Friday, December 15, 2006

On Marx

So, I've been thinking a little bit about Marxism... it's been a few years since my serious studies of Marx, but i think i can still clarify a little bit of the distinction between myself and Marx, and thereby between myself and soviet style communists, Lenin, Mao, Castro, etc etc...

I agree with Marx on how history works and on how capitalism works, for the most part.

Where i think he went wrong primarily is in the outlines of a revolutionary change. He doesn't want to say a lot about this. Because, we can't know the nature of the revolution until it begins happening. He does give some information, which isn't completely consistent throughout his career, but the conclusion that many of his followers drew was wrong headed, and to some degree at some time, he agreed with them. His actions were directed toward that sort of revolution.

He believed that the proletariat was a revolutionary class, and that the proletariat revolution would be the last revolution. He thought capitalism was so effective in the way it organized massive numbers of people into factories that it would eventually result in those masses developing a class consciousness, rising up, and appropriating the factories and the entire economic and social system.

Many modern communists will argue that this theory is not necessarily flawed because it has not been tested. The Russian application of this process was totally fucked, capitalism wasn't fully developed in those countries, etc etc. but i argue that the theory itself is also flawed.

If you look at history, at Marx's understanding of how the capitalist revolution happened, it's a totally different process than what he thought would happen in a communist revolution.

A basic outline of feudalism-to-capitalism:

there were two major classes, nobility (lords) and peasantry (serfs). The lords ruled based on divine right of kings, inheritance and brute force. The serfs provided labor in exchange for protection from neighboring lords or from barbarians. the economy was primarily agriculture based. the primary economic arrangement was ownership, consensual slavery, serfdom. A third class developed, the bourgeoisie (merchants). They worked under a new system (capitalism). They embraced new technologies (factories, manufacturing plants). They focused on a different sort of product (commodities). They had a more efficient mode of production (exploitation). They created a new working class (the proletariat). Their system was superior to the existing system, more efficient. The nobility kept the bourgeoisie down through force and law, rules of land ownership. No matter how much money the capitalists had, they could not own land and had to work with the king's consent. Eventually capitalists became so wealthy, their system so superior that they were able to rise up overthrow and replace the existing system (with help from the serfs who they promised things like freedom and opportunity). The capitalists then set up their system, exploited the serfs and turned them into the proletariat.

The Communist revolution described by Marx follows a significantly different format than this. His revolution doesn't include a third, rising class, it doesn't include a period of both economic systems existing side by side with the obsolete one using state power to syphon off the wealth of the new more efficient mode. If history followed Marx's prescription for revolutionary change, it would involve the masses of serfs gaining class consciousness and rising up to steal the crown from the king. That idea is absurd and not really revolutionary, the base relationships of the system would either be unchanged or would be abolished without a replacement.

The history of failed communist revolutions are similar. Soviet Russia set up the capitalist system, except with the state in the place of the bourgeoisie. Mao in China began revolutions against his own government, called for a permanent revolution. The Khmer Rouge became homocidally desperate in their search for a replacement for the abolished system.

my outline of the capitalism-to-communism:

Two major classes, bourgeois (investors) and proletariat (labor). The investors rule based on private property rights, inheritance and brute force. The workers provide labor in exchange for wages. The economy is primarily commodity based. The primary economic arrangement is exploitation, wage slavery, appropriation of surplus value. A third class is developing, the creative class (artists). We work under a new system (art). We embrace new technologies (the Internet). We focus on a different sort of product (entertainment). We have a more efficient mode of production (cooperation). Our system is superior to the existing system, more efficient. The capitalists keep us down through force and law, rules of copyright and intellectual property. But we are becoming more independent, our system is so superior that will soon be able to rise up, overthrow and replace the existing system.

I'm not totally faulting Marx here. He was very responsible in not describing the revolution in detail, and he was right. There's no way he or his contemporaries could predict this sort of situation, but it is observably happening in our society today.

Just look at the music industry. The big five companies are all struggling, blaming all kinds of outside forces, trying to change the laws in their favor, and trying to make the new system fit into the boundaries of the old (iTunes, fake indie labels, alternative workplace designs). at the same time, independent labels are thriving and independent artists are able to organize their own tours and promote their product without any labels at all. Our music is better than their music. An empowered artist is a more efficient worker, making a better product at lower cost, than a bunch of career songwriters and marketing teams hiding behind the glow of their pop icons.

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