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The Communist Manifesto Today

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The Communist Manifesto is "almost uncannily prescient about globalisation's costs and benefits", Time Magazine suddenly admitted, one day early in 2009. (Re-thinking Marx, Peter Gumbel, 22 January 2009) The credit crunch which began in earnest in mid-2008 has once again raised the spectre of socialism. "New age of rebellion stalks Europe" announced The Times on the same day, carrying graphic pictures of demonstrations across Europe from Greece to Iceland. (22 January 2009, p. 29)

Time magazine is forced into reporting several telling admissions. "Nobody ever claimed the market economy would produce social justice" - but of course, they did. And as markets collapse around the world, Pascal Lamy, who runs the World trade organisation, is force to admit that globalised capitalism "creates bigger inequalities". Time Magazine's defence of capitalism is unconvincing.

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, was considered a kind of modern day oracle by the ruling elites of the world. "Lawmakers doted on him as an economic sage," as the New York Times puts it. Yet, in his testimony to the USA Senate in October 2008, Greenspan admitted:

ALAN GREENSPAN: I found a flaw... Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the [capitalist] world works...

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is -- precisely.

In other words, Greenspan has discovered that capitalism is critically flawed, as the Manifesto pointed out in 1848. The Manifesto was written when modern capitalism and the working class were in their infancy – in Germany, for instance, the working class comprised less than 5% of the population.

In his sympathetic biography of Kark Marx, published in 1999, journalist and writer Francis Wheen is another commentator who noticed that Marx and Engels' "vision of the Global Market was uncannily prescient". (Karl Marx, published in 1999 by Fourth Estate, London, p. 122) Marx and Engels provided socialists with an understanding of how the processes of global capitalism lead to the wars, the ruination of nations and the starvation of millions today. Remarking on the collapse of the stock markets, the fall of the high-tech sector, and the spread of recession, in 2001 Larry Elliott commented in The Guardian:

"The Marxist interpretation of globalisation may yet be proved right. Its analysis of the events of the last few years has tended to be more coherent than the Panglossian guff emanating from those who believe that the world economy has never been in better shape." (2 July 2001.)

It is truly remarkable that over 150 years after the Manifesto was published, Marx was voted "Thinker of the Millennium" by a "clear margin" in a BBC online poll in October 1999.


The Ideas of the Manifesto

"Class struggle" is the motor force of historical change, the Manifesto explains. Since the earliest beginnings of recorded history, societies have undergone fundamental change because different classes in society are in "constant opposition." These classes represent the "oppressor and oppressed" and the struggle between them eventually results either in "a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large" – or in mutual destruction.

Previous class societies were divided into many different classes struggling against one another, but capitalist society has "simplified the class antagonisms." Now there are just two main classes, the working class (the proletariat) and the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie). The ruling capitalist class represents those who own and control the means by which all wealth is created (termed the "forces of production"), while working class have "no means of production of their own."

The Manifesto explains why the capitalist "mode of production" was to sweep away feudalism – it describes in outline the process of globalisation. Capitalism means the

"constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe…

It compels all nations, on pain of extinction … to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst."

Former USA President George W Bush and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair precisely claimed to be defending "civilisation" after the attack on the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. But by bombing, invading and occupying  Afghanistan Iraq, they were actually defending the prestige and power of the US capitalist class. At the same time they were reaching out to control the production of that essential capitalist commodity, oil, as Alan Greenspan admitted in his autobiography. (Alan Greenspan claims Iraq war was really for oil, The Sunday Times, 16 September, 2007) But their capitalist system is in deep crisis.

The analysis of capitalist crises in the Manifesto, the "epidemic of overproduction," might have been written today:

"industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce."

When the 2001 "dot.com" bubble burst, a distant prelude to the credit crunch of 2008, Marc Andreessen, one of the "Gods of the Net," unknowingly echoed the very cadences of the Manifesto in a magazine interview. He said that the dot.com boom went bust because people were building "too many switches, too many routers and too much everything else." (Internet Magazine, January 2002) And just as, at the time the Communist Manifesto was written, workers manufacturing shirts in England could not afford to buy a new shirt, so today food riots take place across the world while capitalists complain that they can't sell their goods.



Economic Crises

The Manifesto outlines how destructive periods of recession are inherent in capitalism. It appears that "too much" is produced, but the working class receives far less in wages than the value of the goods they produce. The "consumers" of today can no longer buy the products which they themselves, as workers, produced only yesterday!

The Manifesto explains that the anarchic market system of capitalism becomes increasingly incapable of developing society. Competition leads to closures, unemployment and recession, to depression and war. A socialist, democratically planned economy, released from the shackles of the capitalist market, could match production and resources to the needs of society.

In a distorted way, the collapse of the so-called "Communist" countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union confirmed this. On the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Socialism Today, the Socialist Party’s monthly magazine, explained that while the societies which collapsed were a grotesque caricature of socialism, nevertheless:

"Up until the early 1970s, we should not forget, the nationalised economies produced impressive advances, especially in heavy industries, though consumer goods were generally in short supply and of poor quality. Despite many shortcomings, however, those former societies also provided basic education, healthcare, and other social amenities to the majority of the population - now sorely missed as they have been destroyed by the emerging capitalist market."

(The Wall Comes Tumbling Down, issue 42, October 1999)

The plan of production in those countries took the form of central command from above, with large scale bureaucratic mismanagement, deprived of a thorough-going workers’ democracy. The Stalinist regimes could no longer develop society. But the return to capitalism meant a devastating decline in living standards for the mass of the population, as well as the eruption of wars, terrorism and gangsterism.

A United Nations Development Programme report called the period of capitalist restoration a "Great Depression plunging more than 100 million people into poverty." (UNDP Transition 1999, as reported in The Times, 23 August 1999)




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