It’s fascinating to me the way that Karl Marx comes up when Capitalism crashes and burns. Let me say up front that I’ve never bothered reading Marx, or done any sort of serious study of politics and economics. Did you know you can get an advanced degree without any study of economics, political science, philosophy, or religion? I’m living proof!
But I’m the victim of a public education in the United States which means I’m keenly aware of what my received attitude towards Marxism and Socialism is supposed to be, which is that the work of Marx begat the Russian Revolution, and the last century has been a valiant fight by the forces of Democratic Capitalism to vanquish Godless Communism. With a little detour into stopping the Nazis, at which point the Communists were our allies for a little while. The takeaway was supposed to be this: Communism and Marx were Discredited, and Democracy and Capitalism Won, and If You Don’t Like How Things Turned Out, The Terrorists Have Won.
It goes even further than that with conservative Christian sects. When I was a kid and subject to the teachings of the Mormon Church, they were convinced that Communism wasn’t a bad idea, it was THE BAD IDEA, i.e. evidence in the world of Satan’s handiwork. Furthermore in the forthcoming battle between Good and Evil it will be the Communists we’re fighting. Everyone was supposed to have a 6 month emergency supply to get us through the coming Final Conflict.
I don’t know what or who the LDS Church think their bête noire is now. Probably The Terrorists That Hate Our Freedom. What the fuck ever. But I don’t imagine they’ve started any meaningful critique of the failures of Capitalism. The LDS Church is itself a vast multinational Capitalist enterprise after all, exploiting their status as a church to avoid taxes. And while it’s doctrine officially decries materialism, material success usually translates into increased authority within the Church’s hierarchy. I don’t think it’s any stretch to extrapolate from my first hand experience with the Mormons to the broader world of Conservative Christianity; I’ve certainly heard enough railing against Godless Communism from TV Evangelists, and now that ‘Communism is Dead’ they’ve moved onto demonizing Islam. I hope, though, that the movement among Evangelicals towards environmentalism and social justice — a torch carried most prominently by Jim Wallis — is a growing trend and not just an abberation.
But anyway, I think this return to Marx, or at least renewed attention to Marx’s critique of Capitalism, is on the whole a good thing, because Capitalism is broken. At least the fake laissez faire Capitalism that has been practiced in the United States. I say fake because while the reduction of regulation of Capitalism has been a corner stone of conservative politics since Nixon, at the same time corporations have been able to influence the government into giving them billions of dollars of direct and indirect subsidies, and turn the legal system into a tool to suppress meaningful free market competition.
So I don’t know if Marx was right or wrong. I do know that the uncritical acceptance of Capitalism’s unerring primacy has gotten us into the mess we’re in. What we need now is meaningful critique and real reform. If Marx has some good ideas, then we should pay attention.