How do communists deal with scarcity?

Even if the law of scarcity can be described as absurd in view of the cyclically recurring overproduction crises in capitalism, it is exceptionally true in one case: namely when it comes to the rarity of serious criticism of Karl Marx. On the other hand, there is excessive abundance of extremely stupid criticism of him. A meme is circulating on the Internet that shows Marx's likeness and lists the following allegations against him: He never ran a company, never kept a job, never held a political office and was dependent on the money of the entrepreneur's son Friedrich Engels for his entire life been. Even so, many considered him the best social, political, and economic philosopher of all time. The message of the anti-communist meme is clear: What does a good-for-nothing want to understand economics and politics. He should go to work first. Which allegations are actually true against him?

Memes and reality

Marx was active in many political organizations, whether in the League of Communists, the Democratic Society in Brussels, of which he was Vice-President, or in the First International. He was never elected to any political office, but there were good reasons for that. Marx resigned his Prussian citizenship before 1848. He hoped that in future he would no longer be targeted by the Prussian government and its informers. In exile in England he remained stateless until the end of his life. These are not the best prerequisites for being elected to an office, especially since the three-tier voting system was only introduced in Germany after the failed bourgeois revolution in 1849.

But what about the "jobs" that Marx apparently never got to keep. At the insistence of his father Heinrich, Marx studied law. Heinrich Marx, who converted from Judaism to Protestantism, was himself a good legal official. Privately and after several beers, however, he is said to have openly shown his sympathy for the republic and his aversion to Prussia more often. The son was soon drawn to philosophy and, like many others, was enthusiastic about Hegel. He completed his doctorate early in his twenties and had good chances of a university career. At that time his sponsor was Bruno Bauer. Only a few years later he would clash with him over the question of the emancipation of the Jews. After 1848 Bauer developed into one of the leading representatives of anti-Semitism in Germany. But back to Marx and his university ambitions. With a career as a professor, it would probably have been something too, had Prussia not sidelined all teachers in the early 1840s whose ideas were reminiscent of Hegel. So this career path was blocked for Marx. Like many other young Hegelians, he was now active as a journalist. He was extremely talented and his writing earned him the sympathy and admiration of the Cologne bourgeoisie. They kept him in good memory for years and sent him money even after he had already turned into a communist. However, he then no longer accepted the money.

Marx became editor-in-chief of the liberal Rheinische Zeitung in his mid-twenties. But again Prussia destroyed his career planning, because the newspaper was banned. A similar thing happened to Marx in 1849 with his Neue Rheinische Zeitung; it too was no longer allowed to appear and he had to leave Germany forever. As is easy to see, the allegations against Marx turn out to be unfair and baseless. Marx failed because of the circumstances that he could not influence. Early in his life he had to make the painful experience several times that the individual is not the maker of his own happiness. On the contrary, happiness could not be achieved under these conditions. Because either one adapted to the circumstances and paid for social advancement with one's own stupidity and brutality or one fought for happiness and was sidelined by society as a punishment. Marx failed as a liberal who wanted to realize the bourgeois promises of happiness; this was probably also what made him so open to the necessary revolutionary desire of the proletariat in the middle of the 19th century. Because these people necessarily belonged to the losers of society because of their class affiliation and had to revolutionarily abolish the existing conditions in order to win the world for themselves. This revolt of the proletariat against bourgeois society made Marx a communist who wanted to abolish domination and exploitation. Only as a revolutionary communist was Marx able to recognize and criticize the contradiction between production relations and productive forces as a decisive characteristic of the capital relation. This was to be very important for his main work, Das Kapital.

Paris and the communist Marx

In October 1843 the young Marx arrived in Paris, the capital of revolutionary and radical Europe. The French left - as well as those who had been driven into exile - from all over the world lived and agitated in the heart of France. At that time, the left were democrats, republicans, atheists and only marginally socialists and communists. When Marx entered Paris he was a leftist, when he left the city he was a communist. There were 16 months in between. In Paris he made a lifelong friendship with Friedrich Engels, studied the representatives of political economy and met socialist and communist workers.

His communism could only be realized through a revolutionary break with bourgeois society, and it was free of religious justifications. In this way, Marx set himself apart from all other socialist and communist ideas of his time. As a communist, too, Marx championed Hegelian ideas and continued to advocate free trade, the implementation of which he regarded as a prerequisite for communism. As early as the spring of 1845 he had the plan to publish a critique of political economy in the form of a brochure. For this he had already found a publisher in the left Darmstadt Karl Julius Leske. But once again reactionary Prussia thwarted its plans. Marx and other revolutionaries should be expelled from France. Carelessly, he volunteered to report to the French police. To him it seemed inconceivable that liberal France would bow to the wishes of conservative Prussia. This was a mistake with grave consequences. Marx had to leave France within a week and found himself in Brussels before the revolution of 1848. After the failed bourgeois revolution, Marx went into exile in England. There he works on his capital in the library of the British Museum. The first volume did not appear until 1867, more than twenty years after the time in Paris. The reactions to his work disappointed the author of the Critique of Political Economy. His work was hardly discussed in bourgeois economics. The labor theory of political economy was no longer represented there. The subjectivist marginal utility theory was now considered the scientific standard. These people could no longer use the criticism of political economy. Only in the growing workers' movement in Germany were Marx's writings received. At the end of the 19th century, however, the writings of Engels, such as Anti-Dühring or The Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science, were much more widely used.

Of course, social-democratic propaganda did not completely renounce the writings of Marx, or rather what they thought they were. With the theory of surplus value, it was possible to reproach citizens that the source of wealth is work. But the workers would have none of this wealth because they would be exploited by the capitalists in the production process. As a result, the demand for fair wages and participation in society arose. Everything degenerated into a question of the distribution of wealth and the balance of power in society. The catch: that work is the source of wealth could already be read from bourgeois economists such as Adam Smith or David Ricardo, but you didn't have to stick your nose into Marx's writings for that. The criticism that Marx developed in his Capital then went in a completely different direction.

The capital. Critique of Labor and Critique of Production Relations

Of course, for Marx too, work was the source of wealth, but only in capitalism and this is exactly where his criticism begins. Marx analyzes work in capitalism as a historically specific phenomenon. Without question, work as a metabolic process between humans and nature is superhistorical. Man will always have to work on nature in order to produce something. However, work that creates value and is the sole source of wealth is a historically specific phenomenon which does not coincide with the above general purpose of work. This function is due to the specific social conditions. Anyone who fails to recognize this naturalizes the production process into a simple work process, detached from any historical changeability.

From this specific form of work as the sole source of wealth also arises the crazy contradiction of capitalism. Due to the continuous improvement of the productive forces, which is forced by capitalist competition, less and less working time is necessary to produce potential wealth in a material form. At the same time, working time remains the sole source of wealth, thus narrowing it down to a capitalist form. Hence the overproduction crises and the fact that capitalist wealth has the misery of the workers and mass unemployment as a prerequisite. In a communist society, on the other hand, it would no longer be work, but science and the productive forces, the source of what is now material wealth. Working hours could be reduced to a reasonable minimum and still society as a whole would be richer. A distinction must therefore be made between wealth in capitalist societies, which appears as an immense accumulation of goods and whose source is value-creating abstract work, and material wealth, which exists in the form of use values ​​and could only be realized under communism.

In the Marxist discussions since the end of the 19th century, this point was mostly overlooked. For most Marxists, the production process was simply a labor process and the injustice of society was eradicated through redistribution of wealth. All you had to do was put yourself at the top instead of the capitalists. Capitalism was defined solely as the class rule of the capitalists and not as the rule of capital, which has an effect right through to production and which does not really care whether a red or red-white-red flag is waving over parliament. Marx commented on such an incomplete critique of capitalism in Volume 3 of the Capital as follows: 'The view that only regards the relations of distribution as historical, but not the relations of production, is, on the one hand, only the view of the incipient but still biased criticism of bourgeois economy. On the other hand, however, it is based on a confusion and identification of the social production process with the simple work process, as it would also be carried out by an abnormally isolated person without any social assistance. Insofar as the work process is only a mere process between man and nature, its simple elements remain common to all forms of social development. But every particular historical form of this process further develops its material foundations and social forms. "

What to do?

Marx's work, on the other hand, is a critique of this capitalist form of work that must be overcome, and not a critique of society from the standpoint of work. It is not a question of distributing wealth measured by value fairly and placing oneself at the head of class society instead of the bourgeoisie. Communist criticism should stand by the workers today in their struggle for a more bearable life, support them in the occasional class struggles for higher wages and shorter working hours and harshly counter the hatred of the lower class that is widespread in the left middle class. At the same time, a radical criticism of capitalist work would have to be made. Today, however, this criticism is faced with a major problem: a revolutionary subject like the proletariat of the 19th century is currently not in sight and the communist critics are currently on their own. We live in counter-revolutionary times. But it doesn't have to stay that way.