ROBERT GRIFFITHS spoke at a conference in Shenzhen, China, last week on ‘Marxism in the 21st Century and the Future for World Socialism’. Here is his speech:
In Das Kapital, Marx explained how and why — as the result of capital accumulation and technological advance — capitalism creates a ‘disposable industrial reserve army’ from dispossessed, displaced and redundant workers.
Today, capitalism reproduces this reserve army on an ever-growing scale. Uneven development, Third World debt bondage, the deregulation of labour markets, accelerating technological change — together with large population movements caused by imperialist war and climate change — have added scores of millions of migrant workers and refugees to that army.
This underlines how vital it is to bring these workers out of the shadows, recruit them into trade unions, cover them by collective bargaining agreements and so end their own super-exploitation and the undercutting of local wages and conditions.
Workers, unions and left and progressive governments must also develop strategies to ensure that further automation, through artificial intelligence and robotics, is not imposed with the sole aim of maximising corporate profit. China’s experience teaches us that economic planning and, in key sectors, social ownership can ensure that new technology is introduced for the benefit of working people and society as a whole, without creating mass unemployment.
Marx warned of the dangers of growing speculation in what he called ‘fictitious capital’ — financial securities whose market prices are not based on the value created by labour power.
In his Theories of Surplus Value, he thought such speculation would eventually be tamed by industrial capital. However, as the Great Crash of 2007-08 demonstrated, this has not happened.
Instead, as Lenin pointed out, banking capital and industrial capital have fused into finance capital, which itself has become increasingly parasitic. In the City of London today, for example, most transactions arise from speculation and play no role in the supply of capital for productive investment.
The factors which caused the Great Crash — the deregulated markets, the over-accumulation of capital, largely unbridled speculation and corruption – are systemic. Another crash is inevitable.
The only real alternative is regulation based on permanent, strategic social ownership in the financial sector. However, almost certainly in Britain, this would meet fierce resistance from the ruling capitalist class, confirming the need for a revolutionary struggle for state power and socialism.
Marx declared that capitalism’s ‘mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation’ would grow with monopolisation. That still holds true in the 21st century, if we take account of all afflictions, insecurities, injustices and oppressions of modern-day society, together with threats to our planet’s eco-systems presented by monopoly capitalism’s ruthless drive to maximise profit. Above all, as Engels predicted, imperialism means militarism and war.
But Marx also foresaw that the revolt of the working class would grow — ‘a class always increasing in numbers and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself’, as he put it in Das Kapital. Today, the labour force in the capitalist world numbers 2.6 billion, 268 million of whom are organised in trade unions.
Marx believed the working class will come to see how capitalism’s class system, based on monopoly private ownership and exploitation, holds back the enormous productive forces that could solve all the basic problems facing humanity.
China’s enormous economic, social and environmental achievements provide a glimpse of what is possible when these forces are planned, nurtured and directed in the interests of the people.
According to the The Communist Manifesto, Communists have a duty to be ‘practically, the most resolute and advanced section of the working class parties of every country, pushing forward all others’.
Thanks to the great analytical works of Marx and Engels, Communists and our allies on the left can help determine the ‘line of march’ towards socialism in our own national and international conditions. But our strategy must be worked out not on the basis of nostalgia, dogma, fantasy or empty posturing, but — as Lenin insisted – from ‘a concrete analysis of the concrete situation’.
The Communist Party of Britain is currently updating its strategy, Britain’s Road to Socialism. The work is underway to build and politicise the mass campaigning movement that can secure the election of a Labour government led from the left.
If we succeed, that could prove to be the first stage in Britain in the struggle for socialism in the 21st century.
Robert Griffiths is General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain