In 17, Marx attended the University of

In this essay, I will be exploring how we, as individuals
and as a society, are affected by Marxist views, theories and philosophies in
2018.

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, sociologist,
journalist and historian. Born on May 5th, 1818i
to middle class, wealthy and ancestrally Jewish parents, Heinrich “Herschel”
Marx and Henriette Prebburg
in the Prussian – and now German – town of Trier, Marx had an extremely
sheltered childhood. Mostly irreligious, Heinrich Marx was a man of the ‘Age of
Enlightenment’ movement (an early European philosophical movement inspired by
the likes of Kant and Voltaireii)
who took part in lobbying for political and social change in Prussia, then
governed by a monarchy in which the one ruler has supreme authority which is
not restricted by any written laws. Other than these details, little is known
of Marx’s childhood. He was the third of nine children, but, tragically, became
the eldest just one year after his birth, in 1819. All six of the surviving
siblings were privately educated until attending high school. At this point
they were sent to Trier High school. The school, just like Heinrich Marx, was
not without controversial ways; employing many liberal humanists as teachers,
subsequently incurring the anger of the local conservative government. In 1832,
the high school was raided by local police. This raid uncovered evidence of the
headmaster, and close friend of Heinrich, pushing his liberalist, political
views upon students. The Prussian government, resultantly, replaced most of the
teaching staff.

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At the age of 17, Marx attended the University of Bonn,
hoping to enrol on the ‘philosophy and literature’ course, one that they still
offer todayiii.
Here, Marx became President of the local tavern club and began to express his
own progressive agenda – which was, at this point, an evolved version of his
father’s. This, along with Marx’s membership of the police-monitored Poets’
Club, resulted in Marx and fellow club members being forced to swear allegiance
to the Prussian aristocracyiv.
This, in turn, lead to Marx’s father transferring him to Berlin university in
the hope that he would keep out of trouble. This is where Marx first came
across the works of Hegel – some say where he first gained exposure to
philosophical thinking – and joined a group of young Hegelians who thought that
a total revolution should take place in Prussia, rather than just reform. This
group said they could achieve a revolution only by abandoning the idea of
religion: “The single greatest obstacle to human progress is religion”.
However, for the second time in Marx’s life, a group he was a member of
attracted the attention of the Prussian authorities. This lead to Marx becoming
a journalist. He was quickly employed by the, then, small newspaper, ‘Rheinsche
Zeitung’.

In 1843, six years after starting his journalism career,
still at the same (by now extremely popular) newspaper and for the third time
in his life, Marx attracted the attention of Prussian authorities; but now with
consequences – Marx’s works, specifically those criticising Tsar Nicholas I,
got the paper bannedv.
Later that year, Marx moved to Paris, a centre for radical thought. It was in
Paris that Marx first started to stray from the ideas of Hegel, saying
“religion is the opiate of the masses” which blocked our view to a much deeper
problem: capitalist societies. He said that working mundane jobs, like working
in a factory, meant we are not utilising our “human essence” (the way we differ
from other animals) as we are engaging in “repetitive tasks, not what we are
ought to do”vi.  In Paris, Marx met and befriended Friedrich
Engels, a young, wealthy philosopher who shared the same views on capitalism as
Marx. Their joint mission was to erase capitalism. Saying that the problem with
human history is that there are “haves and have nots”. Most people (the
proletariat) lose out to those who own property and the “means of production”
(the bourgeoisie) – they identified that this problem is getting worse under
capitalism.

Eventually, the French government found out about Marx and
Engels, and they were both expelled from France, moving to Brussels. Here the
partnership between the two philosophers intensified. They collaborated on a
pamphlet entitled ‘The Communist Manifesto’, published in 1847. It compared the
bourgeoisie to sorcerers losing control of their subjects. Before a second
edition could be produced, in 1848, mass riots broke out across Europe. These
riots were inspired by their pamphlet. They fled to London, narrowly avoiding
arrest. Now almost penniless and with a family to support, Marx finally knew
what the proletariat experienced.

It was in London where Marx began to embark on the writing
of what would be his final book, ‘Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie’ (translating to ‘Capital. Critique
of Political Economy’). In which, Marx dictates that the motivating force of
capitalism is in the exploitation of labourers, whose work develops a “surplus
value” to what – if any – that they are paid. The employer, or “owner of the
means of production”, was only able to claim the right to this surplus in past
societies because he was protected by a “ruling regime” through property rights
and distribution of shares to board members. This shows how these rights came
about in the first place, mainly by the activity of the merchant and the
“middle man”, however should no longer be applicable. In producing goods, a
worker continually reproduces the economic conditions in which they work. This will
gradually become more expensive (and will not stop) in a society that is
becoming increasingly driven by the capitalist’s compulsion to accumulate this
surplusvii.
Marx referred to this as one of the “laws of motion” and proposes an
explanation in ‘Kapital’ by describing them as “the growth of wage labour”,
“the transformation of the workplace”, “the concentration of money, capital or
wealth”, “commercial competition”, “the banking system” and “land rents”. What
all of these have in common is the fact that to be profitable in these fields,
subjective moral value is separate from objective economic valueviii.
Subsequently, political economy becomes three different, yet discrete fields of
human activity:

·     
Economics

·     
Law

·     
Ethics

Politics and economics were now separated, or – in Marx’s
words – “divorced”.

Also explored in ‘Kapital’ were themes of class struggles
experienced by both the general proletariat population and Marx himself (as
well as Marx’s prediction that, eventually, the capitalist will have to employ
“autonomous workers to keep up competition”). After nine years researching and
writing, ‘Kapital’ was finally published in 1867. It was Marx’s final major
literary work before his death in 1883.ix

 

Now, I will be exploring the modern-day ramifications and
applications of Marxism.

Remarkably, over 150 years after publication of ‘Das Kapital’,
18.4% of the world’sx population
live in a communist state or under a government identifying as communist.

The five countries identified by The United Nations are China,
Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Koreaxi.
These countries are discussed in further detail below.

According to Oxford Scholar and author, Robert Service, “Today, Marx would
hardly recognise his manifesto. In its original form, it’s long been dead”xii.
The reason for this is, in all above countries the population still work
for money and they still are working for the “owner of the means of production”,
but, most fundamentally, all of these nations have severe corruption issues in
their governments.

As for the durability of communism in these countries, China
frequently deals with potential rebellions by killing, torturing or
incarcerating those involved.  These
potential uprisings are limited by controls on press freedom and censored
internet access, and the government restricts social mobility for those from
communities with views against communism.

In Cuba, the inevitable death of Fidel Castro’s Brother,
Raul will likely speed up the end of communism/socialism in this nation. This
is a process that has already started, largely due to the advanced negotiations
with the US.

The last time that the Vietnamese and Lao populations tried
to fight against their communist governments was in the Vietnam war (1955-75)xiii.
These attempts at disbandment from communism were unsuccessful despite the
interjection of America, and the regimes remain in power.

The closest to a purely communist state is North Korea,
whilst it still has rife corruption in its government, (as well as government
intervention in non-ruling classes’ businesses) the country was founded upon
the fight against Japanese imperialism and to promote Marxism, this was
accelerated by the use of propaganda, almost exactly how Marx, himself spread
the word. Despite Kim Jong-Un trying to eradicate communism and socialism in
North Korean society, it remains fundamentally ingrained in the minds and day
to day lives of its general population.xiv

 

In certain countries, the presence of communism has been a
force for change.  An example of this
follows. The lower and middle classes of Iran have recently held massive
protests against their government, starting January 2nd 2018, when 24 people died and over 450 arrests
were made in the first four days of protest alone. xvThe
motivation behind the protests was widespread dissatisfaction with the Iranian
economy due to severe sanctions put in to effect because of Iran’s pursuit of
nuclear weapons. These resulted in higher living costs, but have since been
abandoned, lifting the worst of these sanctions. However, the benefits of the
lifted sanctions have yet to be seen by the general Iranian population:
unemployment is at a record high
of 10% and inflationxvi currently sits at 10% per yearxvii.
The protesters believe that there is an elitist tier of Iranians who
control society and are being affected by these sanctions being lifted. This
has everything to do with Marxism because of the presence of the opposition
party, the Communist Party of Iran (??? ??????? ?????xviii).
This political party played an imperative role in the organisation of
the protests (the goal was to have larger demonstrations than the 2009
election’s aftermath – when the party was directly involved in the reason
behind the protests).

Finally, one other way the works of Marx impacts
the world we live in today is in “Finland’s basic universal income solution to
automation, fewer jobs and lower wage”xix.
In this Scandinavian country, unemployment benefits of €4500/year are still
handed out if the person receiving them finds employment – right now this is
limited a 2,000 people test. The Finnish government hopes to encourage the
unemployed to take on work without losing their benefits but they also know
that, with rising automation in the workplace, more and more will become
unemployed (some estimates say 47% by 2037xx)
so they plan to roll the scheme put nationwide if unemployment reaches 40%.
This wide-spread unemployment due to the capitalist’s need to beat competition
and subsequent implantation of automation was predicted by Marx and Engels in
‘Kapital’.

 To conclude,
without Marx, Engels and the Communist Manifesto; these wide spread protests,
deaths, arrests, government regimes and potential world-wide reform for the
unemployed might never had happened. However, hopefully, Marx, in these
situations, inspired things that lead to a true revolution. That is something
that Marx set as one of his goals. I believe that he has achieved this and,
therefore, I believe Marxism affects us greatly in 2018 as both a population
and individuals.

i https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx

ii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment

iii https://www.uni-bonn.de/the-university

iv https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_cU9MUhUWk

v http://www.marxsite.com/Marx%20as%20a%20Journalist.html

vi http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/marx_karl.shtml

vii https://www.ernestmandel.org/en/works/txt/1990/karlmarx/8.htm

viii
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employment#Employees_and_employers

ix https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital:_Critique_of_Political_Economy

x https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL

xi https://www.pri.org/stories/…/can-you-name-five-remaining-communist-countries-world

xii A
history of world communist – by Robert Service – Chapter 8

xiii
http://www.answers.com/Q/When_did_the_Vietnam_War_end

 

xiv http://www.newsweek.com/north-korea-communist-critics-warn-failure-understand-kim-jong-uns-beliefs-672399

xv http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-42553516

xvi https://tradingeconomics.com/iran/inflation-cpi

 

xvii
https://tradingeconomics.com/iran/unemployment-rate

 

xviii
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_Iran

xix https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/19/basic-income-finland-low-wages-fewer-jobs

xx https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/publications/view/1314

 

x

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