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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Remembering the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederich Engel’s

Today is the anniversary of one of the most famous text’s ever written. On Febuary21st 1848 Karl Marx and Frederich Engels published what would go on to be known as one of the greatest works for the working class ever wrote. Here I’ll look at its relevance today and how we can learn from the text back then to apply to today’s struggles. A product of the genius of the young Marx and Engel’s (Engel’s was 27, Marx 29); the Manifesto stands out as one of the greatest examples of world literature. With its brilliant summing up of history, the class struggle, the role of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, it marked the entry of the ideas of scientific socialism onto the stage of world history. But the Manifesto is not just of historic interest. Its most important parts are fresh even today. In simple words, it depicts the realities of late 20th century capitalism far more accurately than the millions of words daily churned out by its defenders. Above all, it is in the method of Marx and Engel’s, so clearly elaborated in this document, that are to be found the tools to combat capitalism and build a new socialist world. Obviously, in a document written 150 years ago there is much now outdated. However, it is with astonishment that we discover how much in the Manifesto describes the situation today. To have made such a claim at the beginning of this decade would have invited scorn from the representatives of capitalism. Against the backdrop of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Marxism, that is scientific socialism, was 'dead and buried'. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes, and with them the planned economy, resulted in unbridled capitalist triumphalism. The Wall Street Journal, organ of the ignorant American financial barons, proclaimed, 'We've won', while Thatcher and Reagan, the twin stars in the capitalist firmament at that time, boasted that 'the lesson of the 1980s is that socialism has failed'. It is not just 'antiquated' Marxists who look to the authors of the Manifesto for an explanation of today's world. Individual commentators, confronted by the desolation and chaos of modern capitalist society, are turning back to Marx. Neil Ascherson, in the Independent on Sunday, despite his scepticism about Marx, recently confessed that, "in spite of everything, I feel a spirit moving again under the floor boards... this was the man who saw that every social order carries the seeds of its own destruction, above all when that order seems universal and invincible. Now is the moment to remember that lesson". Commenting on the 90th anniversary of the Manifesto, Leon Trotsky, referring to Marx's materialist conception of history, wrote that it had "completely withstood the test of events and the blows of hostile criticism. It constitutes today one of the most precious instruments of human thought. All other interpretations of the historical process have lost all scientific meaning. We can state with certainty that it is impossible in our time to be not only a revolutionary militant, but even a literate observer of politics, without assimilating the materialist interpretation of history". MARX AND ENGELS showed that the development of capitalism went together with the creation of the world market which bound together the world into one interdependent whole. In the process, the capitalists developed their own 'gravediggers' in the form of the working class. This class was not restricted to one country, but developed on a world scale. From these ideas of Marx and Engel’s developed the idea of socialist and working class internationalism. The Dockers in Liverpool, the French truck drivers, the Danish and Bangalore bus workers, in seeking to spread their struggles on a continental and world basis, all stand on the shoulders of the authors of the Manifesto. The tendencies which Marx traced out in the Manifesto have been taken to a level which could not have been anticipated. Marx referred to the growing concentration of capital, but only in his monumental work, Capital, did he show how free competition tended towards monopoly. Since Marx's day, and particularly in the era of globalisation, the growth and power of monopolies is transparently obvious. An estimated 150 giant firms - monopolies - dominate 80-85% of the British economy. Undoubtedly, Marx and Engel have made a mistake in their prognosis on the imminence of revolution when they wrote the Manifesto. They also overestimated the preparedness of the working class to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism at that stage. Marx maintained that no social system departed from the arena of history before exhausting all its possibilities. In the Manifesto he attacks capitalism for retarding the development of the productive forces. But at that stage, this retardation was only relative in nature. Undoubtedly, if the working class had taken power in the second part of the 19th century, industry and society would have developed at a much greater tempo than it did. Nevertheless, capitalism did develop the productive forces on a world scale. In other words, at that stage, capitalism was relatively reactionary. It became absolutely reactionary only with the onset of the First World War, when it became clear that the productive forces had completely outgrown the narrow limits of private ownership, on the one side, and the nation state, on the other. Only then did capitalism become an absolute barrier to the full utilisation of the potential of the productive forces. This was reflected in the aftermath of the First World War. The booms were weaker and more anaemic than before 1914, and there were deeper slumps and protracted economic stagnation. It is true that capitalism experienced a spectacular structural growth in production between 1950-73. This unique and special period in the development of capitalism arose from the destruction of the second world war, the slaughter of value, both of constant capital and the literal slaughter of variable capital - that is the working class - combined with other factors: the utilisation of technology, which had lain fallow before then, and the economic strength and power of US capitalism. The end of this long boom signified that world capitalism had entered a depressionary phase. The 1980s boom seemed to superficially contradict this, but it was lopsided; the relative position of the working class declined, as did the living standards of the peoples of Africa, Latin America and large parts of Asia. The growth rates of the 1980s were far inferior, as was the rate of investment back into industry, to the 1950-73 upswing. But the trend towards globalisation, particularly in the 1990s, has enormously 'internationalised', speeded up and synchronised economic processes throughout the world economy. The international bourgeoisie, particularly in the USA and Europe, tried to pretend at the beginning that the Asian economic crisis was a 'little local difficulty'. Trotsky's phrase, 'Tobogganing towards disaster with their eyes closed,' comes to mind. ONE OF THE ideas of Marx, elaborated in the Manifesto, which has been the subject of vicious distortion and constant attacks by bourgeois and social democratic politicians alike, is the so-called 'theory of increasing misery'. Marx did not advance such an idea. He was well aware that there were periods when the working class was able to extract concessions, and important concessions, from the capitalists. But even in these periods, superficial appearances disguised the fact that often the share of the working class of national income actually declined. In other words, there was a relative decline of the masses' standards of living. Even during the spectacular structural upswing of 1950-73, when the absolute standards of living of the working class grew substantially in the advanced industrial world, the same was not true in the colonial and former colonial world, where two-thirds of humankind is concentrated. THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO was conceived by its authors not just as a sweeping condemnation of capitalism and an abstract advocacy of socialism and communism. Above all, it was a call for action in the imminent revolution which Marx and Engel’s were expecting. It was directed particularly at the adherents of the Communist League. It is this, the call for revolutionary action, which even the most sympathetic bourgeois commentators on the Manifesto oppose or keep quiet about. Undoubtedly, Marx and Engel’s overestimated the possibility of a socialist revolution in 1848, and the preparedness of the working class to take power then. It took events, particularly the Paris Commune, to show that only by the creation of a mass socialist revolutionary party at the head of the working class could such a social overturn be completed. This was borne out, moreover, by the Russian revolution, which would have been impossible without the existence of a mass revolutionary party in the form of the Bolshevik party, and the far-sighted leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The task of creating such a party is even more urgent today than at any other time since the Manifesto was written. At the time of the 100th anniversary of the Manifesto, in 1948, the British Labour Party reproduced the Manifesto, with an introduction by Harold Laski, identifying the party with the aims of its authors: "Few documents in the history of mankind have stood up so remarkably to the test of verification by the future as the Communist Manifesto. Essentially, after its publication, no one has been able to seriously contravert any of its major positions. All over the world, the crises of capitalism have grown both more frequent and more profound". How far New Labour has travelled to the right since then! Blair and Brown view the Communist Manifesto as the devil views holy water. They have converted the Labour Party from a vehicle for working people into another capitalist party. This has put the need to create a new mass party of the working class on the agenda. The new generation of workers, youth and radicalised intellectuals, who will raise on their shoulders such a party, will inevitably turn back to the marvellous and brilliant generalisations, the crystal-clear ideas of Marx and Engel’s. In place of the duplicitous and cloudy phrases of reformists, of 'liberal' deceptions, which are now the stock-in-trade of the official leadership of New Labour, they will find clarity. They can read Marx's broad generalisation which has stood the test of time: With extracts taken from

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