That the current political, economic, and social systems are so inherently corrupt, and completely anti-worker that they must be overthrown by a violent revolution of the workers, and replaced with an entirely new Communistic system, retaining nothing of the old system, in order for things to get better. It is this insistence on violence by Marx as the only means of lasting change, together with his rigid adherence to his changing the system from the top down, that loses any support I might have for his program.
It is not these aspects of Marx's philosophy per se , which have made him a viable political and economic philosopher for so many people around the globe for more than a century. Rather it is Marx's accurate predictions of the growing misery of working people, as well as the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, which occurs under the so-called free market capitalist system that has made him required reading for any student of economics, political science, history, or sociology in the Twenty-First Century.
Karl Marx and his Communist state, or Mikhail Bakunin and his Anarchist collective, are generally thought to be one extreme of the economic spectrum. The Chicago School of Economics (Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek, et al.), and the Austrian School of Economics (Ludwig von Mises, Murray K. Rothbard, et al.) are said to represent the other. The first two represent the extremes of socialism, the second two the extremes of free market capitalism.
There is no such thing as a truly "free" market. Any capitalist system that is not regulated by the government to work in the best interest of the nation as a whole will quickly degenerate into a self-serving system of economic, political, and social Darwinism. Within an unregulated capitalist system, the big fish will rapidly devour the smaller ones until a great leviathan of monopoly, or a coterie of collusion, establish control, ending freedom for any but the capitalists. This simple fact is as true as any generalization involving human beings can be. Adam Smith's infamous "invisible hand," lacks the ability to overcome the power of multinational corporations--if it ever had it--to effectively collude with, or eliminate their competition in this era of instantaneous computerized electronic communications and corporate earnings larger than most nations' GDP. When the first great American Tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt, was asked if he did not owe the public some consideration as he raised his shipping rates, he replied, "The public be damned." This has been, and continues to be, the watchword of large-scale capitalism around the world for more than one-hundred-and-fifty-years.
Ultimately, unregulated or "free market" capitalism, orbits about the twin concepts of maximum return and minimal risk. This means that: 1) the exploitation of workers by reducing their wages, benefits, and decreasing workplace safety; 2) the corrupting of government officials and bureaucracies for the sake of lower taxes, fewer regulations, and receiving greater government subsidies; 3) the elimination of other, competing businesses by any means possible; are necessary if immoral practices (from the point of view of what is best for the general public) for every successful business entity in a free market capitalist society. As Cornelius Vanderbilt once said, "What you call monopoly, I call entrepreneurship."
Capitalism is a very useful tool for an industrial society. Mahatma Gandhi once stated that, "Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed." ( Harijan , July 28, 1940.) Capitalism, like fire and government, is a dangerous servant and a terrible master. When capitalism is allowed to run uncontrolled, like the wild bull that is the symbol of a rising stock market, is when we discover that it most represents a clear and present danger to itself and the society that it is supposed to serve.
Socialism is also a very useful tool for an industrial society. It is the open recognition of the interconnectedness of all of humanity now and in the future. One of the hallmarks of an industrial society--or even the so-called "post-industrial" society--is the interdependence of the centers for the production of raw materials, transportation, communication, and manufacturing at both the national and international level. Today, Great Britain cannot sneeze without Germany, France, and the United States catching cold.
Improvements in the World's transportation and communications infrastructure over the last two centuries mean that an economic downturn in one developed nation means trouble for the rest. Most of the programs called "socialist" by the reactionary right, such as unemployment, national health care, welfare, Social Security, bank deposit insurance, etc. , are in reality a form of social insurance. For the bottom 90 percent of the population, this social insurance is their only protection against unforeseen events--from an economic downturn to serious illnesses like cancer--over which the working and middle classes have no ability to prevent or ameliorate. These programs are the sole protections most Americans have against falling into poverty in the advent of adversity.
There is nothing new to the concept of socialism except the name. To quote Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo (Times of London , April 6, 1992), "Real socialism is inside man. It wasn't born with Marx. It was in the communes of Italy in the Middle Ages. You can't say it is finished." Or as former Chairman of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev once stated (Daily Telegraph, London; June 16, 1992) , "Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind." It exists in the Gospel of Matthew (especially Chapters 7 and 25), the Jewish Talmud, and in the Jewish idea of " The Year of the Jubilee ." (See my June 13, 2010 OpEdNews article of the same name for more on this subject.)
The central questions that any form of socialism asks of society is this: how much wealth is enough for a single individual, how did they earn that wealth, and to what extent should that individual be required to contribute to the commonwealth for the benefit of all of its citizens?
No one has ever earned vast wealth completely on their own. The capitalist-owner has always had the assistance of workers, managers, partners, financiers, brokers, attorneys, suppliers, planners, distributors, accountants, government institutions and projects, and a multitude of others who helped make their wealth--or the wealth that they have inherited--possible. There is some dark part of the human psyche that makes us want to take credit beyond what we are due when we succeed, and avoid all blame when we fail. There is also a component of luck in the establishment of all great fortunes: whether it is Cornelius Vanderbilt's taking notice of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil and its potential for large-scale freight shipment; or Bill Gates learning of, and seeing the possibilities in, a software program created by Xerox that, when developed, would become Microsoft Windows.
Let's start by giving Marx's description of what he called political economy, what I believe is more properly called "the economics of laissez-faire capitalism," quoting from his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (pp. 120-121; 1844):
(1) By reducing the worker's need to the barest and most miserable level of physical subsistence, and by reducing his activity to the most abstract mechanical movement; thus [the capitalist--RJG] says: Man has no other need either of activity or of enjoyment. For [the capitalist--RJG] declares that this life, too, is human life and existence .
(2) By counting the most meagre form of life (existence) as the standard, indeed, as the general standard--general because it is applicable to the mass of men. He turns the worker into an insensible being lacking all needs, just as he changes his activity into a pure abstraction from all activity. To him, therefore, every luxury of the worker seems to be reprehensible, and everything that goes beyond the most abstract need--be it in the realm of passive enjoyment, or a manifestation of activity--seems to him a luxury. [The economics of laissez-faire capitalism--RJG], this science of wealth, is therefore simultaneously the science of renunciation, of want, of saving and it actually reaches the point where it spares man the need of either fresh air or physical exercise. This science of marvellous industry is simultaneously the science of asceticism, and its true ideal is the ascetic but extortionate miser and the ascetic but productive slave. Its moral ideal is the worker who takes part of his wages to the savings-bank, and it has even found ready-made a servile art which embodies this pet idea: it has been presented, bathed in sentimentality, on the stage. Thus [the economics of laissez-faire capitalism--RJG]--despite its worldly and voluptuous appearance--is a true moral science, the most moral of all the sciences . Self-renunciation, the renunciation of life and of all human needs, is its principal thesis. The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save --the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour--your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being. Everything which the political economist takes from you in life and in humanity, he replaces for you in money and in wealth; and all the things which you cannot do, your money can do. It can eat and, drink, go to the dance hall and the theatre; it can travel, it can appropriate art, learning, the treasures of the past, political power--all this it can appropriate for you--it can buy all this: it is true endowment. Yet being all this, it wants to do nothing but create itself, buy itself; for everything else is after all its servant, and when I have the master I have the servant and do not need his servant. All passions and all activity must therefore be submerged in avarice. The worker may only have enough for him to want to live, and may only want to live in order to have that. " [Emphasis added--RJG.]
Karl Marx was not the only person who took note of the basic immorality of the capitalist system, and its effect on Western culture and morality in general, and American culture and morality in particular. The great Hunkpapa Sioux leader Sitting Bull stated in a speech in 1875:
"Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possession is a disease in them. These people have many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not. They have a religion in which the poor worship, but the rich will not! They even take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.