Where do these tenets of Marx's views stand among the Marxists and the broader left today? It is barely a lip service to the prophet. In maintaining Marx's "materialist" view his disciples are hardly any different from the Christians and Moslems who have tried to decipher the principles of mathematics and physics from the pages of Bible and Qur'an, and with every new scientific advancement they belabor to justify their holy books.
According to their past enlightened Biblical scholars god was sitting as the creator of our existence, just a few thousand years ago, by some estimates 6000 years ago, on his throne in heavens. The today modern enlightened religious scholars find their god a few billion years earlier, sitting nowhere, lighting up the match of the big bang. The theory becomes more important than the naked facts. When the theory of their god does not pan out they do not see any reason to change their theory, they just simply move their god and place him conveniently on a new mantel. They are not bothered at all with their mental idolatry which they claim their prophets fought against the material version of it.
Marx and his disciples are hardly different from other religions. They are hardly different in the sense that they are the mirror image of the other great religions. The three great religions of the Middle East are based on the praise and fear of their god. Marxists are for the resentment and fear of their perceived evil, capital and its beholder the capitalist "class". But the same, their demon and its manifestation is moved from mantel to mantel, each time painted with a different shade of darkness, there to be cursed.
Marxists can move their demon as easily as the devout because their demons and its manifestations has as much reality as the god of any religion. For Marx exploitation happens at the point of production, through the mechanism of the "exchange value" and this exploitation is realized, consummated, through the market by the capitalists. The rest of the society other than the capitalists, the big moochers, is a side show of small moochers and a large population that he termed as lumpenproletariat, unexploited poor, that proletariat needs to coax into supporting its leadership, the "dictatorship of the proletariat".
Marx uses a lot more words to describe this thesis, but the essence of it is not much more than what I said above. The relevant point of Marx's thesis is that the exploitation happens at the point of production and nowhere else. In addition he foresaw that this process of capitalist exploitation will impoverish the proletariat, the production workers. His forecast did not pan out and completely the opposite happened. Quality of the life of workers improved all through his life and accelerated during the 20th century while the accumulation of the capital continued and strengthened. Both trends were contrary to Marx's prognosis but he stuck to his theoretical gun.
After Marx, his disciples shifted away from Marx's concept of exploitation. The industrialization leaped forward particularly in the U.S. and the giant portion of production remained in the advanced capitalist countries. Therefore according to the Marx's theory the giant portion of the exploitation must have been on the production lines of the advanced capitalist countries but the Marxists turned this completely around. They claimed that in our world some other kind of super-exploitation exists and is happening. This super-exploitation is beyond the line of production in the capitalist countries and that is the exploitation of the poor countries by the "imperialists".
The commodities were being produced in the advanced countries but the new claim was that the tribes of the backward countries were actually the ones that were being exploited. The "exchange value" of Marx which was dependent on the work of the actual workers on the line of production, the carefully constructed schema of Marx, became a vaporous, shapeless entity hardly mentioned in the Marxists circles.
Actually study of Marx's "Capital" is very rare among the devotees. It is the last book that a Marxist touches if he ever does. Marx's "Capital" is finding its place among the other holy books. It is not read but revered. It is enough for one to listen to the interpretations of the leftist shamans about Marx's miracles to receive absolution.
Today it is enough to bring a picture to a leftist circle depicting a couple of babies crying or some babies smiling, playing on a pile of dirt. As long as this picture has a reference to some backward country the cry of the damnation of "imperialism" will rise up to the heavens and the imperialist exploitation is cursed. Hardly anyone notices that the Marxists theory of exploitation has been moved to a new mantel. As long as it is a mantel it suffices. When one reads or listens to the leftist arguments they are as sophisticated as the arguments of religious scholars about god. Marxists only argue from the other end, they are aiming at evil.
This transformation of the tenets of Marx's theory did not happen overnight, there were politician/conquerors who expedited this process. Marxists have been reading Lenin's barrage against Kautsky in the "Proletarian Revolution And The Renegade Kautsky" for decades and they have been cursing that "renegade" as the Judas of the "proletarian revolution". But if one bothers to read Kautsky himself the first thing that strikes the reader is that first of all Lenin and Kautsky had a disagreement. Second, Kautsky is arguing on the Marx's principles and Lenin is not. Then why "renegade" and why is this epithet right on the title of Lenin's pamphlet. The answer seems obvious, that was 1918, in the heat of the civil war that the Bolsheviks instigated. Kautsky had supporters and stature among the Russian socialists. He was known as the authority on Marx's works. Lenin prior to 1918 had referred to Kautsky's authority in support of his own positions and one can find ample evidence of it in Lenin's writings.
Kautsky in criticizing the Bolsheviks actually was giving some wise warning to Lenin about his adventurous course. But Lenin was deep into his strategy of the consolidation of the power. Adventurous or not Lenin needed to push forward on the path that he had undertaken. Thus any doubters of his strategy were forewarned about their destiny if they tried to agree with a "renegade". And we know about their destiny.
Lenin was not a theoretician as Marx was and as Marx's apostle Kautsky was. Marx dabbled in politics but that was not his forte. Lenin was a politician, a party builder which neither Marx or Kautsky were. In reading Lenin it is not uncommon to find him coughing at his critics when they posed a theoretical concern which countered to his party building strategy. He was a first class politician and the theory had to bend to his strategy.
All of Lenin's major theoretical works are written during the turmoil of the Great War, later known as the World War I. Onslaught of war in Europe took the socialists by surprise and they could not find any explanation that why the workers of Europe had not risen. If one goes back and read his writings one does not find a new outlook to the question of the possibility of socialism or reiteration of the Marxist principles but they are a confused dabbles into statistics, his thesis on "Imperialism"; or some obvious reconfiguration that the autocratic states of the Eastern Europe were facing with, his thesis on nationalities. His writings are a complete disregard for the actual developments in the most advanced capitalist countries, like Britain, and the disregard of the fact that the workers did not have any appetite for the "dictatorship of the proletariat" in Britain or America. Reading his works, in my case re-reading, one only finds a confused intellectual who is trying to make head and tail out of the turmoil of his time.
His ideas were not going anywhere other than the narrow circles of Russian socialists and mainly among his small Bolshevik cadres. He was busy shifting his demon on a new pedestal, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism" and redefining Marx's capitalism as imperialism with "monopoly" as its "economic foundation". It was less and less about the labor and capital.
The above piece is part of a book that I am developing. If you would like to follow, please read the blogs titled "Perspective..." and then read all the blogs which the title name ends with " -- Book". As you might have guessed, you have to read from the earlier posts moving to the present.