Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Marxist Origins of Communism, II

  • The Evils of Capitalism

    Marx was hardly the first thinker to denounce the evils of capitalism. Indeed, anti-capitalism is at least implicit in much of the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its attacks on greed, materialism, and selfishness.
    Hear this, you who trample upon the needy,
    And would bring the poor of the land to an end,
    Saying, When will the new moon pass
    That we may sell grain,
    And the Sabbath that we may offer wheat for sale,
    Making the ephah small and the price great,
    And falsifying the scales;
    Buying the poor for silver,
    And the needy in exchange for a pair of sandals,
    And selling the refuse of the grain.
    ...reads the book of Amos, pre-dating Marx by over 2000 years.
    In medieval Christian thought, hatred of capitalism was closely mixed with anti-Semitism, due to Jews' involvement in banking, money-lending, and trade. The famous Protestant reformer Martin Luther, for example, wrote that: "[T]here is on earth no greater enemy of man, after the Devil, than a gripe-money and usurer, for he wants to be God over all men... Usury is a great, huge monster, like a werewolf... And since we break on the wheel and behead highwaymen, murderers, and housebreakers, how much more ought we to break on the wheel and kill... hunt down, curse, and behead all usurers!"
    What Marx did was to update and reinvigorate the slumbering anti-capitalist impulse, combining it with Hegelian philosophy and a smattering of Classical economics. To an important and often overlooked extent, Marx merely repeatedly medieval Christian accusations:
    What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering What is his worldly god? Money.
    Very well: then in emancipating itself from huckstering and money, and thus from real and practical Judaism, our age would emancipate itself...
    The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jews. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange.
    On the Jewish Question
    Aside from invective laced with anti-Semitic undertones, Marx made several specific claims about the evils of capitalism.
    • Capitalism drives workers' wages down to the subsistence level. "The average price of wage-labour is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence, which is absolutely requisite to keep the labourer in bare existence as a labourer." (Manifesto of the Communist Party) While Marx lived and wrote during a era when the standard of living of workers was rising at unprecedented rates in the world's capitalist centers in Britain, the United States, France, and Germany. Instead of noting these remarkable advances and trying to figure out how to magnify them as much as possible, Marx simply denied that improvement was occurring. He was not so blind as to deny that capitalism brought vast economic progress; rather, he repeatedly denied that any of this economic progress improved the lot of anyone but a small minority of exploiting bourgeoisie.
    • While capitalism brings enormous economic progress, it is fundamentally unstable. Marx thought that wealth would become constantly more concentrated in the hands of a small number of capitalists, which would make the antagonism between workers and bourgeoisie ever clearer and sharper. At the same time, he argued that depressions would inevitably grow more intense so long as capitalism endured. As Marx puts it, "Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument... The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated." (Capital, Vol. 2)
    • A society's economic system determines it culture, art, religion, philosophy, and so on. In consequence, almost all of the evils of capitalist civilization can be blamed upon the existence of the capitalist system. This is the of elastic clause in the Marxian system, which allows almost any patent evil - even evils which have existed in nearly every human society - to be blamed upon capitalism. After all, "What else does the history of ideas prove, than that intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material production is changed? The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class." Does religion delude the masses? It is due to capitalism. Prostitution? Due to capitalism. Envy, alienation, war... all due to capitalism. Indeed, every unforeseen social evil has an obvious scapegoat upon which it can be blamed.

    The Attack on "Bourgeois Freedom"
    Czarist Origins of Communism

    The Theory of Class Warfare

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