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Issue #1813      March 7, 2018

170th celebrations of the Communist Manifesto

Politics in the Pub – Perth, Western Australia

The Western Australian branch of the Communist Party of Australia held its first Politics in the Pub for 2018 on the topic of the 170th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The book was first published in February 1848 and since then the spectre of Marx has been haunting not only Europe but the entire globe.

The first speaker was Dr Christopher Crouch a former professor in cultural history who, drawing from the Manifesto of the Communist Party, said that the advent of capitalism in the late 18th and 19th centuries swept away traditional social relations and replaced them with relations that saw humans and nature generally as means to an economic end – as things to be exploited rather than as ends in themselves.

Consumer items were made for exchange and profit by the capitalist system to be used, as Marx and Engels said, as capitalism’s “artillery”. In a consumer culture, the appropriation of such weapons/commodities can also become manifestations of alienation. The capitalist mode of production created two classes which existed in antagonism to each other – the ruling class or bourgeoisie and the working class or proletariat.

Whereas in previous societal orders there was more or less a place for everyone, under the capitalist system, “If you are unable to sell your labour you are excluded from the system.” This resulted in traditional relations being swept away by capitalism and workers becoming alienated from the work which had traditionally had given them meaning and the means to live.

Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto proposed a list of ten introductory demands to address these circumstances, which included a heavy progressive or graduated income tax, abolition of all rights of inheritance, centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state, factories and agricultural production owned by the state and subject to long term planning, obligation of all to labour (and the abolition of child labour) and the establishment of industrial and agricultural armies and free and public education for all children.

Many of these demands have been met at various times in our history since 1848 and in various places, but as Crouch reminded the audience in central Perth, none of this has been given freely by the capitalist class but achieved through struggle. With the crisis tendency of capital, the capitalist is always trying to erode or claw back these hard-won concessions and conditions in order to maintain and increase profits.

Crouch said the current state of the world economy, which includes Australia, demonstrates the ongoing relevance of Marx’s ideas, especially the notion of capitalism being prone to crisis unless it is able to constantly expand its profits and its markets. However, in the finite world we live in Marx foresaw that capitalism would begin to tear at the natural world and humanity.

The second speaker was a senior legal officer at the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (WA), Kevin Sneddon, who suggested that the legacy of Marx and Engels had been undermined by the pursuit of dogma by its adherents rather than a practical application of their ideas of improving the lot of man. Sneddon also believed that Marx had overestimated the ability of the working class to achieve the consciousness of their historical role and this was not helped in many countries including Australia where the left split into many factions which dissipated energy from the struggle against the class enemy.

Sneddon, who hails from Scotland, noted that at least those in the British Isles understood what class was, whereas in Australia with its myth of mateship and egalitarianism the working class was distracted from their historical role – though the struggle at the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat in December 1854 demonstrated that Australian workers were capable of being organised and resisting the demands of the ruling class.

The third speaker was Vlad Bychkov of the Murdoch University Communist and Socialist Club who began his talk by stating, “Young people are often misinformed about the politics of the world.” This resulted in many young people having bourgeois concepts of what socialism is rather than being educated in the real tenets of socialist principles from foundational texts.

This problem, said Bychkov, comes in part from the structural problems with social media which has been captured by capitalism. There is also a liminal relationship between the world and the individual who uses social media which increased the isolation and alienation experienced by people rather than decreased it. Therefore, concluded Bychkov, “It is important to re-establish the fundamental form of human relationships which was the collective, of which the form of Politics in the Pub was a prime example”.

The speakers were followed by an extensive Q&A chaired by comrade Elizabeth Hulm in which the many young people in the forum were able to ask questions and express ideas about how the capitalist world was pressing on their world today.

The WA Branch of the Communist Party of Australia is planning further Politics in the Pub for the remainder of the year, with the next being on Thursday March 22, 6pm at 43 Below in Barrack Street Perth –subject, the Right to Strike.

Next article – Murray-Darling – No time to waste

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