Archive for Karl Marx

A biography of Friedrich Engels

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism with tags , , , on August 19, 2009 by Umer


From The Economist

The self-effacing friend who enabled “Das Kapital” to be written


Corbis

Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels. By Tristram Hunt.Metropolitan Books; 448 pages; $32. Published in Britain as “The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels”. Allen Lane; £25. Buy fromAmazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

WHEN the financial crisis took off last autumn, Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital”, originally published in 1867, whooshed up bestseller lists. The first book to describe the relentless, all-consuming and global nature of capitalism had suddenly gained new meaning. But Marx had never really gone away, whereas Friedrich Engels—the man who worked hand in glove with him for most of his life and made a huge contribution to “Das Kapital”—is almost forgotten. A new biography by a British historian, Tristram Hunt, makes a good case for giving him greater credit.

The two men became friends in Paris in 1844 when both were in their mid-20s, and remained extremely close until Marx died in 1883. Both were Rhinelanders (our picture shows Engels standing behind Marx in the press room of Rheinische Zeitungwhich they edited jointly) but came from very different backgrounds: Marx’s father was a Jewish lawyer turned Christian; Engels’s a prosperous Protestant cotton-mill owner. Marx studied law, then philosophy; Engels, the black sheep of his family, was sent to work in the family business at 17. While doing his military service in 1841 in Berlin, he was exposed to the ferment of ideas swirling around the Prussian capital.

Next, he went to work for the Manchester branch of the family business, Ermen & Engels. Manchester’s “cottonopolis” in the mid-19th century was a manufacturer’s heaven and a working man’s hell, and it provided an invaluable lesson for Engels: that economic factors were the basic cause of the clash between different classes of society. By 1845, when he was just 24, he had not only learnt how to be a successful capitalist; he had also written a coruscatingly anti-capitalist work, “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, which charted the inhumanity of modern methods of production in minute detail.

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All cultures are not equal

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Marxism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2009 by Umer

by Kenan Malik

‘I denounce European colonialism’, wrote CLR James, ‘but I respect the learning and profound discoveries of Western civilisation.’ (1)

James was one of the great radicals of the twentieth century, an anti-imperialist, a superb historian of black struggles, a Marxist who remained one even when it was no longer fashionable to be so. But today, James’ defence of ‘Western civilisation’ would probably be dismissed as Eurocentric, even racist.

To be radical today is to display disenchantment with all that is ‘Western’ – by which most mean modernism and the ideas of the Enlightenment – in the name of ‘diversity’ and ‘difference’. The modernist project of pursuing a rational, scientific understanding of the natural and social world – a project that James unashamedly championed – is now widely regarded as a dangerous fantasy, even as oppressive.

‘Subjugation’, according to the philosopher David Goldberg, ‘defines the order of the Enlightenment: subjugation of nature by human intellect, colonial control through physical and cultural domination, and economic superiority through mastery of the laws of the market’ (2). The mastery of nature and the rational organisation of society, which were once seen as the basis of human emancipation, have now become the sources of human enslavement.

Enlightenment universalism, such critics argue, is racist because it seeks to impose Euro-American ideas of rationality and objectivity on other peoples. ‘The universalising discourses of modern Europe and the United States’, argues Edward Said, ‘assume the silence, willing or otherwise, of the non-European world.’ (3)

Not just for radicals, but for many mainstream liberals too, the road that began in the Enlightenment ends in savagery, even genocide. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues: ‘Every ingredient of the Holocaust… was normal… in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilisation, its guiding spirits, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world – and of the proper ways to pursue human happiness together with a perfect society.’ (4)

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Marx Shrugged: Introduction

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism with tags , , , , on July 10, 2009 by Umer

(The following is an attempt to understand Marxism as a social and economic ideology from a non-technical point of view. Already a bevy of efforts to simplify Marxism have been made and this is merely another addition to the trend. This lay interpretation of Marxism is spread over a series of articles of which this is the first.)

By Zia Ahmad

Back in the day when color red carried connotations of evil and Godlessness, words like Communism, Socialism and Marxism were equated with unrepentant vice, waywardness and choice of lifestyle adopted by the heretics and atheists. Nothing short of a foul swear word in view of our elders, Marxist and Socialist ideas were actively discouraged and demonized. Sharing the wealth was more of a ruse for the red Socialist/Marxist/Communist threat to gobble up all privately owned, hard earned asset and capital from the people leaving them destitute. No thanks to the Soviet Empire’s expansionist designs and invasion of Afganistan, the bar was considerably raised for their Godless ways. And more often than not when asked where it all started from, fingers were raised at odd sounding names like Lenin and Marx. One would imagine Marx and Lenin palling up in dark corners of a shady alley, geared up in trench coats and smelling of cheap booze, plotting the demise of the free living world and special attention was drawn to the fact that the gent by the name of Karl Marx was a Jew.

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Understanding Economics

Posted in Marxism with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2009 by Umer

A Marxist Guide to Understanding Economics

Tim Bowron

(from Workers Party of New Zealand)


Economics is a subject which is regarded by most ordinary people as mysterious and totally defying any rational understanding. This is true to an even greater extent today than 50 years ago, as we have increasingly seemed to move beyond a capitalist economy which deals with the production of real tangible things, to the dizzying world of currency hedge funds, financial futures trading and the explosion of the service sector.

No wonder then that many activists who are committed to trying to bring about radical social change shy away from the study of capitalist economics.

However this is deeply problematic because at the same time the one thinker who developed a thorough-going radical critique of capitalism – Karl Marx – is very little read among people on the left (even those calling themselves socialist revolutionaries).

In addition, there exists a widespread misconception that the writings of Karl Marx are so arcane, so mysterious, as to be only comprehensible to a select and gifted few. This is unfortunate because despite the perhaps slightly inaccessible style in which Marx wrote, the basic fundamentals of his philosophy are in reality breathtakingly simple.

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Moosa Sai Marx Tak (From Moses to Marx)

Posted in Books & Authors, Marxism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2009 by Umer

Preface and Chapter 1

Moosa se Marx Tak is one the best known writings of the South Asian Marxist and public intellectual, Syed Sibte Hasan. Sibte Hasan remained steadfast in his commitment towards Marxism-Leninism through out his life and contributed enormously in the revolutionary struggle through his pen.  For many decades, Moosa se Marx Tak was the fundamental guiding texts for the activists and students of the Leftist politics of Pakistan. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to present the preface and the first chapter of this authoritative text translated by Syed Ehtisham (with minor editorial changes) at the Red Diary:

Preface

Marx and Engels devised the term scientific socialism for their political thought, and idealistic socialism for ‘old fashioned’ socialism, which encompassed the reformist plans which European thinkers offered from time to time. The plans had not been inferred from the conditions on the ground, but were a reflection of their subjective aspirations. Scientific socialism, on the other hand, was derived from, and logical conclusion of existing objective conditions (maroozi hallat). Its principles of evolution had been derived from a deep study of the capitalist system.

Scientific socialism refers to a social system in which all means of production-land, minerals, factories, banks, trade-are collectively owned by the society, and the produce is distributed according to the qualitative worth of the work performed by physical and intellectual cadres.

Communism is the next stage of scientific socialism, under which means of production and the produce is so advanced that the measure of distribution is not worth, but need of the people.

Foes of socialism have tried to malign it by asserting that it does not allow any personal possessions. That is far from the truth. Socialism does not permit exploitation of labor for accumulation of wealth by individuals or groups, for example control over land, minerals, manufactories and finance. Private property is sacrosanct under the feudal and capitalist systems (and supported by all religions), where as the foundations of socialism lie in abolition of such private ownership and transferring it to social ownership.

Private ownership has created so many social evils that public ownership is being promoted even in capitalist societies (nationalization of essential services and welfare). Means of production were nationalized (in the post-WW II Europe) and Asian countries.

The other private ownership pertains to items of personal use, like clothes, utensils, home, books, bicycle, radio, etc. Under a capitalist system, people do not have adequate quantities of items of personal use (even in rich societies). A socialist society, on the other hand aims to provide people with sufficient quantity of items of personal use. There is no equivalence in people’s productive or inventive capacity, so the income of each and every one under a socialist system will not be the same.

Socialism does not repress individuality, in fact it encourages it. Only exploitation of labor for personal aggrandizement is proscribed.

Chapter 1: Early Communism

Europeans ‘discovered’ America, and traveled to India in the early 15th CE. They gained great material wealth, and gained important knowledge and information. The general public was entranced by the stories of travelers, and though they contained more half truths and outright lies than facts, the general public listened to them and developed great interest in exploration of the world unknown to them and the greed to acquire wealth.

This mind set induced Sir Thomas Moore to write his classic work “Utopia”, which relates experiences of a fictitious sailor, who happened to land in a far off island, where people lived in a communist society. The same instinct led the English novelist Daniel Defoe to pen “Robinson Crusoe”, and Swift to write “Gulliver’s Travels”.

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The Colonial Paths of Transition to Capitalism & Reactionary Anti-Imperialism

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Marxism, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2009 by Umer

by Taimur Rahman

In order to understand the dynamics between authoritarianism and bourgeois-democracy, let us briefly look at the economic imperative for the development of bourgeois-democracy in capitalism.

Capitalist society is based on the general recognition of private property. Capitalism begins where the money capital of the bourgeois meets with the labour-power of the wage worker. This exchange is premised on the dual recognition of the private property of both parties – capital of the bourgeois and labour-power of the working-person. Thus, in capitalist society the working-person is also recognized as a property owner – the property of the working-person is labour-power. This mutual recognition of property does not distinguish the social conditions that allow one class the social power to buy labour-power and the other the conditions that compel them to sell labour-power. In relation to the market the buyer and seller of labour-power are both commodity owners and the social conditions that make one the buyer and the other the seller of labour-power do not impact the mutual recognition of the two parties as owners of property. In sum, under capitalism there is an economic imperative to recognize the labourer as a property owner.

However, does capitalist society automatically accept the working-person as a free and equal citizen on the basis of the recognition of the working-person as the owner of the commodity labour-power? On the contrary, for capitalist society to translate the economic recognition of the free labourer into the political recognition of a free citizen requires a historical process of class struggle.

For instance, take the development of civil society in Europe. Marx demonstrated that the central tenants of civil society—equality, liberty, security, and freedom of belief, association, and expression as enunciated by the Declaration of the Rights of Man 1791, 1793, and the American Constitution of 1795—were theoretically derived from the central right of private property: Security consists in the protection afforded by society to each of its members for the conservation of his person and property; liberty consists in the right of utilizing one’s property in anyway within the law; equality before the law excludes class equality and so on (Marx, 1843). However the general recognition of these rights was only won as a result of social struggle – the French revolution, the American war of independence. Similarly, the right of freedom of association with respect to the working class (that is the formation of trade unions) can be theoretically derived from the recognition of labour-power as a commodity – since all owners of property have the right to protect and command the best possible price for their respective commodities, the owners of labour-power also have the right to form associations to command the best possible conditions of sale for labour-power. However, the social recognition of the right to form trade unions required a long and protracted social struggle by workers.

The fact is that while the principles of bourgeois-democracy can be theoretically derived from capitalist property relations, the political hegemony of these principles can only come about through social struggle. The necessity of social struggle implies that the theoretical principles are not necessarily ascendant in all forms of capitalism. Thus, the rights afforded by society in any given historical situation are contingent, not merely on the economic relations of production, but also on social struggles and the path of historical development. In other words, the form and development of the class struggle mediates the development of democratic rights.

Societies that travel the road of the colonial path have to contend not with one but with two powerful social forces against democratic development. Firstly, societies of the colonial path must contend with the surviving remnants of pre-capitalist forms of unfree labour. In third world countries millions of workers continue to be enslaved through various pre-capitalist forms of unfree labour. They are still engaged in the struggle to gain bourgeois freedom; that is, the recognition of their labour-power as their individual private property. Naturally, the exploiting classes associated with these pre-capitalist relations are powerful fetters on democratic development. This feature is, however, common to the Junkers and colonial path. Secondly, and more importantly, countries that travel the road of the colonial path must not only challenge these surviving pre-capitalist forms of bondage but must also contend with the undemocratic institutions, relations, and cultural practices of the colonial state. The colonial state, as explained previously, was set up for the extraction of surplus from the colony and in its neo-colonial form continues to act as an obstacle to democracy. Thus, the forces of democracy in colonial countries today must contend not only with pre-capitalist social forces but also with imperialism.

We see then that the configuration of class forces in colonial societies is different either from countries that of the republican or Junkers path. In the first path the bourgeoisie overthrew the feudal lords through a popular revolution (France, USA, Britain) and in the second, the feudal lords slowly transformed into capitalists (Prussia, Austo-Hungary). However, in the countries that travelled the colonial path the capitalist transformation of the state occurred under the colonial regime: That is, the colonial bourgeoisie defeated, militarily or economically, pre-capitalist social forces and captured state power. Although the colonial state is planted on pre-capitalist forms of unfree labour, it is nonetheless a capitalist state because it principally represents the social forces of the dominant foreign colonial bourgeoisie. However, the colonial state, built on the economic foundation of colonial monopoly, cannot be democratic. Thus, the democratic transition of the colonial societies is premised on decolonization and the democratic transformation of the post-colonial state. In conclusion, the democratic transition of colonial countries, ironically, occurs in struggle by indigenous bourgeois-democratic forces against an advanced foreign imperial bourgeoisie. The fact that the democratic revolution in colonial countries requires a struggle against another bourgeois class is unique to the colonial path.

The spread of markets, free labour-power, secular government, foreign capital, commoditisation, consumerism, business culture and so on – in a word, the spread of the economic, political, and cultural values of bourgeois democracy – slowly undercuts and uproots pre-capitalist society. Thus, the way of life of pre-capitalist forces in colonial countries is ground down by the onslaught of colonial capitalism. These pre-capitalist forces, in order to maintain their pre-capitalist way of life, may also rise up, from time to time, against the foreign colonial rule. Significant sections of the working population disaffected by the destructive process of colonial capitalism may join their ranks. This rebellion by pre-capitalist classes against imperialism gives rise to the phenomenon of “reactionary anti-imperialism”. It is anti-imperialist in the sense that it seeks to liberate those societies from foreign conquest or to reverse the influence of foreigners in those societies. On the other hand, it is reactionary because it struggles against the foreigners in order to restore the way of life that existed before colonialism.

Thus, as opposed to the rather simple republican or Junkers path, the colonial path is complicated by the relationship between imperialism, reactionary forces, bourgeois forces, and working classes. The combined and uneven economic development of capitalism, the economic, political, military, strategic imperatives of empires, the degree of objective and subject development of modern and reactionary classes, all these and other factors contribute to sharpening or blurring the contradictions between these forces at different historical moments and societies. History shows that a variety of class alliances leading to very different outcomes are possible within countries that experience transformation through the colonial path. These are not the only possible outcomes but they are some of the outcomes that have been observed in the twentieth century.

Nationalist outcome:

Bourgeois-democratic anti-imperialism under the hegemony of the bourgeoisie

The nationalist outcome is the product of the anti-colonial struggle in countries with a well-developed bourgeoisie progressively radicalized by colonial discrimination together with an organized working class movement. In such cases, the bourgeoisie is able to win and maintain its hegemony over the anti-colonial movement. The main enemy of the nationalist bourgeoisie is colonialism. These nationalist movements do not seek an antagonistic confrontation with reactionary classes but work to win or neutralize them. The classic examples of this case are the anti-colonial struggle of the Congress against British rule, or the African National Congress against Apartheid. To some extent the Pan-Arab movement under Gamal Abdul Nassir can also be put into this category.

National Liberation outcome:


Bourgeois-democratic anti-imperialism under the hegemony of the workers and peasants

The national liberation outcome occurs when the bourgeoisie is unable to maintain the hegemony of the mass anti-colonial movement. It may begin the anti-imperialist struggle (for instance the Nationalists in China) but owing to various historical reasons is unable to maintain this hegemony. Communist parties win the hegemony of the anti-colonial movement and organize workers and peasants against imperialism and their domestic reactionary allies transforming the nationalist movement into a national-liberation struggle. National-liberation struggles are generally opposed not only to the colonial authority but also equally to their reactionary allies. Conversely, they do not seek an antagonistic confrontation with the indigenous bourgeoisie but work to win or neutralize them. The classic case of such national liberation struggles China and Vietnam during the periods of Mao and Ho Chi Minh respectively.

Reactionary Anti-Imperialist outcome:


Anti-imperialism under the hegemony of reactionary classes

The reactionary anti-imperialist outcome occurs when reactionary classes organize and lead the struggle against colonialism or imperialism. The bourgeoisie is either economically and politically weak or reconciled to imperialism. Similarly, working classes, especially those associated with modern capitalism, may be weak, disorganized, or simply unable to exercise significant hegemony or power over the anti-imperialist movement. Reactionary anti-imperialism often relies on the ideology of religious fundamentalism and they are also strongly opposed to independent working class or bourgeois-democratic forces. To such reactionary forces, bourgeois-democratic or socialist working class forces represent another aspect of “Westernisation”. The classic case of such reactionary anti-imperialism is Iran under Khomeni. One may also consider the Mahdi of Sudan, the Khilafat movement in British India , Hamas, and the Taliban in Afghanistan today in the same category.

While the first three are outcomes of anti-imperialist struggle, the following two outcomes are a product of a victorious imperialist strategy.

Reactionary Monarchist outcome:
Based on the class alliance of reaction with imperialism

The reactionary monarchist outcome occurs in instances where historical factors bring about a strong class alliance of reactionary classes and imperialism. Such an outcome is seen to occur in countries where the strategic objectives of imperialism are not to develop any trade or production but to monopolize certain key routes, resources, or territories. Imperialism will help to consolidate and strengthen pre-capitalist reactionary forces and the development of capitalism, in such instances, remains extremely weak. Whatever bourgeoisie develops is generally extremely weak and mostly reconciled to both imperialism and reaction. Other working classes associated with modern capitalism are also under-developed and unable to spark or lead a sustained anti-imperialist movement. Such states are often ‘rentier states’ with the ideology of religious traditionalism that, although aligned with imperialism, are strongly opposed to any independent working class or bourgeois-democratic forces. To such reactionary forces, bourgeois-democratic or socialist working class forces also represent another aspect of “Westernisation”. The classic cases of such reactionary monarchies are Saudi Arabia, Jordon, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and so on.

Bourgeois Reactionary outcome:
Based on the class alliance of the bourgeoisie, reaction, and imperialism

In certain instances the contradictions between reactionary classes, the bourgeoisie and imperialism do not develop into sustained antagonistic conflicts. This outcome is also possible in circumstances where imperialism is able to manage by force and accommodation, these contradictions and they remain within a certain limited framework.

This outcome may occur in a variety of countries ranging from moderate to relatively developed third world economies. The class alliance of imperialism, the bourgeois and reaction is able to overwhelm, in such a period, the forces of change (for instance workers and peasants). The classic cases of such reactionary states are South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Pakistan and so on. One could also argue that nationalist movements, national liberation movements, or reactionary anti-imperialist movements may capitulate to imperialism to leading to a bourgeois reactionary outcome.

We can see that there are sustained periods of both reconciliation and resistance between reactionary and bourgeois democratic forces in relation to imperialism. There are also periods where bourgeois-democratic and reactionary anti-imperialist trends may merge with each other, to some degree, thereby blurring the lines of distinction between the two. These five outcomes are by no means exhaustive. For instance, this admittedly simplistic model does not take into account a situation were bourgeois, reactionary, or working class forces are split along national or ethnic lines; it does not take into account independent action by other classes such as the petty-bourgeoisie, the nomads, or tribes; it does not take into account the results of inter-imperialist rivalry or rivalry between third world states; and so on. Nonetheless, despite the simplistic nature of the model that cannot do justice to the real history, it helps one appreciate that unlike European capitalist development, the colonial path is characterized by greater complexity and a variety of outcomes determined by the modalities of class formation and class struggle.

In sum, India and the region that constitutes Pakistan became capitalist through a ‘colonial path’ with the result that the social-economic formation retains significant features of pre-capitalist relations together with a colonial capitalism.

What we are witnessing in the phenomenon of fundamentalism is a form of reactionary anti-imperialism. We must reject this path of development in favour of the path to national liberation.

The author of the note is a member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP) and pursuing his doctral degree at SOAS.

Marx’s letter to Abraham Lincoln

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Marxism with tags , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by Umer

undersigned by Karl Marx

The relevance of the posted letter by International Working Men’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, needs no mention at this very significant moment in the history of USA.

Sir:

We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.

From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?

When an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, “slavery” on the banner of Armed Revolt, when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; when on those very spots counterrevolution, with systematic thoroughness, gloried in rescinding “the ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old constitution”, and maintained slavery to be “a beneficent institution”, indeed, the old solution of the great problem of “the relation of capital to labor”, and cynically proclaimed property in man “the cornerstone of the new edifice” — then the working classes of Europe understood at once, even before the fanatic partisanship of the upper classes for the Confederate gentry had given its dismal warning, that the slaveholders’ rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a general holy crusade of property against labor, and that for the men of labor, with their hopes for the future, even their past conquests were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic. Everywhere they bore therefore patiently the hardships imposed upon them by the cotton crisis, opposed enthusiastically the proslavery intervention of their betters — and, from most parts of Europe, contributed their quota of blood to the good cause.

While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world. [B]

Signed on behalf of the International Workingmen’s Association, the Central Council:

Longmaid, Worley, Whitlock, Fox, Blackmore, Hartwell, Pidgeon, Lucraft, Weston, Dell, Nieass, Shaw, Lake, Buckley, Osbourne, Howell, Carter, Wheeler, Stainsby, Morgan, Grossmith, Dick, Denoual, Jourdain, Morrissot, Leroux, Bordage, Bocquet, Talandier, Dupont, L.Wolff, Aldovrandi, Lama, Solustri, Nusperli, Eccarius, Wolff, Lessner, Pfander, Lochner, Kaub, Bolleter, Rybczinski, Hansen, Schantzenbach, Smales, Cornelius, Petersen, Otto, Bagnagatti, Setacci;

George Odger, President of the Council; P.V. Lubez, Corresponding Secretary for France; Karl Marx, Corresponding Secretary for Germany; G.P. Fontana, Corresponding Secretary for Italy; J.E. Holtorp, Corresponding Secretary for Poland; H.F. Jung, Corresponding Secretary for Switzerland; William R. Cremer, Honorary General Secretary.

18 Greek Street, Soho.