Marx : Theses on Feuerbach (1845)

Theses on Feuerbach

This version was taken from the Marx-Engels Internet Archive. It was written by Marx in the Spring of 1845 and later slightly edited by Engels. It was first published as an appendix to ‘Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy’ in 1888. The source of this version is Volume One of the Marx-Engels Selected Works (pp.13 – 15) which differs from the version of Engels’ edition published in the Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 5 (pp.6-8).

Source Publisher : Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, 1969.

Translated by W. Lough from the German.

Transcription/Markup by Zodiac/Brian Baggins.

Copyleft : Marx-Engels Internet Archive ( 1995, 1999, 2002.

Proofread by Andy Blunden, February 2005.

Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons ShareAlike License.


The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.

Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in The Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”, of “practical-critical”, activity.


The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.


The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.


Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis.

But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.


Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants contemplation; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.


Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.

Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled to abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual. Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as “genus”, as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.


Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that the “religious sentiment” is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs to a particular form of society.


All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism (NB CS “we cannot know in advance what form agency will take”) find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.


The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.


The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.


The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

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On the State Power of Capital : Part Two

On the State Power of Capital – Part Two

The state first arises with the emergence of class societies. The historical fact that it emerged independently in different parts of the globe merely suffices to denote its universal character as a social formation. State power is necessitated as a result of the emergence of class antagonisms and therefore stands as the product of these social antagonisms regulating society and imposing its rule in the interests of the ruling class or caste of the age. The present forms of the state across the globe articulate the interests of the capital relation.

The forms of the state power have changed as a result of alterations and transformations in the social relations within which its existence is rooted. If we conceptualise the state as necessary to maintain class relations in the interests of the governing, ruling classes of the succeeding ages of the development of private property, then we can grasp the supersedence of this power with the negation and transcendence of class society, that is, with the abolition of private property itself. Historically, one form of the state is negated and another posited with changes in class social relations. However, the state as a historical formation is rendered unnecessary with the transcendence of class relations in general. In the present epoch, with the transcendence of the relations of bourgeois society and their replacement by communist relations. The state, essentially, originates as a social mechanism for enforcing and perpetuating the extraction of surplus labour, for the appropriation of this surplus by the ruling caste or class and, accordingly, for the continuation of this rule and ‘habituation’ of society as a whole to this rule.

In the epoch of capital, the fundamental material presupposition of and for the existence of the state power is to maintain the process of the exploitation of wage labour. To maintain the ‘social metabolism’ as one which is essentially based on the forced extraction of surplus value, as the historic form of surplus labour under the capital regime. The orientation of the state power of capital is, accordingly, to maintain the relationship between capital and wage labour in the interests of capital itself. It is not chimerically ‘socially neutral’ but an active formation which defends and furthers the interests of the capital relation against the producer class.

The ruling capitalist class is the collective ‘personification of capital’. The state power of capital is, therefore, ‘their state power’, protects ‘their interests’, political and economic, as the collective owners of capital in its different productive, commodity and money forms. It protects their ownership and control of the reproduction of the whole of the social metabolism. In these relations, the particular interests of a ruling class are projected and presented as the universal interest of society as a whole. This, of course, especially with the bourgeois media.

With the onset and unfolding of capital’s structural crisis, the urgency of a more sustainable form of social governance asserts itself as a necessity. A form of social governance which is beyond the state form itself becomes necessary and this necessity is increasingly asserted socially as capital’s structural crisis continues to unfold and deepen. This necessity is confronted by the historic endurance of the state down the ages as an ‘eternal formation’ so that in all aspects – economic, political and especially ideological – its transcendence is viewed as impossible : ‘There has always been the state’ assert the ideologues of capital ‘so it must always be so’. Only driving necessity erodes and sweeps away this faux eternalisation of the existence of state power. Historically, one state form passes into another but transhistorically the emergence and ‘time’ of the state form per se is transitory. The broad course of the historical dialectic maps a return from the altering forms of state to human society without the need for the state.

The state power, in its varying forms, has broken down and been dissolved or altered into new forms by virtue of changes and transformations in the material-social conditions which fed its existence in a given form. When all the conditions for the dissolution of a particular form of the state power are assembled (which implies the negation of conditions which were necessary for its existence), that state power begins to vanish and be replaced by a higher form (class societies) or no form at all (communism). The ‘breaks’ or ‘qualitative leaps’ in the character of state power take place within the ‘continuities’ of determinations inherited from the previous forms. All state powers are, transhistorically, coercive, oppressive, defend the interests of ruling castes or classes, etc. But the state power of capital in America is very clearly fed and supported by social-material conditions which differ from those which did so for the Roman Imperium in the second century in the age of the Antonine emperors under radically different historical conditions.

The state power of capital will always, under all conceivable conditions, try to maintain the rule of capital within the social metabolism regardless of the intensity and severity of crisis conditions. But as the structural crisis of the capital order deepens and intensifies, the conditions necessary for the coherent operation of this state power become progressively and increasingly weakened and atrophied. This means that its capacity or power of imposing this rule of capital must be undermined. This historic function of the state power of capital, indeed the very existence of this state power under worsening conditions of capital’s structural crisis, must come into the most profound antithesis with the needs of millions. This state power must be swept away if a new, sustainable form of social governance (self-governance and direction) is to be established which points beyond the existence and operation of the state per se. The intensifying structural crisis of capital can only be resolved by means of the progressive elimination of the capital relation from the social metabolism. This, necessarily, points towards the simultaneous transcendence of class relations and the state. The ‘long, painful’ historical development of the state-form comes to an end. Human beings are released from the bondage of class societies and its state formations and into the freedom of a different age. The state, according to Engels, is then put ‘into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning-wheel and the bronze axe’ (Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Volume 26 Collected Works, p.272)

The structural crisis of capital predicted by Marx in Volume 3 of Capital and characterised by Istvan Meszaros in his life’s work now unfolds and deepens. This phase is a terminal phase for capital (capital’s ‘descending phase’ – Meszaros) where the contradictions of the capital relation sharpen and intensify globally and are no longer displaceable as in previous ‘cyclical crises’. This phase is, accordingly, not a contingent phase which can be displaced into a higher stage of development of the capital system by adopting previous economic and political measures such as Keynesianism or Fascist forms of rule.

The structural crisis of capital is simultaneously a crisis of the whole order based on the domination of capital in the social metabolism, including in politics and in the former methods of governance of capital in the ‘pre-structural’ age. Such a crisis, which implicates the very structure of the dominant social relation of a social formation, necessarily implies its resolution only beyond that formation and its dominating relationship of production and distribution. The alternative is the intensification of the ongoing destruction of nature and human beings which is, in truth, here and now, intrinsic to capital’s destructive reproduction. Beyond capital can mean the new socialist age or annihilation.

Capitalist society is based on the exploitation of wage labour in order to extract surplus value for the accumulation of capital and the distribution of a portion of the created surplus value to the owners of capital for their use and consumption. The ownership and control of capital by a ruling class means that both state power and media are effectively run and function as the media and state of this ruling capitalist class. They articulate and defend the class interests of the owners of capital who own and/or run the media and the state power. The system of political governance is rooted in these property relations and works to maintain them against all opposition. Accordingly, it is a fundamental role of the state power of capital to operate to maintain and perpetuate the social antagonism between capital and wage labour. In so doing, it simultaneously operates to perpetuate itself by maintaining and ‘cultivating’ the social ground of its own existence. The pre-eminent operative principle of this state power must, therefore, be to preserve the capital order in order to hold the ground of its own existence as the guardian of this order. It does not matter how fierce the opposition from its antagonist. It can, and will, only ‘give up the ghost’ when it is defeated and dissolved as a state power of capital. The enemy is the proletariat as the only possible historic antagonist of the capital system regardless of the different forms of social and political control from dictatorship to ‘democracy’.

In the age of globalising capital, the major state powers of capital must secure the social ground on which the capital relation operates. This means global domination, predatory wars and not simply rule in their particular ‘jurisdictions’. The predations and wars of these states across the globe merely reveal the ‘true face’ of their inherent nature as powers of capital, of an inherently exploitative and oppressive system. They reveal what they are capable of within their own ‘immediate jurisdictions’. If the state power of capital in America can sweep across and engage in mass destruction, murder and mayhem around the globe then it is quite easily and readily capable of subjecting the American people to the same methods of rule and oppression. Global domination by the leading state powers of capital is inconceivable without ‘stability’ in the ‘home base’ or ‘homeland’. If necessary, the same methods must be adopted and applied to maintain domination both ‘externally’ and ‘internally’. This is why under conditions of interstate war, the securing of the ‘home front’ is the most important presupposition for any future victory ‘abroad’. Without this security ‘behind the lines’, the whole capital system itself potentially comes under threat.

Bourgeois social relations cannot be transcended, completely left behind by humanity, without the ‘withering away’ of the state, including those forms necessarily and temporarily established as transitory structures in the ‘post-capitalist’ phase of development. This is not merely a question of ‘overthrowing the capitalist state’. The state itself, as a transhistorical formation, must be completely transcended in order for the destructive, structural crisis of the capital order – the final form of class society – to be fully resolved and the capital order consigned to the annals of history. To establish forms of governance in the social metabolism which move beyond the alienated forms intrinsic to the rule of previous state formations in human history. This is the fundamental task facing humanity in its struggle to negate state power as such. The state power of capital and the system which it articulates and represents stand or fall together.

The intensifying structural crisis of capital brings with it an increasing destruction of the natural conditions for human life on the planet and therefore for human life itself. Opposition to this on a growing scale must mean the deployment of the state for repression, including military measures against millions who are struggling, in opposition to capital, to establish a system of social reproduction which is viable and sustainable both socio-economically and ecologically.

Such a ‘viable and sustainable order’ can only be based on the ‘associated producers’ governing themselves based on the common ownership of the Earth, its resources and the social deployment and development of these resources in a viably reproductive and ecologically sustainable way. Such an order, in its unfolding evolution as a classless order, necessarily lies beyond the epoch of the existence of state power.


Shaun May

July 2019


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Complimentary Copies of My Book

Complimentary Copies of My Book

Dear Comrades

I have 14 ‘hard’ (printed) copies of the second edition of my book, Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency to distribute to people.

If you would like a copy, please email me at  mnwps@hotmail com

Unfortunately, I cannot pay for the package & postage. Book will be sent by first class recorded delivery which is approximately, in the UK, £10.00 for the weight of the book. A cheque for this amount will have to be sent to me. If you are requesting a copy of the book from outside the UK, the cost of postage will obviously be higher. If you are outside the UK, for example, it may be cheaper to simply order the book at your local bookstore or ask your local public library to add a copy to its collection.

Free electronic copies of the first edition of my book are available on the internet with links on this site.

The book is on sale in the UK for approximately £25.00 excluding package & postage. You, as a WordPress reader, will be charged £10.00 for the book which includes package and postage. Once the cheque has cleared, the book will be sent by first class recorded delivery to the nominated address within the UK.

Please let me know by email that you have received the book. If you do intend to buy the second edition of the book, please do not send cash by post. Cash sent through the post has a tendency to ‘get lost in the post’.

With Best Fraternal Wishes

Shaun May


East Yorkshire

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New Edition of ‘Capital-in-Crisis’

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency

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On the State Power of Capital

On the State Power of Capital

The tribal communities of prehistory lived without any alien state power directing their lives. The social cohesion, solidarity and interests of the community as a whole were maintained by its communal activity and control which produced its material needs and served in its struggle to survive the impact of its natural conditions of life or in its battles with other tribes or peoples e.g. during disputes, war, etc. These forms of social control existed in order to facilitate the survival and propagation of a community as a whole; to defend the material interests of the whole community against any natural or human encroachments that threatened its welfare.

The proposition that forms of social control predated class societies may seem to be without any social logic. For, after all, were not the earliest human societies without private ownership in land, and based on an egalitarian association and a common access to the fruits of nature and human labour? These early societies – without class structure and class relations – have often been conceptualised as being without forms of social control. However, the primeval character of the humanity-nature relationship at this early stage of development necessitated social consensus amongst people. This ‘consensus’ had to be arrived at and agreed by the group as a whole in order for it to survive and manage its affairs. Intrinsic to this consensus were forms of social control which furthered the social cohesion of communities in their daily struggle to survive. Consensus was arrived at by means of the popular democracy of these communities. It is only later, in class societies, that social control becomes institutionalised in the form of the state which embodies and maintains the interests of a ruling class in opposition to those of the subjugated class or classes.

The rise of private property – reflected in the rise of class societies – transforms the nature of social control from actually representing the general popular interest in tribal society to only appearing to do so in class societies. The actuality of class rule in the latter societies means that the forms of social control must, inevitably and ultimately, represent and serve the interests of the ruling class. The need for state power and control over society only arises at that point in human history where the communes of prehistory begin to socially dichotomise, to fragment and split up, into opposed classes. This commences as a determinate historical process when the productivity of labour arrives at that point where a surplus product over and above the immediate needs of the community has been produced.

This production of a surplus is necessarily accompanied by the division of labour into manual and mental forms and becomes manifest in the rise of an elected, and then later hereditary, priesthood out of the egalitarian relations of the commune. The origination of hereditary priesthoods is the first historical symptom that the ancient communal relations have started to break up and the transition to the new forms of class society with their state structures has commenced. These state structures arise, are established and develop historically on the basis of definite social relations (slave, feudal, bourgeois, etc) and are reproduced and perpetuated as the highest political embodiment of the interests of the ruling class of the epoch.

In the epoch of capital, the state power not only defends and justifies the continuing hegemony of the ruling capitalist class. In so doing, it performs a trick of history, by asserting itself as the representative of ‘society’ in general. In defending the interests of its class, it defends and legitimises its own existence as the ‘general social interest’. This phenomenological presentation serves to conceal the class character of the state power itself. All state power is the direct political articulation of the interests of the ruling class of the day. The state power is the political power of the ruling class. The important role and power of ideology is intrinsic to this process of class domination. And, in this respect, the state power of capital itself ideologically presents itself as the highest representation of the abstract ‘general social interest’ which serves to disguise the true articulation of class interest.

Accordingly, the state power of capital, whilst appearing to represent the ‘general interest’, in essence really functions to guard the particular interests of the class of the owners of big capital. This state form of class rule is presented as a social ‘consensus’ which dresses itself in the ‘rule of law’. This, in turn, serves to mask the reality of class rule in a veil of legalistic and ideological forms. These ideological aspects are of central importance which facilitate the capitalist class to legitimise its reign over society. Today, this is especially the case through its mass media which is owned and controlled by this ruling capitalist class and its servants in the state power. The reality of class rule is presented as a social consensus.

Through its ownership and control of the means of production and the state power, the capitalist class controls the social process of the production and realisation of the material means of life. Its mass media plays an indispensable role in this whole process of social control. This ownership and control of the whole social metabolism by capital becomes, with social development, institutionalised in the form of the state. This state of affairs becomes backed up by systems and forms of ideology, serving to maintain the grip of the ruling class on the whole social metabolic process.

An apparent consensus attempts to hide the real class nature of social relations thus enabling the ruling class to legitimise its reign. Ideology arises and is developed historically and specifically for this purpose. The emergence and development of an ideology corresponds to and expresses the material appropriation of the means of production by a given class i.e. the struggle of a caste or class for social power and hegemony based on its ownership and/or control of the means of production. The evolution of class society through its different phases of development modifies the forms of social control and their ideological expression so that they correspond to and represent the interests of a class in the ascendant or in power.

All societies with class or caste hierarchies throughout human history have always created state structures in one form or another to maintain the social interests of the ruling class or caste. The ruling class or caste of the day, and its state power, have owned and/or controlled the means of life and, in so doing, have been able to determine the survival or extinction of individuals or whole peoples. This has always been supported by ideology. ‘The ruling ideas of the day are those of the ruling class’ (Marx)

In class societies, control is exerted and reinforced by the ruling class through its ideological dominance and state institutions which are its ideology and institutions. Thus, in the historical development of the class struggle, opposed ideological positions function as representations and social expressions of contending class interests. They become a means of maintaining or abolishing the rule of a given class, of fighting out the class struggle to a standstill or towards the abolition of the reign of the old ruling class and its replacement with the new. Contrarily, in the communal relations of pre-class societies, ideology served as a medium within and through which the social integrity and solidarity of the commune was maintained in opposition to the encroachments of other peoples (e.g. tribal land use, rights, etc) and in the commune’s struggle to survive against the hostile forces of nature. In class societies, ideology (including morality) serves an indispensable role and function in the class struggle.

The state power of capital exists to maintain the rule of capital in the reproduction of the whole social metabolism. Its own existence as a power is conditional on the maintenance of this form of social reproduction which, as Istvan Meszaros writes, is becoming increasingly more destructive of nature and humanity as its endogenous ‘structural crisis’ unfolds and intensifies. The state power of capital functions politically and militarily to ‘maintain order’. This is the primary, ‘default’ role of the police and armed forces : for ‘internal control and repression’ and not for ‘external and foreign wars’ which is the usual myth and deceit peddled by the ideologues of capital and its media mouthpieces and chatterboxes. The state power of capital does not simply ‘administer’ the rule of one class over another through its government bureaucracies but actually maintains class rule by means of threat, violence, deceit and coercion.

A vital role of the state power of capital is to maintain the proletariat in a state of economic dependency on capital. In this respect, it supplements the direct, socio-economic role of capital itself within the working and turnover of the social metabolism. This involves, necessarily, coercion and oppression which impacts the lives of people at the personal level. The psychological internalisation and assimilation of the exploitative, compulsory, coercive, oppressive character of bourgeois social relations denotes the control of man over man, class over class and its state power over the whole of society. In the transitional phase from bourgeois to classless society, the producers democratically organise the regulation and control of society over itself. It becomes self-regulating. In the epoch of capital, the state power and its agencies confront the producers as alien social structures ruling over it on behalf of capital itself. State power, in one form or another, is always implicit or actual threat. State power is always violence waiting to happen (or actually happening) against those who threaten the social relations which constitute the basis of its own existence as a state power. This applied no less in second century Rome under the Antonine emperors as it does today in the age of globalising capital under the various state powers of capital. These state powers trade in fear, fear of loss, fear of humiliation, fear of death, etc. And all this must have psychological impacts at the personal and interpersonal levels such as anxieties, depression, social withdrawal and isolation, etc, and what the psychiatrists refer to as ‘mental illness’ and ‘personality disorders’. But all this ‘psychology’ is a social psychology which reflects, and articulates on a personal level, the exploitative, coercive and oppressive character of social relations in the epoch of capital and the dependence of people on this socio-economic relation.

If the individual tries to resist this relation as an isolated individual, s/he is countered with established or innovated mechanisms of control. For example, in the workplace, on the street in ‘public space’, in the ‘benefits (welfare) culture’, etc. You fight back simply as a solitary individual and capital and its state power disciplines you. You are threatened (as if by an armed gangster or mobster against his unarmed victim) because the realisation of your immediate needs are conditional on you working within and accepting the economic and social parameters and criteria laid down by the capital system. A system and regime of coerced subservience to capital pertains and maintains you in a state of dependent subsistence. Intimidation and fear is intrinsic to such a regime which uses them as a means of controlling people. It cannot survive without them.

However, such mechanisms of rule and control can only be employed, and are only effective, within definite social parameters, that is, only under definite socio-historical conditions which actually permit their effective operation and imposition.  Beyond a certain point of social development, the needs of people can only be realised on the condition of the destruction of those social relations which are maintained and perpetuated by such forms of social control and state power.  The conflict here between the needs and interests of opposed classes (capital and labour) is therefore expressed here, in particular, in the form of the dynamic conflict between the imposition of and resistance to systems and mechanisms of social control by the state power of capital.

In the classless ages which lie beyond capital and all state power, the comprehensive needs of human beings become socially and unconditionally guaranteed. The forms and systems of exploitative social control of previous class societies become unnecessary and disappear. Consequentially, those forms of human behaviour and corresponding ‘psychologies’ which are the outcome of the exploitative relations of bourgeois society must also die away. Those psychological forms that are necessarily associated with these relations begin to lose their grip on the mind and vanish. The social exploitation of man by man disappears. Accordingly, those compulsory characteristics of interpersonal relationships which grow out of the various forms of exploitation in bourgeois society must perish with its social relations.

The exploitative forms of social control and coercion, which are a necessary feature of class societies in general and of capitalist society in particular, find their highest expression in the form of the state power which always embodies a definite class nature according to the historical conditions of its actual origination and development. The state – in whatever form – always represents the interests of a ruling caste or class. It is the product of the developing antagonisms of the given class society. With the dissolution of bourgeois society in the transition to higher human communal relations, the state begins to wither away.

The state power only becomes necessary with the differentiation of society into opposed classes with the dissolution of the communal relations of prehistory. It becomes socially ‘unnecessary’ with the dissolution of the final form of class society and gradually ‘withers away’ since there are no class interests to defend subsequently in the resulting and succeeding eras of classless societies. The character of social relations no longer gives rise to or necessitates the existence of the state. When the state has vanished from the human landscape, notions of freedom must vanish with it. A truly free human being can have no concept of freedom. Such concepts are the products of the social relations of class societies with their enslaved classes and peoples, oppressions, conflicts, state powers, etc.  Thus, a truly free human being has no awareness of being free just as communist humanity will not categorise itself as ‘communist’.

In the course of this mighty historic transition beyond the epoch of capital and its state powers, the forms of human consciousness corresponding to this period of transition will continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with bourgeois society (specifically with the alienation within this dying society). This will show that society – in this revolutionary transition phase – has not completely disentangled itself from the legacies of bourgeois society. So long as the historical umbilical cord connecting people to the social legacies of this form of class society – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society has not re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings. In the course of this necessary transition, the legacies of the relations of bourgeois society would continue to exert their influence, connecting humanity (at least psychologically) to the forms of social antagonism of the past.  Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned, however tenuously, by the legacies of the exploitative relations of the class society of the past.

The state power of capital, and not the broad mass of the people, rules and makes all the important decisions regarding social development. Humanity will not survive if this state of affairs continues. These state powers are leading society down an increasingly destructive path towards more death, barbarism and annihilation. Humanity must find a way out of this impasse in a transition to a new order which eclipses the epoch of capital and replaces it with a sustainable system of production based on meeting human needs rather than private profit. A transformation of the whole ‘social metabolism’ is required in order to create the new society beyond capital. Political and military changes alone will be inadequate to go beyond the epoch of capital and its state powers.

Very deep and profound ‘social metabolic’ changes and transformations will be required in order to progress beyond capital and its state powers. Movement beyond one is not separable from movement beyond the other and vice versa. The historical precedence of the formation of the necessary forms of revolutionary agency asserts itself here. The decision-making processes must be transferred to ‘social bodies’ of the proletariat in the course of challenging and dismantling the state powers of the capital order. From the very ‘metabolic bases’ of society to its highest ‘superstructural forms’, the proletariat must reorganise the whole of production and society on a new socialist and sustainable foundation. Progression to the elimination (‘withering away’) of the state power is an intrinsic part of this mighty historic process of transition.

The path to human freedom is opened up by means of the negation of the global domination of capital, of the negation of the reproduction of capital dominating the whole of the planet’s social metabolism and ecosystems. The character of this overthrow – whether it is peaceful, violent, etc – stems inevitably and directly from the degree to which capital and its state power offers resistance to the struggle for human emancipation from its rule. By peaceful means if possible. By war if necessary.

Shaun May

September 2018

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Today I have been thinking about the four Internationals we have had since Marx. How do we understand the actual historical development of these Internationals? With their historically-temporal party programmes?

What happened to them? The First International (International Working Men’s Association, IWMA). Marx himself tried to rescue what he could after it collapsed and wrapped it up in New York. The Second International : we all know what happened, degeneration into a servile group of social democratic parties. Total betrayal. They supported the mass slaughter in the war of the European bourgeoisie between 1914-18. Flying its flags. The Third International : again degeneration into the so-called Communist Parties. The PCF and PCI – massive organisations in Europe – and complete and utter disasters. ‘Eurocommunism’ and all that nonsense. And then Trotsky’s baby, the Fourth International. Well, the least said, the better. Absolute pandemonium. Leaving Milton’s Hell in ‘Paradise Lost’ actually looking like a paradise. It has achieved nothing and is now in an advanced state of decay and dissolution. For all intents and purposes, Trotsky’s International is extinct. But was it ever viable?

Discursively, Trotsky, in an interview he gave to Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman in 1937, stated unequivocally that the Fourth International would be a massive force in the class movement globally within five years. Yes, five years! What happened? How wide of the mark was that? Whatever happened to the powers of the prophet outcast? Even today – 2018 – there is a remaining, ultra-tiny number of Fourth Internationalists who still adhere dogmatically and doctrinally to the Transitional Programme (written by Trotsky in 1938!) A scriptural approach to a programme.

These Internationals have been a complete, unmitigated and abject failure and disaster. The Fourth International is now a motley collection of rapidly-vanishing, squabbling sectarian grouplets and cults, each one headed by its very own minilenin or tinytrotsky. We need to look at these Internationals within the locus of the historical conditions of their formation, development and dissolution in order to understand why they have been so disastrous and failed. ‘False starts’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This, of course, to inform our coming struggles to put an end to the epoch of capital.

But even with highly developed forms of class-based organisations, defeat is still possible. The German workers’ movement in the first three decades of the twentieth century was an incredible and powerful organisation. It possessed and articulated all the necessary logistical and organisational features for revolution. It was a society within a society. The new society germinating within the womb of the old. The most advanced history has witnessed so far. It was not simply a political movement but a complex mass socio-economic organisation numbering in millions. It had its own insurance organisations, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, leisure facilities, etc. Every week thousands of workers would form long queues around the HQs of the KPD and SPD to pay in their subscriptions. Millions ready for revolution. At times armed.

From 1919 to 1933 the German workers rose in revolt several times in struggle to put an end to the rule of capital. And were defeated in all these revolts. Capital had to smash all this to smithereens. It used Hitler’s NSDAP to do this. It could not have done this without a series of international defeats for the proletariat aided, of course, by Social-Democracy and Stalinism which put the interests of their respective castes based on capital’s rule above all else. Even at the time of ‘Krystallnacht’, millions continued to oppose Hitler’s maneouvres. The German economy was still in deep crisis. It only started to pick up in the wake of Roosevelt’s reflationary ‘New Deal’, its global effects and the beginnings of re-armament. In my opinion, without this, Hitler’s regime could not have survived. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ rescued Hitler. It was the impetus which developments in world economy gave to German capitalism in the wake of the ‘New Deal’ which enabled Hitler to consolidate his rule and pursue war and his genocidal program.

We need to understand, beyond apparent reasons, why all these Internationals failed. What was the deeper historical basis for their failure and collapse?

Shaun May

August 2018

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Meszaros on the Question of Revolutionary Agency (2012)

Meszaros on the Question of Revolutionary Agency (October 2012)

The following contribution by the late Istvan Meszaros (who died in October 2017) was given verbally at a seminar on ‘Revolutionary Agency’ at Birkbeck College in London on Saturday 27 October 2012. The transcript of Meszaros’s contribution is a lightly edited, more-or-less exact transcript which Meszaros agreed with Terry Brotherstone (University of Aberdeen) who made the transcript and chaired the meeting. 

For me, the difficult question, which I think we all agree about, relates to the tremendous problems facing the labour movement, the working-class movement. So many things have turned out to be extremely grave, and the big problem for the future is to grasp the nature of the crisis that we face.

On the question [which has come up] of assuming state power … What is the meaning of that state power? What does a state power amount to? In the past it was often posed as a question of ‘overthrowing capitalism’. Now, my difficulty with that concept is always that what can be overthrown can also be restored. And it has been. That’s the gravity of the situation.

If we go back into the past, to the Paris Commune, all those events which led to change in the state power were the consequence, quite – or more-or-less – directly of the collapse of the state system. The Paris Commune was the result also of a major military defeat. And how do we understand the Russian revolution without the disaster of the First World War? And in Hungary – which I know well – there was, in 1919, a kind of commune, a communist system if you like, established. And how did it happen? The President of the Hungarian Republic after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was a count, the enlightened Count Károlyi. When he was pushed by the great democracies to get hold of the Communists, he decided, instead, to hand over state power to the Communists. That’s how it happened in Hungary. So we cannot romanticise in any way the significance of the state power being exchanged.

When you think of the quotation at the very end of Cliff Slaughter’s paper on The Miner – this business about taking communist consciousness from the outside into the working class and how this concept is extremely problematical – it is an absolutely grave problem. Because after the revolution, after the Russian Revolution, what is ‘from the outside’ when the state becomes the party, Lenin’s party? It is no longer ‘outside’, no longer ‘from the outside’: it is from above. And that problem was continued into the notion of the ‘deformed workers’ state’.

I remember my first conversation [in the late 1980s] with Cyril Smith. He brought up the Trotskyite notion of the ‘deformed workers’ state’. My reaction to that was: ‘on which planet did it happen?’ Apparently there was supposed to be this ‘deformed workers’ state’ in the Soviet Union – of which I saw absolutely no sign anywhere. But for a long time you were considering building a revolutionary party on the basis of that kind of conception; and then you also talked about a ‘deformed workers’ state’ in the ‘Peoples’ Democracies’. Well, I was born and brought up in one of them, in Hungary!

But I would like here to pay tribute to my friend Cliff Slaughter. For several decades he remained firmly in a revolutionary orientation even if the organisation he was attached to was in an extremely problematical orientation. He maintained this determined position of thinking in terms of a revolutionary perspective. I can also tell you that our two names are almost identical. He’s called ‘Slaughter’: in Hungarian my name means ‘a slaughterer’! That relates our two names together …; but in what framework?

It is very easy to say what the party should be against, to say what has to be demolished or abolished. It is much more difficult to say what must be put in its place. In this context, I should say something about the problem of the middle class [to which I’ll return]. If I try to find what Marx says about the middle class I find a big zero. Marx was never interested in the ‘middle class’. What is the middle class? The Marxian orientation – and I think this is very important for our future, for the revival of the working-class movement – is to stress the nature of the system that has to be replaced.

And in this sense, the conquest of state power becomes a fairly vacuous problem. Once you talk about state power – and I refer again to Count Károlyi who handed it over to the Communists, to Bela Kun and others – what happens is that the material power of society remains identical. So the conquest of state power amounts to very little under those circumstances. Lenin expressed it in quite a moving way when circumstances had turned very sour in the Soviet Union, in Russia. He said, ‘What can we do? We cannot call back the tsars and say, “Please take back power.”’ And how do you separate the whole problem, the vanguard-party problem, from the tsarist system under which it was inaugurated and within which it had to fulfil certain historical functions? And Lenin was right, you cannot say, ‘Romanovs, please come back and carry on slaughtering our people and destroying everything.’ But the material power – and at that time it was a devastated material power as a consequence of the First World War – remained absolutely the same.

For me therefore the question regarding the future is: how can we properly evaluate the nature of the present crisis, the present historical crisis? Humanity never faced a crisis even remotely comparable to what we have today. In capitalism, crisis is the normality. It is a regular, periodical renewal of crisis, of cyclical crisis. But I always insist that, in the last forty or fifty years, the crisis we have been facing, and face today, is absolutely different. The crisis of today is the structural crisis of the whole system, not just of the capitalist system, but of the whole capital system – because capitalism didn’t fall out of the sky. It came on the foundations of a very long historical process, preceded by thousands of years of one form or another of capital.

And the problem of the future, when we contemplate it, is that all the parties, even the revolutionary parties, are always trying to fit in to the existing institutional framework. Cliff, in his paper on The Miner also quoted something very interesting and important from Trotsky’s interview with Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman, in 1937. Trotsky was saying that in four or five years the Fourth International will be a very big power. How can you be as unrealistic as that?

And you have to think back to the antecedents of the Fourth International – it was only the fourth. There was a First International, which collapsed and Marx himself was desperately trying to rescue the little that could be rescued from it, transferring it to the United States. We know very well what happened to the Second International. It has become an ignominious, disastrous organisation – you know well the social democratic degeneration that started a long time ago and was carried on. You know what happened – it officially abandoned absolutely everything.

And think of the Third International. There was a time when you had a number of parties which called themselves revolutionary parties, some of them also very influential parties – and that also turned out to be an absolute disaster. Just think of the two most important of them in the West: the French Communist Party and the Italian Communist Party. I ask you: which one is the more disastrous? This tells you a very sad story about the Third International.

Then we come to the Fourth: what happened to it? Has it achieved anything of what it was meant to achieve, anything of what Trotsky said to Kingsley Martin – that in a short period it would be able to achieve great things. I think these questions have to be examined in their historical context because so much remains problematical.

When I first read [Ernest] Mandel’s book with the significant title, Late Capitalism, I asked myself the question, ‘What is capitalism late for?’ What was it all about, what has it missed? The lateness of capitalism doesn’t explain anything. We have to go back to the fundamental problems of the crisis of today, because it is absolutely tremendous. It cannot be simply assessed any longer in terms of the bankers. The bankers do what they do. There is much talk about reforming the bankers, but this is so much wishful thinking. But there will be absolutely nothing done about it.

Then there are people blaming the ‘Third World’, the ‘underdeveloped’ countries, for how our expectations have not been realised…..But returning to the real problem, the fundamental structural problem and the question of the so-called advanced capitalist societies … Now, this is another concept I find extremely problematical. What is an advanced capitalist society? Capitalist society is a putrefying society. How advanced is a putrefying society? An advanced capitalist society is advanced only in the sense that it is capitalistically advanced. But the capitalistic advancement is towards becoming ever more destructive – and it has become extremely destructive. It has reached a point in its own development when the destruction of humanity is on the agenda of this great ‘advanced capitalist society’.

I think that if we, as we must, examine the possibilities for the future – the confrontations which face us – we see that Marx was not interested in the middle class because the social order he was interested in was the bourgeois social order. People talk about the middle class – and then they start slicing it up: the lower middle class and the middle middle class and the upper middle class. And they are doing the same thing with labour, with the working class – there are all sorts of sociological ramifications and divisions.

And these serve a purpose: they produce a great deal of mystification in the literature on the subject because the working class is often reduced to the industrial working class and they find out that it is diminishing in some part of the world. But it is increasing in the world as a whole.

This is a fundamental issue. What Marx was interested in was the historical confrontation between capital and labour. That is the fundamental category. And any strategy for the future transformation has to be for a revolutionary transformation: I don’t believe for a moment in anything less than that.

One of the tragedies of the workers’ parties was that in the past they always tried to fit in to the framework of the parliamentary system. Now the parliamentary system from day one of its establishment was never meant for the working class. The working class was not even on the agenda when the parliamentary system was established. At a certain point the working class was allowed to fit in to it, as the ‘labour movement’ or the social-democratic movement. We know from Marx’s comments on the Gotha Programme how desperately unhappy he was about this type of development  taking place, the type of movement forward which was within this sort of framework.

Yet all the working-class parties followed that path. Even, if I’m not mistaken the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, which at one time almost went completely bankrupt through presenting its candidates for election and losing I don’t know how many thousands of pounds in deposits, without ever managing to elect a single person.

And when you think about it, the reality of the situation lies in the need to take control of the material basis of society; because, without that, talk of any aspect of politics amounts to nothing. Whether you talk about taking power without trying, or of taking control of other aspects of life – if you don’t address yourself to the fundamental nature of the material power in our society, you don’t get anywhere.

And just to conclude, I salute Cliff; and I wish great success for The Bonfire of the Certainties, the book you started out from in organising today’s meeting. We should all start to discuss it and to take the discussion forward – because this can only be an ongoing enterprise, one of examining things without any fear of offending anything in the past. We are all here committed to a radical socialist transformation – without which there is no future, no humanity – in the quite literal sense of humanity surviving into the foreseeable future. And the Marxian conception of a historical alternative – that is what has to be at the centre of it all. What kind of social order can be historically viable for the future?

This must be the approach now, because the total bankruptcy of all the capitalist countries is a very novel phenomenon – it is post-Second World War – and the most disastrously bankrupt country in this world is the United States of America, which is regarded as the great powerhouse of this ‘advanced’ capitalist system. A totally bankrupt system is incapable of operating for the future on a long-term historical perspective.  And in my view the only way we can examine seriously these problems which are unavoidable for all of us is to address ourselves to this great difficulty and I wish all of us success in that respect.


Birkbeck College, London. Saturday 27 October 2012.

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Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency

The following PDF link is a more expanded version of my published book given in previous posts. For example, the ‘hard copy’ version contains references only to material which was unquoted in the text whereas this version – which is longer and more developed – contains the inclusion of the quoted material directly into the text. Please feel free to share the link. The title of the book is ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’




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PDF copy of my book ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’

Access is available at the following link to a free, downloadable pdf copy of my book ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’

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Publication of ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’

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