This year marks the 130th commemoration of the death of Karl Marx.Marx had profound influence on the course of human history and 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 the question which this article wish to address here is:why should the revolutionary youth of today discuss and study the ideas of Marxism,and what is its relevance for the youth and workers of South Africa?
THE IMPACT OF THE IDEAS OF MARX
The works of Karl Marx have had an enormous impact on history.In September 1999 a BBC News Online poll from readers all over the world found Marx to be the “greatest thinker of the millennium’,beating philosophers such as Albert Einstein,Immanuel Kant,René Descartes and Stephen Hawking.
At his gravesite Engels describes the impact of the ideas of Karl Marx in the following way:
“An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America,and by historical science,in the death of this man.The gap that has been left by the departure of this might spirit will soon enough make itself felt .
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 calls The Materialist conceptions of history(Historical Materialism)-the fact that the development of the means of production(science,technique,agricuture,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 was of revolutionary significance.They completely undermined the existing ideas of the day.Before then 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 firm and correct basis.It does not at all deny that the individual can play a decisive role.But it explains that the individual can only play this role when all the objective circumstances permits it.
If the discovery of historical materialism was revolutionary in the study of history and the development of human society,then the discovery of surplus value was revolutionary because it explains how wealth is created and expropriated in capitalist society.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 -maschines,coal,wood,electricity,etc.But this commodity,labour power,has a peculiar characteristic.All other commodities uses 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 does not go to these who produce it-the working class,but is rather expropriated by the owners of the means of production,the capitalists(bourgeoisie).The struggle for this surplus value is the basis for the class struggle in society.
THE RELEVANCE OF THE IDEAS OF MARX TODAY
Marx died 130 years ago and the questioning of the relevance of Marx’s ideas has been at the centre of anti-Marxist propaganda ever since.Year in and year out the representatives of the capitalist class repeated monotonously that Marx was dead,that socialism was dead,revolution was of the agenda.etc.
The current world crisis of capitalism has forced some them to completely abandon this line of argument.In the last period there has been an avalange of statements and articles,written by the most prominent strategists of the capitalist system who now suddenly have come to the conclusion that Marx was right in his analyses of the capitalist system.That the system is inherently unstable and it stumbles from crisis to crisis.
The crisis of capitalism is now 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 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 the outbreak of the present crisis.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 put this very eloquently when he said that “the last 30 years development in macroeconomic theory has,at best been spectacularly useless or,at worst,directly harmful.”
He is not the only one who has now suddenly discovered that Marx was right.In an article on the BBC news magazine on 40Sptember 2011,with the title:A point of view:The revolution of capitalism,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 n 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 the bourgeois class:”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 is 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 advance 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 there privaledged position in society.
So we can see from the responses of the applogists of capital that ideas of Marx is very relevant.The n amoumt 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(166 years ago) made predictions about the development of society that have been proven to be correct.In fact,the Manifesto is the most modern of all books.It describes the current world with such accuracy that it seems the book was written yesterday.A few examples are:the prediction of globalisation,which is nowadays seen as a new thing.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
seclution and self-sufficiency,we have intercourse in every direction,universal inter-dependence
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 has affected the workers dearly.In 2009 the economy has shed almost 1 million jobs.Even to this day the economy has not recovered the lost jobs.On the contrary!Unemployment has increased further.In the second quarter of 2013 unemployment increased from 25.20 percent to 25.60 percent.At the end of 2009 unemployment stood at 24.20 percent.These figures represent the narrow definition of unemployment of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force.If one looks at the broader definition which includes discouraged work-seekers then the figure shoots up to 37 percent.
All that this shows is how interlinked the world has become and how this global crisis affects the country of South Arica and therefore shows the correctness of the predictions of 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 in towns,cities,villiges and rural areas all over the country.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 central business district of Santon City in Johannesburg,for instance is the richest square mile in Africa.The opulence there can be compared to anywhere in the most advanced capitalist countries.But only 6 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 in 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,competion between the capitalists and the persute 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 marketThis is so because the capitalists owns the means of production as private proterty.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 are doing the same.This ultimately leads to the point where too much commodities are being produced.When this point is reched,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 distruction.
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 over-production.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;indusry 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 describes 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.
Currently the mine-workers union,the Association of mineworkers and construction union(AMCU) is embarking on an open-ended strike against the world’s biggest platinum producer,Anglo American platinum(Amplats).The reason for the strike is that the company plans to retrench 3300 workers as part of its “restructuring” process.The real reason,however,is the crisis of overproduction that have plaged the platinum industry for the last couple of years.
South Africa is the world’s biggest platinum producer and hold 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.
This is the real reason for the sackings by Amplats.There is too much platinum which has caused a glut in the market.The fact that they can’t sell the platinum caused the platinum price to fall,meaning declining income for the platinum producers.Therefore the crisis in the platinum mining sector is a crisis of the capitalist system and not the result of strikes or union rivalry,as the bosses would have us believe.
So,as we can see,very graphically,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 that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world,in various ways;the point is to change it.”
Marxism does not only deal with politics and economics.It deals with a vast number of subjects-everything from culture,science,art,to philosophy,history and social sciences.Friedrich Engels,in a book called Ani-Duhring,describes the philosophy of Marxism as “the most laws of nature, human society,and human thought.In other words,it covers everything that affects our lives.In there 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 cause challenges to attain such a knowledge of Marxism.First there is the ideological onslaught of the bourgeoisie.All institutions of capitalist society is geared to defend the system-the church,school,mass media,etc.But there are also other factors such as exhaustion after work and the pressures of everyday living standing in the way of the honest worker or student who wants to acquire the knowledge of Marxism.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 perservered because Marxism provides a richer and more comprehensive view of society.
In order to change the world that one lives in, it is first necessary to understand it.As we have showed here 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 therefore not an optional extra.It is an absolute necessity.To change the world requires the correct ideas,methods and perspectives because sooner or later mistakes in theory will lead to mistakes in practice.It requires therefore a serious study of Marxist theory.A serious Marxist 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.”
It is clear that the capitalist system has exhausted itself and is now no longer able to play the progressive role it once played in the past.In the past capitalism played a tremendous role in developing the productive forces of society.Marx recognises this fact in the Communist Manifesto.
However,the system cannot played this role again.This is not a specific characteristic of capitalism.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.Examples of these are the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and Empire and the death agony of feudalism.
This is the point which capitalism has now reached.There cannot be anything progressive about a system that condemns 7 million of healthy men and woman in South Africa to unemployment.In the last century there was never a decade when there was not a war taking place somewhere in the world.The rottenness of the system was revealed when on two occasions,man had to fight two world wars for the interests of the imperialist powers.Capitalism has condemned millions in South Africa to a life of misery,toil,unemployment,hunger and strife.And the great crime is that it is totally not necessary.
All the conditions exists to give everybody on earth a real humane 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.