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Briefing Paper Series

Bernt Pölling-Vocke (

Master of International Relations

Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand

Why is Marxism such a radical critique of all the analytical languages discussed so far?

Marxism is a radical critique of all previously discussed analytical languages. The concept of an infinite class struggle and historical materialism lies at the foundation of its critique, as other languages fail to isolate the root of the world’s misfortune: the bourgeoisie on the one hand and the proletariat on the other. At first, the concept of Marxism and both classes shall be introduced, before the focus shifts towards reasons why Marxism stands opposed to previously discussed analytical languages.

The bourgeoisie is the class of the modern capitalists, who own the means of production. According to Marx, the class of “big industry” is global, and the bourgeoisie will globalize the world economy, “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere”. The bourgeoisie’s existence logically follows feudalism, the guild system and the age of manufacture, the small-scale workshop. A corresponding political advance accompanied each of these steps towards the contemporary bourgeoisie. The modern, representative democracy had drowned out all “heavenly ecstasies of religious fever” and created a society in which an individual’s personal worth is based on his exchange value, therefore his ability to sell his labour to serve the bourgeoisie, Karl Marx concluded. Life under bourgeoisie direction is dominated by everlasting uncertainty. The bourgeoisie forms the ruling class. As all previous ruling classes of history, its ideas are the ruling ideas, as whoever owns the means of material production automatically owns the means of mental production. The ruling class might not perceive this in such a manner, but each new ruling class is compelled to represent its interests as the common interests of all in order to carry its aim through. It is manufacturing the necessary consent among the franchise.

Opposite to the ruling class stands the majority, the working class (proletariat). Even though the class struggle has been a persistent feature of human history, the division lines have never been as obvious as in the age of modern capitalism, with just two great classes facing each other off. The proletariat is expanding, as processes of centralization thin out the bourgeoisie. Historically, the division of labour has created the wage labourer. The real subordination of humans to labour only exists since the onset of the modern industry. Huge factories replaced the small-scale manufacture, which had delivered little change to the original labour process, besides co-operation under a master, the relatively non-exploitative, early capitalist. The industrial revolution brought along the accumulation of (absolute) surplus value, as working hours were extended and more efficient means of production introduced. The proletariat suffers from constant exploitation, as the bourgeoisie expects the worker to work longer than necessary for his or her subsistence and deprives him or her of what his labour is worth, which is the capitalist’s profit. For the proletariat, the relation to the capitalist and labour becomes increasingly unbearable. The proletariat is a source of wealth, but “devoid of all means of making that wealth his own”. Due to the fragmentation of the work-process and necessary urbanization, the proletariat is not only the work force behind the smoking chimneys of the modern industry, but also its consumer.

Inevitable, commercial crisis looms. Overproduction is a constant feature of modern capitalism. Higher efficiency and enlarged markets solve each crisis, but are the foundations of even worse, future crisis. Eventually, even the bourgeoisie will be unable to control the monster it created. A movement towards winner-takes-it-all-markets will result in an ever-increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of few and fewer. The world will consist of a core and a periphery. Communists, as a political party, can represent the workers’ interest and advance their united struggle. At first, the struggle ought to be nationally, but eventually the conquest of political power by the proletariat would be global. In the end, political power would cease to exist, as politics are merely means by one class to oppress another. Without class antagonism and classes, not even the proletariat could be considered a supreme class, and the world would become an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development for all.

“Everyone has the right to own property.” “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”  “The Family is the natural and fundamental unit of society.”  It would be easy to list various other human rights (UN Declaration of Human Rights), advocated by liberal doctrines and heavily criticised by Karl Marx, whose “Manifesto of the Communist Party” aims at the eradication of private property, religion and the family, among many others. Individualism is just as wrong as nationalism, the main-cause of wars and violent crisis, almost invariably fought in the name of elitist, economic interests. The family, prevailing culture, religion, eternal truths and morality: everything connected to past history has to be abolished, as it has played a role in the development of class antagonism, assuming different forms during different epochs.  Politico-social analytical languages such as individualism and nationalism are nothing but the result of bourgeoisie ideology, and the bourgeoisie tends to advocate whatever serves their ruling interests best. The same truth holds up for the politico-strategic analytical languages of realism and internationalism or the politico-economic languages of mercantilism, liberalism and even socialism. Socialism, often found as bourgeouis socialism, is nothing but a redressing of social grievances, in order to secure the continuation of a bourgeois society. Improvements in the lives of the working class are nothing but a small trade-off for an elite still getting richer, but marginally slower than before. If socialism is mass appeasement, it cannot serve as an end in itself.

Realism, internationalism, mercantilism, liberalism, nationalism and individualism all depend upon a state-made world (theoretical supra-states included), varying grades of state-intervention, the false creation of cultural identities useful for nothing but the cloaking of an uninterrupted pursuit of elitist interests or the allocation of unrestricted rights to consume, worship or self-inflicted “slavery”. Workers sell their labour at a discount into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Balances of power only make sense when powers have to be balanced – realistic ideologies would be useless in a classless world of united workers. The same truth holds for international cooperation and international law, further means of political centralization removed from the public sphere in order to secure a level playing field for the monster of globalized capitalism. Individual rights just secure bourgeois individuality, as freedom means nothing but free trade, selling, buying and voluntary division. Under such conditions, non-capitalists live in constant uncertainty and dependency, but might have some safety-nets in the form of socialism. Additionally, they are deprived of their individuality in a world of increasingly alienating and stupefying, fragmented work. At last, globalism and collectivism are equally misguided, as the basic assumption about human nature being “good” cannot fully explain the shaping of human history, which is instead shaped by relations of materialistic production.

Consequently, Marxism articulates a harsh critique of all these analytical languages, as they are collectively unable to resolve the underlying cause for human misery: the struggle of classes. None is offering senseful alternatives if capitalism is indeed doomed to suffer from inherent crisis. Even if an alternative analytical language observes inequalities, none is willing to commit such a radical break with long-established values and morals as Marxism. The existence of global, big industry as a logical result of economic evolution is to blame for the destruction of the countryside, the devastation of peculiar individuality of various nationalities, the alteration of all relationships into monetary ones, the subversion of natural science to capital, the loss of the naturalness of work, the slaughter of all pre-industrial crafts and many other features of a pre-capitalist world. As all other analytical languages discussed up to this point either fail to address class issues or are based upon idealistic appreciations of human nature, from a Marxist point of view, nothing but a radical critique seems justified.