by Ron Burkham
Some people in the movement seem to want to hold on to the relics of the past as if their lives depend on it. I believe this is due to an inability to comprehensively come up with new approaches to age old problems. Of course, that is only a part of it. There is also the refusal to face the reality of the situation, as it is now and how it has been. In some places, the idea of a socialist revolution based on the precepts set forth by Karl Marx may make sense, but most places don’t fit the bill. Marx was concerned with the struggle between two unique classes, the bourgeois and proletariat. I have heard bourgeois applied to so many different people and ideas that the word has no meaning any more. Anyone that points out the reality of the situation is bourgeois. It is pretty sad really. It is no longer a prerequisite that someone be intellectually honest. Honesty and intellectualism are shunned. And the revolution is a failure because of it. Socialism has brought about more authoritarian governments than the ones they attempted to replace. Marx already said that, “The traditions of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” He was an advocate of looking forward as opposed to living in the past. It is time that revolution meant just that. Revolution.
Ancient Language and Modern Reality
It is important to consider history and the context within which Marx was writing before we attempt to apply those terms and words to our modern world. The situation today, though we can draw parallels, is not the world of the 1800’s.
Wealth in the 1800’s was measured by psychical property. The more psychical property, the wealthier someone was. Land ownership was restricted, by law, to the bourgeois class that Marx was talking about. They owned “the means of production” because the property and everything on it, regardless of who did the work to produce it, belonged to the land holders. These bourgeois claimed all sorts of rights and liberties with the people whose lives they controlled. And all of this was enforced by the legal system that was in place. There was no way to move from the lower class and it was reinforced by the law.
Today the socialists equate the poor with the proletariat. This is not an apt comparison. Yes, there are struggles to being poor. Getting by day to day can be a struggle and the prospect of home or land ownership seems like a pipe dream to some. But this condition is not necessarily imposed by law. There are definitely things that the government does to maintain this lower class, after all, one side needs the cheap labor and the other side needs someone to point to so they can say how far we need to go. But the days of the company or landlord being able to oppress them are long gone.
There is a monopoly on land and how it can be used and by whom. But that monopoly isn’t in the hands of the rich landlord anymore, instead it is in the hands of the government. They draw borders and institute programs that control the flow of people and goods and restrict ownership of land that is not being used. The federal government in the US is the largest single land holder. And I assure you, they are not about to let the productive class claim any right of appropriation on that land. It is in this way that the government controls the scarcity of resources and keeps the poor from using their labor and mixing it with the land to create a life for themselves.
The scarcity that existed in the time of Marx and Friedrich Engels no longer exists in this day and age. Yes there is a “class gap” between the rich and the poor, but the ability to transverse that gap is no longer limited to a direct uprising and “theft” of the wealth. Today people change between these groups on a regular basis. The idea of redistributing wealth is nothing more than advocating theft. The reason a large Marxist movement has never taken hold in the United States, and never will, is because the conditions of scarcity of basic resources do not exist. We have only ONE class that controls the wealth, the government class. We don’t have a group of people starving and working for their mere sustenance, despite the claims of some. There are not people dieing of hunger in the streets, there are not great lords of the manor forcing people to work their factories just to get by. Some people like to paint this picture but it simply isn’t true. Again, there is an inability or a direct attack on honest discussion, based solely on the need to create a struggle that doesn’t exist. Without that struggle, the conditions Marx pointed out for the seeds of revolution do not exist.
So we are left with socialist movement within government institutions as the means of effecting the change from a statist society to a free society. What do they create instead though? A regime that is even more authoritarian than the previous one. Instead of creating a free society, they create a society were all “citizens” are condemned to equal slavery. The idea that the accumulation of power into the hands of these self-proclaimed defenders will result in more humane treatment has proven to be false time and again. Their actions do nothing to return the power of self determination to the people; instead their programs drive the wedge between the ruling class and the people deeper. They set the chains in stone, they make the whip seem to be made of velvet and they convince the people to give up freedom in the name of the “greater good”. There exists no greater good in society than freedom. Only one class benefits from this relationship, the ruling class. Far from the ruling class of Marx’s time this group uses their social programs to maintain the illusion of a compassionate hand. The illusion is so appealing that it is accepted by most without question.
There is a class struggle in this country as I briefly touched on above. Far from being the bourgeois class spoken of by Marx, the current ruling class consists of the government itself. With a monopoly on the land, the law, the money and the use of force, they are able to create social and economic situations that seek to ensure that they maintain power. The goal, no matter how altruistic they try to make it appear, is to keep the hierarchical system in place, with them firmly on top.
So why do some people embrace this “collection of power”, even if it is into the hands of a local council or group? The very idea that a group or collective can adequately represent the individual is a fallacy. Only the individual can and will work in their best interest at all times. This may include appointing a representative for themselves, but only if the representative is willing and able to make their wishes known to the letter. That means for a society to exist each person must have their voice heard and be allowed to make their decisions based on their own internal truth.
Any system that doesn’t recognize the sovereignty of the individual is an enemy of freedom. Government, even on the local scale, is still government and by nature is the enemy of freedom. It is time that we refocus the class struggle from the economic angle and realize that the struggle exists not between the rich and the poor, but between the controllers of the markets and the labor. This was the actual message of Marx and one that seems to have been largely ignored or at least hijacked by self serving would be gods.
The favorite target of the old movement was capital. But we have to look at what capital and wealth were in that day and age. It is time to ask ourselves if the situations that Marx described at the time fit with our knowledge of what capital is today. Capitalism has become the enemy, even though the word is taken out of context and applied to an economic system that it doesn’t represent.
Every person is their own highest authority. No one has a moral right to place limitations on what they can achieve, how they can live or who they can associate with. The free person knows that their life has value. Knowing the value of that life, they are able to make any decisions necessary to sustain that life. Thinking and acting on those thoughts can not be interfered with by anyone else, unless those actions interfere with the freedom of another. Self ownership is one of the cornerstones of life. All other rights are derived from the idea of self ownership. The state can only infringe on that fundamental right, by proclaiming themselves the voice of the people. The only person that can speak for me is me. Anyone else that tries to do it is robbing me of self ownership. No government or group can come “close enough” to holding my best interest at heart. No one, not government or a group or an individual, can ask me to trade or act in any manner that causes me a loss of any sort. That is an underlying part of self ownership. By nature, man will always act in their own best interest; therefore transactions between people are always a net gain so long as people are allowed to enact those transactions of their own free will.
This is capital. Each person, their skills, their beliefs, their thoughts, their actions, the fruits of their labor, all those thing are included in capital. Simply stated, capitalism is a belief that an individual has total moral right to all those things.
Instead of embracing capitalism, it comes under attack. I have to assume it is from a misconception of what capitalism is. Just for the record, we don’t live in a capitalist system. We live in a system that business has set up, in collusion with government, in which exploitation MUST happen for the system to work. From the worker being exploited by the owner to everyone being exploited by the government, this system is evil to the core. This is not the free market.
In the free market, you are free to make voluntary exchanges for goods, commodities or services. These transactions are between two people. There is no outside force that can be applied to any part of the transaction. When the transaction occurs, both parties gain from it. The environment for a free market to work in can’t exist in conjunction with a government that is able to influence those transactions. Any criticism of capitalism that blames the system for the actions of the government is at least ill-informed, at most an outright fabrication.
158 Years of the Same Ol’ Song and Dance
The failure of the Marxist revolution has not stopped people from holding onto the ideas that he espoused. At the time they were revolutionary, today they are tired and empty rhetoric. Marx never intended for his work to become the bible of anyone. He wanted to provide a basic insight into revolutionary thought and action, which he succeeded well at doing. Unfortunately we see people have stagnated and can’t get past the ancient slogans and movements. There is no movement today. There is nothing but small groups holding on for dear life to ideas that many of them barely comprehend today. The only remnants of that school of thought making any movement today are unable to come up with a plan to get from here to there. They realize that the communist society they envision can not come about through socialist revolution, so they advocate and end to the state. But to what end? Only to replace it with a new state when the old one is gone. Though this is a broad generalization, it is easily seen within their ranks.
We have seen the rise of socialism in many facets and many countries around the world. Usually leading to a depressing, oppressive end. The nature of man is to work in his own self interest. We can not deny that, in fact we should embrace that. To ever see real change we have to take into account the nature of humankind focus our thoughts on achieving change with that nature in mind. As soon as power is concentrated in one central body it has the effect of growing exponentially until it is all inclusive. Without competition there is no motivation for those in power to work in a manner that will insure that their personal needs are met while at the same time working to be more attractive to the persons they wish to represent.
The inability of the socialist movement to get past the dictatorship phase is well known. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho, all have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that total power concentrated in the state or councils ends up in the hands of the most vicious perpetrators on Earth. Even the socialist influence on other countries like, Great Britain, the United States and Germany have shown that the aim of true freedom can not be achieved in a collectivist society. Unless we turn away from the mistaken thought that a small group can represent the whole of society, we can make no progress towards securing our own liberty, much less the liberty of even the smallest minority group in society, the individual. The only system that can achieve that is the one were every individual is totally free to make all decisions regarding their “self ownership”. Their property must be respected by all. The fruits of their labor must be theirs to negotiate or trade with as they choose. We must realize that there is no greater societal good than the freedom of the individual to do as they please in all maters, provided they grant us the same courtesy.
Problems and Solutions to Distribution
The problem of distribution of wealth has been addressed many times. But the answers, for the most part, have been unsatisfactory. The main reason for this seems to lie with the means of distribution. Only one system has consistently proven itself a model of efficient distribution and like it or not that is capitalism. When the individual has total control over the worth of themselves and are free to trade with anyone they wish, on any terms they wish, they can exercise true freedom. All transactions must be between individuals or their representatives. There can be no outside influence that will always consider THEIR interest in a transaction that does not concern them. They will always influence those trades in their best interests, despite what is in the best interest of the other parties involved. It doesn’t matter if this is a large centralized government or a local council. If they are given the power to intervene in transactions, their nature will require them to look out for their own interests in the transaction over anyone else involved. Not to mention the fact that giving someone, even if it is a local council, the ability to intervene in private transactions is giving them the ability to exert force against non-compliance.
The successful model of distribution will see that the real value exists in the individuals and that their transactions will lead to the betterment of the society. Just as freedom comes from the ground up, so does economic growth.
Today, to see any real change, we need to change our language. What existed at one time no longer exists. Holding on to failed ideas and slogans that mean nothing will not change anything. The most that can accomplish is to keep everything “as is”. That is unacceptable to the person that yearns for freedom.
It is time to learn from the lessons and words of people like Marx and tailor them to fit our personal reality. Not the reality of 19th century Europe, but today. It is time to live in the present and bury the dead. They are stinking up the place.