The Rear View Column from the March 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
A frightful hobgoblin is stalking US colleges and universities
‘The Communist Manifesto is ranked among the top three most popular assigned readings in American college and university classes, according to the Open Syllabus Project (OSP). Karl Marx himself is the most assigned economist in higher education courses … One of the reasons Marx and Engels’s pamphlet may be so popular nearly 170 years after its publication is that it can be used to study a wide variety of subjects, including history, economics, social theory, and politics. It is also arguably the most influential work of the twentieth century, inspiring several uprisings, a number of communist revolutions, and the formation of both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China among other governments’ (inquistr.com, 1 February). Supporters of the status quo can relax: the spectre haunting colleges is not that of communism but, at worst, social democracy, as espoused by Bernie Sanders. Marx and Engels, by contrast, wanted something rather different: ‘in place of the old bourgeois 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’ (Communist Manifesto, 1848). Nothing like this exists, or has existed. The old lie about Russia being socialist or communist (Marx and Engels used the terms interchangeably) – and later, China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc – was identified remarkably early: in the August 1918 edition of this very journal.
Workers of the word wake up!
1865: ‘Instead of the conservative motto, A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, Abolition of the wage system’ (Marx, Value, Price, and Profit).
1928: ‘Earning a wage is a prison occupation’ (Wages, DH Lawrence).
1965: Workers still ‘don’t realise that they can abolish the wages system’ (Socialist Standard).
2016: ‘Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is supported by two-thirds of New Yorkers, according to a new Siena College poll’ (syracuse.com, 1 February).
‘Some Americans seem to be disconnected with historical reality, as a number of Hillary Clinton supporters signed a mock petition to approve 19th century socialist philosopher Karl Marx as her choice for vice-president if she’s elected president’ (rt.com, 2 February). Socialists do not agree with everything Marx said, even less actions carried out in his name or that of socialism/communism by groups or states –which would have him repeating in his grave the declaration ‘one thing’s for sure – I’m not a Marxist! – but starting with a clean slate, without misconceptions, can be viewed in a positive light. Emancipation à la Marx is ‘the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’, without leaders, presidents –vice or otherwise.
Danger! Capitalism at work
Residents of Flint, a city in the US state of Michigan, have suffered greatly of late: cost-cutting has resulted in drinking water containing toxic levels of lead whilst clean water goes to Nestle. Legionnaires’ Disease is on the rise as is poverty. Flint also has a per capita violent crime rate seven times higher than the national average. Investigations are underway, but some members of our class, in a refreshing display of unity and concern, have already taken action: ‘more than 300 union plumbers from all over Michigan flooded Flint to install free filters for residents … Local plumbers with United Association Local 370 in Flint have been going door-to-door making sure that faucets are filter-ready since October … And last weekend, they got a boost from hundreds of union volunteers’ (huffingtonpost.com, 2 February). Sadly, local action is not enough as across America 535,000 children ages 1 through 5 suffer lead poisoning, by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, and, of course, this ‘problem’ exists worldwide.
Lead poisoning such as that of water in Flint or from paint and petrol is an old ‘problem’ of modern capitalism which will end along with many others when a worldwide majority of us act to bring about socialism. The end of pre-history will also see the yoke of many barbaric cultural practices lifted, such as that of female genital mutilation which, according to a new study, ‘at least 200 million people in 30 countries have experienced ‘ (time.com, 5 February). This particular tradition of long dead generations is a nightmare for its living victims. Other poisonous cultural relics include forced marriage, child brides, non-evidence based medicine, cock and dog fighting.