Marxism’s rising relevance in globalization era

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/9 19:53:40

Photo: Sun Wei/GT

Editor's Note:

May 5 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. What's the significance of celebrating the great thinker's birth? How does Marxism influence the world today? Global Times (GT) London-based correspondent Sun Wei talked to Professor David McLellan (McLellan), a British scholar who has written more than 20 books on Marx and Marxism, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. 

GT: What's the significance of commemorating Karl Marx? What do you think are the impacts of Marxism on our world?

McLellan: The point of commemorating Karl Marx is simply to keep his memory, and more importantly, the memory of his writings and thoughts alive, so that people in the present day can meditate and learn from them.

Clearly the most important area in which Marxism has changed the world is in the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) by the Communist Party of China in 1949. Thus Marxism has configured 21st century politics in a way. The very existence of the Soviet Union and the PRC has given movements of national liberation and anti-Western imperialism a lot of encouragement across the world, whether in Asia, Africa or Latin America. The two big socialist states the Soviet Union and the PRC themselves are a very big contribution of Marxism. 

GT: In terms of theory, what kind of inspiration can Marxism offer to the current world?

McLellan: The most important contribution of Marx himself is to point to the economy and economic relations as the most important factor in the way that society is constructed and develops. Marx called this a materialism conception of history. History is formed by the mode of production, the way in which people go about satisfying their material need for food, clothing and shelter primarily. 

Therefore, to understand any society, you need to look first of all at its mode of production. Marx went on to say that the important thing is to understand that in any society, it is those who control the mode of production and who own the means of production that constitute the ruling class. And the rest of society are in one way or another exploited by the ruling class.

It's not that Marx didn't think other factors in society like their culture, philosophy, legal system, politics and religion are not important. But he thought all those factors were structured and influenced by those who control and own the means of production. That is why Marx says that the ruling ideas of every society are the ideas of the ruling class. They impose the politics and legal system favorable to their own particular economic interests, as the owners of the means of production.

GT: What heritage of Marx can be used to solve current problems?

We can only solve our common problems if we realize what they are. Marx enables us to tell them, to see what are current problems are. Marx can help us understand why there was a big financial crisis in 2008. The reason is that the falling rate of profit in industrial capitalism meant that other sources of profit - from financial capitalism - were preferable. Where once they made money by making things, they made money out of money. But making money out of money is like a house of cards. It's very unstable and you can see how it collapsed in 2008 with disastrous consequences. The bankers did not suffer from this. They were bailed out by the state.

It's very difficult to convince Western leaders of the rightness of Marx. The reason for that is that the leaders of Western countries are not the people who take the most important decisions. Large worldwide conglomerations or massive transnational organizations, particularly oil companies, are the people who take the most important decisions. They do not allow political leaders to easily take decisions which are not in their own interests. That's the reason why it is very difficult to persuade Western leaders to listen to what Marx might say about the way in which capitalism needs to be profoundly reformed if not completely changed to a different mode of production.

No mode of production has so far lasted. There is no reason to suppose that capitalism is immortal. The first reason is the very irrational and precarious nature on which capitalism is based automatically includes growing inequality and discontent. Secondly, the world is running out of resources. Climate change is a growing threat to the whole of humanity. It's very difficult to see how climate change can be regulated without some sort of cooperation between nations.

GT: Why did China have the main Marxism movement apart from Soviet Union in the 20th century? How do you evaluate it?

After the victory of Marxism in the Soviet Union in 1917, Marxism became an ingredient in almost all anti-imperialist national liberation movements such as Africa and Latin America, and the most powerful eventually was Chinese Marxism. Chinese Marxism from the foundation of the Communist Party of China in 1921, became both Marxism and a strong national liberation movement from the dreadful humiliation China had been subjected to in the 19th century.

China was inspired by the Revolution of Russia in 1917, and took Marxism as its ideology, which was the most influential in the 20th century in national liberation movements. National liberation was one of the aspirations the Communist Party of China achieved in 1949.

I am not an expert on China. Nevertheless, in the West, the Maoist period in China doesn't get the credit it deserves. What the Communist Party of China did was first of all unite China under a common government, secondly to give it a basic system of education: Thus the vast majority of people were literate. Thirdly, to give it a basic health system dealing with basic needs, but then something that had never been achieved before, which was to lay the foundation for the economy. 

After opening-up, there were various bits of capitalism in the economy. But the government retained control of the major levers of the Chinese economy. It was a country experimenting with which pockets of capitalism and foreign investment could help the economy grow. This is so far proving quite successful. One of the recent problems was corruption and inequality, but the government now has an eye on them.

GT: Some people commented that the Chinese theory of Marxism is a new version of Marxism. What's your comment?

Marxism in its origin was a Western theory, devoted to talking about Western capitalism not about other societies. When this theory was applied to China, it had to be modified to fit to Chinese characteristics. In the 1930s, the leading mode of production was a peasant one. Mao Zedong mobilized the peasantry to be the revolutionary force. Land reform in Yan'an was then tried out in the whole of China.

I am quite encouraged to see quite recently the development in China and the actual scholarship about Marx himself. I am quite optimistic that the proper reception of Marx can help China investigate the problems and find solutions to them.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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