Letter: Is Marx’s Analysis of Capitalism Relevant Today?
The article ‘Analysing an economic system’ (Socialist Standard, September) closes with the words: [today] Marx’s Capital remains valid and relevant. Well sure as his analysis is valid—correct, and Wall Street spivs confirm this, but as a political weapon for workers…well, increasing less so. The irony is that perhaps Marx’s Capital is more relevant to ‘city types’ than to workers. Marx’s illuminations to workers (and ‘city types’) on capitalism: its exploitation, surplus value, its transitory existence, its contradictions—and your point on behalf of Marx, that it’s iron-clad rules (economic laws) a have not changed over time…etc., etc., are interesting to academics and economists, but for workers today—h’mmm?
Has Marx’s analysis in Capital, as a value to workers for change, been surpassed by the actual practical workers experience of capitalism today in that today there is increasingly developing an impossibilist situation reality for most workers in the West that cannot be turned around or alleviated by social reformers or by capitalists themselves wishing to preserve their society in a Keynes moment? This to be quickly followed by others in China and India and emerging Africa and is this a development which Marx himself would have relished? Practical experience over theory and idea.
So who cares how it works, knowing that it doesn’t work and it cannot be made to work by ‘romantic fixers’ is knowing enough, the experienced reality that it does not work is by far the better educator for workers. Therefore, should SPGB and World Socialist Movement workers and Trade Unionists etc., etc., speak less of Marx and more point out the fact that it cannot be made to work and what it might be replaced with? To highlight how we might do things differently post capitalism is not to become the little cook in his/her cookshop churning out blueprints for some far-off future—the future is here and now. It’s time to start cooking! Let us all set out our vision of Socialist Society—free society and let us set in motion an on-line discussion and the World Socialist Movement set up another website for this very purpose; you don’t have to insist on party membership to participate—being a member of the working class ought to be sufficient.
In the West jobs are disappearing to Far East workers and technology and never to come back, wages are sinking never to come up, pensions are a pittance and State benefits practically non-existent—certainly diminishing rapidly, and bills for food, rent, clothing and childcare and leisure etc., etc., keep rising and more and more we work longer and longer hours and many in more than one job. The global capitalist economy has created too many workers needing to earn a living—and increasing that number by hundreds of thousands if not millions daily and capitalists cannot meet that need for employment and on wages adequate for everyday bills never mind descent living. Life is no fun for capitalists themselves, they cannot in general make an acceptable profit (acceptable to them) hence more and more tax dodging (legal, illegal and with permission), calls for set-up and maintenance grants, thus they can no longer afford to maintain their States, thus cuts (or austerity) in health, education and council spending and no way can any of these trends be halted never mind reversed. Two cases in point: UK trains and main energy supplier corporations for their size, customer base and capital input cannot make acceptable profits for dividend expectations and this with UK government subsidies for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades. Even the mighty Apple Corporation is fast losing ground to Samsung and Huawei and up-and-coming others.
With the present state of technological development maximised by capitalists this perilous state of Western workers will soon befall those in China and India, and thus well over have the globe’s workers will be effected and feel threatened and angry—out of a job and their only source of income.
Endless talk about Marx and his illuminations are not going to get the job done.
Of course Marx and his dialectical method is invaluable for moving forward and we should be applying this method to everyday problems facing the globe as examples. Brush-up here: www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/books/index.php
WILLIAM DUNN, Glasgow
So you like the dialectic but not the much simpler theory of surplus value!
Certainly the evidence of the experience has shown more than any book that capitalism can’t work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers and their dependants. And you are right that in the end, as long as people realise this, they don’t really need to know exactly why – though having some idea why would avoid the risk of being misled by radical-sounding reformists. As you say, understanding this is the basis of the case for socialism. The deduction from ‘capitalism can’t be reformed to work for the majority’ is that the majority needs to consider what different system of society would work in their interest. Which is where socialists come in. Experience does not automatically lead to understanding; reflection has to intervene whether this involves talking to others or reading.
Marx’s analysis – whether in his own words or in popularisations – is a key weapon in the socialist arsenal in the battle of ideas against capitalism. Agreed, we also need to present the alternative, which the second article in the same issue, ‘A World Without Commodities’, did. The discussion forum you call for already exists and can be found at: worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum.
Capitalism, at least in the West, is in a bad state compared to in some earlier periods, but whether we can conclude that ‘wages are shrinking never to come up again’ or that unemployment is to go on growing and growing is another matter. Of course, even if wages do go up again and unemployment goes down the case against capitalism remains valid. Capitalism will still be based on the exploitation of wage-labour for surplus value (as Marx explained in detail) and it will still be impossible to make it work in the interests of the majority – Editors.