Back2Basics is the Young Communist League’s series on Marxist concepts made easy. Its aim is to provide a starting point for those interested in learning about communist theory and a foundation for further reading and study.
The philosophical underpinning of Marxism-Leninism is often referred to as “dialectical materialism”. Parts 1 and 2 of this series set out what that actually means; materialism in this issue and dialectics in the next issue.
Every scientific investigation must have a method. The choice of method will affect the whole course of the investigation and it is important to base your method on the reality of the situation you are studying. The method used by Marxists in studying the world around them is Dialectical Materialism.
The economic basis of capitalism is commodity production. In order to study commodity production dialectically, we must begin by studying its smallest self-contained unit – the commodity.
In part 3, we discussed the value of a commodity and found that this came in two forms – use-value and exchange-value- and that they were derived from the labour required to produce the commodity, use-value from specific labour and exchange-value from abstract social labour. But under the capitalist system, labour itself (or more accurately labour-power, the capacity to labour) is sold as a commodity. So what is the value of labour? This was the stumbling block of classical political economy and it was Karl Marx who first solved the problem.
“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” (Marx & Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party)
Class is a concept at the heart of our Marxist understanding of the world, yet many claim that the ‘working class’ no longer exist. How do we approach this problem?
The issue of the state is a crucial one for Marxists. Any serious revolutionary strategy must be based on an understanding of what the state is, how it operates and what role it plays in social transformation.
In order to answer these questions, we must look at the origin of the state. The modern state (government, judiciary, police force, army, etc.) may appear both impartial (at times) and ever present. In reality it is neither. In early society neither the state, nor anything fulfilling a similar role, existed. The emergence of the state appeared at that time at which society became divided into classes, into oppressors and oppressed.
Lenin argued that “the most deep-rooted economic foundation of imperialism is monopoly” and that imperialism could be briefly defined as “the monopoly stage of capitalism” (Imperialism, 1916). Under capitalism, cyclical economic crises, combined with the advantages of scale held by large companies over small- and medium-sized businesses, lead inevitably to the annexation of smaller companies by larger enterprises.
The history of imperialism can be roughly divided into three phases.
The first phase of imperialism, up until 1945, was characterised by inter-imperialist rivalry and the drive to divide and re-divide the world into spheres of influence of the dominant capitalist countries. It is important to note that this was a global, not national or regional, process and that imperialism has always been a global system.
One of the key features of capitalism is the recurrence of periodic, systemic crises. These crises are either denied by capitalist economists, attributed to specific circumstances (and thereby taken as an exception rather than a rule) or it is claimed that, actually, the cause of the crisis was state intervention and attempts at planning which have thwarted the logic of the market and deformed an otherwise perfect system.