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The Communist Manifesto Today

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The Manifesto’s "vision of the Global Market was uncannily prescient," remarks Francis Wheen, in his biography of Marx. (Karl Marx, published in 1999 by Fourth Estate, London, p122.) Marx and Engels provided socialists with an understanding of how the processes of global capitalism lead to the wars, the ruination of nations, and the starvation of millions today. Remarking on the collapse of the stock markets, the fall of the high-tech sector, and the spread of recession over the last few years, Larry Elliott commented in The Guardian

"The Marxist interpretation of globalisation may yet be proved right. Its analysis of the events of the last few years has tended to be more coherent than the Panglossian guff emanating from those who believe that the world economy has never been in better shape." (2 July 2001.)

Yet the Manifesto was written when modern capitalism and the working class were in their infancy – in Germany, for instance, the working class comprised less than 5% of the population. It is truly remarkable that over 150 years after the Manifesto was published, Marx was voted "Thinker of the Millennium" by a "clear margin" in a BBC online poll in October 1999..


The Ideas of the Manifesto

"Class struggle" is the motor force of historical change, the Manifesto explains. Since the earliest beginnings of recorded history, societies have undergone fundamental change because different classes in society are in "constant opposition." These classes represent the "oppressor and oppressed", and the struggle between them eventually results either in "a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large" – or in mutual destruction.

Previous class societies were divided into many different classes struggling against one another, but capitalist society has "simplified the class antagonisms." Now there are just two main classes, the working class (the proletariat) and the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie). These classes represent those who own and control the means by which all wealth is created, the "forces of production", and those – the newly formed working class – who have "no means of production of their own."

The Manifesto explains why the capitalist "mode of production" was to sweep away feudalism – it describes in outline the process of globalisation. Capitalism means the

"constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe…

It compels all nations, on pain of extinction … to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst."

Bush and Blair precisely claimed to be defending "civilisation" after the attack on the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, by bombing Afghanistan, while actually defending the prestige and power of the US capitalist class – but their capitalist system is in deep crisis.

The analysis of capitalist crises in the Manifesto, the "epidemic of overproduction" which brings austerity, a "a universal war of devastation" might have been written today:

"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 every means of subsistence; industry 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."

Marc Andreessen, one of the "Gods of the Net," unknowingly echoed the very cadences of the Manifesto in a magazine interview. He says the "dot.com" boom went bust because people were building "too many switches, too many routers and too much everything else." (Internet Magazine, January 2002)


Economic Crises

The Manifesto outlines how destructive periods of recession are inherent in capitalism. The conditions of bourgeois society, the Manifesto explains, are "too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them". As Marx explained in more detail elsewhere, "the more productiveness develops, the more it finds itself at variance with the narrow basis on which the conditions of consumption rest." (Capital Vol. 3, Ch. 15) It appears that "too much" is produced, but the working class receives far less in wages than the value of the goods they produce. The "consumers" of today cannot buy enough of the products which they themselves, as workers, produced only yesterday!

The worker, the Manifesto explains:

"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. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. 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. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society."

For Marx and Engels, the impoverishment of the mass of the population in a world overflowing with opulent wealth was - and remains - the clearest condemnation of the system of capitalism. This anarchic market system is a "fetter" of capitalism. A socialist, democratically planned economy, released from the fetters of the capitalist market, could match production and resources to the needs of society.

In a distorted way, the collapse of the so-called "Communist" countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union confirmed this. On the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Socialism Today, the Socialist Party’s monthly magazine, explained that while the societies which collapsed were a grotesque caricature of socialism, nevertheless:

"Up until the early 1970s, we should not forget, the nationalised economies produced impressive advances, especially in heavy industries, though consumer goods were generally in short supply and of poor quality. Despite many shortcomings, however, those former societies also provided basic education, healthcare, and other social amenities to the majority of the population - now sorely missed as they have been destroyed by the emerging capitalist market."

(The Wall Comes Tumbling Down, issue 42, October 1999)

The plan of production in those countries took the form of central command from above, with large scale bureaucratic mismanagement, deprived of a thorough-going workers’ democracy. The Stalinist regimes could no longer develop society. But the return to capitalism meant a devastating decline in living standards (as well as the eruption of wars, terrorism and gangsterism) for the mass of the population.

A United Nations Development Programme report called the period of capitalist restoration a "Great Depression plunging more than 100 million people into poverty." (UNDP Transition 1999, as reported in The Times, 23 August 1999).




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