Karl Marx and Communism

From: sites.google.com                    Menlo-Atherton High School  –  Senigaglia

This week we will discuss Communism and read some Karl Marx!  Still controversial after all this time…

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

So what was Karl Marx’s vision for the world? How did he view history, and what were his predictions for the world?  Here are some of his own words to help give us an idea of why he believed in Communism.
The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ The Communist Manifesto (1848; rev. English ed., 1888).

The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost every where a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with clash antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones. Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms: Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes, directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.. . .

Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases,in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of the machinery, etc.

Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the over-looker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

The proletariat, as the only social class radically opposed to private ownership of the means of production, and likewise as the only class which has potentially the power to paralyze and overthrow bourgeois society, as well as the inclination to collective co-operation and solidarity which are the motive forces of the building of communism, conquers political (state) power. It uses that power (’the dictatorship of the proletariat’) to make more and more ’despotic inroads’ into the realm of private property and private production, substituting for them collectively and consciously (planned) organized output, increasingly turned towards direct satisfaction of needs. This implies a gradual withering away of market economy.  This process is known as Socialism.

Mr. Senigaglia says: Sadly, however, this is as far as any “communist” country has ever gotten.  Socialism is supposed to be a temporary transitional phase which eventually leads to true Communism.  Communism is a strictly theoretical system in which all of society, all of economics and all politics are combined into one, perfect, classless, automatic, government-less system based on common ownership of all economic factors of production, and social sameness. This is still a utopian dream, and has never yet become a reality on Earth (unless you count certain traditional economies).  Also, consider how violent this revolution would have to be!  How do you force everyone to give up all of their wealth and ownership?  How do you force the government to give up all power and authority?  These actions would require massive amounts of violence, and human nature itself would probably doom the effort from the start.  Afterall, do humans really want to be perfectly equal?

Why do you think no country has made it past the Socialism phase of this revolution?

Marx’s companion Friedrich Engels is even clearer about his goal to eliminate government: From Socialism – Utopian or Scientific by Friedrich Engels, chapter III, paragraph III: “The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialized means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act, the proletariat frees the means of production from the character of capital they have thus far borne, and gives their socialized character complete freedom to work itself out. Socialized production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible. The development of production makes the existence of different classes of society thenceforth an anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production vanishes, the political authority of the State dies out. Man, at last the master of his own form of social organization, becomes at the same time the lord over Nature, his own master — free.”

Karl Marx also wrote a scathing critique of “Conservative Socialism” in The Communist Manifesto.  The Conservative Socialism that Marx condemns is precisely the attitude embraced by countries like the United States and France toward the plight of workers (though many here do not call it socialism). Welfare, Social Security and a minimum wage are all measures that Marx would dismiss as attempts to preserve the capitalist system by making the situation of the proletariat tolerable. Marx would rather just overthrow the entire capitalist system and be done with it.  However those in the United States who wish to preserve capitalism AND improve the lives of the poor often vote in favor of social programs that use tax dollars to provide much-needed services.  These services might include government-provided healthcare;money for the sick, elderly, disabled, or unemployed; minimum wage; job-creation programs; programs to help the elderly or poor pay for medicine; free schooling; etc. etc.  Marx seems to argue that these “reforms” are actually done in the interests of the bourgeois, in order to placate the proletariat and make them accept their low social status. Marx believes that this form of “socialism” is misguided; he contends that the only way to really address the grievances of the proletariat is through a complete restructuring of society (a revolution!). Liberals in these countries argue that these programs create a nice balance between capitalism and socialism.  They argue that pure capitalism creates a large gap between rich and poor, so social programs can be used to help the poor rise up from poverty, while still preserving the beating heart of capitalism that keeps our economy strong.  These programs provide protection for the weak, disadvantaged, and those who work hard their entire lives yet still remain in poverty (which happens to be a huge number of people in modern society).  Meanwhile, conservative citizens in these countries are often against these programs because they appear in their eyes to be unfair, socialist, unnecessary, too-expensive, or even unconstitutional.  Conservatives believe that welfare programs and free healthcare unfairly take money from the hard-working, wealthier members of society and spread it to those who did not earn that money.  If a man receives unemployment checks, for example, it actually gives him incentive to remain unemployed.  Many conservatives might argue that it is not the government’s job to create jobs, feed the poor, and provide healthcare; the government must instead ensure that private property and freedom are protected, taxes remain low, and the free market proceeds unhindered.  The free market provides ample opportunity for anyone to rise up from poverty, assuming that person has the ambition, intelligence, entrepreneurship, and desire to do so.  In their opinion, social welfare programs go directly against what capitalism stands for, and grows the government into a much larger beast than the Founding Fathers originally intended.  Some conservatives even see these programs as steps toward a communist revolution!  What do you think?  Should a government attempt to help its lowest members by instituting social programs? Do you want the government to create more economic equality, jobs, healthcare, education, environmental regulations, and lower-class protections (even if it means higher taxes)? Or should we stick to a more conservative approach and only allow the most necessary government regulations, thereby eliminating wasteful spending that limits the free market and spreads the wealth around?  Or should we go further and take the libertarian approach: eliminate ALL socialism from our system, eliminate most government regulations, end social welfare programs, and cut the government down to much smaller size?  Or maybe you believe that these “socialist” program don’t go far enough?  Should we have MORE socialism?  Perhaps the government should raise taxes much higher and provide absolutely free healthcare to all citizens, modernize our crumbling infrastructure, strongly regulate corporations, and ensure that the poor are provided for throughout the country?  All viewpoints are perfectly valid, and there is a place for you in the American political system no matter what you believe!
Original source

Here is how Karl Marx would interpret the story of the itsy-bitsy spider:

A Question…

Is any economic system truly evil or purely good? Is it fair to call communism evil? Why has “Socialist” become such a potent political insult? Why have others said that capitalism is evil?

To begin, let’s talk about why communism is often thought of as evil.  First of all, it fails wherever it is implemented. 
Reason 1) Communism disconnects price and production from supply and demand.  Here is a classic article on why the USSR failed for this reason: http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/why-communism-failed/
Reason 2) Pure communism can never be achieved unless we change human nature, which is impossible: http://enginomics.blogspot.com/2011/01/why-communism-has-and-always-will-fail.html
Reason 3) Marx’s theories are poorly constructed, vague, and based on wishful thinking rather than solid economic analysis: http://www.acting-man.com/?p=6074
In addition to that, the socialism phase of the revolution has historically been pretty traumatic to whichever country attempts it.  Attempted communist revolutions have led to totalitarian dictatorship in:




and North Korea

Not to mention the fact that many millions of innocent people have been murdered in the name of creating utopian communist societies over the past 100 years.  In my opinion, mass murder is no way to kick off a utopia.  Just ask the Romanovs what they think about Communism.

However capitalism is also far from perfect.  One criticism of capitalism is the rampant inequality in our society.  For example, here’s a famous study on language inequality between rich and poor children:


A recent study found that the world’s richest 85 people are as wealthy as the poorest 3 billion!  How do you feel about this?  What does this say about capitalism?  Should the government step in and attempt to create more equality?


So is it possible to successfully mix capitalism and socialism?  This is a controversial issue!  Some Americans believe that the government is becoming socialist any time they use our tax dollars to pay for government programs.  Should all government programs be privatized, or are some services just better when handled by the government?  Here is an interesting article on the limits of the free market, and what happens when the fire department is privatized.


Of course in modern society it’s nearly impossible not to have a mixture of free market and socialism.  For example, when free market businesses choose to underpay their workers and lobby against minimum wage hikes, their workers are often forced to turn to government aid to avoid lives of abject poverty.  Sometimes these corporation even recommend that their workers get food stamps: http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/24/audio-mcdonalds-tells-full-time-employee-to-apply-for-welfare-benefits/

Those more in favor of free market solutions to economic problems often call for lower taxes, and criticize Americans who live off of government programs.  For example, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney made an interesting point that 47% of Americans pay no income taxes.  This is actually a true statistic!  However many of those people actually don’t even make enough money to pay the minimum income tax rate.  Perhaps this tells us more about the state of American poverty than about flaws in our tax system.  Read about it here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/09/18/161337343/the-47-percent-in-one-graphic?utm_source=NPR&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=20120903
Is this unfair, in your opinion? Do you believe these people should be forced to pay some income taxes?  Why or why not?  Here’s a breakdown from the Tax Policy Center that shows exactly who isn’t paying income tax:

Taxation has been a hotly debated issue since before our country was founded (remember “no taxation without representation”?).  For example, one debate that has surfaced recently is the question of whether unprofitable businesses should still have to pay taxes.  Here’s an article on that very subject:
Or how about this one: should childless parents have to pay taxes for public schools?  Some say no, they should not have to pay for a government program that doesn’t benefit them or their family.  However there are many programs that we pay for with tax dollars that do not directly benefit us, but instead benefit other people we never meet.  In fact some argue that childless parents should pay higher taxes: 
Obama was accused of raising taxes throughout his first term, however Fact-checkers at the Washington Post found that he did not actually raise any taxes until 2013.
However the Obamacare law did indeed pass a number a of new taxes that will soon take effect.  Most of these taxes will affect wealthier Americans exclusively. 
In addition, Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.  This bill raises taxes to 39.6% for Americans making more than $400,000/year ($450,000 for married couples).  This was the same tax rate these families paid during the Clinton era.  However the bill preserves the Bush-era tax cuts for a huge majority of Americans, and provides tax credits to poorer families.  This bill will allow for the government to take in more revenue without raising taxes on the less-fortunate members of society.  Here are some recent articles on the bill:
1) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/02/us/politics/senate-tax-deal-fiscal-cliff.html?_r=0
2) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/31/your-fiscal-cliff-deal-cheat-sheet/
3) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323320404578215373352793876.html
However the reality is that even with these new taxes, federal tax rates have actually fallen to their lowest levels in 30 years.
The highest tax rate that is paid in America right now is 39.6%.  Here are Obama’s tax proposals for the year 2013:

Tax rates in Europe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_rates_of_Europe

Judge Andrew Napolitano argues that taxation is theft: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA_Yl_JCdFg  He seems to believe that America is on a downward spiral toward destruction.  Do you agree?

Here’s a fun debate between a socialist and a libertarian:
Senator Jim Demint argues that Republicans need to become more libertarian:
Another question: is it socialist to prevent companies from forming monopolies?  How is it possible that anti-trust laws and government regulation of business actually make the marketplace MORE fair?

So is President Obama a socialist?  
Many prominent Americans seem to think so, for example former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich:
Texas governor Rick Perry says it quite plainly as well:
Fox News contributor Sarah Palin is certain Obama is a socialist:
Outspoken pundit Glenn Beck believes that the SCHIP program — which provided government-funded healthcare to 4 million children and pregnant women in 2009 — is leading America down the road to communism!
Glenn Beck even thinks that Obama’s socialism can be traced back to the “radical politics” of his parents and grandparents.  Here’s a rambling explanation of the “evidence”:
Many members of the Tea Party would also agree that the president is socialist (please remember that this video is not representative of the entire Tea Party, but merely a select group):
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is much more cautious with the word “socialist”:
Then again, Glenn Beck says here that Mitt Romney might just be a socialist too:
This week you’ll decide for yourself what socialism means, and whether our president qualifies as one.

1) How might a struggling minimum wage worker view communism?  How might a factory owner view it?  Why?
2) Explain in your own words the process by which capitalism leads to communism.  What are the three stages?
3) Why has pure communism never been achieved?  Do you think it is possible?  Why or why not? Where CAN communism actually work?
4) Why does American capitalism continue to thrive, despite its shortcomings (and Marx’s predictions)?  What is it about America that prevents capitalism from self-destructing?  
5) Do you believe Obama is a socialist?  Why or why not?  Why do some people claim he is one? Are we on the road to communism in America?
  Do you think those that call him socialist are incorrect, or has the definition of socialism changed?  How do you feel about the president’s programs so far: Obamacare, the Credit Card Act, Dodd-Frank Act, American Taxpayer Relief Act, Jobs Bill (did not pass), immigration reform (not yet passed), gun regulations (did not pass), etc?


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