Karl Marx was born on 5th May 1818 in the German town of Trier. In his twenties he started to develop the political theory which is now known as Marxism, very soon developing his ideas with his life time companion, friend and collaborator Frederick Engels.
These two, simple sentences are the very essence of Marxism. And since the early 1840s, when Marx started to develop his ideas, there has been a continual struggle to keep that issue at the forefront of workers’ movements throughout the world.
In the 19th century workers who attempted to change the world were far in advance of some of the so-called ‘leaders’, intellectuals and demagogues who spoke well but were found to be wanting when it came to action. The Paris Commune of 1871 was the prime example of this where workers knew instinctively what had to be done.
VI Lenin, the great Marxist theoretician, who was the first leader to be able to lead a successful proletarian revolution, learnt – and implemented – the lessons, both positive and negative, from the Commune and ensured that the Russian workers, peasants and soldiers had a better chance of success against an even more powerful reactionary force. However, Lenin’s ideas were based on the solid bedrock of Marxism, which philosophy he developed into what is now known as Marxism-Leninism.
The significance of Marx’s ideas have never been underestimated by capitalist, imperialist and reactionary forces. In the, now, 173 years since the publication of The Manifesto of the Communist Party (in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, pp477-519.) there have been countless occasions when those movements who have used Marxism as their ideological base have been attacked and vilified as being inappropriate to the circumstances or as being a ‘foreign import’. The danger that these ideas pose to the ruling classes in most countries of the world demonstrate the value they have for those who are oppressed and exploited – the majority of the population of the world.
But from its inception Marxism has not only had to contend with the attacks from capitalism and imperialism. Within the working class itself there have been those revisionists who have sought to emasculate Marxism of its revolutionary content and these cowards, traitors and renegades have caused incalculable damage to any advances in the conditions of the world’s workers and peasants.
However, those attacks only serve to make Marxism relevant in the present circumstances, where the people of the world are suffering during a health pandemic which has been made worse – and longer lasting – due to the fact that capitalism has no real interest in effectively dealing with such a situation that benefits the majority of people.
So far there’s been no indication that this crisis – caused by the political and economic situation under which all in the world live – has caused workers to rethink the old certainties (even if they did exist pre-2019). The negative effects of covid-19 will last for a long time and there’s no chance that the world will just change, taking into consideration the situation of the majority of the population, without them taking action to change their condition themselves.
Those ‘crumbs’ which capitalism have thrown to avoid the destruction of its rotten and moribund system are becoming harder to find and are getting scattered more widely.
Implementing the ideas of Marx – and how they have been developed by Lenin and Mao – is the only way there will be a long-term and sustainable future for the workers and peasants of the world.
Marxism is far from being dead.
Long Live Marxism!
As part of the commemoration of Marx’s birth we reproduce the interview below (first published on the 200th Anniversary) with David Harvey who has produced a series of video lectures which seek to make Marx’s most important work, Capital, (Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Capital Volunme 1, Capital Volume 2 and Capital Volume 3) understandable and more accessible to those who might find the three, large volumes too daunting.
Why Marx Still Matters
An interview with David Harvey
This article originally appeared as an interview on Daniel Denvir’s podcast, The Dig, in 2018
On the second centenary of Karl Marx’s birth, global capitalism is stumbling from crisis to crisis. In the wake of the financial crash, interest in Marx’s ideas has blossomed once again. This should come as no surprise: they remain vital to understanding not only the dynamics of capitalism itself but the manner in which it structures our modern world.
David Harvey is one of the world’s leading scholars of Marx. His course on the three volumes of Capital became synonymous with Marx’s re-emergence in recent years, and has been viewed by millions online. This course has been condensed into the recently-published Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason, a companion to Marx’s magnum opus, which addresses its relevance today.
In this interview, David Harvey speaks with journalist Daniel Denvir about Marx’s work, his understanding of capitalism’s contradictions, and why his ideas endure so long after his time.
You’ve been teaching Capital for quite a long time. Can you lay out a brief overview of each of the three volumes?
Marx is very much into detail, and it’s sometimes hard to get a sense of exactly what the whole conception of Capital is about. But really, it’s simple. Capitalists start the day with a certain amount of money, take the money into the marketplace and buy commodities like means of production and labour power, and put them to work in a labour process that produces a new commodity. That commodity is sold for money, plus a profit. Then the profit is redistributed in various ways, in the form of rents and interest, which circulates back into money, which starts the production cycle again.
It’s a circulation process. And the three volumes of Capital deal with different aspects. The first deals with production. The second deals with circulation and what we call ‘realisation’ — the way the commodity is converted back into money. And the third deals with distribution — how much goes to the landlord, how much goes to the financier, how much goes to the merchant, before it is all turned around and sent back into the circulation process.
That’s what I try to teach, so that people understand the relationships between the three volumes of Capital and don’t get lost entirely in any one volume or parts of them.
You differ with other Marx scholars in that you pay a lot of attention to volumes two and three, in addition to volume one. Why is that?
It’s clear that in Marx’s mind, he had an idea of the totality of the circulation of capital. His plan was to break it down into these three component parts in the three volumes. So I just follow what Marx says he’s doing. Now, the problem of course, is that volumes two and three were never completed, and they aren’t as satisfactory as volume one, which is a literary masterpiece. So I can understand why, if people want to read Marx with a certain sense of joy and fun, that they would stick with volume one. But I’m saying, ‘No, if you really want to understand what his conception of capital is, then you can’t understand it as just being about production. It’s about circulation. It’s about getting it to market and selling it, then it’s about distributing the profits.’
One reason that it’s important is that we need it to understand this dynamic of constant expansion that drives capitalism.
You get this idea of a ‘bad infinity’ in volume one. The system has to expand because it’s always about profit, creating what Marx called a ‘surplus value’, and the surplus value then gets reinvested in the creation of more surplus value. So capital is about constant expansion.
And what that does is this: if you grow at 3 percent a year, forever, then you get to the point where the amount of expansion required is absolutely huge. In Marx’s time, there’s plenty of space in the world to expand into, whereas right now we’re talking about 3 percent compound rate of growth on everything that’s happening in China and South Asia and Latin America. The problem arises: where are you going to expand into? That’s the bad infinity coming into being.
In volume three, Marx says maybe the only way it can expand is by monetary expansion. Because with money there’s no limit. If we’re talking about using cement or something like that, there’s a physical limit to how much you can produce. But with money, you can just add zeros to the global money supply.
If you look at what we did after the 2008 crisis, we added zeros to the money supply by something called ‘quantitative easing’. That money then flowed back into stock markets, and then asset bubbles, especially in property markets. We’ve now got a strange situation where, in every metropolitan area of the world that I’ve visited, there’s a huge boom in construction and in property asset prices – all of which is being fuelled by the fact that money is being created and it doesn’t know where to go, except into speculation and asset values.
You’re trained as a geographer, and for you Marx’s account of capitalism is fundamentally about dealing with problems of space and time. Why are these two axes of space and time are so critical?
For instance, the interest rate is about discounting into the future. And borrowing is about foreclosing on the future. Debt is a claim on future production. So the future is foreclosed on, because we’ve got to pay our debts. Ask any student who owes $200,000: their future is foreclosed, because they’ve got to pay off that debt. This foreclosure of the future is a terribly important part of what Capital is about.
The space stuff comes in because as you start to expand, there’s always the possibility that if you can’t expand in a given space, you take your capital and go into another space. For instance, Britain was producing a lot of surplus capital in the nineteenth century, so a lot of it was flowing to North America, some through Latin America, some to South Africa. So there’s a geographical aspect to this.
The expansion of the system is about getting what I call ‘spatial fixes’. You’ve got a problem: you’ve got excess capital. What are you going to do with it? Well, you have a spatial fix, which means you go out and build something somewhere else in the world. If you have an ‘unsettled’ continent like North America in the nineteenth century, then there’s vast amounts of space you can expand into. But now North America has been pretty much covered.
The spatial reorganisation is not simply about expansion. It’s also about reconstruction. We get deindustrialisation in the United States and Europe, and then the reconfiguration of an area through urban redevelopment, so that cotton mills in Massachusetts get turned into condominiums.
We’re running out of both space and time right now. That’s one of the big problems of contemporary capitalism.
What do mainstream economists miss about all of this?
They hate contradictions. It doesn’t fit with their world view. The economists love to confront what they call problems, and problems have solutions. Contradictions don’t. They exist with you all the time, and therefore you have to manage them.
They get heightened into what Marx called ‘absolute contradictions’. How do economists deal with the fact that in the crisis of the 1930s or the 1970s or more recently, surplus capital and surplus labour sit side by side, and nobody seems to have a clue as to how to put them back together so that they can work for socially productive purposes?
Keynes tried to do something about this. But by and large, economists have no idea how to deal with these contradictions. Whereas Marx is saying that this contradiction is in the nature of capital accumulation. And this contradiction then produces these crises periodically, which claim lives and create misery.
In terms of that contradiction, you describe in your book ‘surplus capital and surplus labour existing side by side with seemingly no way to put them back together.’ How has capitalism attempted to resolve this?
The response to the 2007–8 crisis was to, in most of the world – except China – double down into a neoliberal austerity politics. Which made things worse. Since then, we’ve had more cuts. It hasn’t worked very well. Slowly, unemployment has come down in the United States, but of course it’s gone shooting up in places like Brazil and Argentina.
The neoliberal argument had a lot of legitimacy in the 1980s and 1990s as being liberatory in some way. But nobody believes that anymore. Everybody realises it’s a con job in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
But now we’re seeing the emergence of an ethno-nationalist protectionism-autarky, which is a different model. That doesn’t sit very well with neoliberal ideals. We could be headed into something which is much less pleasant than neoliberalism, the division of the world into warring and protectionist factions who are fighting each other over trade and everything else.
The argument of somebody like Steve Bannon is that we need to protect the working people of America from competition in the job market by limiting immigration. Instead of blaming capital, you blame the immigrants. The second thing is to say, we can also get support from that population by putting up tariffs and blaming Chinese competition. In effect, you’ve got a right-wing politics that is gathering a great deal of support by being anti-immigrant and anti-offshoring.
You’re well known for your scholarly work, but you’re perhaps known better as a teacher of Marx. Why do you think it’s important for leftists outside of the academy to engage with Marx’s work?
When you’re involved in political action and activism, you’ve usually got some very specific target. Let’s say, lead paint poisoning in the inner city. You’re organising around what to do about the fact that 20 percent of the kids in inner-city Baltimore suffer from lead paint poisoning. You’re involved in a legal battle, and in fighting with landlord lobbies and with all kinds of opponents. Most people I know who are involved in activist forms of that kind are so consumed with the details of what they’re doing that they often forget where they are in the overall picture – of the struggles in a city, let alone in the world.
Often you find that people need assistance from outside. That lead paint thing is much easier to handle if you’ve got all of the people who are involved in the educational system, who see kids in schools with problems with lead paint poisoning. You start to build alliances. And the more alliances you can build, the more powerful your movement could be.
I try not to lecture people about what they should think, but try to create a framework of thinking, so that people can see where they are in the totality of complicated relationships that make up contemporary society. Then people can form alliances around the issues they’re concerned with, and, at the same time, mobilise their own powers to help other people in their alliances.
I’m into building alliances. In order to build alliances, you have to have a picture of the totality of a capitalist society. To the degree that you can get some of that from studying Marx, I think that it’s helpful.
This article first appeared in New Albania, No 6 1977. It is being reproduced here in an effort to counter the false claim that Albania, during it’s period of Socialist construction, was a state that was purposely isolating itself from the rest of the world, as well as putting the concept into a contemporary context.
Yes, Albania could quite easily have bought more powerful friends in the block in Eastern Europe dominated by the, then, Soviet Union. But to do so it would have had to throw any principles the Party of Labour of Albania had out of the window and kowtow to forces that were working against the development of Socialism throughout the world.
Yes, it could easily have joined the capitalist/imperialist grouping of countries, dominated by the United States but including countries like the UK, Germany and Italy – the latter two countries against whom the Partisans had fought in the National Liberation War and the first of which was constantly seeking to undermine the society with armed ‘regime change’ (although the term wasn’t around at that time) by using fascist and pro-capitalist nationalist groups to infiltrate the country to commit sabotage and murder.
In the period from 1944 to 1990 Albania had an understanding of what independence meant. They had achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 but it wasn’t until the defeat of the Nazis on 29th November 1944 that the country could say it was finally able to determine its future.
The fact that the future the country wanted to build was that based upon the dictatorship of the proletariat with the aim of establishing Communism meant they had to face enemies (including erstwhile Socialist states) that couldn’t countenance such opposition to the way they saw a different future.
So whilst self-reliance is crucial to the development of any Socialist state (in the past and in the future) as in Albania for the 46 years of its Socialist construction, it also has relevant lessons and important points for many people of the world in the third decade of the 21st century.
‘Globalisation’, hailed as the best way to increase the wealth levels of the poorest of the world has only led to the exact opposite. Economies that did have a certain amount of independence thirty or forty years ago now find that everything they do is determines by some faceless group who gamble on the price of the goods they produce and having to deal with the inevitable price cuts that comes with this form of the ‘free market’.
This has effected in more serious and fundamental ways the countries in the economic ‘south’ but even the most established capitalist countries have felt the effect.
The campaign to get Britain out of the European Union was part of that fight back. Obviously not from the racists, the xenophobes, the ignorant, the frightened, the narrow-minded, the ‘nationalists’ of Scotland, Wales and Ireland who want ‘freedom’ from England but voluntary bondage to the EU and the opportunist politicians (such as our home grown Buffoon).
There were many who saw the history of the economic decline (both industrial and agricultural) of Britain since the mid-1970s as being a direct consequence of the country’s membership of the gang of European capitalists. Decisions made in their clubhouse were for the benefit of the capitalist system in general and had nothing to do with the conditions of the workers and the general population of their respective countries.
It won’t be easy for the people of Britain to build a country where the decisions are taken at a local level (as it wasn’t easy – and proved to be ultimately fatal to the Socialist society in Albania) but in the process it’s possible the British people will realise we need neither the cold comfort of united European capitalism to organise our society nor capitalism itself.
That self-reliance is something worth fighting for.
Self-reliance – a Great Marxist-Leninist Principle in the Construction of Socialism and the Defence of the Country
Self-reliance is a great Marxist-Leninist principle. It has a profound political, ideological, economic and strategic character because it is linked with the fate of socialism and its defence. This principle is linked with the strengthening of the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat and keeping it pure, against every danger of retrogression to capitalism and revisionism, because the implementation of this principle is closely linked with the preservation and strengthening of political independence, with the creation of a strong and independent economy, with the development of a national socialist culture and the preparation of an invincible defence. In the field of foreign politics, this principle is connected with the construction of an independent policy, to prevent it from becoming an appendage of the foreign policy of some other party, state or country.
The implementation of this principle is also linked with the preservation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, not to make concessions or not to create different joint economic or financial companies with the monopolies of the bourgeois or revisionist states and to reject any offer of ‘aid’ or ‘credit’ from them.
At the 7th Congress of the Party of Labour, Comrade Enver Hoxha said, that for us, the principle of self-reliance is a law of the construction of socialism and its defence, as well as an imperative necessity in this direction. This is related to the fact that both the revolution and the construction of socialism can never be exported or imported. The internal factor is the determining and decisive factor both in the struggle for the triumph of the revolution and for the seizure of power by the working class under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist party, as well as in the struggle for the construction of socialism and the defence of the country. The external factor also has its own importance, but, never is it fundamental; it does not exert its influence directly, but through the internal factor.
This principle eliminates from the Marxist- Leninist thesis on the decisive role of the people, led by the Marxist-Leninist Party in the victory of the revolution, in the construction of socialism and the defence of the country. Speaking about this question at the 7th Congress of the Party of Labour of Albania, comrade Enver Hoxha said among other things, that ‘self-reliance, demands, first of all, that we strongly rely on the creative, mental and physical energies of the people, led by the Party’.
For Albania, this principle, is, at the same time, an imperative necessity because the Albanian people are building socialism in the conditions of a savage imperialist-revisionist encirclement and their all-round blockade, in the conditions of the pressure which the big economic-financial and energy crisis which has the entire capitalist-revisionist world in its grip is exerting on its economy, in conditions when US imperialism, Soviet social-imperialism, the whole of world reaction, modern revisionism and old and new opportunism are hatching up plots and plans to overthrow socialism and restore capitalism in Albania and to perpetuate it in their own countries.
Self-reliance means: first, to rely on your own manpower and the creative energies of your people, under the direct and indivisible leadership of the Marxist-Leninist party; second, to rely on the natural wealth and the material-technical base created in the country; third, to rely on the internal resources of material and financial accumulations.
Self-reliance is not at all a temporary policy, merely dictated by certain external circumstances; it has always been and remains a general course in the policy of the PLA for the construction of socialism and the defence of the country, a course which has always been consistently implemented in every step of life, in the political or economic fields, in art, culture, education, science, defence, everywhere, in all fields and sectors of social life.
In Albania the construction of socialism and the defence of the country are realized by firmly relying on our own forces. This is a living reality, a reality which is based on several objective and subjective factors.
Today, the Albanian economy has a powerful material-technical base. Industry, as the leading branch of the economy is capable of broadly utilising the natural resources, energy and raw materials. The extracting and processing industries have been developed and not only does Albania meet all the internal demands and those of export, but conditions have been created so that apart from the output of pig iron and steel, other minerals will also be gradually processed, so that they can be exported like this and not as crude mineral, or so they can be processed further locally. Today, the engineering industry produces 85 per cent of the spare parts and in 1980 will produce 90 per cent of them; it is capable of preserving the exploitation of the material-technical base created in Albania and, together with the chemical industry and other branches it is gradually assuming the qualitative advance to produce machinery, the instruments of labour, that is to create the level of the independence of the economy with the principle of self-reliance requires.
The socialist agriculture, as the basic branch of the people’s economy is developing at rapid rates as a modern and multi-branched economy and it increased the production of bread grain by giving priority to this sector, thus meeting all demands for bread grain locally. Together with the light and food — processing industry, it has managed to fulfil 85 per cent of the country’s demands for mass consumption goods and in 1980 it will fulfil 95 per cent of them.
As a result of the entire development of material production, internal accumulation has increased a great deal, on the basis of which such possibilities have been created that during the 6th Five-year Plan (1976-1980) colossal investments have been made, chiefly from local resources, equal to those which have been made during the entire twenty year long period from 1951 to 1970 in Albania.
Self-reliance is a general and permanent course, a principle for every socialist country, big or small, a principle which is applicable both in the struggles for liberation and the proletarian revolution, as well as in the construction of socialism and the defence ol the Homeland. Not only does it not exclude cooperation and reciprocal aid between revolutionary forces and socialist countries, but it presupposes it. This is an internationalist duty of great importance not only to the interests of the country which receives this aid, but also for the country which gives it.
Remaining loyal to the teachings of Marxism-Leninism, the PLA has continually exposed all those ‘theories’ and enslaving practices of the two superpowers and the other imperialist powers, which, under the mask of ‘fraternal aid’, ‘development’ and ‘progress’ exert pressure on and enslave countries. They spread all kinds of false theories which weaken the conviction of the peoples in the possibilities of the construction of a sovereign life, and in general, in their existence as nations and free countries and they sow and spread the psychosis that allegedly without relying on one big power you can not develop as a free and independent nation. Their theories and practices are out and out reactionary and rapacious. This is clearly proved by the concrete neo-colonialist activity both of US imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism, as well as by the whole of world imperialist and revisionist reaction.
The bourgeois and revisionist propaganda has long since been speaking in the most unrestrained manner against socialist Albania, against the consistent implementation by the PLA and the Albanian people of the principle of self-reliance, accusing them, that allegedly, with the course they are following, Albania is isolated, that the advance along this course spells isolation, autarchic development etc. With this they are trying to cultivate the feeling of subjugation towards them and to legalize the policy of imperialist expansion and exploitation of other countries, to transform the countries and peoples into colonies, as they have, in reality, transformed all those who drag behind their chariot. As the Party of Labour of Albania and Comrade Enver Hoxha have always stressed, Albania has never accepted and will never accept the so called aid of the imperialists and revisionists, which, in reality, means nothing else but the subjugation of whoever accepts and receives it. ‘The imperialists and the revisionists’, said Comrade Enver Hoxha at the 7th Congress of the PLA, ‘call a country isolated which has closed its doors to invasion through enslaving credits, through the tourists and spies, through the decadent culture and degeneration. From this angle we are truly an isolated country and we will remain such with full consciousness.’
In reality, the entire economic-social development of socialist Albania and the correct and far-sighting policy of the PLA, with the high prestige which it has won for Albania throughout the world, reject all these calumnies. The correct Marxist-Leninist policy of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania is respected and evaluated by the revolutionary and progressive forces, just as they evaluate all the achievements and progress of Albania during these thirty three years of free and sovereign life. Today, Albania has diplomatic relations with more than 80 different states of the world and with more than 40 of them it maintains relations of economic and cultural exchanges.
The Party of Labour of Albania and the Albanian people have always followed a correct road in the economic, cultural and social development of the country, relying on their own forces, and this is why the rates of development in Albania are higher and more stable than in any other country of Europe and amongst the highest in the world.