It’s rare that I ever see any good writing about Karl Marx. Either I see these meaningless technical and often very alienated pieces by leftist authors, especially Trotksyists or some offshoot of the Kautskyite pests who use Marx as a kind of intellectual veneer for their otherwise vapid and frequently reactionary views on the poor and the working classes.
Or worse yet is when I encounter a billionth iteration of some university educated liberal author who, like so many others, will pick a random object that’s been invented after Marx’s death, and proclaim that this item disproves Marx on the grounds that Marxism only makes sense on the basis that Karl Marx himself predicted every possible item of the future.
So as someone who have studied Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Murray Rothbard, Yanis Varoufakis, Max Weber, Xi Jingping and probably a couple more economic thinkers I can’t quite recall… I wish to do Marx justice. I wish to explain what the point of Marx was. Why he is so significant, and why even his most bitter opponents seem to be paradoxically enough saying that he is completely irrelevant over a century after he published his books.
Obviously there’s nothing irrelevant about Marx. How often do you hear people talk about how irrelevant Hieron Minau is? He was a merchant in Dusseldorf. He exists as a footnote in the history of German finance economy because of how he lended his home to those who wished to trade currencies on rainy days.
No one is paying American or British academics a massive annual salary to keep the world updated on how irrelevant Hieron is. The reason why Marx is getting this treatment is because his ideas are getting more and more relevant by the second. And I wish to explain why.
So let’s talk about an author who has been the greatest influence to not just economics, but also humanities at large within the fields of sociology, law, civics and philosophy. A man whose ideas radicalised socialism from a meaningless utopian pipe dream into a real, living and breathing driving force of human civilisation that, to this day, is embodied by hundreds of millions of people throughout every continent of the world.
Whose ideas produced a reactionary movement so horrific that it almost brought humanity to an end, iterated in the revanches of the ruling classes, both as fascism and as what Lenin later dubbed as late-stage imperialism. From Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers, to Ronald Reagan’s plans of a first strike nuclear attack, Karl Marx have had the world’s most dangerous political detractors in human history.
And the answer to why Karl Marx remains the face of justice for the poor has everything to do with the historical and social conditions that he was born into. Karl Marx was simply at the right place at the right time.
And in order to tell you the full story of Marx, then we must begin by setting the scene and talk about the men who passed the torch. Namely, pirates.
A rebel is just a criminal who follows a new set of rules, and a revolutionary is just a rebel who sets time aside for scholarly pursuits. Pirates were some of the most important rebels in colonial history. They resisted monarchism, poverty and slavery at its very roots. They live on in legends such as Libertalia. They produced heroic tales about slaves who gained their freedom under the colours of piracy, men such as Black Caesar.
They created Europe’s first democracy since the classical ages, namely Nassau, the pirate republic. And they united Indians, Africans and disenfranchised merchant sailors from Europe in a great rebellion we call The Golden Age of Piracy.
In China, Ching Shih was a concubine who existed on one of the lowest rungs of the empire’s social hierarchy. Only to ascend to a position of statesmanship on the seas. Introducing radical concepts such as women’s rights, and prisoner’s rights, and governing a fleet of some 10.000 vessels. She was the world’s first woman to become an admiral, and she sailed under the black flag.
The word “radical” comes from Greek, and it translates to “to the roots.” What is radical is, simply put, to follow one’s human intuition, void of the perversions that are produced by things such as class, church doctrine and motives of profit. Therefore, the radical notion of war is peace, because there is no intuition towards ruining others, and to let oneself be ruined. No soldier can radically participate in a war.
Rather, they must be perverted through the influences of politicians, generals and arms lobbyists to such an extent that they will, for whatever reason, value the gains made by their rulers above that of their own life and wellbeing.
Therefore, as pirates found an existence that was radical. As they lived in a condition beyond the intrigues of nobles, kings, merchants and aristocrats, the equality between races were as natural to them as the sun and the winds. In many ways it was this rebellion that unified them. Because the noose had no bias or preference.
If you were a white man fleeing poverty, or a black woman fleeing slavery, the king’s men saw no difference. Without the profit of slavery, racism dissolved quickly as the irrational and useless appendage that was produced by the social doctrines of wealthy men.
The average life expectancy of a pirate was 5 years following enlistment into a crew, and yet so many would be happy to choose 5 years of freedom and dignity over a lifetime under the lash of landlords, plantation owners and kings. This, I believe, is a testament to the tragic beauty of a radical soul. To be truly radical is to understand that life is not measured in years, but rather in days.
And it was this great wave of radicalism which eventually sparked the American and French revolutions. As piracy filled the Caribbean with freed slaves, radicalism spread to places such as Haiti, the Phillipines and Australia. More and more penal colonies and slave plantations began to rebel, and eventually the slave trade was bankrupted by the mounting pressures of indigenous rebellion and piracy.
And then Karl Marx was born. In his early life, he would spend his time in the Young Hegelians club, which was a little bit like the Breakfast Club of Continental philosophy, where young radical philosophers would gather to discuss the profound matters of the day and come up with new and challenging ways to tackle the important questions of life.
And what Karl Marx really did was to redefine the meaning of freedom. In the Soviet Union, people paid maybe 15–20 USD equivalent in rent. Public transportation was free. Housing was a constitutional guarantee. Employment was a constitutional guarantee. This is because Marx examined the world not through abstractions, but rather through material dialectics.
In other words, he defined freedom as something to be weighed and measured. Liberalism defines freedom as an idea. That’s why even if you’re a homeless drug addict who sleeps in someone’s doorstep every night, people still say you’re free.
You go hungry, your clothes are filthy, you’re cold, you live in constant pain, you have no sense of purpose or dignity, but because some bureaucrat made a civic decree which states on some ratified document that you’re free, then your reality is irrelevant. This is the political aesthetic of liberal freedom.
You have the freedom to starve, you have the freedom to be exploited, you have the freedom to be demeaned, and abused, and beaten and imprisoned. As long as cruelty and misery is framed in the language of freedom, liberalism has free reign to torture and enslave her subjects as wantonly as that of feudal warlords.
Marx said it works the other way around. That freedom is a coherent, real and material thing. That freedom is a condition wherein a human being exists and more importantly, has the capacity to exist. Instead of all these false promises made by liberalism, which states through some paradox that every man, woman and child has the ability to become rich if they just choose to be rich, that the system is flawless and that it is humanity that is flawed, Karl Marx exclaimed the opposite. He proclaimed that a system which does not serve humanity is a system that is a failure to humanity.
He had the radical idea that the economy exists to serve the people, and that living in Victorian England, he was exposed to a circumstance wherein the people served the economy. That there was no freedom in the promises of the enlightenment, which was built on slavery, workhouses, sweatshops, penal colonies and imperial wars.
And that’s where the idea of class character comes into play. That the freedom of the rich is the oppression of the poor. That poverty is a manmade phenomenon. That society is not governed by elemental forces, and that the consequences of such a society is ultimately what defines the moral, spiritual and ethical realism of such a society. So when people are poor, then that is because they are made to be poor, and when people are rich, that is because they are made to be rich.
Because when Bourbon dynasty fell on hard times, they got to call in a private army to defend their interests, such as the case with the Carlists. But when the French worker fell on hard times, then all he could resign himself to was a cold gutter and an early grave.
When a bank is bankrupt, it gets quantitative easing, and may exist in spite of its failures. When a human is bankrupt, then it’s either the streets or prison. The USA is the biggest capitalist project ever devised, and they have two vital contrasts: The world’s largest prison population, and the world’s biggest military industry.
The rich in the US, as in any liberal country, owe their existence to the taxes of the poor, and they owe their existence to the contracting of governments. What was once part of a nationalised commons is today being sold off to industrialists who rob the public coffers in order to make themselves fat. Whether such coffers supply military, petrochemical, financial or even media. The modern day corporation is an extension of the juridical functions once served by the noble fiefdom.
The only difference between the noble fiefdom and the modern corporation is that the modern corporation keeps business hours. But it doesn’t change the fact that a shift under capitalism is a temporary circumstance wherein people are stripped of all personal autonomy, democratic rights and human agency, as to render themselves into an instrument of profit. Where they build entire economies and societies with their compounded labour, and yet have no say in what form such labours take.
Instead such decisions are made by corporate bureaucrats and executives who think they are entitled to decide the needs of the people without having to hear the mandates of the people.
Corporations are juridical pockets in societies that otherwise maintain constitutional law. Wherein the power of the executive branch is unquestioned, and any views and thoughts of ordinary people are either freely sanctioned into silence, or in some cases, outright criminalised.
And that is precisely why Marx is relevant. What scholars term the “bourgeoisie” is what, in layman’s terms, could more easily be summed up as corporate control. And that is where class conflict exists in modern day. It is a struggle between the contradictory interests of corporations and human beings.
Corporations want the right to profit from oil, but human beings want the right to exist in a habitable ecology.
Corporations want the right to profit from war, but human beings want the right to life and limb.
Corporations want commercial media and advertising cartels, but human beings want entertainment and culture.
Corporations want cheap labour and opinion control, but human beings want plurality and education.
Corporations want profits from their production, but human beings want livable wages from their work.
These are only a few examples. But a corporation is fundamentally speaking an institution that wants what others have. Whether it is the air they breathe, the salaries they make, the water they drink, or the media they watch.
And they’re not even afraid to admit it. Corporations and their lobbyists made very big efforts to introduce “consumerism” into political language. Apparently the employers are the producers, and the employees are the consumers.
Apparently the assembly workers, the farmers, the service employees and the people who actually make stuff with their brains and their hands are those who consume.
And apparently the banks and the landlords whose only claim to involvement in this process is an abstract idea of ownership are those who produce.
But we can see how history has changed, and how this reality has changed. Particularly by looking at the crimes of wealth and rulers in the feudal ages. Once upon a time, ordinary people were seen as little more than chattel. Not just as slaves, but also as serfs and peasants.
We had no concept of personal autonomy, and we existed as lifeless appendages for the wealthy. Whether it was to raise armies, or build cities. The labourer has always existed in the shadow of the ambitions of kings, emperors and generals. Women were bought and sold as concubines. Children were stolen and put into slavery. Kings could freely kill, rape, conquer and plunder on the basis of personal whims.
Yet overtime, this changed. In the fires of revolution. Most famously in France and the Americas. Not just the US war for independence, but also similar acts of rebellion throughout Latin America. The same acts of rebellion that went eastward into Russia, China and eventually the Warsaw Pact nations.
Many of the freedoms we take for granted today, such as personhood, suffrage, health and safety, are very recent inventions. Inventions that were taken at the tip of the bayonet and the ring of the cannon. Little by little, we began to encircle the rich just as they once had encircled the commons. The result was parliaments, national assemblies, the generalitariat of Spain, the houses of commons and representatives, democratic centralism, and the gradual shift towards civic ideals of republicanism, egalitarianism and popular governance.
But this does not mean that such a struggle is over. What we are witnessing is a siege. The rich and the powerful exist today in hiding. They hide in their gated communities, their tall buildings and penthouses, behind security cameras, guards, walled mansions, private police and secluded getaways. They maintain covert meetings and closed-door negotiations, private arbitrations that sets precedent for public policy, and shroud their brokerage of power behind a carefully regulated network of media and opinion control.
But make no mistake, our rulers fear us. With every anti-terrorist legislation, with every metal detector, with every security camera, with every gun, uniform, drone, auxiliary formation and armoured car that they produce, they produce it in the effort to guard a dwindling authority that is slowly being passed into the hands of the people.
And the corporation became the key instrument to maintaining this power. No different from titles of nobility, or divine right by kings. The corporation is the new legal fiefdom that permits the powerful few to govern — without mandate or democratic scrutiny — the working many.
It is what puts lobbies into supposedly democratic governments. It is what puts opinion control into supposedly pluralistic media. It is what puts trustees into supposedly unbiased education. What governs the course of science and technology through grant funding. What turns public budgets into private sector profits. What produces a status quo wherein the many must sacrifice their essential resources in an effort to maintain the lavishness of the few.
The United Nations in a response to the shocking data which indicated that as many as 6 million children die each year from starvation made a motion to declare food as a human right. This would’ve been an extraordinary change in global and geopolitical policymaking, and would result in hundreds of millions of lives being improved and even saved from an early grave. The voting result was 180 nations in favour, with one abstained.
You would think that with such a result, we would today live in a world without hunger. Or at the very least, a world that made an admirable effort to end hunger. But the abstaining party had the power of veto. Such a party is the United States. As a result, the desires of 180 nations was outweighed by the desire of 1.
The US has always been built on the idea that her first citizens — the white settlers — had a value of life that is superior to that of everyone else. Even the most progressive of liberals in this nation will proclaim themselves to be part of the greatest nation on Earth. America uber alles, in other words.
And in the case of the United Nations, the US has declared themselves to be the master race. Stating that one of their people has more value than 180 foreign counterparts.
Often people say that capitalism adheres to human nature, but I think the people who say that often ascribe to this doctrine of the United States, wherein one American life is valued greatly above that of others. By redefining humanity to only include a small minority of people — who often exist beneath a misguided doctrine — then they can bomb, starve and plunder their way towards defining reality and nature itself. The most vital principle of US history is that dead men tell no tales.
I do not blame ordinary US citizens for this circumstance. Even as children they have to swear allegiance to the flag. They are taught laughable fictions about other peoples. Their idea of foreign politics are generally a series of stereotypes and casus bellii regarding nations they can scarcely locate on a map.
During this recent war with Ukraine, medium has bombarded me with articles from arrogant US authors who, prior to this most recent chain of news cycles, had no meaningful concept of Ukraine’s existence. They blindly parrot news broadcasts and social media, and mistake their banalities for something that is educated and realistic.
It’s a very dystopian circumstance, and you cannot entirely fault people for the waters they must swim in.
And America gives the rest of us a lot of credit. All their army bases throughout the world, their secret prisons, their torture camps, all of it exists because in spite of how they preach America uber alles, they must still surrender to the reality of things and recognise us as equals. The greatest praise an enemy can give you is to fortify himself.
US politicians greatly enjoy long winded speeches about the backwardness and failures of popular governments. Whether Cuba, Viet Nam, China, Venezuela, DPRK, Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. But this is because people in the US are taught by their government that words speak louder than actions.
If we examine the actions of such politicians, with their sanctions, coups, assassination attempts, wars and nuclear threats, then we see a series of desperate efforts to destroy an enduring opponent. An opponent who, in their civilised virtue, does not even bother to make any recourse. This is because these nations do not need America.
They do not need to put American children into sweatshops, they do not need to drill for oil in Texas and export it cheap to their own countries with the help of compadore dictators, they do not need to exploit the US in order to sustain themselves.
The US needs such sustenance, whether it is to bring in young Russian women in cargo containers for slave labour, or putting Vietnamese children to work behind sewing machines. The actions of the US government are actions of weakness and parasitism. They even leech off of their own people in many respects.
Whether it is bailing out wall street with the taxes of the working class, or abolishing labour unions to maintain their collapsing economy through low wages and long hours. We see an economy that exists on life support, and that must routinely be transfused with the blood of both innocent people within the US as well as abroad.
It is easy to fall into the trappings of devicing scapegoats based on what is arbitrary, and there is nothing more arbitrary than nations. But just like colonialism, the American people have been at the ground zero of such an oppression. Just like how the European peasant suffered the same cruelties that Christopher Columbus would eventually subject the Indians to in Hispaniola.
Moreover, the US is an invention of English, Spanish, Dutch, German and French nobility. Among many others. It is in many ways a government in exile, kicked out of Europe as people began to demand popular rule. To say that the US is the fault of the Americans is to indulge in meaningless nationalism. We all have rooks and brigands, we all have robber barons and landlords, and we all have industries of war and slavery. The US is the place of assembly for such powers, but it is hardly the cause of them.
Rather, what began to injure the status quo of colonialism was the solidarity between such estranged peoples.
From the Jacobins of Haiti, to the Jacobins of France. From the communists of Cuba, to the Communists of Russia. The struggle for emancipation from corporate control is a struggle which cannot be realised until the people of Europe and the people of the Americas are united by an understanding of how their suffering is a shared one.
Because we are ultimately the ones who are hosts to these empires, and that is why we are the ones who must stop them. As the UN shows us, it is only a small minority who hunger for power. Humanity at large desire the power to end hunger.