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Peter Hadden

Karl Marx – founder of scientific socialism,
revolutionary thinker and activist

(March 1983)

From Militant Irish Monthly, March 1983.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

“Apostles of freedom are ever idolised when dead, but crucified when lining;” James Connolly writing these words about United Irish leader Theobald Wolfe Tone could have been writing about himself or Karl Marx who died 100 years ago this month.

Just as the real ideas and traditions of Connolly have been savagely distorted by many who claim to stand in his name, so the genuine ideas of Marx have been twisted beyond recognition, especially by many so-called “Marxists”.

The powerful influence of Marx’s ideas is shown by the fact one third of the world’s population live in countries officially described as “Marxist”, In the capitalist world every mass working class party was either founded as a Marxist party or else has had or has within it a strong current claiming to be Marxist. This enormous Influence doubly emphasises the need “to disentangle” the true ideas and methods of Marxism or scientific socialism from the accumulated, rubbish of decades or distortion. Marx and his co-thinker Frederick Engels described themselves as social democrats emphasising that socialism would mean the development of democracy. Now this term “social democratic” has come to mean something very different. It has become synonomous with the right wing of the labour movement; people who are obviously light years removed from the ideas of Marx and Engels. Yet many social democratic parties still claim a formal adherence to Marxism.

Likewise, the earliest Marxists, including Marx himself, stood for what they termed the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Just as “social democrat” has come to equal “right wing” renegade, so this phrase is generally now presented as meaning the type of regime which exists in Russia, China and Eastern Europe.

But an equally unbridgeable gulf divides Marxism from the methods of Stalin and Stalinism, as that which sets it apart from today’s social democrats. Marx and Lenin, while fully supporting, defending and struggling for every democratic right which could be won, demonstrated that democracy under capitalism merely disguised the reality of democratic class rule. The state, as Engels put it, could, in the last analysis, be reduced to -the simple formula of “armed bodies of men acting in defence of property.”

To this “dictatorship of Capital” they counter-posed the dictatorship of the Working Class which would be exercised in a democratic form and would exist during the first period of socialist rule. Marx and Engels then envisaged that the state, and with it all forms of oppression, would quickly “wither away.” By the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” Marx meant workers democracy and the development of democratic rights to a degree never achieved under capitalism. Never for a single moment did Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky advocate the monstrous development of the state apparatus, or the suppression of democratic rights, which has occured in the Stalinist countries. In the collected works of these great thinkers there is not a line equating socialism with one party rule.

For a Marxist newspaper and tendency the key task in commemorating the centenary of his death is not to blindly idolise him. Rather it is to present the true ideas of scientific socialism as apart from the lies, myths and distortions propounded by social democrats, Stalinists, academics plus a gallery of puffed-up pseudo Marxists.

The programme of Marxism is merely the accumulated experience of the working class, past and present, summed up in the form of simple slogans and demands. This newspaper, representing the Marxist tradition in Ireland, fights for a 35 hour week, a £100 minimum wage tied to the cost of living, guaranteed jobs for all, a crash programme of useful public works, an immediate crash housing and building programme, and expansion of education, hospitals and other services based on need.

These demands are for no more than a reasonable standard of life for all. From this point of view they are modest indeed. Yet the Tories and the bosses, asking for these basic comforts is as extreme as asking for the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. Indeed from their point of view, the capitalists are right. Capitalism cannot afford to grant reforms. Schools, hospitals and now jobs, are not profitable. On the other hand, the working class cannot afford the poverty conditions and unemployment inflicted by capitalism. In short, the working class cannot afford the continuation of this system.

All that stands in the way of the implementation in full of the above reforms is the thirst of the system for profit. The productive capacity to meet the basic requirements of the entire population of the planet already exists. The problem is that under this system it cannot be utilised.

Wealth is produced by manufacturing industry. Yet, in every capitalist country vast amounts of the productive power of industry are being scrapped. In Ireland as a·whole there are now more people wasting their energies on the dole than there are working in manufacturing industry.

In the major capitalist powers, the OECD countries, there are more than 30 million unemployed. 500 million are out of work in the colonial and ex-colonial world. The labour of these people, if it could be used, could transform the world.

Historically, capitalism allowed society to take a huge step forward by breaking free of the vice of feudalism. Now capitalism, far from further expanding the productive forces, is incapable even of sustaining the productive capacity which it itself built up. Take the case of steel which is the industrial backbone of any modern economy.

Three years ago Britain had 160,000 steel workers. Today there are 85,000 and the British Steel Corporation plans to reduce this figure to 62,000. In America only 38% of steel producing capacity can be used. By the end of last year Western Europe was producing less steel than 50 years ago.

Marx explained that an economic system would not leave the field of history until, it had fully exhausted its potential for develop, production. By this criterion capitalism is overdue for removal. Tinkering with this obsolete system will not help. Cuts in real wages, in services, and increases in unemployment cannot be dressed up so as to appear presentable to the working people who suffer them.

Marxists therefore stand for the establishment of an economic system capable of guaranteeing a decent standard of life to all. This, would be possible through the nationalisation of the major industries, the big banks and other finance houses and the running of these on the basis of democratic control and management. This would make possible the implementation of a harmonised plan of production engined by need, not profit.

In relation to the Stalinist states, where property forms are already nationalised, Marxism stands for the overthrow of the bureaucratic caste which rests as a parasite on society and for the introduction of regime of full workers democracy with such demands as those advanced by the polish workers through the union Solidarity implemented as a minimum.

If these steps of social transformation in the West and political transformation in the East were taken, it would be possible, for the first time ever, to plan, integrate and develop the resources, technique, and industries of the globe so as to eliminate poverty, starvation and want. This is the programme of Marxism.

Today the growing miseries of capitalism in crisis is drawing thousands and tens of thousands of workers to the conclusion of Marxism. Its influence within the mass workers organisations is beginning to develop. Historically the Labour movement has been divided into two main camps: the camp of reformism and that of Marxism. At different times different circumstances have tended to strengthen one or other camp.

Only fifteen or twenty years ago the learned professors, academics and economists of capitalism were happily embracing the right wing labour and trade union leaders with the common conclusion that Marxism was dead.

That was during the period of the unprecedented but temporary upswing which followed the second world war. On the surface the conclusions about capitalism which had been drawn by Marx seemed to be refuted by economic and social reality.

Capitalism appeared capable, through Keynesian methods, of resolving its contradictions and avoiding slump. Living standards did rise. Strikes became less frequent and the all-out class confrontations of the 1930s and immediate post war period seemed only a memory.

These conditions enormously strengthened the hold of the ideas of right wing reformism over the workers organisations. In 1974-75 capitalism fell into simultaneous recession and an epoch of contraction and ’slump opened up. Now the illustrious professors and academics with their accepted wisdom of a “crisis free capitalism” are dumbfounded and silent. With the trade union and labour organisations a deep discontent is stirring. The hold of the old right wing is being shaken, as their ideas are demonstrated to be worthless. The explanation of Marxism, twenty years ago, that of a ’tiny minority, is now winning ever broader support.

In the last two decades of the last century mass working class parties were formed in Europe. These, in formal terms claimed to be Marxist, but ’their leading layers came under the pressures of an upswing which then developed in the economies in Europe. They degenerated along reformist lines. In 1914 these parties of the Second international stood shoulder to shoulder with their native capitalists in supporting the war.

1917, the Russian Revolution and then the conditions of stagnation and crisis which developed after the war, ushered in a period of revolutionary turmoil which lasted until 1921. Revolutions in Germany, Hungary and elsewhere were unsuccessful only because they were betrayed by the leaders of the old mass parties of the Second International.

At the outset of the war Marxism represented only a tiny and numerically insignificant minority within the class organisations internationally. Yet on the basis of the experience of the events of 1917–21 the programme of Marxism came to be accepted by millions of workers and peasants. In every one of the old parties of social democracy the ideas of Marxism grew in support and in some cases won a majority. By 1920, for example, the French Socialist Party, the Italian socialist party and the Norwegian Labour Party had all come out for affiliation to the new Communist International formed by Lenin and Trotsky in 1919.

The period now opening up in Europe and the world will be a period like that of 1917–21, except that of a deeper and more protracted character. In the storms of struggle which will unfold in every corner of the globe the old ideas of those who advocate change on the basis of capitalism will be put to the test and will be found to be wanting.

The tradition of Marxism which has always been alive within every workers organisation can develop as never before in history. Even the successes of the period immediately following the Russian Revolution, before these gains were usurped and destroyed by Stalin, will be put in the shade.

In Ireland, Britain and internationally, by democratic discussion and debate, Marxist ideas can win a majority within the workers organisations.

In the 100 years since Marx’s death, his enemies and false friends have managed to heap a great deal of mud on his ideas in order to obscure them. It has been left to this generation to restore these ideas in practice by changing society.

As feudalism is to us today, so capitalism and stalinism will be to the generation of advanced humanity which will mark the second centenary of Marx’s death 100 years from now.

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