Tuesday, September 22, 2020

On the Bi-Centenary of Karl Marx’s birth (Part II)

The process of creation of the value of products and its realisation are separated both temporally and spatially.  The former occurs during the production process while the latter is subsequently accomplished during the sale of the products in the market.  In reality the law of supply and demand only affects the prices of the products in the market, in so far as it determines their fluctuation around a particular axis which itself needs to be investigated.  On closer examination it turns out that this axis is cost price of the products, which is ultimately reducible to the amount of socially necessary labour crystallised in such products.

In tackling the question of the source of profit, Marx again focused on what occurs during the production process.  He pointed out that during part of the working day, the worker produces such value as is, equivalent to the value of products he needs for his own subsistence and that of his family. The other part of the working day is devoted to the production of additional value, a surplus value which constitutes the basis of the income appropriated by the capitalists and subsequently shared by all the propertied classes as profit, interest and rent.  Contrary to the teaching of bourgeois economists, profit is not compensation for the risk which capitalists take for investing their capital or payment for the management of the production process, but a transformed form of surplus, value, the unpaid labour of workers, appropriated by the capitalists during the production process (see K. Marx ÔÇô Capital vol. I, E Mandel ÔÇô The formation of the Economic thought of Karl Marx, I. Rubin ÔÇô Essays of Marx theory of value).

The theory of surplus value was Marx’s most important contribution to Economics, which also constitute a scientific basis for the struggle of workers, for improvement of their conditions especially for a living wage.  Marx also unravelled and analysed the basic laws and tendencies of capitalist development which retain their scientific validity to the present day.  He pointed out that under the impact of the competition, capitalism is incessantly compelled to revolutionise the technique of production whose fundamental thirst is labour saving, which express its self in the substitution of machinery for living labour. As a result of the revolutionising of the technique, the growing productivity of labour causes the investment in the machinery to increase more quickly than hiring of labour.  The demand for labour power does not rise proportionately with the accumulation of capital, but sinks relatively.  This is the tendency which underlies the phenomenon of jobless growth which characterises modern capitalist development.  He further pointed out that capitalist firms are compelled by the very logic of the system, to subordinate all their investment decisions not to the satisfaction of human needs, but to the maximisation of profits.  This is what underlies other irrationalities of the capitalist system graphically expressed for instance by the periodic wholesale destruction of mountains of wheat and other food staffs and lakes of milk by Government s of the European Union, to ensure that prices of food stuffs are kept at profitable levels while billions of people in the world suffer starvation on account of food shortages.

Capital accumulation tends to lead to the accentuation of concentration and centralisation of capital, bankruptcy of small and medium firms and their absorption by large firms.  A perusal of economic and financial journals from the major capitalist countries reveals a regular occurrence of mergers and acquisitions of small firms by large corporations, which confirm the above trend.  The anarchic and unplanned character of production and the insatiable greed for profits impel capitalists to push their investments beyond the limits of the market leading to declining profits and periodic overproduction crisis.  In Marx’s view the cycle of Boom, stagnation crisis and upswing which has characterised the capitalist system since 1825, is not an accidental or conjunctural phenomenon but an inherent feature of this economic system

But Marx was as much a thinker as he was a fighter.  In his thesis of Feubarch, he formulated what was to remain a guiding principle of his entire life.  “The philosophise have interpreted the world in various ways, the point however is to change it”. (K. Marx ÔÇô Thesis on Feubarch).  From then, on the categorical imperative of his life work was to oppose every situation in which human beings were degraded, oppressed or in any way humiliated.  His theory would be developed in close connection with the requirement of revolutionary practice, on one occasion summing up the lessons of past struggles and generalising the experiences derived therefrom.  On yet another occasion, his researches would be principally geared towards providing theoretical guidance, training and tempering of revolutionaries for future struggles.  His first encounter with the real living organisation was during his first exile in Paris where various socialists’ groupings were active (D. Riazanov ÔÇô K. Marx and F. Engels, An Introduction to their life and work).

These groups comprised of mainly the supporters and disciples of a previous generation of socialist thinkers, Fourier and Saint Simmons, who had not only carried out a fairly comprehensive criticism of capitalism but had even conceived detailed projects for the future socialist organisations of society. They had also directed their attention to the poorer classes especially the working class who constituted the bulk of their supporters.  But while they were genuinely committed to the interests of the working class and sympathised with their plight, these socialist thinkers viewed the working class as only a suffering class, with neither a potential for any historical initiative nor capacity to struggle for its own emancipation, Marx mingled with these groups and assiduously studied the doctrines which underpinned their political activism.  His study led him to the conclusion that the working class, being the most oppressed and exploited in capitalist society was destined to play decisive role in future revolutionary struggles. It however lacked consciousness of its historical mission.   He was later to refine this thesis into a fully-fledged doctrine of proletarian revolution in the communist manifesto which he drafted with the man who was destined to be his long life friend and co-thinker, Frederick Engels, at the instigation of the communist league which they had joined towards the end of 1847.  Soon after the publication of the communist manifesto, revolution flared up in Paris on 24th February, 1848, and overthrew the July Monarchy.  It soon spread to Germany and Austria where it broke out in Berlin and Vienna on 13th and 18th March respectively (F. Mehring- Karl Marx, The story of his life)

Marx rallied the cadres of the communist League into the thick of revolution in Germany.  The main platform for his activity was the editorship of the revolutionary journal, the Rhenish Gazette which was published in the German city of cologne.  This organ was conceived by Marx as major rallying point for all revolutionary democratic forces on the basis of propaganda and agitation for democratic demands which at that time centred around the struggle for the unification of Germany and the restoration of polish independence.  Marx and Engels conducted fearless criticism against their bourgeois allies, exposing their vacillation, hesitation and cowardice in their struggle against the feudal autocracy which was still the dominant political force in Germany. Despite its heroic and energetic self ÔÇô sacrifices, the still numerically weak and politically experienced working class was defeated and the revolution suffered ship-wrecked across Europe ÔÇô France, Germany Austria and Italy. Though the 1848 European revolutions were defeated, Marx emerged from them as an accomplished revolutionary fighter.  He devoted the years 1849 to 1851 to summing up the lessons and generalising the experience of the revolutions.  Important political works such a Address of the central committee to the communist league, Class struggles in France and The Eighteenth Brunaire of Louis Bonaparte were published during this period.

The defeat of the revolution culminated in a rout of revolutionary forces, which was exemplified by the infamous cologne communist trial in 1852 (P.N. Fedoseyev ÔÇô Karl Marx, A. Biography).  Marx persuaded the majority of his colleagues to reach the necessary political conclusion, that in the light of the crushing defeat of the revolution in all the major European countries, there was no prospect for the revival of the working class movement in the short term.  The communist League was therefore dissolved to preserve its historical honour and prevent wastage and demoralisation of its forces in fruitless efforts.  However Marx pointed out that the dissolution of the communist League did not imply that he and his comrades were turning their back to all political activity.  In his view the new situation necessitated new forms of party work, primarily geared towards preserving and fostering cadres of proletarian fighters, strengthening their ties with working class organisations where they still existed and taking every opportunity to spread the ideas of scientific communism.  These were the tasks which Marx dedicated himself, when he withdrew into the British Museum in London to pursue his researches in Political Economy (P.N.Fedoseyev ÔÇô Karl Marx, A. Biography).  By 1857 ÔÇô 1858, he completed his first major Economics works.  A contribution to the critique of political economy and Grundrisse, Marx was singularly indefatigable in his fidelity to the cause of the working class as he was tirelessly rigorous in his scientific research.  He did not hesitate to put aside even that which he regarded as his most important theoretical research, when this was in the interest of the cause.

 In the mid 60’s there were clear indications of the revival of the working class movement in Europe. On 25th September 1864, the International working Men’s Association was launched at St. Martin Hall in London, on the initiative of the British Trade Unions and various socialist groups from Europe and Latin America.  Marx was invited to draft the founding statutes as well as a programme for this new organisation. It required extraordinary organisational talent political acumen and ideological clarity to come up with a programme which would be acceptable to all the heterogeneous elements within the international ÔÇô the British trade Unions (which tended to concentrate on various economic struggles), the supporters of Mazzini in Italy, disciples of the utopian socialist Pierre Proudhon in France, various anarcho ÔÇô syndicalist and socialist groups from Spain, Russia, Switzerland etc.    

The provisional rules and inaugural address were accepted by the majority of the members of the international.  In the inaugural address Marx sought to unite the workers of various nationalities around clear principles of working class democracy, international solidarity of the working class.  Under Marx leadership, the International also energetically took up the struggle for democratic demands, such a demand for an eight hour working day, the struggle for the extension of the suffrage.  At the same time Marx and Engels tirelessly strove to instill into the consciousness of the working class the understanding of the need for an independent party of the working class under the slogan, the emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by the working class themselves.  Their struggle came to fruition in the 1870’s and 80’s with the founding of the unified German Social Democratic Party, and other socialist parties in France, Belgium, Italy and other European countries.  “Marx and Engels armed these parties with clear and precise goals which became the common legacy of the vast majority of working class organisations at the end of the 19th century, the integration and fusion of workers struggles for reforms with a struggle for a more radical transformation of society, collective ownership of the means of production (E. Mandel ÔÇô The place of Marxism in History). They also established clear perspective by which these goals could be achieved which was accepted by millions of workers in the 20th century ÔÇôto build the workers movement through a broad array of organisations ÔÇô unions, parties, cooperatives, and educational clubs.  Without this struggle waged by workers in various countries through these organisations ÔÇô all the democratic reforms achieved in the 20th century (including the extension of the suffrage to all adults including women), the building of welfare state would have been inconceivable or at any rate more difficult to accomplish.  Notwithstanding the horrendous crimes committed in his name by regimes such as that of Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s, Marx undoubtedly belongs to a pantheon of the greatest and noblest human beings that ever traversed our planet.  These crimes can no more be attributed to him than can the atrocious infamies perpetrated by crusaders and sections of the Roman Catholic Clergy during the middle ages in Europe be attributed to Christ or the Holy sermon.  His prodigious contribution to a wide spectrum of the Social Sciences and the project of human emancipation was a colossal achievement.                                                                                    

*Moupo is a socialist scholar and a former leader of Botswana National Front

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Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.