cliff noted on marx by me
Merely uttering the words ‘Marx’ or ‘communist’ is likely to draw some passionate responses. On nearly every level Karl Marx changed how people look at and respond to politics. Marx delivered people a framework on how to view political economies in a changing industrial age. Where people consider Marx to be wrong or right are nearly countless. The varying opinions’ of Marx are determined by a persons’ political standpoint. The standpoint of this paper will be a critical lens of global liberation movements. Most global revolutionary movements have in some way been influenced by Marxian thought. Ideas of revolution and liberation are still being looked though in Marxist terms. However, it becomes problematic to generalize his theories to be either completely wrong or completely right- since that would rely on absolutes and absolute empiricism- which political theory –or anything involving the human condition- often cannot provide. Therefore, this paper will look at one strength that Marx has but mainly focus on his strategic weaknesses. First, I maintain that Marx’s critique of capitalism is still relevant. However, he could also not anticipate how capitalism could change. I will also look into the pitfall of Marx’s strategy for a global revolution.
What is the purpose of capitalism? What is capitalism? How does it affect peoples’ everyday lives? How did this come to be? These are questions that are entertained by Marx and Marxist globally. Capitalism- according to Marx is an economic system that has grown out of feudalism as a means to maintain class hegemony. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Frederick Engles write that “The modern bourgeoisie society that has sprouted from the ruined of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms” but has just moved to a new designation for an old obscenity or “new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle, in place of the old one” (CM, 827). In Alienated Labor, Marx writes that this transition was not because feudal powers wished to be more benevolent but that:
“Competition, freedom of craft, and division of landed property were developed and conceived only as accidental, deliberate, forced consequences of monopoly, the guild, and feudal property, rather than necessary, inevitable natural consequences” (AL, 790).
While Marx argues that capitalism is a better and more progressive outgrowth from feudalism, it is not enough to stop there (CM, 828). Capitalism has transferred people from slavery to wage slavery. This form of wage-slavery has brought people into two mutually exclusive classes- the proletariat (workers) and the bourgeoisies (bosses). The proletariats are the ones who are poor and powerless while the bourgeoisie are rich and powerful. The bourgeoisies power is so ubiquitous that it has created an ideology that “compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeoisie mode of production […] it creates a world after its own image” (CM, 829). It makes the lives and livelihood of the rich more important that those of the poor. It makes bosses lack of labor more important than workers labor. To respond to Marx- libertarian critics have stated that the reason bosses are valued more than workers is because of the financial risks that they take by fronting capital. This is simply privileged thinking. Financial risks are of no comparison to loss of limbs, life, or family. This was the case in Marx’s time and is the case now. As a matter of fact, in Marxian terms, those who work the hardest receive the least “for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything, do not work” (CM, 836). We merely need plain observation to know what worked plight today is being it local or global. These are: long hours, meager pay, little to no chance for advancement, no social safety net, and little enjoyment of life due to constantly preparing for work, working, or recovering from work. It is also exemplified with the bourgeoisie: salaries are sky-rocketing for CEO’s, and corporations are now given some of the same rights as citizens. This is to be expected of capital and capitalist, Marx writes:
“The worker becomes poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and extent. The worker becomes a cheaper commodity the more commodities he produces” (AL, 791).
In other words few are rich because many are poor. Capitalist rhetoric often implies if people just work hard enough that they will be rich. However, simple mathematics will show it would be impossible for everyone to be rich.
Marx is still correct about the condition of most workers. It is interesting that even with labor rights movements- the vast disparities between workers and bosses still exist. Marx would have something to contribute to this as well, since he is suspicious of political concessions. Concessions and appealing to the capitalist power-structure for basic human rights- to Marx- is counter-revolutionary. Although, it is progressive for new laws to pass to enact workers rights, it can have unexpected consequences. At best it enforces the legitimacy of an oppressive power and at worst destroys a revolutionary movement that focuses on a better world. An analogy I think of is seeing a person beg for something that is rightfully theirs in the first place. “Any enforced raising of wages […] would therefore be nothing but a better slave-salary and would not achieve either for the worker or for labor human significance and dignity” (AL, 796). According to Marx, the constant conflicts between workers and bosses would have led to a global revolution. In Marxist thinking, the polarities between proletariat and bourgeoisie, capital and monopoly were so strained and contradictory, that capitalism would eventually lead to its own demise. There is a joke that describes this well: How many Marxist does it take to change a light bulb? The answer being that the light bulb is so full of contradictions that it will change itself. In Marx’s Preface to the Contribution of the Political Economy he states that:
“This consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society” (PE, 863).
So although we can use Marxist works to explain the changing nature of capitalism, we know that Marx did not predict such changes. Marx himself even wrote that “The bourgeoisie can not exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production” (CM, 828). How have they changed their instruments? How is capitalist power sustaining? The answer is that it has become nationalist and imperialist all that they same time. This is best exemplified in the film Life and Debt . Former Jamaican Prime Minister Manley tells us that the agriculture industry in the United States is subsidized 137%. Since the International Monetary Fund made loans to Jamaica that requiring that the government could not subsidize its farmers’, the industry in Jamaica collapsed and thus became dependent on American subsidized crops. Examples of subsidized industries are the transportation and airline industries which would have been bankrupt long ago had it not been for subsidies . To name some companies that receive subsidies is important too, as to not just refer to industries in the abstract form. So, these are: Wal-Mart , Boeing, Intel Corp, Dell Inc, Nordstrom Inc, and Sykes Enterprises Inc. The capitalist have given privileges to rich countries in the form of subsidies to maintain power over poor countries.
We can even understand globalization in Marxist terms as well. Marx writes about “unconscionable freedom-Free Trade” that capitalism is enacting. Although he could not did not write about globalization- it becomes apparent that this is what capitalism needed to do in order to maintain hegemony and to sustain (CM, 828). Duke University professor, Michael Hardt in his working paper Globalization and Democracy provides a good break-down for understanding globalizations impact. Globalization is changing everything politically, economically and culturally:
“This does not necessarily mean that all production is capitalist but rather it means that capital in some sense mediates all forms of production […] globalization indicates the relative decline of the sovereignty of nation-states. The decline of the sovereignty of nation-states is sometimes seen as leading to a deficit of politics […] globalization is Americanization. U.S. television programs, movies, sports, the American English itself, and the various other elements of US culture are attaining a dominant position over other national cultures and even destroying them” (Hardt, 4).
I think that it is fair to infer that Marx could compare the growth from feudalism to capitalism as analogous to capitalisms outgrowth into globalization. Hence, capitalism did not lead to something more progressive but something more ubiquitous, oppressive and more complex. It becomes even more complex to use the Marxist analysis of the position of the proletariat as a mechanism for global revolution.
When working to undermine any system and to successfully agitate, it is important to know the weaknesses that exist and where vulnerabilities are present. Marx sees the weaknesses in all systems as the relationship between proletariat and bourgeoisie. Because Marx sees workers as a homogenous group of people his theory makes sense. Marx and Engles write:
“Differences of ages and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex” (CM, 831).
Marx writes that “the proletariat alone [is] really a revolutionary class” (CM, 829). Workers will unite based off of their common oppression as workers and will see unexpected and wonderful changes in their lot in life: “Thereupon the workers begin to form combinations (Trade Unions) against the bourgeoisie: they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages” (CM, 832). Marx’s proletariatian revolution is something that is for the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people when he writes that:
“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement in the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air” (CM, 833)
Marx seeing the proletariats as a mechanism for global revolution is strategically and historically wrong. We know that unionization has happened among workers globally and yet there has not been a revolution. This is because radicals have assumed that all countries share the same systematic weakness. Marxian thought did not see that even oppression can organize itself into hierarchies. For example, races’ function as a political category in the United States is something that presents a scandal to Marx’s strategy. University of California Irvine professor Frank Wilderson III write in his paper Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society? about the role that white-supremacy plays in the Marxian conception of organization and revolution. Wilderson writes “Capital was kick-started by the rape of the African continent. This phenomenon is central to neither Gramsci nor Marx” (Wilderson, 2). In the United States, most profit was made from free-labor and then to wage labor. Black people in the United States were neither seen nor treated as workers. “Work is not an organic principle for the slave” because work is reserved for whites and slavery reserved for Blacks (Wilderson, 15). Marx writes that “Political economy proceeds from labor as the very soul of productions and yet gives labor nothing, private property everything” (AL, 796). Marx could not conceive what a cross-class alliance is and how it works to undermine proletarian organization. Maybe this is because he was writing about Europe and not the United States. However, since Marx was writing about a revolution that would eventually be global, looking at a cross-class alliance is important when pointing strategic flaws.
The cross-class alliance is a relationship where one sub-set of white people has more to identify with their oppressors than with Black a worker. This is because bosses/elites will give white people meager financial and legal privileges. It is done to ensure that capitalist hegemony can sustain. This does make sense in Marxist terms because he even said that “The bourgeoisie can not exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production” (CM, 828). I emphasize this quote again because it is very useful in looking how capitalism and the state change. With no doubt this quote can be used to analyze the relationship between slaves, workers, and bosses. Throughout labor history white workers would form cross-class alliances with the bourgeoisie to ensure special privileges and better treatment. Touching on this subject Wilderson writes:
“The point is we [Black people] were never meant to be workers; in other words, capital/white supremacy's dream did not envision us as being incorporated or incorporative. From the very beginning, we were meant to be accumulated and die” (Wilderson, 16).
In the text the Abolition of White Democracy , Professor Joel Olson writes that “This cross-class alliance between the capitalist class and a section of the working class is the genesis for American racial order” (Olson, 16). When Marx writes that proletariats are “first enable[d] to exist as a worker and the second as a physical subject”, he apparently was not looking at the insidious and complexities of slave societies or white supremacy, or maybe he was choosing to blatantly ignore it (AL, 792). While I do think that Marx is correct that globally workers are oppressed and that disparities between the rich and the poor are rapidly growing, I- however, completely disagree that once people recognize this that they will become a revolutionary force.
Because of a cross-class alliance, seeing workers as a homogeneous group is not only problematic- it is counter productive to movement building. Therefore; each nation should be looked at to find what its weaknesses are. Where a struggle is centered varies from nation to nation. In the United States, white supremacy/race is a good place to center a political strategy for social change. I think we can see strategic weaknesses in all oppressive societies and resistance to these oppressions. In the Middle East, it might be gender; in Latin America- it might be indigenous peoples struggle; and in China- it might actually be workers. If one looks towards a strategy of where to position organizing and then look to where resistance is already happening, then real movements can be built. Activist, vanguards and, academics will not be ones that are creating the global social change. It will come from the people who are directly experiencing it. The goals from there should be to then be to stand and work in solidarity with those who are already struggling. From there, hopefully potential can be realized to create a better world that many already have in their hearts.
1. Lips, Brad. "Temps and The Labor Market: Why Unions Fear Staffing Companies." Cato Institute 02 1998 25 04 2007 <http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv21n2/temps2-98.pdf>.
2, Life and Debt. Dir. Stephanie Black. Perf. Micheal Manley, Jamaica Kincaid, Stanley Fischer. Videocassette. Tuff Gong Pictures, 2001.
3.Associated Press, W. Va. cities hope subsidies save air travel." USA Today 26 07 2005, Online: http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/200
4 Mattera, Philip and Anna Purinton. "Shopping for Subsidies: How Walmart Uses Taxpayers Money to Finanace its Never-Ending Growth." Good Jobs First may 2004 26 04 2007
5. Good Jobs First, "Corporate Subsidy Watch Case Studies: Companies." Good Jobs First. 2004. Good Jobs First. 30 Apr 2007 <http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/corporate_subsidy/companies.cfm>.
6. Hardt, Michael. Globalization and Democracy. Working Paper. Durham, NC: Duke University, 2000.
7. Wilderson, Frank. " Gramsci's Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?." We Write 2(2005)
8. Olson, Joel. The Abolition of White Democracy. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
1. Associated Press, W. Va. cities hope subsidies save air travel." USA Today 26 07 2005, Online: http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/200
2. Good Jobs First, "Corporate Subsidy Watch Case Studies: Companies." Good Jobs First. 2004. Good Jobs First. 30 Apr 2007 <http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/corporate_subsidy/companies.cfm>.
3. Hardt, Michael. Globalization and Democracy. Working Paper. Durham, NC: Duke University, 2000.
4. Life and Debt. Dir. Stephanie Black. Perf. Micheal Manley, Jamaica Kincaid, Stanley Fischer. Videocassette. Tuff Gong Pictures, 2001.
5. Lips, Brad. "Temps and The Labor Market: Why Unions Fear Staffing Companies." Cato Institute 02 1998 25 04 2007 <http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv21n2/temps2-98.pdf>.
6. Marx, Karl. "Alienated Labor." Modern Political Thought. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996.
7. Marx, Karl. "Captial." Modern Political Thought. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996.
8. Marx, Karl and Frederick Engles. "The Communist Manifesto." Modern Political Thought. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996.
7. Marx, Karl. "Preface to the Contribution to the Political Economy." Modern Political Thought. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996.
8. Mattera, Philip and Anna Purinton. "Shopping for Subsidies: How Walmart Uses Taxpayers Money to Finanace its Never-Ending Growth." Good Jobs First may 2004 26 04 2007
9. Olson, Joel. The Abolition of White Democracy. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
10.Wilderson, Frank. " Gramsci's Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?." We Write 2(2005).