|—||Karl Marx on “free trade”, 1848|
that’s a bit more complicated. i think it’s GOOD in so far as it is an attempt at reforming capitalism and overcoming the most oppressive features of a free-market economy. however, it can only go so far within the limits of capitalist property relations, and oftentimes even ends up becoming awfully corrupted in its attempt to coexist with said relations.
if you are up for listening to a brief audio clip on the subject, here are a couple presentations that my friend Jonah Birch has given recently. i generally agree with his analysis of the past, present, and future of social democracy.
ISR #92 is on the way!
Paul D’Amato, “Marx, Lenin, and Luxemburg: Party,
organization, and revolution”
Megan Behrent, “The personal and the political: Literature and feminism”
Benoít Renaud, “A new party in Canada”
Samuel Farber, “Reflections on ‘prefigurative politics’”
Charlie Post, “The debate on Marxism and history: What’s at stake?”
Pranav Jani reviews Vivek Chibber’s “Postcolonial Theory and
the Specter of Capital”
Ashley Smith reviews Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin’s “The Making of Global Capitalism”
Ian Angus reviews Max Koch’s “Capitalism and Climate Change” and Daniel Tanuro’s “Green Capitalism”
Sherry Wolf reviews Henry A. Giroux’s “Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education”
Leia Petty reviews Daniel Bergner’s “What Do Women Want?”
Bridget Broderick reviews Kim E. Nielsen’s “A Disability History of the United States”
I refuse to refer to the former USSR or China as “communist” without the qualifying quotation marks, just as vehemently as I refuse to refer to the U.S. as “democratic” without the same. Otherwise, both of those precious words are rendered completely meaningless.
Among other things, Ukraine proves that the “Cold War” isn’t over, in the sense that it was never about the struggle between “democracy” and “communism”, but rather about the imperialist competition between the two powers [U.S. and U.S.S.R.] which had emerged as the preeminent global forces within the new order established at the end of WWII.
In that sense, the struggle between Russia and the U.S. over control of strategic world positioning, resources, economic zones, and political alliances, is the function of the very same global capitalist system — i.e., a world economy based on national competition between various exploitative ruling classes — which has existed for the last 300 years, and, yes, includes the period between 1945 to 1989 and 1989 to the present.
Ever since before WWI, Eastern Europe and the Caucuses were the site of constant wrangling between the various capitalist powers of Europe and increasingly the U.S., with the independent will of the Eastern European peoples constantly trampled underfoot. This also served as the immediate precipitating factors of both of the World Wars.
The simple fact is that for all the changes that have taken place in the world since the turn of the 19th century, the overarching system remains the same. And so it will in perpetuity as long as we live on a planet riven by a few powerful nations, seeking to assert their dominance over less powerful nations, in a mutual war of all against all in pursuit of wealth and control.
The names of the prevailing major powers may change from century to century, as one empire supplants another (now Spain, now Britain, now the U.S., etc.); but until we have fought for and attained a world premised upon the genuine collective and democratic cooperation of all peoples everywhere — unburdened by the profit motive, repressive state apparatuses, national chauvinism, vast inequality, and market competition — we will never see the lasting emancipation of the human species, let alone an isolated ethnic or national portion of the species.
omg, i love the fact that the villain in The Lego Movie is called “Lord Business”, an evil businessman who owns the the government and the monopoly corporation which produces everything in society from dairy products to voting machines, and controls a brutal police force to repress the population and maintain his rule. [in other words, an almost perfect allegory for our actual society].
even with an ending that veers more in the direction of reform, rather than revolution, it was cool to see the masses of ordinary LEGO citizens rise up together in rebellion against Lord Business’ tyranny, which forced him to undergo a change of heart in the end …
Anyone have any recommendations for a good book or article on Tito & Yugoslavia? I’m particularly interested in the period leading up to, during, and through the end of WWII.
For anyone in NYC — you should consider checking this out. A discussion of one of the groundbreaking works by the late Marta Russell on disability, capitalism, and oppression.
See an obituary for Marta at http://socialistworker.org/2014/01/03/committed-to-a-caring-society
Please join us on Tuesday, February 18 for a group discussion of “Capitalism and Disability,” by Marta Russell and Ravi Malhotra. This event is organized with Park McArthur on the occasion of Ramps, her show at Essex Street, which serves partly as an ode to the recently deceased Russell. Russell and Malhotra’s essay, rooted in historical materialism, asks how disability helps us fundamentally rethink the politics of labor, space, and future. Through discussion, we hope to think about the tactics used by the neoliberal state to define and control disability and the consequences on people’s lives and geographies of access. Moderated by Park McArthur, Alex Fleming, and Constantina Zavitsanos.
The event is free and open to the public but space is limited. To RSVP, please go to:
Studio-X NYC is wheelchair accessible; please contact us regarding any other access needs.
Link to the text:
Finding out that my coworker of 2 years is secretly a socialist = awesome. Our conversation went something like this:
We start talking about our jobs [we work in health care] and how we think the workplace could be organized much better — both for the patients and for ourselves, the workers.
Then we start talking about the fact that our jobs are unionized and how much better that makes things. Then we talk about the health care system in general, and how messed up it is. Then Wal-Mart and the recent moves by workers there to unionize. Then about economic inequality in this country overall and how that needs to change.
It was at this point that he says something like, “But it’s not like i’m talking about socialism or anything.” I reply, “Actually, I think this country could use more socialism.” Him: “Oh yeah, actually, me too! I mean, if you actually look at the definition of communism, it looks great.”
Of course, he added, that “Communism never seems to work out in practice, though.”
Alas, that remains a conversation for a later date, but at least we had a good start!
From coffee shops to college campuses, this country still has plenty of publications dedicated to radical politics. But only one is breathing new life into a far-left movement mostly vanished since FDR dropped dead. It isn’t The Socialist Worker. It’s not The Militant, either. And it isn’t Monthly Review, Political Affairs, World Socialist Website, or Worker’s Vanguard. Rather, the vanguard of revolution—the paper most dedicated to the overthrowing capitalism in the United States today—is none other than The Onion.
Since their move to Chicago two years ago, “America’s Finest News Source” has taken on a decidedly darker—and more subversive—bent. Nothing in The Onion suggests explicit support for a communist solution, of course, but looking back on the humor magazine’s punchiest political barbs of late, one can’t help noticing that many of the jokes—what you’re meant to “get”—are just less obtuse, much funnier versions of capitalist critiques in The German Ideology and other Karl Marx classics.
The joke behind “Man Briefly Forgets Hotel Staff are Not Human” would provoke chuckles from even the most crass conservative, but the truth it gets at—that capitalist commodification not just of goods, but of humans’ subjective agency in the form of labor, is tantamount to the dehumanization of the working class—is straight out of young Marx’s Manuscripts of 1844. “They’re all so lifelike,” hotel client Peter Adler says in the piece, no doubt contemplating the palpably unnatural material relations of capitalism, “I keep forgetting to just walk right by and act like they’re not even there.”
… it’s unsurprising that withering critiques of American capitalism have found their most popular outlet in the nation’s leading satirical newspaper. From King Lear’s Fool to Samuel Clemens, humor is often the cover by which the radical reaches the mainstream. I don’t believe The Onion’s writing staff is consciously promoting Marxism, but that only emphasizes the point: Cognitive dissonance or not, Das Kapital has so thoroughly permeated our understanding of capitalism that we’re seldom even aware that we are citing it. It’s become a kind of cultural white noise—always present, but rarely acknowledged.
Among mainstream U.S. publications only The Onion, under the guise of satire, can get away with openly channeling this contradiction. No doubt the intent is more opportunistic than deliberately subversive, but the point remains: With Americans continuing to struggle in the long wake of the Great Recession, and a populist wave taking aim at the country’s ever-widening economic inequality, the timing has never been better for dark humor about the failures of late capitalism. And so The Onion resonates. As the saying goes: It’s funny because it’s true.
Rolling Stone sings the praises of Karl Marx.
From the iPhone 5S to corporate globalization, modern life is full of evidence of Marx’s foresight.
January 30, 2014 12:30 PM ET
There’s a lot of talk of Karl Marx in the air these days – from Rush Limbaugh accusing Pope Francis of promoting “pure Marxism” to a Washington Times writer claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an “unrepentant Marxist.” But few people actually understand Marx’s trenchant critique of capitalism. Most people are vaguely aware of the radical economist’s prediction that capitalism would inevitably be replaced by communism, but they often misunderstand why he believed this to be true. And while Marx was wrong about some things, his writings (many of which pre-date the American Civil War) accurately predicted several aspects of contemporary capitalism, from the Great Recession to the iPhone 5S in your pocket.
Here are five facts of life in 2014 that Marx’s analysis of capitalism correctly predicted more than a century ago:
1. The Great Recession (Capitalism’s Chaotic Nature)
The inherently chaotic, crisis-prone nature of capitalism was a key part of Marx’s writings. He argued that the relentless drive for profits would lead companies to mechanize their workplaces, producing more and more goods while squeezing workers’ wages until they could no longer purchase the products they created. Sure enough, modern historical events from the Great Depression to the dot-com bubble can be traced back to what Marx termed “fictitious capital” – financial instruments like stocks and credit-default swaps. We produce and produce until there is simply no one left to purchase our goods, no new markets, no new debts. The cycle is still playing out before our eyes: Broadly speaking, it’s what made the housing market crash in 2008. Decades of deepening inequality reduced incomes, which led more and more Americans to take on debt. When there were no subprime borrows left to scheme, the whole façade fell apart, just as Marx knew it would.
2. The iPhone 5S (Imaginary Appetites)
Marx warned that capitalism’s tendency to concentrate high value on essentially arbitrary products would, over time, lead to what he called “a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites.” It’s a harsh but accurate way of describing contemporary America, where we enjoy incredible luxury and yet are driven by a constant need for more and more stuff to buy. Consider the iPhone 5S you may own. Is it really that much better than the iPhone 5 you had last year, or the iPhone 4S a year before that? Is it a real need, or an invented one? While Chinese families fall sick with cancer from our e-waste, megacorporations are creating entire advertising campaigns around the idea that we should destroy perfectly good products for no reason. If Marx could see this kind of thing, he’d nod in recognition.
3. The IMF (The Globalization of Capitalism)
Marx’s ideas about overproduction led him to predict what is now called globalization – the spread of capitalism across the planet in search of new markets. “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe,” he wrote. “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” While this may seem like an obvious point now, Marx wrote those words in 1848, when globalization was over a century away. And he wasn’t just right about what ended up happening in the late 20th century – he was right about why it happened: The relentless search for new markets and cheap labor, as well as the incessant demand for more natural resources, are beasts that demand constant feeding.
4. Walmart (Monopoly)
The classical theory of economics assumed that competition was natural and therefore self-sustaining. Marx, however, argued that market power would actually be centralized in large monopoly firms as businesses increasingly preyed upon each other. This might have struck his 19th-century readers as odd: As Richard Hofstadter writes, “Americans came to take it for granted that property would be widely diffused, that economic and political power would decentralized.” It was only later, in the 20th century, that the trend Marx foresaw began to accelerate. Today, mom-and-pop shops have been replaced by monolithic big-box stores like Walmart, small community banks have been replaced by global banks like J.P. Morgan Chase and small famers have been replaced by the likes of Archer Daniels Midland. The tech world, too, is already becoming centralized, with big corporations sucking up start-ups as fast as they can. Politicians give lip service to what minimal small-business lobby remains and prosecute the most violent of antitrust abuses – but for the most part, we know big business is here to stay.
5. Low Wages, Big Profits (The Reserve Army of Industrial Labor)
Marx believed that wages would be held down by a “reserve army of labor,” which he explained simply using classical economic techniques: Capitalists wish to pay as little as possible for labor, and this is easiest to do when there are too many workers floating around. Thus, after a recession, using a Marxist analysis, we would predict that high unemployment would keep wages stagnant as profits soared, because workers are too scared of unemployment to quit their terrible, exploitative jobs. And what do you know? No less an authority than the Wall Street Journal warns, “Lately, the U.S. recovery has been displaying some Marxian traits. Corporate profits are on a tear, and rising productivity has allowed companies to grow without doing much to reduce the vast ranks of the unemployed.” That’s because workers are terrified to leave their jobs and therefore lack bargaining power. It’s no surprise that the best time for equitable growth is during times of “full employment,” when unemployment is low and workers can threaten to take another job.
Marx was wrong about many things. Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with – which left it open to misinterpretation by madmen like Stalin in the 20th century. But his work still shapes our world in a positive way as well. When he argued for a progressive income tax in the Communist Manifesto, no country had one. Now, there is scarcely a country without a progressive income tax, and it’s one small way that the U.S. tries to fight income inequality. Marx’s moral critique of capitalism and his keen insights into its inner workings and historical context are still worth paying attention to. As Robert L. Heilbroner writes, “We turn to Marx, therefore, not because he is infallible, but because he is inescapable.” Today, in a world of both unheard-of wealth and abject poverty, where the richest 85 people have more wealth than the poorest 3 billion, the famous cry, “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains,” has yet to lose its potency.
[A fellow comrade in the revolutionary movement once asked me], ‘Has a Marxist any right at all to dream [i.e., be ‘idealistic’], knowing that according to Marx, mankind always sets itself the tasks it can solve and that tactics is a process of the growth of Party tasks which grow together with the Party?’
The very thought of these stern questions sends a cold shiver down my spine and makes me wish for nothing but a place to hide in. I shall try to hide behind the back of [radical Russian writer and social critic, Dmitry] Pisarev.
'There are rifts and rifts,' wrote Pisarev of the rift between dreams and reality. 'My dream may run ahead of the natural march of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the working men…. There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyse labour-power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science, and practical endeavour…. The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well.'
Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement.
|—||V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1902)|
Seattles only Socialist City Council member announced Monday that she will make good on a campaign pledge and accept only $40,000 a year in salary bringing her down to the average wage of a worker in the city. The remainder of the roughly $117,000 salary will go t &"Every Councilmember faces a choice of who they represent and which world they inhabit,” said Kshama Sawant, who took office earlier this month. “My place is with working people and their struggles. I want to give a voice to workers, trade union members, women, and immigrants. As a Councilmember, I re-commit to a fundamentally different political outlook. In line with the principles of the political party I represent, Socialist Alternative, I pledged to stay accountable to working people by taking only average workers’ wage.”