The 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx on May 5, 1818, drew huge attention around the world, and the debates are far from finished. One interesting indication of this development is on the cultural level, as large numbers of people turn out whenever screenings are held of the new August Diehl film biography, The Young Karl Marx.
Later this month, the Communist Party of China will host representatives of many other Communist and Workers’ parties (including Canada) at a special conference to consider the relevance of Marx’s scientific and political contributions. At a time when global imperialism remains mired in frequent economic crises, this event will be a unique occasion to deepen the revolutionary movement’s understanding of Marx’s significance.
And of course, the legacy of Karl Marx remains crucial for the working class of all countries. While bourgeois academics and pundits used the setbacks to socialism during the 1990s and shifts in the structure of the capitalist economy as opportunities to proclaim the end of the working class struggle for revolution, life has instead strengthened the arguments raised by Marx and his collaborator, Frederick Engels.
In total, the number of industrial workers on a global scale is now estimated to have grown from about 200 million fifty years ago, to about one billion today. Even in countries like Canada where the composition of the working class and the forms of labour have shifted dramatically, workers remain by far the largest section of the population, with the potential to engage in massive, dramatic struggles for their collective interests.
Faced with relentless efforts by capital to undercut labour rights and to impose precarious employment, workers in Canada and other “advanced” capitalist countries are seeking new ways to fight back, and showing increasing interest in the ideas of socialism. This includes millions of employees in the retail and fast food sectors, the hi tech industries, and university campuses, where labour organizing and resistance is on the rise.
All of this exposes the lie that Canada is some kind of socialist society – a concept which is based on the argument that a relatively high average income level and certain elements of a social safety net outweigh the reality of private appropriation of the wealth created by the collective labour of working people. The exploitation of labour described in such detail by Karl Marx is still the fundamental economic process in Canada and other capitalist countries. Actually, the rate of exploitation continues to rise as the employers invest in new technologies which allow them to squeeze larger profits out of the same or even fewer numbers of workers.
Marx and Engels’ projections about the concentration of wealth in fewer hands, the inevitable creation of a large surplus army of unemployed workers, the impoverishment of millions of people, all remain valid today in Canada, where the rapid increase in corporate profits far exceeds the growth of employment incomes. So too does their basic conclusion that capitalism inevitably generates new economic crashes, despite – in fact because of – the system’s capacity for growth. Those who seem to think that the staggering climb in real estate values and the stock exchange in Canada means that the laws of capitalist economics no longer apply will sooner or later be brought back down to earth.
This is not to argue that the 21st century will inevitably see the final victory of socialism. The frightening truth is that the imperialist drive for war and its unrelenting destruction of the global environment could destroy the planet as a liveable home for the human race before capitalism can be defeated. But that tragic outcome is far from inevitable. It’s up to the working class to save our world – and our own future.