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Issue #1732      May 25, 2016

A model for action

Politics in the Pub, Perth organised by the Communist Party of Australia, WA branch this month presented the theme on the relevance of the Communist Manifesto in today’s times. Dr Christopher Crouch and Dr Fayeza Khan, the two speakers, briefly introduced the Manifesto before analysing two separate but related aspects of the Manifesto. We present this summary on the 198th birthday of Karl Marx.

Christopher:

How can we revisit the Communist Manifesto and find what is relevant to the contemporary world? That was our starting point for the recent Politics in the Pub discussion in Perth. The Manifesto is in parts theoretical analysis, historical review, contemporary political critique and an agenda for action, and it can be a difficult read because of this multitude of purposes. Marx’s and Engel’s analysis of the underlying condition of capitalism is embedded in the detailed contexts of the 19th century and sometimes it is easy to get distracted by that detail, losing sight of the observations that are central to their scrutiny and which can be used to understand our contemporary circumstances.

My interest lies in the formation of consciousness under capitalism. The first section of the Manifesto “Bourgeois and proletarians” is packed with an analysis of how the coming together of carbon power, mass production and the global accumulation of capital by the bourgeois class framed our consciousness and continues to do so. When read as a handbook on how we are constructed intellectually, emotionally, culturally, socially and politically the Manifesto is as radical a document in the early 21st century as it was in the middle of the 19th.

The bourgeois class, the class that owns capital, has “reduced relationships down to economics”, suffocating our emotional and intellectual aspirations, forcing us to sell ourselves and compete against each other in order to be successful. All social exchange has been increasingly commodified; eating, drinking, the arts and sports have become ways of generating income rather than celebrating each other. Those without money are excluded from our cultural activities and workers are set against each other in the market, attacking each other for jobs, distracted from the root cause of their conflict, the market itself.

“All that is solid melts into the air” say Marx and Engels. Traditional cultural practices, ways of thinking, and a sense of communal history have been swept away by a consumer culture that keeps us in a perpetual present, unable to navigate because all our social compass points have been taken away. In their place we have been given a passive role as consumers in the industrialised “world market”, made complicit in the “subjugation of nature’s forms” and the environmental catastrophe that consumerism brings.

What prescience, what a clear depiction of our contemporary culture. What a model for action!

Fayeza:

Coming from a developing country struggling to establish democracy and civilian rule, I at first held the view that developed capitalist countries were ideals of democratic societies. This illusion was soon shattered as knowledge and awareness of world events and economic problems grew. Reading the Manifesto and grasping Marx’s dissection of the capitalist society proved to be the turning points in understanding the root cause of problems and working out the solutions. Therefore, I focused on one of the main ideas developed by Marx and Engels: that democracy is incompatible with capitalism, and what we have instead is the dictatorship of the capitalist class. In this setup the state functions to protect the interests of the capitalist class and their position of privilege rather than the interest of the working majority.

“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” In a single sentence Marx and Engels so succinctly describe the function of the state in capitalist countries. The manifestations of this are so abundant, that I feel spoilt for choice as to what to give an example of. The bailing of private banks and firms during periods of financial crisis is but one. In this regard, what Julian Assange has to say about the revelations made by WikiLeaks makes for an interesting juxtaposition with that sentence: “What we discover from the WikiLeaks documents is that there is no such thing as ‘free markets’ without strong states – that nowhere does the ‘invisible hand’ work without the mailed fist of government ... . Corporations are notoriously bad at operating their international operations and rely upon government agents to open doors for them.”

That “the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society” could not be more evident today when 80 people own the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people collectively, and over 80 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $10 per day. Hence: “It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.”

Whither democracy?

The phenomenon of globalisation, much celebrated by the capitalist-driven ideals, means the profit-driven connections of capitalists of one country to the exploitation and death of workers in another. This is why even social democracies with good social indicators such as Sweden and Switzerland are amongst the top five military arms exporters (per capita), and their banks are tax havens for the rich elsewhere. “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere.”

It’s establishing and sustaining war and destroying the will of the majority.

Such is the anti-democratic nature of capitalist societies. Let us not be fooled that the ability to cast a vote every four years (or more frequently sometimes) is what defines democracy.

To quote Marx: every few years the people are allowed to select which group of people will rule over and oppress them. An apt description of “democracy under capitalism”, as fit for the 21st century as it was for the 19th.

Next article – Focus on collective action

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