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Friday, April 29, 2016

Marx and Socialist Philosophy (Part 2: Marxism and Its Impact)

Marx and Socialist Philosophy

Adam Martin
Section 4

Post 1: http://cophilosophy.blogspot.com/2016/04/marx-and-socialist-philosophy-post-1.html

Post 2: Marxist Theory

I have to ask a favor of everyone reading this in order for you to understand Marxism and other socialist ideas.  Because of the impact of state socialism in countries like the Soviet Union, the majority of Americans (and many outside of the US) associate socialism with government regulation of the market.  I need you to throw out this notion.  The shortest possible definition of socialism is a classless society, one in which there is no distinction between those who work in industries and those who own them.  The fact that the vast majority of anarchist movements in the world have been socialist/communist should prove the fact that socialism and communism do not necessarily mean state control of the economy.

Now that that is settled, I can go over Marxist theory:

Understand that everything I write regarding Marx's theories is simply the views of Karl Marx.  I am not trying to preach, but simply explain his beliefs.

The Marxist Dialectic

Inspired by Hegel, Marx took Hegel's dialectic method and used it to demonstrate how class conflict leads to huge changes (or revolutions) in society.  The basic idea behind his theory is that the contradiction of the ruling class seeking greater power and wealth at the expense of the lower class and the lower class seeking greater power and wealth at the expense of the upper class will always lead to an eventual break in which the lower class revolts against the established order.  An example often cited by Marxists is the French Revolution, which replaced the nobility of France with a rising middle class.  The power, wealth, and land that the nobility were once privileged to became available to the shop owners, merchants, and business people of the growing towns.  The peasants who once worked the land of the aristocrats now had to pay rent for the farmland or migrate to the towns in order to find better paying work.

Marx saw this as an example of a social revolution, in which the ruling class is replaced by one of the classes subservient to it.  In this case, the feudal system of landowning aristocrats and noble families is replaced by business and money interests, in which those who have capital, meaning the means to employ hired labor, have the political and economic power.  Whereas the nobility held power by inheriting the prestige built by their ancestors in service to a king, the capitalists used currency as their means of establishing dominance.

Although Marx wholeheartedly approved of capitalism over feudalism, he believed that capitalism did not solve the problem of class conflict, as we are now left with a class of owner's pursuing their interest in opposition to the interests of their employees.  He was under the impression that the only way for this constant battle between labor and capital to end would be the end of the class system as we know it.

I found this online, and it is the most clear explanation of Marxist dialectics I could find

Marx's Theory of Alienation

Karl Marx believed that as technology led to increased production, it also led to much more alienating work for the working class.  Whereas a farmer feels a connection to their land, a painter to their art, and a musician to their music, a worker feels nothing when they are forced to pull levers and press buttons for several hours a day, unable to have any real impact on what is being created other than by doing what they are ordered to do.  This feeling is called alienation, and Marx described it in four ways:

1. Alienation of the Worker from the Work
Does a McDonald's employee feel a personal connection to every burger they make?  It is unlikely that, even if they felt any personal attachment, they feel as strongly connected to it as a musician does to the songs they write.  That is because this worker has no control over what they produce, and simply follow orders.  Even though human beings are creative creatures, they are asked to forsake their creativity while laboring under capitalism.

2. The Alienation of the Worker from Working
I think the easiest way to see this is to think about the jobs that, if technology were advanced enough, could easily be replaced by machines.  Think about how self checkout machines essentially perform the same services as a cashier, yet the computer certainly hasn't achieved artificial intelligence.  That is because the work requires less conscious thought and more repetitious motions, and therefore forces the worker to disconnect themselves from their humanity while working and assume the role of a robot.  This is in contrast to any job in which the worker is given several tasks that require independent thought to complete, such as a farmer planning and preparing for planting and harvesting.

3. Alienation of the Worker from Themselves
As the workers feel alienated from their work and are left completing tasks that they do not care about, they start to see themselves as inhuman and question their purpose in life.  Rather than seeing themselves as a subject, meaning that which has power to take action, the workers see themselves as objects, meaning that which is acted upon.  If someone has no control over their lives in this way, then how can they see themselves as human?

4. Alienation of the Worker from Other Workers
I applied to work at Kroger once, and as I was waiting for my interview, an older woman came in and sat next to me.  My first thought was to treat her as competition, an object in my way of acquiring a goal.  I didn't take into account what her position in life might be, or whether she needed the money more than I do.  In this way, workers are influenced to see their coworkers as inhuman.  By pitting the workers against each other, the capitalists can extract more effort out of them, and force them to lower the cost of their services.  As all the workers have to sell are themselves, they let the bosses get away with mistreatment and abuse so that they can convince them to not give their job to other people.
The movie Office Space is great at showing this idea, even if it is unintentional

Marx's Theory of Exploitation

I am surprised that we did not hear anything about Marx's Theory of Exploitation in this class, as it is arguably the idea that inspired socialist revolutionaries the most.  I will use a hypothetical scenario to explain this idea:

Imagine a laborer in the 18th Century making product "X."  They work eight hours a day to produce 10 of X, and make $1 an hour.  It takes $7.50 a day to get by, so they are barely making it.  Suddenly, someone manufactures a machine that allows a worker to make 100 of X in eight hours rather than 10.  Unable to keep up with the competition, the original worker moves to the city to work in a factory operating one of these machines.  Strangely enough, even though they produce 10 times as much as they did before, they still make more or less the same amount of money, which is just enough to keep them alive and working.

According to Marx, this example proves that it doesn't matter how much a worker produces themselves, because technology is constantly making it easier to produce greater amounts of products, but that they will be paid for their time, or, their labor-value.  This is because the capitalist class controls how much they get paid, no matter how much profit they generate.

Using another hypothetical example, that worker who makes $8 a day produces $16 of goods, but the capitalist takes the other $8 as their just due for providing the machines.  Now, if one believes that workers are paid for their time and not how much they produces, as the previous example attempts to show, this means that the worker should be paid $2 an hour, and if that is true, the worker was only paid for four hours of work, and the other four hours can be counted as unpaid labor.  That is where the concept of wage-slavery comes from.

This is why socialists are distinctly different from social democrats.  Whereas a social democrat wants to create a higher minimum wage, a socialist believes that wage itself is an injustice, as it puts the power in the hands of only one side in class relations.

The Solution

Marx saw socialism as the solution to capitalism's problems because it allows the workers to own the factories, businesses, and land themselves.  He believed that socialism would then naturally turn into communism, which would mean a classless, and stateless society.  That practically makes the term "communist country," an oxymoron, as communism literally cannot exist according to this theory within a state.  In regards to the socialist countries that we are generally made aware of, this takes the form of working class revolutions in which the workers seize control of the state and manage the means of production through the state system.  This is the example of socialism the Soviet Union has shown us.  While this technically can be counted as socialism, it can only be so if one believes that the working class maintained control of the state apparatus and not a class of bureaucrats separate from the workers.

However, there have been attempts at socialist revolutions that reject state control as a means of establishing socialism.  I mentioned at the start of this post that socialism at its most basic fundamental definition is a "classless society."  One of the ways socialists have attempted to create this is by establishing workplace democracy.  Workplace democracy is the idea that the workers should be allowed to elect their managers themselves rather than be appointed managers from above, and that wages would be decided on democratically.  It is the idea of making the workplace political and giving every worker a voice to be heard.  This would, effectively, put power in the hands of the working class, and remove the idea of another class ruling over them.

I understand if this all sounds very complicated, and I apologize both for going too in detail and probably not in detail enough in some parts.  My primary goal with these two posts has been to show Marx in a different light than he has been shown, and treat his work as fairly as possible.  Professor Oliver, if there are any key misunderstandings you think you see, let me know, as I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject.

Honestly, Marx's work fascinates me most of all because it is so different from what I expected, having heard all my life that he was all about government control and nothing but, and because I think it is rather noble to attempt to explain why inequality and economic injustice exists in the way that it does.  Whether I agree with him on everything or anything is not the point.  I just think he has been severely misunderstood.

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