Welcome to Marxist University 2022, four days of online discussion dedicated to understanding the fundamental principles of Marxism, hosted by the International Marxist Tendency on 23-26 July.
The world is in a deep crisis. War, inequality, suffering and the pandemic have become the new normal for life under capitalism. Yet the ruling class, politicians, and their ideologues in bourgeois academia have proven their inability to even understand the seemingly chaotic world we live in, let alone change it for the better. In all this uncertainty, Marxism stands out as the only method capable of making sense of the turmoil and providing a practical basis to fight for our future.
For this reason, Marxist University 2022 will focus on the three pillars of Marxism: the revolutionary philosophy of dialectical materialism, Marx’s economic insights into the contradictions of capitalism, and historical materialism, the Marxist approach to history. There can be no better antidote to the confusion of today’s world than studying these fundamentals and learning how we can defend them against the attacks of capitalism’s apologists.
World perspectives: war, crisis and revolution – the new normal
An old curse goes: “may you live through interesting times.” Just as the world took its first, tentative steps towards ‘normality’ after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 opened on an explosive note, with a major cost of living crisis, an insurrectionary movement in Kazakhstan, and now the biggest war on European soil in decades following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Millions are waking up to the fact that this level of chaos is not an aberration. World capitalism is in a profound state of crisis and dislocation – we are living through the new normal.
History teaches us that war and hunger are often the handmaidens of revolution. The dramatic events unfolding before our eyes are the convulsions of an old world dying, and a new one fighting to be born. Our opening plenary will discuss the perspectives for the global class struggle, and outline the main tasks for revolutionaries all over the world.
Marxism and art: unshackling culture from capitalism
Under capitalism, art and culture are nothing but business, to be exploited for profit. Meanwhile, the finest artistic accomplishments of humanity are locked up in the private vaults of the wealthy, or behind the gilded doors of expensive galleries and theatres – what Trotsky called the “concentration camps of the mind.”
The vast majority of people are prevented from producing art, forced to devote the bulk of their time toiling for a parasitic few, with barely enough time left over for rest. Expensive art colleges and elitist salons ensure the working class is kept out of ‘high’ culture, while the need to make a living prevents artists from experimenting and developing their craft.
The crisis of capitalism is also a crisis of culture: as we see in the endless parade of near-identical Hollywood superhero blockbusters, and stagnation in one discipline after another: from literature, to theatre, to music. Marxists’ fight for revolution is also a fight to liberate art from the profit motive, harnessing the whole of humanity’s creative potential.
Art and the Class StruggleCapitalist fetishism and the decay of artMarxism and art: introduction to Trotsky's writings on Art and CultureLiterature and Revolution - Leon Trotsky
The labour theory of value: the origins of Marxist economics
Marx revolutionised political economy with the publication of Capital, in which he brilliantly analysed capitalism in all its aspects, and explained why it inevitably goes into crisis. However, Marx did not suck his ideas out of his thumb. Rather, he stood on the shoulders of the most-advanced bourgeois political economists: in particular Adam Smith and David Ricardo.
These two thinkers both proposed the labour theory of value, which is to say, that the value of commodities originates with human labour. However, later bourgeois economists abandoned this theory, because its implications were dangerous. After all, if workers are the source of all value, shouldn’t they lay claim to the fruits of their labour?
While Smith and Ricardo were limited by their one-sided, bourgeois approach to economics, their ideas were nevertheless a major breakthrough that Marx was able to develop and refine with his theory of surplus value, from which profit is extracted. This laid the foundation for Marxist economics: the most powerful tool of analysis available to us.
In Defence of Marx's Labour Theory of ValueValue, Price, and Profit - Karl Marx
The enlightenment and the struggle for rational thought
The rise of capitalism was accompanied by a bitter struggle against the religious obscurantism of feudal reaction. The rationalists, the empiricists and the French materialists struck blow after blow against the dominant ideology of the day. The struggle for rational and scientific thought was an indispensable weapon in the bourgeois revolution.
Today however, the capitalist class has turned into a counter-revolutionary and conservative force. It has taken up the banner of idealism and turned against the revolutionary materialism which it relied on in the struggle against feudalism. Today, the struggle to defend science, materialism and rational thought is an essential part of the struggle for socialism. While the old bourgeois schools of thought have degenerated into irrationalism and mysticism, Marxism has managed to rescue their revolutionary kernel and raise them to a higher level in the philosophy of scientific socialism: dialectical materialism.
Recommended Reading: History of Philosophy, “The Renaissance”, “Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz”
How Marx made history: the development of historical materialismin
At school and university, history is taught in certain ways. Either it is understood as the product of ‘Great Men’ or, as postmodernists would say, it is just a series of unconnected and unrelated events. Marxism, on the other hand, analyses the hidden mainsprings that lie behind the development of human society, from the earliest tribal societies up to the modern day.
The way in which Marxism traces this winding road is called the materialist conception of history. This scientific method enables us to understand history, not as a series of unconnected and unforeseen incidents, but as part of a clearly understood and interrelated process. It is a series of actions and reactions which cover politics, economics and the whole spectrum of social development.
On the Significance of Militant Materialism - V.I. LeninThe Materialist Conception of History - Georgi PlekhanovThe Development of Monist View of History - Georgi Plekhanov
Blood and gold: the Spanish conquest of the Americas
The brutal invasion of the Americas by Spain, Portugal and others represented a clash between two modes of production: capitalism, in its very earliest stages; and that of the Mesoamerican world, with all of its peculiarities. The great civilisations of pre-Hispanic America were sacrificed to feed the burgeoning primitive accumulation of the capitalist system, with the majority of the local populations wiped out by musket fire, sabres and disease.
The conquistadors went on to rule with an iron fist, with countless thousands of indigenous peoples perishing in conditions of slave labour. This discussion will present a Marxist perspective on these events, and how they factor into the history of capitalism a system that erupted onto the scene leaking blood and dirt from every pore.
The Spanish conquest of Mexico: a Marxist perspectiveOpen Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano