Was Karl Marx wrong, how

Karl Marx: Ingenious and sometimes wrong

What the Communist Manifesto and Karl Marx still have to say to us today

The short text has lost none of its freshness: The "Communist Manifesto" is now 170 years old and is still one of the most widely read texts of all time. Many sentences have become aphorisms that almost everyone knows. The entry point is world famous: "A ghost is haunting Europe - the ghost of communism." The end is just as well known: "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to gain."

Both prophecies were wrong. Communism did not prevail, and proletarians today have far more to lose than just their chains. Workers also own cars, televisions, and cell phones. Why is the text so drawn in anyway?

Karl Marx could be a brilliant stylist. His manifesto is succinct, elegant, sarcastic and funny. The short, apodictic sentences have a biblical power of language, and the text still has a prophetic effect today, because it darkly and dramatically outlines a capitalist future that does not seem strange in the 21st century.

Marx was not a moralist like many other socialists - he saw himself as an analyst. He did not want to condemn the capitalists, but rather describe their function. Hence, he clearly recognized that the bourgeoisie had "played a highly revolutionary role". Cynical and yet admiring, Marx summed up how the entrepreneurs had reshaped society:

"The bourgeoisie ... has destroyed all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic conditions. It has ... left no other bond between man and man than bare interest, than the callous 'cash payment'. It has the holy shudders of pious enthusiasm, of chivalry Enthusiasm, the bourgeois melancholy drowned in the ice-cold water of selfish calculation. ... In a word, it set exploitation veiled with religious and political illusions to open, outrageous, direct, arid exploitation. "

Marx was just as eloquently enthusiastic about the technical achievements of his time. Only the bourgeoisie had "proved what human activity can bring about". And he lists: "Subjugation of the forces of nature, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, reclamation of whole parts of the world, making rivers navigable, entire populations that have emerged from the ground."

Marx understood earlier than any other economist that capitalism is dynamic and cannot be grasped with static categories: "The constant upheaval in production, the uninterrupted shaking of all social conditions, the eternal insecurity and movement characterize the bourgeois era from all others. ... Everything standing and standing evaporates, everything sacred is desecrated. "

He also saw that capitalism is global and does not end at the German borders: "The bourgeoisie has the need for ever more extensive sales of its products all over the world. It has to settle in everywhere, grow everywhere, establish connections everywhere."

Marx was a student of Hegel and therefore thought in dynamic contradictions, also called dialectics: thesis and antithesis should lead to synthesis. The grandiose rise of the bourgeoisie was the thesis that was summarized again at the end: "In a word, it (the bourgeoisie) creates a world in its own image. ... It has agglomerated the population, centralized the means of production and in concentrated in a few hands. "

But then the antithesis followed, the downfall of the bourgeoisie was predicted. An irritating paradox emerged in capitalism: of all things, abundance became a problem. There were trade crises "which, in their periodic recurrence, question the existence of the whole of bourgeois society with increasing threat. ... Industry, trade seem to be destroyed, and why? Because it has too much civilization, too much food, too much industry, too much trade. "

Since wealth also created poverty, the bourgeoisie would not survive, at least that was the prediction of Marx: "The bourgeoisie not only forged the weapons that bring it to death; it also fathered the men who will wield these weapons - the modern workers, the proletarians. ... Above all, they produce their own gravediggers. " It follows, as a dialectical synthesis, the communist society.

As soon as the manifesto was written down, it was overtaken by events

The text was still in print when a revolution broke out in Paris in February 1848, which also spread to the German states. In March there were street battles in Berlin; In May the National Assembly was constituted in Frankfurt, which wanted to work out a democratic constitution for a united Germany.

But this bourgeois revolution failed all over Europe and also in Germany. By July 1849 at the latest, the monarchs were once again firmly on their throne. After this fiasco, Marx knew that further revolutions or even a class struggle were no longer to be expected.

However, since Marx did not want to give up dialectical materialism, there had to be an actor who produced socialism even if the proletariat failed as a revolutionary subject. That subversive agent could only be capitalism itself. So it was a matter of discovering the contradictions in this complex system. Marx changed from a revolutionary to an economist.

In 1867 his main work, Das Kapital, appeared, where much of what was already laid out in the manifesto reappears. Both texts share the fact that Marx not only wanted to overcome capitalism - but also understand it. This empirical curiosity makes it so topical.

(Ulrike Herrmann)

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