posted by Baird Williams
I just read the Communist Manifesto for the first time. This pamphlet adds so much clarity to our social situation, and we could learn much from thinking along the lines of bourgeoisie and proletariat.
As a starting point, I saw Michael Moore’s “Sicko” a few days ago. This movie fit so well with Marx’s general argument against capitalism: when the means of production, the capital, accumulate in the hands of a few, it is only a matter of time before everyone else is put in subjugation. Control of the means of production is power: if you have it or if you work for the man who does, it provides a livelihood. But when you have a company built on super-efficient, mechanized production (as companies surely will so that profit can be maximized), less labor is needed (and even the labor that is left is often unspecialized so that men become so many cogs in a machine). Necessarily, many are left in destitute positions and the rich get richer.
I can attest that there is a wide disparity between rich and poor. It is clear that the discrepancy is widening dramatically as time goes by. The fact is that many people need lots of help, and though there are some in positions to help many of those in need, most don’t (and none seem to help as much as they could). Marx gives a reason why, and it is one of his most important insights into the nature of capitalism: an economic framework based on self-interest and self-focus degrades how we view each other. He says that “no other nexus between man and man” remains other than “naked self-interest”. “Egotistical calculation” is the icy water that drowns any other approach to decision-making. Capitalism has “resolved personal worth into exchange value.”
Much of the Communist Manifesto propounds courses of action that I cannot agree with, and indeed strike me as self-defeating. (For example, Marx asserts that the oppressed class, the proletariat, must rise up and finally defeat their oppressors and, by defeating its rival class, can also abolish its own position of hypocritical supremacy.) I disagree with a large majority of Marx’s solutions. But, as the Manifesto asks, “does it require deep intuition to comprehend that…man’s consciousness changes with every change in his material existence?” In other words, it is readily apparent that a system based on self-interest will breed men who are thoroughly self-interested.
And it is now that your mind should turn to the torn and wretched fabric of our current economy. Is this argument not intensely and eerily relevant?
Consider a health care industry who at every turn must interact with and solicit support from insurance providers. It is a perfect picture of a profit-driven echelon of elevated individuals welding enormous power over vast numbers of dependent people.
However, the plot has become more convoluted than Marx could have dreamed due to the proliferation of debt. The market economy met every need of the common man long ago; but according to Marx, the controlling class of the elevated few can only remain in control by constantly revolutionizing both the means and the ends of production. It is at this point that the burden is on capitalists to invent products and convince us we need them. Welcome to the age of marketing, of commercials and celebrity endorsements and sales executives; we are very familiar with this epoch, aren’t we? And we have now mastered the art of convincing ourselves that we need ‘this’ and ‘that’ (at least until the new 2.0 versions are out) so completely that we have exhausted our means. Our consumption has outpaced our income; we cannot logically spend money we do not have, but we have found another way to accomplish it. And now, banks and other money-lending corporations (headed by these same elevated capitalists) literally control our future incomes. As Marx would say, those who control the means of production (and are already therefore in control of the masses) have now found a way to control the majority of its income (both present and future); if you are a have-not, this is an undeniably scary recipe (either a true have-not with bad credit or an illusory have-not saddled in debt).
The Communist Manifesto offers a clear narrative in which to place America today; the relevance of its arguments and the light it sheds on our current economic condition is a refreshing break from the cacophony of jumbled and disjointed opinions forced through American air waves.
For an interesting Christian perspective on this topic, see Rob Bell’s discussion of the term ‘anti-kingdom’ in his new book “God Wants to Save Christians”. Also, Michael Moore’s discussion with retired British Parliament member Tony Benn in the special features section of Sicko; he expounds on how money has become a religion.