Marx and the Permanent Revolution in France: Background to the Communist Manifesto

Bernard Moss


Marx's positions and analyses shifted with circumstances. He made three successive different interpretations of the revolution of 1848 and the Paris Commune, but that does not make his politics merely circumstantial. There are contradictions between texts and within texts, but some explanations are more robust, some determinations more fundamental, and some historical formulations more balanced than others. His texts must be read as part of a corpus and understood in historical context, particularly in relation to the working-class movement that gave unity to his life and thought, for it is in the texts and formulations that engage with the working-class movement that Marx is the most illuminating. Conversely, it is when he loses touch with the movement - either when he takes up an ultra-revolutionary position, as in 1849-50 or, in reaction to its failure, a detached objectivism as in 1851-52 - that his vision becomes skewed and distorted. The first of these mistakes was subjectivist - the belief that all was made possible by political will; the second was objectivist - the belief that human action could not change the immutable laws of history. These deviations occurred because of the disintegration of the social democratic movement with which Marx identified, particularly in Germany; but the subjectivist one, amazingly enough, prefigured the future, both the Paris Commune and 1917.

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