The ideas of Marx have never been more relevant than they are today and are reflected in the thirst for Marxist theory at the present time. In this three part article, Alan Woods will deal with the main ideas of Karl Marx and their relevance to the crisis we're passing through today.
[This article was written for the 4th Issue of the In Defence of Marxismmagazine which was a special edition to mark the 130th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx in 1883. ]
It is 130 years since the death of Karl Marx. But why should we commemorate a man who died in 1883? In the early 1960s the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson declared that we must not look for solutions in Highgate cemetery. And who can disagree with that? In the aforementioned cemetery one can only find old bones and dust and a rather ugly stone monument.
However, when we speak of the relevance of Karl Marx today we refer not to cemeteries but to ideas—ideas that have withstood the test of time and have now emerged triumphant, as even some of the enemies of Marxism have been reluctantly forced to accept. The economic collapse of 2008 showed who was outdated, and it was certainly not Karl Marx.
For decades the economists never tired of repeating that Marx’s predictions of an economic downturn were totally outdated. They were supposed to be ideas of the 19th century, and those who defended them were dismissed as hopeless dogmatists. But it now turns out that it is the ideas of the defenders of capitalism that must be consigned to the rubbish bin of history, while Marx has been completely vindicated.
Not so long ago, Gordon Brown confidently proclaimed “the end of boom and bust”. After the crash of 2008 he was forced to eat his words. The crisis of the euro shows that the bourgeoisie has no idea how to solve the problems of Greece, Spain and Italy which in turn threaten the future of the European common currency and even the EU itself. This can easily be the catalyst for a new collapse on a world scale, which will be even deeper than the crisis of 2008.
Even some bourgeois economists are being forced to accept what is becoming increasingly evident: that capitalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction; that it is an anarchic and chaotic system characterised by periodic crises that throw people out of work and cause social and political instability.
The thing about the present crisis was that it was not supposed to happen. Until recently most of the bourgeois economists believed that the market, if left to itself, was capable of solving all the problems, magically balancing out supply and demand (the “efficient market hypothesis”) so that there could never be a repetition of the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
Marx’s prediction of a crisis of overproduction had been consigned to the dustbin of history. Those who still adhered to Marx’s view that the capitalist system was riven with insoluble contradictions and contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction were looked upon as mere cranks. Had the fall of the Soviet Union not finally demonstrated the failure of communism? Had history not finally ended with the triumph of capitalism as the only possible socio-economic system?
But in the space of 20 years (not a long period in the annals of human society) the wheel of history has turned 180 degrees. Now the erstwhile critics of Marx and Marxism are singing a very different tune. All of a sudden, the economic theories of Karl Marx are being taken very seriously indeed. A growing number of economists are poring over the pages of Marx’s writings, hoping to find an explanation for what has gone wrong.