The relevance of Marx today
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In paying our respects to Karl Marx, we should also acknowledge the important role of Frederick Engels, his comrade in arms and collaborator in their development of the revolutionary ideology of the working class, known as Marxism.
Is Marx relevant today?
Every corner of the world is in turmoil politically, economically and socially. Mass struggle is breaking out in all parts of the world. All these struggles strike at the heart of the exploitative system of capitalism and its imperialist globalisation. They are intensifying contradictions between the people of the world and capital that cannot be resolved, what Marx termed the antagonistic contradictions of capitalism (between capital and labour).
In Australia we need only to point to the powerful national strike by tens of thousands of school children yesterday demanding immediate action on climate change;
The hundreds of thousands of working people across the country taking over the streets of major capital and regional cities in October demanding workers’ rights, decent wages and conditions, etc.;
The Exxon-Mobil Longford workers who’ve been holding out on a picket line against one of the world’s biggest multinationals for well over a year, sustained by solidarity of the working class around the country;
The hundreds of many other strikes and pickets in workplaces, and the constant outbreaks of community protests on the environment, community services, welfare, democratic rights, treatment of refugees, racism and sexism.
Dialectical Materialism – change and ideas
Marx and Engels were materialists, keen students of history, natural and social sciences, philosophy and class relations throughout the history of humanity – from hunter-gatherers, slavery, and feudalism to capitalism. Through study, and activism in struggles of their times, they were able to foresee the next stage of development of human society emerging from the irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism, the stage of Socialism and an eventual classless society - Communism.
They showed that human thought, ideas and attitudes arose from the actual experiences and contradictions in a particular historical period, and changed and developed as a reflection of changing conditions. Another way of putting this is that material conditions are reflected in human thought.
Their concept of dialectical materialism saw the development of things as an upwardly spiral process that applied to nature, to science and to human thought and revolutionary changes in human society. Dialectics recognises that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and natural phenomena. They all have their negative and positive sides, a past and a future, between that which is disappearing and that which is developing. Thus the ideas of Marx and Engels are not dogma, but a guide to understand a constantly changing world.
Marx and Engels were not content just to analyse the world as it was, they sought to change it for the better and were deeply immersed in the struggles of the working class of the day.
Capital – exposure of exploitation
Karl Marx is best known for his monumental work Capital, published in 1867, which examined the operation of capitalism and capitalist class relations. They revealed that the mode of production and the class relations of production of each historical period determined the power structures in that period.
In capitalist society, the ruling class of capitalists owns the means of production, the factories, workplaces, agriculture, natural resources, banks, they are the 1%. At the other end is the biggest and most powerful class, the working class – the only class that creates surplus value (that’s all the wealth) which is the source of all profit, created socially but appropriated by the capitalist class as a whole – the hidden exploitation of workers who spend a portion of their working day performing unpaid labour. There is no such thing as a fair day’s pay under capitalism!
That’s what Marx meant by social production and private appropriation by the capitalist class. Everything flows from these capitalist class relations of production. The ownership of production by the ruling capitalist class gives the means for it to hold state power. The capitalist ideology, the superstructure (legal, cultural, political, the armed forces,) arises from these class relations to enforce the oppressive rule of the tiny capitalist class over the great majority of the exploited, the 99% – what Marx called bourgeois class dictatorship.
The contradiction between the socialised production (by many) and the private ownership of the means of production in capitalist class relations is ever present, irreconcilable, antagonistic and can never be resolved as long as this class relationship continue. Capitalism cannot be reformed or given a more humane face. The constant attacks by capital to cut wages, conditions and crush working class organisation is verification of the irreconcilability between the two class interests.
Trade unions can unite and organise the workers to be more effective in struggle against capitalist exploitation and can win some temporary concessions from the capitalist class, but do not fundamentally challenge the continuing rule by the exploiters. Trade unions are important schools of struggle, but require far sighted and independent leadership dedicated to the working class above all else, to build an independent working class movement. It is only when the class struggle becomes political, and we don’t mean merely being elected into parliament, (rather is imbued with revolutionary consciousness) that the revolutionary overthrow of the entire system of capitalism, with all its superstructures, comes on the agenda.
Socialism is once again on the agenda
Today, Marx’s foresights are loud and clear. The irreconcilable contradiction between private monopoly ownership of the means of production and socialised nature of labour has become more intense than ever.
This contradiction becomes critical during periods of overproduction, high unemployment and poverty, and often war. To survive, capital is impelled to constantly expand. It is the compulsion of capital to expand that drives imperialist globalisation, the re-division of the world resources, the drive for new markets and unobstructed movement of labour around the world. Imperialist globalisation is attacking the people, accelerating and heightening the contradictions of capitalism.
For society to advance, eventually the contradiction must be resolved by a revolutionary change to replace private ownership of the means of production and control with socialised ownership and control – that’s what socialism means.
Dictatorship of the proletariat is simply rule by the majority working class. It replaces the dictatorship of minority bourgeoisie, i.e. capitalists as a class. Unlike the rule of the rich the working class state acts in the interests of the majority of the people, and works to empower the people in such a way that it will eventually “wither away”.
People across the world are searching for answers and alternatives to imperialist wars, famine, unemployment and insecure work, many social and economic problems, exploitation of workers, destruction of the environment and accelerating climate change, and fascist oppression.
Socialism as an alternative is once again on the agenda. In the Philippines and India the revolutionary struggle is intense, and there are growing movements in the developed capitalist and imperialist countries.
The revolutionary principles Marx and Engels determined are universal; and their application takes account of the particularity and character of different material and historical conditions of different countries and historical epochs.
In Australia monopoly capitalism is dominated by US imperialism economically, politically, militarily and culturally. It is our view that Australia’s socialist revolution will, by necessity, pass through an anti-imperialist independence struggle that will unite the overwhelming majority of the people and be led by the working class along the road to socialism.
Embedded in the CPA (M-L) program of revolution by stages there is no intermediate stage between capitalism and socialism. The current stage in the struggle to end capitalism and advance socialism in Australia is a revolutionary struggle for anti-imperialist independence. Through this struggle the foundations for socialism, and the eventual move towards communism are laid. We uphold and promote the struggle for socialism.
Long live the work of Karl Marx!
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