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Marx was Right? [Apr. 2nd, 2009|03:14 pm]
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Marx was right?
Christopher Hitchens on Marx

It’s fascinating to me the way that Karl Marx comes up when Capitalism crashes and burns. Let me say up front that I’ve never bothered reading Marx, or done any sort of serious study of politics and economics. Did you know you can get an advanced degree without any study of economics, political science, philosophy, or religion? I’m living proof!

But I’m the victim of a public education in the United States which means I’m keenly aware of what my received attitude towards Marxism and Socialism is supposed to be, which is that the work of Marx begat the Russian Revolution, and the last century has been a valiant fight by the forces of Democratic Capitalism to vanquish Godless Communism. With a little detour into stopping the Nazis, at which point the Communists were our allies for a little while. The takeaway was supposed to be this: Communism and Marx were Discredited, and Democracy and Capitalism Won, and If You Don’t Like How Things Turned Out, The Terrorists Have Won.

It goes even further than that with conservative Christian sects. When I was a kid and subject to the teachings of the Mormon Church, they were convinced that Communism wasn’t a bad idea, it was THE BAD IDEA, i.e. evidence in the world of Satan’s handiwork. Furthermore in the forthcoming battle between Good and Evil it will be the Communists we’re fighting. Everyone was supposed to have a 6 month emergency supply to get us through the coming Final Conflict.

I don’t know what or who the LDS Church think their bête noire is now. Probably The Terrorists That Hate Our Freedom. What the fuck ever. But I don’t imagine they’ve started any meaningful critique of the failures of Capitalism. The LDS Church is itself a vast multinational Capitalist enterprise after all, exploiting their status as a church to avoid taxes. And while it’s doctrine officially decries materialism, material success usually translates into increased authority within the Church’s hierarchy. I don’t think it’s any stretch to extrapolate from my first hand experience with the Mormons to the broader world of Conservative Christianity; I’ve certainly heard enough railing against Godless Communism from TV Evangelists, and now that ‘Communism is Dead’ they’ve moved onto demonizing Islam. I hope, though, that the movement among Evangelicals towards environmentalism and social justice — a torch carried most prominently by Jim Wallis — is a growing trend and not just an abberation.

But anyway, I think this return to Marx, or at least renewed attention to Marx’s critique of Capitalism, is on the whole a good thing, because Capitalism is broken. At least the fake laissez faire Capitalism that has been practiced in the United States. I say fake because while the reduction of regulation of Capitalism has been a corner stone of conservative politics since Nixon, at the same time corporations have been able to influence the government into giving them billions of dollars of direct and indirect subsidies, and turn the legal system into a tool to suppress meaningful free market competition.

So I don’t know if Marx was right or wrong. I do know that the uncritical acceptance of Capitalism’s unerring primacy has gotten us into the mess we’re in. What we need now is meaningful critique and real reform. If Marx has some good ideas, then we should pay attention.

Originally published at Do My Eyes Look Scary?. You can comment here or there.


[User Picture]From: optic
2009-04-02 06:45 pm (UTC)
maybe I should reread marx before I say this, but I'm pretty skeptical that useful critiques of capitalism would be found there. he might be handy as a brand to which useful critiques could be attached, but I doubt those critiques would be marxist in any meaningful way. (at least marxist in the way we understand him now; god knows what's in das kapital)
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[User Picture]From: chaircrusher
2009-04-02 07:25 pm (UTC)
I wrote a longer reply and erased it, but I started getting lost. What I can say is that "marxist in the way we understand him now" troubles me. The articles to which I linked invoke the ways that Marx's description of capitalism are apt to our current situation. They appeal to the original writings, and don't talk about the history of the intervening 1.5 centuries.

How do we "understand Marx now?" in this context? Are you talking about the conventional wisdom about Marxism in the USA, which is that he is the root of the evils of Communism, or some actual defensible understanding of his theories of economic and political power?

And I'm not sure what conclusions we could arrive at even stipulating that "Marx was right." I personally think that Capitalist Democracy in general does better by its citizens than any other form of government. The challenge is to come up with effective ways to protect society from the negative effects of unregulated capitalism. Marx, by contrast, thinks that Capitalism is a priori harmful and corrupt, and needs to be replaced. About that, I think he was wrong.

The real problem is that clever people always game any system. Without constant vigilance, every country regresses to a state where a plutocratic few exploit and oppress the many. In fact the history since the end of the Cold War is one of ruthless economic elites in the US, the Former Soviet Union, and China all furthering their own self-interest at the expense of everyone else.

Edited at 2009-04-02 07:26 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: optic
2009-04-02 07:49 pm (UTC)
I guess I meant a real not boogey-man-ized version of what communism/marxism is. which seems to me to have fairly little relevance. but I acknowledge that he probably had a lot of other stuff to say about capitalism. but then so have a lot of other people. why marx?

and you pretty much hit on why I would doubt that marx would have much to add. he would start with the premise that capitalism is evil and wrong, whereas I would start from the premise that it needs to be improved, or fixed, or tinkered with.
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