No newspaper or television item is guaranteed to annoy a socialist more than those in which some capitalist country is described as “Marxist” or “socialist”, both words that are frequently prefixed to the name of various state capitalist countries in Africa or South America which happen to be aligned with Russia.
Apart from the BBC, which has always refused to offer a reasoned reply to our request for an explanation of their deliberate policy decision to describe such countries as Mozambique and Ethiopia as Marxist, among the other main offenders are the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. However, if recent reports from the correspondents of these two papers are to be believed, there will shortly need to be a fundamental editorial review on how their reporters are to describe these countries in the future.
In an article which appeared in the Guardian on 31 July, their correspondent in Mozambique reported that the single party there (Fremlimo) had just “abandoned Marxism”. Showing a painful lack of any knowledge about Marx’s writings on politics and economics and under the heading ‘Mozambique is No Longer Marxist’, she claimed that Marx was being thrown overboard because private groups were now able to run their own schools but, more importantly to her mind, because there was to be a relaxation of state control over the means and methods of production. As this is what the media believe is meant by “Marxism”, it is hardly surprising that there has been such an embarrassing silence from the BBC.
Marx was quite clear in his writings that not only has the establishment of socialism to result from the political action of the working class itself (“the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority”, as the Communist Manifesto puts it), but that this involves the abolition of commodity production and wage-exploitation (the workers, says Value, Price and Profit, “ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword ‘Abolition of the Wages System’”) and their replacement by a democratically-organised society where the principle ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’ would apply (Critique of the Gotha programme).
It is clear that, on Marx’s definition, Mozambique is not socialist. It is in fact a developing capitalist country which is trying to find its feet in an ever more competitive world market. That its ruling class felt that it would accumulate capital quicker if it adopted state capitalism and its attendant Leninist (not Marxist) ideology and is now prepared to accept harsh measures imposed upon it by the IMF, including the liberalising of its economy, does not mean that it is no longer Marxist. It never had anything to do with Marx to begin with. Workers there, as elsewhere, still need to engage in the general democratic struggle for society as a whole to own and control the means to life.
In the same week that the Guardian informed its readers that Mozambique was “no longer” Marxist, the Daily Telegraph (3 August) ran a report on its foreign news page with the headline ’Ethiopia Loosens Marxist Chains To Woo Investors’. Like Mozambique’s ruling class the dictators in Ethiopia require foreign investors from outside the Russian sphere of influence. If that means changing one set of ideological clothes for another, and if it means introducing a modicum of private capitalism and a loosening-up of the state-controlled economy, then this is something they have accepted they will have to do. But, as with Mozambique, it has nothing to do with abandoning Marx or socialism.
One central feature of socialism, clearly stated by Marx, is that it would be a classless society in which the means to life would be the common ownership of all society (“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have”, says the Communist Manifesto again, “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”).
So, if Ethiopia was socialist by Marx’s definition, it would have abolished classes, but the Daily Telegraph writer actually draws her readers’ attention to the class divisions that exist there. In one place she writes that “Ethiopian teenage girls in puffball silk skirts and the latest European finery attend parties at the Hilton Hotel” and in another that “more than a million people live in squalid homes with mud walls and tin roofs”. If there was common ownership and direct access to production then nobody in Ethiopia or anywhere else in the world would need to be living in squalor and poverty.
Reporters who describe backward state-capitalist countries like Ethiopia and Mozambique as “Marxist” are either ignorant or are telling lies to try to discredit Marx.