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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

Why We Should Study Marxism

(30 March 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 13, 30 March 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The economics of Karl Marx is a science. Marxian economics is in fact the only scientific study of capitalism. It is the only complete and correct explanation of how the bosses make their profits.

But no working man or woman should think just because it is a science that he can’t hope to learn it. The worker can learn the most important elements of this science a thousand times easier than his educated boss.

This is so first because Marxism is an honest study of the system we live by. Second because it is a revolutionary study, and third, because it is a study of the everyday things that working people know more about than anybody else: the factory, where they spend all their working hours; the machinery, which they become almost a part of; and the products which they, and only they, produce.

Marx proves that capitalism is doomed – sentenced by its own laws. He shows how capitalism is different from other systems in the past. And the working poor today are entirely different from, even though they are the descendants of the ancient slaves. They have the possibility of running the world to benefit the majority. The ancient slaves, for all their rebellions, never had that chance.

Many people remark, and most people believe, that “We’ve always had capitalism.” But this is not so. Capitalism had a beginning and it’s going to have an ending. Again these same people say, “Well, even before capitalism, there were always rich and poor. Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘The poor ye have always with you’?”

No. The “poor” did not always exist. There is no record of class society beyond 6,000 years ago. In other words we workers have a background of oppression only about 300 generations long. A good bit longer than the snooty family trees of the capitalist aristocrats, to be sure, but very short indeed compared to the age of man.

Our remoter ancestors lived hundreds of thousands of years without being divided into rich and poor. We might call them all “poor,” because they didn’t have good clothing or regular meals – not to mention limousines and servants. But they were also all equally “rich” because none called another “boss.”

Our ancestors in Europe, Asia and Africa lived at one time or another very much like the American Indian lived a few generations ago. Many African tribes still preserve the remains of this kind of life, where the European and American capitalists have not battered it away.

Equality Under Primitive Communism

In this form of society there was an equality and spirit of fellow feeling that disappeared as humanity progressed to the stage of producing more goods, and it became possible for one man to get a little more at the expense of many others.

For the primitive communism (you could call it that) of early man was based on scarcity. People were compelled to help each other to live. When they advanced to a higher stage, they paid for the advance with social inequality.

Now after 6,000 years of accumulation and newer systems of production, we have built enough factories and developed enough technique for everybody to have everything he needs and more. But again we will be compelled to work together, not only in operating the factories, and building them, as we do now – but in running them ourselves, if we want to enjoy the full benefits of factory production.

Capitalism was the highest stage of man up to a couple of generations ago. With its factory system of production it accomplished miracles that put the seven wonders of the world to shame. Under its sway people were educated and the working slaves got a little elbow room to look around in.

In a very short period, there has been more material progress than in all the other stages of history. Railroads, automobiles, airplanes, telegraph, wireless, radio. Capitalism has developed much faster than any previous system.

But it has also worn itself out faster. It is running down like an old machine. Bigger and bigger wars, deeper and deeper depressions, are its chief product in this period of running down.

The next stage in history is socialism. This is a system which eliminates depressions and wars because it operates the factories in a different way than capitalism. It operates them directly for the benefit of the people. It produces for use and not for profit.

To be real socialists we should understand why capitalism is dying, and why socialism will inevitably be born. And to begin at the beginning, let us see where capitalism came from. Let us see how we got where we are.

Next week: How The Factories Were Born

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Last updated: 16 October 2018