By Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian July 4,
Edited by Andy Ross
In the second best-selling book of all time, The Communist Manifesto, Marx
and Engels wrote: "What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are
its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are
Today the proletariat, far from burying
capitalism, are keeping it on life support. Overworked, underpaid workers in
China keep those in the west playing with their iPads. Chinese money
bankrolls an otherwise bankrupt America.
Jacques Rancière: "The
domination of capitalism globally depends today on the existence of a
Chinese Communist party that gives delocalized capitalist enterprises cheap
labour to lower prices and deprive workers of the rights of
self-organization. … The disappearance of our factories, that's to say
de-industrialization of our countries and the outsourcing of industrial work
to the countries where labour is less expensive and more docile, what else
is this other than an act in the class struggle by the ruling bourgeoisie?"
Slavoj Žižek says the fundamental class antagonism is between use value
and exchange value. Under capitalism exchange value becomes autonomous: "It
is transformed into a specter of self-propelling capital which uses the
productive capacities and needs of actual people only as its temporary
disposable embodiment. Marx derived his notion of economic crisis from this
very gap: a crisis occurs when reality catches up with the illusory
self-generating mirage of money begetting more money – this speculative
madness cannot go on indefinitely, it has to explode in even more serious
crises. The ultimate root of the crisis for Marx is the gap between use and
exchange value: the logic of exchange-value follows its own path, its own
mad dance, irrespective of the real needs of real people."
Engels: "Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The
proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to
By John Gray
The New York Review of Books, May 9, 2013
Edited by Andy Ross
Karl Marx was a nineteenth-century thinker engaged with the ideas and events
of his time. He understood crucial features of the capitalism of the
19th century, but not of the capitalism that exists in the
21st century. He looked ahead to a new kind of human society that
would come into being after capitalism had collapsed, but he had no settled
conception of what such a society would be like.
Today Marx is
inseparable from the idea of communism, but he was not always wedded to it.
In 1842, in his first newspaper editorial, Marx launched a polemic against a
newspaper for publishing articles advocating communism. He declared that the
spread of communist ideas would "defeat our intelligence, conquer our
sentiments," and any attempt to realize communism could easily be cut short
by force of arms. In 1848, Marx rejected revolutionary dictatorship by a
single class as "nonsense", and over twenty years later he dismissed any
notion of a Paris commune as nonsense.
Despite all his efforts, Marx
never formed a unified system of ideas. One reason for this was the
disjointed character of his working life. Though we think of Marx as a
theorist ensconced in the library of the British Museum, theorizing was only
one of his avocations, and he borrowed ideas from many sources.
Positivism produced an enormously influential body of ideas. Originating
with Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, positivism promoted a vision of
the future that remains pervasive and powerful today. Asserting that science
was the model for any kind of genuine knowledge, Comte looked forward to a
time when traditional religions had disappeared, the social classes of the
past had been superseded, and industrialism reorganized on a rational and
Marx's account of human development was similar to
that of Herbert Spencer, who invented the expression "survival of the
fittest" and used it to defend Victorian capitalism. Influenced by Comte,
Spencer divided human societies into two types, the militant and the
industrial, where the former included all past forms and the latter marked a
new age of science in history. The graves of Marx and Spencer stand face to
face in Highgate Cemetery in London.
Marx derived his view of history
as an evolutionary process culminating in a scientific civilization from the
positivists. He also absorbed something of their theories of racial types.
Marx: "This combination of Jewry and Germanism with the negroid basic
substance must bring forth a peculiar product. The pushiness of this lad is
also nigger-like." In 1866, Marx praised Trémaux's theory of evolution as being "much more important and much richer than Darwin"
for showing that "the common Negro type is only the degenerate form of a
much higher one".
Marx's admiration for Darwin is well known. He
welcomed the theory of evolution as another intellectual blow struck in
favor of materialism and atheism. Followers of Darwin at the time believed
he had given a scientific demonstration of progress in nature, but his
theory of natural selection says nothing about betterment. Marx understood
this absence of the idea of progress in Darwinism. Yet he was just as
emotionally incapable as they were of accepting the contingent world that
Darwin had uncovered.
Marx was a German philosopher. His
interpretation of history derived not from science but from Hegel's
metaphysical account of the unfolding of Geist in the world. Marx famously
turned Hegel's philosophy on its head: In the course of this reversal
Hegel's belief that history is a process of rational evolution
reappeared as Marx's conception of a succession of progressive revolutionary
transformations. The full development of human
powers was for Marx the end point of history. What Marx and many
others wanted from the theory of evolution was an underpinning for their
belief in progress toward a better world. Refusing to accept Darwin's
discovery, Marx turned instead to Trémaux's theories.
that a different and better world could come into being once capitalism had
been destroyed. His ideas were partly responsible for the crimes of
communism. The Soviet Union was a result of attempting to realize a Marxist
vision. The deadly mix of metaphysical certainty and pseudoscience that
Lenin imbibed from Marx created a repressive and inhuman totalitarianism.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels declared: "All that is solid
melts into air, all that is holy is profaned and man is at last compelled to
face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with
Free market conservatives assume that the impact of the
market can be confined to the economy. Marx showed that this is mistaken.
Although nationalism and religion have not faded away, he perceived how
capitalism was undermining bourgeois life. He grasped a vital truth.