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Sohrab Andaz UWashington

July 25, 2012 Leaning Left

Liberating the Legacy of Karl Marx from Lenin, Socialism, and the American Right A lot of people nowadays, for whatever reason even though its completely fictitious, like to condemn President Obama for being a socialist. And unfortunately one of the names they add to the bunch is Karl Marx. In fact there is a lot of unwarranted controversy around Karl Marx. Was he capitalisms greatest critic? Yes, probably; I dont want to offend anybody who thinks theyre more even more critical. But was he in any way dedicated to the communism of Lenin, Stalin, or the USSR. No, certainly he was not. Was he even a socialist, a milder and less contemptible description? Unquestionably, he was not. Is he at least the ideological brother of Obama? Definitely, the answer is no. To prove my point let me quote Wikipedia. This is written on Wikipedias page about the communist manifesto, Karl Marxs most prolific and popular book. It presents an analytical approach to the class struggle (historical and present) and the problems of capitalism, rather than a prediction of communism's potential future forms. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Manifesto) Marxs magnum opus does not contain any details about how the future of communism will look. It does not describe the how the proletariats are to organize themselves after the revolution, how the division of labor will be made, how goods will be priced, or how the government will structure and accord itself. If you dont believe me, then actually read the book. And you will find none of the aforementioned details in the book. The book is not an instruction manual on how to establish and run a communistic government. The book is a critique of capitalism from first principles, and the most fundamental action that needs to occur for transcendence of these necessary ills. I will only give one example of a Marxian critique of capitalism and wage labor. But before I do that, let me describe what Marx did not condemn in the book. Marx did not take up issue with workers not being paid enough, or being forced to work long hours, with no care for the workers health, life, and wellbeing. Marx did not attack the absence of a minimum wage or a 40-hour workweek. And Marx definitely did not condemn the huge oodles of money that the business owners made.

Rather, Marxs critique is an a-priori argument from first principles and the definitions of wage labor and capitalism. The first argument that I will explain goes like this. In capitalism we like to think of the price of labor being fair. It is said that the worker is being paid a fair price for his labor. This wage reflects the time, the effort, the knowledge, and the expertise the worker puts in. But under closer examination this cannot be the case. Profit is at the foundation of capitalism. Businesses that can generate the highest profit thrive and those that cannot will be consumed by the competition. Its a necessary part of the system. Obviously, we calculate profit by taking gross revenue and subtracting expenditures. And obviously, wages are a part of expenditures. So necessarily for a company to generate profit, it must sell its goods for more than it pays in wages. Otherwise it will not generate a profit. Let me say that again: if a company generates a profit then the company must sell an item for more than it pays the worker to produce it. It is clear that therefore wages cannot be dubbed fair. They are necessarily exploitative. The exploitation of the working class by the business owner class is a necessary facet of the capitalistic structure. That being said, Marx does include the most necessary action that must be taken to transcend this exploitation: revolution. Why revolution? Because for Marx, everything else is reform. Let me explain. Marxs critique of capitalism is grounded in first principles and definitions. That is why, even today, with limits on labor, the minimum wage, unions, employee healthcare, child labor laws, womens equal pay we have still not yet answered Marxs critique. These are all reforms that we have enacted to make capitalism more comfortable. Weve just created a softer form of capitalism, where the exploitation doesnt seem that bad. However dont be mistaken: the exploitation is still very much there. Therefore the only way to rid the system of any traces of the problems is to destroy the system itself. The say way that democracy was a revolutionary answer to monarchy (the possibility for monarchy is nonexistent within the democratic framework), whatever will be proposed after capitalism needs to exclude the possibility of capitalism. It is the only way to get around Marxs critique because once again, his critique is grounded in first principles and definitions; this means that any form of capitalism is going to be exploitative. Only revolution and the complete obliteration of the status quo can give us a truly transcendent political and economic system. You need to escape the paradigm to really change it.

So what does this mean for the communism of the USSR and the socialism of Western Europe? Because both systems included wage labor and the need for profit, both are in fact capitalisms (although somewhat skewed capitalism; maybe Ill write about this later). In both cases, there is a working class, who labors, for a business, or in the case of the USSR, a ruling class: the men who ran the dictatorship. But both paradigms certainly are exemplary of the exploitation that workers face within any capitalist economy. It is not fair for critiques of Lenninism, USSR Facism, and Western European Socialism, especially the American right, to put Marxs name into the hat with all these other ideological and political architectures. Marx provided numerous incredible contributions to the field of political philosophy, and in my opinion he has been the most important thinker for the field (although a case can be made of Jurgen Habermas). True communism has not yet revealed itself; although, when the exploitation of the working class becomes unbearable, revolution will inevitably ensue, and I hope by then people have devised a proper solution to resolve the tension in the dialectic.