Speech by Jerónimo de Sousa, General Secretary of the PCP, PCP's Conference “Engels and the struggle today for socialism”

Engels and the struggle today for socialism

Engels and the struggle today for socialism

On behalf of the Portuguese Communist Party, I would like to extend most cordial greetings to all of you, participants in our Conference under the motto "Friedrich Engels and the struggle today for socialism".

A conference that takes place within the scope of the Commemoration of the II Centenary of the Birth of Friedrich Engels, whose thinking, work and legacy of an exceptional revolutionary, the PCP proudly assumes as its own in the definition and conduct of its own struggle and daily intervention to serve the workers and people and for the construction of a new society - socialism.

Lenin said: “You cannot understand Marxism and you cannot fully expose it, without taking into account all the works of Engels”.

At this moment when the PCP celebrates one hundred years of existence, bringing to debate the topicality of the struggle for socialism, bearing in mind its valuable theoretical and concrete struggle, it has for our party collective a significance that goes beyond the tribute owed to this brilliant and unusual man who was Engels or the celebration of his work and intervention, it also reflects an act of renewal of our commitment as a patriotic and internationalist party to the revolutionary project and to which he made an invaluable contribution.

Engels' life and work are inseparable from those of his friend Marx. Without his material support always generously granted and their intense collaboration intellectually and in the political struggle over four decades, Marx could not have carried out the work he bequeathed to us.

As a result of the struggle and the theoretical work of both, the working class and workers came to have the theoretical instruments that allow them to become aware of the exploitation of which they are victims in capitalist society and of a revolutionary "guide for action" that, transforming the existing society, lay the foundations of a new society in which the exploitation of man by man is put to an end.

We call scientific socialism this view of the theoretical-practical world by virtue of the objective foundations that establish it, breaking both the moral preaching purportedly curing the woes suffered by the oppressed and exploited around the world or with, to use Engels' words, “The conception, through fantasy, of an ideal society as perfect as possible”. And in an explicit continuation, communism then came to mean the "[theoretical] understanding of Nature, of the conditions and general objectives, resulting from them, of the struggle conducted by the proletariat".
Marx and Engels explained it very clearly in the well-known Communist Party Manifesto, the work of both, but in which Engels had a pioneering role in its drafting, for the II Congress of the Communist League, the document Basic Principles of Communism, which, unfinished, he would send to Marx proposing that he should transform it into a "communist manifesto", which, as we know, would come to be.

Sent to England in late 1842 to continue his business training at the textile company of which his father was a partner in Manchester, Engels, who had already studied the works of bourgeois economists, of socialist and communist utopians and had acquired solid philosophical knowledge, was able to have close contact with the working classes of Great Britain to whom he addressed a message placed at the head of the book “The Situation of the Working Class in England”. It reads: “I wanted to see you in your homes, to watch you in your daily life, to talk to you about your living conditions and your complaints, to be a witness of your struggles against the political and social power of your oppressors”.

This experience was of great importance in the later elaboration of a materialist conception of history, as forty years later he recognized when he wrote: “In Manchester I realised, in the clearest way, that the economic facts… are, at least in the modern world, a decisive historical power; in which they form the basis for the emergence of today's class oppositions; in which this class opposition [...] is, in turn, the basis of the formation of parties, of the struggle of parties and, thus, of the whole political history”.

It was from this experience that Engels would soon conclude (1847): “Communism is by no means a doctrine, but a movement; it is not based on principles but on facts. […] Communism, insofar as it is theoretical, is the theoretical expression of the position of the proletariat in this struggle [between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie] and the joint theoretical apprehension of the conditions for the liberation of the proletariat”.

It is necessary to remember today these first steps towards the construction of a materialist conception of history - which Marx had been developing and which Engels considers one of his friend's great discoveries (another one will be the theory of surplus value) - that both, in close collaboration, will work on and will present in the common work The German Ideology.

Its writing enabled them, as they pointed out, to become clearly aware of their ideas, of which we will highlight the important formulation of the materialist thesis that "it is not awareness that determines life, it is life that determines awareness".

From this thesis comes the well-known conclusion of great topicality that “The thoughts of the dominant class are the dominant thoughts at all times, that is, the class that is the dominant material power of society is, at the same time, its dominant spiritual power. The class that has at its disposal the means for material production has, therefore, at the same time, the means for spiritual production, in such a way that, simultaneously, the thoughts of those who lack the means for spiritual production are, on average, submitted”.

In highlighting the connection between material and spiritual production, between the ownership of the means of material production and the ownership of the means of spiritual production, Marx and Engels revealed the objective foundation of the ideological domination of the bourgeoisie and the corresponding subordination of the working classes and of the necessarily mystifying character of dominant ideology because it is at the service of its material domination.

Hence Lenin's caution that if "the working class spontaneously tends towards socialism" it is nevertheless “the bourgeois ideology, the most widespread (and constantly revived in the most diverse forms)", that "which most spontaneously imposes itself on the workers”. And hence the need to "overcome all the resistance of the capitalists, not only military and political, but also ideological, which is the most profound and the most powerful".

It is not, therefore, by chance that, as its exploitative character increases and becomes more and more parasitic, big capital increasingly concentrates in its hands the means of production and the dissemination of its ideology as instruments to maintain its dominance over the exploited classes.

And it is they, as Marx and Engels also wrote, produced by the development of capitalist society, that have to "bear all the burdens of society without enjoying the benefits of it", resulting from "the awareness of the need for a radical revolution", which through the struggle leads not only to put an end to the domination of all classes, but also to the liberation of the workers from the ideas and prejudices instilled in them by the hitherto dominant classes, thus making them capable of "a new foundation of society".

But, as Marx and Engels stressed, for "overcoming all the old forms of society and domination in general", the politically organised workers "must first conquer political power". It is this practical verification, resulting from the experience of the class struggle that about a quarter of a century later, Marx and Engels, at the Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association held in The Hague, would enshrine as a precept inscribed in the IWA Statutes with the following wording: “In its struggle against the collective power of the owning classes, the proletariat can act as a class only by constituting itself in a distinct political party, opposed to all the former parties formed by the possessed classes” and that “Always serving the lords of the land and capital from their political privileges to defend and perpetuate their economic monopolies and subjugate labour, the conquest of political power becomes the great duty of the proletariat”.

To accomplish this duty requires unity of struggle and theoretical consciousness as was clearly expressed by Engels in his work known as the Anti-Dühring, which is a successful synthesis of the dissemination of the constituent parts of his conceptions and those of Marx in the fields of Philosophy, Political Economy and Socialism.

Engels writes: “Carrying out this worldwide liberating act is the historical vocation of the modern proletariat. Deepen its historical conditions - and, with that, its own nature -, and, thus, bring to the conscience of the class dedicated to action - today, the oppressed [class] - the conditions and the nature of its own action: it is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, [the task] of scientific socialism”.

A question that, Engels early began to understand and bring to the public space in his articles published in the early forties has to do with the State, when he indicated in his analyses its class character and its connection with the economic regime. At that time it was already clear to Engels that at the base of the State were relations of ownership.

A central issue that the Paris Commune highlighted. This experience that enabled Marx to deepen the question of political power, that is, of what the working class will do with the State it will inherit from capitalism, having then formulated the central thesis that, as he wrote in The Civil War in France, “the working class cannot simply take over the state machinery that is already there and make it work for its own purposes”. This impossibility is rooted in the class nature of the bourgeois State. As Engels explains in Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, this is “the recognition that this society [capitalist society] is caught up in an insolvable contradiction with itself, which has split into irreconcilable oppositions that it is incapable to get rid of". And so, Engels continues, for these “classes with conflicting economic interests do not consume themselves and society in a sterile struggle, a power apparently above society has become necessary to stifle the conflict and keep it within the limits of “order”; and that power […] is the State”.

The State is, therefore, an instrument of the dominant classes to subdue and exploit the oppressed classes. But, as Engels points out, the very development of capitalist production raises it to a level where “the existence of these classes not only was no longer a necessity but also became a positive obstacle to production. They will fall as inevitably as they previously arose. With them, the State will inevitably fall”. And Engels concludes with a view to the future: “Society, which will reorganise production on the basis of the free and equal association of producers, will throw the entire State machinery to the place to which it belongs: the museum of antiques, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe”.

Marx's death, which occurred in 1883, did not interrupt Engels' collaboration in the work of his physically absent friend. When working with the manuscripts that Marx had left, Engels said that "he was with his old comrade again". In this work, the main task was editing the remaining books of Das Kapital, since Marx had only finished and published Book I. The first difficulty and cause for concern was firstly to decipher Marx's manuscripts, because, as he came to write to a friend, “there is no one but me who can decipher this handwriting and these abbreviations of words and style”. More substantial difficulties lay in the unfinished state of the manuscripts of Books II and III, so Engels had to rewrite, select, order and complete several passages, in particular of Book III, while doing so in scrupulous respect for the “spirit of the author”, as he warns. But such contribution by Engels was only possible because of his deep knowledge of Marx's work and thinking, the result of a constant scientific dialogue between them.

When working on Book III, Engels said to one of his fellow companions: “Only through this does our theory receive an unshakable base and we will be able to fight victoriously on all fronts”. It is no wonder, then, that Engels' contributions are the target of the wrath of Marxologues of varying shades. As for us, we reaffirm with Lenin: “These two volumes of Das Kapital are in fact the work of both Marx and Engels”.

When Engels left us, capitalism was in transformation to its imperialist phase. A new phase that was already being drawn and Engels still analyses, revealing and projecting its traces in outline and that Lenin will work with new insights in the theory that Engels had founded together with Marx.

Marxist theory, in its essence anti-dogmatic and dialectically linked with practice, assumes constant development in view of new realities, experiences and knowledge. Lenin made such a remarkable contribution to the development and enrichment of the theory of scientific socialism that his name was rightly associated with that of Marx in the expression Marxism-Leninism.

One of his most far-reaching and topical contribution is his analysis of capitalism at the turn of the 19th. to the 20th. century, when competitive capitalism gave way to monopoly capitalism, to imperialism, and with it a new historical era, the era of transition from capitalism to socialism that the October Revolution inaugurated.

It is true that, after 70 years of existence, socialism in the Soviet Union was defeated, paving the way for a violent counter-offensive by imperialism. However, this defeat does not erase the remarkable economic, social and cultural achievements of Soviet society that proved the superiority of the new society, nor the irreplaceable contribution of the USSR to the great revolutionary achievements of the 20th. century. In the year in which 75 years of the Victory are celebrated, it is befitting to highlight the decisive role of the Soviet communists, people and Red Army in saving Humanity from Nazi-fascist barbarism.

It is in socialism and not capitalism, no matter how “humanized” or “green” they try to sell it, that lies the future of Humanity.

The deepening of its structural crisis is showing that capitalism is not only unable to solve the problems of workers and peoples, but tends to worsen them and drag the world into a terrible social and civilizational regression where huge dangers and dark pages loom and from which Humanity has already suffered so much.

Despite the time distance that separates us from the brilliant elaboration of Marx, Engels and Lenin on capitalism, its nature, functioning, contradictions and structural crisis, the fact is that the reality is there confirming fundamental theses and analyses of Marxism-Leninism such as:

- the heightening of the main contradiction of capitalism - between the social character of production and the private appropriation of the means of production;

- the downward trend in the profit rate due to the change in the organic composition of capital, which will be heightened in the context of the instrumentalization of new technologies to increase capitalist accumulation;

- the relative (and even absolute) impoverishment with the steady decrease in income from work and an increase in the army of unemployed labour;

- the finantialization of the economy, with the increasing prevalence of speculative dynamics that stifle productive investment and heighten the magnitude of cyclical crises of overproduction;

- the uneven development of capitalism, which is the root cause of the current contradictions within the imperialist camp and of elements of the complex process of rearrangement at the international level;

- the heightening of the parasitic, aggressive and criminal character of capitalism, with the arms race, the militarization of space, the proliferation of conflicts, the policy of interference and war, systemic corruption and the parade of criminal and trafficking activities;

- the predatory character of capitalism, due to the anarchy of production and the prevalence of profit in relations of production, heightened with the policies of colonial and imperialist expansion, the real root causes of the growing pillage of natural resources and environmental degradation;

- and finally, the relationship between the heightening of exploitation, the intensification of repression and national oppression, phenomena inseparable from each other that are at the origin of others such as the growth of the extreme right, racism and xenophobia.

The fact is that, even taking into account the enormous capacity for recovery that capitalism has already proved to have; despite vast ongoing manoeuvres to develop new lines of capitalist accumulation, particularly in the technological and environmental fields; and without ignoring the thick ideological curtain of lies, misinformation and manipulation that aims to contain the struggle of workers and peoples and their political and ideological awareness; the fact – as I said - is that reality is showing not only the imperative need, but also a remarkable accumulation of objective factors for the development of the struggle, for progressive and revolutionary transformations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shed even more light on this issue. It accelerated and deepened trends whose causes lie at the heart of the structural crisis of capitalism.

The deep capitalist contradictions are laid bare even more and the dogmas of savage capitalism, which some call neoliberalism, fall apart when we see great powers plunged into chaos and deep social conflicts - as is the case of the US. The pandemic did indeed lay bare the inhuman face of capitalism very crudely. It is this same exploitative, oppressive and inhuman nature that is determining that in the shadow of the pandemic, big capital is launching itself into a new wave of centralisation and concentration of capital, using the pandemic as a pretext to intensify the exploitation of workers and neo-colonialist oppression of peoples, thus trying to further unbalance the distribution of wealth worldwide in favour of capital. It is this same nature that is at the root of the “new normal” theories, with which they try to design a new, more repressive framework of social and political relations, where individualism, isolation, the lack of collective perspectives, fear, repression, conformism, compartmentalization of rights and obscurantism are used to regress decades of achievements in labour - including the very concept of labour relations - social, cultural and democratic rights.

At the same time, the arms race is intensifying and the sources of tension and interference and aggression against sovereign states are multiplying and the more reactionary and aggressive sectors of imperialism increasingly gamble on fascism and war as a “way out” for the irreconcilable contradictions of the capitalist system.

But reality, as Engels so often said, is always powerful. The class struggle, which the ruling class would like to "lockdown", tends to be and is becoming more acute. Everywhere the struggle of workers and peoples continues. A struggle that, facing great dangers and being fundamentally one of resistance and gathering of forces, simultaneously contains great potential for progressive and revolutionary transformations. The demand for the revolutionary overcoming of capitalism is more timely and necessary than ever. The prospect is socialism and communism.

Humanity cannot afford a system that continues to condemn more than a billion people to extreme poverty; that is responsible for hundreds of millions of people not having access to work; that continues to fail to address problems such as preventable diseases, lack of housing and healthy food, rights to healthcare, well-being, education or culture.

Reality shows that capitalism is not, cannot be and will not be the end of History!

Like all previous systems, this is a transitory mode of production and the revolutionary overcoming of its irreconcilable contradictions is a requirement of social development.

However, as the founders of Marxism had already said, let us not expect capitalism to fall by itself.

Its overcoming is inseparable from the conscious participation of workers and peoples, their unity, organisation and struggle in the process of social transformation, that is, the fulfilment of the historic role of the working class and its allies.

Overcoming that demands and needs a strong and continuously reinforced Communist Party, assuming its vanguard role in close connection with the workers and the people.

A Party equipped with the theoretical instruments bequeathed by Marx, Engels and Lenin. A Party that acts and fights permanently and daily to uphold the interests of workers and people.

The topicality of socialism and its need as a solution to the problems of the peoples requires taking into account a wide variety of solutions, stages and phases of the revolutionary struggle.

It needs to take into account that there are no “models” of revolutions, nor “models” of socialism, as the PCP always defended.

Under the conditions of Portugal, the socialist society that the PCP points out to our people goes through the stage that we characterised as Advanced Democracy, whose fundamental definition is based on the conception that democracy is simultaneously political, economic, social and cultural.

In its Programme “An advanced democracy – The values of April in the future of Portugal”, the PCP considers that the implementation of such a project constitutes a process of profound transformation and development that responds to the concrete needs of Portuguese society and is objectively in the interest of all workers and of all anti-monopoly classes and social strata.

A project that is equally inseparable from the struggle that we are currently engaged in for the materialization of a patriotic and left-wing policy that embodies this construction, in a process that coherently integrates the set of objectives of struggle.

It is with the deep conviction that socialism projects itself and will materialize in the future of the peoples that, celebrating the 200th. anniversary of the birth of Friedrich Engels, we reaffirm PCP's unwavering determination to fight for socialism to become a reality of the tomorrow of the Portuguese people.

Certain that from this Conference we will emerge stronger and more knowledgeable as a result of the fruitful contributions that will appear here to build our path, we wish you all good work.

Long live the emancipatory struggle of workers and peoples!