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There's recently been a spate of great diaries on Marx, so I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring and discuss some basic Marxist themes.  Hopefully the scholarly Marxists won't come down too hard on what I say below.  This diary is intended for a non-academic, popular audience, so I'm intentionally dumbing things down.  I think us Marxists often shoot ourselves in the foot by insisting on embracing Marx's own dialectical way of speaking, thereby rendering ourselves incomprehensible to any but other academics.  If this diary does alright, I'll write a follow up diary on the labor theory of value, commodity fetishism, and surplus-value if people are interested.

Political Theory, Sociology, and Economics

It's not unusual to hear people dismiss Marx with statements like "communism is good in theory, but just doesn't work in practice."  People who say this might be surprised to discover that Marx says next to nothing about how governments should be structured.  To be sure, he makes a handful of proposals in the Manifesto-- nearly all of which have been adopted --but he just doesn't give us a picture of how governments should be structured in the way that Plato does in the Republic or John Locke does in his two treatises on government.

Marx was not so much a political theorist, as a sociologist and an economist.  What Marx wanted to understand, among other things, is why society is organized the way it is.  Why are the rich rich and the poor poor?  Why are there different classes of people?  Where is society going?  

Take the following analogy.  You're walking along a beach and you notice that there are sea shells and pebbles of fairly similar size along a particular place on the shore and nowhere else.  If you're of a scientific bent of mind you would like to know why those shells are there, in that particular place, and nowhere else and would also like to know why there are only shells and pebbles of a particular size in this band.  The case is the same with Marx.  He wants to understand why society is organized as it is and how it maintains this pattern over time and history.  

The take-away from this is that calling yourself a Marxist doesn't necessarily mean that you embrace socialism or communism.  You're a Marxist if you embrace Marx's particular theory of why society takes the form it takes and use his particular techniques for analyzing the social world around you.  Most Marxists believe that Marx has the most accurate explanation of why the contemporary world is structured as it is.  They're far more circumspect as to how we ought to respond to this or what sort of governance we ought to have given these circumstances.

Class:  Capitalists and Workers

Marx's fundamental thesis is that there's an intrinsic contradiction or antagonism between capitalists and workers.  The interests of these two groups are entirely different and are at odds with one another.  Before proceeding, it's important to understand what a capitalist is according to Marx.  You might say "I'm a capitalist because I think capitalist economy is the best economic structure of production and distribution and the one most capable of meeting the needs of consumption."  This is not, for Marx, what a capitalist is.

For Marx a capitalist is not a person that embraces a particular theory of economy, but rather a capitalist is a person who makes their money through money.  Capitalists are people who invest money in the labor of others, properties that they rent out, stocks, factories, goods that they sell, and so on.  Through the investment of their money, they make money.  Marx gives the famous equation M-C-M to represent the capitalist.  The capitalist invests money (M) in a commodity (C), and gets a return on that investment (M) in the form of more money than he initially invested.

With workers, matters are very different.  You're a worker if you sell a commodity, your labor, for money, and use that money to buy various commodities to live on.  Unlike the capitalist that uses his money for investments, workers use their money to pay rent and mortgages, to buy food, clothing, to pay bills, for entertainment, and so on.  Where the equation for the capitalist is M-C-M, the equation for workers is C-M-C.

Clearly there are a all sorts of gradations between workers and capitalists.  Many of us, for example, have 401 and 403k's and are thus behaving as capitalists insofar as we are investing money to make money.  It's also true that capitalists buy a variety of commodities in order to live.  However, while it is true that many of us invest money to make money, we don't do this at nearly the same scale as full blown capitalists, nor do we live entirely on our investments like capitalists.

It will be noticed that the category of workers is far larger than we often think.  You don't have to be someone who works with your hands or does manual labor in order to be a worker.  A worker is anyone who sells their labor in order to make a living and who has no choice but to sell their labor in order to make a living.

Contradiction and Class Conflict

As I already noted, Marx is famous for arguing that the interests of workers and the interests of capitalists are inherently at odds with one another.  Unlike capitalist economic theory, Marxist economic theory says that interests of capitalists and workers are inherently in contradiction with one another.  Why?

The interest of the capitalist is to maximize profit.  The interest of the worker is to maximize wages and benefits, while also shortening the working week.  At a certain point, the capitalist can only maximize profit by reducing the costs of production.  Capitalists reduce the cost of production through the mechanization of factories (which leads to job loss), outsourcing to other countries where people will work for lower wages and fewer benefits, and using the threat of outsourcing and mechanization to compel workers to accept cuts to wages and benefits.  

Important Caveat

It's important to understand that this tendency towards the reduction of wages and benefits for workers is not simply the result of greed.  I often hear progressives say that capitalists are motivated by greed.  They seem to suggest that if we could only persuade capitalists not to be greedy there could be some sort of harmony between capitalists and workers.  While there are certainly plenty of greedy capitalists, the tendency of capitalism to reduce wages and benefits is a structural feature of capitalism itself, and not primarily the result of individual moral failings.

To see this, take the hypothetical example of three doughnut shops.  These doughnut shops are in competition with each other for the same customers and have to show profit each quarter to retain investments from their shareholders allowing them to continue to run their company.  How can each doughnut shop accomplish this goal?  One strategy would be that of creating the best product, but this is expensive (i.e., it cuts into profit) and can only take the company so far.  At a certain point, our doughnut company will have to cut costs of production so that they might attract the lion's share of customers and maximize profit.  This means cutting wages, benefits, the number of employed, and the cost of raw materials for making doughnuts.  If doughnut company A will not cut production costs, company B or C will.  The other companies will then attract more investors (because investors are getting a greater return on their investment) and company A will gradually be unable to stay in business.  

It is this dynamic of competition between capitalists, not individual greed, that drives wage and benefit reduction.  Capitalists have little to no choice but to cut production costs so as to stay in business and ensure an increase in profit over the profit of the preceding quarter.  Three things follow from this.  First, it follows that over time wages for workers will necessarily stagnate or decrease.  Second, and more importantly, it follows that in capitalist systems, money will gradually come to be concentrated in the hands of a few.  Returning to our example of the three doughnut shops, there will always be a doughnut company willing to go further in reducing the costs of production to maximize profit.  This means that gradually the competing businesses will go out of business because they cannot compete with the company that produces at the cheapest cost thereby maximizing profit, and money will come to be concentrated in the hands of that few that were more ruthless than all the others.  

Finally, third, it simply isn't true that capitalism generates the highest quality products.  As we saw above, the reduction of profit costs is intrinsic to capitalism.  Costs are reduced not only by reducing wages and benefits, but also by reducing the quality of materials and workmanship.  Over time, commodities produced under capitalism will thus cease to have as much quality as they once did.  At this point, capitalists come to rely on brand name recognition and loyalty, rather than the quality of their product.
Taken together, the foregoing shows just how mistaken capitalist economic theory is when it argues that "a rising tide lifts all boats."

Capitalism is Intrinsically Prone to Crisis

Capitalist economic theory argues that capitalist economic systems are inherently self-regulating and therefore stable or naturally able to avoid crisis.  The idea is that if wealth concentration or poverty becomes too great, capitalist economies will correct for this so as to continue functioning.  The foregoing shows why this is false.

As we've seen, capitalist economies intrinsically tend towards a reduction in wages or benefits for workers.  Capitalist economic theory argues that wealth arises from capitalists through investing their capital in means of production that create jobs for people (something I'll show to be false in my next post if I write it), but those capitalists would have no capital if consumers did not exist to buy their commodities.  Because capitalists make up a vanishingly small percentage of consumers in any society, it is workers who overwhelmingly buy the goods produced by businesses.  However, because capitalism, in its pursuit of ever expanding profit, tends towards the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and a decrease of wages and benefits for workers, it creates a situation in which there are no longer consumers to buy commodities.  As a consequence, companies begin to go out of business and joblessness and poverty rises.  The dynamics of capitalist economies are equivalent to sawing of the branch upon which the capitalist sits; and this doesn't even begin to address why capitalism is intrinsically destructive to the environment due to its voracious pursuit of profit.

Originally posted to JosephK74 on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:20 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (131+ / 0-)
  •  Well done. (38+ / 0-)

    This is key:

    While there are certainly plenty of greedy capitalists, the tendency of capitalism to reduce wages and benefits is a structural feature of capitalism itself, and not primarily the result of individual moral failings.
    However, themes of "greed" can be used to rally support.  

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by TomP on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:28:16 AM PDT

    •  This also is excellent. (28+ / 0-)
      this doesn't even begin to address why capitalism is intrinsically destructive to the environment due to its voracious pursuit of profit

      Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

      by TomP on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:29:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maybe it's just humans who are intrinsically (14+ / 0-)

        destructive to the environment. It wasn't capitalists who eliminated all the trees on Easter Island after all. Humans do happen to be pretty darned good at wreaking havoc in the absence of a balance sheet.

        For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

        by Anne Elk on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 02:47:22 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is true. We, as a species (11+ / 0-)

          are short sighted and use up our environment.  Jared Diamond is great on this in Collapse.  That said, capitalism exponentially accelerates the process.

          •  Yes, because much more organized. (5+ / 0-)

            For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

            by Anne Elk on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 03:45:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It's not just that. (10+ / 0-)

              It's that capitalist society is premised on an imperative to expand.  While I know you reject ethnography, other social organizations differ in this.  For example, in gift-economies, there's a drive not to expand, but to give away.  Accumulation of surplus was looked down upon deeply and this mania for giving went to such extremes that tribes would compete to see which tribe could expend (through burning) the most of their goods.  In capitalism, by contrast, there's a drive to find ever new markets which means exploiting ever more in the way of natural resources.  That said, there is a great deal of similarity between what took place among the tribal members of Easter Island.

              •  Would you call the Egyptians capitalists? (0+ / 0-)

                The Chinese Empire? Roman Empire? The Goths?

                For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

                by Anne Elk on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 09:23:20 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  I am enjoying this discussion, Joseph. (0+ / 0-)

                I guess I could be called a biological determinist. I believe that we are who we are because of what we are, that our biology creates social organizations that all reflect the same basic reality. We try, for instance, to give our brains big dopamine spikes. We love salt and sugar. Our cognitive mind serves our limbic system to a great extent. Individuals with higher status have higher serotonin levels than those lower down, and the brain tries to make its serotonin go up. Those are some of the facts that drive human behavior, capitalism being one. If you are a Marxist, a necessary corollary of thinking (and I am not saying you do) that Capitalism is uniquely destructive is to harken back to a time when simple human societies were paragons, the noble savage if you will. I just don't subscribe to that view. While humans, when limited by energy and resource limits, can exist for long periods without doing much harm to the natural world, given the opportunity in the form of vast amounts of fossil fuel all humans would avail themselves of the opportunity to grow very quickly.

                For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

                by Anne Elk on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 09:43:48 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  How do you explain radically different (0+ / 0-)

                  cultural and societal constructs? Or do you think all such are essentially the same?

                  Nothing human is alien to me.

                  by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 11:39:22 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I think the differences we see (0+ / 0-)

                    are artifacts of resource limitations primarily. Think about Feudalism, for example. It was a very stable institution in Europe and even more so in China. Brutal and exploitative at a level as bad as any 19th Century "dark satanic mill". In medieval Europe, your chances of dying violently were quite high, about 30-fold what they are today. When given the chance, feudal rulers quite happily plundered neighbors with the only cause being that the neighboring country had more of what the ruler needed. England's lust for Bordeaux was doubtless driven by a need for wine-growing. In fact, one of my ancestors served King John as a kind of bailiff in that region. Feudal regimes were every bit as rapacious as any capitalist, as ruthless, as cunning, as unconcerned with the lot of the peasants as even the most diehard capitalist today. What changed, and what did away with feudalism, was our access to very cheap energy - coal and oil. My point is that the people of feudal Europe and elsewhere were not different from us, definitely no better. No fossil fuels would see no capitalism. We would still be ruled by a King and grub along at a subsistence level. So, pining for some Halcyon time when we were good and noble until nasty old capitalism was left here by a serpent to corrupt us is bilge. Capitalism is us plus cheap energy.

                    For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

                    by Anne Elk on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 12:06:39 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Except that Capitalism (0+ / 0-)

                      began to emerge before the wide use of fossil fuels. Its roots go back to the Italian Renaissance and the energy source for early industrial development was water power, not coal or oil.

                      Further, water, coal and oil have been around since before the beginning of Human civilization. How is it that the use of these on a large scale did not began until roughly 300 years ago?

                      Moreover, the early driver for capital accumulation, a necessary prerequisite for Capitalism, wasn't fossil fuels but human labor in the form of the transAtlantic slave trade.

                      BTW, what makes you think that radical differences would only refer to artifacts of the past? We live in a radically different fashion from any other time in human history.

                      Lastly, your final comment is a caricature having nothing whatever to do with Marx's view. Marx didn't pine for a mythical halcyon past. Quite the contrary. Marx lauded Capitalism for its destruction of feudalism which he saw as opening the door for a full development of human civilization.

                      There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Marx and Marxism but this isn't one of them.

                      Nothing human is alien to me.

                      by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 12:41:23 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I am afraid that I must disagree with you (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        WB Reeves

                        on a few points. Last point first. I was not particularly targeting Marx himself for this mystical view of pre-industrial civilization, although he does in some writings speak romantically in this vein. As you know, he was a great admirer of capitalism himself. However, many Marxists I have known do subscribe to this notion of capitalism as a fall from grace, whereas I merely believe that capitalism is an expression of who we are as a species when it is enabled to give free rein to its desires through massive availability of cheap energy. If fossil fuels had not existed, industrial capitalism would not have existed, and we wouldn't be having this discussion.

                        Your point about capitalism preceding mechanization simply reinforces my argument. People were already capitalists to the maximum extent allowable prior to mechanization. As to the whys and wherefores of the onset of the industrial revolution, that's another question. The interdependence of all of the inventions that lead to steam engines, printing presses, and electrical power, meant that a whole set of preconditions had to be met. That it didn't happen sooner is not so surprising. However, it did and the iterative nature of invention meant that growth compounded upon growth.

                        For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

                        by Anne Elk on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 01:11:48 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  I'm afraid you are confusing Capitalism (0+ / 0-)

                          which is an economic system, with acquisitiveness, which is a trait not uniformly present in all individuals or societies.

                          That you may have met people who call themselves Marxists who believe in a "fall from grace" is interesting but simply points up that some folks don't know what they're talking about. Has anyone here made this argument?

                          Again, Capitalism's development predates the use of the fuels you specify so while their availability has something to do with the subsequent development of the system, the relationship cannot be causal.

                          As for Capitalism being the natural expression of who we are, that is an ancient argument that has been made for every system of social organization in human history. All social systems have justified themselves as expressions of the natural order, or in Panglossian terms, as being the best of all possible arrangements in the best of all possible worlds.

                          My point hardly reinforces your argument, since Capitalism predates the use of fossil fuels but emerged only a few centuries ago. This hardly comports with the view that it is the natural expression of our "nature" as a species. Frankly, your argument is anachronistic.

                          Nothing human is alien to me.

                          by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 01:35:45 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                        •  Feudalism is the origin of capitalism (0+ / 0-)

                          The same ~30 families have been running the Anglo-American axis for more than a thousand years.

                          We're living in a feudal-by-proxy society, where the wealthy, and the companies they control, run the nation's affairs indirectly, thru so-called elected 'representatives' in which elections from among a limited number of potential managers who are pre-empted, corrupted by the offers they can't refuse - and the price of not playing ball.

                          We're on the brink of this becoming completely revealed.  They're just grabbing, now, trying to steal anything they may have left in some citizen's back pocket.  They're not even trying to hide it, I suppose because their base will turn out for them no matter what they do...because Fox, Limbaugh, Co. will never breathe a word of what they do.  Their self-captivating audience will dependably cover their ears and avert their eyes from anything at all if it can be linked to those lying imaginary liberals.

                          At this point, I consider it inevitable that the progressive left and radical right will join forces to oust the Business As Usual, Divine Right of Money crowd.  It's the only way.  Get 'em right in the old gerrymander.  The fights that followed would be epic (not that I'd live thru them).

                          I am a leaf on the wind - i hover, twirl, float,
                          Weightless, frictionless, I fly

                          by chmood on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 03:52:01 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

            •  No, because it is founded on the need for (5+ / 0-)

              exponential growth. Capitalism cannot tolerate equilibrium.

              To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

              by UntimelyRippd on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:39:33 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I think that ignores the problem (0+ / 0-)

                of physical resource limitations. Other societies may look like they are in equilibrium, but one person's equilibrium is another person's restricted environment. The Bedouins of the desert abandoned much of their ascetic lifestyle once oil wealth came along.

                I am surprised you use the term "exponential". Growth in our society is considered dramatic if it reaches 7%. Most of the time, it has been less, hardly exponential - the kind described by an exponent as in 2 to the nth power, for example.

                For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

                by Anne Elk on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 09:29:45 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sorry, but geometric growth IS exponential. (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  EthrDemon, chmood

                  If the growth is 7%, then the formula for growth is:


                  It seems like a small number, but there are a couple of points to remember:

                  A. Even at 5%, the size of the economy would double every 15 years. Over 60 years, it would need to increase by a factor of 16. Look around you. Try to imagine a context in which our consumption of resources could conceivably increase by such a factor.

                  B. In the best of times the economy might briefly grow at 7%. Unfortunately, the wealthy demand that their wealth grow at a rate above that. This is why, eventually, the vigorish on their barren financial wealth always exceeds the productive capacity of the economy, leading to ever-tightening poverty for everyone else. If the economy grows at 2%, but they demand 10%, their exponential curve leaves the economy's exponential curve in the dust.

                  C. If the financial wealth of the top 0.0001% were to grow at a meagre 10% per year -- and generally, they expect it to grow faster than that, which is why they keep coming up with ridiculous scams like Credit Default Swaps that allow them to leverage upon their leverage upon their leverage -- in 35 years it would double 5 times over, rising from its current 6,000,000,000,000 (probably a lot more, actually) to 192  trillion dollars. yes, in 35 years their wealth would be almost 3 times the current world GDP. In 70 years, their wealth would be somewhere north of 7 quadrillion dollars. The vigorish on 7 quadrillion dollars would be a mere 700 trillion per year, or 10 times the current world GDP.

                  This is what I'm talking about when I try to explain to people that the capitalist model is Simply. Not. Mathematically. Sustainable. The wealthy simply can not be permitted to continue accumulating wealth exponentially. The only way out of this bind is to put a fundamental clamp on accumulated wealth, preferably by the application of confiscatory taxes (in my opinion).

                  To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

                  by UntimelyRippd on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 11:55:49 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I see what you are saying (0+ / 0-)

                    and you are right. But, on that basis, capitalism seems to have been doing a pretty masterful job of coping with the non-sustainability. We are talking now of mining asteroids, after all. Lots of people have been preaching doom on this front for an awfully long time.

                    For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

                    by Anne Elk on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 12:09:32 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  the doom being preached for most of the last (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      2 centuries was based on the rate at which we could transform resources into commodities, not on the available quantity of resources. it's really only in the last 50 years that people have started raising questions about "What happens when we reach the limit of available resource X," never mind "What happens when we completely exhaust X". Mostly these people are ignored; when they aren't ignored they are dismissed with weird economistic gymnastics about "substituting goods" and other denialisms. We have, in fact, run one resource after another -- both sources and sinks -- to exhaustion.

                      Barring some sort of scientific miracle, including something that would allow us to bend the laws of thermodynamics so as to be able to transform limitless amounts of energy from form to form and somehow shed the accompanying waste heat, there is nothing that is going to bail us out of the long run implication of unlimited exponential growth. In fact, many small civilizations have clearly run up on these rocks before. Blind faith that good ol' American ingenuity will always get us over the next hurdle is just that -- blind faith. When people point at the rather small chunk of time that represents modern history and say, "Look, we've always managed it before," I compare the situation to someone trying to outrun a long freight train. Sure, for the first 10 or 15 minutes you're fine. And if someone gives you a bicycle after 10 minutes, you'll be fine for another 10 or 15 minutes. This is the sort of thing we've managed to do, starting sometime around 1700. Eventually, though, that freight train is going to run you down, unless you come up with something wholly different from what you've even imagined is possible.

                      I once heard a "conservative" "thinker" expound that there is no limit to growth -- not even the often-cited mass of the earth. Sure, that's hypothetically conceivable -- if you're an idiot. Those of us who live on planet reality understand that forcing ourselves to indulge such a weird technological hyperfantasy is without purpose.

                      I'm trying to be polite about this, but ultimately I have zero patience with the, "So far, so good," non-rebuttal. We are, as the song used to say, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. The financial system that drives us all further from the bank is not a given fact of the physical universe, it is a human technology that is slowly but surely going to grind us all down, until and unless we redesign it to serve the 99.99%, rather than the 0.01%

                      To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

                      by UntimelyRippd on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:06:44 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Perhaps there is also blind lack of faith? (0+ / 0-)

                        Ultimately, however, this is not going to be my problem. I am old and don't have long to go. I don't disagree with your point of view though. I just think human ingenuity being what it is, we may find that we can do so much more with so much less that resource limitations may be less of a factor than you think. For example, in 1920 the gas mileage of a car would have been about a tenth of what we can achieve today. Today we can build buildings with less steel and wood and have them last a lot longer. We have self-cleaning windows. The advent of 3D printers may make shipping of goods relatively rare. Our waste of resources is about half of what we use frequently. The average American family throws away 40% of the food it buys. The average house construction throws away a similar amount of materials. Same with electric power. Just reducing waste by half gives you major growth capacity. As you say, however, there is a finite limit. The real problem we face is the population of the Earth. Just too many people with or without capitalism.

                        For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

                        by Anne Elk on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:17:33 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  No, but. (0+ / 0-)

                          Even if we stabilized the population, capitalism would eventually implode -- in fact, it would implode sooner, rather than later. Capitalism loves an ever-growing population, because that means an ever growing pool of productive human beings to create the surplus necessary to pay the vigorish on accumulated financial wealth. Again: Capitalism demands an ever-expanding economy. Even as it does so, it creates an ever greater level of accumulated wealth amongst the very elite of the elite. If we were to get population under control, it would just mean we would all have to work that much harder, be that much more productive, in order to serve the demands of capital. It isn't an accident that all of the gains in productivity over the last 30 years have accumulated to the plutocrats: rather, it's an inevitable, fundamental characteristic of the system. Whether the population is fixed at 1000, or 10,000, or 10,000,000,000, capitalism carries within itself its own exponential self-destruct.

                          To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

                          by UntimelyRippd on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 03:46:54 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                    •  Masterful job of ignoring those "externalities" (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      But, on that basis, capitalism seems to have been doing a pretty masterful job of coping with the non-sustainability.
                      Yes, the slag heaps, the rubble fields, destruction, tip piles, poisoned land and water, tip piles, settling ponds, abandoned buildings, abandoned waste, deforestation, all masterfully dealt with by the captains of industry, who cheerfully up-stakes and sail away to where the natives don't know what to expect...yet...and where they've already bought the co-operation of their new vassals (Saudi, how I love ya...).

                      "Non-sustainability" (clumsy word, that) is so not a problem once you unleash the power of capital to walk away and let communities starve - with a song in their hearts, no doubt, and nary a backward glance or a 'thanks for all the fish'.

                      Lots of people have been preaching doom on this front for an awfully long time.
                      What, you haven't seen any of it?  Any sign of it?
                      Do you not get out of your usual rounds much?

                      Seems to me socialism is like good ol' Andy Hardy:  "hey, kids, if we all chip in, and pitch in, we can put on our own show!"  Community self-government for the general welfare, not the especial protection of the wealthy.

                      Capitalism comes across as pure Harkonnen:  "he who controls the spice controls the universe!"  Money and power for their own sake - to that end, spare no expense and get it all...but not a dime for those pesky externalities.  The total fuck-you package.

                      We are talking now of mining asteroids, after all.
                      Yeah, what could POSSIBLY go wrong with that?

                      I am a leaf on the wind - i hover, twirl, float,
                      Weightless, frictionless, I fly

                      by chmood on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 04:42:43 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

          •  This is true of life in general (5+ / 0-)

            Living organisms extract (free) energy from their environments and use it to impose order (i.e., to decrease entropy) of their internal systems. That means that the entire system (organism plus environment) must suffer a net increase in entropy, according to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Life increases the rate of entropy increase in the entire system (universe) or, we might say, causes an inevitable degradation of the environment.
            The evolution of human "intelligence" stepped up the means by which our activities degrade the environment, and capitalism, a consequence of human intelligence, accelerated the process further.
            The evolution of human intelligence is likely to be a major cause of our eventual demise. We're trapped.

            •  What we call intelligence today is conditioned (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              western star

              by our cultural moment in time. McGilchrist in his book, The Master and His Emissary, develops a compelling description of the process of the development of western culture as a shifting from a healthy relationship between the hemispheres of the human brain where the right (interested in living things and whole systems) is dominant relative to the left (interested in abstractions, tools, machines) to our current situation where the left seems to be dominant over the right.

              Intelligence as we have come to describe it in the western way of perceiving reality values abstraction and sees life as if it were a machine. I see what you say

              The evolution of human "intelligence" stepped up the means by which our activities degrade the environment, and capitalism, a consequence of human intelligence, accelerated the process further.
              as true but it is not just the increased means of the agricultural and industrial revolution but a reductionist mindset that can't see the whole living system and value it as something greater than a single utilitarian objective like profit.

              Love = Awareness of mutually beneficial exchange across semi-permeable boundaries. Political and economic systems either amplify or inhibit Love.

              by Bob Guyer on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 08:14:26 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  How do you measure the relative (0+ / 0-)

                dominance of of one hemisphere over the other? Or is this a purely deductive exercise?

                Nothing human is alien to me.

                by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 11:42:33 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  McGilchrist starts with current brain research (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  WB Reeves

                  and lays out the apparent differences in the way the two halves of our brain construct a world view and operate in our lives. He also goes into anthropology and evolutionary biology in looking at the development of our species with a focus on illuminating the differences between the hemispheres and how they are most likely to have evolved. There is a lot of very interesting stuff in this, the first half of the book. Among the insights that struck me are; the deep roots of the right hemisphere musical processing ability may have gone back as far as homo habilis and that singing may have been a precursor to speech and language, specialization of language in the left hemisphere may be related to right handed tool use, and that the corpus callosum is more involved in one hemisphere inhibiting the other hemisphere than it is in mediating communication between the hemisphere's.

                  In the second half of the book he relates the information about the hemispheres to western cultural developments in philosophy and art and a lot of other things. I find his argument compelling but it is too long and complicated to draw out the major parts of the art and philosophy sections. I wrote a poem about the book that might give you a more intuitive sense of the whole issue he illuminates about how imbalanced, dangerous and in need of correction our shift in hemispheric dominance is.

                  Love = Awareness of mutually beneficial exchange across semi-permeable boundaries. Political and economic systems either amplify or inhibit Love.

                  by Bob Guyer on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 07:37:20 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Sounds interesting (0+ / 0-)

                    Obviously, how when interact with material reality is highly dependent on how we perceive and process that reality. I'd be interested in his hypothesis as well as its testability.

                    I'll try and have a look at your poem.

                    Nothing human is alien to me.

                    by WB Reeves on Wed Apr 17, 2013 at 11:00:12 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

            •  2nd Law (0+ / 0-)

              The second law of thermodynamics is a direction of flow principle. Energy flows, on average, from hot things to cold things. In the vastness of the universe, it does not matter what we think about. Your toughts require this tiny amount of energy. You didn't hurt the sun. In a few billion years, it will managage it's own exit.

          •  Wh capitalism speeds the destruction of Nature (6+ / 0-)

            Capitalism accelerates the destruction of Nature because Nature can only represent a potential commodity or material by which commodities can be produced.  There is no other consideration within capitalism to blunt the effect of this position.  Note that it is not an "idea" but is produced by the structure of the system itself.  The competitive marketplace rewards those who most efficiently extract and manipulate Nature into a commodity.  For example, oil production is much cheaper if you take no concern for the potential damages that spills may cause.  Cheap production means profits and outcompeting competitors means market survival.

        •  Aside: Read Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clark (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JosephK74, walkshills, caul, Bob Guyer, fixxit

          I think you might enjoy it (it has somewhat similar themes).

          Getting back to the point of the diary, I don't think humans are intrinsically opposed to the environment. If you look at every other developed country where we've recognized that unlimited greenhouse gas emissions is a problem, poll after poll shows that the vast majority of the electorate wants to do something about it... except the United States. If the fact that we try to achieve development is bad for society that's one thing, but there are plenty of groups of humans (i.e. the EU/Japan, etc) who want to advance technology/development and do it in a sustainable way.

          I just take it as evidence that Americans are the backward barbarians that Europeans think we are when we don't give a shit about climate change, but even among Americans polling shows that a majority fear it as a problem and want to do something about it. Eliminating all the trees on Easter Island, while deplorable by itself, just doesn't matter on a global scale and you can't blame humanity for allowing it to happen when there's a huge chunk of humanity that wants to preserve the planet for multiple generations of people, not just our own children.

      •  Yes, but the USSR had horrible environmental (6+ / 0-)

        practices too, total misdevelopment in Siberia, for example.  Polluted air and water that makes the pollution of the Western industrial revolution look like the Garden of Eden.  I'm just pointing out that any economic system can result in destruction of environment, it's not a capitalist-specific phenomenon.

        •  I would say any economic system (6+ / 0-)

          that concentrates wealth and/or power can result in destruction of environment.

          Communism/Capitalism is not a real either/or basis for evaluation.  In terms of concentrating power they both do exactly the same thing.

        •  The USSR had basically the same (17+ / 0-)

          production system without private ownership.  It therefore comes as no surprise that it destroyed its environment.  Again, Marxism is an analysis of social conditions and why they take the form they take, not the proposal of a particular governmental system.  People miss this all the time with Marx.  Marx / Stalinist socialism.

          •  Interesting. I've read the theory that the USSR's (3+ / 0-)

            mismanagement of Asian Russia (particularly Siberia) was partly due to lack of profit motives.  That is, the USSR's economic system wasn't based on private profit, and they had a government decree to "populate Siberia", and so ended up building large cities in Siberia that have no economic reason for existing and therefore cannot sustain themselves at all.  Under a private profit system, those cities would never have been built due to lack of economic viability, so the theory goes.

            The destruction of environment and the existence of useless cities are both separate, but related, parts of the mismanagement of Asian Russia during the USSR period.

            Under capitalism, environments often get destroyed, but it's rare that large useless cities are built.  And if a town is built and then becomes economically unviable, it gets abandoned and ends up as a ghost town.

            •  You could drive out of Dallas on one expressway (3+ / 0-)

              (towards Greenville, IIRC) in the 1980s and pass a huge condo or apartment development that sat there uncompleted. It was part of the S&L fiasco, and I doubt it was the only one.

              Lots of capitalist enterprises go under (something 2 out of 3 business startups fail, I believe). The whole dot-com boom, for example, was an exercise in ignoring "economic viability". So is the mortgage meltdown and related financial instruments. AIG and Bear Stearns may have been the pinnacle of capitalist enterprise, but they weren't economically viable.

              In fact, the Soviet experience is essentially capitalism as well. A certain class of people assembled resources to accomplish something (whether it was 5 year plans for agriculture, making shoes, or populating Siberia). Another name for that is 'capital' or 'capital equipment', and it requires investment - you spend money to acquire machinery, build buildings, whatever, ahead of any return in the form of products or even labor.

              Then another group of people earn their living operating that machinery, utilizing buildings or fields, or whatever again, and that's labor.

              It's probably best summed up by the old cliche: "Under capitalism, man exploits man; under socialism (at least Soviet-style), it's the other way around."

              No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

              by badger on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:17:18 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  And you think the USSR was truly Marxist? (9+ / 0-)

          Or even communist? They certainly do not seem to fit within a democratic Marixst perspective which Marx was essentially not in conflict with.

          Those in power and at the top of the Politburo had much greater access to wealth than those doing the actual labor (in Marx's use of the term; work) and essentially were little different than those they replaced. They used the working class and wrapped their "socialism for me, austerity for you" ideology in the flag of Marxism.

          I'm not even advocating for a communistic version of society, but let's be realistic when we're evaluating the Soviet Union. Those who benefited from its policies either were the elite themselves, or were the underclass who benefited anyway because the alternative was rural feudalism. This is sadly one of the great propagandic triumphs of the American right. Anyone remotely associated with Marx is evil, but let's still work 40 hours a week for the same wage as our father even while productivity increases! This is not what the Soviet Union did and I have little doubt that Marx would be appalled by Stalinism.

          •  No, I don't think it was "capitalistic". (4+ / 0-)

            The post I was responding to suggested that human destruction of environment was particular to capitalism, and I was merely disputing that suggestion.  The USSR's destruction of environment was government directed.  I don't wish to engage in the very tired debate about whether the USSR was truly Marxist or truly Communist.

          •  Anarchists tend to view the USSR as (10+ / 0-)

            ...state capitalism. The working class still work for a boss in the workplace, the fruits of labor are still stolen from the workers by an owner class which in state-socialism is the central state bureaucracy.

            "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

            by ZhenRen on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 05:19:00 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  And not without reason. (6+ / 0-)

              The original meaning of the term "soviet" was "worker managed and democratically managed".  Things quickly began to go south when Lenin abolished the soviets by appointing managers.  That was the first betrayal of both communism and socialism.  Of course, this betrayal was already embodied in Leninist theory which claimed there had to be an intellectual elite and avant garde to lead the unwashed masses.

              •  I dispute just about everything you wrote.... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Jeffersonian Democrat

                Yes, the function of the soviets was suspended during the civil war (really, a version of the contra war the U.S. sponsored against Nicaragua in the '80s, as the European capitalist powers contributed arms, materiel, and even troops to a counter revolution against the fledgling soviet state) but Lenin campaigned for the restoration of functioning soviets at the conclusion of the war.  

                This goal, however, was unsuccessful due to the domination of Stalin's apparatus in the soviets and Lenin's poor health, which limited his effectiveness.

                I assume your second point relates to the notion of a vanguard in the revolutionary movement.  I think characterizing it as an "elite" is a tad misplaced:  The point of the vanguard was (and is) to spread the word about revolution and educate the masses and draw them in to participate fully in the movement, as not all members of the working class come to same full understanding of the workings of their oppression at the same time and to the same degree.  The vanguard is very much an educational tool of the revolution, and hardly an "elitist" project.

                Is it courageous to propose tax cuts but not identify a single tax expenditure to rein in? Is it courageous to target your deepest cuts on the poorest Americans, who vote in lower numbers and provide little in campaign contributions?

                by caul on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:08:41 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Really? (4+ / 0-)

                  The Soviets had been the original centers of democratic political power during the initial stages of the revolution. Are you suggesting that Lenin was prepared to surrender the political monopoly of the Bolshevik Party to democratically elected Soviets?

                  Nothing human is alien to me.

                  by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:29:59 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  btw, nice argument you two (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Bob Guyer, Dustin Mineau

                    I mean argument in the sense of expressing competing ideas, that's good pedagogy

                    Don't be a dick, be a Democrat! Oppose CPI cuts! Support Social Security and Veteran Benefits!

                    by Jeffersonian Democrat on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:48:30 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  Read the book. He did just that. (0+ / 0-)

                    Is it courageous to propose tax cuts but not identify a single tax expenditure to rein in? Is it courageous to target your deepest cuts on the poorest Americans, who vote in lower numbers and provide little in campaign contributions?

                    by caul on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 01:49:56 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  This is a cop out (0+ / 0-)

                      I'm well acquainted with Lenin's final efforts against Stalin, his alliance with Trotsky and his recognition, expressed in his suppressed testament, of his own guilt in the corruption of the revolution via bureaucratization. I've no need to wade through another SWP pamphlet consisting of excerpts pre-selected to serve a particular agenda.

                      If you actually know of any instance where Lenin stated that he wished to surrender the Bolshevik's monopoly on state power to freely elected, democratic Soviets as a matter of policy, you ought to be able to cite it directly. Don't hide behind party propaganda.

                      Nothing human is alien to me.

                      by WB Reeves on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 02:25:13 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  The book is a collection of Lenin's letters (0+ / 0-)

                        and speeches to the Party during this period, hardly "party propaganda" but the man's actual concrete proposals for what the fledgling Soviet Union needed to do to recover from the years of WWI and the civil war.  

                        Is it courageous to propose tax cuts but not identify a single tax expenditure to rein in? Is it courageous to target your deepest cuts on the poorest Americans, who vote in lower numbers and provide little in campaign contributions?

                        by caul on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 07:30:39 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Fine (0+ / 0-)

                          If you've actually read the book, you ought to be able to quote where he said anything that supports your contention.

                          Figuratively waving the book while claiming it proves you correct doesn't get the job done.

                          I am familiar with other books of this sort produced by Pathfinder over the years. How such historical materials are interpreted depends entirely on their completeness and the accuracy of the context in which they are placed.

                          I've never seen a publication released by Pathfinder that has contradicted the current party line of the SWP. In fact, when their line has changed, they have withdrawn publications that were no longer in sync with the party's positions.

                          Historical facts do not morph to accommodate the vagaries of political positioning. OTOH, partisan propaganda pieces do.

                          Nothing human is alien to me.

                          by WB Reeves on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 11:27:55 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

        •  No, it isn't capitalism specific. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jeffersonian Democrat

          But it is an inevitable result of capitalism that isn't kept on a very, very tight leash.

          To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

          by UntimelyRippd on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:41:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  One small point: (3+ / 0-)

      The problem with capitalism is it gives the green light to justify moral failings. Most Americans, for example, seem to be completely indoctrinated to going along with the notion that individual self-interest and competition at the expense of their neighbors' welfare is acceptable as the principle mode of conduct.

      Capitalist society teaches greed, which becomes endemic as the prevailing attitude.

      When tenants are evicted by the owner class, often they will remark, "They're just doing what they have to do."

      When banks foreclose, many believe it is entirely justified and moral.

      And so forth...

      "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

      by ZhenRen on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 05:52:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agreed (5+ / 0-)

      The idea that "greed" is in fact produced by the system and not by the personality of the capitalist is the most important aspect of this diary.

    •  That's all well and good, but the reality (5+ / 0-)

      is that capitalists band together to reduce competition, while simultaneously banding together to resist institutional changes that would permit them to compete without reducing their workers to penury. They don't unite to crush the unions because they can't compete with each other if the unions exist, they unite to crush the unions so they can take an ever-increasing share of what is in practice a pie of limited size. Ultimately, capitalism is mathematically unsustainable, because it demands exponential growth in the capitalists' wealth.

      Greed is always operating amongst capitalists, often in conjunction with a sociopathic desire to control other people.

      To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

      by UntimelyRippd on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:38:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, but that's not what we mean when we say the (0+ / 0-)

      system is broken - that's HOW the system IS BROKEN.

      I am a leaf on the wind - i hover, twirl, float,
      Weightless, frictionless, I fly

      by chmood on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 03:14:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for some education, write more even if (25+ / 0-)

    there are only of few of us, you never know the consequence of a good educational read.

  •  I was never smart enough to understand Marx's (13+ / 0-)

    writings, given his archaic (19th century) writing style.  Your diary explains a lot.  Thanks!

  •  Question about the antagonism between capitalists (6+ / 0-)

    and workers: what about a small business? Don't both the owner and the workers have one interest in common: making sure the company doesn't go out of business?

    •  There are all sorts of (25+ / 0-)

      gradations in between.  That said, the interests of the business owner are nonetheless different from the interests of those he employs.  The owner will still try to maximize profit by minimizing wages, benefits, and the cost of the materials, while the workers will try to maximize their wages and benefits.  We see this in the resistance of small business owners to healthcare costs.  

      Workers will often bend to these reductions because their desperate for jobs, even where wages and benefits stink.  Marx talks a lot about how capitalists use various strategies to get workers to accept cuts.  The ever present threat of using temp workers, for example, disciplines workers not to ask for too much.  Likewise, capitalists pitch different identity groups against each other as in the case of stoking racism, attempting to distract workers from their working conditions by instigating animosity and resentment towards other working class groups.  Finally, they discipline workers through the threat of outsourcing.

      You'll also notice that there's a tendency of capitalists to capture the institutions of government and government offices so that they might enact legislation that's in their class interests (de-regulation, lower taxes, fewer legal obligations to provide benefits, etc).  "Right to Work" laws are a good example of how government legislation has been systematically dismantled to diminish the bargaining power of workers for better working conditions.

      •  I would caution against (8+ / 0-)

        arguing this line regarding "gradations."  Of course there are gradations, but I'm not sure that the size of the business enterprise (size of the capitalist) has any relevance for the stance the capitalist takes towards the workers.  On one hand, we popularly imagine that the small business owner is on a first name basis with his employees, and perhaps this does in some cases create a social bond that mediates the imperatives of the marketplace (to produce as cheaply as possible, and therefore put downward pressure on worker wages).  On the other hand, we have to take into account the economic environment small businesses operate in.  Today, we might think that small businesses are in fact more endangered than large businesses, giving them increasing incentive to cut costs (including wages, benefits).  Since small businesses do not benefit from economies of scale as large ones do, oftentimes the human labor component of their cost of production is one of the few things they can manipulate in order to make themselves more competitive.  

        One surprising example of this comes from farming.  Large farm operations on average offer better wages and benefits to farm workers than do small ones, precisely because they have more financial resources and are more competitive in the market.

  •  This is one of the most interesting diaries I have (16+ / 0-)

    read on daily kos and I have read many interesting diaries.  Please, please write more as I am eager to learn more.  hugs, rachel

    too often the tolerant aren't very committed and the committed aren't very tolerant.....unknown rabbi.

    by racheltracks on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 10:23:34 AM PDT

  •  thank you (12+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this post.  I have been trying for some time to find an understandable breakdown on Marx.  Please do write more because it does look like there are others that enjoyed it and learned from it the same as myself.

  •  Love this historic graphic (28+ / 0-) photo Pyramid_of_Capitalist_System.png

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 01:15:40 PM PDT

  •  I loved your article, (7+ / 0-)

    and I think it's a pretty good basic explanation of Marxism. Still, I disagree with it, not because you didn't explain it well, but because I think Marxism is a very simplified description of a society.

    It's in a similar way to when neoliberals talk about "free markets produce more welfare than planned economies", ignoring facts such as that that only would work on horizontal, competitive markets, and that centrally planned economies are not the only alternative. Marxism also ignores things that were explained later on.

    For example, in your doughnut shops example, this is a classic game theory problem: the shops as a group are not better by cutting costs or quality. They only do that because there is a competitive pressure, and there are ways to alleviate this pressure without shutting down the capitalism system that they work on.

    Another angle on the same example: If shops cut quality as well as costs, why don't consumers stop consuming there? That's a feature of informational economics that says that there's "imperfect information" in the system and that causes market failures. If people would know that a shop is making doughnuts with stale bread, they would stop shopping there (and yes, as long as there's competitive pressure, that happens in real life).

    I'm using examples of orthodox economics, but my argument would also be valid for other areas. For example we could argue that people are not rational and that this irrationality is one of the reasons as to why most workers can't invest successfully in the stock market. That would be from behavioral economics.

    In short, my point is: giving an analysis of the insights and theories of Marxism is great, and it should be required knowledge for anyone who wants to study our societies. And it's very helpful sometimes.

    But assuming that Marxism is correct while ignoring later development of economics (and the other social sciences -- though a lot of marxists don't like the word "science" being applied there) is like making a car with 1880's technology.

    p.s.: By the way: XXI century cars are of much higher quality that the first ones. Doesn't that go in the face of the "quality will go down" theory of Marxism? (* insert debate of the role of government here, but that debate actually proves my point: there's more to modern society that just "capitalism" *).

    •  First, I said nothing (25+ / 0-)

      about planned economies and explicitly said that Marx is not giving us a political theory or a solution to this.  There are a variety of ways we can respond to these things if they're true.  Planned and centralized economy is one possible response; one that turned out historically to be a disaster.

      Second, Marxism is an open theory.  What I describe in this post is the basics.  However, things get far more complicated with the rise of things such as finance capital and other forms of capital.  

      Third, the rationality of workers with regard to investment is largely irrelevant.  Workers lack the capital that would allow them to invest in ways that they could meaningfully live off of.  As a consequence, we're doomed to sell our labor to live even in those circumstances where we're perfect investors.

      Finally, obviously there are limits to how far businesses can cut quality before people stop patronizing these establishments.  We seem to be witnessing this right now with Wal-Mart.  Nonetheless, capitalism is characterized by a downward trend with regard to the quality of its products for the reasons I outline.  We see this readily in the entertainment industry and Hollywood.  Every year we get zillions of shows and movies that are essentially the same.  Why is this?  Two reasons.  First, capitalism is conservative, preferring to invest in commodities that have already successfully created profits rather than investing in new and untried products.  This is why genuine cinema always has a hard go in Hollywood.  It's easier to produce the latest disaster blockbuster, rather than films like Melancholia that might not be a commercial success.  Second, it's easier to hire writers that write by form and genre, rather than original writers and directors.  I give this example because we readily see it in our experience.  It's just not true that capitalism always creates the highest quality and most innovative commodities.  Quite the reverse.  It seems to produce a lot of mediocrity.

      •  Well, I never said (4+ / 0-)

        that you were advocating planned economies, or that you said Marxism did so. My example was for the NEOLIBERALS who say that the corporativist capitalist is the only option against the "scourge of planned, central economies".

        Secondly, the other examples are debatable. I for one think that most workers are indoctrinated in a life of labor by our school system, and that THAT's the reason we're "doomed to sell our labor". I can certainly think of a "capitalist" system where people are taught from early on to invest and own businesses (as we teach people to own their own houses, even if we're currently having problems to fulfill that desire). This would be a system where society thinks it's natural for older people to own businesses and other kinds of assets and younger people to do labor. Though I reckon it might not be longer called capitalist in the Marxist sense.

        But in any case, they were only EXAMPLES. I think you're missing my point - and indirectly you're reinforcing it - Marxism is a simplistic theory. So I'm very glad to see a good analysis of what it is, but almost every time I see it, I see the diarist - not Marx, the diarist - making a subtle political point also. As in "I'll show why this is false". "True" or "false" are absolutes. The observations of Marxist theory rely on the assumptions made by Marxist theory. When you use other frameworks you reach different conclusions.

        I can insert a positivist argument about the role of real world evidence here, but I'll leave it for another occasion. I'll just say that for the moment, SOME industries have lowered their quality, and SOME industries have improved it. It's not the doomsday scenario some Marxists preach.

        Things are much more complex and so I can't be "marxist" as in "I use marxism as my main theory of society". There are too many other approaches that have validity too, and that reach different conclusions.

        •  Marx would agree with (11+ / 0-)

          you on the role that education plays.  This is what he calls "ideology" and what Althusser would later call the "ideological state apparatus" (ISA).  These are mechanisms that both form workers and that make capitalism seem "natural" and like the only possible system.  That said, you can't simply explain these things by schools, media, mistaken beliefs, etc.  People have to live.  In order to live they must eat.  In order to eat, they must work.  Most of us have no other option but selling our labor to live.  It would be nice if we could just wave all this away by properly educating people and correcting their beliefs, but that's only part of the story.  Changing beliefs might lead people to organize, but you still need a production and distribution system to meet the needs of consumption.

          I would suggest that your being uncharitable in your criticism here.  This is a post that is a couple thousand words designed to make Marxist thought accessible.  There have been thousands of pages written on these things and entire forests of trees killed responding to the points you make.

          •  Here is where Marx's materialism plays (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jeffersonian Democrat, JosephK74

            a key role. In Marx's scheme, ideas arise from material conditions. Consequently, one must consult with material realities before attempting form ideas for coping with them. The test of any theoretical system is in how accurately it comports with material realities. Unfortunately too many ostensible Marxists have stood this principle on its head.

            Nothing human is alien to me.

            by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:02:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  First of all, love the diary....secondly, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dustin Mineau

            I just wanted to contribute one interesting note about labor, food, unemployment, and monetary systems.
            According to many prominent MMTers (modern monetary theory subscribers).....the whole notion of unemployment is necessarily a monetary phenomenon.  Before modern (plausible time scale of perhaps ~5,000 BCE) monetary systems, there could not really be any unemployment (in the modern sense of actively looking for work and not being able to find it) as without a money system everyone contributed to feeding, clothing, housing the clan, group, etc.  Once you introduce a monetary system and especially when you apply that system through force and taxation....only then could we have the phenomenon of looking for work that pays in a particular currency and not be able to find it.  
            This is why MMTers, generally, presume that the natural rate of unemployment is basically zero, and any unemployment is the result of the monopoly supplier of the currency (generally a state run, with private bank help enterprise) not providing enough currency to provide for people's savings desires + the ability to consume every ounce of production that society is capable of at full capacity=employment.....just a thought on the nature of unemployment and labor

            "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens

            by Auburn Parks on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 07:06:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  And even more (0+ / 0-)

            trees responding to the counterarguments you make.

            But you're right. I'm being uncharitable. I actually like Marxism (even though I'm not a "follower", like I said) and I think there are good insights. What I don't like is absolutes. We're not "doomed to sell our labor". A very poor construction worker from a slum probably is. A well-educated middle-class person with car debt and lots of hobbies is not.

            I know it's a sensitive topic in DailyKos, but I'm just arguing for non-black & white thinking.

            And yes, I loved the article and plan on sharing it.

        •  You're doomed to sell your labor because (4+ / 0-)

          1) Very few people end up being successful entrepreneurs (capitalists).  By this I mean going from proletarian family backgrounds (e.g. not given a position in a family business) to successful business owner.
          2) Most businesses fail because of the brutal competition in the market.  These people get thrown back into the pool of workers.
          3) Most people are not born into or given opportunities to attempt entrepreneurship.  These people are life-long proletarians.
          4) Marx sums the dilemma of the 2nd and 3rd group quite well: they have the freedom to sell their labor, or starve.
          5) Which leads us to the welfare state: the realization that capitalism will beggar people leads to state assistance programs.  It checks the social unrest brought about by abject poverty.  The state steps in and provides a social solution for the effect of the marketplace.  This cycle replicates itself in many aspects of our lives, beyond hunger (including workplace safety, unemployment insurance, etc).

          There are, of course, Horatio Alger's in society.  These provide the template by which the system celebrates the possibility of "making it" or being upwardly mobile.  But this narrative is becoming increasingly untenable as more people realize the inequalities produced by the system.  The 1% discourse and increasing media attention to social inequities help dispel the myth of Alger.

          •  I don't think it's just (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            that most businesses fail to be successful.  I think more profoundly it's that most people lack the capital to start a business or meaningfully invest.

            •  For both Vespertine and Joseph, (0+ / 0-)

              well... I'm an entrepreneur. I'm not rich but make a good living. My dad came from a proletariat family but my own family was completely middle class. He worked in Government so he could improve his life through government pay (thus not a pure capitalist society, of course, and that would've been hard in one... i'm not a Randian to think that!).

              He later put me and my brothers into private schools (i don't live in the US and here that's the only good education you can get at the primary & secondary level). I later earned a professional degree from a public college.

              So I had the chance to improve my quality of life. A business of mine "failed" (as in I abandoned it for a better prospect) and now I have another one. All of this under a capitalist-mixed system. And no, I'm not special. I like what I do, and I work in IT, which is a booming and low-entry-cost industry (I can't imagine doing this in aerospace!), but I do think there's space in our societies for more entrepreneurship, and that government can help. That it SHOULD help.

              Maybe I'm just an outlier but I don't think we're "doomed" to anything. And entrepreneurship CAN and SHOULD work and that's probably one of my few (very few) defenses of a capitalist society. Problem is we do need the insights of Marxism to avoid believing too much in the "pull yourself from your own bootstraps" hype, which I do think it's wrong.

              That's my main point.

              p.s.: BTW, I didn't have capital to start my business. It was hard, yes. I think it should be easier, too.

        •  If your point is that Marxism must be open to (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jeffersonian Democrat

          incorporating new information and ideas in order to be viable, I've no argument with that.

          However, what do you mean by validity? Are you using it as a synonym for factual? There are innumerable social theories that have a superficial plausibility but fail when confronted by realities that contradict their axiomatic premises. What is your criteria for determining "validity"?

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:08:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My criteria for determining validity (0+ / 0-)

            is a pretty positivist one: as long as a theory allows us to predict reality and helps us navigate a complex world, it's a valid theory.

            Though I don't want to fall on the naive assumption that we can actually predict the future with 200 data points (as some economists) I do think that if my theory is having problems reconciling itself with reality, the theory is the problem. Not reality.

            I am aware of the epistemological problems of this. And some theories may be worse "predictors" but better tools for "interpretation", so they have some validity in my book too.

      •  Capitalism's conservatism (10+ / 0-)

        is precisely what has being throwing roadblocks in the development of non polluting energy for the last four decades.

        I sometimes wonder how much farther along we'd be if the Koch brothers had spent their billions on research instead of looking for ways to disinform about climate change.

        •  It's not conservatism (3+ / 0-)

          It's that the market forces companies to produce as cheaply as possible.  Unless the market valorizes your green production techniques (i.e. organic agriculture), you're forced to produce as cheaply as possible. Competition trumps social and environmental concerns.  A business that goes "green" without turning it into profit goes out of business.

      •  Planned and centralized economies were (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        by no means a disaster. They may have folded in the late 80s, but they provided rapid economic growth and a decent standard of living. They may not have caught up with the west, but that is the thing - they were always much poorer to begin with.

        •  They failed far earlier than that. (4+ / 0-)

          People lived in pretty horrible conditions because the system couldn't figure out how to decide what needed to be produced where and how to distribute it to meet consumption needs.  Technology is creating the conditions to resolve this problem today, but that's another story that I won't discuss here.

          •  The planned economies were no utopia (0+ / 0-)

            but ordinary people did not live in horrible conditions.( I'm mostly referencing the Eastern block, here.) There was full employment, public housing, healthcare etc in most of these countries. Most people did not live in material deprivation. Now compared to the West of course, wages and living standards were markedly lower, but again these countries had always been much poorer. This is also true even if we compare communist China(pre-1979) with say India. It beat India in economic growth, health measures, nutritional measures etc.

          •  I do agree that there were systemic (0+ / 0-)

            problems with the structure, and perhaps technology is helping solve this today. (Walmart, anyone?)

        •  This is incorrect (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jeffersonian Democrat, JosephK74

          Many planned economies (Japan, Korea, Germany) developed economic sectors that put them at the forefront of the global economy.  These were state-planned capitalist economic sectors, wherein the state picked "champion" industries and heavily invested in them.  A similar example of state planning is "infant industry protection."  Countries like the US erected tariffs to protect certain domestic industries so they could grow to the point that they'd be competitive in the international marketplace.

          We need to think beyond the "free market" vs. "state-planning" dichotomy.  Both are capitalist, but the state is heavily involved in structuring the operations of both.

      •  Alot of mediocrity (heavy meta!) (3+ / 0-)

        for sure.

        here as so often. people should be wary. Observing your responses as well as the questions, there is a tendency to go to the anecdotal, and be answered in the counter-anecdotal. That is not a good debate. It speaks of people more concenred with making their own point than listening to the other person´s point.

        A discussion in which people learn from each other shouldnt consist of "Let me tell you how I am right" statements. It should rather consist of "let me see if I understand your point correctly if I rephrase it like this" statements, coupled with "but I dont understand the following points about it".

        I hope you get what I´m saying. your diary is a really nice and very well pitched opening, as you see from the responses. But in the ensuing discussion with commenters, you lose a lot of opportunity to influence minds by this inflexible, closed approach.

        a problem which I know well myself, in ordinary life. Still, something to improve.

  •  Nice synopsis (8+ / 0-)

    Very approachable summary! I may use some of your language when teaching my introductory sociology students. I look forward to future installments.

  •  thanks a lot (2+ / 0-)

    very good effort! this is really needed more of, a restart of serious engagement and discussion amongst ourselves. please do more of this.

    however I have problems rightaway ... (note that I am a dummy in the sense of this diary).

    However, because capitalism, in its pursuit of ever expanding profit, tends towards the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and a decrease of wages and benefits for workers, it creates a situation in which there are no longer consumers to buy commodities.  As a consequence, companies begin to go out of business and joblessness and poverty rises.  The dynamics of capitalist economies are equivalent to sawing of the branch upon which the capitalist sits;
    yes, that was nagging me all down reading your preceding paragraphs. It is an obvious point. But we are not all here now living in poverty through idleness. So if Marx or Marxists are as you say interested in observing and understanding society as it is, regardless of how one might evaluate that, then what to they say to that? It is well known that at least at times, capitalists very consciously built a consumer base through serious payment of workers. Again: consciously, because they tendnot to be dumb either. Think of the expansions of the 1920s or the postwar period. Therefore, I have the feeling that you describe here one element of society - like, one force amongst many - but simply not a sufficiently coherent picture of the whole. Like as if someone pre-Newton described a force - completely correctly - but then incorrectly arguing that this force must inevitably lead to the destriction of the universe - incorrect, through neglect of the available counterforces.

    So you make a start here, and it is easy to follow this simple principle (competition) through to absurdist conclusions (either 1 person owns all the money of the world and all the others starve, or all people get paid to consume for no effort). The absurdity of the conclusion, compared to the existence of the real world, should tell us that the picture is incomplete. So ... a continuation is really needed !!

    so ... please go on, in the next installment!

    •  I don't know. If you look (12+ / 0-)

      around in recent years, it seems to me that the vast majority of people are living paycheck to paycheck and barely have the means to make ends meet.  As a result, debt has risen and people have become even more enslaved.  Meanwhile, poverty has risen and wages have stagnated.  I think these things are readily observable in the world around us.  Are we living in some grim distopia such as the world described by Dickens?  No.  Has the economy been thrown into crisis due to the inability of people to buy commodities?  Absolutely!

      •  yes. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jeffersonian Democrat

        that is surely happening. As said I dont doubt that its correct what you are writing - I "only" doubt that it is sufficient to describe whats going on. I would even argue that we are seeing more happening of what you describe as a direct result of policy to make the world conform more to capitalist "ideal" structure. But implicitly that means that we have at least been coming from a situation in which there was some control or check on this capitalist tendency - a check that has now being loosened, with predictably negative results. What was that check? Yet, we are not on a linear sliding slope of pauperisation down from a rich workers paradise about 1900. So, more has been happening in society. That is what I am asking about.  

        You could also maybe make it more neutral by avoiding "us". Look at China. Can there be doubt that a large part of Chinese society (and that means the volume of the people, not a vanishing elite) has become more able to afford commodities? How did that happen? It is a society too!  

        •  Globalization has significantly (4+ / 0-)

          changed everything.  It used to be that these things were confined in the borders of nation-states.  Within that framework, Marx's predictions were pretty accurate.  With the erosion of national borders capitalists can now use foreign labor to threaten local labor, compelling workers to make concessions in wages and benefits, and you can find new markets in other parts of the world when local workers no longer have the wealth to buy commodities in the numbers required to perpetuate growth.  

          The same destiny happens, however, when these strategies to increase growth are used.  We're currently seeing a boom in China.  This will lead Chinese workers to call for better wages and benefits so they can buy more of what they're producing.  With time, though, you'll see the same decline as those increases in standards of living cut into the ability of Chinese corporations to continue to grow.  

        •  China is actually (3+ / 0-)

          a very, very good example of the brutal forces of the capitalist system.  Many Chinese have become very wealthy through the factory system.  Some have become middle class (the ranks of managers).  But most Chinese are very, very poorly paid factory workers who work in terrible conditions, live in terrible conditions, and reside in unimaginably polluted cities and food systems.

        •  I would observe that the "prosperity" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jeffersonian Democrat, Urizen

          of the 1920's, much as the "prosperity" the decades between 1980 and the crash 2008, was fueled by cheap credit, which is to say by debt. As 1929 and 2008 illustrate, such "prosperity" is largely chimerical.

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 02:18:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  We enjoy what comforts we have (7+ / 0-)

      not because of capitalism, but because the working class organized against the capitalists. The union movement is responsible for the good things we enjoy today. Once we've identified the inevitabilities of capitalism we can fight against them. Like everywhere, we have a mixed system, so a critique of "pure" capitalism isn't going to be exactly right.

      If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

      by AoT on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 04:45:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There are two problems with your statement, mars (3+ / 0-)

      1) Idleness is indeed a problem, looking at our unemployed, underemployed, and ranks of those who left the job market entirely.
      2) The social compact made by Ford and others to increase worker wages such that they were able to afford the market's products is dead.  It was killed by political and economic developments we commonly term neoliberalism.  This project began in the 1970s as a way to destroy unions and therefore reduce the cost of production for businesses.  It also lead to the export of jobs to cheaper countries.  This is all predicated on market competition which compels businesses to cut production costs in the pursuit of the great imperative, profit.  Finally, because manufacturing left the US, finance capital and service provisioning became our economy.  Finance is notorious for collecting money into itself and devouring the capital of others, e.g. the most recent financial crisis.  The service sector is premised entirely on the lowest paid labor (e.g. the food, transportation, and retail trades).  
      3) So who is supposed to make the money that will drive our economy?

  •  Read and Recommended! (8+ / 0-)

    Please do write more!

    “Americans are fighters. We're tough, resourceful and creative, and if we have the chance to fight on a level playing field, where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot, then no one - no one - can stop us. ”-- Elizabeth Warren

    by Positronicus on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 02:00:53 PM PDT

  •  how does the analysis account for (4+ / 0-)

    a business that continues to provide the best product and survives despite costing more; there are businesses which have prospered while paying good salaries too

    i'm of course thinking of smaller businesses than the giants whose only objective is profit over cost

  •  Very interesting, keep 'em comin' (5+ / 0-)

    Play chess for the Kossacks on Join the site, then the group at

    by rmonroe on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 02:21:49 PM PDT

  •  Apple became the biggest technology (3+ / 0-)

    Company in the world but never offered the cheapest PC's or mobile devices. They achieved a huge differentiation in perceived quality of product. So, in your donut shop example, Apple should have failed dismally. There are other examples of such Companies that departed radically from the simplistic donut shop model you describe, not to say that the model is without substance. I would point out that the simple assertion that Companies try to cut wages doesn't quite capture the complexities of capitalism. Companies also try to improve efficiency and productivity, and often take on extra costs in terms of training and incentive pay and conditions to improve the skills and motivation of workers. Any Company today that simply focuses on cutting wages is probably doomed, although no firm goes out of its way to pay more than necessary for labor.

    For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. - Albert Camus

    by Anne Elk on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 02:43:36 PM PDT

    •  yes, but this is a simple overview (7+ / 0-)

      and therefore has to make big generalizations.

      Apple did not become the world standard for personal computing because of its decisions, much to the detriment of all of us.

      Had they undercut Microsoft out of the gate, they would be the standard and we would have a much more productive work environment.

      And since there are only two choices in the realm we are discussing, the mechanics of the competition are somewhat skewed.

      Now if we were discussing making and selling men's shirts, we would have a more accurate picture of the process in general.

    •  Go back a few years further and IBM was THE (6+ / 0-)

      computer company.  IBM had, perhaps still does, great quality and technical innovation and was a damned fine company to work for.  Maybe still is...I don't know.

      However, in my opinion, IBM got into trouble by not investing enough in the futire of personal computing, by outsourcing lots of code to India, and by refusing to accept failure on some of its esoteric products (shipboard navigation control systems for example).

      In my mind Apple makes a good product if you're willing to accept it's limitations and the lack of software (versus, for example Android)...but it's their service that really set them apart in the personal computer area.  


      The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

      by Persiflage on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 03:33:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Apple accomplished that (12+ / 0-)

      buy outsourcing labor to countries where its product could be produced dirt cheap and then selling that product in first tier countries to people that could afford that product.  This is the same basic dynamic at a global scale.  Whether or not the quality of Apple's product will decline remains to be seen.  We're still at a pretty early stage in their success.

    •  I would say that any company that (3+ / 0-)

      doesn't focus on cutting wages is probably doomed in today's economy. I've worked in consulting. When said companies hire consultants to be more "competitive" labor costs are usually the first thing to be touched - downsizing, outsourcing, etc

      •  You might as well say... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jeffersonian Democrat, EthrDemon

        ...that no company can stay afloat at all.  If cutting wages is absolutely necessary to every company's very survival, what does that say about the economic system under which they operate?  How far do they think they need to cut?  If workers don't have any money as a result of it all, how will the market operate?

        ISTM that lots of people on both sides of the conversation confuse declining profits with actual losses.  Trees don't grow to the sky, as they say.

        The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early; don't mistake an unfulfilled dream for a lost one. A dream has no deadline!

        by Panurge on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 10:54:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  And yet today, overall (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jeffersonian Democrat

      wages are historically low.

      "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

      by ZhenRen on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 05:10:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  And of course (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kevskos, Jeffersonian Democrat

      there is no incentive for Apple to have plants in China with very low wages.

      "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

      by ZhenRen on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 06:17:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  in my opinion capitalism has already died (4+ / 0-)

    and we are drifting towards something else even worse.

    it can only be resuscitated so many times before the dead corpse is too rotten to get an ounce of juice out of it.

    we are there right now.

  •  byJosephK74 - A question please? (5+ / 0-)

    Capitalism is one of many economic systems. I don't pretend to understand them all. However, I have been reading a lot lately about alternative economic models and I really like E. F. Schumacher's "Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered"

    Have you read any of his work?  And if so, what do you think about it as a way forward?  

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~ Edward Abbey

    by SaraBeth on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 02:52:13 PM PDT

  •  Like this line . . . (9+ / 0-)
    The take-away from this is that calling yourself a Marxist doesn't necessarily mean that you embrace socialism or communism.
    Thanks for the clarity here. My conservative acquaintances immediately jump to the conclusion that Marxists are communists.

    You article is making me think I might want to write a similar diary on Anarcho-Syndicalism 101. I've made an attempthere.

  •  Fantastic! (4+ / 0-)

    I'm looking forward to reading more. I had to read Capital in college and found it useful mainly as an soporific agent. Fortunately the professor gave a better lecture.

  •  Please continue... (3+ / 0-)

    Good info...

    The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

    by Persiflage on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 03:21:55 PM PDT

  •  As a political scientist and an economics student (11+ / 0-)

    I applaud you for trying to popularly clarify the theory behind Marxism (my specialty and chosen profession though is on elections.

    As a leftist I applaud you for highlighting the importance of what Marx's insights actually were; that capitalism is fundamentally unfair, unsustainable, and inefficient and there's a reason that no country in the world is as purely capitalist as they were in Marx's day.

    I can't tell you how often people I talk to on the subject are shocked that Marx spent practically none of his time talking about what policies and structures would make the communist system work and the incredibly vast majority of his time (in works like the Manifesto) to describe the failings of the capitalist system as it existed. Aside from the labor theory of value, his economic contributions are a more or less cornerstone of modern economic thought.

    It was nothing short of revolutionary in 1848 to assert that economics was the fundamental driver of human social behavior, something that even the most ardent right wing intellectual cant help to deny today.

    •  It's still. . . revolutionary (?) (6+ / 0-)

      As a Marxist and not a Marxist, I find both a great usefulness in the method and a great limitation in it. Just as it frees us to puncture the gilted balloons, it is also reductive to allow the simplistic (Soviet/Stalinist) understanding of man as a material object.

      Recently, I pointed out that Marxism demands that the US Civil War be a dialectic, with two maladaptive forces clashing, not one. Good vs. evil rarely happens on a mass scale. At the same time, though, Marx would leave out shame and evil and greed, as the individuals and their essences disappear in the aggregate.

      In other words, like saying that we only think in the words we have or saying that infants are beastly, Marx's insistence upon the materialist dialectic as deterministic is useful but potentially reductive.

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 04:06:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed, which is why I would never say that (7+ / 0-)

        I am a non-Leninist Marxist. Marx was stunningly visionary for his time, but like all philosophers of their own time, are limited in what they can teach us today. I only hope that the future generations of humanity (hopefully they exist centuries from now) rightly regard our theories as archaic because they know so much more.

        I think that today, as it will be a long time from now, Marx's most lasting impact upon political thought will be that economics is one of the prime drivers of politics. That seems to be a pretty rock solid truth even if you hate it or if you disagree with everything Marx stood for, even the most die-hard libertarians can't deny it. This was something that largely did not exist prior to his writings and certainly did not exist as formally as he said it.

        As someone who majored in Economics in college, it's impossible to imagine a world without Marxist theory. But no one, even the most left wing among us without being 'Marxist-Leninists' such as myself, believe everything he said is true. We just have so much more evidence than Marx could have imagined having at this date. It is that which allows us to formulate superior theories, regardless of what our views on politics are.

      •  The determinism (0+ / 0-)

        is, theoretically speaking, the problem, of course.  Part of why sociology is such an interesting social science is because human beings and the societies they organize into are not one-dimensional, thus making any singular type of determinism necessarily too narrow.

        Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

        by a gilas girl on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 01:33:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  You really should change the title. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You are insulting your intended audience.

    If there is no accountability for those who authorized torture, we can no longer say that we are a nation of laws, not men.

    by MikePhoenix on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 03:52:07 PM PDT

    •  give it a rest (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Stephen Wolf, marsanges, JosephK74

      these sorts of titles are accepted all around the world for introductory materials on any subject.

      •  That's your opinion. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ZhenRen, Stephen Wolf

        A lot of people, including myself, find it insulting.

        The concept that some races are inferior to others is accepted all around the world, does that make it right?

        If there is no accountability for those who authorized torture, we can no longer say that we are a nation of laws, not men.

        by MikePhoenix on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 04:38:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The thought crossed my mind as well... (5+ / 0-)

          but it is a common title, so I accept it as well intended. I wonder to what degree the author wrote this to insulate himself from academic criticism.

          As an anarchist (libertarian socialist, if you prefer a different label), the problem I have with academics controlling the conversation involving all things anti-capitalist is that if the manner of social organization can't be grasped by ordinary people without a controlling, authoritarian committee of academics (who think they're indispensable, as if the rest of us can't govern ourselves without them) then we're right back to where we started, under the rule of a professional ruling class.

          Community self-management is as old as time, and once the basic concepts are grasped, even if not according to the arcane view of Hegel, Marx, and dialectical materialism, people can implement it, as was exemplified by anarchist Spain during the Spanish civil War.  The Spanish anarcho-communists rejected marx, preferring such thinkers as Proudhon, Bakunin, Malatesta and Kropotkin, and they did quite well until Spain fell to the fascists.

          As Emma Goldman put it, "if I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution", which means, in my view, that if there isn't the right to equal participation by each member in determining self-management, it isn't a real people's revolution. If we're all left on the sidelines or in the audience while professional Marxists (being a bit snarky here) debate the finer points offered by one personality, then it isn't the kind of life I'd want to be part of, and I'd just consider myself bound up in another form of slavery.

          "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

          by ZhenRen on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 05:38:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  a different perspective here (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          WB Reeves, a gilas girl

          The title is exactly why I opened this diary.  I did not want to try to wade through a long intellectual dissertation on Marx.  I wanted to read something that had been simplified to the point that someone like me who has never tackled Marx could understand it.  I think the diarist did a tremendous job of doing that for his targeted audience.

          I personally did not take any insult from the title as it is commonly used in many how to books.  And as evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive response from the commenters, the diarist achieved what he set out to do.  

          "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

          by gulfgal98 on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 05:17:39 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I deeply appreciate your (5+ / 0-)

      liberal puritanical feedback.  The title is meant to disarm and invite, not insult.

  •  Nice intro; an example to use (12+ / 0-)

    Mitt Romney, when he and Anne were in their "hard times," was a pure capitalist. He did no work at all and had no labor of any sort, and yet he had income solely and entirely from dividends, and, when he and Anne wanted more liquidity, he sold stock shares.

    What was he to the production of an automobile? Why was he paid by the automobile maker?

    Everyone is innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 04:00:57 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for this great introduction to (6+ / 0-)

    Marx. I look forward to your next installment. Don't let those here who have an uncontrollable need to prove how "smart" they are by arguing every little nit and overlooking your very own caveats at the beginning of the piece as to the purpose and scope of this writing, discourage you from continuing this as a series. Best wishes.

    "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy -7.8., -6.6

    by helpImdrowning on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 04:30:29 PM PDT

  •  my critic of marx (0+ / 0-)

    generally is that his definition of 'capitalist' is fairly loaded and also misleading when you talk about 'capitalistic theory'

    It certainly isn't what Smith advocated

    Further I have to wonder really how much Marx is rolling in his grave because when most people think of 'Marxism' they think about 'Communism' which to me is somewhat karmic given that Marx did about the same thing with capitalism.

    Marx managed to identify many of the potential abuses of capitalism but then so have others

    In the time that I have been given,
    I am what I am

    by duhban on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 05:19:07 PM PDT

  •  thanx! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jeffersonian Democrat, TomP

    Those who quote Santayana are condemned to repeat him. Me

    by Mark B on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 05:25:13 PM PDT

  •  In short (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Potus2020, Jeffersonian Democrat

    More Money

    When workers want more money
    It's called socialism.
    When bosses want more money
    It's called capitalism.
    When I want more money
    It's called individuality.
    When you want more money
    It's called taking something that belongs to me.

    -- Barbara Barg

  •  Please write the next chapter (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jeffersonian Democrat

    I consider myself to be a socialist, but I have not studied Marxism. Capitalism obviously doesn't work.

  •  Marxist and Marxian (5+ / 0-)

    When I went to school in the early '70s, we distinguished between being Marxian and being Marxist. Marxian people found that Marx gave them insight into the world around them. Marxists (and Marxist-Leninists) were Marxian True-Believers and so usually advocates of violent revolution.

    I think it's still a useful distinction.

    Join the 48ForEastAfrica Blogathon for the famine in east Africa: Donate to Oxfam America

    by JayC on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 07:56:59 PM PDT

  •  Thank you!!!! (3+ / 0-)

    I was hoping for a simplified explanation of these things and look forward to future posts!

  •  Wow this is great (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jeffersonian Democrat

    I always loved Marx though I'm really not a Marxist. Really well explained.

    Wonder if you will talk about what he says about international economics

    Thanks. Great post

    "Four seconds is the longest wait " -Sleater-Kinney

    by delphil on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 10:21:17 PM PDT

  •  Groucho is one of my favorite comedians... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...and I love how Harpo always somehow gets a harp to play...

    Oh, wait... wrong Marx ^_^

    I read a bit, a very little bit, about Marx some years ago, and I remember thinking with astonishment that Marx's Das Kapital seems to be used as an instruction manual by the Captains of capitalism. It seemed to me at that time that everything that Marx cautioned against, the capitalists embraced wholeheartedly.  

  •  I have a copy of Das Kapital, but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jeffersonian Democrat, gulfgal98

    I have had a hard time slogging through it. This was brilliantly simple and clear. It will no doubt help me take another run at the bearded old boy's actual prose.

    Please keep it up! You might actually want to contact the publishers of the "Dummies" series!

  •  Excellent diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This diary is so clear and understandable for dummies like me.  I can hardly wait to read your next chapter.  Marx may have been a difficult writer to understand, but you are a wonderful writer who has broken it down beautifully.  Thank you for this outstanding diary.

    "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

    by gulfgal98 on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 05:02:03 AM PDT

  •  You should do more parts. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is great. Extremely well written and accessible.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 05:28:14 AM PDT

  •  Not a student of Marxist theory -- a question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WB Reeves

    So perhaps this is already a well-recognized idea, but I haven't seen much made of it:

    From the depression through at least the 70s, Marxist theory seemed to be wrong, at least in industrialized western countries.  Workers shared in productivity increases, the standard of living went up, and inequality was stable or actually declined.  I remember studying communism in junior high (or was it high school?) and the book made fun of Marx's "theory of increasing misery," pointing out that it was self-evidently wrong given the benefits of economic progress.

    That all has come to an end over the last 30 years.  100 %, or even more, of productivity gains have gone to capitalists and the workers are struggling to keep their heads above water.  Why?

    Here's my idea.  (As I say, it may very well not be original, and I don't take any credit, but I haven't seen people making the point.)  I think the explanation is the end of the cold war.  As long as we were rivaled by a "communist" empire, we had to compete; and competition included keeping our workers more or less happy.  This was necessary both as a matter of foreign policy (to show the world our system was better) and domestic tranquility (wouldn't want the workers getting any ideas about a Marxist solution).  But once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union ceased to be serious competition, the capitalists had no reason to hold back.  There's no longer as much need to maintain a satisfied middle class.  

    What do you think --  is this valid?  Have others made this point?

    "[W]e shall see the reign of witches pass over . . . and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles." Jefferson

    by RenMin on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 08:11:01 AM PDT

    •  I think you nailed it. (0+ / 0-)

      People have talked about this but not much in public forums. It might not be popular to say so but without the reality of the Bolshevik Revolution and the fear of its example, it's unlikely that we would have seen the reforms of the New Deal, etc.

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 12:13:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this. (0+ / 0-)

    Clear, readable, and if this is indeed a good representation of what Marx said, IMO he's dead on the money.

  •  Marx and the Soviets.... (0+ / 0-)

    I had an Int'l Business prof in grad school who spoke in a heavy South American accent.

    He described how a rigid Germanic philosophy (Marx) was overlaid on a totalitarian Russian people, and in a slouching, droopy-eyed, slow, unintentional impression of William F. Buckley claimed that it created  "a rather nasty hibrid indeed."

    (I never forgot how he said that...he said hybrid as if it was hibb-ridd.  It was priceless.)

    Ayn is the bane! Take the Antidote To Ayn Rand and call your doctor in the morning: You have health insurance now! @floydbluealdus1

    by Floyd Blue on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 10:05:32 AM PDT

  •  My son owns 5 or 6 shares of AT & T (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WB Reeves

    --a gift from my father-in-law.  A dividend check arrives every so often for about $1.24 or something.  Nothing has better educated him.  I said "OK, imagine this is where all your money comes from. Now how do you feel about worker salaries and and equal pay and all like that?"  My son, it turns out, does an excellent impression of Mr. Burns.

  •  Yes! Keep this going. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a gilas girl

    I think there are many of us out there who are ready to consider  where wealth comes from. I think it comes from work.

  •  problems in Marxisim (0+ / 0-)

    In the background is a rhetorical trick Marx uses: he claims that his concepts are 'objective', or arise from 'objective conditions'  The problem here is that there is no real nexus between his constructs and 'reality'.  
      On a smaller scale,  I don't think either the theory of surplus value or the labor theory of value can be be defended as THE TRUTH.  Why is it, for example, that Bill gates got so rich, while having so relatively few workers to extract value from?  A market theory fits much better. And while the labor theory of value is an interesting kind of moral calculus, I don't think it can account for prices of commodities as diverse as diamonds, antibiotics, etc.  A utilitarian theory of value is at least as powerful.
    Last (in this brief comment), are there really classes based on economics?  Is there such a thing as the bourgeoisie or the proletariat?  In mid 19th century Manchester, for example (the base for Engels studies),  workers were often more loyal to their employers than to fellow workers.

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