[Marxism] marxist biographies

Midhurst14 at aol.com Midhurst14 at aol.com
Thu Sep 10 09:25:06 MDT 2009


 
John Green‘s book about Frederick Engels, has performed a service to the  
international labour movement.  
Along with his comrade in arms for many years, Karl Marx, their  collective 
works are constantly referred to by friend and foe. Now more than  ever as 
capitalism staggers from one turmoil, and one credit crunch, to  another. 
Because the creation of surplus value can never be resolved by a  society 
based on profit. This is the spectre that haunts globalisation.   
For it is an accepted truth that Karl Marx, not John Maynard Keynes  or 
Milton Friedman, has the answer to the dilemmas daily confronting the central  
banks of the developed countries. 
In a recent Observer article of May 1, for instance, “that the sense of the 
grinding of  the gears of history, the shifting of the political plates. 
And that, along with  creeping monopolies, growing inequality and the 
all-absorbing momentum of the  capital markets, Marx foresaw many of the effects of 
globalisation, “which he  called “the universal interdependence of 
nations', not least the effects of an  international 'reserve army of the 
unemployed' in disciplining and depressing  the wages of workers in the developed 
economies”, reveals that Marx’s ideas are  never very far away. 
A Revolutionary Life, helped me identify more readily with a man I‘ve 
greatly admired for  years. My reading of his Conditions of the Working Class in 
England, made a profound impression on me at the tender age of  18. 
John writes in a clear and graphic style, on how Engels, from a very  
wealthy business family, graduated from a man of action in the revolution in  
1848, taking up arms to overthrow the ruling elite in Germany, to a thinker,  
almost equal to Marx. 
Indeed, John quite rightly claims, that without Engels’s  understanding of 
Marx’s brilliant mind, much of the three volumes of Capital  would not have 
been published. 
But their most famous work and the introduction to any would be  
revolutionary to the ideas of Marxism is of course, the Communist Manifesto.  With its 
penetrating declaration, “It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley  feudal 
ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no  
other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘
cash  payment‘.” ringing true every day of our lives. 
Both Engels and Marx however, had to combat both supporters and  opponents 
who constantly quoted their works as scripture, rather than this or  that 
quote being an illustration of their method of thinking, that of  dialectical 
and historical materialism, 
Or as Bert Ramelson, the much respected Industrial Organiser of the  
Communist Party of Great Britain, advised me, “Gather the information and make a  
decision” 
Also the modern day feminist need go no further for an explanation of  
their present and past exploitation, than to read Engels‘s, Origin of the 
Family. Where once male possession of property became dominant, the  pre-eminence 
of the mother figure was over, and exploitation of women in its  every form 
continues to the present day. 
John traces the domestic travails that beset Engels at every turn, in  his 
struggle to break with convention and to pursue a life of struggle.  
Describing how the rupture with his reactionary father, to the point when  
Frederick was confronted by Engels senior, even as his son stood on the  barricades 
in 1848, took place. 
How his partner, Mary  Burns, together with her sister Lizzie (who became 
Engels’s partner soon  after Mary’s premature death) both heroic Irish 
Fenians in their own right,  introduced him to the horrors of the cotton weavers 
lives in Manchester, that  enabled him to write of working class life in the 
satanic mills of that  city. 
The work of the famous pair is provided in detail, in their response  to 
the campaign of the Chartists, the formation of the First International, the  
Paris Commune, the Indian mutiny, the building of trade unions, in Britain,  
Germany and America. 
In other words they established their role as the centre of an  alternative 
international thinking; and in opposition to the capitalist ideas of  the 
day. 
Subsequently taken up by the heroes in the pantheon of revolution,  Lenin, 
Ho Chi Min, Che Guevara to Fidel Castro, plus millions of others, who,  like 
me, owe a debt of gratitude to the work of Frederick Engels, so absorbingly 
 written up in a Revolutionary Life. 
In a very moving account, John writes of the simple ceremony  undertaken by 
Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling, Eduard Bernstein and Friedrich  Lessner, to 
scatter his ashes into the sea off the coast of Eastbourne, because  the 
great man wanted no grave or monument to mark his final resting  place. 
We can be grateful to John, for his research and the writing of the  story 
of Frederick Engels, intellectual giant and great human  being. 
A Revolutionary Life 
A Biography of Friedrich Engels
By John Green Price  £10 
Both across the social sciences and in popular parlance, there has  emerged 
what has been termed a plethora of capitals. There is not only economic  
capital but also fixed capital, human capital, social capital, environmental 
or  natural capital, financial capital, and cultural, symbolic, intellectual, 
 organisational, personal, emotional and many other types of “capital”. 
The term  is indiscriminately used to cover any resource deployed in any  
context. 
It is the merit of Marx’s Capital, the three Volumes of his most important 
work in political economy,  that he both incorporates all of these uses of 
capital into has analysis and,  yet, equally fundamentally, breaks with them 
as well. For this reason alone, his  work stands head and shoulders above 
any other political economy more than a  century after it was penned.  
There are nine major sources for his originality and insight. First  and 
foremost, capital is seen to be the result of historically contained social  
relations of production, those attached to capitalism, as opposed to 
generally  available resources.  
Second, this mode of production, in contrast to feudalism, for  example, is 
based on specific class relations, those dividing capitalists from  wage 
workers. Capital is not merely a resource, individual or collective, but is  
attached to social relations and organisation. 
Third, capitalist production always takes the form of production of  
commodities, for the market and for profit. Capital is not a resource available  
for individual or collective satisfaction in general. 
Fourth, capitalist commodity production involves the production of  value, 
again not as a thing or as a subjective evaluation as for utility or  
consumer satisfaction. Rather it is a relationship between producers themselves  
in which their specific labours are brought into equivalence with, or 
measured  against, one another through the medium of exchange in monetary form, as 
opposed to any old exchange or interaction of any old thing  as with the 
plethora of capitals. 
Fifth, capital involves not only the production of value but also of 
surplus value. The class relations attached to capital mean that labour is  
primarily free of feudal-type obligations but also free of independent access to  
means of production and livelihood. There is only freedom of exchange to a  
greater or lesser extent over who will be your employer. But it is not 
labour as  a thing or resource that is sold, although this appearance is a form 
of  capitalist alienation, but the capacity to labour, or labour power as 
Marx terms it. How much value is  produced with that capacity is a matter of 
individual workplace and social  conflict concerning terms and conditions of 
employment. And the capacity of  capital to extract more (surplus) value than 
that paid for the commodity labour  power is a precondition for both 
individual and total capital to prosper; it is  the form taken by exploitation 
under capitalism and is the major source,  directly and indirectly, of conflict 
between capital and labour, at the point of  production as well as 
elsewhere. The power and violence attached to capital is  revealed in acute form 
once conflict against its fundamental relations and  interests are raised or, 
see below, whilst those relations and interests are in  the process of 
formation. 
Not surprisingly, then, Marx sees his distinction between labour and  
labour power as one of his two most important discoveries. The other, sixth, is  
his analysis of how surplus value is produced prior to addressing how it is  
distributed in monetary form to the recipients of profit, interest and 
rent.  Marx’s Capital is a detailed theoretical and empirical account of how 
surplus value  is produced in practice, highlighting its extreme dependence, 
individually and  systemically, upon the accumulation of capital as a 
condition of survival let  alone precarious success. Production, not exchange, is 
the key to capital as a  social and not just a technical relationship. 
Seventh, then, capital is both highly dynamic in nature, reproducing  and 
transforming both itself in the production process and through the other  
economic and social relations to which it is attached but which cannot be  
reduced to it. The plethora of capitals offer not capitals as such but these are 
 both influenced by and influence the accumulation process, and need to be  
situated relative to it. But the perception of a plethora of capitals as  
resources, stripped of their historically specific social relations, breeds  
illusions about both the virtues of the “market” and of the potential for 
it to  be corrected by non-market reform. On this basis, Marx is able to 
address,  however partially and relative to the conditions of his own time, 
fundamental  features of the capitalist economy such as the factory system, 
monopolisation,  division between town and country, combined and uneven 
development, the  emergence of a sophisticated financial system, the necessity of 
unemployment and  poverty to the functioning of capitalism, the appropriation 
of nature,  proletarianisation, economic and social legislation, and the 
formation of trade  unions and political organisations in defence of the 
working class.   
Eighth, he also argues that the monetary forms and economic and  social 
implications assumed by capital are from time to time incompatible with  its 
continued accumulation, giving rise to economic and social crises of greater  
or lesser depth and breadth before accumulation can be resumed. These 
insights,  together with account of their implications for non-economic factors 
such as the  state and society and the world economy and order, or “
globalisation” more  generally remain the enduring legacy of Marx’s Capital. 
Last, to reiterate, capital as a social relation is historically  bounded. 
How did it come about? Not through the selfless accrual of resources  but 
through the forcible creation of wage-labour from what were previously  
non-capitalist relations of production. This is the light in which to understand  
the current collapse of Soviet socialism and the Chinese market reforms, 
each an  ill-disguised rush to capitalism involving violent appropriation. At 
the other  end of history, however, Marx admires capital for its 
unprecedented levels of  productivity. These though are achieved through increasing 
socialisation of life  albeit on a distorted privatised basis. Capital itself 
creates the material  resources for socialism, the conscious and democratic 
planning of the economy in  place of the anarchy of the market, and also the 
class of wage-labourers that  can bring socialism about through revolutionary 
appropriation of the means of  production. 
Ben Fine is co-author, with Alfredo Saad-Filho, of Marx’s Capital, Pluto 
Press, fourth edition, 2003. 


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