Understand Marx and Marxism from Unknown

Tulisan dibawah ini adalah sebagai artikel untuk memahami pikiran Marx dan Marxism. Masih dangkal sekali tulisannya itupun juga karena paksaan seorang teman yang mendorong untuk mengikuti kursus pada semester musim dingin ini. Pandangan tidak genuine (asli) karena menyadur dari beberapa tulisan dan pikiran beberapa rekan dan juga melalui bahan bacaan yang disiapkan dalam kursus yang saya ikuti. Terima untuk Marcelo, sahabat baikku dari Brazil yang menyatakan dirinya seorang pengikut Marxism sejati. Bangga memiliki teman seperti dia yang selalu berani mengungkap pikirannya akan keadilan sosial dan pentingnya gerakan proleretarian, gerakan buruh untuk memerdekan dirinya dari penindasan kapitalis! (hehehe, dia ngak bakalan ngerti dengan perkataan yang saya tulis dalam bahasa Indonesia). Terima kasih juga untuk Fritz, yang tulisan kusadur tanpa bilang permisi, tetapi setidaknya sudah akan ‘dibayar royalti’ dengan souvenir kaos dari Kanada dan tunggu nanti traktiran makan di sekitar  patung Marx-Engels-forum, di Berlin. Tetapi maaf tulisannya masih dalam bahasa Inggeris, belum sempat menerjemahkan


The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion to the devaluation of the world of men. Labour produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity — and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally (Marx, 1844)

Actually, it’s a troublesome for me to write this article because my knowledge of Marx’s thinking and Marxism theories is very limited and shallow. I have either never read even one of his works or works of Marxism proponents. However, this naivety encourages me to take this course with keeping in my mind a misconception on part of Indonesian (including me) who generally equalize Marxism with Communism (an ideology which are misunderstood by and causes worries in part of Indonesian to talk about communism) and atheism. For almost thirty year of Suharto’s reign, books on Marx were banned. However, clandestinely those books were a must for several educated persons; they called it “theory of a father with beard” 

Besides, Marcelo encourages me to take this course who unexpectedly told me “How come a unionist did not know Marxism?” Eloquently he described to me that (1) Marxism tells about history of class struggles; (2) the proletariat is so crucial for social revolution; (3) Marxism has proved the dilapidation of capitalism and imperialism and hope it gives to beat capitalism and imperialism; (4) theory of Marxism is a thinking to understand the development in carrying out a struggle to achieve a just society; (5) Capital is Marx’s masterpiece, a masterpiece which in the continent called “the Bible of the working class” (Engels, 1886)

Description of Marcelo gave awakened and driven me to look out for the knowledge. In the search for the knowledge, I found that Soekarno, the founding father and First President of the Republic of Indonesia, was a Marxist (Legge, 1972). By looking deeper into this nation philosophy, Pancasila – five principles explaining state ideology – we realize that practicing Pancasila into daily lives actually equals to implementing Marx’s thinking synchronized with  Indonesia situation. Pancasila is a result of deep contemplations and reflections and experience of the founding father. Pancasila contains equilibrium between knowledge and deeds, nationalism and internationalism, democracy and deliberation for a consensus, and between development and social justice (Soekarno, 2006).

So, what is the point? Where should I begin to learn Marxism? What should I understand from Marxism? What is significance of Marxism for me (later)? How should I adjust Marxism with current situation? Those are questions I must find the answers in this article.  

To know “Bearded Father”’

Karl Marx is a philosopher, a social revolutionary figure, an expert in social and political economy theories. Needless to say, his ideas have transformed the study of economic, history, geography, sociology and literature (Wheen, 1999). Marx learned philosophy from famous philosopher, Hegel, but also criticized his teacher’s thinking (Suseno, 2005).

He was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, Germany. He came from a long line of rabbis on both sides of his family and his father. At the age of seventeen, Marx enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn. At Bonn he became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of Baron von Westphalen, a prominent member of Trier society, and man responsible for interesting Marx in Romantic literature and Saint-Simonian politics. The following year Marx’s father sent him to the more serious University of Berlin where he remained four years, at which time he abandoned his romanticism for the Hegelianism which ruled in Berlin at the time (The History Guide, 2000).

Marx immigrated to France and arriving in Paris at the end of 1843. It was also in Paris that Marx developed his lifelong partnership with Friedrich Engels. Marx was expelled from Paris at the end of 1844 and with Engels, moved to Brussels where he remained for the next three years. Then, he lived in England until the rest of his life, and died on March 14, 1883 (The History Guide, 2000).

 Marx: Legacies

Marx with his thoughts and teachings leaves a valued heritage for the development of social science and the today world. There are some people think his teachings are irrational, dogmatic and obsolete, but as movements against capitalists with their global economy emerge, the relevance of Marxism gets resurgence. Having knows a little bit about Marxism, I come to realize that Marx’s teachings are source for knowledge and, in my opinion, workers and union need to delve into it. It is evident that working class is always involved in class struggle. Working class has a “special” place in Marx’s teachings because this class plays central role in system of capitalists’ production and distribution and in transforming that system into equal and democratic socialist community. In fact, until now, capitalist still exploit labor, of course with more subtle and “decent” ways. Capitalist exploit labors in order to produce economic things which will give them benefits and make the labours getting worse in poverty because only the capitalist take the advantage from produced economic things. (Marx, 1844)

Marx and Communism. Communism is the power of new ideas (Blumenberg, 2000). Communism is an ideology. Ideology of class struggle movement and socialism, an ideology inspired by class struggle, bourgeois versus proletariat “‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”. The struggle that only could happen through class revolution, proletarian revolution.  This though is written in Manifesto of the Communist Party, that it was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1847 and published on the 21st February in 1848. Why class revolution, proletarian revolution? The bourgeois took political power (and economical power) into its hands and displaced the hitherto ruling class, the aristocracy, the guild masters, and their representative, the absolute monarchy. The bourgeois annihilated the power of aristocracy, the nobility, by abolishing the entailment of estates – in other words, by making landed property subject to purchase and sale, and by doing away with special privileges of the nobility (Engels, 1847). The revolution to abolish a society created by bourgeois and abolishing private property, the revolution will transform existing society gradually and it will establish a democratic constitution, and through this, the direct or indirect dominance of proletariat.

Communism manifested into one of political ideology powers and the most phenomenal in the world. In Indonesia, some time ago, after its independence, communist party had significant power. Therefore, Soekarno to take an advantage from its existence in promoting national unity through NASAKOM (Nasionalis – Agama – Komunis/Nationalist – Religious – Communist). Soekarno used “Nasakom” as the national guidelines to create a social order consisting of or based on three major ideological streams in Indonesia politics. At the time, most unions were affiliated to one of the three ideological streams. SOBSI (Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia – Centre for All Indonesian Labour Organizations) were the most active union backed up by Indonesia Communist Party (PKI). SOBSI was very influential such as in nationalizing Dutch companies in late of 1950s (Hadiz, 2006).

Soekarno actually had poured concept of blending the three ideologies in his writing Nasionalis, Islam dan Marxism. Why he cited Marxism? Clearly, he said about Marxism as “these are principles embraced by the peoples’ movements all over Asia. These are the concepts which have become the spirit of the movements in Asia as well as of the movements here in Indonesia’ (1926). Soekarno (2006) stressed that Marxism is ideology that needs to be adjusted with Indonesia context, Marxism is not anti-God, but historical-materialism. In this term, Soekarno gave a reply to Marx’s analysis and critique upon religion who declared that Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness (Marx, 1843). Considering that majority of this nation was Muslim, Soekarno position became an important statement that Marx’s teachings were to criticize religion and gods created through mankind conceptions. Religions promised a salvation and wellbeing without man efforts, and this caused dullness in human being from making social change. “The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself”. Anti-god and atheism become a real nightmare for clergymen who literally translated Marx’s thinking. Anyhow, Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) was abolished in 1965 and banned since then following 30 September 1965 bloody coup d’état  in which PKI allegedly was charged of mastering the coup. In fact, the master-mind the coup was army-led coalition, middle-class city, as well as the interests of urban and suburban landlords. By vanishing of PKI power within constellation of Indonesia politics, SOBSI which affiliated to the party was also banned and, therefore, caused an obliteration of union political tradition in Indonesia, something continues to hamper Indonesia labors from being organized (Hafidz, 2006). For more than thirty years this also created a fear in Indonesian to talk about Marxism because its identification with communism, it given stigma to the people of being extension part of bloody coup d’état. It has been extremely effective in repressing the people of Indonesia during the Soeharto Era.

What a significance Marxism has for working class? In his book Capital, a Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (1887) Marx said that labour as commodity that what a capitalist sets the labourer to produce ‘the capitalist buys labour-power in order to use it; and labour-power in use is labour itself. The purchaser of labour-power consumes it by setting the seller of it to work. By working, the latter becomes actually, what before he only was potentially, labour-power in action, labourers’.  System of production means ownership marked capitalism, one that has created waged-workers and finally put the whole society into binary positions, proletariat and bourgeois. Employer provided “lucky” workers with works and they got wages for their works. This relation seemed to be reciprocal and regular. But it was only on surface. Essence of capitalism was exploitation of employer over employees. Employer exploited workers by paying them cheaper than works they produced. Profit the employer gets made it possible for him to live in luxury and made workers live in poverty. So, this production relation was far from equal. Marx’s analysis has still relevant today; for example, changes in labour structure which involving flexibility of labour for which legalized by Labour Law No. 13/2003 are apparent in Indonesia; labour feminization especially in textile, garment, and leather sector and in Export Processing Zone (EPZ) as in Batam by utilizing contract-based system and outsourcing reflects a marginalization over workers by capitalist regime, the setting up of minimum wage has been translated into maximum wage by most of employers across Indonesia. Labour does not have control over capital that working class has to offer its capital, which is labour, under arrangement of capitalism production processes to the benefit of capitalists. Therefore Bonefeld (2000) said that ‘labour can be only understood in term of the wage-labour, that as a labouring commodity’. And this would place labour in unfavorable condition for exploitation.  As a consequence, working class has to fight for social justice against exploitation under which unequal distribution taken place.

Workers also need to know about world market which, according to Marx, is the basis and the vital element of capitalist production. Worker needs to know that world market is the categorical imperative of the political economy of capital. It is within world market the relation between market and state occurs and, in Marxist theory, is a tool for capitalists’ legitimacy. Capitalists would protect their interest and need state to take part to do intervention to protect “national economy”. Protectionism in liberal order demands performance and market interests would be the only criteria for measuring policy made by state in addition to demand state to be in market side.

Anyway, Marx said that world trade is exclusively driven by the satisfaction of needs that is the need of production. And, therefore, expanding market has become an essence of global production: creating new markets, new processes and new productions continuously. The commodity, as Marx argues, is in and for itself beyond every religious, political, national and linguistic barrier. And this is in congruence with international division of labour in which work specialization occurred among workers who differently work in process of production. However, it is division roles among wealth country which has capital and poor country which provides cheap workers that is obvious in this world. In other word, exploitation is because of movement of money capital.

Conclusion: What I Learned from?

As I said, my understanding about Marx and Marxism theory is still shallow. However, by writing this article I was forced to read the Marx books. Basic motive and ideal of Marx’s philosophy is humanism: he dreamed of a condition where human beings can live in freedom, peaceful, and without oppression. Marx was very upset with seeing human beings, including children, were oppressed and suffered throughout their factories which (in middle of 19th century) rapidly grew in Europe. Initially, Marx assumed that the oppression could be overcome if government was not authoritarian and capitalists were paid more attention to workers condition. But, he found that the root for oppression problems was either in absolute power in hands of the rulers or in employers’ greedy that created unjust economic-politics structure. Therefore, he suggested a solution for the problem, which is private property abolishment. In my opinion, his suggestion for class revolution or social revolution (proletarian revolution) to change unjust social order is no longer relevant for today situation (due to differences in history background or might be because I still do not understand Marx! or Marx idea was outdated! PLEASE ARGUE with me! and say it that my opinion is WRONG) and hardly can be carried out referring to both backwardness of socialism ideology has experienced and the emerging of neo-liberalism ideology. Today, most worlds economically and politically is managed by neo-liberalists based on globalism concept, which is borderless and stateless economy in which capital and technology can easily go in and out to and from one country. But, this is only my opinion that may know Marx nothing and have a very tiny knowledge for social analysis.

However, I would like to say that based on what happen today Marx’s criticize and analysis is still relevant: there is class struggle, capitalist has evolved through many changes endless global expansion over the last several centuries that greedy for the new market, new profits, while proletariat at this time was certainly no homogenous mass, divided as it was by occupations, skills, territories, nationalism, and religion (Webster and Lambert, 2001).

And, some crises have signed fragility of capitalists’ economy which based itself on speculation. Capitalism has been proved to be inferior but it won’t stop the world from dragged into capitalists’ economy modes. The question is when social unjust situation will be end? So people is without class and social just comes into reality!


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