|Yanis Varoufakis has written the preface to a new edition of The Communist Manifesto.|
As we approach the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx's birthday on the 5th May, the Governor of the Bank of England is warning the political establishment that Marxism is on the rise....
THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO was published in 1848, the same year that revolution swept across much of Europe. Those revolutions are still often referred to as the People's Spring or Springtime of the Peoples. A spectre is haunting the ruling order of Europe, wrote Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and that is the spectre of communism.
Less than two years ago the Governor of the Bank of England, not someone with a close affinity with the modern socialist movement, raised the spectre of revolution himself when he warned the ruling order that they risked the prospect of people "turning their backs" on capitalism if it continued to enrich the few at the expense of the many. Mark Carney urged the one percent to act promptly "to ensure people do not lose faith in the current system."
Given the widespread disillusionment with establishment politics throughout western societies, including New Zealand, it is a little too late for the ruling order to attempt to restore people's faith in the empty promises of capitalism, especially among the young. They are not interested in "politics as usual". So its not entirely surprising that Carney has again been ringing the alarm bells. This time he has warned the political establishment that they run the risk of Marx and Engels becoming 'relevant' again.
Of course Marx and Engels have never lost their relevance: what concerns Carney is that Marxism has "come out of the cold". In an address to a conference in Canada a fortnight ago he warned that advancing technology and automation was laying fertile ground for the left to advance:
"The benefits, from a worker’s perspective, from the first industrial revolution, which began in the latter half of the 18th century, were not felt fully in productivity and wages until the latter half of the 19th century. If you substitute platforms for textile mills, machine learning for steam engines, Twitter for the telegraph, you have exactly the same dynamics as existed 150 years ago – when Karl Marx was scribbling the Communist Manifesto.”
The Industrial Revolution saw a then-unparalleled growth in production during the late 18th and early 19th centuries – but wages failed to increase for decades as machines meant the jobs created were low-skilled. Carney thinks that with the advent of robots and AI, a new industrial revolutionthreatens to destroy jobs and livelihoods.
But it isn't robots that are coming for the jobs - it is capitalism itself. To talk of 'automation' as if its just a natural technological and economic development is a false and misleading narrative that fails to recognise how these changes are being driven - and in whose interests, namely corporate capitalism as it seeks to drive up profit levels even further.
Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis refers to this in a new preface he has written for The Communist Manifesto which will be re-published later this week by Vintage Verso to mark the 200th anniversary of Marx's birth on May 5th. That preface has been published by The Guardian. Varoufakis writes:
"While celebrating how globalisation has shifted billions from abject poverty to relative poverty, venerable western newspapers, Hollywood personalities, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, bishops and even multibillionaire financiers all lament some of its less desirable ramifications: unbearable inequality, brazen greed, climate change, and the hijacking of our parliamentary democracies by bankers and the ultra-rich.
None of this should surprise a reader of the manifesto. “Society as a whole,” it argues, “is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.” As production is mechanised, and the profit margin of the machine-owners becomes our civilisation’s driving motive, society splits between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers. As for the middle class, it is the dinosaur in the room, set for extinction."
Ultimately the politics of automation comes down to own the means of production. As we approach the 200th anniversary of Marx's birth, it will be worth reflecting on whether any of our present so-called 'political representatives' offer a way forward in the struggle to win the world that we want. The answer can only be an unequivocal 'no'.