Marxism Today

By Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian July 4, 2012

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 equally inevitable."

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."

Marx and Engels: "Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win."

Karl Marx

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 harmonious basis.

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.

Marx believed 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 his kind."

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.