What is the vision of a human being that gathers the social philosophy of Marxism? Human consciousness is seen in this philosophical current as a result of the dialectical clash of material forces, especially those forces related to the forms of production and distribution of economic goods.
In his Dialectical and Historic Materialism, Marx claims to have discovered the law of dialectical conflict (thesis, antithesis and synthesis) linked to disputes over economic goods, which would explain all material development (the structure), as well as all psycho-spiritual development, that is, intellectual, legal, philosophical-religious etc. (the superstructure) of humanity.
The Law of the Foundational Conflict
This law can be summed up as the conflict that exists in all historical societies (except in supposed primitive communism) between exploiters (thesis) and exploited (antithesis), rich and poor, dominant and dominated. This conflict always results in a new synthesis, which determines a new pattern of exploitation, which starts to constitute a new thesis, generating a new antithesis and so on.
In our historical moment, of capitalism, this conflict occurs centrally between the class that owns goods and equipment of economic production (the capitalists, or the bourgeoisie) and the working class (proletarians), which has only its labor force.
This fundamental conflict is that, in short, generates and explains the enormous differentiation existing in terms of the scope of awareness, or social consciousness. Those exploited due to poverty, ignorance and even the dominant culture, which appears to justify this exploitation (a culture that Marx called “ideology”), become alienated or unaware of their rights and possibilities for development. The explorers, due to their wealth and education, which gives them greater insight and mental scope, reproduce the cultural formations that justify exploitation, that is, the “ideological” worldviews.
Consciousness Determined By the Material Environment
But, unlike Liberalism that sees man with a fundamental distrust (at least in its origins, when its main institutions were formed, such as the three independent powers, in an order of counterweights), Marxism is a philosophical current that sees the human being through a certain type of fundamental “optimism”. This is because Marxism defends the theoretical principle that this differentiation between “exploitation” and “alienation”, which characterizes the consciousness of humanity until today, is only a period in the evolution of the human species (defined as “prehistory” of humanity), a stage of human evolution that, according to Marx, would be reaching its end.
In this way, due to the increasing advance and complexification (industrialization, urbanization, scientific and technical revolutions, etc.), triggered by the economic production characteristic of capitalism, exploitation would be reaching its maximum, and becoming increasingly apparent. Marx claims, true to his assumptions, that his own studies (which identified this master law, of the dialectical-material-economic conflict, which would explain alienation, etc.) were already the result of the evolution of the material development of the mode of production characteristic of this period of time.
Therefore, Marxism believes that the evolutionary moment is coming when the exploited, who are the majority, are becoming aware of this exploitation, and that through their organizations (themselves the result of this new social conscience/awareness), they will impose a new order, not based on private ownership of production goods and, therefore, on exploitation, but on the socialization of these production goods.
This transition period would imply, according to Marx, the use of force, and a temporarily dictatorial regime (the dictatorship of the working class). Other authors, reformers of the original Marxist thought, believe that this transition can, or even should, take place within the electoral processes typical of Liberal democracies. But that does not change the essence of this philosophical current, and that is why some of them still define themselves as Marxists, or Neo-Marxists.
However, the most important thing is that, after this period of transition, having made these transformations and overcoming exploitation, the enormous differences in cognitive or conceptual scope of human consciousness would almost completely disappear. Then, all human beings in full enjoyment of their mental faculties would become very conscious in social terms, achieving great equality in terms of levels of conceptual scope. Marx goes so far as to claim that in a communist society, if hierarchy were necessary, positions could even be filled by random drawing.
Hence a new period, which Marx calls the true “history” of humanity, since the human being now, for the first time, would be aware and lord of the laws that determine and build his own history.
In this new period, as we said, there would be great economic equality. The necessary economic goods would be accessible to all, in a free and common way – hence the term “communism”. Consequently, there would be a great similarity in the reach of individuals’ social consciousness. Only differences in psychological types, temperaments, etc. would remain, but no longer a great differentiation of levels of comprehensiveness in the social consciousness of individuals, since the phenomenon of alienation would have ceased to exist.
The Human Being in Marxism
Man in Marxism, unlike Liberalism, is not seen as a basically selfish being. He is a being who is in the process of forever overcoming exploitation (cruel selfishness), as well as his counterpart which is alienation. The human being is thus potentially good, as long as the circumstances or the social environment are good, since his conscience is the result of the material environment that engenders him.
That is why we classify Marxism as being a somewhat “optimistic” philosophical perspective. But, in common with Liberalism, this philosophical current also perceives the human species within an egalitarian view, although derived from different premisses.
In Liberalism, although basically self-centered, human beings would have very similar capabilities. In Marxism, this egalitarianism is not about the current situation, but in potential terms. This is because, at the present time, the existence of great differences in levels of social awareness would be the result of exploitation. Notwithstanding this, potentially, all human beings would be similarly capable. It is only the current historical-material environment (characterized by capitalist exploitation) that would not yet allow this equality to manifest itself.
Forcing the comparison a little, just to help understanding, we can say that Liberalism “levels humanity below” (“man is the wolf of man”), and the human being, therefore, is always seen as basically inside a selfish pattern. While Marxism, in potential terms, “level humanity up”, insofar as it believes that as soon as the historical-material environment is transformed, through the socialization of the means of production, all human beings will see their consciences overcome alienation, generating a wide and universal awareness of citizenship.
The Ethics of Marxism
It is not necessary to go further, in this synthetic work, in examining the foundations of Marxism. Given these fundamentals that we have already examined on human consciousness, the other aspects of social construction follow logically, as mere consequences. Like Liberalism, Marxism is also a logical construction, and it could hardly be otherwise in a time of predominance of scientific logic thinking. And so, their methods of action, their ethical conceptions and duties, as well as their models of social organization, logically derive from their foundational premisses.
As in the case of Liberalism, Marxism also gave rise to an ethics, to moral values consistent with its materialistic and egalitarian philosophical premisses, as well as to a strategy of social transformation. In fact, with respect to some aspects, it is an ethics as much or more cruel than utilitarian ethics, and the consequent social exclusion that characterize Liberalism. This is because, being the conscience considered as fruit of the material environment, all the ways to reach a material environment free from the exploitation of one class over the other tend to be justified.
From then on, it is legitimate to apply the most violent methods of social transformation. The horrors generated by the Soviet regime, and by other countries that have adopted a Marxist model, are known today and need no further comment, but can be synthetically considered to be the result of an ethics such as “the ends justify the means”. Let us now examine, albeit briefly, the main model of political organization directly derived from this current of thought, which is that of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its democratic centralism.
The Marxist Model: Virtues and Failures
The main model of social organization derived from the philosophical premisses of Marxism is a totalitarian order, which is not very flexible, which excludes parties and candidates who do not support this model from political dispute. We usually have a single-party picture, or at least a broadly and inflexibly dominant party, as we can still see today, for example, in China or Cuba.
There, the system of representation, or the selection of political leaders, which occurs within the single party, does not follow the norm of large mass elections, as in Liberal democracies, but it occurs through a pyramidal type system, also known in political science as a “cascade” or “inverted tree” system of political representation.
In this system, political representation occurs in stages, at successive levels of increasing geographical coverage. Thus, representation begins on a small scale, with the election of representatives in a “cell”, which is the first level of organization, which corresponds to a place of work (a factory, for example), or a small geographical area. Representation goes on from there, indirectly, through other levels of increasing geographical coverage (sections, federations, or similar denominations), until reaching a higher council of the republic, that is, a National Congress. Which in turn chooses a Central Committee, which appoints a Secretariat and other Commissions that may be necessary to the functions of government with the greatest political responsibility within the State.
In the same way that we proceeded to analyze the Liberal model, let us now see how the Marxist model responds to the essential needs of a fair and competent process of choice of the leaders, which are: 1) freedom, 2) equal conditions in the political dispute and, 3) matching between levels of political responsibility and levels of individual understanding or capabilities. Second, let us see if this model generates the necessary political coercion force for effective government action.
It is not difficult to see that the question of freedom, which is the strength of the Liberal model, is the most critical point of the Marxist model. And this limitation or lack of freedom also completely compromises the aspect of equal opportunities.
In this model, those who differ substantially from the dominant ideas cannot even participate in the political process. They are automatically excluded from that process. In this scenario, of course, equality of opportunity disappears, at least in relation to those who oppose the dominant ideas and the system derived from them.
With regard to the aspect of the adequacy between the level of responsibility of the function and the level of understanding of the individuals, paradoxical that this sounds at first sight (since it is a model derived from a worldview that believes in equality of capabilities of all human beings, at least in potential terms), this model is clearly superior to the Liberal model.
On the one hand, this model of choice of leaders, which, as we have seen, is staggered, of the pyramidal type (or “inverted tree”), offers a relatively greater equality of opportunity (when compared to the Liberal model), once the elections are held they always occur in much smaller groups than in the case of mass suffrage. However, this greater equality of opportunity is also severely impaired, as it occurs only within the ambience of a one-party system, or something very similar to that
On the other hand, this system allows for a great adaptation between functions (responsibilities) and levels of consciousness (capabilities). This is because the elections for the successive levels of representation, which are increasingly geographically broad, gradually increase the levels of complexity and difficulty of the problems to be faced, that is, they increase the levels of responsibility of the positions (or functions). All of this in parallel with the increase in the qualification of the population involved, since the successive elections result in a natural selection of more qualified individuals, that is, they imply a “sieve effect”, without ever incurring mass elections.
And precisely because it does not use mass suffrage, this model, finally, organizes much better the population involved in the political process. This is exactly due to this structure of staggered representations, where within each of these levels there is a much greater proximity between representatives and those represented. In this way, it generates much greater social cohesion than the systems of mass direct elections, which, due to the great distance between representatives and representatives, greatly weaken the cohesion of social organization.
However, since it is a rigid system and does not allow freedom of participation, equal opportunities, etc., it ends up excluding a significant portion of the population and, thus, ends up generating very harmful resistance and conflicts, in addition to being of such inflexibility that it undermines the creativity and, therefore, the vitality or dynamism of the entire system.
The reality of the different levels of reach, or scope, of the social consciousness of human beings (from the level of those whose consciences are limited to the most concrete issues, to those with the greatest amount of knowledge and abstract understanding) implies, even at the most far-reaching levels, in the existence of great limitations, both in terms of knowledge and ethics.
Therefore, due to the reality of the limitations of individuals (even those at the higher cognitive levels), there are reasons, technical and ethical, to guarantee differences of opinion in the political life of societies. For this reason, as the historical examples demonstrate, any order that forces a single direction, without admitting divergences, invariably ends in failure.
In any case, the fact is that this system, while paying a totally unacceptable price in terms of freedom and equal opportunities (which in the long term decrees its failure), manages to generate a greater adaptation between functions and capabilities, in comparison with the Liberal model. Thus, due to the lack of mass suffrage, this model generates social cohesion that guarantees to the leaders a great power of coercion, which historically allowed them to implement profound socioeconomic changes within the countries where this model was applied. China (as the former Soviet Union) is an example of this: there we can observe social and economical transformations that would be impossible (to the vast majority of the peripheral countries) within the ambience of the current models of Liberal democracies.
We will conclude our brief examination of the limitations and of the consistent points of the Marxist model, bringing, in support of our analysis, two quotes from Maurice Duverger, certainly one of the greatest political scientists of the 20th century. At the end of the second quotation, Duverger makes it clear that he also has reservations about this model as a whole, but he does recognize that it has organizational merits, as he claims that Marxists:
Organizational Structure of the Communist Parties Has Contributed More to the Success of Communism Than the Marxist Doctrine
“(…) they developed a yet more original structure, resting upon very small groups (a factory, a neighborhood, etc), strongly united by the processes of the ‘democratic centralism,’ and yet closed due to the technique of vertical connections: this admirable system of organizing the masses has contributed more to the success of communism than the marxist doctrine, or the poor standard of living of the working classes.” (Maurice Duverger, Os Partidos Políticos, p. 40; emphasis added)
The Communist Party Developed a Pyramidal Structure of Remarkable Organizational Efficiency: We May Regret the Application of the Tool, But We Have to Admire Its Technical Perfection
“We may think many things of the Communist Party: but we must recognize that the mechanisms it developed are of remarkable efficiency, and that we cannot deny them a democratic character, due to their constant care in keeping in touch with the bases, and of always ‘listening to the masses.’ (…) The strength of the Communist Party is that of having structured a scientific method that is able to achieve these results, with the double advantages of the scientific method: greater accuracy and availability to every one after satisfactory training. More deeply considered, the value of this method comes from the fact that its strength is not purely passive; it does not limit itself to registering the reactions of the masses, but permits acting upon them, orienting them gently, prudently, but in depth. We may regret the application of the tool, but we have to admire its technical perfection.” (Maurice Duverger. Os Partidos Políticos, p. 93; emphasis added)