Karl Marx born on 5th of May, 1818
To dismiss the ideas of Marx on the grounds that it has been tried and failed is to misunderstand the revolutionary message of Marx. We can safely conclude that the world has not yet seen a Marxist revolution.
Marxism is not a dogma, not a record of the sayings and doings of Karl Marx to be carefully preserved and uncritically applied whatever the circumstances. Marxism is a method of assessing what, at any particular time, is in the best interest of the working class and should be done to hasten the establishment of socialism. The validity of Marx’s theories is independent of Marx the man. Nonetheless, criticisms of Marx have been made because of the misinterpretations and distortions of Marxism that have occurred. We can safely conclude that the world has not yet seen a Marxist revolution.
The Marxian analysis of society and its development - historical, economic, political - will not die, nor go away, nor even lie down. Today, the interest in the ideas of Karl Marx is wider than ever. Marx provided a consistent, comprehensive and applicable picture of the origins and development of capitalism and of how it must be replaced by Socialism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is a Marxist party in the sense that we accept the basis of Marx's theories - the Materialist Conception of History, the Labour Theory of Value and the political theory of the Class Struggle.
For Marx, history is a process in which humans actively create their own conditions, doing so, at all times, within the limitations which existing economic conditions make possible. History is not given to us, like a mystery gift from above, but is made by us. History is not simply a story of the past, but a vision of the future. All historians before Marx — and too many since — believed that humans were the subjects of history, often going under the alias of God or The Invisible Hand of the Market: Marx recognised that humanity would only be liberated when it used its ability to comprehend and design history. The revolutionary point in Marxism is its proposition that mass human consciousness (our ability to think, plan and fashion our own behaviour) can transform society.
Karl Marx wrote a great deal, on a wide variety of subjects and over a long period of time. Some of his writing was in response to political issues of the day which are long forgotten, some were concerned to criticise opponents who held views now rarely encountered while some were of a very abstract and philosophical nature. Marx’s writings cannot be simply divided into those on economics, those on history and those on politics, for these subjects, were for Marx closely interrelated. The Socialist Party has published much on Marxism and is a party in the classical Marxian tradition. We use his ideas as tools of analysis, which have been further developed and modified by socialists, to explain how the working class are exploited under capitalism and how world socialism will be the emancipation of our class.
The Socialist Party has further developed Marx’s theories and has made plain where it disagrees with Marx. We do not endorse Marx’s ideas regarding struggles for national liberation, minimum reform programmes, labour vouchers and the lower stage of communism. On some of these points, the Socialist Party does not reject what Marx advocated in his own day but rejects their applicability to socialists now. There are other issues upon which the Socialist Party might appear to be at variance with Marx, but is in fact only disputing distortions of Marx’s thinking. For example, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is usually understood in its Leninist interpretation. Indeed, it is a tragedy of world-historical proportions that Marx has been Leninised; what is basically a method of social analysis with a view to taking informed political action by the working class, has had its name put to a state ideology of repression of the working class. Instead of being known as a tool for working class self-emancipation, we have had the abomination of ‘Marxist states’.
Undeterred by these developments, the Socialist Party has made its own contributions to socialist theory whilst combating distortions of Marx’s ideas. In the light of all the above, the three main Marxist theories can be restated as:
1. The political theory of class struggle
2. The materialist theory of history
3. The labour theory of value
Marxism is not only a method for criticising capitalism; it also points to the alternative. Marxism explains the importance to the working class of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use and the means for establishing it. And while it is desirable that socialist activists should acquaint themselves with the basics of Marxism, it is absolutely essential that a majority of workers have a working knowledge of how capitalism operates and what the change to socialism will mean.