Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SACP Remarks at the Celebration of the Birthday of Karl Marx, Wits University, 5 May 2016
By Cde Solly Mapaila
SACP 2nd Deputy General Secretary

Let me first and foremost convey our heartfelt condolences to the university and the families that lost seven of their loved ones who were students in the tragic motor vehicle accident.

Let me take this opportunity to thank iKwezi Institute and the Wits City Institute for the invitation to attend and say a few words at this celebration of Karl Marx's birthday. As we all know today marks the 198th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, who was born in Trier, Germany, in 1818. That is where he received his classical education. He studied jurisprudence in Bonn, and later in Berlin, where he switched to philosophy. It was after this that he focused extensively on studying political economy, with his chief focus including France, the French revolution, and England, which became his main case study in his voluminous work, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. This was a direct result of one of the two tenets of his materialist method, the materialist conception of history, which he articulated and applied along with the other tenet, materialist dialectics.

Frederick Engels became Marx's lifelong comrade and closest collaborator. He worked with Marx on joint works, among others such as the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). Engels edited or completed Marx's works that were incomplete at the time of Marx's death, works that had to be published posthumously. He best understood Marx and his approach to the study of society, and is basically the first authority on Marx. Engels summed up key facts about Marx biographically and his analysis of society, in this case particularly on the question of method, which he applied working together with Marx. This is highly useful for brief remarks at an occasion such as today's celebration of Marx's birthday.

As Engels stated three days after Marx's death at his grave at the Highgate Cemetery in London, on 17 March 1883:

"Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that [hu]mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case".

It is in this sphere - as Engels reiterated in the short biography of Marx that he wrote at the end of July 1868 for the German literary newspaper Die Gartenlaube, whose editors decided against using it - that Marx believed:
"a key to the understanding of the process of the historical development of [hu]mankind should be looked for".

Above everything else, as Engels stated at Marx's burial:
"...Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation."

Marx wrote extensively on a wide range of subjects. By and large the content of his work, such as the Manifesto of the Communist Party and Capital (all volumes) remains generally true in its analysis of the contradictions and overall movement of human society. To this day, 133 years after his death, Marx's method and the major findings he arrived at following it continue to inspire revolutionaries and working class struggles across the world.

Our very outlook of society as the SACP derives its existence from Marx's scientific and revolutionary work. Our liberation struggle in South Africa as the ANC-led national liberation movement that dealt a blow dislodging the apartheid regime in 1994 was significantly inspired by, and derived its theoretical guidance from Marx's method of inquiry into society. For example this is evident among others in the ANC's 1969 Strategy and Tactics document. Very few individuals in history have had the enormous influence that Marx - in the context of class struggle - has firmly established through his contribution.

The Communist Party altogether with the theory of communism as founded by Marx and associated with it the struggle for socialism were the first political organisation and world outlook respectively to be banned in South Africa by the apartheid regime. This was by no means an accident. Marx's work (which came to be known as Marxism, and as Marxism-Leninism following Vladimir Lenin's contribution, among others his theory of Party Organisation and thesis on imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism with the first socialist revolution occurring not in an advanced capitalist country but in Russia) became the number one enemy of colonial oppression, capitalist exploitation and imperialism.

The banning of the Communist Party in South Africa, imposed in 1950, came in the aftermath of the 76, 000 strong African mine workers strike of 1946. The Party through its leading activists played a pivotal role in that strike. The Communist Party - South Africa's first non-racial political organisation mobilised not only against colonial oppression, including apartheid. It exposed capitalist exploitation and imperialism as the material basis of the oppressive regime. This hit at the core of the problem, leading to the Party being banned.    

Marx himself, his work and ideas suffered the same treatment in Europe and elsewhere under different regimes of banning orders, decrees, laws and, as it happened in South Africa, in the academia as well. Newspapers were shutdown because of his association with them through his work or contributions.

What has happened in the academia, particularly the suppression not just of Marx's work and findings but his method, dialectical and historical materialism, has by and large not fundamentally changed. The suppression continues, even under the name of academic freedom. One idea, (neo) liberalism, is being imposed in what amounts to a straight-jacketing type of education, or what Paulo Freire in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed called the banking concept of education. This cannot be right. It is wrong.

Hosting this celebration of the birthday of Karl Marx in a university setting is very important. The celebration must contribute to the all-important imperative to achieve real freedom in our universities. In this regard, genuine academic freedom, therefore curriculum transformation is crucial, this as opposed to an attack on Marx's work and worse off without even giving students time, space and assisting them to grasp its real content. Genuine academic freedom should include freedom to teach Marx's work and develop it further; dialectical and historical materialism, and what he called the power of abstraction which he applied in the context of dialectical and historical materialism for example in the first chapters of Capital (Vol. 1).

It cannot be fair, for instance, that the words economic exploitation of labour by capital, the teaching of the consequences thereof and of the way forward are prohibited in a given curriculum content and, worst of all, that criticises Marx's work.

The best way we can honour Karl Marx and celebrate his contribution is to deepen the struggle to achieve universal emancipation!

This means that we must deepen the struggle, including through governance, to complete the process of national liberation and lay the indispensible basis for advancing towards the overthrow of capitalism and firmly laying the foundations for the development of socialism. The revolutionary struggles we are currently waging, such as the struggle to achieve transformation of the financial sector; the struggle against corporate capture of the state; the struggle against corruption; the struggle to achieve freedom from imperialism, are very much part and parcel of the best way of celebrating the life of Karl Marx and taking forward his revolutionary legacy.

As Marx has scientifically shown in Capital and other writings, class inequality, unemployment and poverty are very much an inherent feature of capitalism - which is not just some national but world system. Class inequality, unemployment and poverty are, as Marx put it, the basic conditions, necessary products and levers for the accumulation of wealth on a capitalist basis. It would not serve any use to declare these systemic effects an enemy, while turning a blind eye to the primary, the real enemy which is the system that produces them - i.e. capitalism, in its highest stage, imperialism, and the class behind the system. Without doing away with the system, the only thing that can be achieved is to chamfer the sharpest edges of the impact of its effects and reduce it, but only to a limited extent.
Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class, now publishing at least once every week

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