Karl Marx

Interview: 'People are searching for ideas to explain the system'

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Camilla Royle spoke to Joseph Choonara, author of a new guide to Capital, about the relevance of Marx’s great work to the world today.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Capital volume 1. As you say in your book, the 50th anniversary was the year of the Russian Revolution and the 100th anniversary was right before the events of 1968 such as the civil rights movement and the general strike in France. How relevant is Capital today?

Karl Marx and the First International

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First International

One hundred a fifty years ago a meeting in London met to found the first international workers’ organisation, the International Working Men’s Association. Christian Høgsbjerg shows how Karl Marx made a vital contribution to the IWMA and how he fought to ensure its militant trajectory.

On 28 September 1864, 150 years ago, a mass meeting was held in St Martin’s Hall in central London to launch a new organisation, the “International Working Men’s Association” (IWMA). Composed of mainly trade unionists from London and Paris, it aimed to set up a political organisation that would audaciously aspire to forge a resistance to capital that would be as global as capitalism itself.

Exploring Capital

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The current crisis of capitalism has coincided with a renewed interest in Marx's Capital. Socialist Review spoke to Alex Callinicos about his forthcoming book examining Marx's understanding of capitalism.


There's been a revival of interest and debate in Marx's Capital. Why do you think this is and why did you want to intervene in these debates with your new book?

The main reason is because of the radicalisation and resistance to neoliberalism that we've seen since the 1990s. Initially there were critiques of neoliberalism and capitalism on very diverse intellectual bases.

Why Read The Civil War in France?

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The Paris Commune of 1871 was the result of the world's first working class revolution. It survived for only two months but it was the most democratic and liberating government the world had seen up till that point. It offered a glimpse of a model of democracy that goes beyond the limited parliamentary democracy which is the best we can expect under capitalism.

Marx did not pluck a theory of what real democracy would look like from thin air - he learnt it from the concrete example of the Paris Commune. The Civil War in France, a pamphlet based on speeches to the First International, was written by Marx in 1871. It is both an impressive, succinct history of the Paris Commune and a powerful polemic against capitalism.

Why read Wage-Labour and Capital?

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Wage-Labour and Capital is online at http://bit.ly/187qEer

Karl Marx's pamphlet Wage Labour and Capital first appeared as a series of articles in Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the newspaper that Marx edited during the 1848-9 revolution that swept Germany and Europe.

The articles were based lectures that Marx had given to German workers in Brussels in 1847.

Marx's aim in the pamphlet is to set out and explain "the economic conditions which form the material basis of the present struggles between classes."

Why read...The Communist Manifesto

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Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were commissioned in late 1847 to draw up a manifesto by the Communist League, the first international working class organisation. The resulting pamphlet that calls on working class of all countries to unite has become an inspiration for socialists in every decade since.

It has been translated into more than a hundred languages. It is a historical materialist approach to history, a critique of capitalism and a guide to the international class struggle.

More than one and half centuries later the words of the preface to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto remain applicable today: "However much the state of things may have altered during the last 25 years, the general principles laid down in the Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever."

Marx on the freedom of the press

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Marx was a prolific journalist - but he has been cited by different people as either a Stalinist censor or a liberal defender of the press. Mark L Thomas looks at what Marx said about press freedom

Following the Leveson report into phone hacking the pages of the Daily Telegraph, of all places, recently witnessed a spat over Karl Marx's attitude towards press freedom. The Reverend Peter Mullen declared that those MPs who advocate some form of state regulation of the press stood in the tradition of Marx, who, he tells us, "hated a free press". Rushing to Marx's defence was Brendan O'Neil, the editor of Spiked Online (a right wing libertarian website that likes to pretend its part of the left).

States and capital, the banks and the bailouts

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Right wingers usually argue that the state should get out of the way of private capital - that economic problems are caused by an overbearing state or regulation. Jack Farmer argues that the state actually serves to prop up the private sector, a role confirmed by the way that capitalism has evolved in recent years

Tories often say that they don't like the state. They say it's a drag on the economy, dampening the risk-taking creativity of the private sector.

Why workers can change the world

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Karl Marx's claim that the working class has the power to change the world is perhaps his most important contribution to socialist theory. Before Marx workers were viewed at best as victims of the system or more typically as a rabble whose existence threatened civilisation. Marx challenged these assumptions, arguing that workers' collective struggles for freedom pointed towards a potential socialist alternative to capitalism.

This vision is widely disparaged today. However, criticisms of Marx often miss their target. This is particularly true of those who reject his model of class from "common sense" or sociological perspectives which tend to equate class with social stratification - the various ways of differentiating people along lines of income, status, occupation or patterns of consumption. What, it is asked, do university-educated teachers, factory workers or low-paid shop workers have in common?

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