It is 118 years since Karl Marx died in London at the age of 65 (March 14 1883). He was buried at Highgate Cemetery on March 17th 1883. His entire adult lifetime was devoted to the cause of the international workers' movement. Before he died he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had given a lasting impulse and direction to this movement. His significance as a thinker and as a revolutionary grows more important each year despite the colossal misrepresentation and the "refutations" of his theories by ignorant critics. His theories have never been disproved. History as it unfolds brings new illustrations of the truth of Marx's discoveries and the inadequacy of opposing doctrines.
Marx's importance in the history of the Labour movement comes from him having discovered first the basic law governing the development of society, and second the essential economic principles underlying production in a particular form of society, the capitalist form. The first theory is generally known as the "materialist conception of history". In this theory Marx showed that the evolution of human society followed closely the path similar to that of evolution in nature. The general outlines of this theory were contained in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848) and later in the introduction to THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (1859).
Engels gave a brief summary to the theory in the preface to the 1888 edition of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO when he wrote:
"That in every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organisation necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which it is built, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been the history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolution in which, now-a-days, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class - the proletariat - cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class - the bourgeoisie - without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles"
Engels regarded this summary as the fundamental proposition, which forms the nucleus of the materialist conception of history.
While the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO is not perfect it contains the embryo of most of Marx's later ideas and was a significant advance on anything of that kind which had preceded it. It took Communist/Socialist (the words are interchangeable) thought out of the world of utopia and set it up on the basis of reality.
The second theory, the theory of value (CAPITAL VOLUMES I, II and III), made clear the exploitation of the working class, gave it scientific proof and demonstrated the inevitability of the system of exploitation under capitalism. Here was the final blow to all theories of social reform. Once workers were shown that in order to end class exploitation, capitalism first had to be abolished, Revolutionary Socialism was born.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.