By SARAH RAYMUNDO
Karl Marx is 196 years old today. With his birth nearly two centuries away from the present, it is amazing how his life and works continue to speak of a man who truly possessed a willpower that was hardly ever negotiable.
Those who follow his thought would know that the brilliance and clarity of his writings were borne out of difficult conditions of living. It is not despite but precisely because of destitute circumstances that Marx hammered out a methodical plan for the world proletarian struggle.
With his uncompromising style, whether in his writings or live debates, Marx, as a young man, started to brood on what was behind various strands of non-proletarian socialism and petit bourgeois socialism. Marx, for this writer, had the eye for detail. He would recognize a scrim’s constitution in all three senses of the word. Reading Marx, one can tell that this is a person who does not cut corners and will have no mercy on those who do.
Was Marx ever “normal”?
Asked what of Karl Marx’s life he might want to know, a top analyst and trainor in a BPO firm quips: Was he ever normal? The response is actually a brilliant problematization. How far did a revolutionary like Marx go in terms of transgressing the norms? Unfortunately (or fortunately), Marx did not live long enough to witness the rise of so-called post-politics.
This condition, according to Nancy Fraser is marked by the eclipse of class politics by identity politics. Advocates of New Social Movements (NSM) argue that after the fall of socialism in China and the Soviet Union—a claim that sits well with Fukuyama’s triumphalism, which proclaims capitalism as the end of history for it has defeated all challenges against it—the wager has shifted from redistributive justice to cultural recognition. The world is now dealing with “new grievances” and “changed aspirations,” as it were.
In Marx’s world, transgression of the norm was not the name of the game. In fact, he did not buy the metaphor “game” to refer to life. Why, any serious scientist in a laboratory, construction worker building an edifice, surgeon at the operating table, dressmaker in a factory, filmmaker working with an editing machine, or teacher on whom students’ intellectual development depend cannot just be gaming as they do their jobs. Only those who profit from the uncertainties of capitalism — made up of busts and booms — see life as a game. They are the only ones who will only have to master the rules in order for them to win.
Identitarians might find Marx painfully heterosexual. He met Jenny; they had a good time; they made it. And what did they think it was, true love? Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel makes it look like it certainly was. But Marx was not the normative father figure. He was not defined by the hackneyed paternalism that marks out fatherhood from other roles in the family. Eleanor Marx to Kautsky in 1896: “I, unfortunately only inherited my father’s nose – (I used to tell him I could sue him for damages as his nose had distinctly entailed a loss on me) and not his genius.”
This tender testimony of a daughter of her father is so telling of the kind of relationship Marx cultivated with his children.
Was he a “normal” son? Marx had a thorny relationship with his father when he was already a married man. The latter accused him of “neglecting his home.”* He was once described by his old man as “self-consumed to the point of irreverence.” The older Marx also hilariously accused his son of “[squandering] his talents and [spending] nights giving birth to monsters; and of spending more money in one year than the richest of men, mockingly asking how a man who every week or two discovers a new system and has to tear up old works laboriously arrived at, how can he, I ask, worry about trifles?”
But his last letter to Marx before he died had the kindest words a father could tell his “self-consumed” and “irreverent son: “Always believe and never doubt that you have the innermost place in my heart and that you are one of the most powerful levers in my life…I am exhausted, dear Karl, and must close. I regret that I have not been able to write as I wanted to. I would have liked to embrace you with all my heart.” Marx was undoubtedly his father’s precious one. On Marx’s burial, Engels placed a ragged photo in his best friend’s grave. It was a photo of Marx’s father which Marx carried in his chest pocket the whole time.
Marx and Communism
Marx’s approach to communism does not consist in an unassailable support for the latter. Rather, Marx was emphatic about ruthlessly criticizing everything existing, and that includes communism for it is also affected by its opposite—private property (2). Marx promulgated that history since the middle ages is a development through various modes of production.
This progression is by no means peaceful for it entails a dislodgment of a dominant class by a revolution. While Marx affirmed the French Revolution as a bourgeois revolution that displaced feudal state power, he espoused the necessity of a revolution in the name of the workers in order to extend the gains of modern industry to all. Contrary to pop versions of communism, this progression is not a road map to the “perfect society” that is communism.
Marx’s big idea came with a comprehensive critique of capital and the actual organizing of political parties of and for the workers. Revolution is not a means with communism as its end goal. Rather, communism embodies the most programmatic and organized discontent within capital. The idea and practice of communism have been a means in and through which Marx took on the challenge of constructing a new conception of the world while addressing a historically significant mass movement.
Marxism and the Working Class (3)
Marxism is the set of ideas founded by Karl Marx and enriched by working-class struggles in history and summed up, theorized by subsequent Marxists. One of the most poignant anecdotes about Marxism comes from Hans Morgenthau, a political scientist who was not himself a Marxist. Morgenthau’s father was a doctor who attended to working-class patients in the early 20th century. He would dutifully go to his patients homes to cure them of various sickness including tuberculosis. But many times, all the doctor could provide instead of cure was a dignified death—when asked for their last request, workers would invariably whisper an instruction to the doctor, “When the priest is not looking, remove the Bible and replace it with the Communist Manifesto.”
Against the abstraction and mysticism that obscured the true nature of labor under the capitalist system, Marx clarified that the condition of possibility for history is the production of material life itself, which is none other than labor – that which once freed from the clutches of capital will have put the pre-history of human society to an end. Labor is then foregrounded as the vehicle for the historical self-creation of humankind. Yet labor under global capitalism is reduced to an instrument of its own tautological logic.
The historical loot committed by capital involves not only the capture of historical time away from living labor through the wage system. This condition structures human experience through ideological naturalization whose processes can be mapped through the particular conduct of social formations intelligible, in the last instance, on the basis of its mode of production. The primacy of the economic infrastructure upholds the primacy of labor processes over the processes of production. It is in this proper context that labor-power must be appreciated as one of the elements of the productive forces. Meanwhile, the primacy of labor processes constitutive of the relations of production implies the conclusion that the undeniable exploitation within the realm of the former is class struggle. Within capitalist production, technical questions such as the management of finance capital and the real economy are integral yet subordinate to the class struggle.
That Marxism holds fast to the class struggle is the reason why workers have a special place in it. The working class is defined precisely by labor. It is the class that produces the wealth appropriated by the few through the commodification of labor. On account of the dire conditions of labor under the rule of capital, the working class has no interest in wage slavery or exploitation.
In the academe, many concede that Marxism is an instructive mode of analysis to comprehend the workings and woes of capitalism. The same academics, however, deny vehemently that Marxism is of any use when it comes to actually changing reality. More than articulating the prospects of alternatives, this merely reveals the interests of these social forecasters. Meanwhile, in the streets, in the factories, in the communities of the urban and rural poor, in the guerilla zones where people’s armies exist, Marxism is a guide to practice.
Marxism and Neoliberalism
The Marxist critique of Neoliberalism exposes the latter as an international strategy of profit accumulation. This is made possible through ideological institutions that impose various forms of social discipline that range from economic policies to regulations on culture, from the creation of consumers to the act of reducing people to bare life. This politico-ideological process is possible through the division of the population into different classes. In this context, the State as the executive committee of the ruling class becomes a sovereign power who decides on who lives and who dies.
Furthermore, the global capitalist system is structured by the hierarchic relations of nation-states currently dominated by an imperialist power that is the United States of America. Having been challenged by one devastating crisis after another since its entry to the advanced accumulation of profit, global capitalism has managed to make itself appear as naturally irreplaceable at the expense of millions of laboring people all over the world. Crisis management has been controlled and operated mainly by the ruling elites in imperialist nations and their allied elites in the neocolonies through their hold on key social institutions.
The neoliberal doctrine preaches that for the free market to flourish and function at its best, business should be its own best regulator. State regulation of the economy, by all means, must be obliterated. The creation of a “borderless world” through globalization is a process which involves the implementation of the three pillars of neoliberalism: deregulation liberalization and privatization. These policies are carried out on a global scale through multi-lateral institutions. The consequences of these policies demonstrate that neoliberal globalization is a ruse to seek new markets for goods and finance. Undeniably, the financial meltdown and the crisis in the real economy are effects of the neoliberal policies implemented by states of imperialist countries.
Those who fancy themselves as socially concerned economists now call for a return to Keynesianism. For them, resolving the current crisis is cutting interest rates and saving the big banks. This is supposed to go hand in hand with balancing the government budget by cutting taxes and creating jobs. But how far can monetary and fiscal stimuli go? Not too far.
It is significant to recall that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) administration was confronted with the Great Depression, the rise to power of the socialist bloc and the emergence of fascism in certain parts of Europe. FDR had to contend with these factors by opting to lead a powerful force that would primarily contain socialism. The reforms instituted under the New Deal which included the US government’s recognition of workers’ right to form unions and the right to strike were meant to derail the moment of socialist politics and to reinforce the moribund capitalist mechanisms that were then shaken by the crisis.
While all traditional demands like living wage, freedom of organization and strike, insurance and other benefits remain crucial to this day, it is also worth recalling that they were once won at a time when the people’s struggles weren’t confined to the merely economic. They were claimed through struggles that were predominantly political. It is then of utmost importance for us to be vigilant towards the false solutions to the current crisis. A wager for the Welfare State can only be dictated by the current coordinates of the socioeconomic structure already in deep crisis. Historically, and thinking of the system globally, Welfare States do not respond to the needs of the majority, not even of the many. At best, they can only project state regulation of the market as a mode of welfare when it is nothing but a style of governance that promotes a paternalistic relationship between the strong, masculine image of the state and market tandem and an infantilized and feminized citizenry whose democratic participation is reduced to dependence and obedience to the former.
What this cursory survey shows is that Neoliberalism and the Kenynesian policy stress are only false solutions to a malignant problem endemic to capitalism.The need to synchronize economic and political struggles has never been as pressing as in the present. For shifts between these policy stresses are made whenever there is a need for imperialism to do so. It is incumbent upon us to find the alternative in this paralyzing impasse.
Long Live Marx, Long Live Communism!
This alternative is one that will not make us pay for the multi-billion losses of corporate and financial giants. An alternative that will not merely tell us to resort to austerity measures while the corporate and financial elites splurge on their bonuses and indulge in luxury spending. An alternative that will not impose a gradual but sure death to millions of families of working peoples of the world through inhuman minimum wages and restricted opportunities. An alternative that does not ask us to save the Faustian monster that kills us: Capital.
What we need is an alternative that will end capitalism and all its crises. An alternative that values people and not profit. An alternative that will be a seizure of control over our lives. An alternative that will provide jobs, education, health care and uphold human rights, as well as the most human right to participate in the shaping of our destinies.
Contrary to all black propaganda, what all of this stand for can only be called Communism. The ruling class has tried all sorts of remedies for capital’s incurable ills, from the “Free” Market to the Welfare State. Former Socialist States, faced with the so-called triumph of Capitalism, were in a hurry to accommodate the tyranny of the market through Neoliberalism.
The era of privatization and speculation that aimed at effacing the wager of communism has only proven to be the worst time in human history. And while the laboring people suffer the consequences of the anarchy of capital, the ruling class can only recite the trite dictum that “there is no alternative to capitalism.” But If we want a just and humane future, what we need is, in fact, a corrective to that terrible lie. There is no alternative to Communism.
(1)All quotes from on the letters of Heinrich Marx are lifted from Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel. 2011. LondonLittle Brown and Company.
(2) I owe this observation to Chris Cutrone’s review of Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis in http://platypus1917.org/2010/11/06/the-marxist-hypothesis-a-response-to-alain-badous-communist-hypothesis/#_foot23
(3) Sections from here on in draw heavily from a paper entiled “The Validity and Vitality of Marxism in the 21ist Century”, which I read in a panel discussion organized by Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the International Solidarity Affair on May 6, 2009. My gratitude to KMU’s RC. Asa for his invaluable insights in the drafting of the paper.
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.