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The theory of socio-economic forms and the wrong views to be rejected

(LLCT) - The theory of socio-economic forms is one of the most important content topics of the Marxist historical materialism whose founders pointed out the most general movement rules of human society. As a result, a great number of countries chose the theory of socio-economic forms as the theoretical basis to build socialism. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as well as the continuous changes in the world amidst the Industrial Revolution 4.0, many people were skeptical about the correctness and scientism of this theory. Thus, bases are needed to fight against the wrong views to protect the scientific and revolutionary character of the theory of socio-economic forms in the current context.

Keyword:  Theory of socio-economic forms, fight against the wrong views, protect Marxism.

1. The wrong views to deny the scientific and revolutionary characters of the theory of socio-economic forms

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the socialist countries in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe gradually fell into crisis and then collapsed. In the Federal Message in 2005, Russian President V. Putin called it “the most terrible political shock of the 20th century.” That this collapse took place in the Soviet Union - the homeland of the October Revolution, where the first proletarian state in the world was born and called the bastion of real socialism - created the occasion for bourgeois scholars to criticize and reject Marxism in general and the theory of socio-economic forms in particular.

The hostile forces always did their best to distort, assault, and deny Marxism - Leninism. It was their belief that the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was a historical essence because it had stemmed from “the backwardness and obsolescence of Marxism - Leninism” and the “socialism raised by Marx was just an ideal and a ‘utopian’ socialism that would never come true”(1). They also thought that scientific socialism built by the founders of Marxism was just an “utopian” and “illusionary” theory, so when applied to reality, it only bore “the monster of history”(2). Such allegations were spread all over the world in different forms and forums in order to deny the scientific and revolutionary nature of Marxism - Leninism. From such arguments, they believed that “Vietnam was stuck not only in economics but also in spirit at this time. No one believed in Marxism anymore”(3) and that “the path to socialism we took was against the historical and natural process”(4). That was a detour of history and a painful twisting path to capitalism(5). Hence, they suggested that Vietnam “avoid the dark and find the light”, and “avoid the agonizing path” that some countries had gone through to follow capitalism.

From here, some Western countries launched movements to fight against Marxism. In the 1990s, there was a boom in the articles and works criticizing Marxism and Leninism and rejecting this theory partly or wholly. The sabotage against Marxism in general and the theory of socio-economic forms were divided into the following main trends:

Firstly, the trend of the Western bourgeois scholars’ opposing Marx in terms of ideological stand.

It could be said that, from its birth in the 1840s, Marxist philosophy had to face the sabotage of the Western scholars due to conflict in ideological stand. While they always protected the benefit of the bourgeoisie and found all ways to prove the “reasonable existence” of capitalism, the founders of Marxism asserted that human beings would advance to communism for sure. Hence, when socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe collapsed, the Western scholars - left and right wings, from neo-conservatives to neo-liberalists - believed that this was the end of Marxism - Leninism after 150 years of existence. A representative of this view was Francis Fukuyama, a neoconservative philosopher, who wrote the famous work “The End of History and the Last Man”, published in 1992. In this work, the author believed that with the end of the “Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall... the struggle between ideologies as the motivation for human progress came to an end with the final victory of the liberal democracy and market capitalism”(6).  On the other hand, scholars relied on the current development of socialism and thought that the theory of socio-economic forms could only show the “destructive” aspect of capitalism but failed to find its “creativity” in the continuously moving loop. Some scholars of this trend thought that Marx and V.I.Lenin had not anticipated the adaptivity and evolution of capitalism such as in dealing with the conflict between employers and workers and between capital and laborers. On the other hand, it was these scholars’ thoughts from which the theory of socio-economic forms pointed out the wrong path to escape from capitalism, which not only led to no socialism but also a “totalitarianism” or “slavery” as called by the neoliberal scholar Friedrich F.Hayek(7).

Secondly, the trend of the opportunists who distorted and overthrew Marxism.

Since its creation, Marxism and the theory of socio-economic forms has not only encountered  the sabotage of Western bourgeois scholars but also received attacks from opportunists. After the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the opportunists in the communist parties used the name Marxists to claim Marxism revision in the context of the decline of the system of socialist countries, although they vowed to protect the theory of socio-economic forms. This trend was represented by the neo-Trotskyist school(8). According to this school’s view, real socialism in the Soviet Union over the past 70 years and the Eastern Europe after World War II, like in China and Vietnam before reform, was completely strange compared to the fundamental principles of Marxism - Leninism. They called them “the different versions of the Stalin’s totalitarianism”. Those who followed this trend found ways to oppose the view of V.I.Lenin with that of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels about socialism and the transitional period. They believed that the model to build socialism in a separate country was an expression of “the deviation from the basic Marxist principles”(9) because it had an outdated development level which skipped the development phase of capitalism whose foundation was laid by V.I.Lenin in Russia.

It was this distortion that had tremendous effect on the position and view of certain Marxists. The clearest manifestation was a great decline in the people around the world who were loyal to this theory. The trend of “demarxistization”, disunity of thought, and separation from Marxism - Leninism arose strongly in the countries which had followed the path of socialism as well as within the communist parties, socialist parties, and international worker movement. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe took place nearly 30 years ago, opportunists, reactionaries, and revisionists still consider this an ever convincing pretext to further deny the theory of socio-economic forms as well as Marxism.

Thirdly, the trend of the followers of modern theory of technocracy was to deny the basic points of the socio-economic forms theory in the era of the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

The theory of technocracy was a theory which absolutized the role of science and technology with the development of human society. Even when Karl Marx brought out the thought of dividing the history of human society into socio-economic forms, the technocrats had their way to separate human society into civilizations. This trend was represented by the American futurist Alvin Toffler. He divided the development history of mankind based on 3 civilizations: agricultural, industrial, and post-industrial. These were the realistic research and discoveries about society development, including the rather clear forecasts of the changes to society in the future. However, Alvin Toffler’s research was still unable to exceed Marx’s theory in general. Because he absolutized the role of science, he only considered this the criterion to define the difference of the development stages in history which he called civilizations.

In the context of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 when science and technology have had increasingly important roles in the development of human society, technocrats have been relying on the achievements of modern science and technology to deny the so-called surviving views of the theory of socio-economic forms. One such view was that Marx asserted that humans were the subject of history and laborers played a decisive role in the development of the productive forces. However, the scholars of the modern theory of technocracy believed that with the increasing appearance of “intelligent robots” and “artificial intelligence,” humans were gradually being replaced with robots. Having been the subject of the production process, laborers were put aside from such a production process, and they instead had a secondary role. The manifestation of this change was that more and more enterprises needed less laborer instead of employing a great number of laborers to work and produce. Instead of paying laborers, the enterprises invested in machines and technology. Hence, modern technocrats thought that it was time to reconsider Marx’s view on the central and decisive role and position of laborers in material production.

Thus, it could be seen that Marxism has been attacked by bourgeois scholars, opportunists, and reactionaries since it was born. Particularly, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, hostile forces found all ways to deny the theory of socio-economic forms, especially the view that the future of human society was socialism and communism. Today, in the context of the Industrial Revolution 4.0, bourgeois scholars, especially followers of the modern theory of technocracy have been looking for all means to reject the theory of socio-economic forms, especially the view of taking humans as the subject of history and the decisive factor for the development of the productive forces. That posed a great challenge for genuine Marxists to be steadfast, firm,creative with Marxism, and to counter wrong and hostile views to protect Marxism.

2. Further assertion of the scientific and revolutionary characters of the theory of socio-economic forms

We cannot deny the reality that the collapse of real socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is a regression of the communist and international worker movements. It was also a tremendous loss in the fighting movement for the good and noble goals of mankind: peace, national independence, democracy, social progress, and people’s happiness. However, that is not the “end” of Marxism in general and the theory of socio-economic forms in particular. It is not because of Marxism - Leninism’s being backward and obsolete but the misunderstanding and misapplication of the Marxist founders’ view in the process of building socialism. The nature of Marxism - Leninism is revolutionary and scientific. Hence, it requires awareness, application, and development to stand firm on the positions of revolution and working class and to implement with a scientific, serious, and proper spirit and method.

Marxists deeply understand the great loss from the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but they also recognize that it obje ctively creates more data for us to have the proper awareness to turn back to the views of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and V.I.Lenin and to make appropriate applications and developments as well as suitable creations for the new historical condition. It shows the mistakes of the communist parties in socialist countries in grasping the revolutionary and scientific nature of Marxism - Leninism and applying it to reality. It also indicates the danger of the attacks and distortion of hostile forces in denying Marxism in the whole world.

Currently, from Western bourgeois countries, voices about the values of Marxism, Marxist economic theory, the “Turning to Marx” movement, and Marxism search are being heard. Particularly, in the times of the financial crisis and global economic recession in 2008-2009 and in public debt crises and economic recessions in many developed capital countries, the “Turning to Marx” movement has become more ebullient than ever. The classical works of Karl Marx and V.I.Lenin are still read the most, especially the “Capital” of Karl Marx, which is still ranked number one in the world and has been translated into 134 languages in 63 countries(10). It cannot be recklessly said that Marxism is an “illusory”, “backward and outdated” theory when this theory creates realities that change the world, stimulate the development and progress of human history, and have attraction as well as extensive influence on mankind.

In the new and changeable context today, to protect the scientific and revolutionary characters of the theory of socio-economic forms, we not only have to assert the true values in the view of Marxist-Leninist philosophy but also supplement and add so that such views have the new vitality of the era. For example, as for the view of the modern theory of technocracy on appreciating the decisive role of science and technology to current material production, Karl Marx never denied the role of science because Friedrich Engels once asserted: “For Marx, science is a historical motivation and a revolutionary force”(11).

It cannot be denied that the current achievements of modern science and technology with the introduction of robots have replaced humans not only in hard work and manual activities but also in skilled and complicated activities. However, that does not mean modern science and technology are a decisive factor to the development of productive forces, and that laborers may be made secondary and put aside from the production process. Actually, science and technology are the products of the awareness process and the development of human intelligence. It can be said that because of the production requirement, humans create and decide the development tendency and pace of science and technology as well as determine the application of science and technology to production by their purpose. It is practically shown that however active and revolutionary the modern technique and technology as the material part in the constituents of productive forces are, they are made, operated, and supervised by people. Hence, however advanced the artificial intelligence is, it is still the product of humans, and its activities depend on the programs set and installed in computers and industrial robots. Subsequently, science and technology are of the people, attached to the people, and depend on the people, and they can be objectified to the production process through human activities. If it is not stemmed from the people, operated by the people, and directed to serve the people, no production process has the reason to exist and develop. Thus, in any era, including the modern era of science and technology, laborers are still the decisive factor to the development of productive forces. Thus, the view of Karl Marx on the decisive role of laborers to the development of productive forces is still correct.

3. Some aspects to be supplemented and developed for the theory of socio-economic forms

Currently, compared with the era of Karl Marx, science and technology has had great progress, helping create a productive force that humans have never witnessed before. The internationalization process mentioned by Marx in the 19th century really became the globalization process of our time. At different degrees, all the countries are drawn into globalization because it “penetrates everywhere, stays everywhere, and sets up the connection everywhere”(12). In that context, although the theory of socio-economic forms has had a lot of sustainable value up to now, it also includes points to be supplemented and added. V.I.Lenin, who continuously protected and developed Marxism, repeatedly stressed: “We do not consider Marx’s theory as something complete and inviolable; in contrast, we believe that the theory only lays the foundation for the science that the socialists need to further develop in all fields if they do not have the desire to become backward in life”(13).

From the development of the modern productive forces today, we would like to supplement and develop the theory of socio-economic forms in the following points:

Firstly, Karl Marx lived in the developing era of capitalism, so he discussed capital society a lot. Discussing the development of productive forces in the capitalist period, Marx believed that laborers were mostly workers and the proletariat.  That was “a social class that earned their living by selling their labor,” a “class of the people having no property,” and “the class of the modern hired workers who sold their labor for living because they lost production material”(14). He rarely mentioned the class of doctors, engineers, and scientists. Today, the working class includes not only the purely manual laborers but also intellectuals. Moreover, in the current period, the laborers as workers also have a considerable change. In the era of Karl Marx, they were mostly mechanical workers, most of whom were manual laborers. However, at present, the achievements of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 improve the working tools, free the labor of people, and raise their level, skill, and technique of working. Furthermore, in many factories and businesses, the number of scientific persons directly participating in the production process is growing higher and higher, overwhelming the number of the common manual laborers. That the intellectual workers appeared and tended to increase both in quantity and quality has gradually been changing the proportion of the unskilled and high-leveled workers. The supplementation of the connotation of the concept of laborers is very necessary in the present context because “this is very important to us when our country has gradually reached the knowledge economy where the task of intellectualizing becomes a compulsory requirement if we want to keep pace with the world and avoid further backwardness in the integration process with the world”(15).

Secondly, on mentioning productive forces before, Karl Marx stressed the ability of mankind in conquering the natural world. He wrote: “Productive forces are merely the practical capacity of mankind in conquering the natural world”(16). For that reason, to show their ability, humans used the modern means and technology to conquer the natural world more and more. It is practically shown that in the material production process, humans not only conquer nature but also adapt to the natural world, so the stress of conquering and the disregard of the adapting activities on the category of productive forces are not sufficient. “Such conception not only limits the connotation of the productive force concept but also makes it hard to accept sustainable and continuous development”(17). The consequence of this view is that “humans find all means to conquer and exploit properties from nature as much as possible regardless of consequences”(18). In the current context, with the goal of sustainable development, the conception of productive forces should be supplemented with living in harmony with nature. Because the relationship between humans and nature gets more incompatible with more and more natural disasters and seriousness, humans need to gradually readjust their material production activities and change to develop productive forces selectively, avoiding damage to nature. Instead of developing productive forces like before, it is necessary to develop productive forces selectively because “the productive force is the concept showing not only the struggling activities but also the harmony between humans and natural world”(19).

Thanks to the strong development of information technology, especially the Internet, science in particular and knowledge in general is spread quickly, almost instantly, with a lot of scientific events around the world. The flow of knowledge and technology, along with the capital flow, are circulated at a faster pace than ever in the world. One can produce each part of a product in different places in the world and then assemble and circulate them in various countries to achieve the highest effect. As a result, the output of modern productive forces is no longer the separate produce of laborers in a country but on the globe. Thus, modern productive forces become the top important element in boosting the globalization process. This is a new characteristic that is typical in modern productive forces, but before it was not shown or only shown in a narrow scope in the productive force. In Karl Marx’s time, he mentioned the essential development trend in production “to establish the relationship all around the world,” but he did not really raise the issue of globalization of productive forces. Hence, to keep on applying these views of Karl Marx to productive forces, it is necessary to expand the connotation of this concept not only for the material production of a certain country but also on a global scale. That helps further cultivate Marxism in particular and the view of productive forces in general with the lively reality today.

As such, to protect the theory of socio-economic forms, we should be conscious to identify the wrong views of the hostile forces on one hand and on the other hand, bold to propose supplementation and development of the views of this theory to make it suitable for practice. Such additions and developments are not to “revise” Marxism and to dim the true value of Marxism but to create a new vitality for the contents and views of Marxist theory, conforming with the conditions and situations of the current period. That is an extremely difficult deed requiring Marxists to be steadfast, spirited, and responsible for the revolutionary and scientific theoretical system which is considered the thought foundation of our Party today.



(1), (2), (3) Central Education and Communication Committee: Criticizing, rejecting the wrong and hostile views, and protecting the thought foundation of the Communist Party of Vietnam, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2007, p.48, 47-48, 48.

(4) Some issues of Marxism - Leninism in current era, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1996, p.12.

(5)Vietnam advances with era, Vietnam Education Publishing House, Hanoi, 2009, p.29.

(6), (7), (8), (9) See: Nguyen Xuan Thang: “Criticizing the view “The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe stemmed from Marxism - Leninism”, Journal of Education - Communication, Issue of December 2014, p.4-5, 5, 6, 6.

(10) See: Nguyen Chi Dung: “Marxist theory of socio-economic forms and the test in the 20th century”, Journal of Philosophy, Issue No.1 (200), January 2008, p.11.

(11) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Complete Works, vol.19, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.500.

(12), (14) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Complete Works, vol.4, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.601, 456.

(13) V.I.Lenin: Complete works, vol.4, Progressive Publishing House, Moscow, 1974, p.232.

(15) Nguyen Trong Chuan: “Improving awareness, supplementation, and development of Marxist - Leninist philosophy to meet the requirements of the practice and era of international exchange expansion”, Journal of Philosophy, Issue No.9 (208), September 2008, p.56.

(16) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Complete Works, vol.23, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.268.

(17), (18), (19) Ly Ban: “New conception on developing productive forces”, Information on Theoretical Issues, Issue No.19, 2008, p.10, 10, 9.

Dr. Le Thi Chien

Institute of Philosophy, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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