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1st May 2018

Karl Marx

Marx and the declaration of the world

Marx was a philosopher and explorer of the world from Trier, who studied in Germany, emigrated to London, and wrote his main work “Das Kapital” after years of research in London libraries. His 200th birthday will be celebrated on May 5th this year. This anniversary is an occasion for us to take a look back at history. What did Marx have to say about Europe's trade with Africa, about colonization and the slave trade? Does it still mean today for us and the wealth of the western world, and what significance does it have for African societies?

A brief outline of capital

On a street in London, 1860

In essence, Marx's analysis of capitalism goes like this: The value of a commodity is determined by the “living” labor that flowed into it in the production process. The capitalist only pays the worker a subsistence wage. What the worker creates in value beyond that is the added value of the employer. The capitalists are under pressure to make profits, otherwise they will be driven out of the market. So they have to accumulate more and more capital, lay off workers and replace them with machines in order to save labor costs. As a result, however, the source of added value disappears. There are sales crises. The crises are getting deeper and deeper. Big capitalists swallow the little ones and capital is concentrated. Unemployment rises, workers can no longer buy goods. The bulk of the workers become impoverished. They climb the barricadiums and take what is theirs. “The expropriators are expropriated”, was Marx ‘famous formula for the end of capitalism.

Marx was new and exciting because he prophesied class struggle and revolution. As an economist, however, he was primarily concerned with working out which mechanisms changed the world in his day. In his core statement that capitalist economic models place themselves above people's needs, Marx had the people of Europe in mind. He found that Europeans are ruled by the capitalist system that they themselves created. How did you develop this system? And by what means? Looking at the history of Africa, we ask ourselves, was there a blind spot in Marx ‘Declaration of the World?

Marx and a theory about human trafficking

Slave ship - Congo

Where did all the capital that started industrialization come from? Marx believed that trade was the instrument with which the necessary amounts of capital were raised that led to the industrialization of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A look back into history shows: It was above all the exploitation of Africa's raw materials, but it was even more the slave trade that helped the ruling classes in Europe to achieve immense wealth. The systematic deportation and enslavement of 20 million people on plantations in the New World, and the exploitation of their labor, formed the basis for the technological development of the western world.

What does that change in the interpretation of capitalism and the world? It could mean that there has never been a human rights economy. That our wealth, our technology, our democracy, our image of man and its racist excesses are based on the enslavement of people.

The impoverishment of the masses - a phenomenon in Africa

One of Marx's theory is as relevant today as it was then: the theory of the impoverishment of the masses. In fact, the phenomenon has just shifted globally. The workers who are most exploited are not in Western Europe today, but in the so-called Third World. Marx was the first to describe the global effects of the capitalist mode of production. Capital turns everything into a commodity, even our social conditions. The Marx biographer Jürgen Neffe sums up: Capital is “an insatiable juggernaut, but not because capital in itself is evil, but because of its internal logic. It is to Marx ’great merit to be the first to recognize this."

Marx in Algiers

Marx and Engels

Marx was in Algeria a year before his death. On this trip he was confronted with the excesses of colonial exploitation for the first time. He hated them. He recognized that the colonial policy had disintegrated the pre-capitalist structures of Algeria, not through the means of capitalist production relations but through the simple exploitation of the country and its inhabitants. But this experience no longer found its way into his work. Marx was a world explorer, not a discoverer. But that doesn't detract from his theory. That is also his mission to us and future generations: Make sure that you understand the system better and regain control over what controls you! Key point: trading with our data.

Were there Marxist-ruled countries in Africa?

During the Cold War, several African states tried to introduce a Marxist-Leninist state philosophy. It was above all the African elites who appropriated socialism. Many of them had studied in Europe or in what was then the Soviet Union. They returned to their homeland with idealism and commitment. Many became active in the African independence movements. "Many countries have been supported in their struggle by the Soviet Union and left-wing organizations in Europe," says Jennings.

Example Ethiopia


In 1975 the Derg regime under Mengistu Haile Mariam declared Marxism-Leninism to be the state ideology of Ethiopia. For almost 20 years, Ethiopia was externally a socialist state. Internally it was a military dictatorship. Around half a million people fell victim to the brutal communist regime. The memories of that time are still alive today. The obelisk in the center of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa commemorates the soldiers who died in the war between Somalia and Ethiopia in the 1960s. But for many Ethiopians the memorial also stands for the communist reign of terror of the military junta “Derg”.

Example Tanzania

Julius K. Nyerere

Julius K. Nyerere promoted the independence of Tanzania and managed that the British colonial rulers peacefully released his country into independence. In 1962 Nyerere became the first president of Tanzania. He tried a kind of African socialism that he called "Ujamaa". With this form of government, which was based on the principles of the African community, he wanted to fight poverty and make Tanzania independent of the capitalist development of the West. Agriculture should be the engine of economic development. But his economic approach failed. Tanzania could never become economically independent on its own. The idea of ​​a united, strong Africa was too new, and the independent states too young, to be realized in its time.

Already knew?

The grave of the German philosopher Karl Marx in London's “Highgate” cemetery is a place of pilgrimage for fans from all over the world. But if you want to visit the three-meter-high grave monument of the capitalism critic, you have to dig deep into your pocket: the entrance fee is six pounds, reduced four, the equivalent of six to ten euros - a circumstance that makes the new generation of socialists riot reports the Wall Street Journal. The irony actually starts earlier: After all, Karl-Marx bought his final resting place in a private cemetery instead of having the state give it to him.

Tip: The documentation on "Human trafficking - a short history of slavery" on arte provides an in-depth look at the history of wealth and its victims, starting on May 1st, 2018, 8:15 pm.

Jürgen Neffe's Marx biography "Marx - The Unfinished" C. Bertelsmann 2017

We celebrate International Africa Day

On May 25, Africa celebrates the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Organization for African Unity, which was absorbed into the African Union (AU) over ten years ago. The alliance demonstrates in Germany Together for Africa on the occasion of the founding day in seven major cities against modern slavery.

Where are people still enslaved today? Indeed worldwide. In which jobs are people particularly often exploited or enslaved? In the extraction of raw materials, i.e. in the mining of gold and ores, for example, but also in the manufacture of clothing, smartphones or food.