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An Ideological Resource
Current developments rekindle interest in the study of Marxism
By Charles Onunaiju | NO.20 MAY 17, 2018
A first day cover of a set of stamps issued in China to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx's birth displayed in a post office in Beijing on May 5 (XINHUA)
May this year marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx (May 5, 1818-March 14, 1883). The Prussian-born political economist, philosopher and revolutionary is the founder of communism, and his ideas are still regarded as the basis for many political systems across the world.

Marx's work consisted essentially in laying bare the laws in the development of society, especially capitalist society, which he praised for its monumental achievements in technology development, but whose existential contradictions underline its transitional nature in society's trajectory.

However, after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the early 1990s, the first proletarian state founded on the authority of Marxist scientific socialist theory, Marxism in Europe, America and even the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America has been having less political appeal. But, the contemporary wreckage of deepening capitalist crisis, especially with its backlash of the rise of right-wing extremist populism in the industrial West and deepening misery in Africa, has rekindled interest in the study of Marxism and the scientific theory of socialism.


Marx Memorial Library in London (XINHUA)

Existential reality

In Africa, the absence of theoretical rigor, and social and historical contextualization, which are dispassionate tools of scientific interrogation of facts, has undermined policy outlines, rendering them hollow and inappropriate for the urgent needs of transformation and modernization of socioeconomic and political framework of the region. The essential contents of contemporary policy outlines in Africa are a regrettable deficit in the grasp of the existential reality. Amilcar Cabral, Africa's most rigorous theoretician, characterized this as "the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social and historical reality of each of our countries," and stressed his conviction "that any national or social project of change, which is not founded on adequate knowledge of this reality, runs grave risks of poor results or of being doomed to failure."

The tragic trajectories in Africa of poverty, conflicts and political exclusions are essentially derived from the theoretical lethargy of acute deficit in political and economic imaginations.

Scientific socialism, originally contributed by Marx and Friedrich Engels, is even a key victim of the cascading waves of anti-intellectualism in contemporary African official political establishments, where the straitjacket of received wisdom of policy packages, sometimes handed down from outside, is canonized as true gospel of redemption.

It is the misunderstanding that socialism was, first and foremost, a political ideology and a totalitarian one for that matter, a regime type and even a strategy for class warfare that feeds the popular misconception that it has failed in its birth place of the former USSR and therefore allegedly is unsuitable and even unmentionable in the current discourse about the future of Africa.

Universal values

Many people claimed that Marx envisaged socialism in more advanced capitalist countries of the West than the backward Russia, where it actually occurred in 1917. However, what Marx envisaged is actually less important than what he discovered as the laws governing the progression of society, unhindered or unaffected by the wishes and preference of anyone, including himself.

The scientific theory of socialism extrapolates many political conclusions; but its value is the rigor of its scientific interrogation of social realities, derived from general principles.

The credibility of Marxism and its eternal universal value is laying out the critical theoretical infrastructure which illuminates the roadmap that constantly searches for questions—calling into question where others only see ready-made answers and vulgar evidence. Writing in the foreword of the first volume of Das Kapital, Professor Ernest Mandel pointed out that Marx's principal aim was to lay bare the laws of motion which govern the origins, the rise, the development, the decline and the disappearance of a given social form of economic organization, instead of seeking universal laws of organization. And in fact, the essential thesis of Das Kapital is that no such laws exist.

Marxism is not a political project or economic organization of any particular place and time, but basically a scientific theory to unmask and interrogate social forms in any particular state of historical development. The conclusion of each particular stage is not valid for all times and all circumstances. The profound theoretical universal insight of Marxism-Leninism bears fruit in economic and social organization, when questioned about the specific condition of historical context and existing situations. The Communist Party of China (CPC) has been particularly adroit in this synthesis and has produced unequivocal economic success and social progress.

Ideological resource

The CPC has consistently affirmed its abiding faith in the scientific and eternal value of Marxism-Leninism as its practical guide. Building socialism with Chinese characteristics is the advanced development of Marxism-Leninism in the particular context of China's existential reality. The CPC vows that without Marxism-Leninism, it would never have found the path to advance on the road of its core national priority of modernization and inclusive development.

At a grand gathering to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx on May 4, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, noted that Marxism not only profoundly changed the world, but also profoundly changed China, adding that as a faithful believer and steadfast practitioner of Marxism, the CPC is making persistent efforts to uphold and develop Marxism.

"Like a spectacular sunrise, the theory illuminated the path of humanity's exploration of the law of history, and humanity's search for their own liberation," Xi said. Marxism is the theory of people, the theory of practice, and is an open theoretical system, he added.

At the 19th CPC National Congress held in October last year, Xi reaffirmed that the CPC must uphold the Four Cardinal Principles—keeping to the path of socialism, upholding the people's democratic dictatorship, upholding the leadership of the CPC, and upholding Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.

With China's national aggregate output reaching unprecedented heights, Xi reported to the historic congress that "China champions the development of a community with shared future for mankind and has encouraged the evolution of a more inclusive global governance system."

China's confidence in promoting inclusive globalization comes against the backdrop of the retreat of the U.S. shouting "America first."

The Marxist theory of scientific socialism is a vast ideological resource, open to innovation, constant development and enrichment. The intellectual depth, rigor and discipline necessary to understand and interrogate Marxism and even appreciate its theoretical and scientific ramifications is more extensive and can unravel the myth of Africa's economic lethargy and political paralysis.

The author is director of the Center for China Studies, Abuja, Nigeria

Copyedited by Francisco Little

Comments to zanjifang@bjreview.com 

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