Forwarded from Jurriaan (stagism)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed May 23 13:16:35 MDT 2001


You wrote: "In reality, Marx and Engels, as they themselves admitted, had
merely adapted the notion of stages from bourgeois social scientists." It
is true that Marx and Engels drew upon the writings of the bourgeois social
scientists from Smith to Morgan, but as far as I am aware Marx never
proposed historic "stages" in the sense of one mode of production or
political regime succeeding another in some necessary, desirable or
inevitable sequence of progress (following some or other "logic of history").

All that Marx really commits himself to is, distinguishing "in broad
outline" a number of successive "great epochs" in the development of the
productive forces, which you enumerate. This is not the same as stagist
ideology however, because Marx doesn't claim that one mode of production
must necessarily (inevitably) succeed another (so that in order to reach a
certain stage of development, one must go through a definite sequence of
preceding stages). Moreover he cautioned that his focus was primarily on
Europe, and he was reluctant to pronounce on the future of other parts of
the world.

I would suggest that the concept of a necessary sequence of stages of
development is a particular interpretation of Marx, originating with Second
International theorists (and after that Stalinist ideologists), who focus
on some selected quotations from Marx.. It is linked to a narrow view of
historical progress as being an increase in the productivity of labour.

Of course Marx does occasionally talk about "stages" of development, for
example, he sketches a "lower phase" and a "higher phase" of communism.
Even so, he does this merely to show what is practically required for a
certain historical development to occur, and not a linear sequence governed
by inexorable laws. So anyway as far as I know, the attribution to Marx of
history moving through a determined sequence of necessary stages is simply
false, a vulgarisation of his thought.

You can create periodisations of history in innumerably different ways, it
just depends on what your analytical purpose is. Obviously particular
periodisations can offer a convenient ideological justification of a
political policy, and that was exactly what the dispute about "stagism" was
about. But that was not what Marx had in mind - he wanted, rather, to
understand the nature of an epoch or period as an objective basis for a
political policy (see my 1986 essay "Why revolutionary marxism ?").

For an example, in September 1850, Marx attacked would-be revolutionists in
the Communist League saying "With this general prosperity, in which the
productive forces of bourgeois society develop as luxuriantly as they can
within bourgeois relationships, there can be no talk of a real revolution.
Such a revolution is only possible in the periods when both these factors,
the modern productive forces and the bourgeois forms of production, come
into collision with each other". (This claim incidentally contrasts rather
shrilly with Marx's comment a year or so earlier, that "the conditions of
bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them").



Louis Proyect
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