Study of Marxism

by Imran Barlas

“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase.”Engels

To derive a more accurate conclusion of whether the economic and philosophical theories of Marx can work or not, it would be beneficial to:

  • Study the economic theories themselves

We spend the entirety of our school, college, university years learning about capitalism. We cannot rely on a simple booklet which was never intended to form the basis of economic/philosophical theory anyway. On the contrary, we study in depth about subjects to arrive at truly accurate analyses about how the world works.

After all, something is clearly wrong with how the world works today. Today, we are in what is being termed as the Great Recession. Had the major capitalist economies not regulated or intervened through the state, it would have been quite likely that we would have entered a Depression. And that would have been even more disastrous.

Why is it then that despite having Ivy League graduates at the helm of businesses, top professionals from the highest ranking universities regarded as some of the smartest people in the world, that the interlinked economies were quite helpless in preventing the crisis? The answer is that the crisis is systemic. No matter how smart one is or how moral one is, the nature of the system is such that recessions and depressions, i.e. perpetual failures will continue to result due to the irreconcilable antagonism between labor and capital.

The effects on people of a recession are obvious. Hundreds of thousands are thrown out of their jobs. Those workers that remain begin to see reductions in their wages so that the owners/shareholders may continue to stay rich! The ‘symbiotic’ relationship between capitalists and workers that is so often claimed in university text books ends without a second thought. Resource based wars start brewing for the retention of profitability and economic vitality. And so on.

These contradictions and much more are explored by Marx & Engels, Lenin, and many other Marxist writers. Marxism is a subject that has been written upon extensively with enough material to fill the biggest of libraries.

  • Study the real, practical application of Marxism in the world

The Soviet Union is a great example of the success a socialist economy can achieve. We are mostly presented with the disadvantages of a socialist planned/command economy in university textbooks to solidify the “Marxism sounds good in theory but doesn’t work well in practice” notion in our minds.

One can be willing to debate on the disadvantages. But let us refer to the successes in this post to begin with.

The Soviet Union began the construction of its socialist economy from an extremely low economic base. In 1917 Russia, the majority of the laboring population comprised of peasants. The economy was very backward. The country was embroiled in World War 1. People were starving, and Russia was losing the war. Only after the communists came to power was Russia able to pull itself out of World War 1. The peace treaty that Russia concluded with Germany was on extremely harsh terms, with Russia losing many of her territories.

Russia’s woes did not end with the peace treaty. An extreme civil war between the communists, and the ‘White’ forces who wanted a return to the previous system was fought. The Whites were joined by many other countries in Russia including Britain and the United States who fought against the communists. The war was won by the communists, but the civil war devastated the country.

Yet, it was the socialist economic model that pulled the Soviet Union out of its economic troubles. The Five-Year Industrialization Plans were enormously successful and placed the Soviet Union in the list of top producing countries in the world.

Then came World War II. It is begrudgingly admitted by bourgeois historians that the Soviet Union made the biggest contribution to stopping the Nazis. Although Hollywood does not cease to present a picture where America saved the world.

It was against the Soviet Union that Hitler channeled the greatest brunt of his forces in the shape of “Operation Barbarossa”. It was undoubtedly the Soviet Union that suffered the most. The destruction caused is well documented.

Yet, it was the socialist economic model that equipped the Soviet Union to repel the Nazi attack. It was the socialist economic model that enabled the speedy economic recovery following World War 2 and numerous technological innovations (though strangely we are taught in schools that socialism hinders technology). It was the socialist economic model that, in spite of the many adverse circumstances the country had to face in such a short span of time, that enabled it to become a super power. By contrast, it took a few hundred years of development and the colonization/enslavement of the Third World for the Capitalist powers to reach the level of development that the Soviet Union achieved in a few decades.

If the Soviet Union later collapsed, we must analyse the causes. Was it simply a failure of the economic mode of production? Or were there many other factors at play? What was the role of the leadership in the politics and economics that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union? What about the divisions inside the communist movement, such as the Sino-Soviet split, that contributed to the overall weakening of the communist movement? What was the effect of the Afghan war? What was the effect of the Cold War in isolating the socialist economies through economic, diplomatic and military means?

China is another success story of the socialist model. Although China has instituted many market reforms, a crucial part of the infrastructure and industry necessary for development was laid through state planning. And even today, state involvement in the Chinese economy is quite high. This is the reason why the Chinese were able to steer themselves out of the current recession the fastest of all the economies, such that their economic growth is at 7.9% currently.

There are many other examples of the superiority of the socialist economic model.

All of them merit a detailed analysis to do justice to the question “Marxism sounds good in theory, but does it work in practice?”.

To conclude this long email, I recommend this website for obtaining Marxist literature: www.marxists.org

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One Response to “Study of Marxism”

  1. In a market economy where buying cheap and selling high is the path to riches, it would be advantageous to create artificial scarcity so as to keep prices high so as to reap a large profit when what they purchased is sold at a much higher price then what was paid for the purchase.
    Under the conditions of concentrated capital, large corporations can very easily control supply and demand. It would be difficult to do so if new “technology” was created that made it possible to increase the supply to the extent that it would force prices so far down that it would become next to impossible to artificially get the prices to go up.
    Those that are in charge of our economic life i believe would discourage new technology that would upset their apple cart by having new technology produce massively inside the marketplace.

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