of other important factors on the behaviour of human groups, the classification of them according to more specific interests or the social tendencies to hierarchy and the elite differentiation within classes and other social groups (including the formation of social classes themselves), and even the existence of degenerative processes. However, the thesis that Marxism is an ideology of the cadres, despite their general character, seems more concrete, more objective and more analytically powerful than the Femia’s appeal to the ‘herd-like instinct in human beings, to the desire for a collective spiritual purpose.

4th. Utopia and the alternative system

According to Femia ‘Criticism of the present that is based on a utopian world of the imagination will convince no one’. Here I also agree with Femia and propose a materialist analysis of the roots of this distrust of utopias that tries to reveal the class nature of socialism, a main utopia of our time. Despite the distant position of Femia in respect to utopian thought, he finds some incoherence in my critique of both capitalism and socialism, since ‘berating capitalism for opposing the objective interests of the majority logically implies that there is an alternative system that would satisfy those interests. Otherwise, it is equivalent to criticising the weather or the setting of the sun. Some statements are inherently comparative’.

In my opinion the study of society must abide by the accordance of theory to facts, more than by the hopes or the illusions that the analysis could heighten. The idea that the capitalist system does not comply with the general interests and goals of most people needs no huge explanation in view of the current crisis. Socialist regimes, despite the rhetoric about rationality and proletarian liberation, have proved that the new power in these countries defends classist interests –the interest of the cadre class– above general or proletarian interests.

To be conscious that in both social models the dominant interests are exploitative, oppressive and of a parasitic tendency, may help to prevent repeated deceptive fervour leading to one or another form of slavery. If any possibility for a different alternative can be glimpsed, it must be based on a realistic analysis of society, which could favour some form of control over the ruling classes, as a brake on the more fierce forms of class domination, particularly of the cadre class, whose top sector is now fused with the financial capitalist elite, currently dominating the entire economic system and advancing towards a growing role, even adopting a neoliberal discourse. In addition we cannot demand that any criticism necessarily entails an alternative solution to the problems analysed, in the form of a ‘practicable’ program, and that not doing so is, as we criticize, a natural phenomenon. The development of societies, although it may be considered included in nature, has some characteristics that are not reducible to mere physical or biological phenomena. The development of analysis, on a more or less scientific basis (submitted to the proof of the facts), is itself a factor that may influence some aspect of social evolution.

5th. The idealisation of capitalism” and of socialism”’, ‘as a clash of opposites

If this statement refers to the text of my article, or a more or less direct deduction from it, it does not seem to correspond to my thoughts on both idealizations, not so much because I am not inclined to point out dialectical associations – I openly consider the Hegelian-Marxian dialectic a form of idealism, which I disagree with –, but because in this case I perceive there to be more a conjunction and accordance between both idealizations than a clash or contradiction between them. The idealization of capitalism, the enthusiasm for the development of productive forces under capitalism, supports – does not hit but endorse – in Marxist thought, the idealization of socialism as a stage that boosts still more the development of productive power, solves the private-social contradiction and eliminates capitalist anarchy in production; all that thanks to the capitalist stage, precedent to socialism.