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Vitality of the theory of socioeconomic formation

Since world socialism fell into a decline, the Theory of socioeconomic formation by  Karl Marx has been subjected to criticism by anti-socialist forces; however, it is impossible to negate the scientific and revolutionary nature of this Theory.

The Theory of socioeconomic formation (hereinafter the Theory) has been considered as not only a “cornerstone” of the materialist conception of history - one of the two great discoveries by Karl Marx, but a scientific basis for accurate perception of human society’s motion and development. Moreover, it lays a theoretical foundation for genuine communist and working parties’ consciousness of the nature of the times and proper revolutionary guidelines and policies.

In sharp contrast to idealism and half-hearted conventional materialism, Karl Marx created a revolutionary turning point in humankind’s world viewpoints  when working out the Theory of socioeconomic formation. According to this Theory, Karl Marx pointed out that the impetus for social development did not result from human consciousness, but social being and material life, and that social life was based on the production of material wealth. Furthermore, by means of scientific method of abstraction and generalization, he also pointed out that the structure of any society in history was made up of three fundamental factors, namely the productive forces, relations of production and superstructure. Those dialectially related factors comply with objective principles, namely the principle of harmony between relations of production and development level of productive forces and principle of relationship between base and superstructure of which the level of the productive forces determines the property of relations of production, and subsequently determines the property of social relations in that society. In return, the combination of production relations which constitutes substructure determines the nature of political viewpoints, the rule of law, philosophy, ethics, religions, etc along with corresponding social institutions such as states, parties, religious organizations, social mass organizations, etc. According to this Theory, the replacement of socioeconomic formations is a natural process of history in line with objective principles. Accordingly, the history of human society underwent the socioeconomic formations, namely the primitive communism; slavery; feudalism; capitalism; and it will advance forward to communism. The successful Russian October Socialist Revolution with the advent of the first socialist nation of its kind in the world ushered in the transitional period from capitalism to socialism. The ensuing birth of socialist states in Eastern Europe, Asia, and America was a testament to the scientific and revolutionary nature of Marxist Theory of socioeconomic formation, which was even considered to be “a convincing truth” by critics of Marxism. Even Bredinsky, who wrote a book entitled “Big failure – The rise and fall of Communism in the 21st century, also admitted that “For the intelligentsia with deep analytical assessment, Marxist theory gives them a key to humankind’s history; it is also a  method of social assessment and analysis and a coherent theory of discovering secrets of economic life”.

As part of Marxism, since its inception, the Theory has always been criticized and negated by  anti-communist forces, for it not only provides a scientific basis for motion and development and replacement of societies, but states that capitalist society will inevitably be replaced by communism. Backed by the collapse of the global socialist system in the late 20th century, bourgeois theorists joyfully declared the “death knell” for  the Theory, particularly for its approach to contemporary issues. Critical comments come in all shapes and sizes with a focus on negating the value of the Theory, arguing that the Theory is theoretically obsolete, and only appropriate to the “transition from medieval to modern times”; therefore, it is impossible to address social issues in the times of information civilization. Accordingly, they suggest replacing the approach to social analysis in the socioeconomic formation of Karl Marx with that of the futurist Alvin Toffler through three consecutive civilizations, namely “agricultural civilization”, “industrial civilization” and “post-industrial civilization”. Intrinsically, this suggestion is intended to negate not only the Theory by Karl Marx, but the path to build socialism by countries, including Vietnam.

In reality, the approach to civilizations is fairly familiar in Marxism. Regardless of what kind of approach taken to civilizations or socioeconomic formation, the productive forces have been considered to be a key element to development and replacement of social regimes. When studying the development of civilizations, Friedrich Engels himself also agreed with Morgan on dividing history into three stages, namely savagery, barbarism, and civilization. The book entitled the Poverty of Philosophy by Karl Marx also clarified the decisive role of the productive forces in replacing social regimes, which read “Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist”. As a result, from this angle, the approach to civilizations is not in contradiction to that to socioeconomic formations. Moreover, the approach to civilizations not only plays an important role in the consciousness of social history, but acts as a supplement to that to socioeconomic formations. Nonetheless, the approach to civilizations absolutizes the role of the productive forces and bypasses the role of social relations and dialectical relationship between the productive forces and relations of production. Hence, this approach blurs the boundary amongst different regimes of society, neglects original momentum for historical evolution, and evades class issues and struggle and political regimes. In addition, it neither enables people’s consciousness of society as a whole nor identifies a crucial element for social development.

Meanwhile, the Theory does  regard the productive forces as not a single economic determinant but an ultimate one to the development of history. Friedrich Engels stated “According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure, etc also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their “form”.

In spite of its development potential, contemporary capitalism is intrinsically a regime of oppression, exploitation and injustice. Fundamental and inherent contradictions of capitalism, particularly deteriorating ones between capitalists and workers and between highly socialized productive forces and restricted capitalist relations of production. The capitalist world has continuously seen economic, political and social crises. Most recently, the financial crisis erupted in the US in late 2007, then spread across the globe. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement with a slogan “We are the 99%” in the times of the crisis in the US and some developed capitalist nations demonstrates the incompentence of capitalist society in handling problems of social equality. It is the motion of those intrinsic conflicts and struggles of working people that determine the fate of capitalism.

As far as socialism is concerned, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of socialist states in Eastern Europe and Mongolia is a great loss to international communist and workers’ movements. Yet, it is not the “death knell” for the Theory since it is merely the collapse of a specific socialist model- “the Soviet Union-style centrally planned and subsidized model”, which was primarily and directly caused by dogmatism and revisionism in the ruling Party’s political, ideological and organizational guidelines and high-ranking leaders’ betrayal of basic principles of Marxism-Leninism. Grounded in the proper consciousness of the scientific and revolutionary nature of the Theory, remaining socialist nations, including Vietnam, still have steadfastly pursued the path to build socialism, carried out reforms, and recorded great achievements, and gained a higher foothold in the international arena.

Presently, nations pursuing the path to socialism and left-wing and communist movement still face numerous difficulties. People’s struggle for peace, national independence, democracy, and social development and progress still confronts multitudinous challenges; hostile forces continue to vigorously find every way to remove socialism. Nevertheless, the transitional period from capitalism to socialism that characterizes today’s age as stated by our Party “According to the law of historical evolution, mankind will certainly advance to socialism”. The value and vitality of the Theory of socioeconomic formation still remain intact.

Nguyen Ngoc Hoi

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