RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

McElwee writes: "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."

Karl Marx. (photo: Wiki Commons)
Karl Marx. (photo: Wiki Commons)

Marx Was Right: Five Surprising Ways Karl Marx Predicted 2014

By Sean McElwee, Rolling Stone

01 February 14


From the iPhone 5S to corporate globalization, modern life is full of evidence of Marx's foresight

here'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.

In Conclusion:

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. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+43 # treadlightly 2014-02-01 22:34
I've been watching A World Of Ideas. A pbs series Bill Moyers produced. He interviews a variety of Great Thinkers.
Most of them decided to be educators rather than wealth creators.
If there is a solution to the problems created by capitalism, it will have to come from people like this.
Henry Steele Commager, John Searle, Sissela Bok.
These people have solutions.
+40 # brux 2014-02-02 01:07
the more I think about this the more I think there needs to be an agreed upon system of taking from the fortunate, who have been rewarded enough and putting it back into the commons and infrastructure, but most people derive their identity from their dreams, fantasies and those who have achievements or have convinced others they do though the trappings of said achievements insist on hoping to be above people instead of realizing we all need to be in the same class. We are just apes with clothes on for the most part.
+2 # BKnowswhitt 2014-02-04 13:27
you are right! Of course the right wing media is going to bash any changes and get one up on any programs governmental as socialism .. that is their game ... it will continue to be their style .. and the cooked media is only concerned that the left right bashing shows keep the money coming in ... it's all about the dough .. and so if you take social cause as your mantra .. expect that kind of heat to be in your kitchen ..
+85 # Shorey13 2014-02-02 00:39
Marx knew only predatory, unregulated Capitalism, which has returned in spades. He did not anticipate the evolution of labor, with increasing skills that led to higher wages for some, and a true middle class, which is now on the verge of total extinction. We are back to the late 19th Century, except that the privileged class is now a lot larger. Reinhold Niebuhr, in "Moral Man and Immoral Society," still stunningly relevant, more than 80 years after it was written, said that complex societies always create a privileged class, which comes to believe itself "different" from the rest of us. They suffer from a kind of mental illness, and live in a different universe than the rest of us. Niebuhr explained that they maintain their privileged status with economic coercion, and will never yield to appeals to reason or moral obligation. Power only respects power. Our only hope (if there is any!) is massive non-violent resistance.
+54 # brux 2014-02-02 01:05
One reason for that is that the poor, lower classes, working and middle classes are not educated and intelligent enough to see what is going on around them in terms of what it will lead to. We had a good thing in America but most Americans did not and still do not really realize what it is built on, so they just settle for silly slogans and platitudes. Americans are some of the most ignorant people in the world and we will never hold on to a decent country like that. The things we have to learn and deal with are exactly the things we have been taught in every way are taboo. Americans are stupid, and the 1% is trying to export that stupid and reproduce it all around the world.
+5 # jwb110 2014-02-02 14:43
Quoting brux:
One reason for that is that the poor, lower classes, working and middle classes are not educated and intelligent enough to see what is going on around them in terms of what it will lead to. We had a good thing in America but most Americans did not and still do not really realize what it is built on, so they just settle for silly slogans and platitudes. Americans are some of the most ignorant people in the world and we will never hold on to a decent
country like that. The things we have to learn and deal with are exactly the things we have been taught in every way are taboo. Americans are stupid, and the 1% is trying to export that stupid and reproduce it all around the world.

I think the education thing may be highly overrated. I have two nephews who are very wealthy and seemed to get by with only a GED. A mechanic doesn't need a liberal arts education or a plumber or a carpenter. It is the the person with a trade who has the best chance of avoiding the hit that a lot of the US has taken. I live in an agricultural are and the fields are full of pickers everyday. Trucks are moving strawberries, lettuce, oranges, etc. everyday. These guys in the fields are not illegals. They pay taxes, the usual stuff.
I think this country has to look very closely at a corporate/gov't that has created a much lower glass ceiling than existed before. Fear is what is getting us now and that simply won't do.
+10 # brux 2014-02-03 01:16
Yeah, it's true that education has turned into just another business, and like most businesses to hook the customer you have to create a dependency, so lots of schools teach the least amount they can get away with and charge the most money. Most adults will not admit it, but in an era where education can completely obsolete any adult that does not keep up, the incentive is not for adults to really be sincere in educating their children ... unless they are very special people. The world of today is predatory in the human space, and education is a weapon, so the incentive is NOT to let people know what is going on. Some people however figure out how to survive through other channels, like your nephews ... but many if not most people do not have that luck.
+2 # RLF 2014-02-04 06:30
Education has become so expensive that it is now only job training. The creative doesn't pay the tuition bills and is being neglected...and this will be the end of our economic hegemony. All progress is an act of creation and an untrained mind is always inferior.
+2 # RHytonen 2014-02-04 06:11
Quoting Shorey13:
Marx knew only predatory, unregulated Capitalism, which has returned in spades. Power only respects power. Our only hope (if there is any!) is massive non-violent resistance.

How can an enemy that writes and enforces the laws, demonstrably today "making nonviolent dissent illegal," possibly respect "nonviolent resistance?"

This strikes me as the epitome of desperately cowardly naiveté.

Freedom is not cheap.
+6 # wrknight 2014-02-04 10:15
Capitalism by its very nature is predatory, which is why it has to be regulated. For a while, it was regulated by government and organized labor, and the middle class grew and thrived. But since 1980, we have witnessed the deregulation of capitalism and with it the decline of the middle class.

Marx's proposed solution to the problem was wrong, but his analysis of the problem was exactly right.
+69 # Llarks 2014-02-02 00:45
Karl Marx also recognized that Capitalism carries within it the seeds of it's own destruction. It's insatiable greed will cause it to eat itself. The only questions are when, and what will replace it.
+26 # brux 2014-02-02 01:02
that is just like darwin though ... any organism or "meme" when it becomes successful is not consciously aware enough or understanding enough, or humble enough to restrain their greed in favor of others or the environment.
0 # Seadog 2014-02-03 10:39
Greed then in your opinion is evolutionary?
+21 # brux 2014-02-02 01:00
Marx was a weird and quirky man, but a huge genius in his ability to think about how capitalism worked and evolved. The reason he is still around despite our 1% elite trying to discredit his very name at every turn is because he was so brilliant and on target.

That said, I take issue with your #2, the judgement about the iPhone, it is not an arbitrary product, it is a very amazing technical marvel that everyone should be enabled to have. It is hardly a status trinket, or it should not be. The communication revolution is one thing that works in Marx's favor, and reducing it down to consumerism is missing the point.

Even Marx could not be specific enough about the criticisms of Capitalism to give birth to its replacement ... probably because there is no way to replace something on such a mass scale, including revolution, because the same elite develops and abuses their power to gain the same power and wealth - the problems with Capitalism can be reduced down to the problems with human beings ... all of us.

The solution is for us to take life, our lives and other's seriously enough to build in real restraints on individual power such that an elite like our 1% cannot develop ... but once they do, everyone secretly seems to have the dream to elevate themselves and degrade others. A poor man that becomes rich may not turn into a greedy bastard, but his children or grandchildren will because they become insulated from the masses.
+14 # Farafalla 2014-02-02 15:24
I agree but I think Marx talked about "commodity fetishism" where the value of a commodity is highly inflated due to its symbolic value. Apple products are designed to be seen as a fetish. And then there's the "conspicuous consumption" of the rich, which is something we get constantly taunted with on TV. Much of rap music focuses on named brand luxury items that are served up as something to want and have.
+5 # Radscal 2014-02-02 21:38
As I understood the author's intent, the question was, are the "improvements" to the 5s so crucial that they make the 5 obsolete? A good number of people buy the newest simply because it is the newest (which they equate with "the coolest").
-4 # brux 2014-02-03 01:20
I work at a level where the latest iPhone at whatever price they offer it at is profitable - to me. It helps me organize my life. I might be able to get by with an Android or something else, but all my computers are Macs, so the cooperation between devices really is a value to me. If they cost more, I'd have to pay more so even thought I do think they cost a lot, and I grouch every time I go to buy a power cord, I figure I have to deal with it. That's business. If we organized our economy better and did certain things, such as cutting down o the period of patent protection. I think prices would get vut and competition would benefit more. I'd like to see all patents and copyrights removed from everything because I do not think there is a consistent effective fair way to enforce them. What we have now just keeps the 1% on top, that's all.
+5 # Radscal 2014-02-03 12:46
Yeah, except for that TRS-80 I had in about '79, all my 'puters have been Macs. Try to put aside your attachment to the iPhone itself and examine the author's point.

I'll restate my question. Were the improvements to the 5s so profound that they made the 5 obsolete? Or, in your particular case, were the improvements such that it more than paid for itself?

The author's point seems to largely be about "planned obsolescence." That is, companies 1) make minor changes to a product such that people can tell if any given consumer has the newest, shiniest, coolest model or the older, boring, uncool one.

And 2), companies engineer specific useful lifespans after which crucial functions of the product fail to operate. For instance, when the iPhone battery needs replacement, the consumer cannot just buy a new one and slap it in. Instead, Apple wants the consumer to mail it in to them where Apple will replace the battery at a rather high price, leaving the consumer without a phone for some length of time. Their stated expectation is that most consumers will not want to be phoneless, which, together with the high price of a battery replacement will drive most to just buy a new one, even thought the phone itself may be perfectly functional.
+1 # brux 2014-02-04 10:07
The author made a statement that lashed out at one particular tech product that I do not think was illustrative of the crux of his point.

Tech is not really planned obsolescence, there is a significant difference, planned obsolescence is "planned" whereas tech can't really plan where the next obsoleting idea is going to come from, just that it will come.

The reason Apple does some of this, and I don't mean to support Apple, because they do pointedly maximize profit, but there are reasons other than cynical why this is done - they have to compete and survive, and it is tough in tech. Look at SGI, Sun, Commodore, MicroSoft, commoditization kills. You want all the rest of this stuff to go to China?

The point of a lot of these decisions is for business. One of the reasons Apple is left is that they did not open their business to clones like the PC, and then suffer from trying to have their OS support a million different gadgets all with their own problems and quirks.

I have never had a phone long enough for the battery to die on my anyhow, but that's just me.
+1 # Radscal 2014-02-04 15:43
You seem to be too unable to separate your attachment to your iPhone to even see the point the author made. He used the iPhone as an example of modern consumer culture.

Although you neglected to answer my question, you state that you've "never had a phone long enough for the battery to die on my anyhow, but that's just me."

Well, Brux, THAT was both the author's and my point. That is planned obsolescence. That is consumerism for its own sake.
+2 # RLF 2014-02-04 06:36
Brux..sounds like you are one of the reagun youth or younger who thinks they are entitled to everything to entertain themselves for free. I work in the music industry and it has been hurt terribly by free downloading...f reeloading. Musicians are not the 1%...they were poor before and they are starving now (and the worst are classical players) wake the hell up...think about more than your own comfort and convenience.
+4 # Seadog 2014-02-03 10:41
I think he was talking about the concept of "planned obsolescence," not any particular product.
+1 # wrknight 2014-02-04 10:22
The iPhone may be a very amazing technical marvel, but it is still unnecessary and any perceived need for it is purely fabricated.
+15 # brux 2014-02-02 01:11
Politics does not work. Money/coercion and violence work ... and of course massive lies and deception - that is how our system works and will work until ... maybe 20 years when we might have some hope of being able to face our real selves and true natures and deal with it scientifically, and not rutting about like water buffalo fighting each other for dominance. Every human being is as good as any other human being, the only way we make people lower is to tear them down or put ourselves above them.
+2 # wrknight 2014-02-04 10:28
Politics fails only when the people allow it to fail. When voters refuse to vote, or properly vet the candidates, or listen to the lies, or don't participate in the political process and drink the Kool-Aid offered by the media, then yes, it fails. But it doesn't have to be that way.
+17 # tabonsell 2014-02-02 05:26
While Karl Marx was an intelligent and educated man he was also rather naïve. He easily saw the problems of 19th Century capitalism, but had no realistic alternative to replace it. He was born in 1818 and his Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 when he was 30 years old, give or take a few weeks or months. The manifesto contained little original material; it was made up mostly of previous writings, meaning what he had envisioned in his 20s when he was still intellectually evolving.

He lived in a society that could be called a totalitarianism of the bourgeoisie in which the moneyed property owners controlled all aspects of society and used their control to benefit only the bourgeoisie. Life was miserable for everyone else. He and Friedrich Engels were great admirers of the American Indians and the societies in which they lived. They basically wanted to marry those socialist societies with the economy of the emerging industrial revolution; their “scientific socialism”. They never asked; if those two institutions were compatible, why didn’t they evolve together. Marx left no blueprint how they could be combined and the Bolsheviks hadn’t the faintest idea how to achieve his assumption. The result was the Soviet Union police state created under Stalin. Marx never envisioned or advocated a police state. His "dictatorship of the proletariat" was only working-class people running the institutions of government.

Part 2 to follow
+11 # brux 2014-02-02 12:03
Have you ever been exposed to any research or literature on "process improvement" that comes from the corporate world where they try to institute or change to improve the "system" for the better.

It is a very difficult thing to do to change people & behavior. Our brains do not really determine our behavior, as the advertising industry is quick to remind us.

Same with religions that profess to want to perfect or make people better. People do not have control or say over how they are for the most part. That's why attempts to fix them or help them are so lacking. We truly are simple animals, complex enough that we do not understand ourselves, but simple and unconscious enough that our whole planet may well be rushing towards a point of extinction that no one can do anything about.

I don't think you can blame Marx for this, and to reduce his work because he did not have any alternative is to not get the point of Marx's life. Marx was a critic of Capitalism. Of course he probably spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve things or make things better, but today, those areas of study are all vast & Marx was 1 man working in the 1800's.

The tragedy of Marx and the ideas of socialism and communism that evolved from his work was that the ideas were young and naive and used to bait and switch people, much like fascism did, into supporting groups of political militants who took over these countries often killing and violently overthrowing what came before.
+1 # Seadog 2014-02-03 10:44
Not just Government. Since he didn't believe in "private property" the masses would also be running all of the economic and social Institutions as well. It hasn't turned out that way has it. Fascism is more the norm today.
+1 # RLF 2014-02-04 06:42
We are now seeing what will replace capitalism and it won't be anything pure. You're looking for a self contained replacement but what we have already is a combination of different aspects of capitalism, communism, and collectivism... to expect something simple is just that.
+1 # wrknight 2014-02-04 10:32
[quote name="tabonsell "]While Karl Marx was an intelligent and educated man he was also rather naïve. He easily saw the problems of 19th Century capitalism, but had no realistic alternative to replace it.

If Marx was so naive, what does that say about everyone else including yourself?
+6 # tabonsell 2014-02-02 05:27
Part 2

But it was his assumption that socialism of the American Indians combined with the technologically based economy of the industrial revolution would produce a classless society like the Indians had and the wealth that the bourgeoisie had. Since everyone had the same a peaceful and cooperative nature would develop because there was no poverty and no wealth. And no private property by which one segment of society could accumulate power to lord over others.

It is this assumption that defines Marx. He felt that once such an economic society evolved the nation state would fade away and people would be governed only by local councils, as the Indians were (the Russian word for council is soviet). His distain for the bourgeoisie government and the dream that the state would fade away once his dream was realized mean that Marx was a libertarian.
+16 # brux 2014-02-02 12:06
Marx was not a Libertarian. Under Libertarianism, at least how it is connoted today, private property is the prime factor. The state only exists to protect private property, and under Libertarianism today this would simply mean that the rich and powerful would do anything they wanted with less rich and powerful people. Why do you think the Koch brothers are so into Libertarianism?
+6 # Seadog 2014-02-03 10:45
Yes, Libertarians are just Conservatives that like to screw and smoke pot.
+1 # tabonsell 2014-02-03 15:18
Marx was a libertarian in that he thought that government was inherently evil and that when the state freed the individual by fading away individuals would be left to their own devises to do what is in their own best interests. He evidently didn't account for the self-interest that predominates today's libertarians and manifests itself in greed. He thought that voluntary cooperation free of government would suffice; just as present-day libertarians think unfettered commerce free of state oversight would create a paradise for us all.

If you would think about it, there is not a lot of difference between Marx and the Koch brothers in their desire to be free of government. To brux above: Private property is not the prime factor of libertarianism; the prime factor is escape from government.

Other similarities were that Marx thought his philosophy, when realized, would put an end to history After all, the American Indians had no history. They hadn't even invented the wheel when Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere, living in the same societies they had lived in for thousands of years. No wars, no inventions, no social evolution, no unforgettable leaders by which history is measured. When he led the conservative resurrection, William F. Buckley Jr, said the purpose of conservatism is to "stand athwart history, yelling stop."
+1 # Maturus 2014-02-04 07:09
No wars? Check out the Iroquois history for starters.
-11 # Walter J Smith 2014-02-02 09:49
Marx was a great student of history, especially the history of economics. He was so good at such things that one may be forgiven for wondering why so many of his followers cannot graduate from their religiosity regarding his work and his person, that they cannot wite clearly at times. One may be forgiven for supposing that weakness is due to the common ordinary human addiction to blindly following what feels good at the moment, instead of, as did Marx, taking up study and reflection and contemplation and meditation and emulation of great examples rather that effusive and excessive adulation and glorification of them.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a contemporary of Marx, was far more studious of the emerging United States and its culture than was Marx. But Marxists don't read Tocqueville, because he is too easy to read, writes words than can be translated into English, and hits the failures of the United States right in every citizen's heart.

That is the sort of tough intellectual love the Marxists love to avoid. So they preach marxism of one silly absurdity or another instead.
+7 # tabonsell 2014-02-03 15:26
There is a difference between Karl Marx and Marxism. One of Marx's most-notable statements is, "I am not a Marxist."

That doesn't mean that Marx abandoned his philosophy, but rather his followers had misinterpreted what he had proposed and were blindly following their own beliefs and cited Max to justify their beliefs. Just as conservative "Christians' take bits and pieces from the Bible, mix those with their own prejudices and beliefs and claim they have the truth.
+10 # Yakpsyche 2014-02-02 09:55
Marx's economic theory, particularly its critique of unregulated capitalism is good, but the proposition of a classless society is naive since it ignores certain features of human nature. We, as a group, are insecure and need to assert our identities in comparison and contrast to others- bullying and dominating. We try to assert, "I am better", to compensate for the subconscious sense of its opposite.

We have an inner drive to expand, explore, innovate, tinker and stick our noses into things and see what happens. We are thrilled to hunt, kill, conquer and control. We are aggressive.

These are basic drives. Coarsely put, "Fear and greed".

A classless society where we are all content is unattainable so long as human nature stays this way.

We need rules and restrictions on capitalism so we will have an ongoing struggle that is within bounds. The less restricted version with which the plutocrats are enamored is too extreme. It needs to be bounded, buffered, tempered, and hobbled, with considerations for the common good written in as part of the code. Capitalism itself can not and need not be eliminated, but tamed.

Economic policy and government need to be separated, like religion and state, so no moneyed interests are allowed in the formation of government policies. Just like public utilities were intended for the benefits of everyone, a stable economic system must be established for the benefit of everyone, not just a few.
+13 # brux 2014-02-02 12:10
> the proposition of a classless society is naive since it ignores certain features of human nature.

I would have to disagree with you on that. The classless society used to be the goal of America until consumerism took over. All Americans used to think of themselves as in an extended middle class. That is not even something we pretend about today - there has been a big change.

The thing is that we need to overcome human nature, not institutionaliz e and glorify the selfish part of its nature ... to me anyway, that does not really seem to be working so well, and if in our zeal to cater to the rich and powerful we lose what we used to have ... that aim towards cooperation and classlessness, we will have lost for good and destroyed, maybe forever, that old funny Republicans mantra of the world's last best chance for freedom and liberty for all.
0 # Radscal 2014-02-02 22:29
Two part reply.
0 # maryf 2014-02-03 14:51
The classless society used to be the goal of America until consumerism took over. All Americans used to think of themselves as in an extended middle class.
This only applied to white people. The US was built on slavery, which is by definition exploitative, but this didn't count because the slaves (African and of African descent, as opposed to the odd indentured white) were considered subhuman and of no consequence.

The others who didn't count were the indigenous people, whose lands and resources were stolen without consequence while the humans themselves were killed off or forced onto the subpar lands the whites didn't want.

When you exclude all the people you don't care about what's left can be said to comprise a classless society, but not if you are honest.
+1 # brux 2014-02-04 10:00
That's true, but one cannot really address the totality of history in one tiny post, and notice I said goal, not reality.
+2 # Radscal 2014-02-02 22:27
What is this thing we call "human nature?" That's a question people have been asking in one form or another since prehistoric times.
Please pardon me for taking two segments to explore that question.

Is our instinctive nature that of the "Killer Ape" or the "Nobel Savage?" Or neither? Or both?

Was Thomas Hobbes correct that life is "red in tooth and claw," or was John Locke more spot on that "man" is "by nature a social animal" predisposed "not to harm others?"

If returned to our "natural state" would the result be "Lord of the Flies" or "Gilligan's Island?"

Or, looking at our closest non-human relatives, are we like the Chimpanzees with their violently hierarchal small troupes or the Bonobos, who live in huge communities with almost no violence?
+6 # Radscal 2014-02-02 22:30
Part Two:

I don't know. Nobody really fully knows. But I'll write what I think. I think we have evolved propensities for both competition and cooperation; for both force of violence and peaceful resolution; for both blind following of leaders and individual thought and action; for both emotional reflex and contemplative logic.

What we can know from over one hundred years of cross-cultural studies is that our behaviors are shaped by our cultures. That is, whatever instinctive behaviors (if any) that we have, we can and do shape them through the cultural processes of teaching and learning, demonstrating and observing.

And that, to me is the bottom line.

As Katherine Hepburn's character the missionary said to Bogart's character, the drunk, in "African Queen,"

"Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."
+1 # brux 2014-02-03 10:31
You might be interested in the work of Robert Sapolsky and his studies of baboons if you have not heard of him. His long terms studies of social stress and how cultures can mutate from violence to peacefulness are fascinating, as well as the implications for humans. There are some good You-Tube lectures out there for free too.
+1 # Radscal 2014-02-03 12:56
I haven't read Sapolsky. I'll try to check him out.

I got my degree in anthropological archaeology, and so did a fair amount of study on primatology. But my interest in such goes way back. I read both "the Naked Ape" and "the Territorial Imperative" when they first came out, and followed E.O. Wilson and his acolytes.

So, it was rather shocking for me to find that most of the claims of "sociobiology" and it's offspring like "evolutionary psychology" are pseudo-science.
0 # brux 2014-02-04 09:59
Sapolsky, Jared Diamond, Frans De Waal have been who I have read in the past few years. I think things have progressed a bit since "The Naked Ape" and some of the other books which focused on war and greediness, ignoring cooperation and symbiosis.
0 # Radscal 2014-02-04 15:30
You missed my point. I was indicating the time depth of my interest in the evolutionary roots of human behavior, not how current I am. Though I stopped working in the field in 2002, I have continued to read books and journals out of continued interest.

I met Jared Diamond, because I studied under and worked with one of his sources Patrick Kirch. I also met Sherwood Washburn, who pioneered the field of primatology. I've had discussions about "human nature" with both of them as well as Harvard's Irv and Nancy DeVore, who along with E.O. Wilson, pioneered the fields of "sociobiology" and "evolutionary psychology."

When I write that culture shapes behavior despite whatever the ever changing beliefs in what is "human nature," I am not writing from an uninformed position.

BTW: I'd say de Waal is the most scientific of any of the authors you mention, and by far the most qualified. Everything I've read from him or his organization avoids the "because X species does this, humans MUST BE this" pseudo-science that is found in almost all evo-psych writings, especially those meant for popular culture.
0 # Seadog 2014-02-03 11:02
I agree, Marx's belief in a so called "classless society" was indeed naive. He adulated American Indian society and viewed it as classless, but it was anything but. He wasn't grounded enough in the new science then of Anthropology and he's to be forgiven that to a degree. Nevertheless, he doesn't take into account hundreds of thousands of yrs. maybe millions of yrs. of evolution where our species was primarily tribal in nature existing in small hunter gather bands with an A male or A female on top and a very strict ranking form there down. Our desire for strong leadership is deeply printed in our genes and our cultures for the most part. Our struggles to create mass based democracy is I believe in part due to this strong bias toward a smaller tribal / familial society and its top down class system.
+2 # tabonsell 2014-02-03 15:33
Marx's mistake was in thinking that the classless society of the American Indians was possible in a modern industrial economy.

But, the Indians adapted their classless societies because of the necessity to cooperate for survival. They had not made a conscious decision to do so for philosophical reasons nor was that condition imposed on them by a superior force.
0 # RHytonen 2014-02-04 06:18
Greed IS fear.
+9 # 4RealDemocracy 2014-02-02 11:11
Marx's analysis was breathtaking in its insight,clarity and understanding-- both of Capitalism & where it would lead us, as well as humanities nature.The job of designing a new society, new economic and civic participatory democracy is for us to do.We at PeopleForANewSo
have developed one such model, that includes local community & work-site participation, integrating all spheres of our lives- as individuals, families, communities and contributors to the social commonwealth(ec onomic/labor time) It is reasonable that within one lifetime no one could have dealt with all the contingencies of the future; the framework he left us however gives us more than enough to go on...NOW is the time for us to use the tools at hand (technology permitting instantaneous communication, dialogue, information gathering & exchange, to design a new society that "administers things not people"....peac efully thru evo-revolution using the vote (OUR JOB NOW??BUILD THIRD PARTIES but even the Green Party & independent candidates can help us get closer to inputting on the local, state,Congressi onal levels RIGHT NOW)> We have the opportunity, we are 99% and once we use our power, we CAN create a better world, a society that is loving, kind, peaceful, equal (time-labor cards to replace wage slavery, money & debt)and based on well-being NOT PROFIT. Marx gave us the the analysis..its up to us to create the new society. See our web- site & write for free dvd "Re-Imagining NOW: Towards A New Society".
+7 # fredboy 2014-02-02 12:40
Karl was right about lots of things, but his biggest blunder came with his inability to understand human nature. Yes, if everyone was good and cared about others and justice and equality his theories may have worked. But greed, selfishness, egotism, jealousy and other human nature warts have toppled just about every Marxism experiment, just as they have gutted or are gutting most societal systems.

Sadly, many of the more vicious traits that allowed our ancestors to survive ungodly horrors have not been re-engineered to promote positive interaction and foresight. But it's never too late!
+1 # Radscal 2014-02-02 23:05
Check out my post above re: human nature if you're interested.

But I'd say, whatever "human nature" is, the psychopaths who've taken control of our representative democracy are not like the rest of us.

I think Marx didn't expect Capital to adapt to or co-opt some aspects of Communist and Socialist solutions in order to successfully tamp down worker anger. He expected workers to revolt sooner. Now, the psychopaths have taken more or less complete control, shaping popular culture in their mold of " greed, selfishness, egotism, jealousy."
0 # brux 2014-02-03 10:35
> the psychopaths who've taken control of our representative democracy are not like the rest of us.

Hmm, I think not. One of the reasons people do not do anything to fight or changes the system might be that they realize that human nature is what it is no matter what system we devise, so we unconsciously believe as if there is nothing that can or is going to change, so we don't try.

That may be wrong, but I think there is a deep acceptances of how people act in how they see the world and relate to it. Most honest people would admit that it is very tempting to abuse power when we have it, and so we expect others to do the same, and accept the consequences of that.

What we really need to do is to study people, and then construct a way to direct us away from the bad behaviors capitalism seems to seek to exploit, and towards positive progressive ways of cooperating that benefit all. We have to or we will just not survive.
0 # Radscal 2014-02-03 13:18
I've responded to the imagined beliefs in popular culture about "human nature" above, so will not further address world views based on fictions. But I will address ways to "direct us away from the bad behaviors."

We have studied people. First, we have the 100+ years of formal, scientific studies of cultures around the world. Then we have nearly a century of studying individuals' responses to specific inputs. And now we have many decades of study on the biological/phys iological factors involved in behavior, emotion and even such things as the "spiritual experience."

We can have a pretty good idea of how to sway people to behave, and even think in the ways those doing the directing wish. Governments, advertisers, entertainment industries, etc. etc. etc. have utilized all the above, and have, themselves spent hundreds of millions of dollars learning how to successfully affect behaviors.

Are such deliberate manipulations acceptable for people seeking solutions to the capitalist use of them?
+2 # Seadog 2014-02-03 11:11
I disagree that they are somehow different then the rest of us. We all have these human failings, its just that in their case the failings have somehow managed to and have allowed them to rise to the top. Just saying that they are psychopaths doesn't do anything more then demonize and dehumanize them , which is exactly what they are doing to us. Do 2 wrongs make a right? Shouldn't we try and rise above such tactics, that IMO only lead to violence. Jesus, MLK and M. Ghandi taught us to face their violence and their soul sickness with passive resistance not violence and demonization and the rest.
+2 # Radscal 2014-02-03 13:55
I agree that demonizing opponents is wrongheaded, and it almost always hurts a cause far more than it might help.

However, when I use the term, "psychopaths" for many of the most powerful people in our society, I am using the term in its proper, psychological diagnosis.

Psychopaths are measurable different from normal, mentally and emotionally healthy people. Scientists have studied psychopathy in criminal populations for many decades, and unsurprisingly found that a higher than average percentage of violent criminals and con artists are psychopaths.

But only within the last decade or so have scientists looked at leaders in corporations, militaries and government, and found them to also include far more psychopaths than in the general population. And importantly, since psychopaths are so successful in gaining power, they set the agendas that other, non-psychopaths working with them or under them must follow to stay competitive.

It is in those coworkers and employees that we find the sort of "all of us have the potential for evil" behaviors you rightly noted. The problem I meant to highlight is that psychopaths in power set the tone, and others follow.
0 # RHytonen 2014-02-04 06:21
Quoting fredboy:
But it's never too late!

Not if you're willing to pay the price for some 50 years of laziness and cowardice.
+7 # gunboatgranny 2014-02-02 14:32
I'm not sure we can about these comments about human nature. We are a social animal and as such we did evolve to work together for the common good so to speak. Otherwise we differ from other social animals in our ability to develop extremely varied and complex cultures that enabled us to fit into many varied environments. Depending on the culture an idividual is brought up in, that individual might be more competitive or more supportive. Many different worldviews have been possible encouraging a variety of personality styles. It is possible that our nature is curious, enovative, creative and even exploitive but culture had no trouble managing human nature. I suggest that the problem now is that the more aggressive, competitive cultures tended to overtake or succeed over more cooperative and flexible cultures when the two collided. Which wasn't necessarily the case that the culture with the most long term survival straights was the one that won between the two. A culture with an emphasis on sustainability in an environment of limited resources might be the best but would be conquered by a culture primed to exploit an environment and then move on. Western culture is no longer a deep one nor does it meet our needs as a cultural species. It has been cobbled together from hundreds it has conquered. It has also been a culture tolerant of rapid change and innovation. We are no longer able to respond to feedback from our environment. Our culture explains more than our nature.
+1 # Radscal 2014-02-02 23:10
THANK YOU! I replied above on the issue of "human nature," and was starting to get really depressed at the negative and uninformed posts. You've brightened my eve.
+1 # Seadog 2014-02-03 11:15
"We are no longer able to respond to feedback from our environment." I disagree. The problem isn't that a great number of us aren't responding its the speed at which our society as a whole is responding that is too slow for the rapidly evolving challenges in that regard. Nature is out pacing us and if we want to survive as a species we had better get with her program soon or she will whack us without regard for our slowness to react.
+4 # Johnny 2014-02-02 15:08
My limited understanding of Marx is that he considered capitalism as the producing and marketing of goods. Can someone refer me to a writing where he foresaw the present replacement of manufactuing goods with manufacturing debt--in other words, the replacement of creating wealth by selling goods with creating wealth by selling money?
+3 # treadlightly 2014-02-02 15:10
Any new form of government must consider sustainability above all other considerations.
The idea of everyone being equal has to be balanced against the reality of the earths limited resources and ability to withstand mans impact on those resources.
How would you say America is doing now in respect to sustainability?
The problem of equality is rather moot if we have destroyed our living quarters in the process.
+5 # Radscal 2014-02-02 23:13
Isn't it more greed and hoarding that's wrecking our home than any striving for more equality?
+5 # maryf 2014-02-03 15:30
If it could ever be actually accomplished to remove the obscene wealth from the few and redistribute it fairly there would be more than enough to provide equality to everyone else. There is no need whatsoever to insist upon an unsustainable continual growth economy, which is suicidal in the long term.
+2 # Radscal 2014-02-03 16:10
Right on!
+3 # Dion Giles 2014-02-03 01:21
The drive to know is the impetus driving progress towards science, the Enlightenment and human survival.

The ceaseless social and individual human quest for knowledge demarks humanity from pre-human life and pre-life. There was a time when humanity had to develop agriculture to survive, and there are some misanthropes today who declare this a cosmic blunder (better not to survive) [1].

What is special about the human species? Humanity is the only known repository for consciousness, the ability to transcend the pre-human instincts, to explore reality and individually and socially plan how to control change and to adapt to change that can’t be controlled.

Marxists explored social reality and identified classes, reducing these to essentially two: capitalists (bourgeoisie, surplus to human requirements) exploiting the labour of producers (proletariat). Planning revolution, Bolsheviks carefully avoided the question of another predator class – later identified by some Marxists in Communist Poland as the CENTRAL POLITICAL BUREAUCRACY [2], a class which appears in non-socialist society as MANAGEMENT. This predatory class is the reason why state institutions fail and, unchecked in socialist society, degenerate into the monstrous tyranny of the USSR and the Prison Republic of China. Trotsky recognised this and was murdered for it.

[1] e.g.
[2] e.g.
+3 # rhgreen 2014-02-02 18:21
Joe Bageant is particularly good on #s 2, 3 and 5. He died but still lives on. Just google for him and you'll find his online essays. Or buy (cheap) and read "Deer Hunting With Jesus". Once you start you won't stop until you read all of him.
+1 # Seadog 2014-02-03 11:17
I sure do miss reading Joe's writing. :(
+8 # dalelockwood 2014-02-02 21:19
Damn, there's sure a lot of smart, well-informed people on this list.

Not sarcasm.

just fact...
+4 # listentome 2014-02-03 09:03
Good! everyone is being brought into the discussion.

Usually, we citizens are afraid of this guy. Apparently, according to Rolling Stones, he is on our side. Hopefully not too little too late to recognize the direction the world is turning.

Says productivity and labor are going in opposite directions. Interesting.

Better get the dusty "Das Capital" book off my shelf and try to read some of it.
And also "Deer Hunting With Jesus"
+5 # Seadog 2014-02-03 11:21
Marx seemed to be tossed to the sidelines after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the turn toward Capitalism China made in the 80's. Maybe a whole new generation of less biased observers of his work is now joining the discussion , ones that didn't grow up in a Cold War world of black and white political positions.
+1 # goodsensecynic 2014-02-04 09:00
This article is a nice start. Anyone wishing to go further is urged to read Terry Eagleton's relatively recent book, "Why Marx Was Right" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).
+1 # boomerjim 2014-02-04 10:41
Well, it's no surprise. Marx was an excellent diagnostician, though a lousy clinician.
0 # BKnowswhitt 2014-02-04 14:52
Yeah as a clinician he'd have everyone getting along for the common good in a utopian society. Clinically that has proven to be a dead idea so far as man is far too self centered and corruptible by nature to achieve that one ..
+1 # Cappucino 2014-02-04 15:05
I took classes with Dr. Jack Weatherford for years at Macalester (Indian Givers among other books), and he outlined, step by step, that Marx took a lot of his ideas from Eastern Native American tribes. (Wars and inequalities in indigenous peoples on the North American continent were only documented after very long contact with Europeans, in most cases, MANY hundreds of years. The societies were not the same at all by then.)

That having been said, it wasn't "Libertarianism " as we would understand it today. It was about the importance of the individual in the CONTEXT of a community. And that, I think, is the problem at the heart of the things that Marx didn't really get right-- and it's probably why he didn't really posit an alternative to capitalism. It would have been the culture of the Manhasset and Passamaquoddy, and that wasn't going to happen in Europe.

But that's where the 19th century European ideal of "utopia" actually came from. Human beings can live that way, because we know for a fact that we have lived that way. The problem is once utopia has been destroyed, it seems impossible to return to it.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.