A memorial to German philosopher Karl Marx is seen at Highgate Cemetery in north London. Picture: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
The University of Johannesburg's Faculty of Humanities, and the Renmin University of China, (Marxist School) staff and doctoral students held a joint two-day seminar to tease out an issue that has pitted mankind against one another for more than a century - and that issue is Marxism.

In the 20th century, Marxism posed an existential threat to the Western world, because it was espoused by consequential international players such as the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China after the 1949 Revolution.

What was even more unnerving for the Western and capitalist world was that the former colonies that were gradually emerging as independent nations demonstrated a close affinity to Marxist powers because it was the socialist bloc that played a pivotal international role in shoring up the struggle against colonialism and minority rule.

Whether the embrace of socialism was out of indebtedness is another matter but it was easy for the developing world to be tempted into drawing a link, almost necessary, between the exploitative nature of capitalism and the sustenance of colonialism.

This is the background that informed the subject of the seminar: Is Marxism still relevant in the 21st century or is it an anachronism? How do you teach it if it is still relevant?

The answer naturally resides in Karl Marx, the man in whose honour Marxism is christened.

Marx was a firm believer in the sciences and his analysis ran along scientific lines. The fact that Marx was so scathing of religion should automatically lead one to conclude that he hated dogma and indoctrination.

This said, Marxism is not a fundamentalist enterprise that is cast in stone.

It is a methodology of understanding and analysing the world that is both dynamic and malleable, but without losing the fundamental goal of attaining a society where exploitation of one by another finds no room to establish itself.

Thus, as a methodology, Marxism is still a relevant enterprise in the current international system.

Moreover, it is important under current circumstances where the brazen and crude pursuit of affluence and consumption has not only deepened the material fissures of people, but it has also threatened the world in which people exist.

Currently, the detractors of global warming stake their debate on the fact that measures taken to curb their adventurism are limitations on personal ambition.

The 21st century stands on a precarious threshold that should call for a dynamic usage of Marxism to check the excesses of runaway and exploitative capitalism. Inequality, has become deeply and grotesquely entrenched. Delivering the Nelson Mandela lecture on Saturday, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng decried that South Africa’s inequality is now “sharper” post-apartheid.

It is, therefore, important to look into the Marxist methodology and borrow from it the lessons that would help to save our imperilled planet and its vulnerable occupants.

In a world of technology, people have become more alienated from one another. We should in all honesty, admit that the middle class and the bourgeoisie have used technological revolutions to try to change the world while those who do not have access to such technologies have been left behind.

A few words of counsel are in order as we try to fit Marxism into our contemporary contexts.

We should not be inflexible in teaching it; we have to make it serve people, not the other way round. The seminar came at a critical moment when South African and African governing elite are battling to entrench party ideological discipline to develop their countries.

* Monyae is a senior political analyst at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.