Classics of Marxism – Famous Quotes and Extracts

From: Part III, Socialism. 2. Theoretical

«The seizure of all means of production by society has, since the historical appearance of the capitalist mode of production, often more or less vaguely flashed before the mind of both individuals and entire sects as an ideal of the future. But it could only become possible, only become a historical necessity, when the material conditions for its realization were present. Like every other social progress, it becomes feasible not through the insight gained that the existence of classes contradicts justice, equality, etc., not through the mere will to abolish these classes, but through certain new economic conditions. The division of society into an exploiting and an exploited, a ruling and an oppressed class, was the necessary consequence of the earlier low development of production. As long as the total labor of society only yields a produce which but slightly exceeds what is necessary for the bare existence of all, as long as work occupies all or almost all the time of the great majority of the members of society, society is necessarily divided into classes. Alongside this great majority, which indulges exclusively in labor, a class is formed which is freed from direct-productive labor and which takes care of the common affairs of society: management of labor, affairs of state, justice, science, the arts, and so on. The law of the division of labor, therefor, is what underlies the division of classes. But this does not prevent this division into classes from having been enforced by violence and robbery, cunning and fraud, and that the ruling class, once in the saddle, has never failed to consolidate its rule at the expense of the working class and to transform social leadership into exploitation of the masses.

But if, according to this, the division into classes has a certain historical justification, it has such justification only for a given period, for given social conditions. It was based on the inadequacy of production; it will be swept away by the full development of the modern productive forces. And indeed, the abolition of social classes has as its prerequisite a degree of historical development at which the existence not only of this or that particular ruling class, but of a ruling class in general, that is, of the class distinction itself, has become an anachronism, has become obsolete. It therefore presupposes a level of development of production at which the appropriation of the means of production and products, and thus of political rule, of the monopoly of education and of intellectual leadership by a particular class of society has become not only superfluous but also an obstacle to development economically, politically and intellectually. This point has now been reached. If the political and intellectual bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie is hardly a secret to itself, its economic bankruptcy repeats itself regularly every ten years. In every crisis, society suffocates under the force of its own productive forces and products, which are unusable for it, and stands helpless before the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume because there is a lack of consumers. The expansionary power of the means of production bursts the bonds which the capitalist mode of production imposes on it. Their liberation from these bonds is the only precondition of an uninterrupted, ever more rapidly advancing development of the productive forces and thus of a practically boundless increase of production itself. Nor is this all. The social appropriation of the means of production removes not only the artificial inhibition of production which now exists, but also the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products which is at present the inevitable companion of production and reaches its climax in the crises. It also frees a mass of means of production and products for the whole by eliminating the stupid luxury waste of the present ruling classes and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for all the members of society, by means of social production, an existence which is not only perfectly sufficient materially and which grows richer day by day, but which also guarantees them the complete free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties, this possibility is now here for the first time, but it is here. (*)

With the seizure of the means of production by society, commodity production is eliminated and with it the domination of the product over the producers. Anarchy within social production is replaced by planned conscious organization. The struggle for individual existence ceases. Only in this way does man, in a certain sense, finally separate from the animal kingdom, step out of animal conditions of existence into truly human ones. The environment of living conditions surrounding men, which has dominated men until now, now comes under the rule and control of men, who now for the first time become conscious, real masters of nature, because and by becoming masters of their own socialization. The laws of their own social activity, which hitherto were opposed to them as alien laws of nature dominating them, are then applied by men with full expertise and [are] thus mastered. The own socialization of men, which up to now confronted them as imposed by nature and history, now becomes their own free action. The objective, alien powers which hitherto dominated history come under the control of men themselves. Only from then on will men make their own history with full consciousness; only from then on will the social causes they set in motion have predominantly and to an ever-increasing degree the effects they desire. It is the leap of mankind from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.

To carry out this world-liberating deed is the historical vocation of the modern proletariat. To fathom its historical conditions and thus its very nature, and thus to make the class called to action, today oppressed, aware of the conditions and nature of its own action, is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, of scientific socialism.»

(Part III: Socialism. II. Theoretical; last 4 sections. Our translation)

Footnote by Engels:

(*) A few figures may give an approximate idea of the enormous power of expansion of the modern means of production, even under capitalist pressure. According to the latest calculation by Giffen, the total wealth of Great Britain and Ireland in round figures was:

1814 – 2,200 million pfd. st. = 44 billion marks
1865 – 6,100 million pfd. st. = 122 billion marks
1875 – 8,500 million pfd. st. = 170 billion marks

As for the devastation of means of production and products in the crises, at the Second Congress of German Industrialists, Berlin, February 21, 1878, the total loss of the German iron industry alone in the last crash was calculated at 455 million marks.