I might be a Marxist. There, I said it. God, that feels good.
Now, if you haven’t left me for another blog, I’ll try to explain.
I’ve heard all the critiques of Karl Marx and the Communist utopian dream. There is, no doubt, that attempts to realize Marx’s ideals on a large scale have certainly struggled to succeed. Too, I can’t defend or explain away the atrocities carried out by 20th Century Communist dictators. Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong are certainly not names you want on your Marxist marketing materials.
Before you get too excited about my critique of Communist dictators, though, keep in mind that the same critiques can be leveled at Right Wing Fascist dictators in the 20th Century. Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were every bit the monsters their Communist counterparts became. At their worst, Communism and Capitalism dehumanize citizens and subjects them to the will of powerful self-interested parties. But this is an apology for Marx so allow me to get back on track.
I’m uncomfortable with the century-long malignant smear that Marx has been subjected to. Anyone who has read Marx and sought to understand his use of Hegelian dialectics has to appreciate the value of his optimistic humanism. Marx is ultimately concerned about each person having the freedom to know and understand themselves and others in their communities. He highly values labor; more so than even the most industrious capitalist. But he also values the life of the mind and creative endeavors. For Marx, people aren’t simply defined by their capacity to produce things or to consume them. They create sophisticated cultures that traffic in the arts and sciences. But the development of the arts and sciences are valuable for their own sake, not for their fitness to be bought or sold. Marx is not an idealist, though. He is a materialist who asks us to imagine a human existence where everything is not commoditized and mass-produced; a life where we are more than consumers. This is Marx, the materialist. But this is not the Marx that people dislike.
The Marx that causes people distress is Marx the Revolutionary. This is where his philosophical sophistication becomes more evident. Marx was deeply influenced by the early 19th century German philosopher, Georg W. F. Hegel. See, Hegel had ideas about how conflicts between competing ideas were resolved. Specifically, these conflicts were resolved in a sophisticated process of contradiction and negation. I will leave it for you, the reader, to dig more deeply into Hegel. Marx found this dialectic, or process of rational debate, compelling, but thought that it needed to be applied to the real world of human activity and not, as Hegel thought, to the world of the mind. What Marx saw in history and the cycles of civilization was a process of struggle between a ruling in-group and a subjected out-group until the marginalized fought to secure their freedom of agency and self-determination. To simplify this idea, think of snow falling on a mountain. Snow will continue to pile up until it reaches a critical mass and the mountain can no longer hold it in place. At this point, an avalanche ensues and the ostensible balance is overthrown. This is the moment of struggle and illustrates the moment when opposing political and economic forces give way and, because of their interaction, a new normal is established. Marxist political theory doesn’t just allow for revolution, it anticipates it. This is largely the cause of general fear of Marxism. It necessarily violates the status quo. But what if the status quo is unjust? What if business-as-usual has institutionalized the oppression of certain groups of people? What is their recourse when their needs for basic provision, education, and employment are unmet and their voices unheard? Marx insists that the way forward is struggle.
Back to my confession…
I might be a Marxist because…
…I see the significant and valuable contributions people make to institutions being stolen through unjust wage and scheduling schemes;
…I have to watch people die for not having access to even the most basic preventative health care;
…I have to look on as people in desperate need of mental health services cannot get them because they have been defunded by the government and, instead, go to prison;
…I see the arts being defunded and underfunded because they are not economically viable;
…I believe that privatizing goods and services only makes them more expensive and enriches very few;
In short, I am not a Marxist because I can imagine a society where we stop worshipping wealth and begin valuing simplicity and contentment. I may be a Marxist because I believe that kind of society is worth fighting for and am prepared to struggle to make it a reality.