What is Marxism Anyway?
Posted on March 1st, 2022
by Rab Bruce’s Spider
From a fairly early age, right back to when I first started paying a little bit of attention to the televised News and began skimming through some newspapers, I learned that a Marxist was a very dangerous person. Not only were their ideas heretical and unorthodox, they were dangerously so because of their intention to overthrow nation states and impose either Communism or anarchy on western civilisation. This viewpoint was expressed so often that I rarely ever thought to question it, and it was a matter of faith that calling someone a Marxist was a way to dismiss them from any discussion because of their ludicrous ideas.
But what is Marxism? I must admit that I struggle to read any textbooks about economics. I find them dry and dull, and I soon lose interest. As a result, I’ve never read Das Kapital. However, I recently decided to try to learn a little bit more about what Marx actually said as opposed to what both his detractors and adherents advocate nowadays. For anyone who is interested, there is a very useful little summary produced by Washington State University which you can access at:
When you get to the end of that presentation, you will probably agree that the concepts proposed for the Marxist State which will succeed capitalism are both scary and unrealistic. Many of them were tried in communist Russia and the ideas essentially failed because … well, because a lot of people are greedy. Whichever economic or social system is implemented, there will always be those who wish to take advantage of any weakness in that system to enrich themselves.
So I’m not all that keen on the new type of state which Marx envisaged. However, if you read the explanations of how capitalism works and its effects on ordinary workers, it is very hard to argue against what Marx stated because it has largely come true. His ideas of how capitalism would be replaced as the dominant economic model have not yet come to pass, and it is hard to see how they ever will, but that does not invalidate his descriptions of how the greed of capitalists exploits workers, drives down wages and creates huge inequalities. You only need to look at the UK and USA for daily examples of these inequalities.
Now, I must stress that I am not a Marxist in the current use of that word, and I’m certainly not advocating a communist-style regime as the one Scotland should be aiming to become, but I do think that we should avoid knee-jerk reactions to Pavlovian-type triggers such as someone’s ideas being dismissed out of hand simply because they identify as a Marxist. As mentioned, though, the solutions to correcting the imbalances created by rampant capitalism do not lie in a sudden sweeping away of that system as was tried in Russia and China to name the two most prominent Communist states which arose in the 20th Century. In my opinion, Socialism rather than Marxism is a better option, but even that cannot simply wipe away the current world economic situation and replace it overnight with some other type of socio-economic model. We are where we are, and we need to find a way to change things. This won’t be easy because capitalism and the Tory way of thinking are so embedded in the UK population’s outlook. For decades we have all been told that taxes are bad, that free markets are more efficient than state monopolies, and that the way to escape poverty is to work harder. I really do hope that a lot more people have now realised that all of these statements are not matched by the reality of life in the UK.
So change will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Capitalism does create wealth, but the big problem is that the wealth is far too concentrated in the hands of a few people.
So how do we solve this? Well, for a start, many enterprises which were privatised under the Tories should be taken back into public ownership. Energy supplies and public transport of all sorts would do for starters. We should also remove any trace of privatisation from our Health Service.
Some people might argue that placing things in public ownership encourages inefficiency. That may be partly true, but I’d rather have some level of inefficiency than outright wealth extraction. Also, there is no reason why those who are appointed to run such public bodies should not be rewarded on a par with their counterparts who run private businesses.
And what about those private businesses? How do we prevent them from creating ever more inequality? Well, a bit of regulation would help. Like many things, capitalism needs to be regulated to prevent the greed factor driving decisions within capitalist markets. I have said in several earlier posts that human nature being what it is, some people will seek to exploit any loopholes in any system, and capitalism is no exception. This is why de-regulation has brought about the precise situation which Marx envisaged. The wealth which is currently concentrated in the hands of a few needs to be shared around a lot more evenly, large corporations need to be compelled to pay taxes, and workers need to be paid a living wage as an absolute minimum. Adding a firm regulatory oversight to capital markets might even end the "Boom and Bust" cycles we see all too often. That means that, instead of bailing out businesses like Banks in times of trouble, then allowing them to make huge profits once the crisis has passed, we could force them to follow a more conservative (that’s with a very small c) method of operating.
Restrictions on how much senior business executives could earn would also be required. I’m not necessarily advocating following the example of Dan Price, the American business owner who slashed his own income so that he earns the same as all his employees, but some sort of multiplier should be put in place. If, say, senior executives were only allowed to earn ten times the amount of their lowest paid employee, we would surely see some raising of lower salaries.
And if you think this sort of thing would cut productivity, then read about Dan Price in this article:
In short, then, I do believe that regulated and controlled capitalism operating within a socialist political framework could benefit everyone. As both Karl Marx and Dan Price have pointed out, greed is the problem. This creates huge inequalities which harm far more people than they benefit. I doubt very much that we will ever see complete Levelling UP to solve the problem of poverty, but a bit of Levelling Out would work wonders.