The top seven reasons why Marx was right
By Zanny Begg
1. We can understand history
The 10 richest people in the world own more wealth than that produced each year by the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Facts like these are often presented to us as inexplicable, just part of the ways things are. When we question how society is organised, we are told it reflects "human nature".
Karl Marx rejected this mystification. He started by looking at history and learned that human societies have evolved over time, from hunter-gatherer communities to the global imperialist empire.
The driving force for these changes was humans' need to feed, clothe and house themselves, and the struggle over who controls these resources. The Communist Manifesto summed this up neatly in the statement that the "history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". History is the struggle between those who own the wealth in society and those who don't.
2. Capitalism is unjust
Capitalism "has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal ... relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the mostly feudal ties that bound humans to their 'natural superiors' and has left remaining no other nexus between human and human than ... callous cash payment" — Communist Manifesto.
Capitalism has concentrated wealth into the hands of the capitalists and forced the rest of us to work for them. While this has led to a massive increase in the productive forces (for the first time in human history, it is now possible to produce enough food to feed the entire human population), because this wealth is privately owned there has never been greater poverty on a world scale.
Today, the richest 2000 people in Australia own more then the poorest 2.5 million. Those 2000 people own almost all of society's resources, which enables them to determine how the rest of us live. And they call this a democracy!
3. Capitalism is unstable
Because the capitalist system is based on competition between different capitalists all trying to accumulate as much capital as possible, it is inherently unstable.
The economy goes through cycles of boom and bust over and over again. Most recently, the collapse of the Asian economies has pushed the rest of the world to the brink of crisis.
This has not been caused by a scarcity of goods (although millions will go hungry as a result of the crisis). Rather, it is because the capitalists have produced more than they can sell for a profit — it is a crisis of overproduction.
The intense competitive drive also leads to wars as capitalist powers compete for access to markets and resources, and try to crush any opposition to their rule. The war against Iraq, for example, is being waged by the United States and Britain (with Australian support) to protect the profits of the oil companies.
4. Marx was a greenie
An inevitable by-product of production for private profit is environmental destruction. As Marx pointed out, "All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil".
Private ownership of production means that decisions about the use of natural resources are made by a few individuals on the basis of profit. So, the owners of ERA can decide to mine uranium at Jabiluka in Kakadu National Park, regardless of the human and ecological costs.
If the wealth of society was owned collectively, these decisions would have to be made democratically. And given that 67% of Australians oppose the Jabiluka mine, it would not go ahead.
Production for profit is environmentally destructive also because it is wasteful; things are deliberately made to break down or go out of fashion so that consumers will buy another one.
5. Marx was a feminist
Marx and his collaborator Frederick Engels studied the origins of sexism and concluded, "The general level of emancipation of a society is indicated by the level of emancipation of its women".
They argued that the oppression of women is not inevitable, but arose as a result of the division of society into classes. As society divided into the "haves" and "have nots", women had to be contained within the family to ensure that the ruling class's wealth and power passed on to their children.
Women's unpaid labour in the home — cooking, cleaning, caring for the young and the elderly — is an essential crutch on which capitalism rests.
6. Socialism is possible
Those who strive for a more just society are often called idealists. But Marx proved that socialism is possible.
The majority of us do all the work in society; we produce everything. We don't need people like Bill Gates to make it happen.
We have the power to halt production and make their system tumble. We could then run society for ourselves. As the Communist Manifesto pointed out, "In the place of the old society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all".
7. We can change history
Marx commented: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it."
It is not enough to understand that something is wrong with society; we have to fight to make it better. A society without poverty, racism, homophobia, sexism and environmental destruction is a worthwhile goal, but it isn't going to happen spontaneously. It is going to happen only if we work together and organise against their system.