The publication of Reason in Revolt in Portuguese is really marvellous news. I am only sorry that Ted Grant, my old friend, comrade and teacher, who passed away last year at the age of 93, could not be here to rejoice with me. Ted regarded Brazil, along with Argentina, as one of the key countries for the Latin American revolution, and he followed the development of the class struggle in Brazil with great interest.
Ted had an even greater interest in Portugal, and he was really the only Marxist who understood the process of the Portuguese revolution in 1974-75. He wrote extensively on the subject and was the only one to explain the role of the Portuguese army officers in terms of the Marxist theory of the state. His writings on the Portuguese revolution are of great interest today in relation to the Bolivarian Revolution, which has also not been understood by most of those who describe themselves as Marxists.
The inability to understand the events in Venezuela flows from an inability to use the dialectical method correctly. Instead of applying the dialectical method of Marx and Engels, they try to impose ready-made schema on living reality, and inevitably draw the wrong conclusions. Marxism is a science and mistakes in theory will sooner or later lead to mistakes in practice. Marxism without dialectics is reduced to an empty shell, devoid of all meaning and content. It has lost its revolutionary soul and become a lifeless automaton, a desiccated fossil.
The pendulum swings
Why did we write Reason in Revolt? We were responding to the unprecedented avalanche of anti-Marxist propaganda that followed the fall of the USSR. The defenders of the status quo were euphoric. They spoke of the end of socialism, the end of Communism, the end of Marxism, and even the end of history. But now, sixteen years later, all these absurd illusions have been reduced to rubble. And as we thought, there is the beginning of a swing in the opposite direction. People are looking for something different. What they are looking for are the ideas of Marxism, and we must provide them with these ideas.
The success of Reason in Revolt has been remarkable. So far it has been translated into Spanish, Italian, German, Greek, Urdu, Bahasa Indonesia and Turkish, and new translations are being prepared in French and Dutch. In addition, it has been published in separate editions in the United States, India, Venezuela and Cuba. Now the first Portuguese edition will be available from May. And what better way to celebrate the international day of the working class can there be than to restate the fundamental ideas of Marxism?
Marxist philosophy - the only consistent revolutionary philosophy - is of enormous practical importance for the class struggle. But these wonderfully profound ideas have a far wider application, especially to the field of science. The book has had a very favourable response from scientists in many countries. In fact, not long after it appeared, we received a letter from the biology department of the University of São Paulo asking permission to use Part Three (Life, Mind and Matter) as the basis for a postgraduate course in human origins. Needless to say, we agreed to the request.
Quantity and quality
A few years ago I was invited to give a conference at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma (UNAM) in Mexico City, organized by two professors who are acknowledged experts in the field of chaos theory. This is no accident. Chaos theory and its derivatives are clearly a form of dialectical thinking. In particular, the idea of the transformation from quantity to quality is central to it. Everybody knows at least one common example of the transformation of quantity to quality. When water is heated or cooled, there is a leap from one state of aggregation to another: at zero degrees it is a solid (ice). At 100 degrees it changes to a gaseous state (steam). If we increase the temperature still further, to 550 degrees, it becomes plasma, an entirely new state of matter, where the disassociation of atoms and molecules occurs. Each of these states is known as a phase transition. The study of phase transitions constitutes a very important branch of modern physics.
Similar changes can be observed in the history of society. The equivalent of a phase transition is a revolution. Marx pointed out that no social order ever disappears before it has exhausted all the potential for the development of the productive forces inherent within it. Every successive socio-economic formation opens up the possibility for a greater development of the productive forces and therefore increases humanity's power over nature. In this way, the material basis is prepared for what Engels described as humanity's leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.
History knows both evolution (slow, gradual development) and revolution (a qualitative leap, where the process of evolution is enormously accelerated). Evolution prepares the way for revolution, which in turn prepares the way for a new period of evolution on a higher level. This dialectical process was described most beautifully by Hegel in the Preface to The Phenomenology of Mind:
"The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant's existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole."
We often see the apparent repetition of stages of development that have long since been overcome. We see the same thing in the study of embryos, which apparently go through the stages of evolution. A human embryo starts as a single cell, then divides and acquires more complex forms. At one stage it has gills like a fish, later it has a tail like a monkey. The similarity between human embryos and those of other animals, including fish and reptiles, is striking, and was already noted by the ancient Greeks, who, over two thousand years before Darwin, deduced that man had evolved from a fish.
The process of evolution has gone on uninterruptedly from the first primitive life-forms that emerged, as we now know, at a surprisingly early period in the earth's history. The first primitive organisms probably emerged on the bed of the primeval oceans, deriving energy not from the sun, but from volcanic vents, generating heat from below the earth's crust. The earliest protozoa developed into chordata, through the earliest land-dwelling amphibians, to reptiles and later to mammals and humans.
Can human society be understood?
The dialectical method is not confined to nature. Even the most superficial observation proves that human society has passed through a number of definite stages and that certain processes are repeated at regular intervals. Just as in nature we see the transformation of quantity into quality, so in history we see that long periods of slow, almost imperceptible change are interrupted by periods in which the process is accelerated to produce a qualitative leap.
In nature the long periods of slow change (stasis) can last for millions of years. They are interrupted by catastrophic events, which are invariably accompanied by the extinction of animal species that were previously dominant, and the rise of other species that previously were insignificant but were better adapted to take advantage of the new circumstances. In human society wars and revolutions play such a significant role, that we are accustomed to use them as milestones that separate one historical period from another.
It was Marx and Engels who discovered that the real locomotive force of history is the development of the productive forces. This does not mean, as the enemies of Marxism frequently assert, that Marx reduced everything to economics. There are many other factors that enter into the development of society: religion, morality, philosophy, politics, patriotism, tribal alliances etc. All these enter into a complex web of social interrelations that create a rich and confusing mosaic of phenomena and processes.
At first sight it seems impossible to make sense of this. But the same thing could be said of nature, yet the complexity of the universe does not deter scientists from attempting to separate the different elements, analyse them and categorise them. By what right do men and women imagine that they are above nature, and that they alone in the entire universe cannot be understood by science? The very idea is preposterous and a manifestation of that burning desire of humans to be some kind of special creation, entirely separate from all other animals and with a special relation to the rest of the universe determined by God. But science has mercilessly stripped away these egocentric illusions.
One by one the ideas of religion that were the basis for this imaginary special relationship have dissolved. The genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is less than two percent and we share a large percentage of our genes with fruit flies and even more primitive organisms. The last desperate counterattack of the Creationists (hiding under the banner of "intelligent design") has been shattered against the remarkable results of the Human Genome Project.
The essential content of social development is the development of the productive forces. But on the basis of the productive forces there arise property relations and a complex superstructure of legal, religious and ideological relations. The latter constitute the forms through which the former expresses itself. Content and form can come into contradiction, but in the last analysis, the content will always determine the form.
The content changes faster than the forms, creating contradictions that must be resolved. The obsolete superstructure impedes the development of the productive forces. Thus, at the present time, the development of the productive forces, which has attained levels undreamed of in previous history, is in open conflict with private ownership and the nation state. The old forms are strangling the development of the productive forces. They must be burst asunder in order to resolve the contradiction. The obsolete forms are burst apart and replaced by new forms that are in consonance with the needs of the productive forces.
Broadly speaking, human society can be divided into four categories (five, if we include the Asiatic mode of production, which was a historical dead end). The earliest was the primitive communal system that lasted over a million years. This was superseded, in the west, by slavery, which lasted for about 10,000 years. The fall of the Roman Empire, which represented slavery in its most developed form, caused, first a collapse of civilization, then a slow revival under the feudal system that lasted just over a thousand years.
Finally, the capitalist system has lasted for 200-300 years. Each of these socio-economic systems had its own laws of motion that differed fundamentally from the others. It is therefore pointless to try to discover the laws of political economy "in general". It is necessary to discover the particular laws that govern each system, and this is what Marx did. The anarchy of production cannot contain the demands of modern industry, technology and science. The only way to solve the contradictions of capitalism that are the cause of starvation, poverty, wars and terrorism, is through the socialist transformation of society.
It is important to note how the process of human development has undergone a constant acceleration. Feudalism lasted for a shorter time than slavery, and capitalism has existed for only two or three centuries. Moreover, the pace of development of the productive forces under capitalism has been far more rapid than in any previous society. There have been more inventions in this period than in all previous history. But this feverish development of industry, science and technique has come into conflict with the narrow limits of private property and the nation state. Capitalism in its period of senile decay is no longer capable of developing the productive forces as it did in the past. This is the fundamental cause of the present crisis, which is beginning to threaten the very existence of humanity.
The planet in danger
"Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition." (Marx)
Marx once remarked that cultivation when it progresses spontaneously and is not consciously planned leaves deserts behind. The capitalism of the 21st century is in the process of turning the planet into a desert. Anarchistic interference in natural processes, unrestrained deforestation, uncontrolled hunting and fishing, the pollution of the environment, the poisoning of the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink, upsets the balance of nature on a vast scale and places a question mark over the future of the planet, and, possibly, of life on earth.
In Brazil, the destruction of the tropical rain forest is blamed on poor small farmers, but in reality the greed of the big foreign transnationals is responsible for this. As long as the economic system that governs the world is subordinate to the profit motive, the rape of the planet will continue. The domination of the world economy demands a planned economy, that is to say, world socialism. Climate change, the destruction of the environment, etc., cannot be solved by any other means.
A socialist planned economy is the only way to protect the natural environment and eliminate pollution of the oceans and the atmosphere and thus save the planet from an ecological catastrophe. The rational use of nature, the discovery and implementation of new sources of clean energy will open up the possibility of sustainable development, about which the ecologists talk, but are powerless to implement. It is entirely possible to feed the population of the world on the basis of the presently existing technology. The problem is not that we do not posses the means for solving the problem, but that the productive forces are constrained by the profit motive.
A socialist planned economy would free science and technology from the shackles of the profit system. It would enormously accelerate the economic progress of humanity, while safeguarding the treasures of the natural world that are threatened by capitalist market economics. In the words of Marx: "Under socialism people can regulate their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature, and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature."
Marxism and religion
In December 2006 I was invited to participate in the Pan-American Conference of Occupied Factories, held in the occupied Cipla plant in Joinville, Brazil. On the platform, side by side with class fighters, revolutionary youth and representatives of the landless peasant movement, the MST, was a bishop. He gave a very revolutionary speech, supporting the workers' movement and damning the exploiters to the fires of hell.
As dialectical materialists, we do not believe in the existence of either hell or heaven. We only live once and it is our duty to fight to create a decent life for all. There is only one world and we must fight to make it fit for men and women to live in. Our aim is to fight for the socialist transformation of society on a national and international scale. We wholeheartedly welcome the participation of every progressive person, no matter what their beliefs in the struggle. Therefore, we welcome the opportunity of the dialogue between Marxists and Christians.
It is clear to any thinking person that the capitalist system is a monstrously oppressive and inhuman system which means untold misery, disease, oppression and death for millions of people in the world. It is surely the duty of any humane person to support the fight against such a system. However, in order to fight effectively, it is necessary to work out a serious programme, policy and perspective that can guarantee success. We believe that only Marxism (scientific socialism) provides such a perspective.
Marxists invite men and women to fight to transform their lives and to create a genuinely human society which would permit the human race to lift itself up to its true stature. We believe that humans have only one life, and should dedicate themselves to making this life beautiful and self-fulfilling. We are fighting for a paradise on this Earth, because we do not think there is any other.
Christianity began as a revolutionary movement of the poor and oppressed in the period of decline of the Roman Empire. Two thousand years ago the early Christians organised a mass movement of the poorest and most downtrodden sections of society. It is not an accident that the Romans accused the Christians of being a movement of slaves and women. The early Christians were communists, as is quite clear from the Acts of the Apostles. Christ himself moved among the poor and disposed and frequently attacked the rich. It is not an accident that his first act on entering Jerusalem was to drive the money changers out of the Temple. He also said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. There are many such expressions in the Bible, as you probably know better than I.
The communism of the early Christians is also shown by the fact that in their communities all wealth was held in common. Anyone who wished to join had first to give up all his or her worldly goods. Of course, this communism had a somewhat naive and primitive character. This is no reflection on the men and women of that time, who were very courageous people and were not afraid to sacrifice their lives in the struggle against the monstrous Roman slave state. But the real achievement of communism (that is, a classless society) was impossible at that time because the material conditions for it were absent.
Marx and Engels for the first time gave communism a scientific character. They explained that the real emancipation of the masses depends on the level of development of the productive forces (industry, agriculture, science and technology) which will create the necessary conditions for a general reduction of the working day and access to culture for all, as the only way of transforming the way people think and behave towards each other.
The material conditions at the time of early Christianity were not sufficiently advanced to permit such a development, and therefore the communism of the early Christians remained on a primitive level-the level of consumption (the sharing out of food, clothes, etc.) and not real communism which is based on the collective ownership of the means of production.
However, the revolutionary traditions of early Christianity bear absolutely no relation to the present situation. Ever since the 4th Century AD, when the Christian movement was hijacked by the state and turned into an instrument of the oppressors, the Christian Church has been on the side of the rich and powerful and against the poor. Today the main churches are extremely wealthy institutions, closely linked to big business. The Vatican owns a big bank and possesses enormous wealth and power, the Church of England is the biggest landowner in Britain, and so on.
Politically, the churches have systematically backed reaction. Catholic priests blessed the armies of Franco in their campaign to crush the Spanish workers and peasants. The Pope in effect backed Hitler and Mussolini. In Brazil the hierarchy of the Church had no difficulty in collaborating with the military dictatorship, although many rank and file priests took the side of the workers.
Our first task is to unite to put an end to the dictatorship of Capital that keeps the human race in a state of slavery. Socialism will permit the free development of human beings, without the constraint of material needs.
Although from a philosophical point of view, Marxism is incompatible with religion, it goes without saying that we are opposed to any idea of prohibiting or repressing religion. We stand for the complete freedom of the individual to hold any religious belief, or none at all. What we do say is that there should be a radical separation between church and state. The churches must not be supported directly or indirectly out of taxation, nor should religion be taught in state schools. If people want religion, they should maintain their churches exclusively through the contributions of the congregation and preach their doctrines in their own time.
To the degree that men and women are able to take control of their lives and develop themselves as free human beings, we believe that interest in religion-that is, the search for consolation in an afterlife-will decline naturally of itself. Of course, you may disagree with this prediction. Time will tell who is right. In the meantime, disagreements on such matters should not prevent all honest Christians from joining hands with the Marxists in the struggle for a new and better world.
For a Socialist Federation of Latin America
Throughout its history, Brazil has remained somewhat aloof from the general history of Latin America. It somehow appears to be in it, but not of it. Its peculiar history, language and the impenetrable jungles that surround it have acted as barriers separating it from the rest of the continent. In addition, its huge size and vast resources means that it is almost like a continent in its own right. Today, more than at any other time, Brazil is the giant of Latin America. It is destined to play a key role in the future of the continent and the world.
The revolutionary process has already begun throughout the continent. The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has given hope to millions of workers and peasants in Latin America, where there is now not a single stable capitalist regime from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. US imperialism is determined to overthrow Chavez because of the example he is giving to the peoples of a continent that Washington regards as its private property. Washington is trying to establish a base in Brazil, and to inoculate it against the influence of Venezuela. But the workers and peasants of Brazil naturally sympathise with their class brothers and sisters in Venezuela.
The separateness of Brazil and its national peculiarities exist but are of only relative importance in the broader context of the world in the first decade of the 21st century. Today, the most decisive factor is the crushing domination of the world market. No country, no matter how big, can escape the colossal pull of the world economy. It was not possible for Russia and China, and it is certainly not possible for Brazil. Like every other country of Latin America, Brazil's economy is dominated by imperialism and the big transnational companies.
With its colossal reserves of mineral wealth, its fertile land, vast water resources, powerful industrial base and huge population, Brazil ought to be one of the most prosperous nations on earth. But for generations the resources of Brazil, like those of the rest of the continent, have been plundered by imperialism. The Brazilian bourgeoisie are merely the local office boys of imperialism and the big transnational companies. The struggle against imperialism is the prior condition for the solution of the problems of Brazilian society. But this struggle cannot be successful unless it is linked to the struggle to overthrow the rule of the Brazilian landlords, bankers and capitalists.
A socialist Brazil would introduce a planned economy, under the democratic control and administration of the working class. It would be able to mobilize the vast resources of the country to satisfy the needs of the people. It would give a powerful impetus to the revolutionary movement in all Latin America, preparing the way for the creation of the Socialist Federation of the entire continent. This, in turn, would be a giant step forward for the victory of socialism on a world scale and the establishment of a new page in the history of humankind.
London, 19th March, 2007