Visions of Change #16: Karl Marx.
Like the erudite scholar/activist that he was, Karl Marx knew better than to paint a detailed picture of the future communist world that he believed would inevitably come into existence after The Revolution. Most of the other entries in the “Visions of Change” series of Zingcreed articles are similarly circumspect. After all, it’s not our future, it’s the next generation’s (or the one after that.) We have to trust future generations, not be prescriptive about how they should run their world, assuming there’s a world left for them to inhabit. They may well want to curse us rather than learn from us.
I don’t think anyone in the nineteenth century could have anticipated the information age, and neither can we foresee the technological surprises and paradigm shifts that lie in store for our descendants.
Many of Marx’s predictions about the development of capitalism have proved true however, and even though the Communist project went sadly astray in the twentieth century, assuming forms that Marx and Engels would have surely rejected, the shelf of Marxist ideas in the supermarket of ideas is still worth investigating.
With few exceptions, no-one has read all Marx’s writings. Even Lenin only dipped a toe in the water before launching the world’s first communist revolution in 1917. As much of the writings weren’t even translated into russian or english then, he had no choice.
I would like to quote Jonathan Wolff, professor of philosphy at UCL, my source for much of this polemic.
“…there is an important sense in which all of Marx’s thought is still alive. Each one of Marx’s major ideas is still very much worth studying. One reason for this is the history of the twentieth century. Marx’s influence, in both theory and practice, is beyond measure. There are so many aspects of the current world, and current world of ideas, that we would simply be unable to grasp without an appreciation of at least the bold outlines of Marx’s thought.”
I think one could also say that about Jesus…..
So here are a few outlines of the great man’s communist utopia:
– the working class would overthrow the capitalist system which controlled and alienated them, in the same way that capitalism itself had overthrown feudalism;
– there would be no more division of people into different nations; strife and conflict would disappear and the world would be one;
– each person would contribute to society according to their ability and receive according to their needs; each person has their needs satisfied and wants for nothing;
– most of production is mechanized, and the work remaining for individuals to do is highly fulfilling;
– accordingly the division between work and leisure is erased, and people enjoy their creativity in ever new ways;
– people like priests and landlords who perform no needful function in society could be found useful work;
– religion would gradually disappear as people no longer needed the consolation it provided.
(I) Wolff, J. ”Why read Marx today?” OUP (2002)
(ii) Marx, K. “The 1859 Preface to Contribution to a critique of political economy” (available online at marxists.org)
(iii) Marx, K. “Das Kapital” 175 footnote.
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