The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx

The below is a talk I delivered on May 30, 2012 in Asheville, NC

Before I begin in earnest let me be clear, I will be trying to give you all a vast vast simplification of the ideas of Karl Marx in a very short amount of time – a man whose combined collective works with his close partner Frederick Engels takes up 50 quite thick volumes. For instance, Marx’s ideas can’t be understood in full if not in their relationships with those other thinkers Marx wrestled with during his life. Such a list would include; Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Epicurus, Aristotle, Babeuf, Blanki, Proudhoun, Robert Ownen, Bakunin, Sanit-Simon Freurbach and of course Hegel. On top of that is the fact that Marx’s ideas radically changed based off of the historical lessons he was taught from observing and participating in real struggle. This would include; the early British labor union struggles, the revolutions of 1848, the American Civil War, India and Ireland’s struggles for independence against Britain and most importantly the Paris Commune of 1871. In very real ways it was the working class that taught Marx Marxism. Non of these subjects I will cover at all further, but hopefully they will come out during the discussion.

Also, I’d like to say that the various quotes I’ll be using tend to use very gendered language. I just want to apologize for that.

Anyway, to quote the subject of this talk Karl Marx, “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.”

We live in a time on perpetual chaos, want, poverty, war and environmental destruction. According to an US Census study from just last year, 1 in 2 Americans are either poor or considered low-income. According to a Congressional research report, the War on Terror – that includes the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, who knows where else, and the massive increase of America’s “security” apparatus – has cost so far $1.3 Trillion, on top of the $700 billion per year going to the Pentagon, has killed a million people in Iraq, 50,000 in Afghanistan, and thousands of American soldiers who were recruited from our country’s poor. The state of our global environment is at the tipping point, with disasters like the BP oil spill and Fukishima just compounding the crisis, while our world “leaders” are just fiddling away their time while the earth burns. And the cost of the Great Recession has been entirely put on the shoulders of the working poor who are losing their homes and jobs, while the so-called 1% are richer than ever. America is the most unequal developed country in the world.

All of these interrelated and mutually reinforcing horrors, wouldn’t have surprised Karl Marx that much, for they are linked at their core to the system itself, Capitalism. For to quote Marx, “To be radical is to grasp things by the root.” On a daily basis capitalism reveals itself to be increasingly obsolete at solving the major problems faced by humanity and at the same time increasingly reveals itself to be the source of the problems that we all confront.  Only under capitalism would it be a problem that we have too many houses while still millions are homeless, or that we produce too much food while children go hungry.

In confronting this system, one of the key problems that we face is that the main critique of capitalism that has survived over the last two centuries has been so thoroughly distorted in the media and in schools and by the history we’re taught from all corners. But at the same time it’s not uncommon for you to run into someone who says something like hey, did you read the Communist Manifesto, it’s not at all what I heard it was.

There’s a reason for that appeal despite the slander, and it has to do with the clarity of the way that Marx presented his own critique of capitalism—as both a historical investigation into its rise and a scientific investigation into its mechanics—to explain both why capitalism arose but also to explain how the working class might put its hands on the gears and levers of the apparatus of capitalism and bring it to a halt.

At the time Karl Marx began writing in the 1840s, he had to define what it is that he is all about – socialism, communism, I’ll be using the terms interchangeably – against all the misconception out there, along with differentiating himself against those others who called themselves “socialist”

These other currents varied from those “socialists” who wanted to have the government hand down reforms and charities to the poor, to those “socialists” who just aimed to build up a system of cooperatives or utopian communes separate from society.

What all these other types of “socialism” was a heavy top-down model of implementation and a belief in the passivity of the people. They all relied on either the state or some enlightened leadership to hand down to the grateful masses liberation and socialism. It was Marx’s work to fight against these elitist notions for a socialism that was truly grassroots, democratic and bottom up.

Today, we have a very similar problem of differentiation, with totally different “socialisms” that get talked about. The social democracies of Scandinavia and Europe. The communist totalitarian regimes of China and the former Soviet Union. And then there is the misguided belief by the Glenn Beck and Fox News fools of the world that the President of the US is a secret socialist

So one of the ways to think about my talk here is in large a clarification and differentiation, much like the one he did himself 160 years ago, of what Karl Marx was really about.

Marx was fond of reminding people that the ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class and our world post-WW2 has been no different. Thanks to the Cold War, the popular conception that Marxism came under was the idea that it’s the same thing as Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China and all the horrors that entails. Most people still believe that Karl Marx is a man with horns, cloven feet, and a tail, who was responsible for dictatorship, mass murder, war, and anything else that you can think of that is terrible.  In the US the mere mention of Marx can be used to convince people that they don’t want access to affordable health care, as if getting free medicine would somehow bring Stalin back to life.

The fact, however, is that the ideas of Karl Marx were never what either side of the Cold War said about them, they have always been about genuine freedom. Yeah freedom, that’s usually not a word you hear connected with Marxism. Though I’d say the people at Fox News are just as good at knowing what real freedom is as much as people like Stalin knew what real Marxism is, that is not at all. Friedrich Engels, Marx’s closest collaborator, said, that, “Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.” That is the working class. Or in this quote written by Marx only a few months before the writing of the Communist Manifesto, “We are not those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic workhouse .. we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. On the contrary we are convinced that in no social order will personal freedom be so assured as in a society based upon communal ownership.”

Instead of what either of the cold warriors believed about Marx, he had nothing at all to do with big states, totalitarianism, or war, but was rather genuinely concerned with the emancipation of the overwhelming majority of humanity against their exploiters oppressors.

Marx’s whole goal was the development of a theory of revolution in which the point of philosophy now would be as the famously put it, “the philosophers have merely interpreted the world, the point is to change it.”

Marx – and what we would call the Classical Marxist tradition, the line of thinkers represented by the work of him, Engels, the Russians Lenin and Trotsky, and the Polish Rosa Luxemburg – as a tradition is rooted in three basic ideas.

1)    Historical Materialism – as a theory to understand history and society and that showed that capitalism is a historical development that had outlived its social usefulness.

2)    A Theory of Class Society – that capitalism gave rise to a class of workers who for the first time had the social power and class interest to overthrow capitalism and establish a classless society. “The emancipation of the working class shall be the act of the working class itself.”

3)    Theory of International Revolution – that cause capitalism is global system, it has to be dealt with on a global level, and that through this would come the reorganization of the wealth of society in the interests of and by the vast majority. Its how they ended the Communist Manifesto, “workers of the world unite!”

Today all those things – the non-permanent and transitory nature of capitalism, the struggle by the working class against their exploiters, and the need for a total global restructuring and abolishing of the system as a whole – are on sharp display. Millions of people are out on the streets and have begun revolutionary processes in places like Quebec, Greece and Egypt.

So let’s develop those three ideas that have really are the staple of classical Marxism.

What is historical materialism? First off its defined as materialistic, not idealistic. That is for the idealist, philosophically, the mind–or the spirit, or soul–is the origin of all material things. Reality is in your head, so to speak. Marx and Engels ridiculed the view that ideas simply determine reality. “Once upon a time, a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity,” they wrote. “If they were to get this notion out of their heads…they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water.”

The materialist view is the opposite. For the materialist, all of reality is based on matter, including the human brain, which is itself a result of the organization of matter in a particular way. “It is not consciousness that determines being,” wrote Marx, putting it another way, “but social being that determines consciousness.”

But by saying that Marx didn’t embrace “determinism”–the idea that human beings are slaves to the blind forces of history or biology. “The materialist doctrine,” wrote Marx, “that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances.” People have real agency, for Marx, they “make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances … transmitted from the past.”

See at the heart of historical materialism is the concept of Dialectics. That is relationships, change, processes and contradictions. Nothing can be understood in isolation from the totality and contexts and process around it, and all develops through a process of conflict and unceasing transformation. So in the case of nature and humanity, Marx said, “Nature is man’s inorganic body. Man lives from nature, ie nature is his body and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.” There is a unity there, a unity that is also contradictory and is ever evolving.

Marx argued that what made us humans was how we socially related to the natural world, how the natural world affected back on us and what we made use of it in the process.  He said “labor is the essence of man,” and “it is just in his work upon the objective world that man proves himself to be a species-being.  This production is his active species life.  Through this production, nature appears as his work and his reality.”

Humanity is a social species. We must labor cooperatively in order to eat, drink and find shelter. Though that cooperation in any variety of forms we are able to survive and develop. So that at any given stage in human development, the level of production and the social relations based on that level of production–shape our limits and possibilities.

These social relationships of production, that is human civilizations, are contradictory to the core. People are stratified into competing classes within them and these internal conflicts drive the societies on historically. Class is an objective “expression of the fact of exploitation” – a class was a “group of persons in a community identified by their position in the whole system of production, defined above all according to their relationship (primarily in terms of control) to the conditions of production … and to other classes.” Class struggle then was “essentially the fundamental relationship between classes involving exploitation and resistance to it.”  Or to quote the famous opening line from the Manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

Humanity has known and has gone through various epoch and ways of organizing society to meet its basic needs of food, shelter etc.

For the vast vast majority of time that humans have existed we have lived in classless hunter gatherer societies, moving around and living off the land. These were egalitarian communities based instinctively on cooperation – what Engels called primitive communism. But beginning 10,000 years ago an agricultural revolution took place and labor became more productive as it was possible to settle in one particular area and cultivate plants and domesticate animals rather than simply move around and scavenge. Communities were able to produce a surplus above and beyond the bare necessities of food, shelter and clothing. From then on, not everyone had to be part of direct production some individuals could live off the labor of others. Human societies divided into rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited..

The civilizations and modes of production that followed moved through various types of forms of slaves owning autocracies like ancient Egypt or Rome, to structures such as Feudal Europe based off of the exploitation of landed serfs by feudal lords.

Until we then came to our old friend Capitalism, emerging first in the Italian city states and the European low country, it fully developed in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution, and it quickly and quite brutally conquered the world. “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of blackskins, are all things which characterize the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.… capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

We are always taught to think of this lovely system of capitalism in terms of just trade, competition and exchange. And to a certain extent that is true. But as Marx said, “If the essence and appearance of things directly coincided, all science would be superfluous.” You have to dig deeper. This surface appearance of fairness, meritocracy and equality of exchange hides a system that is based on one thing beyond all else, exploitation.

Under capitalism, the class divide is between owners and employees, capitalists and workers, bourgeoisie and proletariat. All of production is the production of commodities, things to be sold. In order to get the things we need to survive – food, health-care, housing – we need to buy it, and to do that we need a wage. It is a lie to say that we have a choice when looking for work, cause we may get to choice this or that boss to work for, but for most of us we have no choice but to work for some capitalist or other in the end to survive. Our, quote, “labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it.”  But the bosses don’t employ us out of the goodness of their heart, they do it cause they get something out it, far more than we do, and that’s profit, “The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-value [or profit] is pumped out of direct producers, determines the relationship of rulers and ruled.”

Under this system of capitalism, the capitalist is revered, he is the entrepreneur, the job-creator, though now a days they don’t seem to be creating all that many jobs, only more crisis. See this ideology is only there to conceal the truth, that the relationship between the owner and the employee is an exploitative relationship. “Even if that capital was originally acquired by the personal labour of its employer, it sooner or later becomes value appropriated without an equivalent, the unpaid labor of others materialized either in money or in some other object.” We work harder, but it’s the rich that get richer. Even if the so-called entrepreneur starts off with their own money, they becomes an exploiter in the end, for he has no choice, they’re compelled to by the forces competition with their rivals to extract more and more from their work force. Through the process of work, the employee produces more than they receive back in wages and that difference, that surplus-value, that profit goes right into the pockets of the capitalist.

I think the great American socialist Eugene Debs said it best, “You do not need the capitalist. He could not exist an instant without you. You would just begin to live without him. You do everything and he has everything; and some of you imagine that if it were not for him you would have no work. As a matter of fact, he does not employ you at all; you employ him to take from you what you produce, and he faithfully sticks to his task. If you can stand it, he can; and if you don’t change this relation, I am sure he won’t. You make the automobile, he rides in it. If it were not for you, he would walk; and if it were not for him, you would ride.”

We as workers are not in control of our own lives. The work we do is for the benefit others. Our activity, our knowledge, our skills, our labor, is something alien to us. Marx said, “The relation of labor to the act of production within the labor process … is the relation of the worker to his own activity as an alien activity not belonging to him; it is activity as suffering … the worker’s own physical and mental energy, his personal life … as an activity which is turned against him, independent of him and not belonging to him. Here we have self-estrangement.” This is alienation. Marx goes on, “The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home.” Under class societies, of exploiter and exploited, of rulers and ruled, this is always the case.

Marx and Engels studied all of those previously mentioned modes of production, in part to show that human society has moved through a progression of forms and there were alternative ways to organizing society than simply capitalism. That there was nothing inherently natural about capitalism, in fact quite the opposite.

In this study of human societies, Marx argued that Production, the bedrock of these social forms, could be separated into two parts, the forces of production and the relations of production. The forces of production being the means of production (the raw materials, land, etc), and the level of technology and skill. And the relations of production, being those ways in which those forces of production are utilized by people, how we relate to each in that process, that is the actual social system.

As Marx said: “In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and the means of intercourse (that is relations of production) are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces.”

Under our system, the massive and powerful productive capabilities of humanity are directly juxtaposed to the way it is ordered by a chaotic and haphazard free market and it’s ownership by a tiny elite of capitalists.

The results of this contradiction manifests in a number of ways, most notably, in periodic economic crises, like the one we’ve been enjoying for the last 4 years. See as already mentioned, the relentless competition on the national and global scale forces upon all capitalists to constantly “revolutionize production” constantly expand and develop technology to stay ahead of their competitors. They do that by exploiting those creative classes of workers more and more so the bosses have more and more surplus profit to reinvest back into production and technology.

But this “Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake” as Marx called it, creates a fundamental problem at the heart of the contradiction between forces and relations of production. See now capitalism is producing too much – certainly too much for the sustainability of the natural environment – but also far too much to be absorbed by the market. See those workers that the capitalists have been paying less and less for producing more and more, they’re also as a class the key consumers, and now they don’t have the money to pay for these things. This is where crisis stem from.

Here’s Marx, “In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity–the epidemic of overproduction … industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.” Theoretically capitalists could just give all the extra, food, homes, computers, snuggies and what-not away, but that’s not how the system works. If they can’t sell it at a profit, they’re doomed.

These tendencies are rooted in the process of endless capital accumulation and a chaotic market for the sole goal of profit maximization, not human need, that’s at the heart of capitalism. So it cannot be resolved short of a totally transforming society.

See for Marx, all of this is exploitation, alienation, economic crises, injustice and oppression is merely what he called the “prehistory of human society.” For the abundance of wealth created by capitalism – by the intrinsic relentless drive to ever expand for all capitalists, forced on them by competition – created for the first time the material possibility of a transition to Socialism. A system based on collective property and where the poor and working people would rule. That through their own revolutionary actions, the workers could, quote Marx “win the battle of democracy.” That is extend direct, grassroots worker’s democracy to the whole economy and workplace. Where private property would be ended – and by that Marx didn’t mean personal property like your homes or car or wardrobe – but the private ownership of the so-called means of production – the factories, farms, airports, mines, fibber optic cable networks – that social wealth, produced by workers that is currently owned and controlled by a tiny elite. It is through ending this private property that Marx believed that we would end the control over people who the capitalists exercise through their control over things.

So, right now, the primary barrier to economic and social development is not a lack of resources, it is the fact that the surplus created by the hard work of billions is controlled by a minority of people at the top of society.  Think of how much better off we’d be if we could put the wealth of humanity to work in the interests of developing education, health care, housing, real sustainability and technological research not geared to finding newer ways to kill.  How much human potential we would be able to realize if we didn’t bomb the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan and waste a $1 trillion a year on mind-numbing advertising.

In the end, the new ideas and new ways of organizing production have to triumph over the old ideas and old relations of production if society is to progress. If the old ways of organizing society remain dominant then they become ‘fetters’ on the humanity and society is held back, it degenerates and collapses. Or, the tension builds up and becomes so great that an era of social revolution unfolds as a new class emerges which smashes the old superstructure and carries the history forward.  As Marx said, “Revolutions are the locomotives of history.”

In a particularly long quote from Capital, Marx explains this whole process. “Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few [the tendency for bigger corporations to destroy and swallow up smaller businesses, Wall Mart for instance], develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labor process, the conscious technical application of science …  the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all people in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt [and that’s the key, that’s the active ingredient] the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” Therefore revolution establishes in reality what has already been made achievable in the economic base. The birth of a new society in the features of the old one.

Trying to reform the existing social relations of production by abolishing the privileged position of the ruling class is impossible, expropriators won’t be expropriated willingly – so revolution is necessary “as the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way.”

Yet revolution for Marx and Engels was also necessary as “the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the old muck of ages past and become fitted to found society anew.” [that’s actually the PG translation, he actually said “die ganze alte schiza”, all the old shit] It is only through our own activity, our own agency, that workers in rebellion together can overcome all the bigoted divisions among ourselves, all the racism, and islamaphobia and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia, etc – and free ourselves of the mentality geared to our subservient role in society.

But it is not inevitable that the working class will break through. The outcome of a particular crisis depends ultimately on who wins in the class struggle. Marxist economics alone tell us little about which side is likely to triumph in these class struggles – it only tells us that class struggle, that fight back, is inevitable and built into any system of production that is built on exploitation and class antagonisms. It is here that we need to see the political and ideological levels of the class struggle in more detail.

Once ruling classes came into existence they tend to organize around itself a political and ideological superstructure to defend and fight for its interests and its continuing existence as the ruling elite. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx noted that “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” It’s not for nothing that the Egyptian pharaohs were worshiped as the god Horus and the modern capitalists are credited with good business sense, when clearly they all kinds of suck at it.

Now of course, often the ruling class is internally divided into various factions, various shades of opinion. In America we got the Democrats and the Republicans, though it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference anymore. But the point is that they have a common interest in the maintenance of the status quo. For, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

See the primary defense of the status quo, the primary feature of the overall superstructure, is of course the state.

First of all, class antagonisms shape and give rise to the state. It’s a tool by which the social antagonisms that exist because of the reality of exploitation and the friction between the relations and the forces of production doesn’t break out into open conflict. When you have a world with a handful of billionaires controlling more wealth than the billions of people living on $2 a day combined, then you need a pretty big mean buffer to protect those privileges and ill-gotten wealth. For the function of the state – once you get right down to it and remove all the bells and whistles of social safety nets, minor environmental regulation, post offices, etc – is to discipline the lower classes into submission. Behind the invisible hand of the free market, always must lie the mauled fist of the police state.

It was for that reason that Marx was adamant that, to quote, “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes,” the modern state has to be smashed, socialism has nothing to do with just simple state intervention into the economy. Marx was no “statist”. As Engels pointed out, “The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine—the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.”

The state exists for the purpose of oppression and control over the working class. Part of the way that it does this is to get people to believe that the state and the capitalist system it props up is really in their interests—and so it produces ideology, so that, “The traditions of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

Social being as we have said determines consciousness for Marx. But ideologies have to be analyzed in terms of their contribution to sustaining or undermining the prevailing relations of production. For example, historically racism in the American context developed for a very particular reason. That is in order to justify the barbarism of the highly profitable slave trade, while at the same time ensure a division between poor whites and black slaves so that they would not unite against the common enemy of the white slave owners.

Ideas that today we regard as abhorrent – the feudalist rights of kings for instance – were viewed as normal in societies which depended upon them for survival.

No matter the case, the defenders of the old relations always insist that their rule is ‘natural’ and ‘just’ or ‘as good as it gets’ and they are the best people to be in charge and look after the rest of us, whether due to their skin color, the luck of being born king of France or their “entrepreneurial spirit”.

However, despite the hegemony of ruling class ideas in any society, the experience of exploitation leads to people in the producing classes to develop other ideas from the ‘common sense’ of their society.  The producing classes therefore have the potential to develop a ‘political and ideological superstructure’ around themselves to challenge the ideas and power of the ruling class, and this organized counter-hegemony of the exploited and the oppressed, challenges for power in the political, ideological and economic arena.

Counterpoised to the ideas of greed, competition, hierarchy, privilege and ownership, we counter back in theory and action with cooperation, communality, solidarity, egalitarianism and democracy. Ideas and people can change, but only by the act of people themselves upon the world. To take one such example of such counter-ideas, “From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, it beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patre familias (good heads of households). The conscious and rational treatment of the land as permanent communal property is the inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations.” To me that sounds a shit-ton better than the current mess.

But the modern working class cannot gradually use parts of the existing state machine for its own purposes in the same way as the capitalists, nor can it ever gradually take over sections of the economy or mainstream media. Its only weapons are its overwhelming numbers – the Industrial Workers of the World had a saying, “if all the workers of the world spit at the same time, the tiny capitalist class would drown” – and the fact that nothing runs without us making it run. But unlike small business owners or the middle class in general, we as workers, due to the collective and social nature of our work are able to build the mass collective organizations necessary to fight the class struggle to the finish. Our struggle, or movement is, to quote, a “movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”

The heart of Marx’s thought was that “the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class itself” – Socialism is neither a dream of Utopian thinkers, nor can it be decreed from above by reformists trying to use the existing capitalist State. It is ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’ – based on a scientific analysis of the contradictions of capitalism and the generalization of the lessons of the class struggle waged by the working class to this point. The everyday class struggle is a school of revolution for the working class.

The role of Marxists is therefore to subjectively point out to the working class what capitalism is already objectively teaching them, that it sucks. However, the teachers must themselves be taught. Who teachers the teacher? The working class, that indispensable productive force which is after all is not only ‘capitalism’s special and essential product’ but ‘the gravedigger of capitalism’ and the builders of another, better world – a society where for once the overwhelming majority of people, the direct producers of wealth, collectively and democratically run society in the interests of the overwhelming majority. A world where finally, to quote straight from the Manifesto, “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

I’ll end with one last quote of Marx from when he was 17 from a letter to his father, “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”

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About redpleb

I'm a socialist, an activist, a worker and an all around troublemaker here in New Jersey. You can find me on twitter @RedPleb
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4 Responses to The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx

  1. Simon says:

    I’m glad I took the time to read this. I’ve come across bits and pieces of Marxist ideology in the past but I think this is the first time I really feel like I understand some of the core principles. Great stuff, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this blog.

  2. Nero says:

    Though it has quite a few spelling mistakes, this was an absolutely fantastic summary. Keep the struggle alive!

    • redpleb says:

      That’s fair. This was originally a piece I wrote for a talk I gave, so just for my own eyes. I haven’t gotten around to giving it its proper polish. But I really appreciate the support

  3. mutamiri progress says:

    workers are a in every society resource

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