Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

—   Sp - Ss   —


SPACE   [Physics]
The realm in which physical matter and energy exist, and in which events occur. “A boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction” or “Physical space independent of what occupies it—called also absolute space.” [Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (1993)]

“Physicists tend to think of space not as emptiness, but as a substance. It is not a matter substance, but something more fundamental. It can vibrate, in many different ways. Vibrating space manifests itself as matter and energy. One mode of vibration manifests itself as a light wave; another mode of vibration is what we call an electron. If space did not exist before the Big Bang, then nothing would be able to vibrate, so neither matter nor energy would be possible. The creation of space is what made matter possible. Before space was created, none of the things we think about as ‘real’ existed. We have no way to describe them.
         I emphasize that these ideas are not part of science. They are merely the musings of a scientist.” —Richard A. Muller, prominent American bourgeois physicist, in his book Now: The Physics of Time (2016), p. 132. [Note that neither Muller nor anyone else has any good reason to think that there might have been a time when space did not exist and had to be “created”. That is mere religious thinking. —Ed.]

A conception of physical reality in which space and time are conceived as having the possibility of being “transformed into each other” if a physical event is looked at from a differently moving frame of reference. This rather bizarre view in physics arises from the fact that the mathematical
theory of relativity models physical events as occurring in a mathematical space whose points are specified by both space and time coordinates.
        In classical Newtonian physics the time between two events and the distance between two events are entirely independent. But according to relativity theory this absolute separation between time and space cannot be made; both the time and distance between two events will be differently measured by observers moving relative to each other (though this will only be detectable in actual practice at very high differences in velocity). In relativity theory the only “absolute” quantity separating the two events is therefore a blend of distance and time, known as an interval, which is the 4-dimensional analog in space-time of the 3-dimensional distance formula in classical physics.

SPARTACUS   (c. 109-71 BCE)
A Roman gladiator who led a major slave rebellion which is known to history as the Third Servile War. He was born in Thrace, and the information about his life before the great rebellion he led is sketchy and untrustworthy. The most common view is that Spartacus was either an auxiliary with the Roman legions who was later condemned to slavery, or else a captive taken by the legions. In any case, he became enslaved and was sold to a trainer of gladiators. In the year 73 BCE he escaped with about 70 others and went to Mount Vesuvius where he was joined by many runaway slaves. He proved to be a good military leader and an excellent tactician. His forces defeated several Roman armies and terrorized many slaveowning estates throughout large parts of Italy, often enlisting more runaway slaves into his army in the process. He was finally defeated by Roman forces led by Marcus Licinius Crassus near the river Silarus in 71 BCE. Most likely Spartacus died in battle, though another story is that he and many of his followers were captured and then executed by the Romans via crucifixion.
        In modern times, and as the recognition of the necessity for rebellion begins to rise among the proletariat as well, the story of Spartacus has become inspirational for our class too. The Spartacus League in Germany at the end of World War I was named after him. (See entry below.) In the U.S. the writer Howard Fast, a member of the
CPUSA (which, however, was already a revisionist party), wrote a famous novel entitled Spartacus in 1950 while he was in prison for contempt of Congress. In 1960 this novel was made into a well-known movie by the same name, starring Kirk Douglas.

“Spartacus emerges as the most capital fellow in the whole history of antiquity. A great general (no Garibaldi he), of noble character, a real representative of the proletariat of ancient times.” —Marx, discussing Appian’s Civil Wars of Rome, Letter to Engels, Feb. 27, 1861, MECW 41:265.

SPARTACUS LEAGUE (Spartakusbund, Spartacists)
Organization of German Left Social-Democrats, formed during World War I.

“The Spartacus League was headed by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring, Clara Zetkin and others. It carried on revolutionary propaganda against the imperialist war and exposed the aggressive policy of German imperialism and the treachery of the social-democratic leaders. The Spartacists took up an erroneous position, however, in regard to a number of important questions of theory and policy: they underestimated the leading role of the proletarian party in the working-class struggle, they were afraid of a split with the opportunists, they did not understand the need for an alliance of the working class and the peasantry and the importance of the national-liberation movement, they opposed the principle of the self-determination of nations, including the right to secede and form independent states. In April 1917, the Spartacists joined the centrist Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany in which they retained their organizational independence. After the revolution of 1918 in Germany, the Spartacists broke with the Independents and in December of that year founded the Communist Party of Germany.” —Note 61, Lenin, SW 3 (1967).


A common term used in many different countries for special areas (frequently along the coasts) set aside for the extra benefit of foreign imperialist corporations. For example, in India at the present time SEZs have been established to allow transnational corporations to set up operations on Indian soil which are not even required to obey many of the laws of India which are in force elsewhere in the country.
        China did much the same thing before pretty much the entire country was opened up to almost unrestricted imperialist penetration. Deng Xiaoping specified certain cities for direct foreign investment and adoption of foreign technology. Four cities were originally designated SEZs in 1979, with 14 more added in 1986, along with the entire island of Hainan.

Commandos; i.e., elite military units which are generally highly trained and better skilled (in such things as sniping and assassinations) which are used for raids into other countries and other usually short-term military operations, generally of a secret or surprise nature. Among the Special Forces units in the U.S. military are the Army Rangers, Navy Seals, and Air Commandos.

“In a postcolonial world of sovereign nations, nonstate actors such as rebels and terrorists became the main threat to global order [i.e., world imperialism —Ed.], requiring almost perpetual deployments of adaptable forces. As part of a longer-term shift away from a reliance on the military bastions that had ringed Eurasia during the Cold War to a more agile global strike capability, special operations forces experienced a sustained growth. Building upon a relatively small force of 11,600 commandos in the army rangers and navy SEALS, Congress enacted legislation in 1987 forming the unifed Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). After the 9/11 attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave it the lead role in planning the war on terror and executing special operations missions within that plan. Its budget climbed from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $10.3 billion a decade later, comparable to the funding for powerful agencies like the CIA and NSA. Apart from combat capability, its personnel were to serve as ‘forward deployed warrior diplomats’ working ‘in dozens of countries conducting theater security cooperation events to train host nations to eliminate terrorism.’
        “Indeed, by 2015 SOCOM had 69,000 elite troops in the Rangers, SEALs, and Air Commandos deployed to 147 countries, or 75 percent of the world, meaning on any given day they were operating in seventy to ninety nations. Between 2012 and 2014, these forces also ran five hundred Joint Combined Exchange Training exercises in sixty-seven nations.” —Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (2017), p. 178. [Small update: In 2017 U.S. special forces numbered 70,000 and were deployed in 149 countries, according to statistics published in The Nation, Jan. 15/22, 2018, p. 4. U.S. imperialism is ineed at war against the world. —Ed.]

One type of “Special Purpose Entity” (see below), which is sort of a dummy corporation, and which in this case is set up for the purpose of raising speculative money from investors in order to take over a private corporation and allow its founders and their bankers to both expand that private corporation and make a huge profit in the process. This is one of the many types of financial manipulations which contemporary finance capitalists are using in order to extract even more profits from the capitalist system, and has become especially popular with regard to enriching new “tech companies”.

“Roughly 30 percent of the 947 special purpose acquisition vehicles (SPACs), which raise money by going public to finance future mergers, that went public since the beginning of 2020 have had to liquidate.”   —“Trump Media Is Facing More Delays over Merger”, New York Times, Aug. 18, 2023. [This shows that not all these financial schemes actually work out as intended! —Ed.]

SPECIAL PURPOSE ENTITY   [Capitalist Finance]
A semi-independent (or dummy) company set up by a corporation or bank to carry out some function that the mother company prefers not to do in its own name. One common use for SPEs is to have them “purchase” dubious loans which the mother company has made, so as to officially get them off their own books and make the financial health of the mother company look better than it is. The SPE will then pay whatever income it receives from the dubious loans back to the mother company. SPEs therefore are generally a form of corporate misrepresentation and fraud. A recent new type of SPE is known as the special purpose vehicle (see below).

SPECIAL PURPOSE VEHICLE (SPV)   [Contemporary Capitalist Finance]
A relatively recent variety of a special purpose entity (see entry above). Essentially SPVs are dummy corporations, usually set up by an investment bank (or major financial corporation,
government sponsored enterprise, etc.), for the purpose of pretending that some of their financial shenanigans are being done by another company and to try to safeguard the mother company if something should go wrong in the meanwhile. The specific task most commonly assigned to these SPVs is to take numerous individual mortgages or other loans issued by the mother corporation, package them into batches or pools, and then issue bonds or mortgage-backed securities which are supposedly “secured” by these pools. SPVs thus played an important role in all the securitization activity in the recent housing securities bubble that has now (2007-2010) partially popped.

See also:

“In a word, specialization necessarily presupposes centralization, and in turn imperatively calls for it.” —Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?” (1902), LCW 5:470.

SPECULATION   [Capitalist Economics]
[To be added...]
        See also:

intensification of labor which is extracted from a worker by the capitalist company. In some cases this is accomplished by literally speeding up assembly lines, though there are also many other methods.
        Speed-ups are especially likely to occur during economic crises or hard times. The bosses know that the workers become desperate to keep their jobs, and that they can therefore push them all the more. For example, a 2011 survey by the company Spherion Staffing discovered that 53% of American workers “had been compelled to take on extra tasks since the recession started” [The Economist, July 2, 2011, p. 59.]

“In 1973, 7 percent of American workers said they had difficulty completing their work tasks in the time allotted. In 2016, half said they worked during their free time [breaks or lunchtime] at least occasionally.” —Wall Street Journal report, quoted in The Week magazine, Sept. 15, 2017, p. 31.

SPENCER, Herbert   (1820-1903)
English philosopher and sociologist, and one of the founders of


“The workers spend what they get and the capitalists get what they spend.” —Anonymous aphorism, sometimes attributed to Michal Kalecki.

SPINOZA, Baruch [or Benedict]   (1632-1677)
Dutch semi-materialist philosopher. Spinoza held that morality is based in human nature. He defined ‘good’ in various ways, as that which benefits the individual, as that which brings pleasure, and so forth. Although his ethical and general philosophical theories were not completely consistent and coherent, and certainly included idealistic elements, they represented a tremendous advance at the time, and fostered naturalistic and materialistic thinking in ethics and in philosophy in general.

Spinozism—the system of views of the Dutch seventeenth century materialist philosopher Benedict Spinoza, according to whom all things are manifestations (modes) of a single, universal substance, which is its own cause and identical with ‘god, or nature’. The essence of substance is expressed in innumerable qualities—attributes, the most important of which are extension and thought. Spinoza regarded causality as a form of the interconnection of the separate phenomena of nature, understanding by it the immediate reciprocal action of bodies whose first cause is substance. The action of all modes of substance, including man, is strictly one of necessity; the notion of accident arises only in consequence of ignorance of the totality of all the acting causes. Since thought is one of the attributes of universal substance, the connection and order of ideas is in principle the same as the order and connection of things, and the possibility of human knowledge of the world is unlimited. For the same reason, of the three forms of cognition—sensuous, rational and rational-intuitive—the last is regarded as the most trustworthy, in which ‘a thing is perceived singly through its essence or through knowledge of its immediate cause’ (B. Spinoza, Tractatus de intellectus emendatione, et de via, qua optime veram rerum cognitionem dirigitur). This method enables man both to know his own passions and to become master over them; man’s freedom consists in knowing the necessity of nature and of the passions of his soul.
         “Spinozism was not only a form of materialism, but also of atheism, since it rejected ideas of god as a supernatural being who had created the world and rules it. At the same time, by identifying god and nature he made a concession to theology. This retreat, as also the mechanical character of Spinoza’s materialism, was due, on the one hand, to the level of knowledge at that epoch and, on the other hand, to the limited progressive nature of the young Dutch bourgeoisie, whose interests were expressed by Spinoza’s philosophy. Subsequently, a sharp ideological struggle, which has continued to the present day, developed round the philosophical legacy of the great Dutch thinker. Idealist philosophy, by taking advantage of the inevitable historical limitations of Spinoza’s views, distorts the materialist essence of Spinozism, which was an important stage in the development of the materialist world outlook.” —Note 26, LCW 14.
         [In my own view, the characterization of Spinoza’s philosophy in this note is a little too enthusiastic. The fact is that there are also idealist elements in Spinoza’s views which along with the materialist elements form the basis for the centuries-long struggle over whether to interpret him as a materialist or an idealist. —S.H.]


Supernatural beings, such as ghosts, demons, specters, spooks, wraiths, phantasms, apparitions, poltergeists, etc. ad nauseam! And, oh yes, “gods”. These often malevolent beings are imagined to be bodiless and immaterial, yet nevertheless sometimes capable of being seen and interacting with the material world. Of course none of these supposed immaterial agents and intelligences could possibly exist; the very concept of an immaterial mind is not scientifically coherent.
        How could such strange notions arise in the human mind? It seems that in part this may have occurred because people in pre-scientific eras (and also those today who are extremely ill-educated in science) came across natural phenomena which they could not explain, and therefore attributed them to actions of mostly unseen agents. Humans threw stones and spears; so perhaps lightning bolts were being thrown by some powerful entity up in the clouds. It may have been a crude sort of analogy when a better explanation was not yet available.

[After commenting that the belief in unseen spiritual agencies seemed to be universal with “less civilized races”, Darwin continues:] “Nor is it difficult to comprehend how it arose. As soon as the important faculties of the imagination, wonder, and curiosity, together with some power of reasoning, had become partially developed, man would naturally crave to understand what was passing around him, and would have vaguely speculated on his own existence. As Mr. M’Lennan has remarked, ‘Some explanation of the phenomena of life, a man must feign for himself, and to judge from the universality of it, the simplest hypothesis, and the first to occur to men, seems to have been that natural phenomena are ascribable to the presence in animals, plants, and things, and in the forces of nature, of such spirits prompting to action as men are conscious they themselves possess.’ It is also probable ... that dreams may have first given rise to the notion of spirits...
        “The tendency in savages [sic!] to imagine that natural objects and agencies are animated by spiritual or living essences, is perhaps illustrated by a little fact which I once noticed: my dog, a full-grown and very sensible animal, was lying on the lawn during a hot and still day; but at a little distance a slight breeze occasionally moved an open parasol, which would have been wholly disregarded by the dog, had any one stood near it. As it was, every time that the parasol slightly moved, the dog growled fiercely and barked. He must, I think, have reasoned to himself in a rapid and unconscious manner, that movement without any apparent cause indicated the presence of some strange living agent, and that no stranger had a right to be on his territory.” —Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871), in the joint Modern Library edition of The Origin of Species & The Descent of Man, p. 469.

SPIVAK, Gayatri Chakravorty   (1942-   )
Calcutta, Indian-born University Professor of English & Comparative Literature at Columbia University, N.Y. City, USA. Spivak’s doctoral dissertation on William Butler Yeats, completed while already an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, was directed by the literary critic Paul de Man. While de Man later played a central role in the development of
deconstructive literary criticism in the US academy, the discovery of his fascist wartime writings in 1987 also contributed significantly to the ideological crisis of legitimacy of deconstruction. Spivak has always had little if anything substantial to say about the so-called “de Man affair,” i.e., the discovery, exposure and criticism of the wartime writings and the ensuing inquiries into the possible interrelationship of deconstructive theory and reactionary-collaborationist ideology. In her typically cryptic style, Spivak has remarked of her studies under de Man, “I wasn’t groomed for anything.... I took good notes and slowly sort of understood.”
        Nonetheless, it is precisely in the late 1980’s that Spivak’s academic “star” rose significantly with the 1987 publication of her book, In Other Worlds, a collection of essays which had already enjoyed automatic publication in prestigious journals. Although Spivak’s celebrity career began a decade earlier with her 1976 English translation of Jacques Derrida’s de la Grammatologie (Of Grammatology), her still more exotic role as premier postcolonial intellectual served in the late 1980’s to relegitimize and partially “re-invent” deconstruction in ways better suited to the increasingly “global” consciousness of the capitalist “higher education” system.
        In the metropolitan, eclectic imagination of the new bourgeois intelligentsia, however, Spivak is more typically portrayed as follows, from Sangeeta Ray’s 2009 book, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: In Other Words:

“Spivak is a literary theorist, a postcolonial critic, translator, feminist, Marxist, and deconstructionist. She has published on every significant social, political, and cultural topic that has engaged our times, while never losing sight of the role of the teacher in the university and beyond... Her commitment to a planetary ethics has produced trenchant criticisms of the racialization of capital...” (p. 3). Etcetera. In a word, Spivak is a “genius” in much the same “grand style” as Herr Eugen Dühring.

This belief, however, that Spivak is or was ever a Marxist or a “communist,” as Spivak herself has asserted, is a fallacy in much the same way that Deng Xiaoping pretended to be a Marxist revolutionary while simultaneously undermining the struggle for socialism and the building of a future communist society. Whereas Deng in reality carried the line of the nationalist bourgeoisie and its bureaucratic apparatus, Spivak is a high-level academic “authority” of the international bourgeoisie, born out of India’s decolonization but nonetheless uncommitted and in fact hostile to the very idea of the destruction of capitalism. On the one hand, a capitalist-roader, and on the other, a capitalist-reader. At last, a very important article for critically reflecting on the role of pseudo-Marxist mystics such as Spivak is Chih Heng’s “From Bourgeois Democrats to Capitalist-Roaders,” Peking Review, No. 13, March 26, 1976, pp. 6-8, 20, https://massline.org/PekingReview/PR1976/PR1976-13a.htm. —JDL

The theory that in the imperialist era the capitalist
industrial cycle has “split in two”, i.e., into two separate (though connected) cycles with differing periods. The short-term cycle, which like the industrial cycle in the pre-monopoly era still usually lasts from 5 to 10 years, leads to recessions, but most of these tend to be mild and rather easily dealt with through government actions (such as by lowering the prevailing bank interest rates, lowering taxes, increasing Keynesian deficit financing for government expenditures, and the like). The long-term cycle, which is of much more irregular duration, comes to a head when government measures can no longer “short-circuit” the developing economic contradictions which have led to a recession, and therefore which continues to develop into an all out depression. These depressions can only be ended through the massive destruction of the excess capital that has built up since the previous depression.
        For an elaboration of this theory see “Chapter 5: The Industrial Cycle Has Split In Two!” of my work in progress, An Introduction to Capitalist Economic Crises at: https://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/crises/Crises05.htm —S.H.


SPONTANEITY (Of the Masses)
[In Marxism:] Spontaneity is unguided mass activity, that is, struggle which is unguided by conscious proletarian line and leadership.
        For a 12-page elaboration on this topic see
Chapter 9 of my book The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement. —S.H.
See also: INVESTIGATION—Before Launching Political Action,   CHANGING DIRECTION

The ancient, but now long discredited, scientific theory that living organisms can arise from non-living matter. (This does not include such things as ferns developing from tiny spores that do not appear to be alive, nor does it include the presumed original development of life eons ago from exceptionally serendipitous associations of chemical compounds.) The theory likely first developed from observations such as that meat left out in the open may seem to “spontaneously” develop maggots. But the interesting thing is that even in careful experiments where the meat or other material was put under a bell jar (to keep insects from laying their eggs on it), larvae still sometimes appeared. (Because parasitical eggs already existed inside the living animal which was the source of the meat.)
        Thus the moral of the spontaneous generation example is not simply that scientific experiments must be made to test theories, but that even if such experiments are done they are not guaranteed to be conclusive. Scientific experiments can indeed prove things to be true or false, but these experiments must be well-designed and take into consideration many things which may not be immediately obvious. Often this means that there must be a long series of experiments before the final truth is arrived at.

[Intro to be added... ]

“... any subservience to the spontaneity of the mass movement and any degrading of Social-Democratic [communist] politics to the level of trade-unionist politics mean preparing the ground for converting the working-class movement into an instrument of bourgeois democracy. The spontaneous working-class movement is by itself able to create (and inevitably does create) only trade-unionism, and working-class trade unionist politics is precisely working-class bourgeois politics. The fact that the working class participates in the political struggle, and even in the political revolution, does not in itself make its politics Social-Democratic politics.” —Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (2002), (NY: International, 1969), p. 94.

“Social-Democracy [Communism] has established a name for itself, has created a trend and has built up cadres of Social-Democratic workers. And now that the heroic proletariat has proved by deeds its readiness to fight, and its ability to fight consistently and in a body for clearly-understood aims, to fight in a purely Social-Democratic spirit, it would be simply ridiculous to doubt that the workers who belong to our Party, or who will join it tomorrow at the invitation of the Central Committee, will be Social-Democrats in ninety-nine cases out of hundred. The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social-Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social-Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness.” —Lenin, “The Reorganization of the Party” (Nov. 1905), LCW 10:32.

The very first artificial satellite of the Earth, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. It was a small sphere with antennas sticking out. The satellite didn’t actually do anything other than emit periodic radio beeps. But it demonstrated the Soviet ability to send rockets around the world.
        The launching of Sputnik led to something of a panic on the part of the U.S. ruling class. They feared that they might be falling behind the Soviet Union in science and technology. One almost immediate result of this panic was a massive new effort to support science education in American high schools and colleges. My own high school in rural Wisconsin got a very nice new science lab because of this!   —S.H.

        1.   The launch of Sputnik (see entry above) had the effect of promoting the idea that Soviet-style “socialism” was rapidly overtaking American and Western capitalism. And even years later, when the growing problems in the revisionist Soviet economy were becoming more and more evident, Sputnik was still used as a symbol of how what we now recognize as Soviet
state capitalism, was supposedly beating out American-style monopoly capitalism. In effect, Sputnik became for a decade or more a psychological symbol and boost for Soviet-style revisionism. Moreover, the success of Sputnik and the Soviet rocket program (which was actually first developed during the genuine socialist era) was then used to give credence to the ideas that Western capitalism would very soon collapse in a so-called “General Crisis”, and that countries and political movements should therefore emulate and follow the path of the Soviet Union.
        2.   [More generally:] The claim that one small success proves the general superiority of one social system over another.

SRAFFA, Piero   (1898-1983)
An influential “radical” bourgeois economist born in Italy, who spent his career teaching at the University of Cambridge in England. With his 1960 book, Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities he in effect founded the Neo-Ricardian school of bourgeois political economy in opposition to the standard
marginalist viewpoint. He also edited the 10-volume edition of David Ricardo’s works.

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