The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- A committed Marxist optimizes the working class's interests

Exciting news. Tycoons presiding over international finance capital have taken to reading what was hitherto subversive literature; they have been bowled over by Marx. They, in particular, are ready to hail the The Communist Manifesto as the new Bible. Reasons exist for this feeling of dizziness on the part of the tycoons. The two principal ideologues of capitalism were in a sense both wet blankets. Adam Smith, the moral philosophy professor from Edinburgh, indeed spoke vigorously for the free market. But he did so for a somewhat disreputable reason: he disliked immensely monopolists such as master weavers who harassed and persecuted workingmen in their service. A competitive environment, he thought, would curb the excesses of the monopolist class. Our modern day capitalists, however, love monopolists; Adam Smith's stance is anathema to them. What is worse, Smith also forecast a most gloomy future for the capitalist system, for which he pointed an accusing finger at landlords and capitalists: 'Rent and profit eat up wages and the two superior orders of people oppress the inferior one.' Capitalists cannot disown Adam Smith, but they find it difficult to put up with what they call his idiosyncrasy.

The other great father figure of capitalism, David Ricardo, the London stockbroker, was only a shade better. With great skill, he built the theoretical framework of free competition. In his opinion too, though, the prospects of capitalism were most uninviting. The effect of economic expansion, Ricardo concluded, would be a continuous rise not in rent and profit as claimed by Adam Smith, but in rent and wages; by inference, there would be a continuous fall in profits. And once the rate of profit dips down to zero, capitalists, Ricardo did not have the least doubt, would lose all incentive to carry on activities; the economy would reach a stationary state 'hardly cheerful tidings for go-getter capitalists.

That apart, both Adam Smith and Ricardo were basically frogs in the well. Great Britain was the centrepiece of their attention. True, Ricardo did develop a theory of international trade, establishing the virtue of free trade in that it maximized gains for all participants. This advocacy, however, was within a narrow context. He was against tariffs such as the Corn Laws which raised the price of corn for the working class thereby both increasing their hardship and placing a constraint on the purchasing power they could spare for buying goods produced by local manufacturers. That was about all. Neither Smith nor Ricardo bothered to offer a vision of what untrammelled foreign trade could do to capitalism in the coming epochs.

Modern day votaries of capitalism, such as George Soros and Jacques Attali, are spellbound by the contrast Marx's writings presents. The first half of The Communist Manifesto is in fact a long poem of praise for the wonders the bourgeoisie, that is the capitalist class, has done to the world by replacing industrial production in small, isolated guilds by the modern giant manufacturing plants, exploiting to the hilt the marvel of division of labour. Consider, for example, the following passages from the Manifesto: 'The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relation of society.' 'The need for a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.' 'The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe.' Marx's accolade for international capitalism does not quite stop here. He goes further: 'The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilizations. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.'

This is heady stuff. No wonder the bosses of global finance are going through an exhilarating experience of serendipity; they can now quote chapter and verse from Marx's writings to vindicate all they had done to the world, are doing and propose to do in future.

Nothing is unfair in love and class war. Men like Soros and Attali can be pardoned if they indulge in a bout of suppressio veri; they hardly refer to the later part of The Communist Manifesto, which has a different moral to tell. Marx praises the capitalist class because it brings thousands of workers under one factory shed and in huge workers' settlements. ('Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalists. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers...Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.') Little does the bourgeoisie realize that by ushering in industrial capitalism, it only digs its own grave. The working class, enslaved and oppressed by the capitalists, soon learns the magic of organized revolt. The creative urge of the bourgeoisie gathers the workers together, and thereby facilitates rapid mobilization on their part. The aroused proletariat finish off the capitalist system. (Subsequently, in Capital, Marx formulated a theoretical construct, different from Ricardo's, yet reaching a conclusion identical with Ricardo's: the rate of profit will keep declining in a capitalist state until it reaches zero, thereby providing a supplementary reason for the collapse of capitalism.)

Even global capitalism will have no respite. The working class organized across the continents in massive trade union formations will promote an invincible army of the international working class. Once working men of all countries unite, they will rise in revolt and put a stop to capitalism's strutting on the global stage.

Globalization has allegedly rendered such prognosis irrelevant. The elite, who today decide the destiny of international finance capital, keep quoting passages from Marx which suit them and are silent about the uncomfortable ones. This is only to be expected. What is however worrisome is that, in this post-1991 era, even some amongst those who formally claim to be devout Marxists slide into accepting the Soros-Attali version of the scripture. They tend to miss out what lay behind Marx's praise of the capitalist system: it is to be thanked because it makes it possible for the working class to transform itself into a mighty force of retribution which finally destroys capitalism.

A vision is not a half-way house. And an ideologue who believes in that vision has no business to assume that the mid-point is the final milestone. It is not his business either to take on the load of establishing capitalism; capitalists will perform that task according to their own lights. On the other hand, whatever the circumstances, it is the obligation of a committed Marxist to optimize the interests of the working class. Were he to believe it to be otherwise, should he not rather join, openly, the bandwagon of the bourgeoisie'

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