Four main components of Marxism

By Raju J Das 

November 20, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — In a recent interview given to Jacobin, David Harvey (2019) says this about Marxism: “I still don’t know what it means”.It is difficult to exactly know how to understand this cryptic statement from one of the world’s most well-known Marxists. But this is not an unusual view. Many “Marxists” are “shy” to define their Marxism. It is also interesting that while there are numerous academic journals (e.g. Science & SocietyHistorical Materialism) that claim to be Marxist, they do not explicitly define their Marxism. When they say they are open to all varieties — forms — of Marxism, the question is: forms or varieties of what? There has to be content for it to have many forms. And to the extent that it is possible to know what someone or some entity (e.g. journal or group) means by Marxism, this Marxism often has little to do with the Marxism that was founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century, and continued by Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky and their followers in the 20th century.

In the light of this, I wish to present, in this short article, the main components of what I see as Marxism, which is the classical Marxism of the combined 19th and 20th centuries. (This article is a heavily condensed version of Das 2020a).

Some central tenets of Classical or MELLT Marxism

Let me begin with some general features of what I consider to be genuine Marxism — classical Marxism of the combined 19th and 20th centuries (henceforward Marxism). Classical Marxism, for me, cannot be equated to the work of Marx and Engels only. It is rather rooted in the work of MELLTMarx, Engels, as well as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky, and in the work of scholars and scholar-activists who take them seriously.[1] Marxism covers four general areas: philosophy (dialectics and materialism); social theory (or historical materialism, which produces general statements about all forms of society and all forms of class society and about major changes in history and culture from a materialist standpoint)[2]; political economy; and theory/practice of communism (see Lenin, 1913).[3]

In terms of its main tenets, the Marxist tradition is defined by the fact that it:

    1. possesses an unflinching commitment to dialectics and materialism;
    2. treats class as the most important social relation, and as the most important cleavage; 
    3. takes capitalism, as a form of class society, as the most important cause of social-ecological problems of humankind; 
    4. says that capitalism and its state, whose fundamental job is to protect capitalism, cannot meet the material and cultural needs of the people, so they must be replaced by socialism in the only way possible — i.e. the revolutionary way; 
    5. emphasizes two major contradictions, one between the development of productive forces and the capitalist social relations of production and exchange, and another between the national-scale framework of the capitalist state and the global-scale character of the capitalist economy, the contradictions that fundamentally make it impossible for the humanity to meet their social-ecological needs and to live in peace; and 
    6. sees the working class as the most consistent fighter for general democratic rights and specific democratic rights of the specially oppressed and for socialism (See Das, 2017a, chapters 1; 5-8; Das, 2014, chapter 2).

As already indicated in these points made above, society has four inter-connected substantive components: the economic, the political, the cultural, and the environmental-corporeal. Correspondingly, these four components of society constitute the raw material for the four substantive components of Marxism, which is the scientific study of society and a scientific method of changing it. Because the economic and other processes exhibit historical and geographical variation, Marxism takes a historical and geographical approach to the study of all these aspects of society.

The ‘economic’ component of Marxism

The core of Marxism is “the economic”, which refers to the combination of development of productive forces (labour productivity, technology, material conditions for production, economic development, etc.) and social relations of production and exchange.[4] It refers to the ways in which, and the social relations under which, people earn their living and produce and exchange the things they need. Marxism studies the economic in pre-class and class societies and draws general lessons concerning the economic organization of society. 

In its study of modern society, Marxism puts the emphasis on the capitalist economic system, which is constituted by a) commodity production, which operates in relation to, and alongside, b) exchange and financialization, c) class differentiation (tendency towards proletarianization and pauperization) among commodity producers (and other groups which may have some control over their work conditions), and d) primitive accumulation (in its modern forms), and which, at its advanced and crisis-ridden stage, tends to develop into e) imperialism.[5] 

In this economic system, production and production relations have ultimate primacy, driven by value relations as captured in Marx’s (1977) labour theory of value. Capitalism is a system where everything is a commodity or subject to commodification, where productive resources are controlled by a few for profit, and where more value is extracted from men, women and children than they receive in the form of wage-compensation. There is also a constant tendency towards an increasing level of accumulation (the rise in the sum of constant and variable capital being invested in production), technical change, and production of the reserve army. Capitalism is normally prone to economic crisis with falling average profitability,[6] while capitalists — including monopolies — are constantly forced by the law of competition to pursue a normal rate of profit at the expense of workers (and small-scale producers) (and at the cost of harmonious relation with nature). When the rate of accumulation rises and labour market tightens, with the ratio of constant to variable capital being more or less constant, wages may increase and living conditions may improve, but as soon as such the favourable situation for workers adversely affects capitalists’ normal rate of profit, a rise in wages will be stopped, if necessary with the help of state policies. When the rate of accumulation rises and but the organic composition of capital rises causing the displacement of labour by capital, the resultant reserve army expands, which lowers wages, as Marx (1977) explains in his general theory of capitalist accumulation. Given all these inter-connected processes, there are unbreachable limits to the extent to which the state and people’s defensive struggles can bring significant long-term improvements in their conditions worldwide. As we will see, the state, democratic or not, cannot be of much help to the common people. 

As well, capitalism in its advanced form has an inherent tendency towards the development of monopolies and therefore towards imperialism (Lenin, 1916; Mandel, 1978; Callinicos, 2009). Imperialism — capitalist accumulation, including capitalist competition and capitalist exploitation, at the world-scale — has a horizontal (competition among the big businesses of advanced countries) aspect and a vertical aspect (exploitation of the masses in the less developed countries or LDCs). In terms of the first aspect, the political control over natural resources, labour, market and strategic location of less developed countries, which means acquiring all these without an equivalent in the market, becomes a strategy in the hands of the big businesses of advanced countries aided by their respective states, of remaining competitive at the world-scale. This leads to the tendency towards inter-imperialist economic and military rivalry, which can take the form of military conflict. In terms of the second aspect, and connected to the first, imperialism is the class relation between the mutually competing big businesses of advanced countries (e.g. multinational companies) supported by their militarily powerful states on the one hand, and workers and small-scale producers of less developed countries on the other, a relation that is mediated by capitalists and large-scale landowners and the capitalist state in these countries. Imperialism leads to the super-exploitation of the masses in the South and to war (and war-like conditions) and primarily benefits the big businesses and their hangers-on in the imperialist countries (Lenin, 1916). Anyone who denies the role of imperialism, including on the ground that capital just freely moves around as if national boundaries between more powerful and more developed states and less powerful and less developed states does not matter, is not a Marxist.

The ‘political’ component of Marxism 

The world cannot be explained only in terms of economic processes. Therefore, central to Marxism are political matters (including the state and class struggle). The nature of the state (the fact that common people lack access to state power) and that of class struggle (e.g. its reformist character) contribute to human suffering. In capitalism, the majority (workers) are not only separated — alienated — from productive resources, the workplace, the process of production, and value-product and surplus value. They are also fundamentally separated from state power, its coercive power, which is effectively the power of capital, whether the state is liberal-democratic or not.

The main job of the state is to protect class relations (including private property relations) by using the threat of violence or by actually exercising it. At a more concrete level, however, the protection of private property does not amount to much unless the state creates general conditions for profit-making, so it does that. Being a “latent workers’ state” able to meet their needs is not a necessary aspect of the capitalist state, even if it may be conjuncturally forced to grant concessions from time to time. In other words, it is mistaken to think that “the state is an organ for the reconciliation of classes” (Lenin, 1917a; italics added). The interests of the common people are fundamentally incompatible with those of capitalist class which the state must defend.

The state does not keep the masses in check only by the threat, or actual use, of coercion. It does make use of consent-making mechanisms, which Gramsci (1976) talked about. A cheap way of manufacturing consent is giving limited and reversible material concessions (as Lenin argued). Another method is the façade of capitalist democracy, i.e. the democratic form that the capitalist state tends to take, under normal conditions (i.e. when the class warfare is “not that intense”). Capitalist democracy produces consent to the system by creating illusions of political freedom. These illusions of democracy crumble and fascistic forces rise with on-going capitalist crisis.

Of course, bourgeois democracy is better than feudal unfreedom as it provides opportunities for class struggle. Marxism believes in demanding the extension of “bourgeois democracy in order to prepare the people for revolution for the purpose of overthrowing …the exploiters” (Lenin, 1918). However, it rejects the reformist view that “Political freedom, democracy and universal suffrage remove the ground for the class struggle” (Lenin, 1908). It recognizes that “at every step” capitalism erects “thousands of barriers to prevent the oppressed people from taking part in politics” (Lenin, 1918). For Marxism, “Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich — that is the democracy of capitalist society” (Lenin, 1917a). Marxism rejects the following reformist idea: “since the ‘will of the majority’ prevails in a democracy, one must neither regard the state as an organ of class rule, nor reject alliances with the progressive, social-reform bourgeoisie against the reactionaries” (Lenin, 1908). It thus rejects lesser evil politics. Given its central role in capitalist production (and exchange) processes, the working class is the leading anti-capitalist revolutionary agent. If it stops working neither the owner of the toy companies will make money nor will the retail stores or the banks get their profit which ultimately comes from the toy companies’ profit. The working class does not automatically become a political force though. It has to be organized independently of all bourgeois parties. It must have its own political party to educate it and guide it: Marx (1871) indeed says that “against this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes”.[7] This idea rules out the idea of the workers tailing behind bourgeois parties, including the Democratic Party of the US, to improve their conditions (and to fight for socialism). Of course, to be formed by class conscious elements of the working class committed to actively working for revolution, the working class party must be democratically organized and be immersed in and learn from the lives of the masses. There must be a dialectical relationship between masses and leaders (and indeed, between masses and the party, government, state, parliament, etc.), as Luxemburg and Trotsky emphasized. Otherwise, the party will substitute itself for the working class, and the leaders of the party will substitute themselves for the party. It has to be borne in mind that the party cannot be the source of all the knowledge about the world and how to change it.[8] 

Marxism rejects all those worn-out criticisms of Marx’s call for the expropriation of expropriators (a call with which he ended Capital volume 1) and for smashing the capitalist state on the part of the workers organized on the basis of councils and parties (an idea he wrote about following his critical examination of the Paris Commune). Marxism is inherently revolutionary. Revolution means the seizure of power by the majority class (proletarians). It means the transfer of state power from one class to another in a leap, a swift process. Revolution is necessary “for the production on a mass scale of” what is called “communist consciousness” and for “the alteration of…[people]…on a mass scale” (Marx, 1845). Revolution is necessary for “the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from existing social relations of production” (Marx, 1849). Revolution is necessary because the ruling class will not surrender its control over resources and over state power in any other way. The capitalist state through which the capitalist class exercises its power must be taken control of, and must be abolished (smashed)[9], to give way to a new state that is controlled by the workers. Class struggle of the workers against the property-owning classes necessarily must lead to the political hegemony of the proletariat (the dictatorship of the proletariat to replace the current dictatorship of the bourgeoisie), and which constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society. The political force of capital concentrated in its state must meet with the counter-force of the masses in a revolutionary process. “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force” (Marx, 1844).

Marxism recognizes that class struggle exists both in its spontaneous (trade union and reform-oriented) forms which reflect people’s immediate experience of the effects of capitalist relations and their experience of social oppression, as well as class struggle proper (which is aimed at the abolition of class relations), and that there is a need for trade unionist consciousness to develop into class consciousness proper. Revolution will never happen just because there is a capitalist crisis and just because people suffer. Indeed, as per Marxism, revolution requires certain objective and subjective conditions: the larger the mass of the proletariat, the greater the level of its concentration spatially (in cities) and sectorally (in large-scale enterprises), and of class consciousness, and the greater the level of organized action, the greater will be the propensity towards revolution. And, the propensity towards revolution will be reduced if there is greater prosperity. The latter is quite unlikely in the current situation. All indicators of workers and small-scale producers’ conditions suggest their growing impoverishment in both absolute and relative senses.

The revolutionary process must go on until all class relations are abolished, pointing to the importance of permanent revolution, an idea that generally does not appear in academic Marxist thinking.[10] Marxism accepts that nationalization of property is the initial necessary step following the revolution, but that it is not enough for a socialist society to come, and that socialism is a society of associated producers who democratically control the use of productive resources to meet their needs.

Marxism considers human agency seriously, especially in its class form. Class struggle is always immanent, sometime overt and sometimes covert, and sometimes at a very micro level and sometimes at a large-scale. After all, given the structural contradiction between social relations of production and productive forces, it is the human agency in its class form that ultimately determines the outcomes of the contradiction. The emancipation of the working class must be a project of its self-emancipation. Marxism critically reflects on the (local, national and global) histories of struggles and revolution and draws lessons from the achievements and errors made during people’s struggles, the lessons that can help the political movements of the people. 

Intellectually, Marxism explores the lives of common people in terms of the impacts of social oppression and government policies, within the overall framework of class exploitation. Politically, it therefore advocates for the masses to fight for: 

a) the general democratic rights (including the right to free speech and assembly and the right to dissent) and specific democratic rights (the rights of oppressed groups such as women and racialized and indigenous peoples)[11]; and 

b) economic-ecological improvements[12]; 

c) as a part of the fight to conquer state power, and use that power to begin to expropriate the capitalist and large-scale landowners and to abolish class relations and capitalism, in order to establish a society that is democratic in every sphere of life, that is ecologically sustainable and that is based on international solidarity of common people living in different parts of the world.

Marxism is not only against class relations and against capitalism but also against social oppression and imperialism. It asserts that the significant and durable reform of the conditions giving rise to humanity’s suffering is not possible within capitalism, especially when capitalism experiences the current crisis of profitability. In fact, significant society-wide reforms are generally the by-product of revolutionary struggles against capitalism posing an existential threat to it, and not struggles for reforms isolated from a revolutionary context.[13] As Marx (1845) says in German Ideology, “The proletarians ... will have to abolish the very condition of their existence” and to do this “they must overthrow the state”. That does not mean that the struggle for reforms is useless. But the struggle for reforms — including those on the basis of the demands that reflect people’s needs but will not be normally met by the capitalist system (i.e. “transitional demands” in the words of Trotsky[14]) — must be a part of, and connected to, the struggle for revolution and popular control over economy and polity. Marx and Lenin advise people against both indifferentism (the idea that, for example, it is not right to fight for a rise in wages because a rise in wages reproduces people as wage workers) and against adventurism. Marxism is also against sectarianism (see Trotsky, 1935; Das 2019) while it understands the need for polemical struggles with the purpose of clarifying theoretical and programmatic differences among revolutionary individuals and groups.

Thus, an important aspect of the political component of Marxism is the unity of theory and practice. Armed with dialectics, Marxism suggests that: to change the world, we have to understand the world, and we can better scientific understand the world from the perspective of changing the world. 

[The dialectical approach] includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state…[This approach] is in its essence critical and revolutionary (Marx, 1977:103). 

Marxism’s dialectical approach compels it to explore ideas both intellectually and pragmatically asking questions about their political implications. It must counter the existing tendency whereby, to quote Ollman (2003:12), a living legend in Marxist dialectics, “scholars can deny all responsibility for their wares while taking pride in knowing more and more about less and less” (p. 12). Most of the academic Marxist enterprise hides or evade its politics. Marxist professors do not say to students what their politics are, and especially where they stand on the question of capitalist private property or capitalist state.

While some Marxists from the academic world committed to dialectics and materialism and to revolutionary change, in spite of them being academics, might contribute to Marxism, most significant contributions come from the world of Marxist politics, however, and at times, where the academic and activist worlds might meet.

Ideas reflect interests, and ultimately, class interests. There are therefore ideas that support people’s struggle for socialism (Marxist ideas) and there are ideas that support existing class relations (bourgeois ideas or bourgeois-landlord ideas); “There is no middle course” in a class society (Lenin, 1901). Marxism cannot hide its politics (its connection to the interests of the majority, the exploited and the oppressed), any more than a scientist can hide their motive behind their research which is to unpack the truth (which might contribute to the humanity’s well-being). It is an imperative that the genuine Marxist tradition be invigorated and that it should grip the minds of a significant number of people, so that it can actually become that material force it potentially is.[15]

While connecting knowledge and practice, and thus avoiding the academicism of much Marxism (including that published in left journals), the classical tradition follows the normal scientific protocol.

While one’s politics does affect — reveals to others — the nature of one’s intellectual thinking, a Marxist must not accept a statement merely because it supports ideals of revolutionary socialism, unless the statement is backed up by reason and/or evidence, the two components of any scientific enterprise. Marxism is scientific revolutionary socialism, and not utopian socialism.

The cultural component of Marxism

Marxism gives due attention to cultural issues. It takes seriously the idea that how people think about themselves and the wider society influences their politics. So cultural processes matter.

Consciousness is a serious matter. While it is the case that there are advanced layers within the working class who possess class-political and democratic consciousness, it is also true that actually existing proletarians can be traitors, chauvinistic, narrow-minded, conservative, sheep-like and patriarchal (as Marx himself had noted). Sections of the working class can be and are racist and Islamophobic and support fascistic forces, just as they are reformists and electoralists. This happens in part because in capitalism, common people have to compete for dwindling jobs and increasingly limited government welfare, etc., and in the process they blame certain oppressed groups for their own conditions. As well, capitalism’s political-cultural apparatuses (e.g. parties, media) spread hatred among common people in order to divide their united opposition to capital. 

Marxism takes seriously the special oppression of women (including the issues surrounding privatized social reproduction) within capitalism (see Gimenez, 2018; Engels, 1884). It takes oppression of racialized and other minorities seriously, always connecting such oppression to class exploitation and without compromising with any idea or practice that simply is focussed on recognition-ism and concession to privileged layers of women and other minorities (Das, 2020b). Indeed, Lenin's “Tribune of the people” is a fundamental Marxist principle in relation to oppression. In the light of ongoing racial oppression and police violence against oppressed groups such as Blacks in the US and dalits (ex-untouchables) and Muslims in India, it is useful to recall Lenin’s (1901) famous lines:

[The Marxist-socialist is] the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects…[and] who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation(italics added).

Marx’s idea is that that all struggles (including) within the state, are ultimately “the struggles of the different classes”, and yet there are struggles that are patently not class struggles, at least not immediately. An important Marxist task is to explore the relations that class struggle and class relations have to the struggles that are based in non-class relations such as ethnicity, race and caste. The non-class struggles may have a degree of autonomy within limits vis a vis class struggles or may express class struggles in a mediated and distorted manner. 

Social oppression and struggles against it are very important. Yet, in Marxism, the basic division of society is the class division, and not the one between Blacks and whites or women and men or lower and upper castes, and so on (Das, 2020b). 

Geo-ecological component of Marxism

Marxism theoretically explores the nature of social relations of production and exchange, the mechanisms which exist by virtue of these relations and which in turn produce outcomes (e.g. poverty), and these outcomes, that are experienced by people, differently in different times and places depending on conjunctural conditions. Marxist theoretical research is focussed on relations and mechanisms and Marxist empirical research building on theoretical work explores the time- and place-specificity of the outcomes and experiences of different classes and class-fractions. Therefore, geographical and historical imagination is central to the Marxist project. 

Unevenness is the universal law of life. “From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which…we may call the law of combined development — by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of the separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms” (Trotsky 2008). The geographical dimension of society is especially important in the form of unevenness in development (Harvey, 2006/1982; Smith, 2008/1984) and uneven and combined development (Trotsky, 2008; Davidson, 2006), existing at multiple scales, including the global. A less developed country and a more developed country are not only unequally developed; inside the less developed country, there are inherited archaic social relations as well as capitalist relations in their lower form and higher form, including elements of the advanced capitalist economy (Marx, 1977; Das, 2017a, chapter 8; Das, 2020c, chapter 3).[16]

Unevenness is a product of the universal mechanisms interacting with mechanisms that are specific to countries and regions and of the ways in which different countries and regions are differently connected to other parts of the world and to the world-economy. Capitalism is a-spatial in some sense (in that capitalist mechanisms operate in the same way everywhere), but in its more concrete aspects, capitalist accumulation processes and class struggles happen within particular world regions (e.g. trade blocs) and countries. They also happen within geographical contexts — spatial units — within countries such as cities and regions. An important spatial unit is city-region, which is defined as a big city and its surrounding rural regions, and which is based on the dialectics of “urbanization of capital” as well as “ruralisation of capital”. This dialectic is based in what Lenin calls “the transplantation of large-scale capitalist industry to the rural districts” (Lenin, 1899a). The city-region is an important scale and space not only for understanding capitalism’s impact on rural areas but also for a political alliance between urban workers and non-exploiting small-scale producers in rural areas, especially in the less developed world but not just there.

Given the global law of value and the impact of artillery of cheaper products, no country or continent is independent of world capitalism. Given the global law of value, all countries depend on each other through the movement of money, commodities and labour, and countries international competitiveness depends enormously on their productivity of labour. Therefore, the project of “socialism in one country” is very un-Marxist, and utopian and indeed reactionary. Just as the capitalist economies of various sub-national regions, nations and world-regions are interconnected, so are their anti-capitalist political struggles.[17] 

Marxism considers social processes and struggles, from the vantage point of world economy “not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labour and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets” (Trotsky, 1931b), and from the vantage-point of what happens inside advanced and less developed regions of the world that are bound together by the global law of value. So, it consistently remains mindful of the global character of capitalism, including its imperialist dimension,[18] and of the working class as a global class. Avoiding western-centrism and Third Worldism, Marxism is truly internationalist, in terms of its intellectual approach and its politics. It is also an internationalist project in that it is based on the work of Marxists different parts of the world and from different social-cultural backgrounds. 

The environmental and the corporal (bodily) — the body is a part of nature — constitute the fourth substantive part of society, which has been subjected to capitalist abuse and which therefore is an important component of Marxism. Marxism gives serious attention to the analysis of the ecological problems (there is a common process — a dual metabolic rift — in which capital takes more out of labour and nature than it returns to them), as well as to the issues surrounding the human body-mind complex (disease, malnutrition, etc.). Indeed, the economic mechanisms of capitalism reveal its deeply violent character. This means that Marxism must learn from sciences (STEM) (Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) whose insights Marxists take seriously in its study of the social dimensions of the environment/nature and the body. Marxism is also concerned with the social context in which sciences operate and with society in its scientific context (e.g. does a state policy or people’s belief in certain things make sense from the scientific ground)? 

There are at least two common grounds between STEM and Marxism, which has a materialist world-view. Marxism is a scientific enterprise as it recognizes that there are objective conditions and relations that exist more or less independently of the human mind at a point in time and that science must explore the mechanisms which exist by virtue of social relations, which may not be immediately visible or perceivable. Scientific approach is necessary because what appears to be true is often not true, so one has to go beneath the surface appearances. This is how Marxism shares a common ground with natural sciences, even if there are crucial differences (atoms cannot rebel or think but humans do). 

There is another common ground. The scientific approach of STEM is against obscurantism. According to Lenin, revolutionary change cannot be brought about by revolutionaries alone, and revolution requires Marxists’ collaboration with non-Marxist scientists who wish to fight obscurantism and superstition (Lenin, 1922). This is especially the case in this age of unreason that characterizes global capitalism on its death-bed and that currently prevalent fascistic tendencies are thriving on. So Marxism is enriched by the intellectual contributions of progressive (democratic-minded) scientists, including those who are not communists. This is also important given the need to understand recurrent pandemics, ecological problems, mental and physical illnesses, nature of new technologies such as AI and their current deployment to curtail democratic rights. 


In the classical Marxist tradition: capitalism and its state are the fundamental objectively-existing cause of people’s suffering but they cannot be reformed and be made to work to eliminate that suffering. It follows that the working class needs to acquire democratic control over the productive capacity of society and over the product of their own labour, and establish a transitional state of their own, by overthrowing the capitalist system in an un-interrupted process, in order to construct a new society. Marxism is therefore critical of not only conservatism and liberalism but also identity politics informed as it is, at least, partly by (post-structuralist) philosophical idealism, as well as social democracy, Stalinism[19], Third Worldism or third world nationalism. 

If capitalism has survived as long as it has, it is not necessarily because capitalism continues to be strong and dynamic and is able to move around its crisis from one place to another and from one time period to another (by finding outlets for so-called “over-accumulated capital”). Nor it is because it is meeting the needs of the people and has their consent, nor necessarily because the state has the inherent ability to sustain a dying capitalism by economically managing it. If tomorrow, the police and army cease to exist, or if significant number of men and women from working class and poor and oppressed background in these apparatuses begin to solidarize with the common people (which Marxism invites them to do), capitalism will be very close to its death, in spite of the best efforts of the consent-producers in academia, media and think tanks. The fundamental reason why capitalism is way past its shelf-life is that the masses have not been able to overthrow it, and this has happened because of the extremely ruthless character of the state combined with the crisis of revolutionary leadership. This crisis must be resolved if the currently-prevalent new mood among many layers of the population (and especially, the youth) in favour of a society beyond the rule of capital and profit is to be materialized. And it is important therefore that the commitment to the genuine Marxist tradition — the classical tradition of the combined 19th and 20th centuries — be renewed and that slowly its central ideas grip the mind of the masses. It is important that Marxists conduct critical analysis of the fundamental ideas and assess their intellectual and practical relevance for our and our children’s world.

Reinvigorating classical Marxism will require various mechanisms. These include launching reading groups and new Marxist outlets (online and/or offline). These also include discussions at the picket lines, in the Marxist caucuses of a trade union as a united front of workers, and within workplace committees, and in the cities and the villages where people fight police brutality against racialized people and striking workers and peasants resisting dispossession. It requires the establishment of new types of scholarly (but not necessarily academic) Marxist journals that fill the gap in existing journals which are not sufficiently or explicitly committed to the classical Marxist tradition which is inherently revolutionary. To the extent that scientific and critical ideas matter, the future of humankind depends on the principled, non-sectarian, non-dogmatic re-engagement with classical Marxism.

Raju J Das is a Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada. Email:


[1] The mention of these names does not imply any call for hero worship. Hero worship would be un-Marxist. "We do not regard Marx’s theory as something completed and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life" (Lenin, 1899b).

[2] On philosophy and historical materialism, Marx, Engels and Lenin wrote extensively (for a discussion of their ideas, see Das, 2017a: chapter 5; see also: Trotsky, 1995; Ollman, 2003, North, 2007 and Rees, 1998). 

[3] Trotsky (1931a) says that “Marxism is above all a method of analysis – not analysis of texts, but analysis of social relations.” Strictly speaking, Trotsky is not correct, any more than Lukacs (1972) is when he expresses a similar view, if method means philosophy. Marxism includes all four aspects mentioned here. Marxism includes analysis of both texts and actual social relations.

[4] The focus should be on the approach that Marx developed in Capital 1 and Marx’s crisis theory in Capital 3, and that Lenin developed in his Development of capitalism in Russia and Imperialism, and some of Luxemburg’s economic ideas in her Accumulation of Capital.

[5] Lenin stresses, among other things, the class differentiation and imperialism aspects of capitalism, and Luxemburg on capitalism’s tendency to dispossess non-capitalist producers. Marx emphasizes the exploitative character of capitalist production (primary site of exploitation) and Marx and Trotsky talk about the sphere of exchange, financial and rental markets as sites of secondary exploitation.

[6] This crisis appears as the over-production or over-accumulation but is ultimately rooted in the rate of profit to fall in the productive sectors of the capitalist world-economy, with the organic composition of capital rising at faster than the rate of exploitation (See Grossman, 1929; Roberts and Carchedi, 2018; Smith, 2018). 

[7] Trotsky (1924) says: “Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer”.

The idea about the centrality of a workers’ party is not much different from the fact that if one has cancer, one must pay heed to their oncologist more than to all the people who may offer all kinds of amateurish advice, some of which may not be entirely useless.

[8] It is interesting that in Lenin’s (1917a) best work on Marxist politics, he presents this idea that has been relatively-neglected in Marxist discussions: “By educating the workers’ party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming power and leading the whole people to socialism…” (italics and parenthesis added). This, of course, does not diminish the educating role of the party at all.

[9] It is a fundamental mistake to think that in Marxism, the capitalist state is supposed to wither away. No, it is the post-capitalist state (the transitional socialist state) that is to wither away (Lenin, 1917a). 

[10] Marx says “it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power …” (Marx and Engels, 1850)

“Revolutionary socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution …” (Marx 1849) (see also Trotsky, 1931b; Lenin, 1917b). 

Trotsky (1931b) says: “the dictatorship of the proletariat would become the instrument for solving the tasks of the historically-belated bourgeois revolution [including agrarian revolution]. But the matter could not rest there. Having reached power the proletariat would be compelled to encroach even more deeply upon the relationships of private property in general, that is to take the road of socialist measures”. 

[11] These democratic rights are increasingly under attack as fascistic tendencies grow in response to capitalist crisis, and therefore the masses must fight these tendencies as a part of their fight for a socialist society.

[12] Workers’ demand should include not only the demand for improvements in the conditions of work and wages but also for a safe environment (Das, 2018a). 

[13] “We have always said that reforms are a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle. We said — and proved it by deeds — that bourgeois-democratic reforms are a by-product of the proletarian, i.e., of the socialist revolution” (Lenin, 1921). See also Luxemburg on the link between reform and revolution. 

[14] “It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demand and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands…The old ‘minimal program’ is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution” (Trotsky, 1938). 

Luxemburg’s idea concerning the demand for a rise in wages could be a transitional demand: “the struggle against the fall in relative wages…implies a struggle against the commodity-character of labour-power, i.e. against capitalist production as a whole” (quoted in Bellofiore, 2009, p. 13). 

[15] Marx (1844 says) “theory …becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it grasps ‘the root of the matter’, the root of the reality”.

[16] Marx (1977) calls the lower and higher forms of capitalism formal subsumption and real subsumption of labour, respectively. For a recent critical discussion on these concepts and their relevance, see Das, 2017a, chapter 8 and Das, 2020c, chapter 3.

[17] From an internationalist perspective, the degeneration of the October Revolution is fundamentally because of international factors (including the international law of value and higher level of productivity in advanced countries, and the failure of revolution in other parts of the world and consequent encirclement of the transitional state) than because of what is believed to be: that the 1917 mode of revolution itself was deficient, so it was bound to fail.

[18] Its importance has not diminished because of the spatial-temporal dynamics of capitalism, as some (e.g. Harvey) wrongly think.

[19] Stalinism includes the idea of stage-ism: socialists in the South should fight for a democratic revolution first by removing feudalism and imperialist control as obstacles to capitalist development, preside over a capitalist economy and make it more developed and more democratic, and waits for an indefinite time period to consider launching a socialist revolution. Stalinism also include a number of other traits applied to the north and the south: a theory of socialism in one country, and a nationalistic attitude towards society and economy; reform-oriented pressure group political tactics, including trade unionist politics; alliance with left factions of the ‘national’ bourgeoisie, and bureaucratic organizations. ‘Hallmarks of Stalinism are authoritarianism, stageism and nationalism’ (Das, 2018b:58).


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