May 5 is the birth anniversary of Karl Marx, who together with Frederick Engels founded the doctrine of scientific socialism.
Ever since the capitalist system of exploitation of wage labour began, the working class has fought unrelentingly against its exploitation. It was Karl Marx, however, who first gave a scientific basis to the class struggle of the proletariat against the capitalists, and who showed with the precision of science that this struggle will inevitably lead to the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the establishment of a new social system without exploitation – socialism.
Without the theory of Marxism to guide it, the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie can at best remain a defensive struggle in which the bourgeoisie has the upper hand. Decisive victory over the bourgeoisie can be achieved only through the working class movement basing itself firmly on the teachings of Marxism and taking up the mission of ushering in socialism and communism.
That is why the most advanced and conscious members of the working class, in every country around the world, strive to grasp and arm themselves with the profound teachings of Marxism in order to win victory over the bourgeoisie and bring about the new world in which the workers and toiling people will rule.
Marx’s contributions to mankind’s understanding of history, economics, philosophy and politics were unparalleled. He uncovered the fundamental laws of social development in general and of the modern capitalist system in particular.
Marx scientifically analysed that the whole course of human development, with all its infinite variety and contradictions, is governed by definite laws. He showed that throughout history, lower, more primitive social systems, have given way to higher and more advanced social systems. The key to understanding the nature of a particular social system is its economic foundation, or the way in which the production of the material means of subsistence is organised. It is the economic foundation on the basis of which the ideas, beliefs, political institutions and so on of a particular period develop, and not the other way around. Engels summed it up by saying that Marx brought out the profound but previously overlooked fact that “men must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, and therefore must work, before they can fight for domination, pursue politics, religion, philosophy and so on”.
Marx and Engels showed that just as the slave system had given way to feudalism and the feudal system had given way to capitalism, so too capitalism was not something fixed and eternal but would in its turn give way to a higher social system, which he showed would be socialism.
The forward movement of history, the replacement of one social system by another, has not been achieved smoothly or automatically, but only through the fierce struggle of classes. This was another profound discovery of Marxism. The new classes that emerged in the womb of the old social systems always fought against the dominant classes of the old systems. When they succeeded in overthrowing the old dominant classes, this marked an era of social revolution in which a new social system under a new dominant class would be established. This was the law of motion of history.
Marx showed that earlier, the rule of one exploiting class had always been replaced by that of another exploiting class. The proletariat, however, would be the first class with the mission of overthrowing the capitalist system of exploitation and ushering in a new system in which the exploitation of man by man would be abolished forever.
The Marxist doctrine of social development is known as dialectical and historical materialism. As Marx wrote, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” Understanding the laws of history gives the working class an invaluable weapon to understand the real nature of its struggle against the capitalist class, and the direction this struggle must take.
The other great scientific contribution of Karl Marx was to analyse the capitalist system in particular and discover the source of the surplus value pocketed by the capitalists in the form of profit. Marx showed that the source of capitalist profit lies in nothing other than the exploitation of labour. As explained in Marx’s great work Capital, the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour that goes into producing it. The capitalist buys the labour power of the worker as a commodity, which he puts to use as he pleases. Only one part of the labourer’s working day goes into producing the value necessary for maintaining the worker and his family; the rest is surplus value pocketed by the capitalist. According to Engels, this discovery of Marx “proved that the acquisition of riches by the present-day capitalists consists just as much in the appropriation of the unpaid labour of others as that of the slave-owner or the feudal lord exploiting serf labour.” Decisively disproving the notion that there can be harmony of interests between the capitalists and the workers, it “exposed present-day bourgeois society, no less than its predecessors, as a grandiose institution for the exploitation of the huge majority of the people by a small, ever-diminishing minority.”
Under capitalism, with the development of large-scale industry and technology, production becomes more and more socialised. The increasingly socialised nature of production comes into conflict with the private appropriation of the fruits of production by the capitalists. This leads to the phenomena which we witness in modern times, of over-production, of destruction of productive forces and recurring crises. Marx showed that this contradiction cannot be resolved within capitalism itself. It can be resolved only through capitalism giving way to a new and more advanced social system – socialism.
The class that would be the “gravedigger” of capitalism, Marx identified as the proletariat, the class that the conditions of modern production themselves gave birth to. As the class with “nothing to lose but their chains”, the proletariat would overthrow capitalism, and in doing so, overturn the whole system of exploitation of man by man. As Marx and Engels pointed out in their great Manifesto of the Communist Party written in 1848, “all previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” The class struggle of the proletariat, Marx showed, would lead necessarily to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The essence of the tactics of the class struggle of the proletariat were profoundly expressed by Marx and Engels in the following words: “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” In other words, the proletariat must fight for its immediate demands from the standpoint and perspective of socialism, of the overthrow of bourgeois power. Ever since, this has been the touchstone distinguishing the revolutionary forces in the working class movement from those that, in the name of struggle, only seek some kind of “accommodation” between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat within the existing system.
By firmly placing the movement of the working class on scientific foundations and orienting it towards the goal of socialism and communism, Marx made an everlasting and invaluable contribution to the working class and its struggle for emancipation. However, Marx’s contributions were not only in the realm of science but of practical action. He plunged into the revolutionary and working class movements in the Europe of their times, for which he was repeatedly exiled and hounded by the reactionary governments of different European countries. Together with Engels, he took the lead in forming the historic First International Workingmen’s Association. As Engels was to say movingly at Marx’s graveside in March 1883, “Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival.”
The name and work of Karl Marx will live forever!