I have decided to come out of the closet and live my life free from shame.
Nope, not gay, if that’s what you were thinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing.
No, my closet consists of hackneyed economic conventional wisdom.
In my last post, critiquing neoliberalism, I avoided using Karl Marx as a reference because Marx and Marxism have been converted into pejoratives. In the process it came to me: I’m a Marxist.
There, I said it. Don’t hate me.
I’m a Marxist in the sense that Marx was, after all, an economist who critiqued capitalism. I’m not an economist but I critique capitalism, frequently.
Our system of propaganda is powerful. Noam Chomsky frequently points out that our propaganda system targets intellectuals with their meta narrative. This message comes complete with heros and villains and there is no greater villain than Marx. I’m pretty sure I internalized this.
Reading Marx in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash and ongoing economic recession it’s apparent that the dude was on to something. He examined capitalism critically and found that it would ultimately lead to gross inequality. Check. He predicted that over production would cause a fall in demand and lead to an over financialization of the economy. Check and check.
Certainly Marx’s inquiry into the nature of capitalism earned him the hatred of the ownership class. But unfortunately, many intellectuals have been complicit in demonizing Marx by conflating his critique of capitalism with the Marxist movements of the 20th century. The USSR, for example, was depicted as the perfect embodiment of Marxism. Among right-wing intellectuals it was especially fruitful to smear any socialist or nationalist movement as both Marxist and controlled by the Soviet Union. See the ongoing coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela for a manual.
With the demise of the Soviet Union there has been an intellectual triumphalism that has led to a further discrediting of Marx. The end of history theory was treated as sober truth in the early 90’s, now it’s ridiculous. However, capitalist cheerleaders are always useful and I’m pretty sure they will never admit they were wrong. Also too, the (TINA) “Thatcherites” will forever attack Marx to preclude any hope of an alternative to neoliberal capitalism.
For all the intellectual firepower directed at Marx he is more relevant than ever. After all, there is that class thing that Marx emphasized. With record levels of inequality Americans are starting to look around and notice that there is indeed a class-war, the rich have won and they are busy finishing off the survivors.
Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism gets it exactly right when she notes “…as political science has documented, American politics are driven not by voters but by powerful monied interests. And perversely, those groups on the whole seem to believe that bleeding ordinary Americans dry is a winning strategy for them. Short term, of course, it sure looks that way, but we look to be at the end of an economic paradigm, so how long they can keep that sort of thing up remains to be seen.”
I believe the demonization of Marx and subsequent lionization of capitalism comes down to control over the levers of power.
Under our American system of neoliberal capitalism, we have a rich, powerful elite who rule unobtrusively, without the sullen acquiescence under a dictatorship. As anthropologist Peter Rigby says, “Capitalism is the most opaque form of oppression known to mankind, because in capitalism, people are convinced they are free, when, in fact, they are in chains.”
“Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be.”
Update: I found this interview with Chris Hedges that dovetails nicely.
“JAY: You quote in your article Karl Marx writing, “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships,” Marx wrote, “the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” Why did that hit you?
HEDGES: Well, because the whole notion of the free market–laissez-faire capitalism, globalization–is a very thin rationale for unmitigated greed by a tiny oligarchic elite. And they have made sure that that ideology is taught in universities across the country. And people, especially economists, who deviate from that ideology have been pushed aside, have become pariahs. And yet the driving ethos of that ideology is really to justify the hoarding of immense amounts of wealth by a very tiny percentage of, you know, the upper ruling class. That’s what it is.”