Escaping Marxist Myopia
A spectre haunts the left. It is the ghost of Karl Marx and the suffocating presence of the archaic ideology which bears his name. The essence of Marxism is the seizure of political power based upon the committed solidarity of the factory workers (proletariat). Supposedly, everyone (except the bourgeois) would benefit by having the international order run by the equivalent of a huge international labor union. Commissars apparently more benign than oligarchs. It was a reworking of classical economics by Marx to highlight the failures of capitalism in order to justify a revolution which would replace the capitalists with the Marxists. It was promulgated at a time when factories were the very symbol of rising Western economic might, the control of which would provide the Marxists with considerable social power. Since Marxism is based upon a reworking of classical capitalist economics, and since capitalist economics is mostly an ideological rationalization of capitalist economic power-seeking, Marxism is, in effect, a different way of organizing the political economy to the benefit of a different set of elites.
Because the success of Marxist power-seeking was based upon the recruitment of the proletariat (factory workers), Marxism verbally panders to the biases of the laborers, creating a glorifying imagery whereby all value is a consequence of labor, all other functions being essentially parasitic in nature. Profit is regarded as basically a theft from the producers (labor). The notion that the “rentier” does not really earn his money is analogous to the religious prohibition against charging interest. In short, Marxism is not so much a realistic description of political economy or organizational effectiveness, as it is an ideology with which to attract, organize and motivate factory workers. Likewise, the development of class analysis is a tool to imply some sort of organizational affinity among the proletariat which did not exist, but which the Marxists sought to develop. The use of class analysis may provide some benefit as a crude approximation of power relationships within society, however, it misrepresents the organizational reality and dynamics which existed at the time, and is so out of synch with our modern political economy as to be a joke. Also, it seeks to obscure the power relationship between the Marxist elite and the Marxist cadres. In similar fashion, modern international labor unions suffer from the fact that that the union leadership are effectively “bourgeois” whose “class interests” differ significantly from the workers they supposedly represent.
With factory labor an increasingly small segment of the modern political economy, one would think that an ideology based upon organizing the proletariat to overthrow the bourgeois would have been abandoned long ago. Think again. Marxism is best understood as a form of secular religion. Marx was the Prophet, “scientific” historical determinism the surrogate Deity, and a classless utopia the promised land. Like all successful ideologies, Marxism has a demonstrated ability to unite the faithful in solidarity, something which purely rational analysis is incapable of doing. Unfortunately for the Marxists, the disconnect between the ideology and observable reality has widened to the point where it is obvious to all but the diehard faithful that Marxism significantly misrepresents reality. As such, it hinders essential progressive social analysis, hence, is counterproductive.
If one bases one’s analysis on observable reality rather than Marxist ideology, several things are apparent. The first is that factory labor (not to be confused with total employment in the manufacturing sector) has declined in importance and power. Folks, 1850 came and went a long time ago, consequently, the notion of organizing society around a glorified image of factory labor is ludicrous. Furthermore, the notion of a worker “class” (the proletariat) always was more of a hope than a reality, “class” being a convenient grouping of people based upon similar demographic factors, which does not imply any sort of organization relationship or organizational solidarity. The reality is that society is composed of many different types of workers performing many different types of functions, organized in many different discreet organizations, employing varying degrees of hierarchy, with loyalty and solidarity occurring in varying degrees internal to the organization. There is negligible solidarity to others outside the organization who happen to be part of the same statistical grouping known as class. This is one reason why the “middle class” police can be counted on to suppress the “middle class” protesters. Loyalty (to the degree that it exists) is to the organization, class solidarity being virtually non-existent except in the minds of Marxist ideologues. The one exception would be the upper-level ruling elites, who are at least somewhat united in their desire to maintain a society in which wealth and power accrue primarily to themselves.
Unlike the simplistic dichotomy of “bourgeois” and “proletariat”, modern capitalist societies are complex and are controlled primarily by directing the flow of money, buttressed by massive propaganda, backed by coercive force. Capitalism, in essence, is the rule of money, that is, all of those who control and direct the spending of significant sums of money. This is possible because of the expansion of the market to the point where virtually everyone is dependent upon market transactions and the financial system to obtain the necessities of life and, if lucky, the stuff of dreams and induced wants. Much of political economy is hidden from view by an economics profession which largely exists to misrepresent reality in service to power. Economists narrowly focus on markets as mechanisms of distribution, exaggerating their efficiency while ignoring externalities, all the while denying the existence of market power, where the strong devour the weak, and where the market is an extremely effective means of social control.
Marxism would be a joke in analyzing our globalized world if not for the fact that much of the left, or at least the influential left, relies upon the scripture according to Marx to the exclusion of more common sense interpretations of observable reality. The reality is that our large population requires a complex society which can only be organized around money. This form of social organization has been extended globally whereby local autonomy has been destroyed and trade oriented interdependencies established. Trade dependent nations are linked globally through the global financial system in order to obtain the trade acquired means for economic survival. Failure to play by the rules usually results in severe consequences. The global financial system is an integrated network of private banking institutions that profit from their effective control of the global system. In these circumstances, to talk about ownership of the means of production is to ignore reality in favor of ideology.
A significant flaw of Marxism is its depiction of industrialism as a liberating force and capitalism as a precondition for communism. One consequence is that the Marxists generally welcomed the globalization of production as a means of eliminating Third World backwardness and traditionalism, and creating a global proletariat to be organized by international communism. Marx was no friend of the “ignorant” peasants, and Marxists in general have favored industrialism as a solution to all problems, the manufacture of “things” and material abundance being central to Marxist ideology, environmental consequences largely ignored, and local autonomy and self-sufficiency opposed in favor of a centralized Marxist bureaucracy. The glue which binds the Marxist intelligentsia together is fealty to Marxist ideology, which, in turn, precludes any honest evaluation of current reality.
The essence of capitalism is the rule of money, more specifically, the rule of private capitalists and their agents who control the flow of money. Currently, the economic activities of our modern society, and much other dependent activity, is controlled by capitalist spending and investment. Of critical importance is our financial system, more or less controlled by our private banking system, with the huge investment banks of Wall Street guiding the course of events. It is a debt based monetary system whereby the wealthy have a legal claim on future earnings. A system driven by unsustainable compound interest. A system which, to perpetuate itself awhile longer, has created neo-liberal globalization, trade enabled interdependencies held together by a corrupt financial system which seeks to eliminate local autonomy, local self-sufficiency and, hence, local survivability. An unsustainable system headed for collapse which will take the whole world with it. The response of the Marxists? Ritual incantations about ownership of the means of production and eternal class conflict. This at a time when it is imperative to end empire and undo neo-liberal globalization, to significantly reduce imbalances in wealth and power, to stress local autonomy and sustainability, to work to replace our debt based money with sovereign money, to eliminate private control of the financial system, and to deal realistically with organizational hierarchy and power in a highly monetized society. The “left” will never again be a credible force for change as long as it is significantly influenced by Marxist ideology. Time to move on.