The Conspiracy

The Global Citizen: The Merits of Marxism

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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 Moore’s newest exposé, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” 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, “There’s got to be some kind of a rebellion between the people that have nothing and the people that got it all.”

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Maybe this guy has read Karl Marx, but if he hasn’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 Marx’s more well known quotes in the matter: “Let 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!”

But we live in a Democracy, you might protest. This can’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:
“The 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 proletariat’s product is their labor, and they don’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 isn’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 Kibbutz’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.

RL-Amsterdam_red_light_district_24-7-2003Back 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 — 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 — 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 “free market” out there may disagree with the implementation of strong social welfare systems stateside, but in reality, the notion that the West runs on a “free market” 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 you’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 don’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?

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3 Older Responses to “The Global Citizen: The Merits of Marxism”

  1. Patty Royse
    January 10, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    I’m doing a research paper on the cause of the great depression and your blog is proving to be alot of help, but I am looking for even more info. I found this article cause of the great depression but I’m not sure I believe the ‘official’ story… I’m looking for the ACTUAL cause of the great depression, if you have any sources of some other sources for info please send them to me.take care

  2. Faigy E. Abdelhak
    January 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Theory is probably a good place to start, as Marxism grew in popularity in the U.S. in light of the Great Depression (and then again declined in popularity during the recovery). If you want to look more into Marx’s take on economic theory as it pertains to the downfalls of Capitalism, he often co-authors with Engels on the subject. I’ve read “The Marx-Engels Reader” and another in-depth read is on the subject “Capital” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Das_Kapital#Publication). You probably want to look into other economic theorists as well to give a few viewpoints on the possible economic causes. Among the many worthy people to look into, I’d say Noam Chomsky should be one of them, and this 2008 interview with him in The Huffington Post may prove useful and a good place to startl: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-cohen/my-interview-with-noam-ch_b_140323.html.

    Aside from books focused on the Great Depression itself, and there are many, you may also want to look into working class studies. I’m not sure anyone knows the cause of the Great Depression, but the formation of America’s working class and their daily struggles may provide a good insight into possible cause theories. Good books include “New Working-Class Studies,” “Dynamite,” and “American Working-class Literature.” Some good documentaries include “Harlan County U.S.A.” and “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price.”

    Last, but not least, Wikipedia always offers a good overview of the issues and on the Great Depression, it looks like it have many great topics to start with and further research on your own: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression#New_classical_approach. I’ve heard that the neoclassical perspective or the “new classic” approach is a very well respected theory on the cause, but I’m sure the others are as well.

    Hope this helps!

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  1. The Merits of Marxism « - June 10, 2010

    [...] 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? *This post was originally written for the “The Global Citizen” project for AJWS on NewVoices.org: http://blog.newvoices.org/?p=1469 [...]

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