On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep-but forever.
An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America, and by historical science, in the death of this man. The gap that has been left by the departure of this mighty spirit will soon enough make itself felt.
Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.
But that is not all. Marx also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created. The discovery of surplus value suddenly threw light on the problem, in trying to solve which all previous investigations, of both bourgeois economists and socialist critics, had been groping in the dark.
Two such discoveries would be enough for one lifetime. Happy the man to whom it is granted to make even one such discovery. But in every single field which Marx investigated — and he investigated very many fields, none of them superficially — in every field, even in that of mathematics, he made independent discoveries.
Such was the man of science. But this was not even half the man. Science was for Marx a historically dynamic, revolutionary force. However great the joy with which he welcomed a new discovery in some theoretical science whose practical application perhaps it was as yet quite impossible to envisage, he experienced quite another kind of joy when the discovery involved immediate revolutionary changes in industry and in historical development in general. For example, he followed closely the development of the discoveries made in the field of electricity and recently those of Marcel Deprez.
For Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival. His work on the first Rheinische Zeitung (1842), the Paris Vorwarts (1844), the Deutsche Brusseler Zeitung (1847), the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848-49), the New York Tribune (1852-61), and in addition to these a host of militant pamphlets, work in organisations in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the great International Working Men’s Association — this was indeed an achievement of which its founder might well have been proud even if he had done nothing else.
And, consequently, Marx was the best-hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow-workers — from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America — and I make bold to say that though he may have had many opponents he had hardly one personal enemy.
His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work!
In this short introductory article, my aim is quite modest. I want briefly to introduce readers to four key themes in Marx’s anti-colonialism: first, his moral condemnation of colonialism; second, his analysis of its roots in capitalism; third, his attentiveness to the importance of Indigenous modes of life and social practices as sources of critical insight and social innovation that can and should inform how we think about a post-capitalist future; and finally, fourth, his strong views about the centrality of anti-colonial solidarity in socialist strategy, not only in colonized places but more generally. Although a thorough assessment of Marx’s anti-colonial politics would have to devote substantial critical attention to its many limitations, my emphasis here is not on these limitations, but rather on aspects of Marx’s anti-colonialism that remain relevant, illuminating, and worthy of serious consideration today.
I. The Moral Catastrophe of Colonialism
Marx himself in his main work, Capital, Volume One, touches very directly, and without pulling any punches, on colonial capitalism and its disastrous impacts on Indigenous people, and on colonized people more generally. He points out that “the history of colonial administration…’is one of the most extraordinary relations of treachery, bribery, massacre, and meanness’,” and he denounces the way that “the colonial system … proclaimed surplus-value [i.e., profit] making as the sole end and aim of humanity,” in such a manner that “the public opinion of Europe had lost the last remnant of shame and conscience,” in its willingness to tolerate colonial plunder and genocide (Marx, Capital).
Specifically addressing the genocidal aspect of capitalist colonialism, he notes that “the treatment of the indigenous population was, of course, at its most frightful in plantation-colonies set up exclusively for the export trade, such as the West Indies, and in rich and well-populated countries, such as Mexico and India, that were given over to plunder. But even in the colonies properly so called [that is, what we now call settler colonies]…, in 1703 those sober exponents of Protestantism, the Puritans of New England, by decrees of their assembly set a premium of £40 on every Indian scalp and every captured [Indigenous person]; in 1720, a premium of £100 was set on every scalp; in 1744, after Massachusetts Bay had proclaimed a certain tribe as rebels, the following prices were laid down: for a male scalp of 12 years and upwards, £100 in new currency, for a male prisoner £105, for women and children prisoners £50, for scalps of women and children £50.”
Elsewhere in Capital, he adds: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production” (Marx, 1867). (Needless to say, he uses the expression “rosy dawn” in a sarcastic mode here.)
So, colonialism (along with slavery, which overlaps with it) was seen by Marx as the height of capitalism’s crimes against humanity. Even the achievements of social progress in Europe were tainted by their reliance on genocide and dispossession in the colonies, worldwide. As Marx’s main collaborator Friedrich Engels put the point, “one cannot fail to notice that the English citizen’s so-called freedom is based on the oppression of the colonies.”
II. The analysis of colonialism’s roots: land-theft and accumulation
In the Grundrisse, which he wrote in the 1850s, Marx places at the centre of everything what he calls “land, the source of all production and of all existence.” Obviously, land is particularly central to colonialism, which relentlessly pursues dispossession, by any means at its disposal, including but certainly not limited to treaties and military violence. “All these were means for robbing the [colonized] of their land….The [colonial] question is therefore not simply a question of nationality, but a question of land and existence. Ruin or revolution is the watchword” (Marx, 1867). In 1870, he repeated this idea, noting that in colonies “the land question has been up to now the exclusive form of the social question because it is a question of existence, of life and death, for the immense majority…, and because it is at the same time inseparable from the national question” (Marx, 1870).
Settler colonialism indeed poses a grave threat to colonized people, in Marx’s view. Typically, when settler colonies have been established, he noted, “the plan was to exterminate the [colonized]…, to take their land and settle…colonists in their place, etc….The avowed plan…: clearing the [territory] of the natives and stocking it with loyal [settlers]” (Marx 1867).
According to Marx, capitalism’s embrace of colonialism has had multiple motives: (1) acquisition of “land which provides the [colonising nation’s] market with meat and wool [and other products] at the cheapest possible prices”; (2) “reducing the [colonized] population by eviction and forcible emigration, to such a small number that [colonizing] capital (capital invested in land leased for farming) can function there with ‘security’” (Marx, 1870); (3) because it helps to draw super-exploited workers into the “labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the [‘mother-country’] working class” (ibid); and (4) to establish and strategically deploy an “antagonism” between workers of the colonized and colonizing nations, in order to weaken the power of both sets of workers, and workers generally.
The result, as Marx notes in Capital, is that under capitalism “the pieces of land belonging” to colonized people, “from time immemorial, are systematically confiscated.” This notion of systemic confiscation of land is one of the most important contributions of Marx’s Capital to anti-colonial theory (a point repeatedly emphasized by Coulthard, by Luxemburg, and others).
III. The endangered alternatives: Marx on the importance of Indigenous forms of life to humanity’s future
In contrast to the atrocities and contempt for humanity characteristic of capitalism, Marx (and later, Engels) noted the egalitarianism, collectivism, and consensus-oriented forms of stateless self-governance frequently found in the traditional social and legal systems of Indigenous communities (a point Marx underlined especially, but by no means exclusively, in his studies of Indigenous societies in the Eastern Great Lakes region). Marx regarded these pre-colonial forms of Indigenous egalitarianism as models for the European left, and as prefigurations of a possible post-capitalist future for humanity as a whole.
Indeed, one of the things that interested Marx most about modern (19th-century) Indignenous societies was how advanced their political and legal systems were, compared to the relatively deficient ones in Europe. His understanding of how the clan-based political systems in the Haudenosaunee nations worked is expressed by him as follows: “The Council [is] an instrument of government and supreme authority over the clan, tribe, [and] confederacy…. [Matters] of general interest [are] submitted to the determination of the council [which] sprang from the clan organization — the Council of Chiefs.” At the level of clans, according to his understanding of the Haudenosaunee practice in the 19th century, a council took the form of “a democratic assembly, where every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions brought before it…. All the members of a [Haudenosaunee-confederacy] clan [are] personally free, bound to defend each other’s freedom; equal in privileges and personal rights.” (These passages are from Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks.)
In 1845, Marx notes in The Holy Family (quoting early socialist Charles Fourier) that “the degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation.” In 1868, Marx repeated that “Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of [women].” In this connection, he took special interest in the superiority of women’s status in the Haudenosaunee nations, compared to that of women in Europe. Quoting an early anthropologist, he noted (in his Ethnological Notebooks) the importance of Clan Mothers among the Seneca: “The women were the great power among the clans, as everywhere else. They did not hesitate, when occasion required it, to ‘knock off the horns’, as it was technically called, from the head of a chief, and send him back to the ranks of the warriors. The original nomination of the chiefs also always rested with them.”
In his effort to learn from Indigenous forms of social organization Marx goes into considerably more detail, and I can’t even scratch the surface here. He has, for example, detailed notes on the clan structure, social and spiritual practices, and legal and political institutions of countless Indigenous nations in present-day ‘Canada.’ For instance, he notes all the doodemag (clans) of the Anishinaabeg (attentive to both differences and overlap among Ojibwe, Odaawaa, and Potawatomi clan traditions). He notes the clans, too, for each of the Haudenosaunee nations, and documents his understanding of changes over time in the clan organization. He notes, too, that the clan system had been undermined — particularly, he thought, among the Anishinaabeg — by colonialism (“American and missionary influence”). He also notes the role that wampum belts play in Haudenosaunee-confederacy diplomacy. (All of these discussions are found in his Ethnological Notebooks, mostly around pages 145-184.)
Far from working with a generic and decontextualized notion of ‘Indigenous people’ generally, Marx made careful notes on dozens of specific Indigenous nations (and confederacies). Among those that he wrote about, in varying levels of detail, were the Mi’kmaq, the six nations of the Haudenosaunee confederacy (Marx writes “Hodenosaunian,” and sometimes uses this term to include other nations from the same linguistic group, like the Wendat, Attawandaron, and others), the Anishinaabeg (specifically, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa, which Marx calls the “Gichigamian tribes,” a term he borrows from the Anishinaabemowin name for Lake Superior, the etymology of which he notes), Cree, Lenaape, Dene (“Athapaskans”), Salish, Sahaptin, Ktunaxa, Tlingit (although Marx uses the name Russians used for Tlingit, viz. Kolush), and many, many other Indigenous nations and linguistic groups.
It should go without saying that none of these matters are best studied by reading Marx. Any interested person has far better access today to information about these matters than Marx could ever have accessed. What socialists can learn from him, however, is the importance and value of curiosity and attention to the details of cultural and historical specificity. Overgeneralization about Indigenous societies, their spiritual lives, their legal traditions, their histories and forms of social organisation, were unacceptable to Marx in the 1800s, in spite of the difficulty (in his position) of finding out more. Today, we have far less justification for indulging in lazy and ill-informed generalizations than he had. But how many socialists in the Canadian state have made as detailed a study of the cultural and historical specificity of dozens of Indigenous nations in this region? Too few, it is fair to say.
It is also important to note that, if Marx was keenly interested in trying to understand the ways of life and social organization of Indigenous peoples, particularly the Haudenosaunee nations of the Eastern Great Lakes region, it was because he saw them as representing, in many respects, the most democratic and egalitarian political orders found in the modern world. Marx shared the conviction expressed by Engels, when he marvelled at the “wonderful constitution” under which members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy “lived for over four hundred years and are still living today.” Unlike European political orders, it had “no gendarmes or police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits — and everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole of the community affected….The decisions are taken by those concerned, and in most cases everything has been already settled by the custom of centuries. There cannot be any poor or needy — the communal household and the [clan] know their responsibilities towards the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. All are equal and free — the women included” (Engels, 1884). The existence in modern times of societies so thoroughly imbued with a spirit of democracy and equality struck Marx and Engels as a standing condemnation of Europe’s brazen inequalities and relentless systems of social exclusion, exploitation and oppression. But it also represented for them a hopeful vision and a prefiguration of a possible ‘communist’ future for a post-capitalist Europe.
IV. The centrality of anti-colonial solidarity in Marx’s political strategy
One of the fabricated charges against Marx is that he so emphasized the importance of working-class struggles against capitalism that he placed other struggles, including anti-colonial ones, in a secondary or subordinate position. What we find when we look at Marx’s actual writing on this issue, however, is that at times he takes the exact opposite view, adopting the position that sometimes anti-colonial struggles take a higher priority than conventionally ‘economic’ struggles against the exploitation of workers as workers, so that anti-colonial revolt was of primary importance, and working-class struggles against capital were secondary (although this didn’t mean, obviously, that he ‘downplayed’ the struggles of workers as workers or considered them unimportant).
In the case of England as a colonial power, for example, Marx described the victory of anti-colonial resistance as “the preliminary condition for the proletarian revolution in England” (Marx, 1870; emphasis added). Marx explicitly argued that if the European Left could “bring about a coalition of [colonizer-nation] workers with the [colonized] workers,” this would be “the greatest achievement you could bring about now” (ibid.; emphasis added). Anti-colonial struggle, he said, should therefore be put “in the foreground” (ibid.), not the background. Even workers from colonizing nations should be alerted to the fact that “the national emancipation of [colonized nations] is not a question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment but the first condition of their own social emancipation” (ibid.; emphasis added). In other words, Marx argued that the economic self-emancipation of the international working class could only be achieved on the basis of a prior struggle against colonialism, without which it could not succeed. As Marx put the point in an 1872 leaflet he co-authored, racist antagonism toward those targeted by colonialism is “one of the main impediments in the way of every attempted movement for the emancipation of the working class” (Marx, et al., 1872). Again and again, Marx uses terms like ‘preliminary condition,’ ‘first condition,’ and ‘in the foreground’ to characterise the place of anti-colonial resistance movements in the political strategy of the anti-capitalist left within colonial nations like England.
It was in this spirit that, in 1872, Engels argued that colonized peoples should always have the right to form autonomous national organizations within the global working-class left, and he put the point this way: “If members of a conquering nation called upon the nation they had conquered and continued to hold down to forget their specific nationality and position, to ‘sink national differences’ and so forth, that was not Internationalism, it was nothing else but preaching to them submission to the yoke, and attempting to justify and to perpetuate the dominion of the conqueror under the cloak of Internationalism. It was sanctioning the belief, only too common among the English working men, that they were superior beings compared to the [colonized people], and as much an aristocracy as the mean whites of the Slave States considered themselves to be with regard to [Black people]” (Engels, 1872).
Today, we would want to refer to nations “subjected to colonial domination,” rather than “conquered” nations. (As Marx points out in Capital, Volume One: “In the colonies, the capitalist regime everywhere comes into collision with the resistance of the producer….”) More generally, the terminology of Marx and Engels is often old-fashioned and obsolete. But overall, their position on these strategic questions seems to hold up very well. In particular, this contrast between “internationalism” (which they embraced) and “sinking national differences and so forth” (which they rejected as a falsification of internationalism) remains extremely important in the context of anti-colonial socialist politics.
There’s no denying, and no need to deny, that there are serious and substantive defects in Marx’s account of colonialism. His sometimes uncritical adoption of theoretical frameworks from 19th-century anthropology, for instance, led him to parrot uncritically (at times) the now-discredited jargon of ‘primitiveness,’ ‘barbarism’ versus ‘civilisation,’ and so on, when talking about Indigenous societies. This is one of a number of points where we now rightly reject some of what Marx was willing to say as both racist and scientifically unsound. Moreover, even his anti-colonialism would be deemed by most of us to be affected in certain ways by a broadly ‘Eurocentric’ view of modern history, even if its Eurocentrism isn’t as egregious as that of other 19th-century European intellectuals. These and other defects reflect the fact that Marx could not benefit, as we can and must today, from over a century of anti-colonial movements and anti-colonial social research. He could not learn, for instance, from a critical engagement with figures like Frantz Fanon, Julius Nyerere, or Andrea Betasamosake Simpson, to name only a very few of the countless important anti-colonial thinkers after Marx who force us to grapple with matters that were misunderstood, overlooked, or even evaded by Marx.
It would be a grave error either to accept or to reject Marx’s critical analysis of colonialism wholesale. We have to be willing, on the contrary, to sift through what he says — and what he fails to say — to take Marx’s anti-colonialism seriously as both a source of indispensable insight and at the same time a flawed inheritance plagued by grave limitations. But my judgment is that a wholesale rejection would be particularly unfortunate, because the enduringly relevant critical insights in Marx, especially about the strategic “foregrounding” of anti-colonialism in the context of anti-capitalist struggle, are too important to the future of anti-systemic left politics to be cast aside carelessly
The last 30 years, to put it bluntly, have not been the most favourable for people interested in Marxist ideas and politics. The seeming triumph of neoliberalism, particularly after the downfall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, pushed Marxist thought increasingly to the fringes of academic and public debates alike. However, this dire picture has changed radically following the onset of financial crisis in late 2007.
As the financial crash has grown into an economic crisis of global proportions there has been a surge of interest in Marx’s analysis of capitalism, as people have attempted to come to grips with the causes of the current mess, as well as to find solutions to it. As the Times put it, “The prophet of revolutionaries everywhere, the scourge of capitalism, is enjoying a comeback.” As evidence of Marx’s return to popularity, reading groups have been popping up like wood anemones in the spring, gathering people interested in reading Marx’s magnum opus, Capital (to get an idea of how these groups look, you can visit the homepage of the King’s College reading group here).
However, reading Capital is not an easy project. While many might have found the Communist Manifesto a concise and brilliant book, or perhaps read excerpts from Marx’s writings, people tend, for a variety of different reasons, often to be discouraged from reading Capital. The sheer size of the book can, at first sight, be frightening. In addition, the complexities of Marx’s method, as well as personal preconceptions, add to the difficulties of reading Capital. This is where Harvey’s book comes into the picture.
As the title suggests, Harvey’s book is written as a “companion” for people “on a journey” through the rich world of Marx’s political economy. Undoubtedly, there are few scholars who would be better equipped for this task than Harvey. Originally a radical geographer and social theorist, Harvey has been writing and lecturing incessantly on Capital for the last four decades. Based on the transcripts of his lectures (which are available as text and video at davidharvey.org), Harvey’s book shows the reader how to read Marx on his “own terms”, in order to help us understand the contradictions of capitalism and the reasons why crisis is an inherent feature of this system.
Written in the same thought-provoking but still composed style that characterises Harvey’s previous works, this book offers invaluable insights and assistance for everybody interested in unravelling the contradictions of the current crisis following the methods set out by Marx some 150 years ago.
Every time the alarms sound announcing another economic crisis, sales of Karl Marx’s books skyrocket. Few understood how capitalism works and its consequences for humanity like this 19th-century German thinker.
No matter how hard the hegemonic propaganda machine has tried to refute his analysis and decree the death of the ideas to which he dedicated his life, Marxism resists the test of time and its validity – not only as a method to understand the world, – but as a tool to transform it, is proven.
Two centuries after his birth, Granma Internationalshares ten of Marx’s predictions that set the pace of the 21st century.
1. THE CONCENTRATION AND CENTRALIZATION OF CAPITAL
In his masterpiece Capital, Marx defined economic reproduction in capitalism and predicted the tendency to concentrate and centralize capital.
While the first aspect refers to the accumulation of surplus value – the value created over and above the labor power of workers (surplus labor), appropriated by the capitalist as profit – the second term consists of the increase in capital as a result of the combination of several individual capitals, almost always as a result of bankruptcies or economic crises.
The implications of this analysis are devastating for the defenders of the ability of the “blind hand of the market” to distribute wealth.
As Marx predicted, one of the characteristics of capitalism in the 21st century is the growing gap between rich and poor. According to Oxfam’s latest report, 82% of the wealth generated worldwide in 2017 went into the pockets of the richest 1% of the global population, while 3.7 billion people, the poorest half of the world, saw no increase in their wealth.
2. THE INSTABILITY OF CAPITALISM AND CYCLICAL CRISES
The German philosopher was one of the first to understand that economic crises were not an error of the capitalist system, but one of its intrinsic characteristics.
Even today attempts are made to peddle a different idea.
However, from the Stock Market Crash of 1929, to the crisis of 2007- 2008, there is a clear course that follows the patterns as outlined by Marx. Hence, even Wall Street magnates end up turning to the pages of Capital to find some answers.
3. CLASS STRUGGLE
Perhaps one of the most revolutionary Marxist ideas was the understanding that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” as we read in the Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848.
That thesis threw liberal thought into crisis. For Marx, the capitalist state is one more tool of the hegemonic class to dominate the rest, while reproducing its values and its own class.
A century and a half later, social struggles are fought between the 1% that dominates and the other 99%.
4. THE INDUSTRIAL RESERVE ARMY
The capitalist, according to Marx, needs to keep wages low in order to maximize profitability. This can be achieved as long as there is another worker waiting to take the place of one who refuses to accept the conditions. That’s who he called the “reserve industrial army.”
Although the social and trade union struggles from the 19th century to the present day have changed elements of this situation, especially in developed nations, the quest for low wages continues to be a constant in the business sector.
During the twentieth century, large manufacturing companies in Europe and the United States relocated to Asia in search of a skilled workforce they could pay less.
Although recent governments point to a loss of jobs through this process, as the Donald Trump administration in the United States has, the fact is that these companies managed to maintain their high growth rates thanks to the exploitation of cheap labor.
Regarding wages, current studies show that workers’ purchasing power, in terms of what can be bought and not their nominal value, has been decreasing in western countries for nearly 30 years.
And the gap is even greater between executives and low-level employees.
According to an article in The Economist, while in the last two decades workers’ pay in countries like the United States has stagnated, the salary of top executives has increased significantly: they have gone from earning 40 times the average pay to pocketing 110 times more.
5. THE NEGATIVE ROLE OF FINANCIAL CAPITAL
While Marx details the mechanisms of exploitation inherent in the process of capital accumulation, he is especially critical of financial capital, which does not have a direct material role in the economy, but is created in a “fictitious” way, such as a promissory note or a bond.
In his day, one couldn’t imagine the modern development of this sector of the economy, thanks to the use of computers to carry out financial transactions at the speed of light.
Speculation and the elaboration of complex financial mechanisms – such as the so-called “subprime,” which triggered the crisis of 2007-2008 – are currently solid confirmation of Marx’s concerns.
6. THE CREATION OF FALSE NEEDS
The 19th century had not yet seen the boom of commercial advertising on radio and television, much less modern mechanisms to personalize advertising messages on the Internet, but Marx already warned of the ability of the capitalist system to generate alienation and false needs among people.
“The extension of products and needs becomes a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural, and imaginary appetites,” he predicted over 150 years ago.
In today’s world, cell phones become outdated in just a few months, and advertising is responsible for convincing users to buy the latest model. Meanwhile, household appliances are built with planned obsolescence to ensure they stop working after a few years, and thus create the need to replace them.
“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere,” Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto.
Their portrait of the globalization of markets, accompanied by the imposition of a culture determined by consumption, could not be more accurate.
8. THE PROMINENCE OF MONOPOLIES
At the same time, this trend is accompanied by the creation of transnational monopolies. While classical liberal economic theory assumed that competition would maintain multiplicity of ownership, Marx went a step further and identified the market’s tendency to amalgamate based on the law of the strongest.
Large media, telephone, and oil conglomerates are some of the current examples of the process described by Marx.
9. THE SUICIDAL TENDENCY OF CAPITALISM
“All that is solid melts into air,” is one of the most enlightened reflections on capitalism in the Communist Manifesto.
Marx and Engels understood the creative and at the same time self-destructive nature of capitalism, in which the pursuit of productivity at any price imposes an inhuman rhythm of production and unsustainable consumption.
It is precisely this trend that currently has our planet on the edge of collapse.
The impact of human beings on the rise in global temperature is scientifically proven, although certain presidents, such as that of the United States, continue to deny it.
10. THE REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF THE WORKING CLASS
Marx’s greatest impact on history was not his profound analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, but his call to build a new kind of society: based on communism.
His message that the proletariat has the potential to free itself from oppression and inequality forever changed the twentieth century and inspired revolutions in Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba, among other countries. His call to working class unity remains fully valid in the 21st century.
Courtesy: This article first appeared in Granma Internationalon bicentenary of Karl Marx’s Birth on May 16, 2018.
Throughout the civilised world the teachings of Marx evoke the utmost hostility and hatred of all bourgeois science (both official and liberal), which regards Marxism as a kind of “pernicious sect”. And no other attitude is to be expected, for there can be no “impartial” social science in a society based on class struggle. In one way or another, all official and liberal science defends wage-slavery, whereas Marxism has declared relentless war on that slavery. To expect science to be impartial in a wage-slave society is as foolishly naïve as to expect impartiality from manufacturers on the question of whether workers’ wages ought not to be increased by decreasing the profits of capital.
But this is not all. The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling “sectarianism” in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.
The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism.
It is these three sources of Marxism, which are also its component parts that we shall outline in brief.
The philosophy of Marxism is materialism. Throughout the modern history of Europe, and especially at the end of the eighteenth century in France, where a resolute struggle was conducted against every kind of medieval rubbish, against serfdom in institutions and ideas, materialism has proved to be the only philosophy that is consistent, true to all the teachings of natural science and hostile to superstition, cant and so forth. The enemies of democracy have, therefore, always exerted all their efforts to “refute”, under mine and defame materialism, and have advocated various forms of philosophical idealism, which always, in one way or another, amounts to the defence or support of religion.
Marx and Engels defended philosophical materialism in the most determined manner and repeatedly explained how profoundly erroneous is every deviation from this basis. Their views are most clearly and fully expounded in the works of Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and Anti-Dühring, which, like the Communist Manifesto, are handbooks for every class-conscious worker.
But Marx did not stop at eighteenth-century materialism: he developed philosophy to a higher level, he enriched it with the achievements of German classical philosophy, especially of Hegel’s system, which in its turn had led to the materialism of Feuerbach. The main achievement was dialectics, i.e., the doctrine of development in its fullest, deepest and most comprehensive form, the doctrine of the relativity of the human knowledge that provides us with a reflection of eternally developing matter. The latest discoveries of natural science—radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements—have been a remarkable confirmation of Marx’s dialectical materialism despite the teachings of the bourgeois philosophers with their “new” reversions to old and decadent idealism.
Marx deepened and developed philosophical materialism to the full, and extended the cognition of nature to include the cognition of human society. His historical materialism was a great achievement in scientific thinking. The chaos and arbitrariness that had previously reigned in views on history and politics were replaced by a strikingly integral and harmonious scientific theory, which shows how, in consequence of the growth of productive forces, out of one system of social life another and higher system develops—how capitalism, for instance, grows out of feudalism.
Just as man’s knowledge reflects nature (i.e., developing matter), which exists independently of him, so man’s social knowledge (i.e., his various views and doctrines—philosophical, religious, political and so forth) reflects the economic system of society. Political institutions are a superstructure on the economic foundation. We see, for example, that the various political forms of the modern European states serve to strengthen the domination of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat.
Marx’s philosophy is a consummate philosophical materialism which has provided mankind, and especially the working class, with powerful instruments of knowledge.
Having recognised that the economic system is the foundation on which the political superstructure is erected, Marx devoted his greatest attention to the study of this economic system. Marx’s principal work, Capital, is devoted to a study of the economic system of modern, i.e., capitalist, society.
Classical political economy, before Marx, evolved in England, the most developed of the capitalist countries. Adam Smith and David Ricardo, by their investigations of the economic system, laid the foundations of the labour theory of value. Marx continued their work; he provided a proof of the theory and developed it consistently. He showed that the value of every commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labour time spent on its production.
Where the bourgeois economists saw a relation between things (the exchange of one commodity for another) Marx revealed a relation between people. The exchange of commodities expresses the connection between individual producers through the market. Money signifies that the connection is becoming closer and closer, inseparably uniting the entire economic life of the individual producers into one whole. Capital signifies a further development of this connection: man’s labour-power becomes a commodity. The wage-worker sells his labour-power to the owner of land, factories and instruments of labour. The worker spends one part of the day covering the cost of maintaining himself and his family (wages), while the other part of the day he works without remuneration, creating for the capitalist surplus-value, the source of profit, the source of the wealth of the capitalist class.
The doctrine of surplus-value is the corner-stone of Marx’s economic theory.
Capital, created by the labour of the worker, crushes the worker, ruining small proprietors and creating an army of unemployed. In industry, the victory of large-scale production is immediately apparent, but the same phenomenon is also to be observed in agriculture, where the superiority of large-scale capitalist agriculture is enhanced, the use of machinery increases and the peasant economy, trapped by money-capital, declines and falls into ruin under the burden of its backward technique. The decline of small-scale production assumes different forms in agriculture, but the decline itself is an indisputable fact.
By destroying small-scale production, capital leads to an increase in productivity of labour and to the creation of a monopoly position for the associations of big capitalists. Production itself becomes more and more social—hundreds of thousands and millions of workers become bound together in a regular economic organism—but the product of this collective labour is appropriated by a handful of capitalists. Anarchy of production, crises, the furious chase after markets and the insecurity of existence of the mass of the population are intensified.
By increasing the dependence of the workers on capital, the capitalist system creates the great power of united labour.
Marx traced the development of capitalism from embryonic commodity economy, from simple exchange, to its highest forms, to large-scale production.
And the experience of all capitalist countries, old and new, year by year demonstrates clearly the truth of this Marxian doctrine to increasing numbers of workers.
Capitalism has triumphed all over the world, but this triumph is only the prelude to the triumph of labour over capital.
When feudalism was overthrown and “free” capitalist society appeared in the world, it at once became apparent that this freedom meant a new system of oppression and exploitation of the working people. Various socialist doctrines immediately emerged as a reflection of and protest against this oppression. Early socialism, however, was utopian socialism. It criticised capitalist society, it condemned and damned it, it dreamed of its destruction, it had visions of a better order and endeavoured to convince the rich of the immorality of exploitation.
But utopian socialism could not indicate the real solution. It could not explain the real nature of wage-slavery under capitalism, it could not reveal the laws of capitalist development, or show what social force is capable of becoming the creator of a new society.
Meanwhile, the stormy revolutions which everywhere in Europe, and especially in France, accompanied the fall of feudalism, of serfdom, more and more clearly revealed the struggle of classes as the basis and the driving force of all development.
Not a single victory of political freedom over the feudal class was won except against desperate resistance. Not a single capitalist country evolved on a more or less free and democratic basis except by a life-and-death struggle between the various classes of capitalist society.
The genius of Marx lies in his having been the first to deduce from this the lesson world history teaches and to apply that lesson consistently. The deduction he made is the doctrine of the class struggle.
People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be until they have learnt to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. Champions of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realise that every old institution, how ever barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is kept going by the forces of certain ruling classes. And there is only one way of smashing the resistance of those classes, and that is to find, in the very society which surrounds us, the forces which can—and, owing to their social position, must—constitute the power capable of sweeping away the old and creating the new, and to enlighten and organise those forces for the struggle.
Marx’s philosophical materialism alone has shown the proletariat the way out of the spiritual slavery in which all oppressed classes have hitherto languished. Marx’s economic theory alone has explained the true position of the proletariat in the general system of capitalism.
Independent organisations of the proletariat are multi plying all over the world, from America to Japan and from Sweden to South Africa. The proletariat is becoming enlightened and educated by waging its class struggle; it is ridding itself of the prejudices of bourgeois society; it is rallying its ranks ever more closely and is learning to gauge the measure of its successes; it is steeling its forces and is growing irresistibly.