Is Communism Possible? Is Marxism Viable?June 27, 2021
There were thousands of cotton mills in the north of England in the nineteenth century. Dark smoke from their tall chimneys polluted the streets and covered the whole place with soot. The men, women and children inside worked very long hours, often 14 hours a day, to keep the machines spinning.
They were not slaves, but their wages were very low, the conditions harsh and often dangerous. If they lost their attention, they could get caught by machines, lose limbs, or even die. Medical assistance in such situations was essential. They had little choice, if they didn’t work they would starve.
If they left, they might not be able to find another job. People working under these conditions did not live long, and there were very rare moments in their lives that they could call their own. In this process, the workshop owners got richer. Their main concern was profit. They had capital (money they could use to make more money), buildings and machinery, workers who were more or less their property. workers had almost nothing. All they could do was sell their working abilities and help the workshop owners get rich. With their efforts, they added value to the raw materials purchased by the workshop owners. When cotton entered the factory, it was worth much less than when it left. But most of this value added to the cotton after it was sold went to the factory owners. As for the workers, the factory owners paid them the lowest possible wages, often only enough to survive. workers had no job security. If demand for what they were doing fell, they would be fired and left to die if they couldn’t find another job.
When the German philosopher Karl Marx began to write in the 1830s, these harsh conditions created by the Industrial Revolution were not only affecting England but all over Europe. This angered Marx. Marx was an egalitarian: He thought that people should be treated equally. But in the capitalist system, those who had money—often due to inherited wealth—were getting richer. Meanwhile, people who had nothing to do but to sell their labor lived miserable lives and were exploited.
For Marx, all human history could be explained as a class struggle: the struggle between the wealthy capitalist class (bourgeoisie) and the working class or proletariat. This relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat prevented mankind from reaching its potential, turning work into something painful rather than a satisfying activity. With tremendous energy and a reputation for causing trouble, Marx spent most of his life in poverty, moving from Germany to Paris and then Brussels to escape persecution. He finally settled in London. He lived there with seven children, his wife Jenny, and his housekeeper Helene Demuth, with whom he had an illegitimate child. His friend Friedrich Engels helped him find jobs where he could write for newspapers, and he even adopted Marx’s illegitimate son to cover up the situation. However, the Marx family seldom had enough money to survive. Most of the time they were sick, hungry and cold. Three of his children died tragically before reaching adulthood. In the later years of his life, Marx would spend most of his days in the reading room of the British Museum in London to study and write, and on other days he would stay in his crowded apartment in Soho and have his wife dictate his thoughts because his handwriting was so bad that he could not even read it himself. In these difficult conditions, he produced an enormous number of books and articles to fill more than fifty thick volumes. His thoughts have changed the lives of millions of people, for some good and for many, undoubtedly bad. Though he must have looked like an eccentric figure in his time, perhaps a little crazy. Few could predict how effective it would be.
Marx identified himself with the workers. All the structures of society were oppressing them. They could not live fully humanely. Soon, the factory owners realized that if they broke the production process into small units, they could get more products. Thus, each worker could specialize in a particular job on the production line. But this made the workers’ lives even more unpleasant, forcing them to engage in boring and repetitive actions. They did not see the whole production process and only earned enough to feed themselves. Instead of being creative, they were wearing out, becoming the gears of a giant machine that had no other purpose than to enrich the factory owners. It was as if they were not really human, but simply bellies to be filled in order to keep the production line running and enable capitalists to extract what Marx called “surplus value” created by the workers’ labor of more profit: The effect of all this on workers was what Marx called alienation. He meant a few things with that word. workers were alienated or distanced from what they really were as human beings