What Is Marxism Anyways? [Draft]
Spoiler Alert: It is not what you think it is.
“We must hang together or surely we shall hang separately”
On the day the Declaration of Independence was signed — nobody knows exactly what was said. The quote was erroneously attributed to Franklin.
After all, the Founding Fathers were knowingly committing treason. The British didn’t want to lose America.
But even before the American Revolutionary War — what we know as the United States: Land was the most important development to Western civilization. Whether it be the elements found in the soil which could be used to farming, or if there were gold, coal, and diamonds — the most valuable resource was undeniably
The obsession with Marxism is a weird one and it’s a buzzword people throw around as a scare tactic (along with socialism and communism) in order to get people to vote conservative.
But there’s just one problem when people bring up Marxism: It’s not a critque of capitalism. It’s an socioeconomic analysis to better understand class relations and social conflict. It’s not something society can transition into even if people are “self-trained” in it.
The most straightforward explanation of Marxism is actually defined pretty well by its Wikipedia entry.
“Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that uses a materialist interpretation of historical development, better known as historical materialism, to understand class relations and social conflict as well as a dialectical perspective to view social transformation.”
There are two distinct and defining characteristics which can frame Marxism as other theories branches out into their own concepts and ideas and many people might disagree with original components of Marxism.
Historical materialism isn’t important to the conversation, so we’ll start with the base and superstructure.
Base And Superstructure
The base and superstructure are constructs of Marxism which ultimately shapes and maintains each other.
Whether or not they are in itself meaningful or if they need to co-exist or shape and maintain each other besides the point — societies do have some form of this base and superstructure. This is the “mode of production” used primarily to generate profit.
While not important to the discussion, it’s still an important theme in Marxist theory.
Historical materialism is a theory that human society will always put materials over ideals. The material condition —everything made up of matter including metals, elements, and our entire physical being —will always prevail over our ideals or the consciousness and moral constructs we define through philosophical and religious interpretations.
You can see this play out with TV evangelists. They preach of religion and redemption, but they inexplicably have mansions and private jets.
To summarize, materialism is basically the cornerstone of every human civilization and no amount of religion or belief in morals will change that. And only a small fraction benefit off of the actual production, sale, and transfer of said materials.
If it’s starting to sound familiar, then we’re on the right path.
What conservatives are actually referring to when mentioning Marxism
Conservatives are more than likely talking about a specific idea borne out of The Communist Manifesto (1848) written by Karl Marx and German philosopher, Friedrich Engels.
Their manifesto outlined their theory of historical materialism and predicted the ultimate overthrow of capitalism by the industrial proletariat i.e. what we know today as the the working lower class who’s wages are derived from the sale of their labor power.
They also might be talking about social conflict; and the dialectical perspective on social transformation.
A look at Amazon as an example is how we can put everything into perspective.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon executives, and investors are the bourgeoisie i.e. the capitalist class who owns most of society’s wealth and production who’s societal concerns are in property; the preservation of capital; and to ensure they remain dominant in society.
While Amazon doesn’t produce any raw materials, they do deliver commodities.
The industrial proletariat are the warehouse workers who were demanding higher wages and better conditions.
The social conflict are people who direct their anger at Jeff Bezos and other wealthy individuals who control a majority of the wealth in the country, but don’t pay their fair share in taxes.
And the perhaps the most important aspect of how we view capitalism from marxist lenses is the dialectical perspective. It explains how it’s impossible to maintain equilibrium i.e. satisfaction or a constant status quo between Jeff Bozos and his employees. These unified opposites exists to shape society, but are in constant contradiction of each other.
One is the richest man on Earth; the other struggles to make ends meet due to stagnant wages (and inflation and other factors that elites perpetuate).
This is where social transformation comes into play: the aforementioned superstructure tries to help implement changes to the base i.e. pay and [law] policy to help the status quo at the base in regards the relationship between Jeff Bezos and his employees.
The base and superstructure have shaped and maintained each other in this instance. At least, that’s how it’s theoretically supposed to work.
But capitalism has had many oversights, mostly through government and lobbying which has put corporate and political interests ahead of its citizens. The conservative diatribe against critics of capitalism is that it can only work this way and it’s actually beneficial to workers.
So when people ask for the government to then fill in the gaps — we arrive at another word used as the epitome of the straw man argument.
Karl Marx wasn’t advocating for socialism when he began writing down his socioeconomic ideas. It’s just interpreted that that a capitalistic framework could lead into socialism and then communism (the latter isn’t necessary, though).
The means of production in this framework is the working class finally owning some of the means of production. And the means of their livelihood succeed through their own contributions of labor and economic planning.
It’s done through one or a combination of:
• cooperative enterprises
• common ownership
• workers self-management
Essentially, the mode of production has changed to not just greatly benefitting the bourgeoisie; but the post-commodity economic system and production is carried out to directly produce use-value rather than toward generating profits.
This is the sort of socialism people are usually referring to in European countries. But it also happened here in the U.S. post-World War II when equity wasn’t just one-sided.
No one would call it socialism. The benefits were nearly even, so things such as free college and universal healthcare weren’t even points of discussion and contention.
So you might be asking? How can the government afford these things which we now pay an egregious amount of money for?
Enter: economic planning.
The collapse seen in Venezuela, which those opposed to socialism point towards to, was due to a variety of reasons.
But most notably, it was her poor economic planning considering which relied on 80 percent of exports being oil. Venezuela didn’t anticipate that other countries would start generating their own oil and/or begin to look for alternatives.
Keep in mind, this is merely one aspect of what went wrong with Venezuela. Corruption, instability, coupé attempts, etc. should also be taken to account.
But what’s undeniable is the fact that the wealthy weren’t interested in making things better for their people. They lined their pockets while hyper-inflation devastated the country.
However, poor economic planning will only exacerbate other sectors in any country — regardless of politics — causing them to shutter or collapse completely.
Marxism ultimately might just tell us one way of how a country could turn to a new mode of production if the clock on capitalism runs out.
So what if FDR never ran for a third and fourth term? What if Congress never decided to impose term limits — relying on tradition — and we got all the way up to Trump’s presidency?
That’s a far scarier thought than Marxism.