The Basic Principles of Marxism

Mar­xism is a way of thin­king cri­ti­cally, but it is not a “sys­tem”: “I have never esta­bli­shed a ‘socia­list sys­tem’”, Karl Marx wrote in his “Notes on Adolph Wagner’s Lehr­buch der poli­ti­schen Ökono­mie” (1880). Mar­xism is ana­ly­sis of the deve­lop­ment of the world as it is, a method that must forge an inti­mate connec­tion bet­ween prac­tice and theory.

Here are the basic prin­ciples of Marxism:

Oppo­si­tion to an eco­no­mic sys­tem based on inequa­lity and on the alie­na­tion and exploi­ta­tion of the majo­rity (by means of the sys­tem of wage labor), a sys­tem whose pur­pose is to obtain pro­fits for some people rather than satis­fying the needs of all. This des­cribes capi­ta­lism, but one can obviously ima­gine other sys­tems that would present simi­lar essen­tial cha­rac­te­ris­tics, to which Mar­xists would be equally opposed.

For the trans­for­ma­tion of society, Mar­xism consi­ders that a revo­lu­tio­nary pro­cess that will lead to a society based on coope­ra­tion and the free dis­tri­bu­tion of goods and pro­vi­sion of ser­vices is necessary.

• “The eman­ci­pa­tion of the wor­kers must be the task of the wor­kers them­selves.” This is prin­ciple is inherent to real Mar­xism, which implies demo­cracy and self-emancipation; it also means that demo­cracy is the indis­pen­sable foun­da­tion for a new society (cal­led socia­lism or com­mu­nism). This society, libe­ra­ted from the diverse forms of domi­na­tion, will have to be freely construc­ted by its members.

Inter­na­tio­na­lism, which is simul­ta­neously the recog­ni­tion of the com­mon inter­ests of the wor­kers of the entire world and of the need to struggle on a world scale, and of the goal of abo­li­shing nations in the tran­si­tion to a human world community.

The know­ledge and ana­ly­sis of His­tory (the mate­ria­list concep­tion of history).

The recog­ni­tion of the exis­tence of social classes that divide men and women into dis­tinct seg­ments of the popu­la­tion; the recog­ni­tion of the pro­found inequa­li­ties and injus­tices that sepa­rate these classes; and the recog­ni­tion that as long as society is divi­ded into classes, there will be conflicts bet­ween these classes (the class struggle).

As a result, while they par­ti­ci­pate in the day-to-day class struggle of the wor­kers, Mar­xists work on behalf of a reor­ga­ni­za­tion of society that will put an end to this class division.

The free exer­cise of the cri­ti­cal spi­rit. “Doubt eve­ry­thing”, Marx said; for the goal is to per­ceive rea­lity as it is, in order to unders­tand it bet­ter and thus to trans­form it.

These prin­ciples, or some of them, could very well be embra­ced by other poli­ti­cal and social ten­den­cies: if this is the case, then so much the bet­ter! Mar­xism does not attempt to iso­late itself, quite the contrary: the goal is to contri­bute to the consti­tu­tion of a move­ment of all of society for the crea­tion of “an asso­cia­tion, in which the free deve­lop­ment of each is the condi­tion for the free deve­lop­ment of all” (Karl Marx, Com­mu­nist Manifesto).

Eastern Europe: The self-government of nationalists?

In the last weeks, in Poland, Croa­tia and Ukraine, natio­na­list move­ments have sei­zed poli­ti­cal events and com­me­mo­ra­tions to revive the flame of pas­sions with a disas­trous past.

In Poland, Novem­ber 11th 1918 cele­brates both the end of the war and the day of inde­pen­dence, after more than a cen­tury of Rus­sian rule under the czars. Natio­na­list groups and violent foot­ball sup­por­ters have used this day to march in War­saw for seve­ral years. The clashes with the oppo­nents of the radi­cal far-right, and with the police forces, rea­ched this year an unpre­ce­den­ted level. The natio­na­list demons­tra­tors tried to assault a squat occu­pied by young far-left acti­vists, and then the Rus­sian embassy. In both cases, they attemp­ted to set the buil­dings on fire but fai­led. The natio­na­list mob then spot­ted a rain­bow colou­red monu­ment sym­bo­li­sing peace, and des­troyed it.

In Croa­tia, in early Sep­tem­ber, in Vuko­var (and seve­ral other towns), groups of natio­na­lists, in front of came­ras, sma­shed plates recently pla­ced on the front of offi­cial buil­dings, which read the same infor­ma­tion in both Latin and Cyril­lic alpha­bets.  The Ser­bian mino­rity in the region had recently obtai­ned this token of bilin­gua­lism after years of dis­cri­mi­na­tion after the city was taken back in 1995. Natio­na­list Serbs had taken it over and emp­tied it of its Croa­tian popu­la­tion in 1991 after the col­lapse of Yugo­sla­via. Amongst the natio­na­list Croats, a lot bear the flag of the Inde­pendent State of Croa­tia (1941–1945) of Ante Pave­lic, allied of Nazi Ger­many which assas­si­na­ted hun­dreds of thou­sands of oppo­nents, Serbs and Jews.

In Ukraine, the oppo­si­tion to the Regions’ Party lead govern­ment is demons­tra­ting with deter­mi­na­tion against the choice of a move towards Rus­sia, and of post­po­ning a cus­toms agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union. Mas­sive demons­tra­tions are taking place in the capi­tal Kiev, which gather seve­ral poli­ti­cal ten­den­cies. Amongst the flags, very visible till Decem­ber 5th, are those of the Ukrai­nian Insurgent Army (UPA), foun­ded by natio­na­lists under the Nazis’ occu­pa­tion, which had a chao­tic alliance rela­tion­ship with them. The UPA, though it fought the Nazi Ger­man troops, also took part at times in mili­tary action with the same troops, against Soviet troops, and Rus­sian, Polish and Jewish civi­lians. Even after 1945, this orga­ni­sa­tion car­ried on atta­cking Rus­sian and Polish forces, pro­vo­king the pro-Soviet Polish State into eth­ni­cally clean­sing parts of land to “cut it from its base” (Ope­ra­tion Vis­tula, 1947).

Sadly, we could give many more examples of this kind, about recent events. In all coun­tries of Europe, natio­na­list groups are fee­ling like they have the wind in their sails. This trend may vary depen­ding on the situa­tion, but the com­mon fea­ture of all these move­ments in Eas­tern Europe is their connec­tion with orga­ni­sa­tions or States, some­times defunct, which base was concei­ved as “natio­nal”, in the sense of “eth­ni­cal”. The rea­lity of Eas­tern Europe is of a true mosaic of lan­guages, cultures and tra­di­tions, and has been for a long time. Any idea of an “eth­nic based nation-State” in such an envi­ron­ment shows the his­to­ri­cal rea­lity of such a claim: depor­ta­tions, mas­sacres, and dis­cri­mi­na­tions which main­tain old hatreds, until the power rela­tions change, and bring new reta­lia­tions. And so on.

If chan­ging the fron­tiers drawn by vic­to­rious powers over Ger­many in 1945 isn’t really on the agenda, it must be noted, as it’s been the case for cen­tu­ries, that the same conti­nen­tal powers keep on playing with these natio­na­lisms as with pawns on a chess­board. The Ukrai­nian case is emble­ma­tic, and is defi­ni­tely not over: a huge coun­try, with a rela­ti­vely good amount of natu­ral resources, hap­pens to be the cros­sing part of the EU and Rus­sian influence spheres. The co-presence of the Ger­man Foreign Minis­ter Guido Wes­ter­welle and UPA flags on the “Inde­pen­dence Square” on one hand, and the decla­ra­tions of Vla­di­mir Putin mer­ging Rus­sian and Ukrai­nian sove­rei­gn­ties toge­ther in the same sen­tences on the other hand, should alert us.

The popu­la­tions of Eas­tern Europe have nothing to gain from the return of natio­na­lisms which rava­ged this part of the World seve­ral times. Either, they don’t have much to expect from the powers which want to obtain their adhe­sion to fake alliances, to utterly unba­lan­ced agree­ments, that would only bene­fit to the ones who already pos­sess and control eve­ry­thing, on each side. Wor­kers in Croa­tia and Poland can tes­tify that belon­ging to the Euro­pean Union has chan­ged prac­ti­cally nothing to their mate­rial situa­tion in the last years, but the fact that social inequa­li­ties have dee­pe­ned. Howe­ver, no “natio­nal” solu­tion is worth consi­de­ring, nei­ther there nor here in France. The stakes of today clearly are inter­na­tio­nal, nobody can make it “on his own”, we are all inter­de­pendent. Even bet­ter, those who take advan­tage of the dif­fe­rences in deve­lop­ment bet­ween the dif­ferent parts of the conti­nent have a lot more to gain from the natio­na­list divi­sions which hide the par­ti­cu­larly bru­tal class rela­tion­ships within these socie­ties, where under­paid wor­kers make the for­tunes of bureau­crats tur­ned plain capitalists.

The ques­tion is not about the “inde­pen­dence” of Ukraine, or of the other coun­tries, but about how the eco­no­mic agree­ments which will affect the real life of the popu­la­tions of the conti­nent are deci­ded upon. As long as the masses will let them­selves be taken in natio­nal and indi­vi­dual adven­tures, which actually only are games of alliances bet­ween the Ger­man (and Aus­trian) or Rus­sian bour­geoi­sie on one side, and this or that frac­tion of the local nou­veaux riches on the other side, their situa­tion will only worsen.

In the Eas­tern Euro­pean coun­tries like anyw­here else, the masses must envi­sage their power as the base for new, demo­cra­tic, cross-border and equal solu­tions. Nei­ther the Euro­pean Union of Angela Mer­kel and Fran­çois Hol­lande, etc., nor the post-Stalinism of Vla­di­mir Putin, nor “natio­nal” so-called “inde­pendent” enti­ties, but a true solidarity-based fede­ra­tion, not just of Europe but of all man­kind, this is the viable and desi­rable pro­ject. Today, wor­king for this pro­ject means star­ting with denoun­cing in front of all the wor­kers of Europe what is at stake in Ukraine and elsew­here, figh­ting against natio­na­lisms and against the dif­ferent ruling cliques which try to get a big­ger slice of the cake, and buil­ding through the struggle, even the most appa­rently local, a true Euro­pean and inter­na­tio­na­list social movement.

This article is the trans­la­tion of Europe orien­tale : le droit des natio­na­listes à dis­po­ser des peuples ?


Our aim is to contri­bute to infor­ma­tion and ana­ly­sis on social struggles and revo­lu­tio­nary move­ments world­wide. We refer to ‘mar­xism’, spe­ci­fi­cally ‘luxem­bur­gism’, cer­tainly not as dog­mas (which they actually are not), but as tools for the free exer­cise of cri­ti­cal jud­ge­ment, for the ana­ly­sis of society, and for the com­pre­hen­sion of its neces­sary trans­for­ma­tion by the immense majo­rity. We fight capi­ta­lism and all forms of oppres­sion, whe­ther social, poli­ti­cal, eco­no­mic, or based on gen­der. We stand for ‘the eman­ci­pa­tion of the wor­king classes [to] be conque­red by the wor­king classes them­selves’, for a demo­cra­tic, free, equal and soli­dary society: a socia­list society, in the real sense of the term.

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