The C Word

Posted on Posted in Communism, Ethics, Political Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized

Not that C word, the other C word, “communism.”

I’ve been informed, after my last post, that not everyone thinks communism is awesome. And further that it is a bad move to associate any progressive idea, including basic income, with communism.

Maybe I’m just stubborn but I think part of what advocates of progressive policies should be doing is talking about communism and socialism.

Why? For the same reason we should be talking about basic income, because it shifts the conversation to the left. If there are people out there talking about cutting all social services we need to be talking about communism.

The other reason we should be talking about communism is because much of what Marx had to say was true. Communism, for many people, is an anathema but most people fail to realize that many policies that we accept as perfectly normal were radical at the time and advocated for by Marx. Most notably a steeply graduated income tax, universal education for children and a ban on child labor. These are all things we take for granted but were “communist” ideas at one point.

To the question of whether Marx was right regarding his critique of capitalism the answer is a bit complex. Marx predicted that capitalism would fall apart and would give rise to socialism, and eventually what he called pure communism. From one angle we might be inclined to say he was wrong. The only communist countries that exist have fallen apart and capitalism has triumphed. America won the cold war and with it capitalism won the day. But that is certainly an oversimplification.

To see how much of an oversimplification that is let’s imagine that Marx is alive today. How would he classify the world’s economic system? In the third world he would say they are still in capitalism but in the developed world he would probably think that we were in the beginning stages of socialism.

He was obviously wrong about how the transition from capitalism to socialism would happen, there was no massive proletariat uprising. But there were worker strikes and labor unions and minimum wage laws, and limitations passed on child labor, and limitations passed on total hours per week one could be forced to work, and laws passed regarding safe working conditions, and a graduated income tax, and social welfare system, and universal health (in every first world country except the United States, and social security, and unemployment insurance, and universal education, and banking regulations, and environmental protection laws, and pretty much all the other standard features of the modern liberal state that we take for granted. Starting in the 19th century there was a powerful workers right movement that could be thought of as a Marxist or communist revolution.

I think Marx would just revise his theory to say that we are passing through a stage called pre-socialism. Capitalism, as Marx knew it, the capitalism of the 19th century, is long gone. In its place is something else, something in between capitalism and socialism. I think Marx would have a pretty good case to make that he was right on the big things but just wrong on the details regarding his predictions.

I don’t think liberals should shy away from talking about communism. We need to take back the narrative around communism to show that much of what we take for granted about our current economic and political system is, in an important sense, communist. Marx wasn’t the only one talking about this type of stuff. So it might be more appropriate to call these idea liberal rather than communist but I think it is important to acknowledge communisms contribution to the current economic, social, political, and intellectual landscape.

Much of the problems in American have their roots in the strong anti-collectivism, to use a more neutral word, that runs deep in the American psyche. I believe that talking about communism and related ideas are an important step to moving forward the political debate.

I don’t consider myself a communist or a Marxist but I definitely think talking about communism is a fertile ground for figuring out what is wrong with our current economic system and how we might best go about fixing.

Marx of course did have one unfortunate idea. The idea that people should rise up in violent revolution against oppression. This was an idea that was philosophically misguided, had absolutely terrible consequences, and should be rejected categorically.

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