Karl Marx’s work lives on: Two centuries since his birth, 135 years since the greatest thinker ceased to breath
Saturday 5 May 2018 marked 200 years since the birth of Karl Marx. His heart stopped beating 135 years ago in 1883. History granted him only 65 years of life. However, his outstanding revolutionary work in those years was the work of more than a century and continues to exhibit a positive influence across the world in varying degrees. Marx’s work remains at the centre of revolutionary thought and action.
The research methods and methods of inquiry into society developed by Marx and the findings he made remain crucial to our understanding of the economic basis of all social structures and its consequent political and broader social relations, encompassing a wide range of other societal activities – culture, education, and so on, and, in particular, the capitalist mode of production and how we can change the world for the better. To the new generation of Communists, a message is worth underlining – there is no substitute to the study of the work of Marx and Frederick Engels, or the great Communists who followed them, such as Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, George Dmitrov, Antonio Gramsci, David Ivan Jones, Albert Nzula, Moses Kotane, Joe Slovo, Chris Hani and many others.
Marx, with the collaboration of Engels, his friend and life-long comrade, worked out the fundamentals of a revolutionary world outlook we call Marxism. This integrated the philosophical, political economic and social content. One of the strengths of Marx work and of Marxism lies in the dynamism of the dialectical method and understanding of history from a class point of view as rooted in the materialist conception of history. It is the work of Marx and Engels that produced what was to be known as scientific socialism – the core of the SACP programme.
Marx’s method of inquiry into reality was developed from a scientific critique of classical German philosophy (e.g. Hegel’s dialectics and Feuerbach’s materialism), classical English political economy (e.g. Smith, and Ricardo) and French utopian socialism (e.g. Proudhon, and Fourier). From the critique Marx produced the way forward, encompassing different dialectical and materialist approaches – i.e. the materialist conception of history and dialectics – and a different political economic worldview best represented by his Capital: A critique of political economy.
Marxism became a scientific theory of the liberation of the oppressed and universal emancipation. It equips the working class with the theoretical weapon it needs to stand up against the power of the capitalist class and build a new society – socialism, itself a transition to communism.
During his lifetime, Marxism became the organising and guiding force in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and capitalist rule. It became the leading theoretical force of the world Communist movement, proletarian internationalism and many national liberation movements.
Marx the revolutionary
As Engels said in his tribute to Marx at his graveside in 1883, Marx “discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production.” Even Marx’s critiques sometimes acknowledge that he had brilliant insights into the nature of capitalism. But, as Engels continued, “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.”
Marx and Engels were not armchair thinkers. They were revolutionaries who fought for a world free of oppression and exploitation. They understood that in order to change the world, it is necessary to understand how it is made work and to learn from past struggles to appreciate the effective levers for its transformation. One of the distinguishing qualities of Marx’s work and of course of Marxism is its combination of revolutionary theory with revolutionary action – a unity of revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. Marxist theory is rich because it is based on practice, which is, in turn, based on theoretical elaboration.
Marx theoretical analysis paid attention on the concrete experience of the human being, the working class and its movement, but as well as on its anti-thesis, the bourgeois movement. Indeed we find Marx devoting his time and energy to lively debates and analyses particular problems, both great and small, affecting the human being analysed from a class perspective rooted in the materialist conception of history and dialectics.
Different traditions and a Marxist-Leninist elaboration of Marxism
There are different traditions calling themselves Marxist. However, rather than a “tradition” (i.e. “No more tradition’s chains shall bind us”, so says The Internationale), the Bolshevik articulation became the leading and most influential elaboration of Marxism in the 20th century and beyond. Lenin became the most influential theoretician and leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. So did the first socialist state to emerge from the Bolshevik Revolution – Great October Socialist Revolution which occurred in Russia in 1917. A Marxist articulation that was to be known as Marxism-Leninism emerged from the contribution of Lenin and the Great October Socialist Revolution.
From its inception the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) – i.e. the South African Communist Party (SACP) identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist Party and laboured tirelessly to elaborate Marxism-Leninism based on the historical conditions obtaining in South Africa while at the same time deepening its allegiance to Proletarian Internationalism. The Party stands for working class unity both within and across national borders and is opposed to all forms of narrow nationalism. At present the Communist Party is developing a dedicated focus on intensifying its historical mission to achieve working class unity – including the unification of the trade union movement – and the building of the widest possible patriotic front and a popular left front.
The principle of the Communist Party as a Party of revolution dedicated to developing itself to become the vanguard of the working class for liberation and socialism as opposed to reformist parties and tendencies merits emphasis. In addition, where others dismissed the recognition of the immediacy to resolve the National Question and others chose to swell the ranks of the bourgeois reformist tendency that believes in the so-called liberation with the conservation of capitalism (including the narrow nationalist tendency that seeks to replace the bourgeoisie of the colonial, apartheid and imperialist regimes or join hands with them in the exploitation of the masses), the Communist Party distinguished itself from both and other tendencies by recognising the profound necessity of the immediate task to overcome racial domination and simultaneously intensify class struggle to bring an end not only to class exploitation but also gender domination.
The Communist Party seeks to address and once and for all resolve the three interrelated contradictions of class, race and gender and to secure and safeguard our democratic national – including policy making – sovereignty. This is why the Party was the first to expose corporate state capture. This term corporate state capture was brought to the centre of our national discourse by the SACP not only expressing its concern about but also mobilising against the widespread corruption that had become systemic. That the South African society (including elements and forces opposed to the SACP) accepted the terminology and the analysis it put forward, and many in their own ways and for that matter also independently joined the mobilisation against the rot, points to the role of the SACP in developing itself to act as a vanguard Party.
Soviet experience and Marxism
When we won political power through our April 1994 democratic breakthrough the international situation was such the broad Communist movement was facing serious crisis. As Slovo argued in his ‘Has Socialism Failed?’, while there were many important advances made by the working class – from free education and universal health coverage to general improvements in the quality of life – state bureaucraticism, stagnation of the economy and general popular discontent led to a rapid destruction of the Soviet bloc of countries in the 1989-1992 period. The failures that occurred in these countries had less to do with Marxism-Leninism but the erroneous ideas and practices that were adopted in the name of its application.
Following these events, our detractors tried to bury Marx’s work, but Marx kept resurfacing. His work is alive because his indictment of capitalism – though first penned in the 1840s – remains valid and is confirmed on a daily basis as valid. When the Soviet Bloc of countries disintegrated, the bourgeois historian Francis Fukuyama came forward and argued that “liberal free-market capitalism constituted the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution”, the “final form of human government”, and the “end of history” and ushered in “an era of peace and prosperity”. Marx’s analysis, including his exposition of capitalist crisis and persisting capitalist driven conflicts and wars, proved that Fukuyama was utterly wrong. Interestingly, Marx produced his analysis in the 19th century, long before Fukuyama was born.
Much has changed since Marx’s lifetime and since the events of 1989-1992.
But the essence of capitalism – the exploitation of the immense majority by a few profiteers and its consequent conflicts, war, misery, devastation, inequalities, unemployment and the poverty within and between borders remain. The multiple crises of capitalism have made matters worse. This is the situation South Africa and in particular the working class and indeed in many countries find themselves faced with.
The statistics for South Africa reveal a society that is certainly rich – a R3.6 trillion economy – but only for a minority:
” The average pay in 2016 for the CEOs of SA companies reported by the bourgeoisie themselves through their own media was R102 million. On average, CEOs in that year made 500 times than an average worker.
” The pay package for Shoprite Group CEO Whitey Basson was nearly R100 million in 2016. It will take a worker of checkers (part of the Shoprite group) more than 290 years to earn what her boss was paid in one month.
As the SACP noted in its Political Programme, The South African Road to Socialism adopted in 2012, “global capitalism is beginning to approach its absolute limits that are physical, biological, human and economic”. The Party further noted that “global capitalist accumulation path is destroying our environment, exhausting non-renewable resources, wiping out the livelihoods of 3 billion remaining Third World peasant farmers, and restructuring the working class leaving billions more unemployed and under employed. Global capitalism is unable to correct this destructive path upon which it has launched the whole of humanity”.
A socialist society is possible
The task today, set out so long ago by Marx and Engels, remains the same – i.e. to build a society in which all wealth is produced and held by its producers in common, and distributed according to human needs rather than profit. “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms,” wrote Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, “we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. This will be a society in which scientific breakthroughs are used for the benefit of many and not a few and to build and rather destroy human society.
It is a socialist future we must struggle for and build in the here and now!
The best tribute the working class and all those formations that identify themselves as working class and left formations can bestow upon Karl Marx on this occasion of his birthday bicentenary is to unite behind the common purpose of overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society, the sustainable solution.
|From Umsebenzi Online|
Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class