Marx Predicted Our Present Crisis, and Points the Way Out

“We need more robots, better solar panels, instant communication and sophisticated green transport networks. But equally, we need to organise politically to defend the weak, empower the many and prepare the ground for reversing the absurdities of capitalism. In practical terms, this means treating the idea that there is no alternative with the contempt it deserves while rejecting all calls for a “return” to a less modernised existence.”

“Capitalism’s reach is so pervasive it can sometimes seem impossible to imagine a world without it. It is only a small step from feelings of impotence to falling victim to the assertion there is no alternative. But, astonishingly (claims the manifesto), it is precisely when we are about to succumb to this idea that alternatives abound.“

In light of world governments pushing their citizens to “reopen economies”, the oncoming financial crisis sparked by lagging consumption and massive unemployment, and the further consolidation of capital from firms like Amazon, Yanis Varoufakis‘s Guardian article on the Communist Manifesto (adapted from his introduction of a recent edition) for the old man’s bicentennial is as relevant as ever:

If the manifesto holds the same power to excite, enthuse and shame us that it did in 1848, it is because the struggle between social classes is as old as time itself. Marx and Engels summed this up in 13 audacious words: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

From feudal aristocracies to industrialised empires, the engine of history has always been the conflict between constantly revolutionising technologies and prevailing class conventions. With each disruption of society’s technology, the conflict between us changes form. Old classes die out and eventually only two remain standing: the class that owns everything and the class that owns nothing – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

This is the predicament in which we find ourselves today. While we owe capitalism for having reduced all class distinctions to the gulf between owners and non-owners, Marx and Engels want us to realise that capitalism is insufficiently evolved to survive the technologies it spawns. It is our duty to tear away at the old notion of privately owned means of production and force a metamorphosis, which must involve the social ownership of machinery, land and resources. Now, when new technologies are unleashed in societies bound by the primitive labour contract, wholesale misery follows. In the manifesto’s unforgettable words: “A society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”

Everyone reading this has lived in the capitalist realist world with no first experience of anything else. Marx was born at precisely the right time in history to see capitalism being born. As such, his analysis is relevant to us, even if he didn’t understand ecology, gender, and technology in quite the same way we do now.

It is the end of ‘the end of history’. There is an alternative to the unequal American reality, regardless of what the political and capitalist classes say. You can see it for yourself in the human-centered responses.

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