Karl Marx oration 2018 Speech by Her Excellency Ambassador of Cuba to the UK, Teresita Vicente, at the annual oration at the tomb of Karl Marx, celebrating the bicentenary of his birth
The thought of Karl Marx can be viewed in a number of ways.
As an interpretation of the world
As a method for understanding the world
And as a guide to action – for changing the world
People sometimes see only one or other of these dimensions. However, we need to see all these dimensions as part of a whole
Marx said that ‘philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point is to change it.’
However, he never suggested that we stop trying to interpret the world or minimised the importance of doing so.
So, let me say a little about “our world” – what used to be called the Third World until a few years ago.
It is worth remembering a couple of issues.
From the mid-1860s Marx and Engels became increasingly interested in the problems outside of Europe, particularly the so called National Question, the Colonial Question, the fate of oppressed peoples and of their struggle for their liberation.
In doing so Marx and Engels supplied perspectives that allowed their successors to enrich Marxism with a broader and more universal interpretation – as well as to develop the theory of the revolution in a more concrete sense that encompassed that other world.
In the Communist Manifesto Marx referred to the process of humanity’s emancipation as a comprehensive one, not restricted to is economic base, however essential that is. Subsequent experience demonstrated how accurate and relevant that vision was.
The only way to maintain the permanent validity and relevance of Marxism is with its constant enrichment. Marxism has to be a living force if we are to be true to the method adopted by Marx and Engels. But it must be development, not uncritical assimilation.
Its enrichment must be based on experience – experience won through our own revolutionary struggles and efforts, the analysis of our own social evolution.
For Latin America today – which despite recent setbacks has experienced very significant changes – Marxism is fundamental.
So also is its intelligent and open application, one that matches particular situations and problems – such as an understanding of the roles, and weaknesses, of particular classes.
In the Cuban Revolution, for instance, it was very important, in fact essential, to link Marxism with the best revolutionary traditions of Latin America, in particular the thought of Jose Marti. Today in current circumstances it is equally important to bear in mind the support to be gained from the experience of revolutionary Cuba.
Although some may deny it, Marxism is humanism; a humanism that is based on the revolutionary potential of human beings to transform history.
A quotation from Fidel is relevant here: “Marx’s theory was never a fixed scheme. It was a conception. It was a method. It was an interpretation. It was a science in the real sense that it was concrete, derived from specific realities. And there are no two concrete cases the same.’
This, said Fidel, was the vision of Che.
“Che expressly pointed out the relationship of the Revolution to Marx and Marxism in general. Those of us who lived through those years remember the impact of reading the text in which the author said directly, in a phrase that rang out like a hammer blow, ‘The Cuban Revolution carried forward Marx from revolutionary science to taking up his revolutionary rifle”.
Naturally today the transformation of the levels of class consciousness as a result of the Revolution and Fidel’s educational work has itself changed that reality and Che’s analysis of what was then was feasible
But Che’s work explains these processes, dismantles myths and prejudices, teaches people, delves into their ideologies and put them on their rational feet.
He explains that Marxism is a science and compares Marx to the great scientists of all times. It is as natural to be a Marxist as it is to understand and identify with the achievements of Newton and Pasteur. Marxism is part of the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity.
But Marx was both a scientist and a revolutionary and this, Che stresses, was inherent on his science, in his understanding of human development.
Fidel also emphasizes his vision of Marxism as a science and of the need to understand the regularities and laws of social development.
Fidel says, with the same clarity as Che, Marxism “is an interpretation, a science” and, like Che, he points out that in the process of struggle, it is about applying, understanding that no situation is the same as others. To be able to interpret and apply the knowledge gained from previous experience is the essential task of the revolutionary creator.
It is also vital to stress the centrality of consciousness, something to which Marx and Engels attached great importance – even though some today claim that their approach was flawed and limited.
Here I would like to reaffirm that validity and vitality of the ideology of the great thinker and revolutionary.
This new century has carried forward and deepened the enormous challenges inherited from the previous century. Imperialist exploitation and domination have reached unprecedented proportions and the struggle for emancipation from transnational capitalism is more urgent than ever.
In this decisive battle, Marx’s ideas remain our indispensable starting point – as his friend and fellow fighter, Frederick Engels, foresaw. It is our task to develop Marxism in the light of these new and complex historical situations.
We must read and reread the works of Marx and Lenin. But in order to properly comprehend them we must also reapply them. This is the only way of keeping them alive and valid, of guaranteeing that their critical and transforming edge does not dissolve, and, on the contrary, constitutes a ready and sharpened tool of revolutionary praxis for the emancipation of the oppressed and exploited from all latitudes.
Similarly, the deep understanding of Marx cannot dispense with the fabulous development of new knowledge that has emerged subsequently. We must read the whole library of human scientific achievement to lay the basis for that creative Marxism that shuns both the simple apprehension of master texts and their naive and uncritical assimilation.
The conception elaborated by Marx and Engels was never a finished and closed system. They themselves constantly reworked it. It is by necessity and by its very nature permanently unfinished.
The way we have dealt with the issue here has been from two directions
It has been to identify the specific contribution of Marx seen in its continued evolution and to consider the contributions from Latin American experience to the enrichment of Marxism.
Marxism cannot be a fixed theory to which is attached an endless list of exceptions emanating from the particularities of experiences occurring at various latitudes. The theory must be integral, must incorporate the new contributions of knowledge including those drawn from the richness of the class struggle and popular struggles in general.
To dispel the misunderstandings to which Marx’s thought has been subject, it is necessary to comprehend what he and Engels wrote in its evolution and progress, a progress that demands its further development.