Marxism: Past and Future

Named after Karl Marx, this theory is both political and economic. It has provided the building blocks for modern communism as well as some socialist theories. The writings of Karl Marx have also influenced how modern economies function. Despite the fall of Soviet communism, a derivative of Marxist ideals, one cannot discredit many of the ideas of Marx. The communist government created by the Soviets veered off course and became a corrupt, state-managed failure. There are many merits to Marx’s writings; particularly the high esteem for social welfare. There is a strong element of philanthropy in this system, which is essentially good but has proven difficult to attain. We have extrapolated certain ideals from these writings to create stronger economies around the world and improve social welfare simultaneously.

The most fundamental Marxist premise is that throughout history mankind has been in a constant class struggle, and that a class could only rule if it was best represented by the current force in economic productivity. In this cyclical process classes would turn over throughout time and from this would emerge a classless society. The capitalist class (bourgeois) had replaced the unproductive feudal nobility and created a new industrial order. This set the stage for the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, who were to become the new productive class.

The center of the Marxist economic system is the labor theory of value. The value of a good is determined by the amount of labor required to produce it. Under capitalism, the wages of a worker are less than the value of the good, and the difference (surplus value) goes to the capitalist as profit. This is considered a form of exploitation over the working class as they were the productive force behind the commodities. The overthrow of the bourgeoisies was seen as inevitable as the working class became increasingly conscious to their exploitation. Marxists were seen as the catalyst to this downfall by introducing their ideas to the working class, forming labor unions, supporting any political party that favored the proletariat and by preparing the masses for a revolution.

After the fall of the capitalist, the proletariat would become the ruling class and centralize all production within the state. It was to become a state run economy with no class distinctions. The working class would remain the main force of production but would benefit from an even distribution of wealth and a better standard of living.

Communism grew directly from the writings of Marx and Frederick Engels. They lay the groundwork for the system in The Communist Manifesto and Marx further elaborates in Das Kapital. Among describing the labor theory of value and surplus value, the main drivers in the current capitalist system, they go into the downfalls of capitalism. The system is one of fluctuation, and therefore people will occasionally see hard times when demand for goods weakens. Marx suggested that these patterns would repeat and progressively worsen, leading to the ultimate breakdown of the system and the overthrow of the capitalist.

Marx continued by suggesting that under the capitalist system the economic conditions shaped society. The ideals were brought about primarily because of the industrial revolution. Working conditions were deplorable and there was little effort to improve the safety of workers. Wages were low due to an oversized labor force. Industrialization also created slum neighborhoods that sprawled out from the factories and warehouses. The advent of industry created social decay due to exploitation of labor and unequal distribution of wealth.

Marx’s ideas were weak mainly due to their highly idealistic nature. The labor theory of value fails to meet its intention in a practical setting: an obsolete good tends to lose value when it is replaced by a more modern one; Marx’s theory cannot grasp this except to say that it is the labor required to replace the item that determines value. His writings express controlled supply and production only for socially necessary goods. Supply and price are controlled by the state and is determined by the specific needs of the people.

Marx was not without his virtues; he saw the effects of a system that exploited human labor and exposed it. Additionally, he attempted to correct it by making detailed assumptions about a real solution. He made the working class increasingly aware of their exploitation. He fueled a revolution in Russia, and while the communist system failed there it lives on today in China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba.

One thing that is certain is the effects that Marx had on modern socialism. Like his writings, socialism grew out of the industrial revolution and adopted many Marxist ideals to improve social welfare. This movement found support not only among the laboring class, but also with intellectuals who believed the system had to be reformed for the benefit of humanity. There was a split between Marxist and non-Marxist socialists who disagreed on whether an overthrow was necessary or that working within the constructs of the current system was the best way. Non-Marxists favored changes through political, economic and social reform while maintaining the current capitalist structure. Marxists favored a complete revolution and redistribution of wealth.

Under socialism, private property would not exist for all the means of production (land, industrial capital, etc.) would be owned and regulated by the state. Modern socialists would agree that some privately owned industries are better run and maintained by individuals rather than the government. Additionally, the monetary system would be retained but controlled to great degree. Decisions pertaining to the supply of public goods would be made by the government, and resources would be diverted to the production of goods that satisfy the basic wants of the people.

Socialism today is not as scary of a word as it was 50 years ago. By adopting certain principles and combining them into their political systems many countries have improved the overall way of life for its citizens. Democratic socialism is becoming more popular, favoring a welfare state through democratic means.

Does Marxism have a future? It’s hard to say now that communism has fallen in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, western Marxists believe that the true revolution has yet to come and that true socialism is a dream. Modern Marxists feel that Soviet communism had nothing to do with true socialism. Capitalism is the current system throughout most of the world and it is unlikely to change. We still live in an individualistic society but we may be headed toward a higher social consciousness.

Marx’s lessons of capitalism have played out in one form or another throughout the last 100 years; however, the economies, despite common cyclical troubles, have proven more successful both economically and politically. Poverty is not necessarily flourishing throughout America, contrary to Marx. This success has proven that these economic systems are built to last while undergoing reforms over time to improve the system without completely rebuilding it. In many respects we are beyond Marxist ideals as a solution to our problems, for we have solved many of these problems through social and economic reforms within our current system. We are, in effect, using post-Marxian thinking to diagnose and solve our social problems despite the veritable impossibility of Marxist theory.

Moreover, the elimination of class in society would not readily be accepted. Those at the top enjoy being there and have typically worked hard to attain their class status. Today there is more class distinction than ever before; even within what is known as the “labor class.” There is a skilled labor force whose wages exceed those of the unskilled labor force, and they are therefore provided more opportunity than unskilled individuals. There are also highly paid technical engineers who perform labor on machinery and other products. Individuals working in management positions don’t necessarily make a higher wage than those laboring in his factories. For example, a graduate with an undergraduate business degree hired into an automotive manufacturer will make less in salary than a typical union employee working in an assembly plant makes in hourly wages.

One of the most vital downfalls in Marx’s writings is that his assumptions are mainly based on history. He sees it as a series of revolutions and ruling class replacements. However, never in history has the population grown as rapidly as it has over the last 100 years, and as a result we are not able to simply overthrow the ruling class and create a utopia for workers. Too many variables lie in the balance since we have built a political and social structure around this economic system. The system has provided more and more for society through reforms over time, and reform has proven successful. There is no need for a revolution.

It may seem that Marxism is on the decline due to the relatively small proportion of countries still following strict to its principles. Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and China are all that remain. The situation in Cuba is questionable, although their health care and education systems are reportedly on par with developed nations, their housing and social welfare systems are lacking luster. Cuba is weak economically and therefore is unable to provide new housing or even maintenance on older structures. It may have nothing to do at all with the US embargo on Cuban goods, but it is common belief that this is the primary cause. It is widely accepted that the Marxist government in Vietnam is coming to an end, and with China moving toward a market economy this leaves North Korea. The Korean system seems to be holding strong, and they are considered a growing threat to world security.

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