When we think of Karl Marx, we think of socialism, communism, revolution, and all things anathema to capitalism. Marxism is discredited and Marx can't solve the problems of the postmodern world, but perhaps reacquainting ourselves with his ideas can help us understand how we got into this dire predicament -- and how to dig ourselves out.
Marx famously wrote, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." We seldom if ever connect Marx with the problems of overpopulation or pollution or a presentiment of something even more insidious than class struggles -- namely, global warming.
History has conspired to marginalize Marx precisely when we need him most. Why?
First, his ideas were appropriated by Lenin and Stalin to justify the totalitarian system they created. Second, "Communism", reif ied as the Soviet Union and its Stalinist clones, failed spectacularly, while market-based economies -- "capitalism" -- prospered and eventually won the Cold War.
Third, to the victors go the spoils. The prime movers of corporate capitalism -- robber barons that go by such high-sounding names as venture capitalists, media moguls, investment bankers, fund managers -- turned the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War into a crusade against "socialism" and "big government", promote a greed-is-good ideology, and label everything that they don't like as "class warfare".
Surprisingly, Marx came close to anticipating industrial capitalism's Achilles' heel -- namely environmental depredation, carbon emissions, and global warming:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
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