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Marx and Religion© Goethe-Institut Hanoi

Dialogue on the relevance of Karl Marx
Marx 200

200 years ago (1818), Karl Marx was born in Trier, which then belonged to Prussia. The Goethe Institut Hanoi will mark this anniversary by exploring the life, work, and most importantly, the impact of this multi-faceted personality. Our project will examine the enduring significance of the German philosopher, politician, and economist in modern Vietnamese society and politics.

In collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Invitation to Discussion and Film

We cordially invite you to a discussion about Karl Marx and Freedom
September, 21 starting at 5 pm
And to the film screening of the historical film The Boy Karl Marx
September, 21 starting at 7 pm
Please register for the discussion: vietnam-marx200@goethe.de

Four Topics on the dialogue

We will focus on the core tenets of his political philosophy and how it has been reflected in Vietnam’s diverse and contradictory reality in the past fifty years.

  1. Marx und Religion
  2. Marx and Mass Consumerism 
  3. Marx and Globalisation 
  4. Marx and the Liberation of the Human Being

Introduction - Discussion on September 21, 2018

Marx is one of the most influential Western thinkers and scientists. He was born 200 years ago in Germany. His life was marked by the effects of the French Revolution and the growing popularity among the bourgeoisie and broader population for liberation from aristocratic rule. In Germany this led to the 1848 revolution, which, however, did not achieve its goals.
1848 was also the watershed year when Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto. It is considered to be the basis for the vision of a Communist society. 1859 appeared the first volume of DAS KAPITAL.
Karl Marx and his family, friends suffered censorship and political persecution throughout their lifetime. Marx had to flee with his wife and seven children into exile in France, Belgium and finally to England. In London he spent the last 11 years of his life († 1883)
To this day, the Communist Manifesto and DAS KAPITAL are central writings of with worldwide influence. In the West, these writings are still read today as well as his early writings, which preceded the Communist Manifesto. They are acknowledged as important legacies of his thinking.
Karl Marx continues the tradition of German philosophy, especially Hegel's philosophy of law (F. Hegel * 1770, † 1831) and the Jewish-Christian humanism. Marx studied law, history and philosophy. His writings are still relevant for social, economic and political sciences.
On the occasion of his 200th birthday (1818) the Goethe-Institut pays respect to Karl Marx. This year is also 170 anniversary of the the first publication of the Communist Manifesto. The Goethe-Institut honors recalls KarlMarx with a website: www.goethe.de/Vietnam/Marx200.
We adress four topics. We assume that they fit within the context of Vietnam and its commitment to socialism. With reference to Karl Marx writings we ask about

  • globalization
  • mass consumption
  • freedom of religion
  • freedom of political action
For our dialogue, we asked local senior thinkers and a well-known youth organization to participate in the call. We turned to the public. - We received a dozen of submissions from colleges and individuals. Thank you for your responses. For you, we have organized this little ceremony today.
There are no prizes for winners to our call. Because we reject to pretend that we can award prizes for thinking about Marx. If we had received a great response, we would have asked two or three experts such as Jürgen Habermas (* 1929), Saskia Sassen (* 1947), William J. Talbott (* 1949), Slavoi Zizek (* 1949), Vladimir Tismaneanu ( * 1951), Heinz Bude (* 1954). But we did not get that far. This does not reduce the value of our effort to ask about the relevance of Marx or your willingness to offer thoughts about Marx and our time.
Here in Vietnam we are one of two European cultural institutes. The best we can do is to invite you to a dialogue. For this, there are no first and second prizes. Our event today is just a dialogue. There is no reward for thinking about Marx. We create an opportunity for exchange.
Thank you for accepting our invitation.
Wilfried Eckstein - Director, Goethe-Institut Hanoi

1. Marx and Religion

„Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.“
„…the right to be religious in any way, to exercise one’s particular religious rites, is explicitly counted among human rights. The privilege of faith is a universal human right.

A central aspect of Marxian philosophy was his criticism of religion. However, his criticism was far more ambivalent than many later interpreted. For instance, Marx censured religions as a sort of drug that people use to avoid having to confront reality. On the other hand, he considered religion an important part of human cultures and its practice an indispensable human right. Can we detect this tension in modern Vietnam, as well? In the past 30 years, temples, pagodas, and churches have been rebuilt or newly constructed all over the country. Memorials to founder President Ho Chi Minh and his family have morphed from soviet-inspired monuments into temples and pagodas, strongly reminiscent of the way Confucians and Buddhists worship their saints and scholars. What effect does this new religious wave have on Vietnam? And does religious criticism still exist alongside this new tendency, and who are the voices behind it? How do we assess today’s diversity of religious and non-religious people in Vietnam?

Further texts:

“For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.

“Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a superman, will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself, the non-man [Unmensch], where he seeks and must seek his true reality.

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” 
It is possible, therefore, for the state to have emancipated itself from religion even if the overwhelming majority is still religious. And the overwhelming majority does not cease to be religious through being religious in private.…

Nevertheless, North America is pre-eminently the country of religiosity, as Beaumont, Tocqueville, and the Englishman Hamilton unanimously assure us. The North American states, however, serve us only as an example. The question is: What is the relation of complete political emancipation to religion? If we find that even in the country of complete political emancipation, religion not only exists, but displays a fresh and vigorous vitality, that is proof that the existence of religion is not in contradiction to the perfection of the state. Since, however, the existence of religion is the existence of defect, the source of this defect can only be sought in the nature of the state itself. We no longer regard religion as the cause, but only as the manifestation of secular narrowness. Therefore, we explain the religious limitations of the free citizen by their secular limitations. We do not assert that they must overcome their religious narrowness in order to get rid of their secular restrictions, we assert that they will overcome their religious narrowness once they get rid of their secular restrictions. We do not turn secular questions into theological ones. History has long enough been merged in superstition, we now merge superstition in history. The question of the relation of political emancipation to religion becomes for us the question of the relation of political emancipation to human emancipation. We criticize the religious weakness of the political state by criticizing the political state in its secular form, apart from its weaknesses as regards religion. The contradiction between the state and a particular religion, for instance Judaism, is given by us a human form as the contradiction between the state and particular secular elements; the contradiction between the state and religion in general as the contradiction between the state and its presuppositions in general.

The political emancipation of the Jew, the Christian, and, in general, of religious man, is the emancipation of the state from Judaism, from Christianity, from religion in general. In its own form, in the manner characteristic of its nature, the state as a state emancipates itself from religion by emancipating itself from the state religion – that is to say, by the state as a state not professing any religion, but, on the contrary, asserting itself as a state. 

2. Marx and Mass Consumerism

Marx and Mass Consumerism One World for All! | © Goethe-Institut Hanoi

We need new people.
The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and size.

In 1986, Vietnam’s leadership passed far-reaching reforms. The economy was liberalized and decentralized, private enterprise was recognized, and foreign investors admitted. Currently, Vietnam is going through a second great wave of privatization of state-run corporations. And there is no doubt that since Doi Moi, the standard of living in Vietnam has improved significantly. Poverty rates have dwindled from 58.1 percent in 1993 to less than 12% in 2015. Economic growth rates in the past decade hovered between 7% and 10%. In metropolitan areas, huge shopping malls, increasing numbers of motorcycles and cars on the streets, fashionable clothing, expensive cell phones – and many obese children are indicators of increasing prosperity, perhaps even first signs of a consumer society. Would Karl Marx be happy about this development? In his early writings, he claimed that in a capitalist system, ever greater wealth would only benefit a small section of society, the capitalists. Workers, on the other hand, would be dehumanized and reduced to commodities. Later, Marx focused more on the fetishist nature of commodities. By that he meant that capitalism is based on creating illusions about the value of commodities. Both aspects have been influencing criticism of mass consumerism in Europe and North America to this day. Is this also the case in Vietnam? How do the people here view their new affluence and the now obvious differences between urban and rural areas?

Further texts:

The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and size. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things. Labor produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity – and this at the same rate at which it produces commodities in general.

his fact expresses merely that the object which labor produces – labor’s product – confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor which has been embodied in an object, which has become material: it is the objectification of labor. Labor’s realization is its objectification. Under these economic conditions this realization of labor appears as loss of realization for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.

So much does the labor’s realization appear as loss of realization that the worker loses realization to the point of starving to death. So much does objectification appear as loss of the object that the worker is robbed of the objects most necessary not only for his life but for his work. Indeed, labor itself becomes an object which he can obtain only with the greatest effort and with the most irregular interruptions. So much does the appropriation of the object appear as estrangement that the more objects the worker produces the less he can possess and the more he falls under the sway of his product, capital.

All these consequences are implied in the statement that the worker is related to the product of labor as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. It is the same in religion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater this activity, the more the worker lacks objects.

Whatever the product of his labor is, he is not. Therefore, the greater this product, the less is he himself. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien.
A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was.
The mystical character of commodities does not originate, therefore, in their use value. Just as little does it proceed from the nature of the determining factors of value. For, in the first place, however varied the useful kinds of labour, or productive activities, may be, it is a physiological fact, that they are functions of the human organism, and that each such function, whatever may be its nature or form, is essentially the expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, &c. Secondly, with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure, or the quantity of labour, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality. In all states of society, the labour time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development. And lastly, from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labour assumes a social form.

Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly from this form itself. The equality of all sorts of human labour is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labour power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quantity of value of the products of labour; and finally the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labour affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products.

A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social reason why the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. In the same way the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself. But, in the act of seeing, there is at all events, an actual passage of light from one thing to another, from the external object to the eye. There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things quâ commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.



The acronym 'LOHAS' stands for a group of people whose lifestyle is based on health consciousness and sustainability. American sociologist Paul Ray noticed this phenomenon in the year 2000. He described the movement in his book “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million Are Changing the World.” Spurred by debates on climate protection, natural catastrophes, and genetic manipulation, the initially small group of ‘Cultural Creatives’ has gained popularity in recent years. In Germany alone, about 12.5 million people pursue this alternative lifestyle.
LOHAS‘ mission is to sustainably improve the situation on the world market by systematically consuming organic and fair trade products, thus causing corporations to become more transparent and ecological. While LOHAS not really political-ideological, but rather sensual-aesthetic in its outlook. 

The Manifesto

The LOHAS group often organizes via internet portals such as Karmakonsum.de, Konsumguerilla, lohas.de or Utopia.de. The site Karmakonsum.de published a LOHAS manifesto:
"We live LOHAS – the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. We are the new eco-freaks that the press likes to mention so much. Our mode of consumption is consistently ecological and fair while also modern. We differ from the old “tree-huggers” in that we embrace technology and we like to enjoy things. Yet we are not part of the self-indulging generation of fun lovers; we enjoy sustainably. We are aware of the consequences of our consumption and we try to keep it to a minimum. We are interested in health, spirituality, sustainability, and ecology. We do yoga or Tai-Chi, we drink green tea or organic sodas. Many of us are vegetarians." 

They go on to say:

"Our goal is sustainable and conscious living so that tomorrow’s generations will also enjoy an environment that is worth living in. We know a great deal about Corporate Social Responsibility and we take a critical stance towards corporations that do not take their responsibility towards humanity and nature seriously, who destroy jobs and natural resources out of greed. We boycott such corporations. We do not respond to their empty marketing messages. Our purchasing decisions are influenced mainly by our friends.

We do not agree [with a German electronics chain’s marketing slogan, translator’s note] that ‘greed is awesome’. We like to promote and buy from companies who offer valuable, durable, and sustainable products. Fair trade is important to us, for no one should be exploited by our consumption. We are willing to pay a little more for this – we can afford that because we have little desire for material luxury articles. Our luxury is time. We are creative and often prioritize different things in life than the average population. BEING matters more to us than OWNING. Developing our personalities and experiences is more important to us than material affluence. We find happiness in introspection and in our social relationships." (Quote: www.Karmakonsum.de)

3. Marx and Globalisation

Marx and Globalisation © Goethe-Institut Hanoi

Workers of the world, unite!

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.

Yet generally, the system of protective tariffs today tends to be conservative whereas the system of free trade is destructive. It erodes existing nationalities and escalates the disparity between Proletariat and Bourgeoisie. In a word, the system of free trade accelerates social revolution.

Karl Marx was one of the earliest critics of globalization. His analysis was not limited to nations that were undergoing industrialization at the time. As early as in the Communist Manifesto, he foresaw a global spread of industrial capitalism with all its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, he saw the enormous increase in production and economic productivity (the unleashing of productive forces, as he called it), and the gigantic increase of capital; on the other hand, he saw the destruction of the basic living foundations of millions, their dependence on investors and factory bosses, even the exploitation of entire continents. Marx’s ambivalent view has been influencing criticism of globalization to this day. Today, more demands have been added to it, including the Third World movement, protection of the environment, women’s rights, and social reform, all linked with left-wing political or religious ideas or demands to restore power to the national state. In Vietnam, globalization and low production costs have led to massive economic growth. Yet there are drawbacks, as well; environmental disasters such as the toxic gas scandal involving the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group; Vietnam’s dependence on international capital flow; government and investors facing uncertainties after the failure of the transnational TTP treaty to regulate trade relationships. What is the price of globalization and how do the Vietnamese cope with it? Which insights can we glean from Marx’s ideas for the current situation in Vietnam?

Further text:

February, 1848. London.

Unsere Epoche, die EOur epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

From the serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.

The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.

The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop.

Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturer no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune*: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature. 

(Quote: de.wikipedia.org)

4. Marx and the Liberation of the Human Being

Marx and the Liberation of the Human Being How do you like Mac? - Which Mac? McDonalds | © Goethe-Institut Hanoi

Each movement for liberation changes ist character as it transitions from utopia to reality.
Philosophers merely interpret the world differently, but what matters is to change it.

Marx’s philosophy called for humanity’s liberation through active involvement in its own history, whether it be through class warfare or by struggling against colonialist oppression. He was profoundly influenced by German Idealism and its schematic understanding of history. He initially developed his ideas for the states that were undergoing industrialization in his day, demanding that the underprivileged working masses liberate themselves from their oppressors, the capitalists. Yet non-European countries also moved more into the focus of Marx and of other European Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg. When revolutionary movements emerged in Russia and Asia, the idea of class warfare evolved even further there. Thinkers like Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh shifted it away from the center of capitalism, Western Europe and North America, towards what was then considered the periphery. The idea was to bring down the capitalist world system from underdeveloped half-colonies like China and colonies like French-Indochina as oppressed peoples battled for a revolution that was national and social at the same time. This can be interpreted either as a refinement or as a fundamental reinterpretation of Marxian thought. How did this change take place in Vietnam? How did a European revolutionary shaped by German Idealism turn into a warrior for colonial liberation? How much Marx is left in the Vietnamese interpretation of his work? And what is the relation between social and national liberation today?

Further texts:

In the article for the New York Daily Tribune of June 25, 1853 

There cannot, however, remain any doubt but that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before. I do not allude to European despotism, planted upon Asiatic despotism, by the British East India Company, forming a more monstrous combination than any of the divine monsters startling us in the Temple of Salsette[7]. This is no distinctive feature of British Colonial rule, but only an imitation of the Dutch, and so much so that in order to characterise the working of the British East India Company, it is sufficient to literally repeat what Sir Stamford Raffles, the English Governor of Java, said of the old Dutch East India Company:

"The Dutch Company, actuated solely by the spirit of gain, and viewing their [Javan] subjects, with less regard or consideration than a West India planter formerly viewed a gang upon his estate, because the latter had paid the purchase money of human property, which the other had not, employed all the existing machinery of despotism to squeeze from the people their utmost mite of contribution, the last dregs of their labor, and thus aggravated the evils of a capricious and semi-barbarous Government, by working it with all the practised ingenuity of politicians, and all the monopolizing selfishness of traders.”
All the civil wars, invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines, strangely complex, rapid, and destructive as the successive action in Hindostan may appear, did not go deeper than its surface. England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindoo, and separates Hindostan, ruled by Britain, from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history. 

Now, the British in East India accepted from their predecessors the department of finance and of war, but they have neglected entirely that of public works. Hence the deterioration of an agriculture which is not capable of being conducted on the British principle of free competition, of laissez-faire and laissez-aller. But in Asiatic empires we are quite accustomed to see agriculture deteriorating under one government and reviving again under some other government. There the harvests correspond to good or bad government, as they change in Europe with good or bad seasons. Thus the oppression and neglect of agriculture, bad as it is, could not be looked upon as the final blow dealt to Indian society by the British intruder, had it not been attended by a circumstance of quite different importance, a novelty in the annals of the whole Asiatic world. However changing the political aspect of India’s past must appear, its social condition has remained unaltered since its remotest antiquity, until the first decennium of the 19th century. The hand-loom and the spinning-wheel, producing their regular myriads of spinners and weavers, were the pivots of the structure of that society. From immemorial times, Europe received the admirable textures of Indian labor, sending in return for them her precious metals, and furnishing thereby his material to the goldsmith, that indispensable member of Indian society, whose love of finery is so great that even the lowest class, those who go about nearly naked, have commonly a pair of golden ear-rings and a gold ornament of some kind hung round their necks. Rings on the fingers and toes have also been common. Women as well as children frequently wore massive bracelets and anklets of gold or silver, and statuettes of divinities in gold and silver were met with in the households. It was the British intruder who broke up the Indian hand-loom and destroyed the spinning-wheel. England began with driving the Indian cottons from the European market; it then introduced twist into Hindostan, and in the end inundated the very mother country of cotton with cottons. From 1818 to 1836 the export of twist from Great Britain to India rose in the proportion of 1 to 5,200. In 1824 the export of British muslins to India hardly amounted to 1,000,000 yards, while in 1837 it surpassed 64,000,000 of yards. But at the same time the population of Dacca decreased from 150,000 inhabitants to 20,000. This decline of Indian towns celebrated for their fabrics was by no means the worst consequence. British steam and science uprooted, over the whole surface of Hindostan, the union between agriculture and manufacturing industry. 

(Quote: www.mlwerke.de)

New-York Daily Tribune Nr. 3840 of 8 August 1853.

The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked. They are the defenders of property, but did any revolutionary party ever originate agrarian revolutions like those in Bengal, in Madras, and in Bombay? Did they not, in India, to borrow an expression of. that great robber, Lord Clive himself, resort to atrocious extortion, when simple corruption could not keep pace with their rapacity? While they prated in Europe about the inviolable sanctity of the national debt, did they not confiscate in India the dividends of the rajahs, who had invested their private savings in the Company’s own funds? While they combatted the French revolution under the pretext of defending “our holy religion,” did they not forbid, at the same time, Christianity to be propagated in India, and did they not, in order to make money out of the pilgrims streaming to the temples of Orissa and Bengal, take up the trade in the murder and prostitution perpetrated in the temple of juggernaut? These are the men of “Property, Order, Family, and Religion.”

The devastating effects of English industry, when contemplated with regard to India, a country as vast as Europe, and containing 150 millions of acres, are palpable and confounding. But we must not forget that they are only the organic results of the whole system of production as it is now constituted. That production rests on the supreme rule of capital. The centralization of capital is essential to the existence of capital as an independent power. The destructive influence of that centralization upon the markets of the world does but reveal, in the most gigantic dimensions, the inherent organic laws of political economy now at work in every civilized town. The bourgeois period of history has to create the material basis of the new world — on the one hand universal intercourse founded upon the mutual dependency of mankind, and the means of that intercourse; on the other hand the development of the productive powers of man and the transformation of material production into a scientific domination of natural agencies. Bourgeois industry and commerce create these material conditions of a new world in the same way as geological revolutions have created the surface of the earth. When a great social revolution shall have mastered the results of the bourgeois epoch, the market of the world and the modern powers of production, and subjected them to the common control of the most advanced peoples, then only will human progress cease to resemble that hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain. 

(Quote: www.mlwerke.de)

Up to now we have only considered one aspect of enlarged reproduction, the problem of realising the surplus value, whose difficulties hitherto had claimed the sceptics’ whole attention. Realisation of the surplus value is doubtless a vital question of capitalist accumulation. It requires as its prime condition – ignoring, for simplicity’s sake, the capitalists’ fund of consumption altogether – that there should be strata of buyers outside capitalist society. Buyers, it should be noted, not consumers, since the material form of the surplus value is quite irrelevant to its realisation. The decisive fact is that the surplus value cannot be realised by sale either to workers or to capitalists, but only if it is sold to such social organisations or strata whose own mode of production is not capitalistic. Here we can conceive of two different cases:
Capitalist production supplies consumer goods over and above its own requirements, the demand of its workers and capitalists, which are bought by non-capitalist strata and countries. The English cotton industry, for instance, during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, and to some extent even now, has been supplying cotton textiles to the peasants and petty-bourgeois townspeople of the European continent, and to the peasants of India, America, Africa and so on. The enormous expansion of the English cotton industry was thus founded on consumption by non-capitalist strata and countries. In England herself; this flourishing cotton industry called forth large-scale development in the production of industrial machinery (bobbins and weaving-looms), and further in the metal and coal industries and so on. In this instance, Department II realised its products to an increasing extent by sale to non-capitalist social strata, and by its own accumulation it created on its part an increasing demand for the home produce of Department I, thus helping the latter to realise its surplus value and to increase its own accumulation.
Conversely, capitalist production supplies means of production in excess of its own demand and finds buyers in non-capitalist countries. English industry, for instance, in the first half of the nineteenth century supplied materials for the construction of railroads in the American and Australian states. (The building of railways cannot in itself be taken as evidence for the domination of capitalist production in a country. As a matter of fact, the railways in this case provided only one of the first conditions for the inauguration of capitalist production.) Another example would be the German chemical industry which supplies means of production such as dyes in great quantities to Asiatic, African and other countries whose own production is not capitalistic. Here Department I realises its products in extra-capitalist circles. The resulting progressive expansion of Department I gives rise to a corresponding expansion of Department II in the same (capitalistically producing) country in order to supply the means of subsistence for the growing army of workers in Department I. 

(Quote: www.mlwerke.de)

Published in Prawda no. 49, 4 March1923.

The system of international relationships which has now taken shape is one in which a European state, Germany, is enslaved by the victor countries. Furthermore, owing to their victory, a number of states, the oldest states in the West, are in a position to make some insignificant concessions to their oppressed classes- concessions which, insignificant though they are, nevertheless heard the revolutionary movement in those countries and create some semblance of "class truce."

At the same time, as a result of the last imperialist war, a number of countries of the East, India, China, etc, have been completely jolted out of the rut. Their development has definitely shifted to general European capitalist lines. The general European ferment has begun to affect them, and it is now clear to the whole world that they have been drawn into a process of development that must lead to a crisis in the whole of world capitalism.

Thus, at the present time we are confronted with the question- shall we be able to hold on with our small and very small peasant production, and in our present state of ruin, until the West-European capitalist countries consummate their development towards socialism? But they are consummating it not as we formerly expected. They are not consummating it through the gradual "maturing" of socialism, but through the exploitation of some countries by others, through the exploitation of the first of the countries vanquished in the imperialist war combined with the exploitation of the whole of the East. On the other hand, precisely as a result of the first imperialist war, the East has been definitely drawn into the revolutionary movement, has been definitely drawn into the general maelstrom of the world revolutionary movement.

What tactics does this situation prescribe for our country? Obviously the following. We must display extreme caution so as to preserve our workers’ government and to retain our small and very small peasantry under its leadership and authority. We have the advantage that the whole world is now passing to a movement that must give rise to a world socialist revolution. But we are labouring under the disadvantage that the imperialists have succeeded in splitting the world into two camps; and this split is made more complicated by the fact that it is extremely difficult for Germany, which is really a land of advanced, cultured, capitalist development, to rise to her feet. All the capitalist powers of what is called the West are pecking at her and preventing her from rising. On the other hand, the entire East, with its hundred of millions of exploited working people, reduced to the last degree of human suffering, has been forced into a position where its physical and material strength cannot possibly be compared with the physical, material and military strength of any of the much smaller West-European states.

Can we save ourselves from the impending conflict with these imperialist countries? May we hope that the internal antagonisms and conflicts between the thriving imperialist countries of the East will give us a second respite as they did the first time, when the campaign of the West-European counter-revolution in support of the Russian counter-revolution broke down owing to the antagonisms in the camp of the counter-revolutionaries of the West and the East, in the camp of th Eastern and Western exploiters, in the camp of Japan and the U.S.A.?

I think the reply to this question should be that the issue depends upon too many factors, and that the outcome of the struggle as a whole can be forecast only because in the long run capitalism itself is educating and training the vast majority of the population of the globe for the struggle.

In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And during the past few years it is this majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured. 


Self-test “How much Marx is in me?”

By Tom Strohschneider
Illustration: Tobias Schrank


Choose an answer!


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