What has the bourgeoisie produced?

Karl Marx on his 200th birthday

On May 5, 2018, Karl Marx would have been 200 years old. Commemorative events are held all over the world. The television shows documentaries about his life. Marx is back after years of calm around him after the fall of the Eastern bloc states. Is Marx someone who should be given so much honor?

The spirits argue about Karl Marx. He is considered one of the most influential thinkers of modern times. His name is closely linked to the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries. At times a third of humanity lived in states that referred to Marx. Marx was also, as it were, blamed for their failure. It seemed to prove that Marx was wrong. He was also held responsible for the despotism of a Stalin or a Pol Pot. Only recently wrote the "World" On the occasion of Marx's birthday, if one read his writings more closely, one would find totalitarian and freedom-hostile thinking throughout. The ideology of political Marxism was wrong from the start.

On the other hand, Marx was almost idolized by many, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the guru to consult if you wanted to develop your own political position. Look up at Charly instead of thinking for yourself. That would probably have displeased Marx himself. After all, for him religion was opium for the people.

Karl Marx was born on May 5th, 1818 in Trier as the son of a lawyer. Both parents came from respected rabbi families. So he wasn't a working class child. Rather, he grew up in an upper-class environment and was related to and known to many great minds. For example, the poet Heinrich Heine was a third cousin and personally friends with Marx. There were also capitalists among his relatives, such as the founder of the electrical company Phillips.

During his life, Marx also led a bourgeois life. Even when he had little money in exile in London, it was important to him. His daughters received the typical education of higher daughters. With piano lessons and all that. The Marx family also employed a housekeeper. Since Karl Marx's books hardly made any profit during his lifetime, the family could only survive with the help of a very wealthy friend. This friend was the factory owner Friedrich Engels, with whom Marx had written many writings together and who shared Marx's philosophical and political views on essential points.

Editor instead of professor

Marx was a PhD in philosophy and had hoped for a career at a university. The political situation prevented that. As a philosopher, Karl Marx was one of the so-called "Junghegelians " and had also appeared more frequently as a political journalist. The Hegelians were a group of philosophers created by the teaching of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegelwere influenced. According to Hegel, social development takes place in dialectical steps and is heading towards an ideal state.

Hegel saw this ideal situation achieved in the Prussian state. After Hegel's death, his followers split into Old and Young Hegelians. The latter were not of the opinion that the Prussian state was already the ideal state. Rather, the development continues, since Prussia is not an ideal state. In addition, Marx took revolutionary positions early on. Therefore, in the end, he had no chance of a state post in absolutist Prussia.

Instead, from 1842 onwards, Marx initially became an editor at the Rheinische Zeitung. It was a pro-democracy and reformist newspaper for the opposition bourgeoisie. Under the influence of Marx, the paper radicalized and became one of the most important mouthpieces of the democratic movement in Germany. Marx learned about it while working for the Rheinische Zeitung Friedrich Engels know who was also a supporter of the Young Hegelians. His father was a partner in a company in Manchester.

The son of a manufacturer knows the poor conditions of the workers

Engels was therefore very familiar with the miserable conditions of the workers and their families. Capitalism was most developed in England at that time and was therefore a kind of indicator of where development could go.

Even children often had to work up to 14 hours a day for starvation wages. There were no health and safety laws. Accidents at work were a personal fate. Protection against dismissal was out of the question. Those who were old or sick were fired and no longer had any opportunity to earn any income. In addition there were the miserable and unsanitary living conditions, which led to illness and premature death. Statutory pensions or disability insurance were unknown. The term still exists today for an unregulated and unbridled market economy Manchester capitalism.

Workers therefore formed trade unions early on. They recognized that only acting together in solidarity means strength. Only when they jointly made demands and, in case of doubt, reinforced these demands by means of a strike, could they achieve improvements. They could force employers to conclude collective agreements and also influence political decision-makers to pass laws to protect employees. Ultimately, their trade union and solidarity action in Germany also led to Bismarck's social legislation. You really shouldn't think of Bismarck as a nice guy with a social streak.

Press censorship and Marx goes to Paris

At that time, newspapers were subject to censorship in Prussia in the 19th century. The basis for this was the Karlsbad resolutions of 1819. With these resolutions, the states of the German Confederation had forbidden, among other things, public written freedom of expression and fraternities. Every written publication had to be approved by a censorship authority before it could appear. The universities and the content of teaching were monitored. Liberal professors were banned from practicing their profession. The Rheinische Zeitung had been threatened by the ban since it was first published. The Prussian authorities had refrained from doing this for a long time only out of consideration for the investors. In April 1843 the time had finally come: the Rheinische Zeitung was banned and Marx and his family moved to Paris.

Since moving to Paris, there has been a lively correspondence between Marx and Engels, in which they exchanged their political and philosophical views. Both of them also wrote contributions to the political discourse for themselves and together. In the meantime, as the conflict between workers and owners of the means of production increased, revolutionary proletarian movements emerged, to which Marx was close.

The bourgeois revolutions with their demands for freedom and equality did not take into account the essential interests of the dispossessed. Years after the death of Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg aptly put it:"Freedom in capitalism is the freedom to beg for bread or sleep under bridges".

Marx did not invent socialism and communism

A socialist movement had already existed since the end of the 18th century. In the French Revolution, too, there was a significant group of activists who not only wanted to overcome medieval class differences but also the class differences that were already visible at the time.

As always with left-wing groups, the movement soon split into several factions, each of which interpreted socialism differently. The socialist movement experienced a high point in the 19th century during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 and the siege of Paris by the Germans. From March to May 1871 a revolutionary city council took over the government of Paris, which was based on socialist ideas (Paris Commune or Commune de Paris).

Marx was very much influenced by the socialist movements. So he by no means invented socialism. Rather, many historians today assume that without the influence of the early socialists, Marx would have remained just another insignificant bourgeois philosopher among many. Many demands and statements that are associated with Marx can already be found among the early socialists such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, one of the founders of anarchism. The sentence also comes from him "Property is theft". Marx would never have said that like that. Even among the early socialists there were demands such as the abolition of private property, the introduction of a centrally planned economy and a right to work.

During his time in Paris, Marx actively participated in the discussion among socialists through publications. His work as the editor of a German-language weekly newspaper by the name was significant Forward. The paper particularly agitated against Prussian absolutism. Under pressure from Prussia, Marx was expelled from France in 1845 and moved to Brussels. But he also continued his journalistic and writing activities here.

Marx was under the influence of early socialist movements. However, he dealt very critically with their positions and in some cases also attacked them sharply. In his view, socialists were all idealists. His claim, on the other hand, was a scientific examination of capitalism. He wanted to find out according to which laws capitalism functions and which processes ultimately lead to its overcoming.

During his stay in Belgium, Marx joined a socialist secret society called the Union of the Just and which had its headquarters initially in Paris and from 1840 in London. Under the influence of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Bund was founded in 1847 League of Communists renamed. On his behalf, Marx and Engels wrote a political program in the revolutionary year of 1848, the Communist Party's manifesto (or in short:Communist manifesto). 

The Manifesto quickly spread among the supporters of the labor movement in Europe and exerted a great influence there. Today the Communist Manifesto is seen as something like a summary of Marxist theory. It must be taken into account, however, that this is not a scientific work, but a programmatic representation of communist positions.

The Communist Manifesto

According to Marx and Engels, the driving forces behind historical developments are disputes between social groups:

"Free and slave, patrician and plebeian, baron and serf, guild citizen and fellow, in short, the oppressor and the oppressed stood in constant opposition to one another, waged an uninterrupted, sometimes hidden, sometimes open struggle, a struggle that each time involved a revolutionary reorganization of the whole Society ended or with the common fall of the fighting classes. "

Marx calls the bourgeoisie ruling capitalism the bourgeoisie. What is meant is that part of the bourgeoisie that has the means of production. This was created in the cities that formed in the Middle Ages. There were no longer serfs living there, who were obliged to do compulsory labor for the ruling feudal lords, but merchants, artisans and other tradespeople. As a result, markets developed in which goods and services were traded. And the money economy came into being through the granting of credit.

With the conquest of colonies by the European powers and especially with the discovery of America, a previously unknown dynamic emerged. It was no longer enough to manufacture goods in craft workshops. Ever larger units were formed in which production was carried out jointly, initially manufactories and finally modern industrial companies.

There was also a development boost in the development of the technology. It is important for the understanding of Marx that, in his opinion, it was not the bourgeoisie that ultimately ensured this development, but conversely, it was primarily the dynamic development that produced the bourgeoisie as a class.

The bourgeoisie is in chains and frees itself

The development took place under the conditions of feudal structures. Chains were also placed on the bourgeoisie, which presented themselves as an obstacle to further development. In the Communist Manifesto it is described as follows:

So we have seen that the means of production and means of transport on the basis of which the bourgeoisie was formed were created in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and means of transport, the conditions in which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organization of agriculture and manufacture, in a word, the feudal property relations, no longer corresponded to the already developed productive forces. They inhibited production instead of promoting it. They turned into as many shackles. They had to be blown up, they were blown up.

The bourgeois revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries were therefore the result of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the feudal lord. The bourgeoisie as ruler of the means of production ultimately prevailed and feudal rule was replaced by the rule of capital.

Two classes face each other in capitalism

According to Marx, capitalism is characterized by the fact that class antagonisms have simplified. The whole of society is more and more divided into two directly opposing classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat. The class struggle thus takes place between the sections of the bourgeoisie that own or at least dispose of the means of production and those who have to earn their living from their labor.

According to Marx, capitalism is not the end of history either:

"Modern bourgeois society, which has conjured up such enormous means of production and means of transport, resembles the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the subterranean forces that he conjured up. "

Because of its dynamic nature, the capitalist mode of production regularly leads to overproduction and sales crises, which threaten the existence of the bourgeoisie. This tries to counteract such an existence-threatening development. It does this, for example, by conquering new markets, destroying capital or reducing wages. In order to conquer new markets and develop sources of raw materials, national borders have to be broken until a global market emerges:

"The bourgeoisie is chasing the need for more and more extensive sales of its products all over the world. It has to nestle up everywhere, grow everywhere, establish connections everywhere. "

The capitalist is driven

The proletariat as a class is expanding because smaller industrialists, craftsmen, academics or farmers are no longer self-employed, but have to offer their labor on the market as a service. They are competitors on the labor market and must therefore strive to offer their work as cheaply as possible. The competitive situation among employees is intensified by globalization, so that the national state, cultural area or religious affiliation will no longer play a role for the personal situation after a certain point of development.

For Marx, however, the capitalist is not a bad person. Marx was anything but a conspiracy theorist. Rather, the capitalist is driven by circumstances. Although he rules over capital, he cannot freely dispose of it. Because in order to maintain his rule he is constantly forced to innovate and open up new markets. On the other hand, capital is mainly generated by wage labor. It is not a self-generated property of the capitalist. The capital is legally allocated to private individuals. In fact, it is already socialized. The Communist Manifesto says:

To be a capitalist means not only to take a purely personal but also a social position in production. Capital is a common product and can only be set in motion through the joint activity of many members, and ultimately only through the joint activity of all members of society. So capital is not a personal power, it is a social power.

The tendency towards mass impoverishment

According to Marx, rule can only be maintained as long as the ruled are at least provided for to maintain their existence. But that becomes more and more difficult under the conditions of capitalism. The market economy processes not only require constant innovation, but also constant growth. But growth is only possible through high profits. However, because of the competition in the markets, these tend to decrease constantly. The capitalist must counteract this by, for example, lowering the share of wage costs. Ultimately, this leads to the impoverishment of the masses.

Marx was convinced that the proletariat inevitably recognized its interests in good time. It is becoming clear that the competition between workers leads to the impoverishment of all.The proletariat will therefore unite in organizations and represent its interests vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie in solidarity.

According to Marx, however, this is only a transitional state. The bourgeoisie will be willing to negotiate for a while, since it too needs a proletariat to maintain rule. Ultimately, however, the conflicts will worsen to such an extent that, after a revolutionary struggle, the organizations of the proletarians will take over political rule and rule over capital that has already been socialized.

Marx is expelled from Belgium

After the revolutionary events in Europe reached Brussels in 1848, Marx was arrested and expelled from Belgium. He initially went back to Paris, but in March 1848 he returned to Cologne, where he gave the Neue Rheinische Zeitung out. However, this was already banned in May 1848 and Marx went into exile with his family in London.

For years he worked on his main work in London Capital - Critique of Political Economy. In this work, Marx analyzes capitalist society on the basis of his research findings to date on political economy. The complete work should contain six volumes. However, Marx himself only completed one volume and published it in 1867. Two further volumes were compiled from manuscripts by Friedrich Engels after Marx's death.

Marx wanted to fathom the laws of the capitalist economy and make predictions. He dealt not only with bourgeois economics, but also with other socialist theories, which in his opinion were too superficial and could not hold a candle to bourgeois theories. For him, English economists like Adam Smith or David Riccardo.

Marx made particular reference to Riccardo and large parts of him Labor theory of value accepted. According to this, the value of a commodity is determined by the labor time that is socially necessary for its production and is not primarily regulated by supply and demand. According to Marx, however, the bourgeois theories were by one ideological veil veiled. The real essence of the capitalist mode of production, the Contrast between capital and laborand the class struggle are not exposed.

Basically, Marx justifies with that capital its already im Communist manifesto stated political view scientifically. The work is not easy to understand, especially in the first few chapters. Even Engels reproached Marx for sometimes formulating something awkward. But that did not prevent the work from being one of the works with the largest circulation in the world today. Marx himself, however, no longer lived to see the economic success.

The first international and the German labor movement

In the meantime, Marx continued his political engagement despite working on his main work and numerous other publications in London. Although the League of Communists already dissolved in 1852. In 1864, however, with the International Workers' Association (First International), a successor organization was founded under the leadership of Karl Marx. It was an international organization of various parties and associations of the labor movement.

Marx was also in close contact with the German labor movement and also accompanied the formation of socialist parties. Ferdinand Lassalle, the founder of the General German Workers' Association, was considered a student of Marx for a while before the two fell out. With Wilhelm Liebknecht andAugust Bebel there were almost friendly contacts. Both Marx and Engels supported the formation of the Social Democratic Party and also published articles in their magazines.

The influence of Karl Marx on social development in Europe should not be underestimated. Indeed, it is not limited to a few countries that describe themselves as socialist. The entire labor movement is influenced by his thinking. By joining forces in political parties, employees have created laws that give them codetermination and social protection. In Germany, the formation of trade unions and their political and economic activities are protected by the constitution. With the help of the trade unions, employees enter into joint negotiations with employers for higher wages and better working conditions.

But what about mass impoverishment?

Here Marx undoubtedly underestimated the dynamism of capitalism. At the moment, international prosperity is increasing. But that does not speak against the theory. Marx started from the impoverishment of the masses because, in his view, the rates of profit are falling and the capitalist is forced to lower wages because of the circumstances. But he himself has absolutely no real interest in wages falling below the subsistence level, because capitalism presupposes the existence of a proletariat.

As long as the capitalist has other measures at his disposal, such as technical innovations and the opening up of new markets, he will not be forced to lower labor incomes too much. In addition, there are strong trade unions, at least in Germany, which ensure that the interests of the employees are represented with power.

What Marx could not foresee was the innovative power of the previous industrial revolutions 1-3. The development of new markets, the exploitation of third world countries and the creation of new needs from television and cars to smartphones increased sales opportunities and the fall in profit rates was weakened. The interesting thing about Marx's theory, however, is the tendency that he had identified in this regard. He assumed that resources and possibilities were limited and came to the conclusion that at some point the possibilities for economic growth will be exhausted. But capitalism lives from constant innovation and growth. If that can no longer be achieved, mass impoverishment will arise through the fall in the rate of profit.

Currently the so-called fourth industrial revolution with digitization (Industry 4.0). Serious studies assume that in the next 20 years half of all - even qualified - jobs could be lost. According to Marx, entrepreneurs cannot freely decide whether to participate in this innovation. If they don't want to go under, the circumstances force them to do so.

So far there are no real concepts of how to react to this development. It is certainly not foreseeable how it will continue. Obviously we are heading towards a situation in which gainful employment is becoming less and less important. Mass impoverishment is not unlikely, if not counteracted. Whether shorter working hours can be negotiated ultimately depends on whether profits can still be made with the more expensive work that leaves the entrepreneurs with room for new investments.

For the capitalist will have to remain more driven if he does not want to endanger the existence of capitalism. Whether impoverishment through other social programs such as the unconditional basic income is difficult to say. Perhaps, however, digitization will again bring potential for new jobs that is not yet recognizable today. Who knows?

But there is no longer a class struggle?

Today employers' associations and unions call themselves Social partners. They are no longer irreconcilable as enemies, but try to achieve a balance of interests through negotiations. According to Marx, there are class antagonisms antagonistic. There is a non-resolvable contradiction between the respective interests. Therefore there can be no real compensation. At most a compromise that takes into account the interests of the inferior classes as much as possible.

But the principle of the class struggle is not an invention of Marx. Nor does it call for class struggle, as is often rumored. In the 19th century, even among bourgeois historians, there was broad consensus that there are social classes that are in constant battle with one another. So the class struggle is not something you want or not. It takes place every day and continuously.

Today one would rather use the term Conflict of interest use. It can hardly be denied that there is a permanent conflict between the interests of employees and employers. There is one when it comes to legislation: if you are an entrepreneur, for example, you have an interest in entrepreneurial activity that is as unhindered as possible, and those who are dependent on protection against dismissal and regular working hours. It is true that it is also a matter of individual interests, but at the same time it is a matter of class interests. These opposites form the engine of historical development not only according to Marx, so to speak.

What was new about Marx, however, was that the existence of classes was only linked to certain historical phases of production. Marx assumed that after the work-class organizations came to power, it was initially to Dictatorship of the proletariat comes. But that would only be a transition phase to a classless society.

Dictatorship of the proletariat

This is a term that is widely used in the discussion of Marx. Marx's goal was obviously a dictatorship. In the states of so-called really existing socialism, the rule of a party was even justified by the fact that one was in the phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is historically necessary in order to pass over to communism at some point.

Marx uses the term Dictatorship of the proletariat only rarely and rather casually. There is also no definition with him in this regard. If one proceeds from Marx's view of history, he simply means the rule of the majority (proletarians) over the minority (bourgeoisie). There is no mention of tyranny anywhere. It is true that the workers' organizations are also important for Marx in this phase. There is not a single line in Marx about the dictatorship of a party or a cadre organization over the majority.

For Marx, the necessary and inevitable goal of social development is the disappearance of all class antagonisms. As a philosopher, Marx was convinced that society is dialectically moving towards an ideal state. The driving force of development is the class struggle. The ideal state of the classless society. Therefore, after the proletariat has taken power, there must be a relatively short phase of rule by a majority over the minority, because the members of this minority are - still - there.

However, this minority should not be eliminated through tyranny and execution. According to Marx, the members of the former ruling class go through the principle each according to his needs in the formerly inferior class. Once the ideal state has been reached, states are no longer necessary as organizational structures for class rule. They are dying off.

So who was Karl Marx?

He was certainly a complex and contradicting personality. As a family man, he is said to have been very caring. As has been reported on several occasions, there was a lively style of discussion in his family. The tone is also described as witty. On the other hand, there are several indications that Marx often appeared adamant and stubborn to political friends and opponents. As head of the first International, for example, he doesn't have to have been pleasant.

Karl Marx was certainly an influential thinker. His philosophical worldview, according to which history strives towards an ideal state, can certainly be questioned. However, his analysis of capitalism is still relevant today. Much of what causes us headaches today was derived and foreseen by Marx as early as the 19th century from the developments of that time. He showed that globalization, for example, is a necessary consequence of the capitalist mode of production. The regular occurrence of financial crises also seemed to be a logical consequence to Marx. Even the current waves of migration can already be found as a possible consequence of the capitalist order.

Karl Marx himself gave an answer to the question of who he was. Friedrich Engels reported on a round of talks in which he and Marx took part. Marx was asked what he thinks about the fact that many parties and organizations have now invoked him and call themselves Marxist. Marx is said to have looked around and answered the following:

All I know is that I am not a Marxist.

Dietmar Christians
Legal Protection Secretary and Online Editor
Headquarters - Frankfurt am Main