What Marx meant and what Marxism means has been debated by literally thousands of writers on the subject, supporters as well as opponents. The validity of Marxism is far more widely rejected than accepted. The “failure” of Marxism has been the prevailing message. And even proponents of Marxist ideas squabble about the correct “party-line.”
Marx saw the theft of the peasants’ lands as the birthmark of capitalism. Marx opposed slavery, and chose as his favourite hero Spartacus, leader of the slaves’ revolt. Marx thought that, with socialism, the state would wither away. Marx explained the whole social world rests on the labour of working people. Marx argued that humanity needs to take back, collectively and democratically, its own power to shape the world. To do that, it must destroy the power of the ruling classes. Marx described a divided social system across the globe, driven by competition between rival capitalists and rival states, as a system out of all control where misery and poverty continues. It is subject to immense convulsions and crises, which alternately promote expansions of exploitation slumps, when workers are cast on the scrapheap. Marx insisted that capitalists have ‘despotic’ power over workers at work, and called the workers ‘wage slaves’. Marx once wrote that the choice for humanity was between socialism and barbarism: the truth of that observation is more obvious and chilling today.
Marx said that it’s no good just wishing for a different world, or drawing up schemes for social regeneration. Socialism only becomes really possible on two conditions.
The first condition is that human productivity should have developed sufficiently to make communism practicable. A poverty-stricken world, where men and women can barely produce enough for their own needs, could not sustain a genuinely democratic society: everyone would be at each others throats. This is why Marx praised capitalism for its achievement in creating the material conditions for socialism where everyone could have enough to eat, adequate clothing and decent housing, with ample leisure time. Today everyone knows that not a child needs to starve, that not a single sick person needs to lack medical care.
The second condition is for socialism to be more than an Utopian dream, there needs to be a social force to bring it into being and according to Marx, that agency is the working class. Workers are unlike previous exploited and oppressed classes in history. Capitalism itself shoves them together, in cities and workplaces, endowing them with collective power; capitalism forces them to cooperate with each other; capitalism, precisely in order to exploit workers better, must educate them and raise their cultural level – far above, indeed, the level of previous ruling classes. And capitalism compels them into a life of permanent struggle, whether they like it or not. What distinguishes the working class, therefore, from all previous exploited classes is not its misery as they live on average better and longer lives than chattel slaves or feudal serfs. But crucially, the working class has immense power and capacities. It is the first class in history which is capable of overthrowing class society entirely. The very heart of Marxist ideas is the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, their aim was the abolition of all class rule and the end of all servitude, misery, degradation and political dependence across the world. Always and everywhere he opposed those who preached ‘socialism from above’. For Marxists, the working class alone has the capacity to free the new society that lies, waiting to be built, within the present chaotic and divided world of capitalism. No one need starve in a world where food surpluses are produced every year. No one need be homeless, or tortured, or bossed about by bureaucrats and leaders.
The job of socialists to spread these ideas and to organise themselves, showing the way forward to working class solidarity and power. It is not surprising that at this moment the capitalist intellectuals reject Marxism. But the authentic tradition of Marxism and the real Karl Marx can again be discovered. The genuine socialists have some very marvellous ideas that need spreading far and wide.