What is to be done? Part I

published: 11 April 2020

As of now, the whole world is quarantined and the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the Earth. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, this is a good time to read and extend one’s knowledge. Those, who are interested in Left-leaning politics, and Marxism, in particular, can utilize this time to learn about the global political economy in greater depth.

International politics that have come into play due to COVID-19 have shown, that strong welfare, financial aid, nationalization, and similar left-liberal concepts have nothing in common with socialism (as many had feared before). The current ideological hegemony in the world, which is run by neo-liberals, has entered a period of crisis – how can they convince the people that their ideas and ideals are correct when their very same system commits such detrimental mistakes? In America – omitting the public backlash in all other countries – there have been 30 strikes just in the last 2 weeks, which means that the people are slowly losing faith in the system.

In Georgia too, even though the local government had a relatively timed response in regards to the COVID-19 crisis (the national quarantine was declared and the situation got under control much faster than in most other countries), the Georgian economy has been substantially damaged due to recent events. Of course, as usual, this was felt most by those in the lower classes – workers, vulnerable groups, the homeless, etc. The Georgian currency – the Lari – has depreciated with staggering speed, and the Georgian tourism sector took a great hit, which, according to experts means, that if the situation doesn’t get better before August, the Georgian economy will enter a recession.

Such critical moments give those, who feel the urgency of the situation and take the misfortunes of their societies to heart, the chance to clearly see the mistakes and calamities of the capitalist system, therefore having the logical necessity to look for alternatives. Hence, we decided to offer 3 reasons each, as to why reading “The Communist Manifesto” and “Critique of the Gotha Program” is necessary precisely right now:

The Communist Manifesto (available here)

I. The Importance for Our Times

The famous Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm wrote, that the Communist Manifesto is much more relevant today than it was during the time of its publication. One might even say that Marx and Engels exaggerated the achievements of their enemies – the global bourgeoisie. Economic globalization, the destruction of the familial structure, “drowning the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor … in the icy water of egotistical calculation”, the annihilation of the most respectful and “virtuous” ideals, and the blasphemy towards “all that is holy” is our reality for the day, which is especially exemplified by Western Europe. However, all of this is far removed from the Germany of 1848, making the Manifesto a more of a prophecy for our realities, and a fictitious novella for Marx’s.

II. A Literary Masterpiece
Real political manifestos aren’t written for elitist congregations or the academy; the aim of a manifesto is to describe and lay out how humans can potentially have a future that has never been seen before. The Communist Manifesto has been an object of discussion and ostracization from university faculties to pompous cafes, where the radical petit-bourgeoisie waves this piece of work in utter amazement or vitriolic scorn. But the real place of the Manifesto has always been in the left hand of the working man. It has been able to inspire generations upon generations all over the world, and this can partially be attributed to Marx’s extraordinary literary talent.

The Manifesto is full of quotes that make an imprint on the readers’ minds, starting from the “spectre” that is haunting Europe, down to the very famous “workers of the world, unite!”. The Manifesto is incomparable to any other revolutionary work of any given epoch in being able to inspire us to this day, to fight for a new world and a better future for everyone.

III. The Young Marx
The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, but Marx only started studying political economy seriously after 1850, when he began to compose the backbone of Marxist theories in the British Library. We see in the Manifesto the Marx who is already a Communist revolutionary but hasn’t yet developed the major theories for which we know Marxism today. Due to this, it is virtually impossible to study “the Young Marx” and his political development over time without the Manifesto.

Critique of the Gotha Program (available here)

I. One of Marx’s Most Important Works
Karl Marx wrote thousands of pages criticizing the political economy of his time. But until one moves on to more advanced works, where there is an in-depth discussion of classical economics, mathematical formulas, and socio-political analysis, it is imperative to be acquainted with other, relatively easier writings of Marx. Such is the 1875 document – Critique of the Gotha Program, which was written as a criticism of the program of Marx’s contemporary party – the SAPD, and offers a short description of the next stage of development – Socialism. In this work we see concepts pivotal to Marxism – the dictatorship of the proletariat, labor vouchers, “birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it [the first phase of communist society – ed.] emerges” – all of this being significant in searching for alternatives to Capitalism. The Critique of the Gotha Program offers us a Marxian view of what the correct trajectory for the future is, and what our ideals should be.

Moreover, exactly in such critical moments, we see a re-emergence of pseudo-socialists and charlatans, who, through a specific narrative, try to reinterpret Marx and his theories to suit their agendas. To avoid falling victim to such deceit, the logical decision is to personally study Marx’s works and deduce independent conclusions, so that the “experienced” socialists and their faux preaching do not influence over you.

II. An Important Prerequisite for Advanced Reading
It is evident that no person, Marxist or not, starts directly with “Das Kapital”, or Engels’ “Anti-Dühring”, as these books are very dense and nuanced. Of course, sooner or later, one must read these works as well, because according to Harry Cleaver (a Marxist scholar and a participant in the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico), Marx’s scientific analysis and the critique of political economy, by its very essence, is a weapon of the workers. Even without being a worker, or a communist, it’s still interesting to read about Marx’s ideas on “human nature”, the fate of the global economic system and the emancipation of society. After all, he is recognized as one of the greatest thinkers of all time.

Critique of the Gotha Program, with its laconic manner, creates a theoretical basis for anyone, who wishes to probe further into the critique of political economy. The concepts and criticisms included in this document give its readers a guarantee, that they won’t repeat the same mistakes Marx lambasted the 1870s Socialists for.

III. Short and easy to understand
Critique of the Gotha Program, including the foreword, letters, and the appendix, is barely 40 pages long. However, it is loaded with theoretical material, which the Communist Manifesto has comparatively less of (logically, as it was a propaganda pamphlet written as a commission, describing the events and plans in simple terms). Many Marxists can barely get past the first few chapters of Capital, as they’re complex and difficult to properly understand. This isn’t the case with the Critique of the Gotha Program, however – it’s short and understandable, and is often read in a few hours from cover to cover.

In conclusion: despite political opinions and ideological aims, “the Communist Manifesto” and “Critique of the Gotha Program” are pivotal in developing a better understanding of socio-economic matters – they are hailed in the world as extremely important documents, in different contexts, from their creation to today.

You don’t agree with Marx? Now you’ve been informed about some of his specific beliefs and you can carry out analytical criticism. Did you like Marx’s ideas? From here, you can dive deeper into the marvelous world of dialectics and historical materialism.

Photo © Marx200.org

Join Us