[VIEWPOINT]A resurgence that is right on the MarxAt the beginning of the year, the news that giant labor unions in the United States, Germany and Britain had announced a plan to form a single, global trade union transcending borders hit the international sections of newspapers around the world.
Amicus, Britain’s largest union in the private sector, and IG Metall, Germany’s biggest metal workers union, joined with two major U.S. unions, the machinists and the United Steel Workers, to create a super-union with more than 7 million members. The new union intends to make a stand against multinational entrepreneurs. They say they are uniting to prevent companies from exploiting workforces by encouraging the workers of each country to compete against each other for jobs.
“The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries, unite!”
It feels like the slogans that Karl Marx proclaimed in “The Communist Manifesto” in 1848 are coming true, 160 years later.
It is no exaggeration to call the 20th century one of Marxism. Contests between the Marxists and the anti-Marxists defined the century.
In a BBC opinion poll last year, the British voted Karl Marx as the most influential philosopher in human history. Search “Marx” on the Internet search engine Google, and it returns 35.6 million results. A few days ago, the British newspaper the Financial Times ran an article about the resurrection of Marx in the age of global capitalism.
Francis Wheen, the author of “Karl Marx: A Life,” said the true value of Karl Marx is being revealed in the 21st century. Holding Marx accountable for the faults of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro is the same as blaming a tree when insects eat up its fruit, he argued. They only distorted Marxist theories to suit their political agendas. Mr. Wheen emphasized that it is time to reinterpret Karl Marx now that “globalization” has become a keyword.
“The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country . . . The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all of its instruments of production, by the advanced means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations, into civilization.” Karl Marx predicted the advent of global capitalism in the “Communist Manifesto.”
That’s why the French economist and scholar Jacques Attali is clinging anew to Marx. He published “Karl Marx: Spirit of the World” in 2005. In this biography, Mr. Attali argued that what Marx was interested in was not the construction of socialism, but the future of capitalism. According to his interpretation, Marx thought that when the cosmopolitan character of capitalism was completed, capitalism would meet its end and socialism would be implemented.
British historian Eric Hobsbawm is reading Marx again. He says the true value of the Marx philosophy is that it defined the globalization process of capitalism, bringing growth and also crises at the same time.
Marx was greatly concerned that in a global economic system, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer as wealth is concentrated on a few. Mr. Hobsbawm called that agony the modern virtue of the Marxian philosophy.
The 20th century historically illustrated how globalization results in a return to isolationism, protectionism and barbarism.
Globalization is in progress at a dizzying speed, but Mr. Attali thinks it will meet an inevitable ending. The only solution, he advises, is that democracy functions well at a global level.
However, democracy is facing an international crisis. Politicians are only interested in finding justification for opposition only for opposition’s sake and are evading the efforts to find a “mutual ground.”
In the clash of time between impatient public opinion and interested political and economic parties, democracy is losing its footing.
If dialogue and compromise, the substantial virtues of democracy, cannot do their function, 21st century global capitalism might meet a catastrophic ending.
That’s why we are revisiting Karl Marx.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok