We have come to the grave of Karl Marx on the 130th anniversary of his death in order to honour and thank the great scholar and revolutionary.
Marx always based everything on existing realities. Let us turn to the realities of the present, 23 years after the downfall of so-called real socialism.
At the end, these countries due to their own shortcomings ceased to be seriously seen by the majority of their own people as a viable alternative to capitalism.
At the same time, many of them today remember their positive experiences from that time. On a world scale, the very existence of the socialist community kept capitalism within its limits.
Now we are witnessing developments which show clearly the danger the current economic and social system poses to the future of humanity.
This new dimension is ideologically reflected in the victory of neoliberalism. It is portrayed as a downright religious idolisation of the market as the sole regulating structure for everything in everyday life.
The idolisation of the market means privatisation of everything which is fundamental to everyone’s needs – food, clothing, housing, health and education.
The market knows only one purpose – the competitive striving for profit maximisation. The effects are evident globally and regionally, in the poorest countries as well as in the western capitalist nations.
There is an ever-increasing concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands and an ever-increasing number of people worldwide enduring poverty and exploitation – and being forced to leave their home countries.
The statistics are alarming. In 2001 there were 497 dollar billionaires with combined assets totalling $1.5 trillion. In 2010 there were 1,210 of these super-rich with assets totalling $4.5trn – more than the gross domestic product of Germany.
There are a small number of multinational corporations which dominate the supply of food. Jan Ziegler, who since 2000 has been the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, has been gathering the data for years and demonstrates the influence of profit interests on national and international politics.
Worldwide just 10 concerns dominate a third of the seed market and 80 per cent of the market for pesticides. Just six concerns account for 77 per cent of the market for fertilisers. Six dominate 85 per cent of the world market for grain, eight have 60 per cent of the world market for coffee, three of them have over 80 per cent of the market for cocoa and 71 per cent of the market for bananas.
As a leader of the landless movement in Brazil has said of the global agricultural industry, “Its aim is not to produce food but commodities in order to make money.”
Rosa Luxemburg once formulated the alternatives as “socialism or barbarism.” We know from Marx that the driving force behind this barbarism is the greed for profit.
In recent years it has been forcing through the land-grabs in Africa on a massive scale and has been destroying farmers’ existence on the pretext of higher productivity.
But this productivity doesn’t benefit those locally who are in most need of it for their very existence, but those who are now using this land to produce goods and sell them where they make the highest profit.
We are now witnessing the global consequences of this barbaric force on the textile industry or on the property market whenever a “property bubble” bursts and people lose the roofs over their heads. We know the power of the banks as the accelerator of this development.
We are seeing that financial market capitalism worldwide is regulating the decisions of national politicians. “System-relevant” banks have to be bailed out with taxpayers’ money.
Unemployment in the southern European countries, however, is not deemed as being “system-relevant” although among the youth it has reached 50 per cent.
Is there a more damning exposure of the capitalist economic and social system? In the western countries we are witnessing a two-tier health system and privatised hospitals in which accounts departments decide which treatments are the most lucrative and therefore should be carried out. The health and well-being of the patient is not the criterion. Profit is.
What this anti-human driving force demonstrates is illustrated by the extremely profitable and politically powerful military-industrial complexes.
Since 1990 military expenditure worldwide has gone up by a third – and in the US it has more than doubled in the last 10 years. Military deployments all over the world are being used to serve its economic interests and secure military and political supremacy.
All these interests are portrayed as the need to establish democracy and human rights. The results are growing instability and “failing states.” Iraq is one such example.
The rapid acceleration with which the capitalist economic and social system has expanded since 1990 has had consequences for the entire living space of mankind.
And people are becoming aware of the alarming consequences of this development even if they haven’t got round to questioning the system. US Nobel Prize winner for economics Joseph Stiglitz has written The Price of Inequality, with its subtitle How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future.
For him Marx is seemingly unimportant. Stiglitz naively calls for change only on the basis of the US democratic system. However, he relentlessly illustrates the destructive nature of recent developments and supports the Occupy movement which is understood as the voice of the 99 per cent against the 1 per cent which the ruling circles in the US represent. And he stands on the side of the Indignants, the angry people of Spain.
Marx is back again and his thoughts remain fresh. Even for the bourgeois media in Germany references to Marx are increasing. Interest in him has grown immensely.
We may not be able to approach Marx for concrete solutions to the diverse problems of today, for example the destruction of the environment due to the way industry operates.
But Rosa Luxemburg has shown that parallel to all his concrete insights Marx as a theoretician and interpreter of history has left behind a scientific method of analysis – especially that of the analysis of capitalism, its historical development and its internal mechanisms.
Early in the 19th century Marx recognised the revolutionary character of the organised working class. A close study of his works shows that he was keenly interested in the formation of political movements engaging in the struggle for social justice.
Between the death of Karl Marx in 1883 and that of Friedrich Engels in 1895 the international socialist movement grew immensely. In this time span there were no fewer than 75 new editions of the Communist Manifesto in 15 different languages.
In this period Engels edited many works by Marx for the first time and ensured there were new editions of already published texts.
Among the initial publications were the Theses on Feuerbach written by Marx before 1848. Engels described them as the “brilliant germ of the new world outlook.”
By this he referred to the method to perceive reality and history as “human sensuous activity,” as “practice.” And so in the 11th and final one of these theses we see the inseparable connection between Marx’s theoretical excellence and political efforts as one entity: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
To this day the reception of the writings of Marx and Engels under ever-changing conditions has been connected with drawing up political programmes.
This was true for the European labour movement into the 20th century as well as for the world communist movement after the October revolution.
How they applied the works of Marx was always determined by the actual struggles, by the balance of forces and by the search for practical solutions.
The new interest in the works of Marx in our day shows the growing awareness that another world is not only necessary but also possible.
And with Marx I find it important to ask who, under these changed conditions, are those at the forefront of the current struggles to overcome the barbaric driving force of capitalism.
In Latin America these are the left-wing governments. In our countries these are forces which stand up against privatisation in all areas which are elementary for human existence – housing, health, education. Forces which resist the almighty power of the banks and the militarisation of foreign policy.
Through his integrated thought Marx has demonstrated the interrelationship of all these areas of life. This knowledge remains indispensable when today the very existence of mankind is at stake.
- Hans Modrow is honourary chairman of Germany’s Left Party and was the last socialist prime minister of the German Democratic Republic. This article is adapted from the Oration he gave on Sunday to mark the 130th anniversary of Marx’s death.