of: Ernest Mandel, “The Place of Marxism in History”
(Notebooks for Study and Research, Number 1, 1986)
series of brochures published by the Amsterdam-based
International Institute for Research and Education is
inaugurated by a remarkable text from Ernest Mandel. Rejecting the abstract, academic and positivistic view of
Marxism as a ‘pure science’ unconnected to the social
movement, he sets out to apply the materialist interpretation of
history to Marxism itself: in other words, to situate it in its
general historical context and dialectical relation – at once
integration, critique and supercession – with the social
sciences of his time, with utopian socialism and with the
In 30 clear,
precise and coherent pages, Mandel presents the genesis of
Marxism, its fundamental features, the personal itinerary of
Marx and Engels, and the reception of their ideas in the world.
The place of
Marxism in history must be understood at two levels: as the
conscious expression of the real movement for self-emancipation
of workers in the capitalist system.
Marxism is a modern phenomenon; but it is also the heir
and executor of thousands of years of emancipatory efforts by
toiling humanity, the continuation of an old tradition of dreams
and fights by poor people, the exploited and the oppressed.
One of the
main contributions of this brochure is its critique of the
linear, economistic and mechanistic interpretations of Marxism
– to which it counterposes a truly dialectical conception of
the contradictions of historical progress.
Along with the spread of the capitalist mode of
production – particularly in colonized countries – came the
ambiguities of the social and economic progress embodied in
bourgeois society. ‘The violent, disruptive, destructive and inhuman impact of
capitalism on precapitalist societies in the Americas, Asia and
Africa was far worse than its impact on pre-capitalist societies
in western, southern, central and eastern Europe.
Marx and Engels were too rigorous scientists and too
passionate humanists not to notice this, to be indignant about
it and to revolt against these abominable crimes.’
precisely a linear view of progress which was the main weakness
of Second International Marxism.
The supercession of capitalism by socialism was more or
less inevitable, as a result of economic evolution, and these
Marxists paid only scant attention to the decisive importance of
political initiative. Often
this implied downplaying and even disparaging of direct action
by the masses, a theme which remained confined to
anarcho-syndicalist circles until 1905 (when the international
current represented by Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky emerged).
work of Mandel is not only an exceptionally valuable educational
tool – as an initiation to Marxism from a committed and
activist standpoint – but also an original contribution that
enriches and renews the debate on the place of Marxism in