Introduction to new Swedish edition of ‘What is Marxism?’

We are proud to announce the publication of the Swedish edition of What is Marxism?, a bestseller by Alan Woods and Rob Sewell, available here! The book, which is produced by the publishing house of the Swedish Marxists, Bokförlaget Stormklockan, is coming at a time where Swedish society is entering a period of turmoil.

There's a deep anger brewing beneath the surface of society after almost three decades of cuts and privatisations. A new generation is waking up to struggle for a different society – but the question is how, and for what type of society? For this generation, only the Marxist method can lead to a coherent understanding of the impasse in society and show a way out. Below we publish the introduction to the Swedish edition of the book, available in English from WellRed Books.

Introduction: why we are publishing this book

Sweden is increasingly becoming a harsh, cold and brutal class society. In the last 30 years, wealth inequality has exploded. Three people own as much wealth as 60 percent of the country’s population put together. Wages as part of total production are as low today as at the beginning of the last century. Cuts, lack of housing and casualisation of labour have become everyday phenomena. Entire sections of the welfare state that generations of workers have struggled to win have been ground down or cut to the point of being hardly recognisable. Many have lost all hope of a better future.

On a world scale, the contradictions inherent in capitalism have led to an economic crisis of historical proportions. A billion people go to bed hungry and many more lack access to health care, work or education. This system can't provide the world with even the most basic of necessities.

The capitalist’s need to maximise profits has led to a climate catastrophe that threatens the foundations of civilisation itself. It was recently reported that the big Swedish companies H&M, Ericsson and Electrolux cause more carbon emissions than the entire population of Sweden put together. On a global scale, 100 multinational monopolies cause more than 71 percent of all emissions. Even if everyone knows the problem, emissions keep growing year after year.

Refugee crisis Image GgiaCrisis-ridden capitalism is a living nightmare for millions / Image: Ggia

While 68.5 million people are fleeing war and economic violence caused by imperialism, the European Union spends vast sums of money on hunting down and expelling refugees, or stopping them from getting here at all. Despite the fact that the ruling class has never been richer – and gets richer all the time – they try to blame all problems on the weakest and most-exploited sections of society. Their politicians, police and border guards have succeeded in transforming the Mediterranean sea into a mass grave.

More people are hungry, more people are fleeing, and more are unemployed. But instead of investing in eradicating poverty or stopping the destruction of the environment, the ruling class spends enormous sums on their military apparatuses. The combined military expenses of the world reached 1.8 trillion dollars in 2018 – the highest level since the Cold War. The savage brutality of imperialism is the ultimate consequence of this irrational and inhumane system.

This world is not safe in the hands of the bourgeoisie. They are on the edge of a cliff, and are struggling to pull the entire human species with them in their fall. We live in a barbaric and mad world. But Marxism explains that this madness is neither impossible to understand, nor inevitable. It can, in fact, be stopped.

The strength of the working class

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were two German philosophers, scientists and revolutionaries who developed a set of ideas that we today call Marxism. Their ideas about philosophy, history and economics were to completely revolutionise human thought within each of these three areas.

They explained that the basic drive of the capitalist system is to amass bigger profits and wealth in the hands of a small number of super rich in the top of society, and not to satisfy human needs. This means that capitalism is increasingly divided into two camps with irreconcilable interests: the working class and the capital-owning class.

The struggle between the classes is the motor force of history. The analysis of capitalism made by Marx and Engels revealed a system ridden with contradictions at every level, which will lead to enormous crises of overproduction, where millions of workers lose their jobs, factories are closed down and wages are cut as the capitalists try to save their own profits.

Marxists explain that the position of the working class in society and in production means that they will also play the decisive role in the struggle to change society. It is ordinary workers who create all riches in society: they build houses, cars and mobile phones; they sew clothes and clean; they work in the mines, and do everything else of value. Without workers, it would not be possible to take the bus or train, visit a hospital or even have access to electricity.

Sweden dockers strike Image Left VoiceSwedish dockers recently demonstrated the power of the working class by scoring a victory with the mere threat of a strike / Image: Left Voice

On the other hand, society would manage perfectly fine without the capitalists. No real wealth is created by the purchase and sale of companies, stocks and resources on the international, casino-like markets for investment and speculation. The ruling class lays their hands on that which the working class creates – they live on the fruits of our labour. Their ownership does not play any real role, but on the contrary is a completely unnecessary and parasitical outgrowth on society. The next step in the development of society – socialism – means to abolish capitalist exploitation and use the resources of society in a planned way to satisfy the needs of the majority.

Because workers create everything, they are necessarily positioned right in the heart of the capitalist system – commodity production. If workers strike, all wheels stop turning. When the working class is organised and fights back, it therefore has tremendous power.

This was put on full display in the spring of 2019, when the Dock Workers’ Union threatened to take strike action. The bourgeois media was conducting a campaign of conscious distortions and vicious lies, both via its commentators and news reports. The dock workers were also attacked by right-wing politicians, Social Democrats and leaders from the main trade union federation, LO. If you took a superficial view, it could seem like the dock workers were facing an overwhelmingly strong opposition.

But in reality, it was the workers who had the upper hand. A strike in the docks would quickly have led other companies to have problems with their deliveries and sales. Less than 24 hours before the strike was to start, the bosses therefore backed down and suddenly agreed to the demands of the workers.

The next day, Jan Olof Jacke, the CEO of the bosses' central association (Svenskt näringsliv), was interviewed on the Swedish Radio news programme, Ekot. He stated with a relieved sigh that the value of the goods that are handled in the docks are worth billions of kronor every single day. The dock workers strike could have caused real damage for the ruling class precisely where it hurts the most: company profits.

The victory of the dock workers is one of many examples of the real power of the working class. This time it was not even necessary to go on strike. It was enough with the mere threat of a strike from a small and relatively isolated group of workers to score a victory.

It's not hard to imagine the power that the working class would have if it put up a united struggle – not just the dock workers, but all workers united: train and bus drivers; cleaners and refuse collectors; teachers and nurses; industrial workers and store clerks. During the big strike in 1980, all of Sweden was standing still as 800,000 workers were drawn into a conflict that, among other things, meant that no planes could land or take off from the airports. The king himself had to apply for permission from the trade union federation LO to leave the country for an official state visit!

No state, military or police on the planet will be able to stop the workers once they decide to change society. All that is needed is that this enormous potential power is organized and united around a common goal.

Marx showed that the struggle of the working class points forwards to a new socio-economic system – socialism – where the working class takes power and plans the economy democratically. To prepare for this transformation of society, the socialist revolution, is the main task of the modern Marxist movement.

In Sweden, the working class constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population, and with close to 70 percent being members in trade unions, it is among the best-organised in the world. If the trade union and labour leaders would mobilise this force in a serious manner it would be impossible to stop them. The workers could easily seize power and start the socialist transformation of society.

Heritage lost

The ideas of Marx and Engels were dominant in the radical labour movement that began to take form in the advanced capitalist countries at the end of the 19th century. Both the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party were once formed as revolutionary parties, which tried to build on the ideas of Marxism. But today this heritage has been almost completely lost. The real ideas, methods and traditions of Marxism has been kept hidden from the working class.

As these lines are written, we have a supposedly "Social Democratic" government that carries out a policy consisting of raising the retirement age, lowering taxes for the rich, limiting the right to strike and for increased cuts. The right-wing policies continue, no matter if there are Social Democrats or Conservatives sitting in government.

This is a consequence of the fact that the Social Democratic leadership adapted to capitalism early on. Instead of overthrowing capitalism, they tried to carry out reforms within the limits of the system itself – reformism. This tendency has grown strong among the tops of the labour movement during periods when the capitalist economy has developed and progressed. During such periods, the ruling class has been able to grant certain concessions to the workers in exchange for peace and quiet – and no strikes.

Marx and Engels sw Image Walt JabscoThe tops of the labour movement have long since abandoned the ideas of Marx and Engels / Image: Walt Jabsco

The devastating Second World War was followed by a completely unique historical period in which capitalism could develop and see almost uninterrupted growth for several decades. This nourished the idea, both among the labour movement tops and many workers, that it was not necessary to abolish capitalism, but rather that it was possible to achieve a gradual transition to socialism through small improvements, one step at a time. The class consciousness was blunted and it seemed as if the revolutionary ideas of Marxism had been disproved by history.

But the long upswing has turned into its opposite, instead creating the most serious crisis in the history of the capitalist system. In 2008, this system plunged into crisis, starting with the banking system in the USA and quickly spreading all over the world. The bourgeois economists were in despair and confusion, since their analysis had "proven" that a new crisis was impossible. It was only Marx's analysis of capitalism that have been able to explain how the contradictions of the system inevitably led to this crisis.

During a crisis, the capitalists will do anything to protect their profits, which means inflicting further cuts and austerity on workers. They increase the tempo in the workplace, casualise labour and lower wages. Every party that accepts the capitalist system is therefore forced to justify cuts and austerity inflicted on the working class. The Social Democrats, and to a certain extent also the Left Party, were therefore forced to administer right-wing policies and cuts. Almost half of all cuts since the beginning of the 1990s in Sweden have been carried out during Social Democratic governments.

The historically low result for the Social Democrats in the 2018 elections show that their right-wing policies are anything but popular. Between 1994 and 2018, they have lost almost every third voter. This is the consequence of the fact that the party leadership has abandoned the struggle for socialism, and on the contrary wholeheartedly supports both the capitalist system and the so-called "free market". A struggle against capitalism by necessity also has to be a struggle against these bourgeois tops of the labour movement.

A new period

Beginning with the Arab revolutions in 2010-2011, we have seen mass struggles on all continents. From the Spanish indignados and Occupy Wall Street in the US, the movement has developed and spread all over the world. In this recent period, we have seen the power of general strikes bring down corrupt and senile military dictators in a matter of days. We have seen revolutions explode and spread like wildfire across regions and countries. A new generation of workers is rising up.

This is the result of the attempt by the ruling class to place the burden of the capitalist crisis on the shoulders of the working class and the poor. When the crisis first erupted, many workers initially hoped that the economy would soon turn upwards. But faced with draconian cuts and austerity, the youth and workers in one country after another have instead been forced to take to the streets on a mass scale to defend the standard of living they've conquered in the past. All over the world, more and more people are questioning capitalism and coming closer to revolutionary conclusions. This explains the rapid growth of interest in Marxist ideas.

Sudan Rev Image fair useWe are in a period of revolution, with tumult and struggle on every continent / Image: fair use

In a study carried out by the European Union in 2017, a majority of young people said that they were prepared to participate in "a large scale uprising" against "the generation in power". Even in that former bulwark of anticommunism – the United States – a majority of youth nowadays prefer socialism to capitalism, according to several studies. Interest in socialism has not been this high in many decades.

The old political "middle", that has defended the status quo and carried out all cuts, is collapsing in front of our eyes. Parties that have existed for many generations are entering into crisis as the system they defend and base themselves on increasingly ends up in a dead end. There is a sharp political polarisation to the left and to the right.

New alternatives to the left have grown quickly in many countries, like the British Labour Party under Corbyn, France Insoumise under Mélenchon in France, or Podemos in Spain. Although these parties still only argue for reforms within the limits of capitalism, their explosive growth shows that millions of people are turning their backs on the political representatives of the ruling class. They're looking for a political alternative to fight right-wing policies and the effects of the crisis of capitalism. The possibilities for a genuine revolutionary alternative are bigger today than perhaps ever.

But when the labour movement fails to offer any answer to the crisis of capitalism – or even starts to carry out cuts and austerity – it's hardly surprising that some workers vote for racist, right-wing parties like the Sweden Democrats. But these parties also defend the capitalist system and can't offer any improvements whatsoever for the working class. Therefore, they too will enter into crisis. The road would then lie open for a sharp turn to the left, that will go far beyond the political programmes of the existing parties.

Socialism in our lifetime

The development of technology and the productive forces under capitalism has laid the basis for a new and higher form of society. The same technology that is today applied to killing people using drones in Afghanistan (from a safe distance on the west coast of the USA) could just as easily be employed to steer freight ships or robots that could replace all kinds of manual human labour. Under a different system, machines could carry out many of the most monotonous tasks, rather than workers.

As long as the capitalists control the economy, they will decide what technology should be developed and how it should be used. Their motive is not to shorten working hours or improve people's lives, but only to create bigger profits for themselves. Under socialism, we would be able to decide collectively to use labour-saving technology and automation to drastically lower working hours and free people's time for more meaningful pursuits.

anti fascist demoMarxism is not just a theoretical exercise, but a guide to struggle. To fight for and build socialism, we need to know how! / Image: Revolution (Sweden)

As Marx and Engels explained, socialism means that the working class seizes power and reorganises the entire economy in their own interests, so that it produces for the needs of the majority and not for the profits of the minority. If the productive potential of the world was mobilised for this purpose we would be able to eradicate all hunger and illness in a very short space of time. We could offer everyone work, healthcare and education. The only thing that is needed is to take over control of the economy from the capitalists and plan production under the democratic management of the workers themselves.

Another society is not just possible, but a necessity. But to abolish capitalism and build socialism, we first have to know how. Marxism is not just a philosophical, historical and economic theory – it is a living revolutionary tradition that carries lessons that socialist workers and youth must find time to study. Marxism shows, not least of all, how we can carry out the struggle for a militant labour movement as a first and necessary step on the road towards socialism.

As the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explained, theory is "generalised experience" and constitutes the collective memory of the working class. By studying earlier class struggles and revolutions, and learning how the system actually works, we prepare ourselves for the enormous task of overthrowing capitalism. It's for those that want to change the world – to abolish the exploitative, oppressive and rotten capitalism, and fight for socialism – that we publish this book. At the end of the day, Marxism is not a theoretical exercise, but a guide to struggle.