MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




A philosophy and moral practice aimed towards relieving suffering in life by ridding oneself of desire. At the beginning of the 21st century, Buddhism has around 350 million followers of it's various forms.

This foundation of Buddhism is explained in the Four Noble Truths:

1. "Dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha."

2. "The origination of dukkha: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming."

3. "The cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving."

4. "The way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Samyutta Nikaya 56.11, The Grouped Discourses of Buddha.

A common condensation/translation of Buddha's teaching of the four noble truths can be generally rendered as: (1.) Life is Suffering; (2.) Suffering is caused by desire; (3.) To rid oneself of suffering, one must rid oneself a desire; (4.) To rid oneself of desire, one must follow the eightfold path.

"Among whatever qualities there may be, fabricated or unfabricated, the quality of dispassion — the subduing of intoxication, the elimination of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the breaking of the round, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, the realization of Unbinding — is considered supreme. Those who have confidence in the quality of dispassion have confidence in what is supreme; and for those with confidence in the supreme, supreme is the result."

Khuddaka Nikaya, The Collection of Little Texts.

"From the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance, there no longer exists [the sense of] the body on account of which that pleasure & pain internally arise. There no longer exists the speech... the intellect on account of which that pleasure & pain internally arise. There no longer exists the field, the site, the dimension, or the issue on account of which that pleasure & pain internally arise."

Samyutta Nikaya 12.25, The Grouped Discourses of Buddha.

Historical Development: In around 624-560 BCE, Siddhattha Gotama, a prince of the Sakya clan, is born in Lumbini (in present-day Nepal). At the age of 29, prince Siddhattha renounces all his wealth and inheritance, and travels the world to find the meaning of life. After seven years of travels, encountering various sages and wise-people and extracting their knowledge, while meditating under a Bo tree in the forest at Gaya (now Bodhgaya, India), Siddhattha Gotama attains enlightenment and becomes Buddha. Two months later he becomes a teacher, and delivers his first discourse near Varanasi, explaining the Four Noble Truths. In around 544-480 BCE, Buddha dies at Kusinara (now Kusinagar, India) at the age of 80.

Over the millennium to follow, Buddhist philosophy has split countless times into branches upon branches, and has been assimilated in various ways by cultures around the world. Cultures that have accepted Buddhism do so in decidedly local ways, often combining Buddhism with the worship of their traditional spirits and gods.

Buddha called the philosophy and moral practice he founded (in around 585 ~ 525 BCE) Dhamma-vinaya (which translated from Pali means: the doctrine and discipline). The Tipitaka (Three Baskets), or Pali Cannon, which claim to be the original teachings of Buddha, were written in around 100 ~ 82 BCE, some 450 years after Buddha's death. The Tipitaka is split into three sections: the Vinaya Pitaka (the Basket of Discipline), which state the rules for being a monk and contain Buddha's reasoning for each rule; the Sutta Pitaka (the Basket of Threads), a collection of 10,000 discourses by Buddha and his closest followers; and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (the Basket of Higher Dhamma), which contain Buddha's detailed analysis of the principles governing the behavior of mental and physical processes.

When Buddha dies, the First Council of Buddhism immediately convenes at Rajagaha, India, where 500 arahant bhikkhus, led by Ven. Mahakassapa, recite from memory the entire body of the Buddha's teachings. The recitation of the Vinaya by Ven. Upali becomes accepted as the Vinaya Pitaka; the recitation of the Dhamma by Ven. Ananda becomes established as the Sutta Pitaka, while the Abhidhamma Pitaka has yet to be decided.

Over a century passes before the Second Council of Buddhism convenes in Vesali, India, to discuss controversial points of Vinaya. The first split in Buddhism is made clear at this council, between the reformist Mahasanghika school and the traditionalist Sthaviravadins, who believe that Buddhas are human beings, nothing more nor less. The Mahasanghika are the majority group, believing that Buddhism could not be contained simply in the material — in human beings alone — that what it speaks of must be a transcendental state of being.

By around 250 BCE, after another century has past, the Third Council of Buddhism occurs, producing the Sarvastivadin and Vibhajjavadin sects (which die out relatively soon after). The Abhidhamma Pitaka is recited for the first time at this Council, along with additional sections of the Khuddaka Nikaya. The modern Tipitaka is thus thought to have derived primarily from the memorised recitations of Buddha's teachings that had been established at this time. Ten years later, the oldest surviving sect of Buddhism forms in Sri Lanka: Theravada Buddhism, where it remains intact to this day. It traces its own lineage through the traditional Sthaviravadin school, and purports to be the best representation of Buddha's original teachings.

In around 100 BCE, Buddhism is rife with schisms and discord between the sects. King Vattagamani convenes a Fourth Council, in which 500 reciters and scribes from the Mahavihara record the Tipitaka for the first time on palm leaves at the Aloka Cave, near Matale, Sri Lanka.

The second surviving sect, Mahayana Buddhism, is a collection of a various schools of Buddhism, all of which gradually find their roots in the Mahasanghika school. The exact rise of Mahayana is difficult to determine after the demise of the Mahasanghikas, but most pin its rebirth in China sometime during the Later Han dynasty (25 to 220 CE), in a school called Madhyamika, taught by Nagarjuna, which emphasised emptiness and non-being. During the three Kingdoms era or early Chin (around 200-300 CE), the school of Yogacara formed, which proclaimed that all ideas, that all existence, is based on consciousness, and thus that Ultimate Reality is only perceived and does not have real existence. While there are sects in Buddhism sometimes referred to as the Chinese (10 main sects) and Japanese (6 main sects) schools (from Zen to Lotus to Esoteric to Jodo, etc) — for the purposes of this article all fit within the broad spectrum of Mahayana Buddhism.

In early 300 CE, when Buddhism was permeating through China, Wang Fu wrote a book called Lao-tzu hua-hu ching (The Classic about Lao-Tzu's Civilising of the Barbarians), which had massive distribution and remains an irritant to Chinese Buddhism even to the present day. Wang Fu recounts a story that when Lao-tzu departed China, he traveled across Central Asia into India, and (depending on the version of Wang Fu's story that has survived): Lao-tzu became the Buddha, he converted the Buddha to Taoism, or, one of his students became the Buddha. Unfortunately, the Buddha couldn't quite get Lao-Tzu's teachings quite right, and hence, the birth of Buddhism! This story resulted in a battle of historical forgery by both sides: the Buddhists moved Buddha's birth date further and further back, while the Taoists responded in kind with Lao-Tzu's birth date. Chinese Buddhists were finally able to suppress the Taoists claims in around 1200 CE, but Chinese Buddhism would experience a number of divides to gain greater local authenticity and independence.

A third school is Vajrayana Buddhism, commonly referred to as Tibetan Buddhism. This form of Buddhism is technically a part of Mahayana — based on Tantric Buddhism, which arose in around 500 CE, and employed the use of spells, symbols, and complicated rituals to reach enlightenment. Buddhism had entered Tibet in around 200 CE, but had come under it's own system as Buddhist monks took to controlling society and enforcing their own edicts and morals on others. Their theocracy engrained patriarchy into Tibetan society, severely repressing women, and found a need to make the acts of reincarnation official: to keep power in the hands of the monks, only the monks could proclaim who was the next high ranking official of the empire (aka the reincarnation of the last emperor). This high level of stratification and ranks, dictated through reincarnation, was necessary for running a feudalist society.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the three sects divide the Buddhist population thusly: Mahayana: 56%; Theravada: 38%; Vajrayana: 6%.

The spread of Buddhism in the world -- from www.buddhanet.net

Comparison of Theravada & Mahayana: While Mahayana views the Tipitaka as a sort of introduction to Buddhism, seeing it's own later texts as more advanced forms of study, even in the Tipitaka one can see differences between the two major schools. In Theravada, the eightfold path is a set of practical, moral guidelines to living (abstention from intoxication, practice of meditation, etc.), through which people can overcome being misguided by false desires. Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism emphasise the importance of having "correct" understanding of the eightfold path: with true knowledge lies the ability to transcend reality and attain nirvana. The translation of the Tipitaka exemplifies this difference. To Theravada for example, the Eight Fold Path is: right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. By using the word "true" instead of "right", we would have a common idealist (Mahayana and Vajrayana) rendition of the Eight Fold Path; while "right" is associated with the materialist practices of Theravada. Thus, the fundamental difference between the two schools is the schism between philosophical/moral Materialism and Idealism.

Theravadan Buddhism is primarily atheist, denying the existence of god, and sometimes the supernatural. While the ancient doctrine of Theravada denies all forms of the supernatural, after centuries of local practice by peasantry throughout Asia, spirits and gods were slowly grafted onto Theravada by local cultures; in this way leading to a deification of Buddha in areas of SouthEast Asia, and a kind of holiness in monks. From its inception, Mahayana Buddhism concretely integrated with local cultural beliefs in the supernatural (spirits, reincarnation, etc). Tibetan Buddhism takes belief in the supernatural a step further, believing in a Dalai Lama, who is much like a god on earth.

Theravada Buddhism explains that the natural world, combined with human relations, constitute a stream of elements of both matter and consciousness (dharmas), which are continually in motion. There is no Absolute Truth, neither is there a metaphysical "soul". The existence of the material self, an ever changing self (anatman), is also not absolute – it passes through life and into death, dieing as does the body – it is a part of dharma. When humans react to their desires for something, Theravada Buddhism explains, they do so in a way that tries to make concrete the relationship of their individual self with the thing desired (this relationship is called ego). All things desired are transitory however, always changing, coming into existence, then fading away (the principal of impermanence), thus, the existence of the ego is a false attempt towards consistency, because such a relationship cannot be concrete. Selflessness is therefore necessary in order to achieve harmony and balance within an ever changing world. In other words, painting the world with one's own ideas and wishes is a futile and deceptive act, a person's beliefs belong to themselves and guide their own actions; to externalise these beliefs and pretend that the world will comply to them is a mistake!

Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism take a divergence from materialism beginning with their understanding of the self, believing that it does not really exist. Their premise is that human desire is an illusion, being a false obstacle to the path of enlightenment. They further rationalise that because the self is fooled by desires, then the self must also be an illusion. Further, therefore, they explain that dharma (i.e. the material world), in containing both the self and desire, is also not real. This unreality of dharma, called Sunyata (void), was first espoused by Nagarjuna (2nd century A.D.), who explained that all conceptual thought was unreal, only absolute intuitive knowledge was valid (well over 1000 years later, a westerner named Descartes would establish a similar theory, and give rise to a centuries long era of philosophy). Following these premises, they explain that in order to relieve oneself from suffering, it is necessary to cast off the illusory material world.

The principle of Kharma and reincarnation, while having ancient roots in Hinduism, were re-embraced by Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism, doctrines claiming that the soul was eternal (contradicting the Theravada theory of impermanence, and specifically of the anatman, the always changing self), reborn countless times into the world, bringing with it good or bad conduct, which would be returned in kind. Through enlightenment, they explained, the eternal soul could break the cycle of being reborn into the world countless times, and transcend reality.

Western Buddhism: While Buddhism had entered North America (and to some extent Europe) during the mid-1800s due to Chinese imigration, the movement of Western Buddhism began around the 1960s. Since Buddhism (particuarly Mahayana and Tibetan) is seeped in the cultural traditions of the nation's it is practiced, its entrance into the West saw these cultural traditions clash: whether due to the rigidity and sometimes absolutism of the Buddhist structures, to fervent notions of patriarchy, or to belief in any manner of spirits and gods. While Western Buddhism is still very young, almost embryotic, without the strength yet to define itself as its own sect, some observations can be made.

One result of the clash in cultures is the Westerners' struggle against self-identification with Buddhism, while only admiting to be in the practice of dharma. Hitherto, the most successful school of Western Buddhism is based on Theravada. Western Buddhism is unique in that it seems to mix Theravada with Taoism: a blend of the rigidity and structure of the former with the freedom and individuality of the latter. Showing the assimilation of Taosim, Western Buddhists typically believe that both desire and suffering are not wrong, but natural human traits, and that the path of enlightenment is simply the acceptance of reality. Showing the inheritance of Theravada Buddhism, they practice meditation by the clock, with a discipline that views meditation as a fundamental tool never to be let go, they retain the idol of the Buddha, and embrace the many structures and systems that may guide or prevent a person from enlightenment.

Comparison of Buddhism to Taoism: Traditional Buddhism shares a tremendous amount in common with Traditional Taoism, but the two differ in three primary ways:

On morality: While Buddhism makes moral judgements, seeing some human traits as wrong and incorrect, Taoism doesn't make moral judgements. While a Taoist may describe a certain trait in a particular instant as preventing a person from seeing reality, the Taoist doesn't feel that is a bad thing; while the Buddhist sees that person as living in chains and feels a need to liberate their morality! Taoism accepts things as they are, and thus, moral decisions and feelings remain internal, while the Buddhist attempts to objectify their morality.

In practice: As a result, the Buddhist attempts to structure the world and the path to enlightenment in certain ways. There are 4 truths, an 8 fold path, there are clinging aggregates here and there, and all kinds of things, good and bad, that have been setup to avoid or strive to achieve. Taoism sees such attempts as a part of the problem! That trying to structure one set of rules on the diversity of humanity, no matter how diverse and ammending those rules are, will never quite work! While the Buddhist meditates with special tools, idols, and at designated times, the Taoist believes that meditation isn't different from living normally — it is a different thing to do, and has healthy value, but it isn't more nor less important that tieing one's shoes!

On enlightenment: Taoism believes that suffering is natural – that an attempt to get rid of suffering would be an equal to getting rid of pleasure as well. Taoism is similar to Theravada Buddhism in believing that desires often confuse or prevent a person from accepting what is reality. They share in common the core belief that spiritual progress means being able to accept and live in harmony with the reality of one's self.



Bureaucracy is the social layer of people who administer an organisation, and by virtue of their social position have social interests distinct from that of the organisation that they administer and the people the organisation represents.

The word was first used in reference to the British colonial adminstration in Ireland, but the concept of bureaucracy is particularly important in the context of workers’ organisations. Being a leader or organiser, an elected or professional official in a workers’ organisation, be that a trade union or state apparatus, brings a person into frequent contact with the class enemy under quite different conditions from those they represent, and their living conditions are also quite different. Their role in the labour process is very different from the worker. These conditions engender in the bureaucrat a powerful tendency towards class compromise as well as a theoretical rather than practical attitude to the world.

Marx first tackled the issue of bureaucracy in his criticism of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

“In actuality, the bureaucracy as civil society of the state is opposed to the state of civil society, the Corporations [i.e. unions and professional and regulatory associations].” [Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right]

This idea of the independent social interests of the capitalist state bureaucracy and the managers in large capitalist organisations have been the subject of countless theories. Recognition of the fact that the capitalist bureaucracy has its own interests apart from those of capital, is an important tactical consideration, but can never be a strategic consideration, because in the end, the more fundamental relations of bourgeois society will always prevail over sectional interests. Nevertheless, the union negotiator or guerilla commander would be ill-advised to ignore the opening provided by the particular interests of the capitalist bureaucracy.

Even before the repeal of the Combination Acts in England in 1824, trade unionists had to contend with union officials running off with the funds. By the time trade unions had become powerful national organisations in the late nineteenth century bureaucratism had become a significant problem. As the social-democratic parties began to be able to elect members of parliament and even make governments (the first being in the colonial government of Queensland), the bureaucracy had developed into a distinctly “respectable” layer of citizenry, often drawn from the skilled trades, aspiring to acceptance in “society”.

The principle characteristics of bureaucracy in the union movement is the denial of workers’ democracy, the development of a hierarchical division of labour and professionalisation, the subordination of union struggle to the needs of the parliamentary wing, the substitution of a ‘service model’ of unionism in place of workers self-organisation and the transformation of unions into capitalist enterprises selling services to clients.

On the basis of this bureaucracy in the trade union movement and the socialist political parties which rest on it, there developed the political current of reformism, advocating class compromise and the improvement of the working class by means of gradual reforms legislated through parliament.

A critical point in the build-up of bureaucracy in the Second International came with the First World War. The failure of the parties of the International to take a consistently proletarian class position against the war (“revolutionary defeatism”), buckling into patriotic war-fever, caused Lenin to break from the International and call for Russian workers to make revolution not war. This break led to the Russian Revolution, the establishment of the Soviet Union, Russia’s withdrawal from the War, and subsequently the establishment of the Third International.

In the course of the Wars of Intervention, the Bolshevik leaders of the revolution found themselves transformed from leaders of the working class into functionaries and administrators. A new type of workers’ bureaucracy came into existence – the bureaucracy of the workers’ state. The politics of this type of bureaucracy is called Stalinism.

The characteristics of bureaucracy in the workers’ state are suppression of proletarian democracy, the formation of a permanent class of officials with privileges far above those of the working class masses, the substitution of Government for leadership, the encouragement of conformism, passivity and spying in place of openness, activism and tolerance, the development of patriotism and nationalism in place of internationalism and solidarity.


Business Cycle, or Cyclic Crisis of Capitalism

The cyclical crisis of capitalism, or “business cycle” is the oscillation between boom and slump, between inflation and recession, which runs through the capitalist economy roughly every ten years.

From Chapter 25 of Capital:

“The enormous power, inherent in the factory system, of expanding by jumps, and the dependence of that system on the markets of the world, necessarily beget feverish production, followed by over-filling of the markets, whereupon contraction of the markets brings on crippling of production. The life of modern industry becomes a series of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, over-production, crisis and stagnation. The uncertainty and instability to which machinery subjects the employment, and consequently the conditions of existence, of the operatives become normal, owing to these periodic changes of the industrial cycle. Except in the periods of prosperity, there rages between the capitalists the most furious combat for the share of each in the markets. This share is directly proportional to the cheapness of the. product. Besides the rivalry that this struggle begets in the application of improved machinery for replacing labour-power, and of new methods of production, there also comes a time in every industrial cycle, when a forcible reduction of wages beneath the value of labour-power, is attempted for the purpose of cheapening commodities.

“A necessary condition, therefore, to the growth of the number of factory hands, is a proportionally much more rapid growth of the amount of capital invested in mills. This growth, however, is conditioned by the ebb and flow of the industrial cycle. It is, besides, constantly interrupted by the technical progress that at one time virtually supplies the place of new workmen, at another, actually displaces old ones. This qualitative change in mechanical industry continually discharges hands from the factory, or shuts its doors against the fresh stream of recruits, while the purely quantitative extension of the factories absorbs not only the men thrown out of work, but also fresh contingents. The workpeople are thus continually both repelled and attracted, hustled from pillar to post, while, at the same time, constant changes take place in the sex, age, and skill of the levies.”

Such crises can only arise on the basis of a developed system of money and credit; the larger the scope of the credit system, the wider the scope of these crises.

The dynamics of these business cycles are well-known:

During the boom phase, the phase of expansion, commodities are in demand and are readily sold; money, on the other hand is over-supplied; everyone is flush and ready to buy, thus the value of money goes down and prices rise (inflation). In this phase, labour-power, like other commodities is in demand and wages rise in response, and unemployment falls as workers labour to fill the un-met demand. Credit is in demand with profits waiting to be made, and interest rates rise as bankers grab their share of the action.

As workers realise the demand for their labour power, they gain in confidence and militancy, demanding improvements in wages and conditions.

The raising of interests rates serves to slow down the expansion. Debts build up as a result of borrowing for expansion. Stocks are now full. Suddenly, Department I production which has been supplying the expanding production, and filling stockpiles, begins to hit declining demand and cuts back, lays off workers and reduces its own order list.

This first cooling off in basic industries begins to ripple round from one industry to another, the reduction in profits and wages in this sector has its impact on Department II and sales fall off in the retail trade, increasing stocks and reducing demand back to the suppliers, and unemployment begins to rise. As production and incomes decline, confidence falters and creditors call in their loans; but industrialists with declining order books and retailers with overstocked shelves cannot pay; loans default, bankruptcies escalate, unemployment leaps and to make ends meet every seller, including the workers, want to unload their goods at whatever cost, wages fall along with the price of all commodities. Money is scarce, but people can't afford to borrow, and interest rates fall.

Lower interest rates, higher government spending or easing of credit restrictions may serve to stave off the crash. This crisis may appear a crisis of overproduction or underconsumption, depending on your point of view. Marx characterises the problem as overproduction of capital, chiefly but not exclusively in the form of credit.

Workers, who had come to believe during the boom, that maybe after all they did have a future, find themselves cruelly betrayed and thrown on the junk heap; the organisation and militancy built up during the boom is turned against the system, towards politics, and it is generally in the early phase of the crisis that political radicalism is at its peak.

This phase of crisis passes over to a period in which activity continues at a very low level (stagnation); unemployment is high, building and public works go on hold and poverty stalks the land. The bourgeois have no weapon more powerful for use against the workers than unemployment. As desperate people queue at the factory gates begging for work, radicalism tends to become marginalised and replaced with bitter cynicism on one hand and compliance on the other. – It is generally speaking during the periods of change that radicalism and militancy are greatest, as workers fear defeat or sniff victory, rather than during either the “good times” or the “bad times”.

Eventually overstocked shelves begin to need restocking; machinery gets to need repair or replacement, bad debts have been written off and excess capacity destroyed. Wages and prices are low and opportunities for profit-making begin to show themselves, .... and the whole cycle begins again.

“The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.” [Capital, Volume III, Chapter 30]

After the Great Depression, capitalist governments learnt more of the science of managing these business cycles: initially Keynesian economics and later Milton Friedman’s monetarism inform the policies of central banks who tweek interest rates, exchange rates and public spending to navigate their way through the minefields of capitalist crisis. As the scope of trade and fictitious capital in the world market escalates, this balancing act gets more and more critical.