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Let’s go into the mind…of Karl Marx

April 18, 2011
Doesn’t his beard makes him look like Santa?

To put it nicely, Karl Marx did not like Capitalism. He believed it was exploitive, self-destructive and a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, which would eventually be overthrown because of the inevitable internal conflicts between classes. I do not agree with his philosophies but if we look at the historical context of Marx’s time maybe we can understand why he thought the way he did. Like a wise madden announcer said, “Let’s go into the mind of Karl Marx”.

Karl Marx was born in Germany in 1818 during the Industrial Revolution. The Revolution produced many inventions, but at a cost.  Factory conditions were poor and there weren’t many labor laws or regulations. Thus the workers were subjected to the will of the factory owners who were most likely part of the bourgeoisie. Luckily for Marx he was born into a wealthy middle class family where they did not have to work in factories. His economic situation allowed him to observe the plight of the workers at a distance. What he saw shaped his impression of capitalism, which is different from the system we experience today. In his Communist Manifesto Marx says, “Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers…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 overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself”(Modern Political Thought, pp.830-31). Like I mentioned earlier, there were no labor unions to speak for the interests of the workers, as opposed to today where we have many that provide a voice if they feel oppressed or wronged.  For example, teachers can negotiate their contracts for better pay, health benefits, etc.  If the offer put forth by their superiors does not satisfy them, the teachers union can go on strike.  In short, today we have many laws in place to ensure that workers are kept as safe and happy as possible.

Keeping this in mind, if Marx had been born one hundred or so years later, do you think he would still dislike capitalism? The question almost becomes a nature versus nurture argument but I think it raises an interesting point. If Marx had been born in a time when capitalism had improved and provided better conditions for its workers, do you think he would still find it oppressive? I think it is an interesting idea to ponder.  In a way I feel sorry for Marx, because his ideas are noble but they work better on paper than they do in reality.

Recently I read a book called Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow that reminded me of Marx’s ideologies.  One of the story lines follows a Jewish artist named Tateh.  In the beginning, he is a firm believer in communism and socialism who dislikes America, specifically New York City.  After traveling down the east coast he eventually tries to make some money by selling a few flip books he designed. Within a few months Tateh goes from being penniless to wealthy and denounces his contempt for capitalism. Marx says, “The modern labourer…instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth”(pp. 833).  This is an oversimplified  scenario and explanation.  Regardless of whatever economic system one has, there will be those who will be better off or worse off.  It may have its flaws but capitalism creates more opportunities and promotes innovation.  Tateh from Ragtime a great example that one can make a name for themselves with hard work regardless of they’re background or previous living conditions.

When put into practice communism creates an equal society, but one where everyone is equally poor.  A man may fish one day and then wish to work in a factory the next day, but there is no guarantee of work in such a volatile workforce.  There is less motivation and incentive to create or learn because whether one is a doctor or a fisherman he receives the same pay and regard.

What does that mean for Marx? If he was born in a time where workers had more rights and capitalism had a chance to improve do you think he would still dislike it?

The Berlin Wall, a symbol of communism.

SOURCES:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Karl Marx. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/&gt;.

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.
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2 Comments
  1. Melissa Boelstler permalink
    April 19, 2011 12:15 AM

    Great post, I like the new perspective on Marx in a different society. This is a very good point, I do think that if Marx were to have grown up in society that is much like ours today, his viewpoints would be slightly different. Although, I do believe that Marx would still have some communistic views, they would not be as strong if he were to have lived in a different time. His viewpoints on communism were very strong, therefore I do not necessarily think that he would completely like capitalism no matter which society he lived in, but if things were to have changed, I believe that his hatred toward the capitalists would be much less, and there is a good chance he would join them rather than rebel. And to answer the question underneath the picture, yes, it does make him look slightly like Santa Claus.

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