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Tuesday, 25 June 2019 14:58
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The worldwide historical mission of the working class: Sustainable value and some issues to be supplemented and developed in accordance with the current context in Vietnam

(LLCT) - To discover the worldwide historical mission of the working class is one of Karl Marx’s three great discoveries, the concentrated manifestation of the scientific and revolutionary values of Marxism, and the most important theoretical basis for socialist-oriented development in the world and in Vietnam. Since the Communist Manifesto (the first work which condensely presented the theory and historical mission of the working class and their practical activities) was published in 1848, Communist Parties and progressive peoples around the world have affirmed the sustainable values laid out in the work and provided new data to supplement and develop some theoretical points made by Karl Marx on this issue.

Keywords: Karl Marx, the worldwide historical mission of the working class.


1. Sustainable values in Karl Marx’s theory about the worldwide historical mission of the working class

a. Scientific awareness of the modern working class

Due to historical conditions and thinking methods, few images of the working class were found in the literature on utopian socialism before Karl Marx (other than perhaps the relatively one-sided “outlines” which depict proletariats as a poor crowd who needed to be saved by talented and humane great men). In his writings, Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (1760 - 1825) even merged the proletariat and bourgeoisie into an “industrialist class”. Obviously, it was their thinking that such “poor and pitiable” working class people could not liberate themselves, let alone shoulder the mission for emancipation of mankind.

Drawing from the first Industrial Revolution (from the mid-eighteenth century onward) and a historical materialist view, Marx theorized that the working class was “the product of large-scale industry”(1) and was the subject of modern material production process. Thanks to the application of machines to production and services, large-scale industry or industrialization process changed society dramatically.

As a part of this process, a new working method was gradually shaped. It was the industrial working method, with the characteristics such as production with machines, socialized labour, and high working productivity which created the premises for the new society, where work was the most important and direct influence on the working class. Because of their association with this working method, the working class began to take on the following characteristics, including: labor organization, discipline, a cooperative spirit, industrial working thinking, etc. These characteristics were the necessary qualities for forming a revolutionary class capable of leading revolutions.

During the development of capitalism, the working class was also the social product of this process, a society with “existing conditions based on hire labour.” Karl Marx saw that the proletariat was the class of modern hired workers because they had lost their production materials and now had to sell their labor to live(2). They had to suffer the risks of competition and market fluctuations much more acutely(3).

They were the class exploited by the bourgeoisie, who used a surplus value exploitation method. Naturally, surplus value is the unpaid labor of workers. The labor of the working class became the goods necessary for the creation of the surplus value production process of the bourgeoisie. Capitalist ownership created a monopoly of surplus value division. For the purpose of increasing profits, the bourgeoisie had increasing demands for the labor of the working class. “Capitalism means ownership which exploits hired laborers and only increases with the condition of producing new hired laborers so as to exploit the hired laborers again. In its current form, ownership moves in the opposite direction between the two extremes: capital and labor”(4).

Karl Marx was the first to point out the complex benefit relationship between workers and capitalists. The two sides oppose each other in the basic benefits and depend on each other in daily situations in the labor market. The worker’s labor for their livelihood was the basic source of surplus value, and the richness of the bourgeoisie mostly relies on more and more exploitation of the surplus value. “In that society, those who do not work enjoy all the achievements of laborers”(5). This is the basic conflict of interests between the working class and the bourgeoisie. It cannot be reconciled and might only be solved by eliminating the surplus value exploitation regime on the basis of establishing a production relationship of public ownership of the main production materials. It was the socialized production force that figured out such a solution. On the other hand, however, selling labor is the premise that ensures the life of workers. Both sides are dependent on the laws of supply and demand within the labor market. The reciprocal effects of benefits between these two classes created the complexity of class struggle in the contemporary time.

In the dialectical materialistic view of history, the rule of the bourgeoisie, especially the large-scale industry bourgeoisie, was considered by Marx one of the first conditions for the development of the working class. “Generally, the development of the industrial proletariat is stipulated by the development of the industrial bourgeoisie. Only under the rule of this class can the industrial proletariat itself create modern production materials which will become the means to carry out its revolutionary liberation cause”(6).

The bourgeois political regime and law-governed state had two-sided effects on workers. It formed the habit of observing the existing laws for workers as citizens; thereby, the early reactions of this class towards the bourgeoisie were at the level of syndicalism. Workers, as the ruled class, also learned many legal measures of struggle from the bourgeois democracy, accumulating a lot of experience from political struggles. The authoritarian nature of the bourgeois political regime also urged the working class and the people to fight against oppression and injustice.

It is Karl Marx’s belief that people are the product of situations to the extent which they create and affect their situation. The modern working class is a product of the industrial production mode and the subject of the more and more modern and civilized production mode. These are the scientific values, which have become more visible over time.

b. Discovery and substantiation of the world-wide historical mission of the working class

Karl Marx was the first to discover and interpret the objectivity and self-awareness of the historical mission of the modern working class. It is a class capable of liberating themselves and it is they who will free mankind from the last yoke of exploitation in history: the surplus value exploitation regime of the capitalist production mode.

On the essence of the historical mission of the working class, Karl Marx began from a general principle as follows: every society exists and develops on the basis of producing and consuming material wealth. Modern production is basically done in an industrial mode, and the working class is the typical subject of that production process. Therefore, they are the class that decides the development of modern society. The historical mission of the working class also begins here.

The socialization of modern production has established the material premise, development demand, and suggestions of the measures to solve the issues of the capitalist society. The socialization of production has promoted the movement of the fundamental conflict within the capitalist production mode. That fundamental conflict is the clash between the socialization of the work force and the capitalist privatization of production materials. Public ownership of the principal production materials of society is an objective requirement, and it has been outlined by the modern production process. “In our current society, the nature of large-scale industry gives rise to all poverty and trade crises; however, when another social regime comes, it is with such a nature that it abolishes poverty and changes, causing such a disaster”(7). Karl Marx believed that “Consequently, together with the development of large-scale industry, the foundation on which the bourgeoisie produced and possessed its products, is destroyed by the bourgeoisie. First of all, the bourgeoisie creates those who would bury it. The collapse of the bourgeois class and the victory of the proletariat are equally obvious”(8).

The content of the historical mission of the working class is a comprehensive revolutionary process to build a new socio-economic form for such fields as economy, politics, society, culture, and thought. It creates a communist socio-economic form whose first stage is socialism. For the first time in history, “a revolution of the majority aiming at the benefit for the majority” comes into existence thanks to the building of a society on the basis of the public ownership of the main production materials of society.

To fulfill that mission, the working class needs voluntary training and development undertaken by the Communist Party. The law of the Party formation is the combination of scientific socialism and the worker movement - the social result of the process of industrialization and modern class struggle. The pioneering nature, in both practice and theory, identifies the leadership of the Party: “In practice, communists are the most decisive part in the Workers’ Parties in all countries which always push the movement forward. In theory, they are better at understanding the conditions, progress, and general result of the proletarian movement than the remaining part of the proletariat”(9).

The Party’s goal is to implement the political content of the working class’s historical mission: “The immediate purposes of the proletarians as well as proletarian parties are to organize proletarians into a class, to overturn the rule of the bourgeoisie, and to obtain the government for the proletariat”(10).

The right leadership of the Party, regarding strategies, tactics, organization and thought, is the condition for making sure that the working class accomplishes their world-wide historical mission. To seize the political power, to implement the historical mission to build socialism, to continuously improve the nature of the working class, and to become the genuine representative for the interests of the nation and people are the development rules of the Party.

These are the typical scientific values laid out by Karl Marx with regard to the historical mission of the working class. The practice of the worker’s movement and socialist revolution over nearly two centuries has confirmed the correctness of these principles.

2. Some substantiation to be supplemented and developed for the process of implementing the historical mission of the Vietnamese working class

Karl Marx discussed the historical mission of the working class from the typical context of, in his day, the highly developed capitalist countries such as Britain, America, France, and Germany during the first industrial revolution, but Vietnam skipped the development phase of capitalism. Up to now, it has not finished national industrialization and has gradually entered the fourth industrial revolution. Karl Marx studied the world-wide historical mission of the working class and requested that his ideological descendants stand firm on the “real land” of each country and supplement and develop communist principles “in every detail” when applying his theory.

In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was the first to propose supplementation to “Marxism with regard to its historical background, and strengthening it with Oriental ethnology...(11)” With the class struggle motivation, he asserted that nationalism was a great motivation of the country(12) and that the class’s interests must be attached to those of the nation. He discussed two more things that Karl Marx had not mentioned. “Communism penetrated into Asia more easily than into Europe”(13) because it has lots of foundations in traditional society. It is “the cruelty of imperialism that prepares the soil rather than the development of a production society. Communism just has to sow the seeds of liberation”(14). With these new views, Ho Chi Minh successfully accomplished the mission of liberating Vietnam and supplemented and developed the theory of socialist revolution. It is also the methodology for us to apply and develop the theory of historical missions. There are many things that need to be specified, supplemented, and developed in the application of this theory, but some typical points can be shown as follows:

a. In building the current Vietnamese working class, we should note that the development of this class is the product and subject of the industrialization process. Evidently, the process of building the premises for Vietnamese socialism must be associated with industrialization and modernization. On the other hand, a necessary issue is that the development of the working class is also the “product” of the guidelines and policies on industrialization and modernization, so any mistakes and errors in strategies will have a deep impact on the development of the working class. The lesson drawn by the 6th Party National Congress is that all the guidelines and policies of the Party must proceed from the interests, aspirations, and abilities of working people and arouse the agreement and response of the public. Bureaucracy, formalism, distancing from ordinary people, and opposition to actions that benefit the people may weaken the power of the Party (15).

In the context of the multi-sectoral economic market today, it is particularly important to focus on correcting the reality that “the benefits of many workers are not commensurate with the achievement of the Renovation Period and their own contributions”(16). It is correctly pointed out that in Vietnam there is not only the influence of private ownership and surplus value exploitation laws, but also the weak management mechanisms, inadequate levels of production and social management, sizeable bureaucracy, and corruption, all of which are the direct cause of low payments to laborers. It is a paradox that these phenomena exist in a regime considering public ownership as the foundation of society, and sometimes they even appear in the state-owned economic sector. The new perception to be added is that in the development process of mankind, in order to eliminate private ownership, the role of socialist production and management beside development of production force and promotion of social labor division need to be considered the direct factors to gradually eliminate exploitation and injustice.

The new perception in solving the ownership issue in Vietnam today. Karl Marx studied capitalist private ownership very carefully, and his remarks were often inclined towards its extermination due to its negative effects, including unsuitability for the social nature of production force, injustice, and inhumanity. The practice and research results of Vietnam and many other countries are based “on the shoulders of two giants” (Marx’s theory and reality of the renewal and renovation process), and this perception goes even farther: admitting the essence and long existence of private ownership with the ability to link well with other ownership forms and its contribution to building socialism. The breakthrough in our thinking is to admit and encourage the development of a private economy, considering that it is a part “with a significant role to play in building socialism in Vietnam.”

The exploitation issue of private ownership receives more extensive, comprehensive, and dialectic view. For example, the issues of the exploitee’s “gain” and the exploiter’s “loss.” What do laborers “gain” when they take part in capitalist production processes? For Vietnamese workers who are originally farmers, they have new jobs and skills, increasing incomes, access to the modern working environment with new labor and management method, and much more. The State gains taxes, approaches to new technology, a market economy, and modern goods production; thereby, it can develop production and become a responsible friend, partner, and member to the world. The employer must also share technology know-how, markets, and management experience and accept risk of investment capital rather than just being interested in profits. The reciprocal principle is an objective requirement and takes place in practice(17). As it was in industrialization history, the entrepreneur – bourgeois class in Vietnam also plays a positive role in creating the labor force, which should be recognized as positive.

Karl Marx stated that the bourgeoisie became “more and more redundant,” economically dependent, and politically reactionary. However, the roles of the bourgeoisie in managing production and society in the time of Karl Marx and Engels did not have the fully practical substantiations like they do now. In spite of the elements of production relations and superstructure, modern practice identifies that the adjustments of modern capitalism also support the production development process and civilization. Although they are the measures to maintain capitalism, there are reasonable factors (such as experience of organization, production management, use of material incentives, etc.) that should be inherited by the working class as the leader of society in the transitional period to socialism in order to fulfill its historical mission.      

b. Building the Party of the working class and nation

Karl Marx believed in the strong and essential development of the proletarian party in the revolutionary process. He believed in the development of the party through the struggle of class and internal ideological struggle in order to maintain the position of being a genuine party of the working class. Karl Marx said: “The communists absolutely pursue no other benefits than those of the whole proletariat class”(18). However, he had no historical condition to study the shortcomings and limitations of other Communist Parties when they are in power.

Karl Marx believed that the difference between the communist and proletarian parties was that they prioritized and protected the benefits for the whole proletariat in the struggles of proletarians in different nations. That view has not been practically proved in the complicated condition of the current politics of the world. Internationalism of the working class played a positive role in the national liberation revolution and socialist revolution, and it is continuing that role in the current globalized context; however, it is now known that “nationalism is a great motivation” for the cause of liberation. An important statement clarifying this is that all ruling Communist Parties and other parties fighting for power must make up a nation, not at the level of “the form of class struggle” but within the nature of the Party. The most important political task of the Party is to act in ways that benefit the class and nation harmoniously. If a ruling party fails to protect the sovereignty and benefits of the nation, it is politically “suicidal.”

In his time, Karl Marx did not have to discuss the political, mental, or moral degradation of a ruling Party. He was unable to anticipate that clash of political views, ideological disagreements, or structural division among communist and socialist countries which could occur and damage international solidarity and theoretical development of socialism. The historical conditions of Karl Marx’s time did not enable him to witness the theoretical and ideological distortion in a Communist Party, such as was the case of China with the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Such degradation can distort socialist democracy, making the socialism builders arrogant, subjective, voluntaristic, bureaucratic, abusive of power, and corrupt.

Karl Marx had no practical condition to see that sometimes the Party could chose wrong leaders who were not practically and theoretically representative and loyal to the benefits of the working class due to bad organizing and operating mechanisms. These people can take advantage of the “rigidity” of democratic centralism as mechanism in elections to distort democracy in the Party. That mechanism may make people corrupt and that people can corrupt organization and regimes is a real threat. All the Secretary Generals and senior leaders of the ruling Communist Parties are chosen through elections, but such mechanisms can lead to cases such as Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s elections, which destroyed the Party and real socialism in the USSR.

The new world’s context, and the specific characteristics of Vietnam, require us to work hard on the theory of Marxism in order to use and apply it correctly.


(*) This article is the findings of the project “Research into and summarizing the theory of Marxism – Leninism on the working class, its historical mission in history and modern times; proposing supplementation and development for the practice of Vietnam in the new context”, directed by Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Viet Thao. The topic belongs to the key national Program of Science and Technology in the period 2016 - 2020, "Studying, summarizing, and proposing supplementation and development for Marxism-Leninism - the important component of the ideological foundation of the Vietnamese Communist Party in the new circumstances”; code KX.02 / 16-20.



(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (7), (8), (9), (10), (18) Karl Marx - Friedrich Engels: Complete Works, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, vol.4, pp.610, 596, 605, 616, 619, 466, 612-613, 469, 614-615, 614.

(6) Op cit, vol.7, p.29.

(11), (12), (13), (14) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, vol.1, pp.465, 466, 36, 28.

(15) CPV: Document of the 6th National Congress, dangcongsan.vn.

(16) CPV: Document of the 6th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (10th tenure), Resolution on Building the Vietnamese Working Class in the Period of Industrialization and Modernization, 2008.

(17) See Prof. Dr. Nguyen Ke Tuan (Chief Editor): Ownership Issues in the Socialist Oriented Market Economy in Vietnam, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2010, p.51, 87-88, 292.

Assoc. Prof, Dr. Nguyen An Ninh

Institute of Scientific Socialism, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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