Marxist Theory and the Proletariat

Against the Current, No. 197, November/December 2018

Rosa Luxemburg

IF IT MATTERED to express in few words what Marx did for the contemporary working class, then one could say: Marx has uncovered the modern working class as historical category, that is, as a class with particular historical conditions of existence and laws of motion.

A mass of wage-workers, who were led to solidarity by the similarity of their existence in bourgeois society and looked for a way out of their condition and partly for a bridge to the promised land of socialism, arguably existed in capitalist countries before Marx. Marx was the first who elevated workers to the working class by linking them through the specific historical task of conquering political power in the socialist revolution.

Class struggle for conquering political power was the bridge that Marx built between socialism and the proletarian movement that elementarily rises up from the ground of contemporary society…The materialist conception of history in general and the Marxian theory of capitalist development in particular form the foundation of contemporary social democratic labor politics.

…Because it is through and through historical, Marxian theory only claims temporally limited validity. Because it is through and through dialectical, it carries in itself the seeds of its own dissolution…Marxian theory in its most general outlines consists of insights into the historical way that leads from the last “antagonistic” form of society, i.e. societies that are based on class conflicts, to the communist society that is built on all members’ solidarity of interests.

Marxian theory is especially, just like earlier classical theories of political economy, the mental reflex of a particular period of economic and political development, namely the transition from the capitalist to the socialist phase of history. But it is more than just a reflex. The historical transition that Marx identified can namely not take place without Marxian knowledge having become the knowledge of a particular class in society, the modern proletariat…

So Marx’s theory is at the same time part of the historical process and is also itself a process. Social revolution will be The Communist Manifesto’s final chapter.

[This brief excerpt from Rosa Luxemburg’s essay on the 20th anniversary of Karl Marx’s death appeared in Vorwarts, 14 March 1903. A full text can be accessed at Translation by Christian Fuchs. Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.]

November-December 2018, ATC 197