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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 17, No. 04, 5 May 2018

In this Issue:

Tribute to Karl Marx on the occasion of his birthday bicentenary


Red Alert

Tribute to Karl Marx on the occasion of his birthday bicentenary

Speaker's notes by Cde Solly Mapaila, SACP First Deputy General Secretary

University of Johannesburg, Saturday, 5 May 2018

A brief reflection on the question of method is perhaps the befitting point of departure in honour of Karl Marx (5 May 1818 - 14 March 1883) during this occasion of our celebration of his birthday bicentenary. Marx not only produced an epoch marking critique of pre-existing methods of inquiry into society and approaches to social change, including changes in modes of production, their influence on human consciousness and, in turn, the influence of ideas as a material force for change, as well as political revolutions.

It is Marx who produced a fundamental critique of pre-existing materialism and developed the way forward - the materialist conception of history. The chief defect of the old materialism was that the object, actuality, sensuousness, were conceived only in the form of the object, or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. Marx put forward this finding as the first of his eleven Theses on Feuerbach - one of the chief representatives of the old materialism. As Frederick Engels, Marx's lifelong collaborator put it eloquently in Socialism: Scientific and Utopian, as developed by Marx,

"The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch."

It is Marx who also produced an epoch marking critique of pre-existing dialectics, of which Hegel was the chief representative. The problem with Hegel was that he developed dialectics from his idealist fashion. In contrast, Marx's approach to dialectics was anchored in the materialist conception of history. As Engels eloquently put it, the general nature of the dialectics thus developed, in contrast to metaphysics, as the science of interconnections. Equally importantly, Marx's materialist conception of history and dialectics are not mere tools of analysis. As Marx says in the last of his eleven Theses on Feuerbach, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it".

It was through the application of the materialist conception of history and dialectics that Marx produced a historic critique of political economy, exposed the secret of profit making, and not only how capital produces, but also how it is itself produced. It is Marx who, following the same approach, developed a revolutionary theory for the liberation of the oppressed, including the emancipation of the exploited. Marx's analysis of class society and capitalism remains profoundly relevant. In fact, if the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle (as Marx and Engels correctly state in the Manifesto of the Communist Party), it is no doubt also the history of two major epochs - namely the epoch before and the epoch after Marx's historical and dialectical materialist methods of inquiry into society and his development of revolutionary theory.

This is perhaps why we are now talking about Marxism and the 20th century revolutions. Marx produced his contribution on an inquiry into society and to class struggle in the 19th century. The 20th century, a period of 100 years from 1901 to 2000, occurred thereafter. The influence of his contribution lives on - in the 21st century. It will continue to live on - given its profound validity to the concrete conditions of society. The liberation struggles that occurred in the 20th century in the global south against colonialism were inspired by no small measure by the influence of Marx's work. Due to the limits of time allow us to highlight only a few.

Let us start elsewhere and then return to the global south according to the historical events of the 20th century revolutions. The Great October Socialist Revolution that occurred in 1917 in Russia in many ways remains the greatest 20th century revolution that was inspired by Marx's work. It became a source of inspiration and courage to the oppressed across the world to rise against the oppressors. Its direct state outcome, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics contributed immensely to other revolutions that occurred in the 20th century. Our own revolution, which produced our April 1994 democratic breakthrough six years before the end of the 20th century, benefitted enormously from the Great October Socialist Revolution.

For instance from 1960 when we adopted a turn to the armed struggle as a new pillar of our struggle until 1991, the Soviet Union was the closest ally of our struggle and national liberation movement. The West had declared terrorist our struggle for freedom altogether with our liberation formations and its leaders. It is the Soviet Union that supplied our joint SACP and ANC military wing, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), with arms, ammunition, military, transportation, logistics and other equipment and forms of material support. Our MK cadres received training from the Soviet Union and other revolutions that it provided with assistance. Support was also in the form of professional education and training for peaceful development.

Other revolutions, such as China, also provided support.

The Cuban Revolution directly intervened in Angola for instance. By defeating the enemy in Angola, the Cuban Revolution contributed not by small measure to the liberation not only of Angola but also of the remainder of the oppressed Southern African countries, including Namibia and South Africa. It was during the 20th century that the colonised countries of the global south achieved their breakthroughs to national self-determination.

In Africa, only one country, Western Sahara remains directly occupied by another country, Morocco, and with the support of imperialist states. In the same vein, Israel continues to occupy Palestine in the Middle East. Much of what was Palestine has in fact been effectively annexed by Israel. The Middle East as a region is in fact severely divided and has no peace. If it were not of Russia, the imperialist forces of the West would in fact have long succeeded to give effect to their regime change agenda in Syria. They have succeeded for example in Libya. In both countries there was a massive destruction. Both Libya and Syria were set back by many decades. In fact Libya was turned into a new slave hunting ground in addition to the anarchy it became because of imperialist forces.

Imperialism has pulled all the stops to undermine all 20th century revolutions. The more than a century blockade of Cuba by the United States is a typical example. In many countries the situation does not seem that obvious though.

Many of the 20th century revolutions have been virtually undermined and others have been pushed back in a variety of ways. The democratic spaces that were achieved were usurped by corporate capture and imperialist forces, acting in concert with bourgeois reformist elements and related elitist groupings against national democratic revolutionary and socialist movement. As a result of this and many other factors it is only a few of the 20th century revolutions that remain loyal to the ultimate goals of a socialist transition and a communist society. Cuba is an obvious example.

National self-determination has been undermined, if not usurped, by the forces of neoliberal globalisation. While direct colonialism seems over, by and large and in many respects, the reality is that imperialism and its neoliberal agenda has taken the space of colonialism. A few societies can in fact claim to be truly free. The economic power acquired from centuries of colonial oppression and imperialist domination and the military strength built from it are being used as the instruments of oppression.

The struggle is not over. The Soviet Union was discarded by a combination of external counterrevolution and internal contradictions. The support that it provided before its disintegration no longer exists. We are conducting the struggle under different conditions. In addition, we are facing new challenges. The greatest of them all is the challenge of unity and cohesion in the world dominated by capitalist production and its consequent politics.

It was in view of these and other realities that in July 2017 the 14th Congress of the SACP resolved to build two new fronts, a widest possible patriotic front and a popular left front. If there is one strategic objective the Party is preparing itself to intensify is to play a leading role in forging and consolidating the two fronts. Both the fronts are crucial in our struggle against imperialism, in our struggle to safeguard our national democratic sovereignty, expand and deepen democratisation.

While by its nature and character a widest possible patriotic front is centred on a minimum programme, a popular left front has a much broader programmatic scope of developing a left articulation of the programme to complete our liberation and build the indispensible basis for an advance to socialism. To this end there are many policy considerations that require democratic consensus seeking consultation both with regard to the left's immediate tasks and long-term aims. Those I shall leave to the appropriate engagements.

In memory of Karl Marx, let us do our best to unite the working class on local, industrial, national and international bases!!!!!


Karl Marx's work lives on: Two centuries since his birth, 135 years since the greatest thinker ceased to breath

Umsebenzi Online

Saturday 5 May 2018 marked 200 years since the birth of Karl Marx. His heart stopped beating 135 years ago in 1883. History granted him only 65 years of life. However, his outstanding revolutionary work in those years was the work of more than a century and continues to exhibit a positive influence across the world in varying degrees. Marx's work remains at the centre of revolutionary thought and action.

The research methods and methods of inquiry into society developed by Marx and the findings he made remain crucial to our understanding of the economic basis of all social structures and its consequent political and broader social relations, encompassing a wide range of other societal activities - culture, education, and so on, and, in particular, the capitalist mode of production and how we can change the world for the better. To the new generation of Communists, a message is worth underlining - there is no substitute to the study of the work of Marx and Frederick Engels, or the great Communists who followed them, such as Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, George Dmitrov, Antonio Gramsci, David Ivan Jones, Albert Nzula, Moses Kotane, Joe Slovo, Chris Hani and many others.

Revolutionary theory

Marx, with the collaboration of Engels, his friend and life-long comrade, worked out the fundamentals of a revolutionary world outlook we call Marxism. This integrated the philosophical, political economic and social content. One of the strengths of Marx work and of Marxism lies in the dynamism of the dialectical method and understanding of history from a class point of view as rooted in the materialist conception of history. It is the work of Marx and Engels that produced what was to be known as scientific socialism - the core of the SACP programme.

Marx's method of inquiry into reality was developed from a scientific critique of classical German philosophy (e.g. Hegel's dialectics and Feuerbach's materialism), classical English political economy (e.g. Smith, and Ricardo) and French utopian socialism (e.g. Proudhon, and Fourier). From the critique Marx produced the way forward, encompassing different dialectical and materialist approaches - i.e. the materialist conception of history and dialectics - and a different political economic worldview best represented by his Capital: A critique of political economy.

Marxism became a scientific theory of the liberation of the oppressed and universal emancipation. It equips the working class with the theoretical weapon it needs to stand up against the power of the capitalist class and build a new society - socialism, itself a transition to communism.

During his lifetime, Marxism became the organising and guiding force in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and capitalist rule. It became the leading theoretical force of the world Communist movement, proletarian internationalism and many national liberation movements.

Marx the revolutionary

As Engels said in his tribute to Marx at his graveside in 1883, Marx "discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production." Even Marx's critiques sometimes acknowledge that he had brilliant insights into the nature of capitalism. But, as Engels continued, "Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation."

Marx and Engels were not armchair thinkers. They were revolutionaries who fought for a world free of oppression and exploitation. They understood that in order to change the world, it is necessary to understand how it is made work and to learn from past struggles to appreciate the effective levers for its transformation. One of the distinguishing qualities of Marx's work and of course of Marxism is its combination of revolutionary theory with revolutionary action - a unity of revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. Marxist theory is rich because it is based on practice, which is, in turn, based on theoretical elaboration.

Marx theoretical analysis paid attention on the concrete experience of the human being, the working class and its movement, but as well as on its anti-thesis, the bourgeois movement. Indeed we find Marx devoting his time and energy to lively debates and analyses particular problems, both great and small, affecting the human being analysed from a class perspective rooted in the materialist conception of history and dialectics.

Different traditions and a Marxist-Leninist elaboration of Marxism

There are different traditions calling themselves Marxist. However, rather than a "tradition" (i.e. "No more tradition's chains shall bind us", so says The Internationale), the Bolshevik articulation became the leading and most influential elaboration of Marxism in the 20th century and beyond. Lenin became the most influential theoretician and leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. So did the first socialist state to emerge from the Bolshevik Revolution - Great October Socialist Revolution which occurred in Russia in 1917. A Marxist articulation that was to be known as Marxism-Leninism emerged from the contribution of Lenin and the Great October Socialist Revolution.

From its inception the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) - i.e. the South African Communist Party (SACP) identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist Party and laboured tirelessly to elaborate Marxism-Leninism based on the historical conditions obtaining in South Africa while at the same time deepening its allegiance to Proletarian Internationalism. The Party stands for working class unity both within and across national borders and is opposed to all forms of narrow nationalism. At present the Communist Party is developing a dedicated focus on intensifying its historical mission to achieve working class unity - including the unification of the trade union movement - and the building of the widest possible patriotic front and a popular left front.

The principle of the Communist Party as a Party of revolution dedicated to developing itself to become the vanguard of the working class for liberation and socialism as opposed to reformist parties and tendencies merits emphasis. In addition, where others dismissed the recognition of the immediacy to resolve the National Question and others chose to swell the ranks of the bourgeois reformist tendency that believes in the so-called liberation with the conservation of capitalism (including the narrow nationalist tendency that seeks to replace the bourgeoisie of the colonial, apartheid and imperialist regimes or join hands with them in the exploitation of the masses), the Communist Party distinguished itself from both and other tendencies by recognising the profound necessity of the immediate task to overcome racial domination and simultaneously intensify class struggle to bring an end not only to class exploitation but also gender domination.

The Communist Party seeks to address and once and for all resolve the three interrelated contradictions of class, race and gender and to secure and safeguard our democratic national - including policy making - sovereignty. This is why the Party was the first to expose corporate state capture. This term corporate state capture was brought to the centre of our national discourse by the SACP not only expressing its concern about but also mobilising against the widespread corruption that had become systemic. That the South African society (including elements and forces opposed to the SACP) accepted the terminology and the analysis it put forward, and many in their own ways and for that matter also independently joined the mobilisation against the rot, points to the role of the SACP in developing itself to act as a vanguard Party.

Soviet experience and Marxism

When we won political power through our April 1994 democratic breakthrough the international situation was such the broad Communist movement was facing serious crisis. As Slovo argued in his 'Has Socialism Failed?', while there were many important advances made by the working class - from free education and universal health coverage to general improvements in the quality of life - state bureaucraticism, stagnation of the economy and general popular discontent led to a rapid destruction of the Soviet bloc of countries in the 1989-1992 period. The failures that occurred in these countries had less to do with Marxism-Leninism but the erroneous ideas and practices that were adopted in the name of its application.

Following these events, our detractors tried to bury Marx's work, but Marx kept resurfacing. His work is alive because his indictment of capitalism - though first penned in the 1840s - remains valid and is confirmed on a daily basis as valid. When the Soviet Bloc of countries disintegrated, the bourgeois historian Francis Fukuyama came forward and argued that "liberal free-market capitalism constituted the "end point of mankind's ideological evolution", the "final form of human government", and the "end of history" and ushered in "an era of peace and prosperity". Marx's analysis, including his exposition of capitalist crisis and persisting capitalist driven conflicts and wars, proved that Fukuyama was utterly wrong. Interestingly, Marx produced his analysis in the 19th century, long before Fukuyama was born.

Marxism today

Much has changed since Marx's lifetime and since the events of 1989-1992.

But the essence of capitalism - the exploitation of the immense majority by a few profiteers and its consequent conflicts, war, misery, devastation, inequalities, unemployment and the poverty within and between borders remain. The multiple crises of capitalism have made matters worse. This is the situation South Africa and in particular the working class and indeed in many countries find themselves faced with.

The statistics for South Africa reveal a society that is certainly rich - a R3.6 trillion economy - but only for a minority:

" The average pay in 2016 for the CEOs of SA companies reported by the bourgeoisie themselves through their own media was R102 million. On average, CEOs in that year made 500 times than an average worker.
" The pay package for Shoprite Group CEO Whitey Basson was nearly R100 million in 2016. It will take a worker of checkers (part of the Shoprite group) more than 290 years to earn what her boss was paid in one month.

As the SACP noted in its Political Programme, The South African Road to Socialism adopted in 2012, "global capitalism is beginning to approach its absolute limits that are physical, biological, human and economic". The Party further noted that "global capitalist accumulation path is destroying our environment, exhausting non-renewable resources, wiping out the livelihoods of 3 billion remaining Third World peasant farmers, and restructuring the working class leaving billions more unemployed and under employed. Global capitalism is unable to correct this destructive path upon which it has launched the whole of humanity".

A socialist society is possible

The task today, set out so long ago by Marx and Engels, remains the same - i.e. to build a society in which all wealth is produced and held by its producers in common, and distributed according to human needs rather than profit. "In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms," wrote Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, "we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all". This will be a society in which scientific breakthroughs are used for the benefit of many and not a few and to build and rather destroy human society.

It is a socialist future we must struggle for and build in the here and now!

The best tribute the working class and all those formations that identify themselves as working class and left formations can bestow upon Karl Marx on this occasion of his birthday bicentenary is to unite behind the common purpose of overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society, the sustainable solution.


Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class