By Kieran Allen
Pluto Press, 2011
Review by Ramona Wadi
This review was originally published in Irish Left Review. A link to the review may be accessed here
"It is true that labour produces wonderful things for the rich - but for the worker it produces privation … It produces beauty - but for the worker, deformity.” Karl Marx
Kieran Allen’s treatise dispels the conventional opinion that Marxism is obsolete - with clarity he amalgamates Marxist philosophy and the contemporary realm, flaunting the relevance of Marxism as an alternative to capitalism. The very fact that capitalism, through excessive greed, may capitulate to its own downfall, logically should serve to encourage society to change its perception of identity, status and rights.
Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2011) is an accessible rendition of Marxism, conveying theories to the reader in a significant manner which lays bare the multitude of contradictions in society. Stating that Marx will remain relevant as long as there is class division and social inequality remains, Allen points out that this discrepancy is the reason why society is constantly evolving, albeit spiralling into the decadence of the exploiters and the exploited.
The flaunting and justification of class conflict, as portrayed by Allen through the vicious cycle of opulence versus oppression in Dubai, is an example of how capitalism had rendered humanity subservient to its rule, through the promise of emancipation. Slave labour in Dubai has created material magnificence at the expense of environmental ruin and excessive use of natural resources. Lurking in the shadows are the migrants - the working class reduced to slavery in order to fulfil a patronising capitalist’s dream.
Capitalism has reduced the cry of injustice because its mark of oppression has coerced the workers into forfeiting their natural freedom. The manipulation of human rights - a resource which must be examined, pondered and finally made tangible by the highest echelons of society, has rendered the working class an impassive fragment of society.
The indifference of the oppressed in relation to the environment and social conditions stems from the fact that people are regarded as mere producers of commodities for capitalism. It is, therefore, pertinent to say that capitalism thrives upon the alienation of the slaves it has created. Allen points out that the constraint of capitalism creates divisions, with the individual pitted against society - a disconnection which turns people into ‘market targets’. The individual easily falls prey to the snare of marketing which, if one takes a moment to analyse, is replete with ludicrous statements which feed upon the cycle of necessity disfigured into consumerism.
Social class has marginalised the working class in various aspects of life. Health risks and lack of accessibility to treatment due to profit schemes beleaguer working class citizens. Protests are distorted in capitalist media, branding the action as agitation - secure in its belief that a workers’ revolution is improbable due to capitalist control.
Capitalist control and exploitation are entrenched within contemporary societies. Whilst it seems plausible that the rich individuals in society engage in philanthropy, alienation makes it simple to eliminate the fact that, had it not been for the exploitative system, there would be no need for philanthropists. It is capitalism that created the charity system which involves giving back a minimal portion of one’s billions to the slaves that helped build one’s empire.
Marx’s concept of freedom is more profound than a definition and quest for ‘individual liberty’. Society has transitioned from one system of oppression to another, from masters, to feudal lords, to capitalism, creating a system of dependence which is totally controlled by the concept of need, production and profits. The distribution of basic necessities such as food, water and health care carry an injustice against a bulk of the world’s population, from starving people in third world countries to the destitute in capitalist countries. An illusion of comfort versus poverty has been created - one which even separates and conceals poverty within different societies. Thanks to media manipulation and marketing, comfort is presented as a basic commodity which all member of society have access to when, in reality, capitalism betrays the fundamental civil liberties outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Capitalist violence in society constitutes an incalculable danger. The political merges into the social to create a realm of fear and vulnerability. The violence is concealed within a system that impounds a natural resource such as labour, presenting the end product as an achievement in order to divert attention from the abuse of power and voracity of the capitalists.
Society’s freedom has been compromised, as Marx states,
“In the imagination individuals seem freer under the domination of the bourgeoisie than before, because their conditions of life seem accidental; in reality, of course, they are less free, because they are subject to the violence of things.”By contrast, Marxist philosophy encourages diversity, imagination and participation in society, thus reducing the repression of the state. The state undergoes the transition to emulate the aspirations of the people, thus becoming a more authentic representative of society.
If capitalism eliminates itself through usurping its own fallacy, a new concept of liberty may be possible, where the individual may flourish within his concept of self and a new concept of society in which class discrimination is a relic of history. But, for this to be truly attainable revolution must not be confined within a single country - it needs to be infiltrate through the borders fabricated by bureaucracy in order to transform into a worldwide revolution led by the proletariat.
“In proportion, as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”