On the occasion of the 198th Birth Anniversary of Karl Marx

The scientific discoveries of Marx remain an indispensable guide for saving humanity from the capitalist system

Karl Marx, the man who first laid bare the economic law of motion of capitalist society, was born on 5th May, 1818.   He and his comrade-in-arms, Frederick Engels, published in 1848 the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which has remained the most influential political document in the world since that time until today.

The world outlook and theory of Marxism emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the scientific work carried out by the greatest brains of the 18th and early 19th centuries, in the fields of philosophy, political economy and socialism. Marx drew upon the best of available knowledge and synthesized them into a comprehensive doctrine and a guide to action for advancing society beyond its class divided and exploitative stage. 

Karl Marx was above all a revolutionary, whose thirst for knowledge was driven by the need for social change.  In his own words, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways.  The point, however, is to change it.”

Philosophy

The age of enlightenment in Europe had given rise to the flowering of materialist thought in opposition to the prevailing idealist beliefs sanctified by the Church.  Marx defended and fully developed materialist philosophy in opposition to all forms of idealism, that is, the view that this material world is the product of a grand idea, a supernatural force.  He showed that it is the social being of a person that determines his or her consciousness, not the other way around. 

Marx developed materialist philosophy to a higher level, drawing on the achievements of German philosophy, especially the dialectics of Hegel.  The philosophy of Marxism is dialectical materialism.

The dialectical method considers the process of development not as a harmonious unfolding of phenomena, but as a result of the contradictions inherent in things, as a struggle between opposite tendencies which operate on the basis of these contradictions.  Development does not proceed uniformly along a straight line, but by small, imperceptible quantitative changes building up to a critical point at which a qualitative change takes place.

Hegel was an idealist, who believed that the development of “the idea” determines the development of the material world.  Marxism laid bare the fact that the dialectic of ideas, their internal contradictions and their development, was nothing but the conscious reflection in the human brain of the dialectical motion of the material worldEngels summed it up in the following words: “... thus the dialectic of Hegel was turned over; or rather, turned off its head, on which it was standing, and placed upon its feet

Marx and Engels elaborated historical materialism, which is the application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the study of human society and its evolution.  Tracing the evolution of human society from its primitive communal stage through different forms of class divided society, they showed how the contradictions inherent to capitalism will inevitably lead to a qualitative change, from capitalism to socialism.

Political Economy

Scientific thinkers before Marx had discovered the law of value which governs the exchange of commodities in a capitalist economy.  They had discovered that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of human labour contained in it; and the price of a commodity fluctuates around its value on account of gaps between supply and demand.  However, they could not figure out the source of capitalist profit.  If, on average, commodities of equal value are exchanged in the market, how is it that one class of persons is able to keep on pocketing profits and expanding their private wealth?  How are capitalists able to take out more than what they put in, over and over again?  Nobody could provide a clear answer to this question, until Karl Marx put forward his theory of surplus value.

Marx explained that when labour power is sold by workers and bought by capitalists, the law of value governs this exchange as well.  The value of this commodity, labour-power, is determined by the social cost of maintaining wage-workers who will regularly sell their labour-power.  The labour of a wage-worker creates value in excess of what is required for his maintenance.  This excess is pocketed by the owners of capital in the form of profit, interest and rent.  The unpaid labour of workers is the source of the surplus value which keeps expanding the wealth of the capitalist class.  A wage-worker is in effect producing his own wages in the first few hours of work every day; and for the remaining hours he or she is producing surplus value for the capitalist owners.

In 19th century Europe, capitalism went through repeated cycles of boom and bust, resulting in a crisis of over-production about once every decade.  The scholars of political economy could not explain why the system of production repeatedly fell into crisis.  Marx identified the source of such repeated crises in the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, between the social character of production and the private character of ownership of the means of production. 

Production is increasingly large-scale, involving the combined labour of large numbers of workers in different locations around the world.  Ownership of the means of production and of the products is private and competitive, getting increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.  In their competitive drive to reap maximum profits, the capitalists as a class squeeze the purchasing power of the working class and other exploited strata, which leads to a shortage of demand in the market for the commodities on sale.  This is the reason for repeated crises of “over-production” in all capitalist societies, that is, the growth of production being interrupted due to the lack of purchasing power in the hands of the population. 

Marx’s discoveries led to the conclusion that for society to advance to its next higher stage, without class division, without exploitation of some by others and without recurring crises, it is necessary to resolve the fundamental contradiction of capitalism.  This means to convert the means of social production from private into social property. 

Scientific Socialism

When feudalism was overthrown and capitalist society appeared in European countries, it soon became clear that this was a new system of oppression and exploitation of the working people. Various socialist doctrines immediately emerged as a reflection of and protest against this oppression. Early socialism, however, was utopian socialism. It criticised and condemned capitalist society, but could not indicate the real solution. It could not show what social force is capable of becoming the creator of a new society.

Marx identified the modern working class, the special product of capitalist production, as that social force which is both capable and interested in bringing about the transition from capitalism to socialism.  Scholars before Marx had discovered that society has developed from one stage to another through the struggle between classes with conflicting interests.  Marx developed this theory to its logical conclusion -- namely, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the prelude to the end of class divisions and the emergence of classless communist society.

The Manifesto of the Communist Party laid down the task of the communists – namely, to provide the working class with the organised leading consciousness required to become the ruling class and carry out the transformation in ownership of the means of production.

Conclusion

All the facts and phenomena on the world scale reveal that capitalism has become an anachronistic and outdated system.  The unlimited greed of monopoly finance capital for the maximum rate of profit at all times is throwing the whole system of social production into one crisis after another.  Capitalism is unable to prolong its life without intensifying exploitation and poverty, without falling repeatedly into crisis, without spreading violence, terror, death and destruction on a colossal scale. 

The solution remains that which Karl Marx advocated – namely, the proletarian revolution that would dig the grave of capitalism and open the path to socialism and to classless communist society.

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