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Editor’s Note: Since the financial crash of 2008, there has been a revival of interest in the writings of Karl Marx, especially among disenchanted millennials faced with bleak economic prospects and unburdened by memories of the Cold War. Marx died in 1883. So, what would he have to say to his readers if he were able to come back to life today? In the imaginary letter below, Nicholas Powers takes a crack at giving voice to a 19th century prophet trying to make sense of a 21st century world radically different from the one he knew but still ruled by the capitalist system he so painstakingly analyzed.

Dear Comrades,

I am writing you because it troubles me to have a dialogue with you in my head without you being able to answer. The world is teeming with activity. Again you are in the streets, shouting with a glowing hatred for the landlords, capitalists and officials.

What else can one write about at the present moment but of the great schism that has cracked open the 21st century? Islands of wealth rise even as whole peoples slide into abysmal poverty. Against their death the multitudes fight in blind sporadic outbursts — here in the Middle East, there in America, here in Spain and there again in India.

Like so many volcanoes, the people erupt and the transnational bourgeoisie, as if a Goliath, kick them down like anthills. How could it be otherwise? Imperialist war has left the nations (often to the jingoist cheer of the stupid) with fully developed forces that today’s as-yet immature social movements dash against in futility.

Today many are hopeless. In my own time, I also felt hollow. When my son Edgar died, he was only eight. I walked the cobblestone streets of Brussels, weeping and tugging my beard as he once did. Did I kill him by choosing a life of slums and revolutionary theory? At his funeral the family consoled me as I grieved, “You cannot give me back my boy!”

In the years that followed, child after child died. My wife Jenny’s face became tight with pain. To escape the guilt of a silent house, I walked the city and saw the same death stalking my neighbors. Their children died too. Clad in the black of mourning, they paced to and fro and their shadows shuddered along the walls. Above us all, I saw the grinding mill of labor, its invisible wheels churning the city, mulching our bodies and spirits into capital.

We suffer and die, in a seemingly endless cycle. But what is the meaning of it? Are we but fodder for factories? Are the armies of workers, who march from hearthstone to industry, ever to remain nameless in history? Gazing upon the buildings, I saw in the tall spires, in the store filled with wares and in each stone of the street the human hands that built this city. Each object was a testament to the powers of the wretched worker who returned home at night with an empty stomach.

Labor is the beating heart of the world. Anything I ever wrote came from this eternal truth. My hope, dear comrades, was for the masses to know this and see in the ruling class and its parade of power their own stolen strength. My dream was to spur them to ruthlessly seize control of the means of production — yes, by force and by blood — until we climbed the capitols of the world and made them ring with workers’ voices. Upon that summit, we could lay to rest the spirits of those we watched die from hunger and poverty and grief. Maybe then, arm-in-arm with my comrades, I could feel Edgar tug my beard again and know that he forgave me.

Long after I wrote my last word, I am being read again. Leave it to the rich to create my audience for me! Of course, inevitably the capitalist cycle of crisis has crashed. The contradictions of bourgeois production — exploitation of the labor of workers who cannot afford the gross flood of commodities — were held at bay in the advanced nations by credit, until teetering like a house of cards, it fell.

Rising from the rubble is the anger of the workers and the young who can find no work. Close behind it will be the terror of the global South. For the next contradiction of bourgeois production — the infinite desire for capital accumulation on a finite planet — has made industry the enemy of the earth. Ice caps melt. Floods wash cities away. Terrified millions, ragged and desperate, are on the move.

The historical role of the working class is now to save our species from capitalism. Mind you, I am not blowing the heavenly horns of the End Times. No prophecy of final revolution is true, including my own. The social being of man may determine his consciousness, but it does not foreclose it — there is something in man that is deeper than consciousness. And that is being itself. Even a communist mode of production will never allow us to seize control of our own dark depths.

We may be beyond salvation, but must the earth itself be condemned? The bourgeoisie are blinded by privilege; they imagine they can escape the wrath of hurricanes and drought. But they will destroy our planet, the vulnerable poor and then, eventually, themselves. We revolutionaries must remove them, smash their society and replace it with a free association, between man and man as well as man and nature.

Let me tell you now what I could not know then. Paradise was never at the end of a long historical arc of development. It was here all along. We always already had enough. It was the ideology of hierarchy and scarcity that trapped us. And know this — the true product of an economy is not commodities but the consciousness of those that make them.

So as you ply the fingers of the bourgeois off the earth, breathe and sing. I see from a great distance the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new one. Every metamorphosis is also a swan song. This is your time.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    And sometimes, when the void stood between us, we got all the way to each other - Paul Celan

    by Nicholas Powers on Sat Jun 14, 2014 at 06:47:19 AM PDT

  •  Did Marx ever use the word "Comrades"? Sounds l... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Did Marx ever use the word "Comrades"?

    Sounds like 20th century Russian terminology.

    And certainly not how to address 21st century disaffected, imaginary or not.

    •  one of the oldest union songs uses the word (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Santa Susanna Kid, G2geek


      "Look, my Comrades, see the union banners waving high..."

      This is a 19 century song sung in England and in US.

      American Socialists used the word freely in the Socialist press of the day.  We Socialist are still here and still use the word "Comrade."

      It was and is a very American expression.

      Mother Jones sometimes addressed her letters:
      Dear Comrade, as did others, Debs, etc..

      and they were not fans of the way that the Russian Revolution turned out.

      Everything Marxist or Socialist is not Russian.

      Perhaps you didn't get the memo: the Cold War is over.

      God spare me the Heart to fight them... I'll fight the Pirates forever. -Mother Jones

      by JayRaye on Sat Jun 14, 2014 at 12:05:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  No working American should ever vote Republican (6+ / 0-)

    The biggest challenge of our day is to get working Americans to perceive that regardless of their attitudes on guns, gods, or abortion, and regardless of whether they wear blue or white collars, they are all members of the working class and as such, have a common cause.

  •  Adam Smith said this long before Marx (0+ / 0-)
    Paradise was never at the end of a long historical arc of development. It was here all along. We always already had enough. It was the ideology of hierarchy and scarcity that trapped us.
    Before we can examine what Smith said, we have to recognize that one of the most pernicious lies of the international bourgeoisie is that Smith favored unfettered capitalism and unregulated markets, the policy that they mischaracterize as laissez-faire. It was originally a plea to government not to do favors for business, positive or negative, but to allow business simply to do business (Laissez-nous faire). Smith was in fact quite savage about the rich in general, and big business in particular.

    For example, in his magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, he makes it clear that wealth is not money,

    It would be too ridiculous to go about seriously to prove that wealth does not consist in money, or in gold and silver; but in what money purchases, and is valuable only for purchasing. Money no doubt, makes always a part of the national capital; but it has already been shown that it generally makes but a small part, and always the most unprofitable part of it.

        Chapter I, p. 470

    Corn [wheat] is a necessary, silver is only a superfluity.

        Chapter XI, Part III, (First Period) p. 223

    but has instead two quite different components: productivity in creating everything needed by a population through the division of labor, improvements to land, infrastructure investment, and the creation and deployment of productive capital equipment; and the ability to distribute that production to those who need it.
    No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.

        Chapter VIII, p. 94

    Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favor of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favor of the masters.

            Chapter x, Part II, p. 168

    The annual produce of the land and labour of any nation can be increased in its value by no other means, but by increasing either the number of its productive labourers, or the productive powers of those labourers who had before been employed.

        Chapter III, p. 377

    All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.
            Chapter IV, p. 448

    POLITICAL economy, considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects: first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.

            Introduction, p. 459

    Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.

            Chapter VIII, p. 719

    and so on in that vein.

    Furthermore, Marx, in Capital remarked that of all previous economists, and in sharp contrast to the common capitalist, only Smith really understood how economies really work.

    What strikes one here above all is the crudely empirical conception of profit derived from the outlook of the ordinary capitalist, which wholly contradicts the better esoteric understanding of Adam Smith.

        Karl Marx (1867) Das Kapital, Volume II, Chapter X, p. 202

    On Marx himself, I consider him an excellent historian and social diagnostician, and a competent economist (which is saying something in a world of such monumental and continuing incompetence). However, he seems to me to be a terrible philosopher and a complete quack when it came to prescribing social and economic remedies that he invented out of pure speculation, with no consideration of trying any part of them out to see whether they work. There has never been a Communist revolution of the sort envisaged by Marx, and all of those that claimed to follow him happened in pre-industrial countries or were imposed from outside. They all turned into disasters, almost all since abandoned, essentially of the same kind as those of its ideological opposition.

    It has been said that Communism, as practiced, consists of ownership of all means of production, that is, all companies, by the state (certainly not by the people generally or the workers in particular); whereas Mussolini defined Fascism as ownership of the state by its largest companies. Hitler's National Socialism was quite explicitly founded on slavery of all those supposed sub-humans who were not to be exterminated outright, in considerable contrast with the wage slavery of ordinary capitalism.

    Equally, it is said that Capitalism is the oppression of man by man, and Communism is precisely the reverse. ^_^

    The closest we have gotten to a functioning economic system has been the New Deal in the US, and various Social Democracies in Europe. Like democracy, such systems can be described as the worst known to man except for all of the others that .

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

    by Mokurai on Sat Jun 14, 2014 at 10:34:03 PM PDT

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