Karl Marx has had profound influence on the course of human history. His ideas are more relevant today than they were when he was alive. In the words of his collaborator and comrade, Friedrich Engels:
“His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work''
.But why should workers and the revolutionary youth of today discuss and study the ideas of Marxism. What is its relevance for the youth and workers?
The Influence Of Marx’s ideas
The works of Karl Marx changed the course of history. In September 1999 a major BBC News Online poll found Marx to be the "greatest thinker of the millennium', beating philosophers and scientists such as Albert Einstein, Immanuel Kant, René Descartes and Stephen Hawking.
At his gravesite Engels describes the influence of the ideas of Karl Marx in the following way:
“Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of the 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 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 ideas of 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 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 socialists critics, had been groping in the dark."
The discoveries that Engels describes here are what Marxists call the Materialist conceptions of history(Historical Materialism) — the fact that the development of the means of production (science, technique, agriculture, technology, etc) is the cornerstone around which human society develops. Once Marx discovered that the economic foundation is the basis upon which ultimately the development of society rests, he proceeded to study the economic basis of modern society which is capitalism.
These discoveries were of revolutionary significance. They completely undermined the existing ideas of the day. Before this history was regarded as a series of ‘accidents’ or random events in which "great men'' moulded and shaped the destinies of millions of men, women and children. The discovery of historical materialism put the study of human society and its history on a scientific basis. It does not at all deny that the individual can play a decisive role. On the contrary, it explains that the individual can only play this role when all the objective circumstances permit it.
Marx also discovered the laws of capitalist production itself. His discovery of ‘surplus value’ was of equal revolutionary significance. Here we have a scientific explanation of the creation of capital and how workers are exploited in capitalist production. Marx explains that the ability of the worker to work (his labour power) is a commodity that the capitalist buys for a certain number of hours a day. He buys this like any other commodity — machines, fuel, electricity, etc. But this commodity, labour power, has a peculiar characteristic.
All other commodities use up their value in the productive process, but labour power creates more value than the worker receives back in wages. This extra value (which Marx calls surplus value) is, together with nature, the source of all wealth in society. But this surplus value is expropriated by the owners of the means of production, the capitalist class. This is the root of the class struggle. The struggle for this surplus value is the basis for the class struggle in society.
The relevance of the ideas of Marx
Marx died 137 years ago but the representatives of the capitalist class continue to bring out anti- Marxist propaganda year in and year in and year out. But the ruling class will not spend any amount of time and resources to attack an idea which is harmless to their system.
The current world crisis of capitalism has graphically exposed the crisis-ridden nature of their system. In the last few years this has forced some of them to acknowledge this. An avalanche of statements and articles, written by the most prominent strategists of the capitalist system have come to the conclusion that Marx was right in his analysis of the capitalist system.
The crisis of capitalism is also accompanied by a crisis of bourgeois thought. In place of the earlier optimism that stated confidently that capitalism had solved all its problems, there is an all-pervading mood of doom and gloom. For decades the advocates of capitalism had rejected the idea that there would be a crisis of capitalism again. Before the beginning of the current crisis, the economists told us that the market was so efficient that supply and demand would balance each other out and therefore a crisis of overproduction is impossible. They called this theory the "efficient market hypothesis".
Marx's prediction of a crisis of overproduction was rejected — until reality proved otherwise. All the theories of the bourgeois economists for the last 30 years have been shown to be false. Now some of the most prominent strategists of capital are singing a different tune. At a seminar in London in 2009 the prominent New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman said that "for the last 30 years development in macroeconomic theory has,at best been spectacularly useless or, at worst, directly harmful."
In an article on the BBC news magazine on 4 September 2011, John Gray wrote: "As a side-effect of the financial crisis, more and more people are starting to think Karl Marx was right. The great 19th Century German philosopher, economist and revolutionary believed that capitalism was radically unstable. It had a built-in tendency to produce ever larger booms and busts,and over the longer term it was bound to destroy itself."
In an article in the business section of Time, under the revealing title:"Marx's Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World,Michael Schuman writes:
"With workers around the world burdened by joblessness and stagnant incomes, Marx's critique that capitalism is inherently unjust and self-destructive cannot be so easily dismissed."
The article continuous:"A growing dossier of evidence suggests that he may have been right. It is sadly all too easy to find statistics that show the rich are getting richer while the middle class and poor are not. A September study from the Economic Policy Institute(EPI) in Washington noted that the median annual earnings of a full-time, male worker in the U.S. in 2011, at $48202, were smaller than in 1973. Between 1983 and 2010, 74% of the gains in wealth in the U.S. went to the richest 5%,while the bottom 60% suffered a decline,the EPI calculated.No wonder some have given the 19th century philosopher a second look..."
And the author had a stark warning for his readers:
"That leaves open a scary possibility: that Marx not only diagnosed capitalism's flaws but also the outcome of those flaws. If policymakers don't discover new methods of ensuring fair economic opportunity,the workers of the world may just unite. Marx may yet have his revenge."
The bourgeois representatives are forced to admit on the basis of the experience itself that Marx was right in his analysis of capitalism. But what they cannot admit is a more advanced system of socialist is possible. Naturally ! That would be admitting that they do not deserve to be the ruling class of society and they must therefore give up their privileged position in society.
So we can see from the responses of the apologists of Capital that ideas of Marx are very relevant. They won't spend any amount of effort, time, money, and energy attacking an idea that is dead or irrelevant.
In fact the ideas of Marxism are even more relevant today than they were when they were first put forward. For example the Communist Manifesto, which Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote in 1847 and were published in 1848 made predictions about the development of society that have been proven to be correct. He predicted the advent of globalisation. Marx wrote about this in the following way:
"The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere,settle everywhere,establish connections everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.To the great chagrin of Reactionaries,it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood.All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed.They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations,by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material,but raw material drawn from the remotest zones;industries whose products are consumed not only at home,but in every quarter of the globe.In place of the old wants,satisfied by the production of the country,we find new wants,requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes.In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency,we have intercourse in every direction,universal interdependence of nations.And as in material,so also in intellectual production.The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property.National one-sidedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures,there arises a world literature."
These lines were written in 1847. But they accurately describe the globalised world of today!The most dominant feature of today's world is precisely the domination of the world market where events in one country immediately has an impact on another country on the other side of the world. So,for example,has the current crisis of capitalism affected all countries of the world-some more than others. Globalisation now manifests itself as a global crisis of capitalism.
In South Africa this crisis is especially acute. In 2009 the economy had shed almost 1 million jobs in the wake of the global collapse at the time. That was bad enough. But now the situation is even worse. Unemployment has increased further. The 2.8 million jobs that were lost after February had not been recovered. This means that more than a decade’s worth of job gains have been destroyed in six months.
More than one million people who lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic fell into poverty. More than 1.4 million workers were put on leave during the lockdown but only 54 percent of these furloughed workers were re-employed in June. The rest were left unemployed. Women, people in rural areas, workers in informal sectors and the less semi-skilled workers have been hardest hit by job losses.
The government introduced a new Covid-grant which was meant to bring millions of people into the grant system. But only estimated 40 percent of applications successful and this scheme has been fraught with mismanagement and corruption.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how interlinked the world has become and how this global crisis affects the country of South Africa. This globalisation was predicted by Marx in the Communist Manifesto. Another prediction of the Communist Manifesto which proves to be correct is what Marx calls the concentration of capital.
In Capital Marx describes this process in his famous sentence:
"Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery,agony of toil,slavery,ignorance,brutality,mental degradation,at the opposite pole."
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in South Africa today where the inequalities are there to see with the naked eye. Side by side with the most advanced technology and infrastructure, is the lack of infrastructure that can give the poor even a semi-civilized existence. The opulence in Sandton City in Johannesburg is compared to anywhere in the most advanced capitalist countries. But barely 9 kilometres away is the poor township of Alexandra which can be compared to anywhere in the most backward countries on earth. The country consistently ranks at the very top levels of inequality.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that …
"The modern labourer,on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry,sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class.He becomes a pauper,and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth.”
Again,the correctness of these lines are confirmed by facts and figures. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report called Economic Survey of South Africa, the country's Gini co-efficient measure of income distribution stands at 0.70, which is among the highest in the world.This compares to an average of 0.62 on a global scale in 2008 and according to the World Bank,althought access to such areas as education and electrification have greatly improved since 1994,this is negated by the fact that no progress has been made toward income equality since the end of Apartheid.(From Leadership Magazine,South African Inequalities 11 March 2013).
Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto about the manifestation of crises of capitalism in the form of overproduction.This is a process where the private ownership of the means of production, competition between the capitalists and the pursuit of the maximum rate of profit all conspires to create a crisis of capitalism in the form of overproduction where the total production of commodities exceeds the market.
The reason is that the capitalists own the means of production as private property.This means that each capitalist plans his own production of commodities in the hope to gain the maximum rate of profits. The problem is that all of them has the same goal. This ultimately leads to the point where too much commodities are being produced. When this point is reached,the capitalists must cease the further supply of commodities to the saturated market. The system goes into crisis,factories are closed and workers are laid off,thereby deepening the crisis further. This process is graphically described by the capitalists as creative destruction.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels describes the process as follows:
“A similar movement is going on before our own eyes.Modern bourgeois society,with its relations of production,of exchange and of property,a society,that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange,is like a sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production,against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule.
It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial,each time more threatingly.In these crises,there breaks out an epidemic that,in all earlier epochs,would have seemed an absurdity-the epidemic of overproduction.Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism;it appears as if a famine,a universal war of devastation,had cut off the supply of the of every means of subsistence;industry and commerce seem to be destroyed;and why? Because there is too much civilisation,too much means of subsistence,too much industry,too much commerce. the productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property;on the contrary,they have become too powerful for these conditions,by which they are fettered,and so soon as they overcome these fetters,they bring into the whole of bourgeois society,endanger the existence of bourgeois property.
The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces;on the other,by the conquest of new markets,and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.That is to say,by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises,and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented."
Again, these lines accurately describe the crisis that we are now facing. Precisely at this moment, we face a crisis of overproduction on a global scale. For example,the crisis of the platinum mining sector in South Africa is a classic case of the crisis of overproduction.
South Africa is the world's biggest platinum producer and holds 80 percent of the world's reserves. Data on the global supply and demand for platinum provide by the chemicals and precious metals company Johnson Matthey shows that,in 2011 there was an oversupply of 430 000 ounces in an 8 million ounce a year market.In 2009 the oversupply was 635 000 ounces,and in 2006 it was 355 000 ounces.
The ideas of Marxism has proven to be correct and its correctness can be seen in the very lives we live in capitalist society.The basic ideas of Marxism remains unshaken and are proving a firm foundation for the workers movement of today.Therefore a knowledge of Marxism will equip the proletariat with a firm theoretical knowledge for the great task of the Socialist transformation of society.
In an early work called Theses On Feuerbach, Marx states:
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways;the point is to change it."
Marxism is not only concerned with politics and economics. It covers the vast scope of nature and human culture, science, art, philosophy, history and social sciences. In other words, it covers everything that affects our lives. In their totality, these ideas provide a fully worked-out theoretical basis for the struggle of the working class to attain a higher form of human society,namely socialism.
There are of course challenges to attain such a knowledge of Marxism. First there is the ideological onslaught of the bourgeoisie. All institutions of capitalist society are geared to defend the system — church,school, mass media,etc. But there are also other factors which stand in the way of a worker or student who wants to acquire the knowledge of Marxism. The pressures of everyday life and work are impediments.
But all the great Marxists wrote for workers. Once a knowledge of the basic ideas of Marxis are acquired,a whole new world-outlook will open up for the student who has persevered because Marxism provides a richer and more comprehensive view of society.
In order to change the world, it is first necessary to understand it. As we try to explain briefly, the ideas of Marxism have stood the test of time.These works that have been around for more than 100 years are today as relevant as ever. By contrast, everything that the strategists of Capital have written even 18 months ago is worse than useless.
Lenin wrote that "Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." The study of Marxist theory is an absolute necessity.To fight effectively we need the correct ideas, methods and perspectives. It requires a serious study of Marxist theory. A revolutionary needs to be grounded in the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. It is in the words of Engels "our best working tool and our sharpest weapon."
The capitalist system has reached a blinde alley. It is no longer able to play the progressive role. All social systems had a period of development and growth. But at a certain stage a point is reached where it cannot develop the productive forces to the same extent that it once had. When this point is reached,the system goes into a terminal decline.
This is the point which capitalism has now reached. There cannot be anything progressive about a system that condemns 10 million to long term unemployment. Capitalism has condemned millions in South Africa to a life of misery, toil, unemployment, hunger and misery.
All the conditions exist to give everybody on earth a real human existence. The role of capitalism was to lay the basis for the higher system of socialism.The tasks of the working class and to youth is to fight for the socialist transformation of society. This means that the working class needs to become the ruling class of society by overthrowing the bourgeoisie and abolishing the capitalist system.
When this happens, the working class will take ownership of the means of production.South Africa has a highly monopolized economy.It is only necessary to acquire the commanding heights of the economy like the banks,the financial institutions,the mines,the factories,the transport industries,etc and to be nationalised under the democratic control and management of the working class, for the revolution to succeed.The rest of the small scale economy can be in private hands.
This is the aim of the revolutionary youth and workers of South Africa.To get there,the first requirement of the revolutionaries,it is first necessary to know the revolutionary ideas of Marxism. Join Revolution South Africa today and help us prepare for socialist revolution!