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Issue #1699      August 26, 2015

Culture & Life

Marx and Engels and scientific socialism

Marx and Engels were not the first people to advocate a socialist form of society. There were in fact a slew of people in the early 19th century promoting various incarnations of socialism, but until Marx and Engels they were all utopian: visions of the future based on hope, and dreams and wishful thinking.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels statue in Berlin.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels statue in Berlin.

Marx and Engels, in contrast, based their concept of socialism on a scientific analysis of contemporary capitalist society as well as its historical development and its philosophical underpinnings. Not surprisingly, their version is called scientific socialism. It can be examined and tested with scientific rigour and actions based on it can be undertaken with confidence.

When it was put into practice in Russia after the Revolution of 1917, it enabled a backward agrarian country to be turned into an industrial powerhouse, where unemployment was unknown, health care and education were free and universal, and life got better every year – for all, not just a privileged elite.

Unfortunately, in the decades after the Second World War, understanding of the science of socialism and class relations was allowed to fall into decline in the USSR, replaced by complacency and smugness, by a new form of wishful thinking, which eventually allowed the overthrow of socialism itself in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

This severe setback in no way invalidated the scientific basis of socialist society, however, nor did it mean – as bourgeois pundits tried to assert – that capitalism was invincible. Today, capitalism is actually fighting for its life. It may not look like it, but by any measure, that is the reality.

Wherever you look, capitalist economies are unable to meet people’s basic needs. Homelessness is rife, and spreading. Household debt is a crushing burden on working class and middle class families alike, resulting in a rate of evictions not seen since the Great Depression.

Leading banks and other major capitalist financial institutions are going belly up or having to be bailed out by governments, using huge amounts of public money. Whereas once, that would have meant the nationalisation of the recipient of this government largesse, today capitalists demand that they be given the money with no strings attached!

This arrogant display of greed by institutions with declining economic clout has naturally resulted in a variety of fight-back measures by the people. In the USA, and later in Australia and other countries, we saw the Occupy movement directly target Wall Street and other financial institutions. They were ultimately unsuccessful, but their movement was a tell-tale precursor to a revolutionary popular movement.

Meanwhile, in Europe, imperialist rivalry has seen Portugal, Spain, Ireland Greece and other member countries of the “European Union” reduced to chronic poverty, their governments at the mercy of German banks. But even as those banks rejoice, the actions of their US and British rivals in promoting a new Cold War against Russia and China has resulted in trade boycotts and embargoes that have significantly boosted unemployment in Germany and caused divisions within the German capitalist class.

In Australia, unrestricted “market forces” have resulted in a housing bubble in Sydney that has priced first-home buyers out of the market altogether. So unsustainable is this bubble that even the laissez-faire Abbott government has been forced to make a pretence of taking action: Treasurer Joe Hockey has threatened foreign (especially Chinese) investors against buying up Australian real estate,

Australian – or other white – capitalists however, can still buy up property without restriction. So that’s all right, then.

The gang of religious cranks that makes up the bulk of Abbott’s government are very ideologically driven: they are determined to organise the redistribution of the wealth in Australia, away from people who work and into the deep pockets of the people who own capital, for that is where Abbott and his cronies believe it belongs.

They have launched a propaganda and legislative war on the trade unions, using their tame court system to give it the appearance of impartiality. While the trade unions have been largely cowed, Abbott’s gang have also launched an all-out attack on wages and conditions, beginning with penalty rates and anything else that in their opinion hinders a boss’s ability to extract the maximum profit.

Abbott is merely enacting the ruling class’ undeclared but clearly obvious intention: to “roll back” all the gains workers have made over the last 200 years of often bloody struggle. Those gains, whether in wages, conditions of work, job safety, pensions or the rest, have always been viewed by employers as theft, as forcing the boss to pay for things he didn’t want and which did not make him any money.

With capitalism now in crisis, the most reactionary defenders of the system are coming to power in country after country, put there by the ruling class specifically to defend this rotten, outmoded system.

Whether it’s Abbott in Australia, Cameron in the UK, Merkel in Germany or Obama in the US, their role is not to improve or even protect the quality of life of the common people of their respective countries. They are in office not to just defend the large corporations but actually to enhance their ability to invest their capital where it can earn the most, regardless of the impact on workers, farmers or small businesses. They dutifully remove all laws that might inhibit the big corporations’ ability to turn the maximum profit and they make sure that governments do not “interfere” with the business of making money.

All this is in accordance with the laws governing the development of society that Marx and Engels revealed. They also revealed that the working class, when armed with a revolutionary ideology, will be the leading force that not only fights against this ghastly future but ensures that it ultimately does not come to pass.

That is our job.

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