Both Marxist-Leninists and revisionists have tended to interpret Marx for their own purposes. In general, the former have presented a Marx more prone to violence than is actually the case, while the latter have underplayed the importance of revolutionary violence in Marx's theory.
In Marxian thought, violence is never treated as a separate analytical category but integrated into a larger vision of the revolutionary process. The core of the capitalist structure is the class division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie, through its domination in production, exploits and oppresses the proletariat. Exploitation occurs in the form of expropriation of surplus value. Oppression results when capitalists, in order to maximise surplus value, organise production in a way which requires alienated labour. This denial of opportunity for creative labour is the basic source of revolution in capitalist societies. The economic substructure characterised by class division, exploitation and oppression provides a foundation for a capitalist superstructure which expresses bourgeois domination and sustains it. While the overthrow of the capitalist state is an indispensable condition for workers' liberation, it is not in itself sufficient for socialist transformation. The ultimate ends of revolution require universal liberation from dehumanising modes of capitalist production. If a socialist revolution is to occur, the proletariat will have to achieve a level of conscious behaviour able to maintain an effective revolutionary movement. A socialist revolution has to change the sub-structural economy and provide the foundation for a new way of life. Two major conditions have to be attained prior to a successful socialist revolution - a relatively highly developed capitalist economy and the existence of revolutionary consciousness and organisation within the proletariat.
Marx viewed revolutionary violence as a predetermined phenomenon which is necessarily a part of the transition from capitalism to socialism. Marx neither condemned violence as a pacifist like Gandhi did, nor did he glorify it like Sorel or Fanon. Sorel and Fanon claimed that violence is instrumental in the psychological transformation of the oppressed into 'new men' capable of making a revolution.
Marx made distinctions between political and social revolution. The former altered only aspects of the superstructure, primarily the political institutional framework. Social revolution transformed the substructure, particularly patterns of class domination and the method of production. The essence of revolution could not occur without widespread revolutionary consciousness among proletarians. In such a context violence was inevitable and efficacious.
In Marxist theory violence is not efficacious unless it takes place in the context of developed material conditions. Throughout his life, Karl Marx criticised revolutionaries of the Jacobin (French Revolutionary) tradition who overemphasised the importance of political will while neglecting the necessity for advanced capitalist development in society and of revolutionary class consciousness in the working class. Marx believed terrorism to be out of step with the larger, impersonal historical process of revolution.
Marx was not opposed to violence in principle. He foresaw it as a necessary ingredient of the complex evolution of events culminating in socialist revolution.
See also: Terror and Terrorism.
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Publication information: Book title: Dictionary of Terrorism. Edition: 2nd. Contributors: John Richard Thackrah - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 167.
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