Global Economy Confirms Marx's Analysis of Capitalism


Global Economy Confirms Marx's Analysis of Capitalism
By Erik Parsels
from the New Unionist, August 1997, page 3

With Russia and the former so-called "communist" countries of eastern Europe embracing free-market capitalism, and even China rushing headlong to welcome billions of foreign capitalist investment dollars, it seems to many people that Marx has been proved wrong.

But the Communist Party dictatorships, despite the claims of friends and foes alike, never had anything to do with Marxism or genuine communism. To find out about Marx you have to look at what he actually said, rather than what ill-informed people say he said.

The best place to start is the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, because this work condenses almost the whole of what is essential to communism or socialism down to a single small volume.

"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls... It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the capitalist mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves."

Is this not what has happened in the century and a half since Marx wrote these words? Small-scale craft production has been replaced all over the world by the factory, by mechanization. All countries are now pretty much plugged into the world market and operate on the capitalist model of investment for profit.

"The bourgeoisie... has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands."

In America since the mid-19th century, the population has shifted from the countryside to the cities, until now only about 2% of the population actually lives on the land. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami-the cities have swollen to immense size, and the same development has and is occurring throughout the world.

The means of production have also been centralized. Most of the world's auto production is concentrated in a few places in a few countries, with the U.S., Japan and Germany leading the way. Boeing and Airbus have passenger aircraft production pretty much to them-selves, and a few huge companies are taking over the computer business.

As for the concentration of property, in the 1980s alone the richest one-half of 1% of the population in America increased its share of the wealth from just over 25% to more than 30%.

"In proportion as ... capital is developed, in the same proportion is... the modern working class developed, a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These laborers . . . are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed ... to all the fluctuations of the market."

As the factory system spreads around the world, farmers and small busi-nesspeople lose any independent property they might have had and have to go to work for someone else. My family no longer owns a family farm where I could go eke out a living growing beans and potatoes if I couldn't find a job. Nor does yours, I bet. We are all dependent on the job market, as Marx says, though he was writing before most of this process had happened.

"The modern worker... instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper . . . And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society . . . It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him."

In the U.S. blue-collar wages fell more than 7.5% from 1987 to 1992, and white-collar wages dropped 3.5% over the same period. This is not an isolated trend but an expression of the well-known adage that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Marx wrote these words about the capitalists having to feed the worker rather than being fed by him long before there was such a thing as a "welfare state." Perpetual reliance on assistance was something Marx foresaw 150 years ago!

So much for Marx being wrong in his analysis of capitalism. But what about his prediction of coming revolution? Wasn't he wrong about that?

"With the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number, it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels its strength more... the workers begin to form combinations (Trades Unions) against the bourgeoisie; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts."

In less than a century following the writing of the Manifesto, the trade union movement developed, gathered steam and came near to sparking world revolution. Mass demonstrations and strikes in Russia in 1905 and again in 1917 brought down the hated Tsar, paving the way for the Bolshevik revolution. Strikes in Germany forced the Kaiser to abdicate at the end of World War I and brought the Social Democratic Party briefly to power.

In this country unions fought for and won the right to organize. During the Great Depression the workers' movement forced the capitalists to back down and accept unions and government programs as the price for preserving capitalism.

Although workers all over the world heralded the Russian revolution as the start of the great world revolution, the fact remained that the Bolshevik takeover in Russia was not so much a revolution as a military coup. There was no working-class majority in Russia; 80% of the population were peasants. Lacking a working class that had grown up in and become accustomed to a working-class lifestyle and democratic principles, the Bolsheviks under Stalin decided to accomplish the nasty job of driving the peasants off their land and into the factories themselves.

By thus doing the capitalists' dirty work of industrializing Russia, the Bolsheviks gave the Western capitalists a ready-made bogeyman, whipping boy and scapegoat all rolled into one. But what did Marx say?

"The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. . . . the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy."

According to what Marx says, the Bolshevik revolution was not socialist at all. A takeover by a minority, led by one party which did not extend democracy to the whole working class, is not socialist.

So the failure of the Soviet experiment, whatever you want to call it, hardly represents the failure of socialism. It represents the failure of Stalinism, the doctrine that the working class can be dragged into the promised land by a determined effort on the part of a dictatorial state. Such trickle-down communism deserves to fail as much as capitalism does.

But if the Soviet Union and China weren't the answer, what is?

"Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruits of their battles lie, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. . . . This organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it constantly rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier."

Capitalism is a world system, depending for its survival on an ever-expanding market. The capitalist market has now swept almost the .entire world into itself. It is rapidly running out of room to expand. Soon its own weight will bring it crashing down, with a little push from a united working class.

We do not revere Marx because he was some kind of wizard or saint. We respect Marx and read his writings because he was a brilliant social scientist. As a keen observer of the trends going on right before his eyes, he could interpret and analyze the workings of this society and project a practical alternative to capitalism that would be freer, egalitarian and far more democratic.

And now it might be appropriate to share one final quotation from Marx:

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles ... oppressor and oppressed stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."

A great struggle lies ahead of us. Whether we welcome it or fear it or deny it or want to avoid it, it will come, because the economic laws of the capitalist system will force it on us. Let's hope it ends in a fairer reconstitution of society rather than the common ruin of us all.