THE MER­ITS OF MARX­ISM

A stu­dent’s per­spec­tive on the “im­mor­tal sci­ence”

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Kian Kenyon-dean Com­men­tary writer

Even the most dis­tant observer can see that the world is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­sta­ble , and in­sta­bil­ity usu­ally comes hand in hand with so­cial, eco­nomic, and po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. Our gen­er­a­tion

has been par­tic­u­larly im­pact - ed by this un­pre­dictabil­ity. In the US, fed­eral re­serve data states that we make 20 per­cent less money than the bab y boomers did when they were our age. This is cou­pled with dev­as­tat­ing stu­dent loan debt: in Canada, stu­dent loan debt av­er­age sat $15,000 a per­son while in the US it can go up to over $37,000 a per­son. We all need jobs to pay back th­ese debts, yet it is be­com­ing more and more dif­fi­cult to find em­ploy­ment; the youth un­em­ploy­ment rate is at 11.1 per cent in Canada (com­pared to the over­all un­em­ploy­ment rate of 6.3 per­cent ). Th­ese ob­sta­cles have emerged in a pe­riod of rel­a­tive growth af­ter the 2008- 2009 fi­nan­cial cri­sis: economists claim that the econo - my has been in a pe­riod of ex­pan­sion ( a “boom” phase) since about 2011. Yet in Au­gust, three of the largest fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in the world ( HSBC, Cit­i­group, and Mor­gan Stan­ley) claimed there is ev­i­dence that sug­gests the end of this growth cy­cle; an­other re­ces­sion could be on the hori­zon. Times may be bad now , in a pe­riod of sup­posed growth, but once the next re­ces­sion hits, cir­cum­stances could get con­sider - ably worse.

A stream of re­cent events sug­gests a link be­tween eco­nomic cri­sis and so­cial up­heavals; fol­low­ing the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, we ob­served the 2011 Arab Spring, the Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment, the 2012 stu­dent strikes herein Quebec, and nu­mer­ous other re­ac­tionary mass move­ments. Ex­actly 150 years ago, Karl Marx, in his mag­num opus D as Kap­i­tal, de­vel­oped a sys­tem­atic anal­y­sis of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and con­cluded that cap­i­tal­ism in­evitably tends toward eco­nomic cri­sis. Fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments of his time, such as the 1848 rev­o­lu­tions in Europe and the for­ma­tion of the Paris Com­mune in 1871, he also un­der - stood that eco­nomic cri­sis tends to be cou­pled with so­cial and po­lit­i­cal dis­rup­tion.

To­day, in a pe­riod of rel­a­tive eco­nomic pros­per­ity we ob­serve some of the worst so­cial crises in his­tory. The United Na­tions Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights ( UNHCR) states that, as of June 2017,65.6 mil­lion peo­ple have been forcibly dis­placed from their homes as a re­sult of con­flict or per­se­cu­tion in their coun­tries; this is the largest num­ber of dis­placed peo­ple in his­tory, sur­pass­ing even World War 2. This refugee cri­sis will be fur­ther ag­gra­vated by climate change; even if we man­age to main­tain tem­per­a­tures be­low the tar get set at the 2015 Paris Climate Con­fer­ence, which ad­vises for a max­i­mum in­crease of two de­grees Fahren­heit, ex­perts an­tic­i­pate that there will be tens of mil­lions of new refugees. How­ever, this tar get is op­ti­mistic and ex­tremely un­likely: four or five de­grees of warm­ing by 2100 is what wear eon track for based on cur­rent emis­sion rates. This will cause un­prece­dented dis­as­ter; New York Mag­a­zine writer David Wal­lace-wells ex­plains that a five-de­gree in­crease in global tem­per­a­ture will be ac­com­pa­nied with a roughly 50 per­cent de­crease in global food pro­duc­tion, and, ac­cord­ing to a NASA study, the worst drought sin over a thou­sand years.

As the econ­omy comes closer to the end of this growth-cy­cle, the refugee cri­sis wors­ens, and climate change de­vel­ops into an un­prece­dented threat, a bil­lion­aire re­al­ity TV show stars its in the o val of­fice . Of all the things on the agenda for the fu­ture, sta­bil­ity is not one of them. We have to ask our­selves , will a few bold re­forms be enough to com­bat th­ese crises? Ar e well- in­tended politi­cians and cor­po­rate char­ity ini­tia­tives the an­swers to th­ese hor­rors? Re­gard­less, we can be cer­tain that, if dras­tic change is not im­ple­mented, the rich will still have food on their ta­bles and the world’s poor will pay the ul­ti­mate price for a cri­sis that they did not cre­ate.

The ques­tion of end­ing the in­equal­i­ties of the in­ter­na­tional cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem is not a new one. Marx­ism ad­vo­cates for a so­cial­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion of so­ci­ety-that is, a planned eco­nomic sys­tem in which the higher lev­els of econo - my are demo­crat­i­cally owned and con­trolled by the work­ing class as a whole in­stead of by pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als. Marx­ists be­lieve that the only way to con­sol­i­date so­cial­ism is through revo­lu­tion, and thus the forced ex­pro­pri­a­tion of the econ­omy into anon-hi­er­ar­chi­cal sys­tem. This does not seem to be that far fetched. Can we re­ally ex­pect Exxon-Mo­bil to will­ing ly par­tic­i­pate in the strug­gle against climate change when its en­tire ba­sis of profit is its oil sales? Can we an­tic­i­pate that mil­i­tary com­pa­nies such as Lock­heed-Martin will sup­port peace keep­ing ef­forts when their busi­ness is based on sell­ing weapons to bel­liger­ent na­tions? Not to men­tion, we cer­tainly can­not ex­pect pri­vate health in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to sup­port the strug­gle for free univer­sal health­care. In fact, a sin­gle- pay er health­care bill in Cal­i­for­nia was re­cently shelved by the Demo­cratic Party lead­er­ship de­spite the sup­port it re­ceived by a ma­jor­ity of Cal­i­for­ni­ans.

The ne­ces­sity of pre­par­ing for this cru­cial tran­si­tion has been thought out by past revo­lu­tion aries. Marx had rec­og­nized that a revo­lu­tion is am ass move­ment, and that, if the move­ment is to win, it must be guided by a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion with a rea­son­able un­der­stand­ing of how it can progress; this par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion is called the r evo­lu­tion­ary party. His first at­tempt at con­struct­ing such an or­ga­ni­za­tion was in 1848, when he and En­gels drafted the “Man­i­festo of the Com­mu­nist P arty,” bet - ter known as the“Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo.”

Less than a cen­tury later , Vladimir Lenin ’s con­cep­tion of how to or­ga­nize this rev­o­lu­tion­ary party would be­come one of his most valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to Marx­ist the­ory and prac­tice. He fo­cused on the need for Marx­ists to fight against all forms of op­pres­sion and unite all lay­ers of the op­pressed, not just work­ers. In his 1902 pam­phlet, What is to be Done ?, Lenin states :“Work­ing class con­scious­ness can­not be gen­uinely po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness un­less the work­ers are trained to re­spond to all cases of tyranny, op­pres­sion, vi­o­lence and abuse , no mat­ter what class is af­fected.”

This is the task that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary party must pur - sue fer­vently ; it is not enough to just fight for “higher w ages.” All forms of re­sis­tance against sys­tem­atic sub­ju­ga­tion, whether it oc­curs through the fight for ba­sic rights for the queer com­mu­nity or racial­ized peo­ple’ s strug­gle against po­lice bru­tal­ity must be res­o­lutely sup­ported. Through­out each of th­ese move­ments, Marx­ists em­pha­size that only with unity and sol­i­dar - it ya cross all op­pressed lay­ers of so­ci­ety will we achieve vic­tory against that class which prof­its off of in­jus­tice: the cap­i­tal­ists, the rul­ing class, what Marx calls the bour­geoisie.

Lenin even­tu­ally at­tempted to put Marx­ist the­ory into prac­tice. He ex­tended Marx’s anal­y­sis to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion: a gen­er­al­ized cri­sis cre­ate san am­ple op­por­tu­nity for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion. Once com­bined with de­ter­mined lead­er­ship , an in­ter - na­tional r evo­lu­tion against the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem can then be waged to end this ex­ploita­tive sys­tem once and for all. Ex­actly 100 y ears ago , this op­por­tu­nity arose as a di­rect con­se­quence of World War 1; it was seized by Lenin and the Bol­she­vik Party in the 1917 Oc­to­ber R evo­lu­tion. This led to the es­tab­lish­ment of the Soviet Union, which con se­quently changed the en­tire course of world his­tory. Un­for­tu­nately, the op­por­tu­nity w as not ef­fec - tively seized by the Marx­ists in Ger­many at the same time. There were mul­ti­ple failed r evo­lu­tions ( in 1918 and 1923), and the peo - ple of Ger­many and Eur ope paid dearly for th­ese fail­ures with the en­su­ing rise of Hitler and fas­cism. Our world is com­ing to a sim­i­lar junc­tion, where a sim­i­lar op­por - t unity for end­ing op­pres­sion has arose, and those of us who seek to change the world ar e not at all suf­fi­ciently pre­pared.

Un­for­tu­nately, the legacy of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union and the bu­reau­cratic de gen­er­a­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary democ­racy that had char­ac­ter­ized the Rus­sian Revo­lu­tion has nat­u­rally af­fected peo­ple’ s con­cep­tion of Marx­ism. It is cru­cial to em­pha­size that Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union ( and the rule of his suc - ces­sors) had noth­ing in com­mon with the con­cep­tion of so­cial­ism held by Marx and Lenin. The fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence is that Lenin never en­vi­sioned Sta lin’ s ideal of “So­cial­ism in one Coun­try” as pos­si­ble. Marx and Lenin un­der­stood that the only way for So­cial­ism to suc­ceed would be with in­ter­na­tional so­cial­ist revo­lu­tion through­out the ad­vanced cap­i­tal­ist world. Not only did the in­ter­na­tional r evo­lu­tion fail ( more specif­i­cally those that had started in Ger­many, Hun­gary, and Fin­land ), but the Rus­sian econ­omy was only loose ly based on a cap­i­tal­ist struc­ture when the so­cial­ist revo­lu­tion oc­curred. In fact, Rus­sia was a largely feu­dal coun­try with over 85 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion be­ing peas­ants . It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that so­cial­ism failed in Rus­sia-so­cial­ism is all about “seiz­ing the means of pro­duc­tion ,” yet there were barely any means of pro­duc­tion to seize in the first place!

I be­lieve that the only way to end op­pres­sion is to end the sys­tem of cap­i­tal­ism that per - petu ate sit. At the same time, we can­not ne­glect any move­ments against spe­cific forms of in­jus­tice. Sim­ply, the task of Marx­ists is to gen­er­al­ize the fight by widen­ing the scope of the move­ment into that which ad­dresses all forms of in­jus­tice.

Of all the things on the agenda for the fu­ture, sta­bil­ity is not one of them. Can we re­ally ex­pect Exxon-Mo­bil to will­ingly par­tic­i­pate in the strug­gle against climate change when its en­tire ba­sis of profit is its oil sales?

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