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Forum Post: Why the ideas of Karl Marx are more relevant than ever in the 21st century

Posted 5 years ago on Jan. 27, 2013, 7:21 p.m. EST by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

By Bashkar Sunkara

Capital used to sell us visions of tomorrow. At the 1939 World's Fair in New York, corporations showcased new technologies: nylon, air conditioning, fluorescent lamps, the ever-impressive View-Master. But more than just products, an ideal of middle-class leisure and abundance was offered to those weary from economic depression and the prospect of European war.

The Futurama ride even took attendees through miniature versions of transformed landscapes, depicting new highways and development projects: the world of the future. It was a visceral attempt to renew faith in capitalism.

In the wake of the second world war, some of this vision became a reality. Capitalism thrived and, though uneven, progress was made by American workers. With pressure from below, the state was wielded by reformers, not smashed, and class compromise, not just class struggle, fostered economic growth and shared prosperity previously unimaginable.

Exploitation and oppression didn't go away, but the system seemed not only powerful and dynamic, but reconcilable with democratic ideals. The progress, however, was fleeting. Social democracy faced the structural crisis in the 1970s that Michal Kalecki, author of The Political Aspects of Full Employment, predicted decades earlier. High employment rates and welfare state protections didn't buy off workers, it encouraged militant wage demands. Capitalists kept up when times were good, but with stagflation – the intersection of poor growth and rising inflation – and the Opec embargo, a crisis of profitability ensued.

An emergent neoliberalism did curb inflation and restore profits, but only through a vicious offensive against the working class. There were pitched battles waged in defense of the welfare state, but our era has largely been one of deradicalization and political acquiescence. Since then, real wages have stagnated, debt soared, and the prospects for a new generation, still wedded to a vision of the old social-democratic compact, are bleak.

The 1990s technological boom brought about talk of a light and adaptive "new economy", something to replace the old Fordist workplace. But it was a far cry from the future promised at the 1939 World's Fair.

The 2008 recession shattered those dreams, anyway. Capital, free of threats from below, grew decadent, wild, and speculative.

For many in my generation, the ideological underpinnings of capitalism have been undermined. That a higher percentage of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 have a more favorable opinion of socialism than capitalism at least signals that the cold war era conflation of socialism with Stalinism no longer holds sway.

At an intellectual level, the same is true. Marxists have gained a measure of mainstream exposure: Foreign Policy turned to Leo Panitch, not Larry Summers, to explain the recent economic crisis; and thinkers like David Harvey have enjoyed late career renaissances. The wider recognition of thought "left of liberalism" – of which the journal I edit, Jacobin, is a part – isn't just the result of the loss of faith in mainstream alternatives, but rather, the ability of radicals to ask deeper structural questions and place new developments in historical context.

Now, even celebrated liberal Paul Krugman has been invoking ideas long relegated to the margins of American life. When thinking about automation and the future of labor, he worries that "it has echoes of old-fashioned Marxism – which shouldn't be a reason to ignore facts, but too often is." But a resurgent left has more than worries, they have ideas: about the reduction of working time, the decommodification of labor, and the ways in which advances in production can make life better, not more miserable.

This is where what's evolving, however awkwardly, into the 21st-century socialist intellectualism shows its strengths: a willingness to present a vision for the future, something deeper than mere critique. But intellectual shifts don't mean much by themselves.

A survey of the political landscape in America, despite Occupy's emergence in 2011, is bleak. The labor movement has shown some signs of life, especially among public sector workers combating austerity, but these are at best rearguard, defensive struggles. Unionization rates continue to decline, and apathy, not revolutionary fervor, reigns.

Marxism in America needs to be more than an intellectual tool for mainstream commentators befuddled by our changing world. It needs to be a political tool to change that world. Spoken, not just written, for mass consumption, peddling a vision of leisure, abundance, and democracy even more real than what the capitalism's prophets offered in 1939. A socialist Disneyland: inspiration after the "end of history".




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[-] 3 points by Ache4Change (3340) 5 years ago

'To End Extreme Poverty, Let's Try Ending Extreme Wealth' - http://www.nationofchange.org/end-extreme-poverty-let-s-try-ending-extreme-wealth-1359387051 Thanks for posting this excellent article from the UK 'Guardian' paper. Do Americans have the courage to read it, let alone act upon it? Never Give Up Exposing The Oligarchy! Occupy The Real Issues! Solidarity.

[-] 2 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 5 years ago

Marxism needs ol'-fashioned Manifesto-thumping missionaries to spread the word of how to break the chains of worker exploitation and reform our bipolar society.

Still waters change very little over time, but a rushing torrent can change the landscape overnight.

[-] 3 points by Middleaged (5140) 5 years ago

shadz66...Perhaps we need Truly Independent Lawyers with some backbone ... almost like Elliot Spritzer was. Consider - 'THEY' write the laws and infect and subvert law departments & further to your interesting link re. AIG, I append fyi : •"AIG and Ethics : The Corporatization of Public Higher Education", by Shepherd Bliss ; http://truth-out.org/news/item/14185-aig-and-ethics-the-corporatization-of-public-higher-education - originally from - http://www.occupy.com/ .

fiat justitia ruat caelum ...


[-]1 points by Middleaged (2653) 0 minutes ago

Holy Crap. I'm only half way through. Great work here by Shepherd Bliss,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men's_studies https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Men%27s_Studies_Association AMSA is an independent organization that provides a forum for teachers, researchers, students and practitioners to exchange information and to gain support for work on men and masculinities.

I actually haven't seen this Wikipedia link on what being a man is all about.... I see a lot of links and further reading. Can we measure a man by his knowledge of morality.

I think this is important to ask. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to seek promotions, salary increases, more benefits ... in context of what we do to make the money? We want to protect and shelter our family .... but at what price to the community?

Who are we? What are we? Is it important how we serve the community? If we work in a job that cuts jobs from the community, state, or country... what does that mean?

I think the answer is obvious when you loook at Latin American History in Central and South America. People are used to approve job cuts, and to cut democracy from the people.

You are not just cutting jobs here in this state, or this community, you are cutting jobs in this country and ... the people that get them are not set free. The people that get your local jobs are getting crap.

There is no up side to all this discourse...

---So maybe I'm not 100% sold on Eliot Spitzer ... Eliot is a capitalist who was working for his own benefit. Like most of us, I guess. -------

[-] 1 points by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA 5 years ago

I agree

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (22872) 5 years ago

"That a higher percentage of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 have a more favorable opinion of socialism than capitalism at least signals that the cold war era conflation of socialism with Stalinism no longer holds sway." There is hope! Our young people are beginning to see the truth of the failures of capitalism.

Thanks for the excellent post.

[-] 1 points by gameon (-51) 5 years ago

they (18-30) have a higher opinion of socialism because its what they've been taught in the lib run schools.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (22872) 5 years ago

You are kidding right? Children are taught capitalism and consumerism in school. They are prepared for the corporate world in school. What school do your kids go to?

[-] 0 points by gameon (-51) 5 years ago

i was referring to colleges and universities. There are also " capitalism is bad" videos all over youtube.

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

Capitalism IS bad.


[-] -3 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

My history teacher last time I was in school used a communist textbook called A People's History of the World.

He skipped over large parts of history that is normally taught in school.

I think it depends on the teacher whether they choose to try and indoctrinate their students with Capitalist propaganda or Socialist/Communist propaganda.

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (22872) 5 years ago

"A People's History of the United States" is a monograph, not a textbook, so I don't know what school district would allow it to be used on it's own. And, "A People's History of the World" is fairly recent, I think. Anyway, is it wrong to tell history from the bottom up rather than the top down? I don't think so. It is just different.

As far as I can tell our education system's main goal is to ready our kids to become corporate drones.

[-] 3 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Yep, indoctrination as much as education. Otherwise they'd teach critical thinking skills. And it's got a lot worse since I've been in school, it seems.

A little while back while I was looking for something else, I came across one of my report cards from first grade. In addition to the typical grades for arithmetic and phys ed, we were also graded on, get this: 1. Listens well. 2. Follows directions. 3. Uses time wisely. 4. Completes tasks. 5. Works and plays well with others. Sounds to me like the perfect qualifications for the future assembly-line workers and corporate drones.

[-] 4 points by beautifulworld (22872) 5 years ago

Exactly right. Get 'em while they're young.

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Oh yeah. Young minds are like soft clay. Easy to mold.

[-] -2 points by justiceforzim (-17) 5 years ago

Actually, I find those 5 traits to be positive, in general.

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Well, they are. They also make for good students. But I couldn't help but notice how they also fit the profile of good worker bee. I'm sure my recent interpretation also had to do with my cynical mindset at the time.

[-] -1 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

For most, the goal of school is to get a job.

For me, the goal of school is learn.

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (22872) 5 years ago

That is very good. We agree on what the goal of school should be.

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago



[-] -2 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

Economics was a required course when I was in High School. The focus was most definately on Capitalism and not Socialism.

Socialism is more commonly taught in History class.

[-] 1 points by peacehurricane (293) 5 years ago

Exciting times are fast approaching and this is right up my alley. When you say peddle a vision Walt rocks and we can rewrite history according to legends. Rather than abundance during times with automation (supposedly) on our heels give us work doing what one is passionate about this will hold certain to appeal. Redefining the American Dream is whats real and it seems to me that it now is living in Peace and that is how the American Dream will be reality for us all as one People I AM WE...

[-] 0 points by ProblemSolver (79) 5 years ago

We can't keep borrowing money and pouring it into unfettered capitalism. It just doesn't work.

30 trillion dollars at the Caymen islands .. should be our first clue.. that unfettered profits are too high.

We desperately need to Cap Profits. It's the perfect Capitalism FIX.

With a Cap on profits, money would stay in the pockets of consumers.. making their lives a little easier .. and a cap on profits will sell more goods ..creating jobs ..

How many times do I have to explain this.

[-] -2 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

Communism and Capitalism and Socialism are bad.

Free think is needed, not Groupthink.

[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Well STOP showing off YOUR ''Groupthink'' and 'Cold War Propagandistic Miseducation' then, HC !!!

Open your mind and soften your heart !! You are NOT an island - so stop being so 'anti-social' dude !

Thanx for bumping a great old forum-post though & I'm digging your reverse psychology, if that it be :-)

ad iudicium ...

[-] -2 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

Sen. McCarthy was a raging Capitalist. Cold War america promoted Groupthink as much as War on Terror america does.

It is against the law in 38 states to think for one's self. In Alabama, standing up for yourself is punishable by lethal injection. In New York, standing up against BB can get LB to go after you in BB name's.

Neither, Communism/Socialism or Capitalism reconginize the fact that people are individuals and seperate and independent of all others.

There needs to be a system that puts humanity above economics.

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

"Decolonize the Consumerist Wasteland - Re-imagining a world beyond capitalism and communism.", by Arundhati Roy :

''The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States", by Gar Alperovitz :

"The Crises of Capitalism" (Video) :

''The Revolution Is Love'' :

Forget (but don't be ignorant of) the 'isms' & let us all try to aspire to an open mind and a soft heart HC.

Occupy Your Heart & <3 & Solidarity.

pax, amor et lux ...

[-] -2 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

I dont want, nor do I think a Revolution is neccesary.

I agree that Capitalism is bad, but I also think that Communism/Socialism is equally as bad.

I am against the concept of Solidarity. People should think and do for themselves. The Buddha said that you cant have compassion for others if you dont have compassion for yourself.

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

You are against 'Solidarity' which to my way of thinking is a function of 'compassion' so I'm somewhat non-plussed by what you say. However, we are very constrained here by the limitations of the English language but in the absence of deep meditation and psychic bridges, I append for your consideration :

IF you engage with the above, you'll get it deeply beyond the merely intellectual. DK speaks like none other in what sadly passes for 'politics' in ''The United Sates of Amnesia'', as Gore Vidal (RiP) called it.

veritas vos liberabit ...

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 5 years ago

the intellectual english don't care for absence

[-] 1 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Watch this Matt please and I defy you not to cry :-) DK starts after the 5m30secs intro :

DK speaks for 40 minutes but the 'Q&A' afterwards is very good and very inspiring too.

pax ...

[-] -3 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

What is the purpose of solidarity but to get people to think the same way. Your goal is to impose your Ideas on the world.

Why do people seek so much to "go beyond the intellectual"? Why can't we have a purely Intellectual conversation for once? What do you have against intelligence?

Think for yourself for once!

[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Apparently - ''The Buddha said that you can't have compassion for others if you do not have compassion for yourself.'' ! However, when I try to engage you at that higher level, you proceed to slip and slide !! You are not at all consistent & are increasingly coming across as a querulous and obtuse sophist !!! So, in a final attempt to 'intelligently' engage you 'intellectually' and to encourage you try to understand what it is that I am talking about here, I'm sincerely recommending this video to you :

If you an aware, honest and sincere American patriot - you'll listen to this good man. If not - you won't.

nosce te ipsum ...

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 5 years ago

Why in the world would being an "aware, honest, and sincere American patriot" ever be a desirable thing?

I'd rather just be me, whatever that entails.

[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

You're a misanthrope trapped in a 'rugged individual' / 'lone wolf' fantasy possibly and who is in abject denial of your dependency on other human beings. I can't help you with any of that but you should read more from the Buddha. I'll stick to pro-99% socio-economic and political awareness though :

Tho' you obviously don't open links, I again recommend that Kucinich video link and defy you not to be moved by it - but maybe that prospect actually scares you.

temet nosce ...