A decade ago in the heady days of 'capitalism's final triumph', when the New World Order was announced and the End of History proclaimed, the century old industry of writing learned tomes under which to bury the ideas of Marxism appeared to have become redundant.
New volumes began to line the library shelves to explain that capitalism was the height of human social evolution. In passing one notes the low level of ambition of these people who believe that a system that leaves two thirds of the world's population in dire poverty, that keeps a billion people unemployed or underemployed, is the best that we can achieve.
Yet before one could finish reading a single volume of these confused scribblings, the New World Order choked beneath the ashes of war in the Balkans; the south east Asian economies collapsed; leaving the New Paradigm hanging by the single thread of the innovations associated with new technology.
More recently bourgeois writers have begun to question just how long the economy can continue to grow, and whether maybe their triumphalism has turned out to be somewhat premature. The writings of George Soros and Paul Krugman, analysed in these pages previously, fall into this category.
Today one finds new works particularly in the field of economics not only questioning the new paradigm, they even question whether the system can continue at all. Still more astonishing is the number of articles, essays and books one now finds quoting, even praising, the ideas of Karl Marx.
These intellectual giants are astounded to discover that Marx accurately predicted the development of their beloved globalisation over 150 years ago.
John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist, for example, comment in their new book A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation: "As a prophet of socialism Marx may be kaput; but as a prophet of the 'universal interdependence of nations' as he called globalisation, he can still seem startlingly relevant... his description of globalisation remains as sharp today as it was 150 years ago."
Indeed on reading the Communist Manifesto today one is amazed at how contemporary Marx's words appear. Not just the growth and interdependence of the world market is predicted here,
"In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations." But also the domination of that market by a handful of monopolies and the centralisation and concentration of capital that this represents: "It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands."
The reduction of the workforce to the role of slaves to the machine, "in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time, or by increased speed of machinery,"
More importantly we find the reason for these developments, the contradiction between the expansion of the forces of production and the narrow limits imposed by the twin straitjackets of capitalism - the private ownership of the means of production and the borders of nation states, "The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them."
Running like a red thread through all this new found passing praise of Marx is the rider "of course socialism failed." However such an off the cuff, unsubstantiated assertion will not fool the new generation of workers and youth who are discovering the ideas of Marxism in their search for a solution and a future. Whilst it remains true, and a crime of truly historic proportions, that Stalinism dragged the names of Marx and Lenin through the mud, the accomplishments of capital to date in Russia and Eastern Europe are hardly inspirational. The attempt to restore the market has brought not prosperity but prostitution, profits for the few but misery for the many. This is not to defend or justify the crimes of Stalinism. On the contrary, the disaster in Russia today should clarify that it was not the absence of the market that was the problem but the lack of democracy. It was not the nationalised economy but the suffocating, dead weight of bureaucracy and corruption which strangled the Soviet Union. The one element of the October revolution remaining, albeit in a barely recognisable, perverted form, namely a state owned economy, enabled Russia to develop from a backward country to the second power on the planet. However the monstrous bureaucracy and its totalitarian dictatorship which leeched off the life blood of the planned economy doomed it.
Without democracy, control over all aspects of society by the working class, socialism was never created in Russia. It speaks volumes that in addition to their many crimes the Soviet bureaucracy with the immense resources at their disposal came up with not one single original thought. Compare that to the accomplishments of poverty stricken Karl Marx.
The Soviet bureaucracy however were concerned only with their own survival and the survival of their privileges. They developed not one new idea, instead they attempt now to turn the clock back by restoring capitalism. What we saw in Russia was not socialism. Socialism could never be built within the confines of a single country, even one the size of Russia.
Today's new generation discovering Marxism will see this easily enough. Even now in their newfound appreciation of some of Marx's conclusions these learned bourgeois academics are unable to take the next logical step and ask why Marx came to correct conclusions. This is not a question the bourgeois are keen to answer. If on not one, or two, but many occasions a method leads to correct conclusions it would seem reasonable to assume that the theory was correct. A 'lucky guess' is not likely to be repeated often. Yet the prediction of the development of the world market does not drive them to read more of Marx or to accept that not only his conclusions but also his method was and remains correct. Such keen insights were not simply a work of intuitive genius - though there is no doubt that Marx and Engels stood head and shoulders above our modern day intellectual giants. Marx's ideas represented everything that was best in the achievements of the bourgeoisie, bringing together the best of English political economy, French sociology and German philosophy. From this new height they were able to see far indeed.
Understanding the world
Their method was their great accomplishment. Using it we can understand the world around us today, expose the myths of the new paradigm and the new world order, and offer a way out of crisis ridden capitalism. That is why the dreaded question 'Why was Marx right?' is one the bourgeois refuse to address. Instead they attempt to find some less disturbing reason. Take Micklethwait and Wooldridge again. They praise Marx for recognising that "The more successful globalisation becomes the more it seems to whip up its own backlash." This is a common theme in these books, that the market itself is undermining capitalism. To use Marx's own words, "The development of modern industry, therefore cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable." Such conclusions are of deep concern to our authors. There is no mistaking their unwilling agreement, "There is also a suspicion that globalisation's psychic energy - the uncertainty that it creates which forces companies, governments and people to perform better - may have a natural stall point, a moment when people can take no more."
As absurd as the explanation seems there is more than a grain of truth in it. It is true that the crisis of the system, as it reaches its limits, causes the ruling class to split and divide over what to do next, unable to see a way out of the looming impasse. Yet the crisis is not caused by their confusion, but their confusion by the crisis. Capitalism has very real limits caused by the expansion of the productive forces beyond the borders imposed both by nation states and private ownership. Ideas and philosophies are created and changed by events in the physical world not by "psychic energy." Why is this of any importance? Well, to blame outside forces is to say that in principle capitalism can work fine, but the people running it, their lack of confidence etc, are causing crises. This is one big confidence trick. What robs the bourgeoisie of their confidence is the very real crisis of their system and their lack of an answer. If our writers started from an analysis of the material world, and the impact that events in it have on all classes in society as Marx's method would demand, they too would be forced to conclude that the crisis of the system is very real and intractable. Capitalism increasingly reaches its "stall point" the very real limit it imposes on society, on our ability to create wealth, to harness and use the world's resources safely and efficiently. As Marx also repeatedly explained, however, the bourgeoisie will not accept this and retire gracefully. Fortunately Marx's ideas are not meant simply to convince the bourgeoisie to change their tune. That would be utopian. Marxism instead has the goal of arming the working class and the youth for the revolutionary struggle needed to change society.
In the three volumes of Capital, which represent capitalism's genome, there is more than enough argument to convince a thinking bourgeois of the inability of the capitalist system to solve its inherent problems.
Yet today's thinking bourgeois are not studying how society or economy works. They are thinking about how to defend their system and their privileged position. Paul Krugman of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology admits this in his book The Return of Depression Economics. Like other economists he wants to ressurect Keynesianism not to make our lives better but simply because he thinks it is the best chance for the capitalists to save their system, "I don't like the idea that countries will need to interfere in markets - that they will have to limit the free market in order to save it."
They think not of how new technology can be used to shorten working hours to allow us time to participate in decision making and implementation. Instead they research how to use new technology to squeeze an ounce more out of our muscles and brains in the name of profit.
They don't investigate the worldwide eradication of disease through the knowledge contained in the Human Genome, they calculate how to patent chromosomes and medicines to profit from our ill health.
That a new generation of bourgeois thinkers are acknowledging some of Marx's ideas is interesting and itself reflects the desperate scramble for ideas engaging bourgeois academics - all their own having failed. However we have no illusions that the superiority of these ideas can win the allegiance of more than one or two individuals from this class of ladies and gentlemen. Marxism came into being as an attempt to place socialism on a scientific footing, to rescue it from the genius but idealistic utopians of earlier generations who believed that socialism could be achieved by demonstrating this superiority.
More importantly a new generation of workers and youth around the world are discovering Marxism.
In his recent essay Peter Hudis writing for Britannia.com quotes Marx, "We are firmly convinced that the real danger lies not in practical attempts but in the theoretical elaboration of communist ideas, for practical attempts, even mass attempts, can be answered by cannon as soon as they become dangerous whereas ideas which have conquered our intellect and taken possession of our minds... are demons which human beings can only vanquish only by submitting to them."
Whilst those who have written to bury Marxism over the last 150 years have vanished into obscurity the ideas of Marxism not only retain their relevance but are now gaining a new audience. Only the very best of the intellectuals may be won over not only in theory but to the side of the revolutionary working class. In general in the hands of bourgeois academics the ideas of Marxism will be transformed and vulgarised into dead dogma. In the hands of the workers movement, inscribed on the banner of the youth, they will serve their true purpose. As Marx himself explained they are meant not only to understand the world but to change it.