The Global Citizen: The Merits of Marxism
The Global Citizen is a joint project of New Voices and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Throughout the year, a group of former AJWS volunteers will offer their take on global justice, Judaism and international development. Opinions expressed by Global Citizen bloggers do not necessarily represent those of AJWS.
In Michael Mooreâ€™s newest exposÃ©, â€œCapitalism: A Love Story,â€ he turns his antics-based renegade reporting on the economic collapse of 2008 and the following controversial Wall Street bailout. In the trailer itself, one interviewee perceptively notes, â€œThereâ€™s got to be some kind of a rebellion between the people that have nothing and the people that got it all.â€
Maybe this guy has read Karl Marx, but if he hasnâ€™t, he definitely should. Marx felt the exact same way as he does, and would often predict the impending revolution of the working class against the rich in Capitalist societies. For instance, the following is one of Marxâ€™s more well known quotes in the matter: â€œLet the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!â€
But we live in a Democracy, you might protest. This canâ€™t be about us. We have representatives who are voted by the public for the public. Marx, though, is talking about us and sees our system in a different light:
â€œThe oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”
Indeed, Marx would not be a very good Patriot, to say the least. Marx contends that in a Capitalist system, by its very nature and in order for it to work, there must always be people at the bottom of the food chain. Since the proletariatâ€™s product is their labor, and they donâ€™t own the means of production, the bourgeois class needs only to give the minimum salary necessary for workers to meet their needs. The division of man from their labor is unseemly and unnatural, according to Marx.
I constantly struggle with the notion that we are working in an intrinsically unjust economic system; moreover, this distinct possibility makes social justice work within these confines seem futile and hopeless. Where is the net benefit of social justice work in a system that must replace those who are upwardly mobile by moving others downward? In this system, there simply isnâ€™t enough space or resources for everyone to reach a certain threshold in the comfort level of their life
Personally, I think America is heading in the right direction considering heavy doses of Socialism. Former Soviet Union aside, Marx and Engels documented some profound and truthful observations about societies and economies in their writings. Though the theory did not turn out well in practice, albeit not such great practice under Joseph Stalin, the arguments against Capitalism still ring true. Think post-Holocaust Israel, in which Kibbutzâ€™s truly ran on Socialist ideologies, which are outgrowths of Marxist ideology, or the current social welfare systems in place in the Netherlands, Canada, and many European countries.
Back in April of this year, the New York Times ran an in-depth, first-person account by Russell Shorto titled “Going Dutch: How I Learned to Love the European Welfare State,” in which he discovers for himself the merits of strong social welfare programs within a Democratic system while living in Amsterdam. In it, he ponders, “I spent my initial months in Amsterdam under the impression that I was living in a quasi-socialistic system, built upon ideas that originated in the brains of Marx and Engels. This was one of the puzzling features of the Netherlands. It is and has long been a highly capitalistic country â€” the Dutch pioneered the multinational corporation and advanced the concept of shares of stock, and last year the country was the third-largest investor in U.S. businesses â€” and yet it has what I had been led to believe was a vast, socialistic welfare state. How can these polar-opposite value systems coexist?” Read on to find out for yourself.
I know fans of the buzz term â€œfree marketâ€ out there may disagree with the implementation of strong social welfare systems stateside, but in reality, the notion that the West runs on a â€œfree marketâ€ is a fallacy. The most recent bailout is a perfect example of using public moneys for the good of the profit margins of private businesses. Or if youâ€™re still not convinced, think government farm subsidies.
Besides, as a fan of heavy doses of socialism within our Democracy, it may go without saying that I am not the biggest fan of a pure free market in the first place. I donâ€™t believe it makes for the most equitable society. For example, some bottom-line price fixing may ensure everyone along the chain of production gets a fare wage. To keep prices competitive in the current market, wages to laborers in the developing world and the prices paid for raw goods are often the first targets for making up this profit margin. As Marx observes, the powerless workers with no social capital and no ownership over the means of production are shamelessly take advantage of by the powers that be.
The real barrier to a more equitable society lies in the reality that those who hold the power are the ones on the winning end of the current economic system. And those with the most economic clout are also those with considerable lobbying power on Capitol Hill. As the divide between the rich and the poor grows, the only way an individual or company with booming bank accounts would want a more equitable system, which will probably spell economic losses on their end, is from reasons of conscience. And how likely is that?