Archive for June, 2009

30
Jun
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Competition

Capitalism is a lot like a game of monopoly. Brutal competition, endless buying and selling and trading, a massive luck factor, and above all, the only way you can “win” the game is if everyone else loses. It’s survival of the fittest where only the most lucky and savage win- anyone else is crushed like the grass between two charging elephants.

So it is with our Capitalist system- though to get a capitalist to admit it is far from easy. Take Henry Ford, for example. Henry Ford is popularly credited with stating “There is but one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.”.

This statement, of course, is vile propaganda- pure and simple. Unless a monopoly controls the product in question, the profit that can be made off selling said good is reduced dramatically. In simpler terms “Since the purpose of Capitalism is to get the most money possible, increasing the quality of a certain good (which would cost more to make), lowering the cost of that good (reducing the immediate profit), and paying the highest possible wages to those making the good (increasing the cost of production even more) all lower the profit, then the application of Henry Ford’s quote would defeat the purpose of going into business in the first place.

And Henry Ford knew this. Ford’s genius was by no means limited to his inventive or economic prowess. Ford was also a brilliant wordsmith who could appear to say one thing, when in reality he was affirming the opposite. “People can have the Model-T in any color, so long as it’s black” is one of his better known quotes. Technically the “Do what you want (provided that it’s what I want)” statement isn’t a logical fallacy. There isn’t any contradiction- just a clause. The equivalent would be a TV advertisement promising to “cover all medical expenses”. While some healthy, attractive (and well-paid) actor is making these promises, for a brief moment at the bottom of the screen, some fine print letters appear to inform you that the service or product will “cover all medical expenses” except a long list of expenses. When Henry Ford made his statement about the goal of industrialists, one must remember to keep the emphasis on the repeated word “possible”. Possible can mean any number of things or situations. “Possible without violating moral standards”, “possible without charging over one US dollar”, “possible without actually hurting the profit you make”, and so on, though the last “possible” is the most probable. Ford made both a fortune off of his industry and appeared to the public of his time to be a generous, witty, and fair-playing man (and that reputation lasts to this day, the vast majority of Americans being uninformed of Henry Ford’s virulent anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant views).

And that’s the way it is with Capitalism. Every corporation or company or individual with a product to sell or a service to hire out follows the Capitalist doctrine of profit (by any means possible). Like a player in the game of monopoly, the capitalist attempts to make the best quality of good possible (possible meaning “just superior to everyone else’s product to be more marketable) at the lowest cost possible (possible meaning “just enough lower than the competitor’s product to be more marketable), paying the highest wages possible (possible meaning “just high enough to tempt employees away from the competition”).

Now one might be fooled into thinking that this is somehow good- that competition will inevitably raise quality and wages, and lower the price of the product. A nice illusion- but it simply isn’t true. Corporations will raise and lower their prices and raise the quality of their product or service but rarely at the same time! If one corporation lowers the price of it’s product by ten cents, the competing company has the option of trying to undercut the new price or attempt to raise the quality of their product. “Quality”, however, is a tricky word. “Quality” might mean anything from a new toothpaste formula to a brighter toothpaste tube cover. The company might boast “new, brighter, better!” but since all of these words are totally relative, the don’t really mean much of anything. Sure one company could sell toothpaste for less and another could maintain the same price but promise “whitening power” but in the end, the goal of both companies is to make a profit. They’ll only undercut and outdo each other to a certain extent. As for paying higher wages- that part of Ford’s statement no longer applies. In this time of globalization, corporations can sell products in the West and manufacture them in the third world, where the workers are so destitute that they’ll take whatever job they can get- even working sixteen hours for a dollar a day. Corporations have a stranglehold on these people and since there’s more than enough cheap labor to go around, no reason to raise the wage (or provide healthcare or pensions, for that matter). Additionally, corporations- already locked in a barbaric struggle with each other- have no desire for new competition to enter into the market. Small businesses can be bought out by larger ones. Unless working on a very local level, small (and often family-owned) industries have no way of competing with larger ones (take, for example, the extermination of so-called “mom-and-pop” stores by massive chains such as Wal-Mart and Target). “So some small, private stores went out of business- that’s part of the free market system!” one might argue, “If these companies can give me lower priced goods, why should I complain?”. The answer is simple- the price isn’t lower. If you work for a company that makes a product (shoes, let’s say) you might be led to believe that the shoes you make are being sold to corporations like Target. Actually, Target is getting shoes from a sweat-shop in Taiwan for a fraction of the price your company’s selling them at. Your company, unable to compete with virtual slave-labor, is forced to lay-off thousands of employees (including you) because it can’t sell shoes for the same price. “But I don’t make shoes! It’s not my problem!” you might retort. But keep in mind that stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and so on are selling virtually everything now, from toothbrushes to garden fertilizer to suites to frozen turkeys to optometrist appointments. Whatever you’re manufacturing- whatever product or service you sell- you can bet that a massive corporation is selling it for less.

How’s competition sound now?

And that’s only how competition affects you. Imagine that you own a business and you’ve successfully run the competition into the ground. That’s great for you but what about everyone who’s just been put out of business? They’ve been forced to compete with each other for whatever jobs are available, no matter how low paying or exhausting those might be. And what about their families? If the daughter of one of the recently laid-off workers comes down with some disease, her family won’t have the medical insurance to pay for her treatment. Are we really part of such an egocentric society that the suffering we cause to others is justified as “part of the system”? Are we so obsessed with this “survival-of-the-fittest” economy that every moment of life is a vicious struggle to stay at the top of the food chain?

I propose an alternative: Communism.

As legendary economist John Maynard Keynes once put it “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men, will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”. Since we have seen that the good of the individual is not equivalent to the good of society (in most cases, it’s detrimental) I submit that we try the reverse. By cooperating, rather than competing, we can ensure that everyone is provided for, that the wages are fair, and that quality is controlled by the consumer, rather than the corporation. Sure some people won’t rise to the top, but at the same time, we can prevent anyone from being trampled below.

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30
Jun
09

Communism and Religion

A common stereotype of Communism is that it’s an Atheistic political system that advocates the brutal repression of religion. After all, in order to become a member of the Communist Party of China, one must renounce religion and in the former Soviet Union, religious institutions were heavily monitored to the point of being spied upon. Marx himself stated that religion was the “Opiate of the people”.

But is Communism actually irreconcilable with religion? One must remember that the Soviet Union was not a Communist country but a Socialist empire that masqueraded as a Communist democracy. Likewise, China is not an actually Communist but a combination of Socialism and brutal Capitalism. Communism is no more responsible for the actions of these countries than Jesus was for the Spanish Inquisition or Voltaire for the Reign of Terror. As for Marx, one must keep in mind that during Marx’s time, religion was actually used as a method for controlling the working class. Take the example of an early American Industrialist who “converted” his workers to Christianity in order to stop them from drinking alcohol and maximize their productivity.

This has led to one of the greatest controversies among Communists- the issue of religion. According to some, religion remains superstitious nonsense that holds people back. The chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA), Robert Avakian, is the author of the book Away With All Gods!, in which he makes the argument that because of the rampant pain and suffering in the world, a kind and loving God cannot exist and that humanity is better off without religion. On the other hand, such groups as the Communist Party of the USA have attempt to recruit members of the religious community. In a recent article at the CPUSA website (linked here: http://www.cpusa.org/article/articleview/1050/1/27/), the head of the newly created Religion Commission, Tim Yeager, explains that “We want to reach out to religious people and communities, to find ways of improving our coalition work with them, and to welcome people of faith into the party…”.

So which view is the correct one? Does Robert Avakian’s Atheistic stance fit better with Communism, or does the CPUSA’s acceptance of religion mesh to a greater degree?

The answer is simple- we’re not sure. Who knows which view Marx would’ve sided with had he been presented the arguments. Who can say whether or not that decision would’ve been right? After all Marx was only human and fully capable of making all the errors humanity’s prone to. Either way, Marx is dead but Marxism goes on.

And of course, so does the controversy…

28
Jun
09

Communism and Human Nature

As a Communist, I’ve heard many arguments against the Marxism but not quite so common as the “Human-nature-argument”.

Essentially what is argued is that Marxism is a “Utopian” system which can only work if humans were perfect. Since humans are naturally fallible, Communism can never work- indeed, the only system that can work in an imperfect world is Capitalism, which functions on the assumption that humans are naturally greedy and egotistical.

This argument, while popular, is nonetheless flawed due to (1) false assumptions about Communism, and (2) false assumptions about the nature of government, society, and economics.

Firstly, Communism is by no means a Utopian system. There will always be issues with any system, and Communism recognizes this. Where in the works of Marx or Engels is Communism labeled a panacea for humanity’s ailments? Where in Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto is Marxism promised to solve all of man’s problems? Nowhere. If anything, Marxism promises increased conflict, class warfare, and revolution! Hardly what one would call a “Utopian” system. It is because humans are naturally greedy and self-serving that Marx argues for Communism and against Capitalism. Humans are naturally violent and even murderous- that doesn’t mean we create a legal system that makes allowances for humanity’s shortcomings. As James Madison once put it, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary…”. How then can it be argued that Communism, a form of government, is based on the idea of humanity’s perfection?

Secondly, advocates of Capitalism will point to the fall of the Soviet Union and claim that this is prove that Communism doesn’t work because of human nature. One, the Soviet Union was not Communist (and this cannot be emphasized enough) and two, if the person making this claim would only look at the state of the world, he would realize that nothing works in the long run. According to the laws of physics, everything goes from a state of order to a state of disorder over varying lengths of time. This applies not only to eroding rocks or decomposing meat but to society as well (this is often referred to as “Social entropy”). Every society, regardless of it’s political, economic, or legislative system will, at some point, become corrupted and self-destruct (or become weakened to the point where it is wiped out by another system or force). Is there anything inherently wrong or flawed about democracy? In general, no. Will democratic countries last forever? Absolutely not. Athens, the Roman Republic, pre-WWII Germany were all democracies and they all fell in ruin. Was it the fault of the system? Of course not- it was the fault of humans. As much as we try to halt the advance of disease in our bodies or corruption in our governments, we can only delay the inevitable process. The ancient Chinese were aware of this and rather than attempting to come up with a system of government that could circumnavigate social entropy, they based their political theory on the simple belief that what goes up, must come down. Their system was called the “Mandate of Heaven”, which stated that when a dynasty became corrupt, the people had not the right but the obligation to revolt and instate a new government- a philosophy later echoed by America’s founding father’s in the Declaration of Independence (“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men… That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…”). Yes, a Communist government would eventually become corrupt and collapse on itself, but so would a Capitalist government. The laws of physics aren’t optional.

In short, since Communism is based on the belief that humans are naturally predisposed to greed, lawlessness, and violence, it is impossible and illogical to argue that Communism relies on the belief that humans are naturally good. Likewise, because a Communism government- like everything else- will at some point self-destruct (though hopefully, only to be replaced with a new Communist government), it is impossible and illogical to argue that Communism is an unattainable Utopia capable of solving the human curse of war, disease, crime, and conflict. And even if, purely for the sake of the argument, Communism is a Utopian cure-all for death, destruction, and decay, aren’t there worse things to struggle for?

26
Jun
09

[R]education

The philosopher Plato once stated that “there shall be compulsory education, as the saying is, of all and sundry, as far this is possible; and the pupils shall be regarded as belonging to the state rather than to their parents…”. Plato makes in interesting point and the underlying principle (good education for everyone) is commendable, Plato makes a serious yet common error when he claims that the student belongs to the state.

Communism demands the reverse.

Granted, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and contemporary North Korea have all followed Plato’s ideal of the student (and to varying degrees, the individual) as property of the state. However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, those countries have merely disguised themselves as Communist states, while in reality functioning as semi-Socialist dictatorships. Communism requires the opposite. The public does not belong to the state- the state belongs to the public. The same goes for the education of students.

Now this might seem like a slightly abstract concept, after all, “public schools” are schools that belong to, and are funded by, the state. What then is the difference between Marxism’s “public education” and our contemporary “public school system”? The answer is simple: the presence of private schools. In the US, we have private property, state property, and public property. The mere presence of public property does not mean that we live in a Marxist system where all property belongs to the public. The same is true for education. Do we have public education? Yes. Does that mean everyone has access to public education? Yes. Do we have private education? Yes. Does everyone have access to private education? Absolutely not.

“So what’s the issue?”, one might wonder, “Everyone has access to a basic level of education no matter what they’re social standing is!”. That’s true, however, one must remember the emphasis on the word basic. Like most things in life, the cheaper something is, the less quality it has. A decent private school can charge and exorbitant fee in exchange for offering an excellent level of education. More money, more profit, more supplies, more (and better) teachers, and so on. Public schools are, quite simply, low quality, and in a world where education determines one’s career, quality is everything. Take the examples of Mr. Hammer and Miss Sickle.

Mr. Hammer is born into a moderately wealthy family. As a child he has the best education private schools have to offer- well funded and well trained athletic teams, a school library excellently stocked, motivated, intelligent teachers, and so on. Coming from such a brilliant school and having high grades (and still wealthy parents), getting into a prestigious (and very expensive) college is easy. After completing college, Mr. Hammer is able to get an exciting and high-paying job (which will eventually make him wealthy and allow him to send his children to a good private school, starting the cycle all over again).

Miss Sickle, however, is born to the lower classes. Her family cannot afford to send her to anything other than public school. She studies hard and does decently and even manages to get herself a few scholarships however she never able to reach her full potential (Miss Sickle being interested in chemistry and the best her school has to offer in that field is a poster of the periodic table and a few vials of ammonium). As a result, Miss Sickle is unable to gain access to any decent college and having never attained a university degree, spends the rest of her life working as waitress in a roach-infested diner.

Did Miss Sickle commit some kind of crime to deserve a life of carrying plates from one side of a room to the other? Was she somehow not as hard of a worker as Mr. Hammer was? Is she somehow to blame for the way her life turned out? Of course not. Miss Sickle was born poor and didn’t happen to be enough of a genius to get into a decent college free. And what about Mr. Hammer? Did he, as a six year old, toil long hours to pay his way through the first grade? Was he somehow a “better” person and more deserving of a higher education? Again, no. Mr. Hammer was born to the wealthy and because of that, managed to get ahead in life. He didn’t work harder than Miss Sickle- if anything, he probably had it easier. Where’s the justice in any of this? Two people work with the same amount of effort and have the same levels of intelligence and yet one becomes a millionaire and the other lives off of tips and minimum wage. Imagine if we applied this system- our education system- to the Olympic games. In a race, all the athletes are lined up side-by-side. The gold goes to the contestant who is- in all simplicity the fastest runner. Now imagine if we had the Olympic games in the same way we have our education system. Some runners would be, at the beginning of the race, hundreds of feet in front of the regular starting line and others would have to start hundreds of feet behind. Those behind are forced to run almost three times as fast as the runners up ahead. Yes, they can run that far- but keep in mind, there are only so many medals. Would that be an event people would watch? Would it be called a fair game? No, people would call it a travesty! Why then do we accept an education system where people don’t lose gold, but the very quality of their lives?

An advocate of Capitalism might argue that life just isn’t fair- that the world’s a jungle where the only fittest survive to pass their genes (or wealth) on. If that’s true, then why would the same people prosecute a thief for stealing someone’s wallet? Surely the thief was more “fit” than the person who lost his wallet- isn’t the thief simply being a good Capitalist by gaining money with little or no cost to himself in time, effort, and resources? This would be as ridiculous as an Olympic race where one contestant wins by shooting his competitors in the knees.

“So what’s the solution?” a person might ask, “Are we to penalize the children of the wealthy by lowering their quality of education until it’s on the same level as the poorest person in the country?”. Of course not. What Marxism calls for is a single system of education where anyone can get the education of his choice, not the choice of his parent’s bank account. Does this mean every school would teach the same things out of the same textbooks? Not at all. If anything, diversity would be encouraged. If one school wishes to take a certain perspective on life and a different school wishes to teach a different view, then they should be allowed it. The student gets to choose which he prefers and, provided he pulls his own weight in society, may study for as long as he chooses. Imagine every individual given an opportunity to have the highest quality education free of charge! Imagine what society would be like if everyone had the option to attain an extra four years of college without having to worry about affording it! Imagine a world where the education system belongs to the students, instead of the students belonging to the education system!

Perhaps Ali Ibn Abu-Talib said it best; “There is no wealth like knowledge; no poverty like ignorance…”

26
Jun
09

In Defense of Free Healthcare

One of President Obama’s campaign promises was major healthcare reform and lately, that promise has been repeatedly referenced in the news (primarily on Fox). While opinions on the subject are vary, in general they have tended towards the negative- a common fear voiced is that a “bureaucrat” will be placed between the patient and the doctor (though others have submitted that they’d rather have a bureaucrat between them and their doctors than an insurance company). Conservative icon Glen Beck, for example, argues that this reform will be costly and inefficient in a brief animated video (linked here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkGhn3LfbyM&feature=related). The video depicts a man who, after being hit on the head by a falling anvil, has to wait six weeks for treatment due to free healthcare. The clip ends with the warning “Offer applies after voting Democrat and not listening to the Glen Beck Program”. Some might call this video a patriotic attempt to maintain an effective and productive system.

I call it propaganda.

What we are actually presented with is an exaggerated and implausible scenario which the creator threatens will happen unless we abstain from the Democrat party and watch his program. Now, purely for the sake of the argument, let’s ignore the insultingly simplistic message and focus on the admonition. Firstly, we are told not to vote Democrat (or risk waiting six weeks for medical attention). People have been voting Democrat for over a century now and no free healthcare system has been implemented. Millions of Americans do not watch the Glen Beck program (some shameless self-advertising), and nationalized healthcare yet to be instated.

“True,” one might argue, “It’s fear-mongering and agitprop, but the core principle is true- free healthcare would be expensive and unproductive.” Now granted, free healthcare would mean that it would take longer to see a doctor however, to say that it would take “six weeks” is simple misrepresentation. Hospitals do have their busy days, but it’s nothing like the crowded mayhem represented by television dramas. In the US, there are hundreds of thousands of public and private hospitals, not to mention an almost countless number of private clinics. Yes, with free healthcare the numbers of people seeking medical attention would skyrocket, but almost assuredly not beyond the country’s capacity to help.

Besides, even if hospitals do become more crowded, how is that a bad thing? More patients don’t mean more disease but more coverage. Those who were unable to afford medical attention before are now able to seek treatment- universal coverage means universal treatment which means a healthier, more productive society (for anyone who isn’t satisfied with the fact that more people are being given medical care).  As for the wait- I’d rather wait six weeks for free medical care than be turned away instantly because I’m not wealthy enough.

And that of course leads us to an important question: why should only the wealthy be healthy? We live in an age of medical miracles that before the 20th century would’ve been inconceivable. We’ve developed vaccines, medicines, and antibiotics to fight off or even cure us of diseases and infections that would otherwise kill us. We’ve created artificial limbs to replace severed ones, and with artificial respirators and pacemakers we can keep humans alive well into their nineties.

If you’re wealthy, that is.

The poor are lucky to benefit from these miracles. If a wealthy man loses an arm, he can purchase an artificial one. If a poor man loses an arm, then there’s nothing that can be done about. If a wealthy woman has complications with her pregnancy, she can hire a midwife, a private physician and so on. If a poor woman has complications with her pregnancy then there’s nothing that can be done about it.

And why is this? When did the wealthy become entitled to longer, healthier lives? Why should the number of green cotton-papers a person has determine when and whether he gets to live or die?

Maybe some of the rich worked hard for their wealth. Maybe some inherited it. Maybe of the poor are poor because they’re lazy. Maybe some were born poor, and for all their hard work remain poor. Sure, the advocates of Capitalism will tell you that the poor can work hard, seize opportunities, move up in life. So if a man works hard his whole life, but his alarm clock’s battery dies and he’s late to work and his co-worker (who works just as hard, but was lucky enough to have a better clock) gets that promotion (and the money for better healthcare) instead of the man who was late, does that mean the late man is somehow less deserving of decent medical attention? Are those who simply missed opportunities (or never had opportunities presented) somehow less-than-human? The Declaration of Independence states that among humanity’s inalienable rights is “the right to life“! How then can we demand that the poor, the wealthy- anyone– pay for life? I defy even the most brutal Capitalist or Social Darwinist to look a person in the eye and tell him that he’s not wealthy enough to deserve good healthcare.

So why would anyone oppose free healthcare? Who in their right mind would trade a little wait for free and universal healthcare?

The answer can be found in another Glen Beck clip (linked here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mq9zfTEtfI)

The clip, while short, is telling. The show’s guest, Dr. Steve Neeleman- after criticizing America’s “addiction to HMOs”- goes on to describe the virtues of his own company, HealthEquity. What the show doesn’t mention is that HealthEquity is simply another insurance company- and it’s insurance companies that stand to lose the most through universal healthcare. In the interests of full disclosure, it should be mentioned, the subject of the show was Hilary Clinton’s proposed healthcare plan- not free healthcare, but nevertheless the clip serves an excellent example of why insurance companies so staunchly oppose free healthcare. Why would the public pay for something they can get for free? What Glen Beck has done here would be the equivalent of interviewing a horse-and-buggy company owner on the evils of Henry Ford’s Model-T automobile.

In conclusion, yes, free and universal healthcare does have disadvantages. Some taxes would have to be raised and in some places, waiting lines would increase. Nonetheless, the benefits of free healthcare greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Yes, insurance companies would be virtually wiped out, but how does that measure in comparison with the countless lives that could be saved?

It just doesn’t.

25
Jun
09

The Evolution Will Not be Televised

According to the WordPress blog, The Bible and Society, Communism is inherently linked both to Darwinism and to Atheism (odd, considering that whether or not the theory of evolution is true, it can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a higher power). And while the blog does indeed point out certain facts about Marx, Engels, and Lenin’s rather anti-religious stances (a topic to be covered later), it is there that accuracy ends.

One of the best ways to determine whether or not a publication on Communism is dependable is to see what is said about pseudo-Communists such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tsung. If the article treats them as what they were- socialist tyrants masquerading under the name of Communism- then the article is probably well researched and scholarly. On the other hand, if Stalin and Mao are labeled simply as Communists with no reference to the disparity between their regimes and true Marxism (as is so in this post), then at least one of three scenarios must be assumed: (1) the article is propaganda designed to appeal to the emotions instead of the mind, (2) the article is poorly researched or based on misinformation, or (3) the author- for whatever reason- is biased. Since the days of the Cold War and McCarthyism are long since over, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t propaganda. Since the article lists a number of sources, it is clear that research is not the issue (though were painfully few sources actually by Marx). Therefore, we must conclude that the author has a bias, though exactly why isn’t determinable.

With that in mind, let’s analyze the post.

“The Darwinian Foundation of Communism” (http://lovingword.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/the-darwinian-foundation-of-communism/) by Jerry Bergman begins with the words “Darwinism as a worldview was a critical factor, not only in influencing the development of Nazism, but also in the rise of communism and the communist holocaust…”. As has been previously discussed, the actions of the USSR, Maoist China, North Korea, and Cuba are the actions of semi-Socialist dictatorships- not Communist republics. Because of this, the “holocausts” created by these countries are not as a result of Communism in any way, shape, or form. One can no more blame the devastation created by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” on Karl Marx than one can blame the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition on Jesus of Nazareth or the Reign of Terror on the ideals of Democracy. A simple, hard fact of life is that wherever we have values, there will be those willing to commit atrocities under the guise of those values. It’s the same with Marxism and for this reason, we must ignore the sections pertaining to Stalin, Mao, and other so-called “Communists” and focus solely on the question of whether true Communism is related to Atheism and Darwinism.

Let’s deal with Atheism firstly.

Now the author cites a number of references speaking on the subject, however, the fact that we have a number of comments referring to Marxism as atheistic does not make them so. After all, one could compile a series of publications claiming the sun to revolve around the earth and it wouldn’t change the fact that Copernicus was right, not Ptolemy. For the truth, we have to look directly at the writings of Marx, Engels, and other founding fathers of Communism.

Now please do not misunderstand- Karl Marx was an Atheist. In his view, God did not exist except as a creation of man for the purposes of placating the exploited proletariat, or working class. However, the fact that Marx was an Atheist does not make Marxism atheistic. After all, one could never argue “Mr. Grey is a Buddhist, Mr. Grey owns a company, therefore that company is Buddhist” or “Titian was a talented painter, Titian was Italian, therefore all Italians are talented painters”. It would be a logic nightmare. Now one could argue “Marx was an Atheist, all Marxists are exactly the same as Karl Marx, therefore all Marxists are Atheists.” Now this would be correct in that it doesn’t create a logical fallacy, however it isn’t actually true that all Marxists are brooding, bearded German philosophers. Now Marx, Engels, and Lenin were very anti-religious in their writing- even to the point where Marx referred to religion as the “opiate of the people”. Now this would appear to clinch Jerry Bergman’s argument, were it not for a literary criticism technique known as “Situational vs Mandatory”. According to this rule, whenever interpreting a text, one must ask the question “does this statement/rule/command/etc. apply only to the time or situation in which it was written, or is it to be considered mandatory for all time”. As ironic as it might seem, this technique is most often used in the study of religious texts, primarialy the Torah, Bible, and Koran. The question must be asked “When Marx called religion the ‘Opiate of the people’, does this imply that all religion for all time is detramental to society, or was this a mere condemnation of the state of religion at the time?”.

To answer that, we have to look that religion Marx’s time. The revivals of the past having subsided, the Christian church (Christianity being the only religion Marx would’ve been directly exposed to) would’ve been more cultural than actually religious, essentially and institution used for prestige and, in some cases, power over the masses. For example, in New York state during this time there was an industrialist who had issues with his workers addiction to alcohol. Their excessive drinking would cause them to show up late to work (if it all, on some days) and generally lowered the level of production. To solve this problem, the industrialist had his workers “converted” to Christianity (Christians generally being biased against alcohol at the time). As a result, the workers stopped drinking and became more productive. Now at first, this might seem like a great thing- after all, the industrialist helped his employees kick and addiction. And while that is true, the fact remains that the employer did not do so out of humanitarianism or moral obligation- he wanted to profit more off of his workers, using religion as a means to an end. This event was by no means isolated- during Marx’s lifetime, religion truly was an opiate to subject the masses to the will of the rulers. Considering this, it’s easy to understand why Marx- and to a lesser extent, Engels and Lenin- would condemn religion in their works. Whether or not religion still is the opiate of the people is a subject hotly debated among Communists, however it is universally agreed that Communism is not necessarily Atheistic (and the argument works backwards as well- to varying degrees, almost every religion mandates some form of Communalism, particularly in Christianity).

Reading Marx and Engels and the like, it is easy to become confused and believe (wrongly) that Communism is inherently linked to Atheism. It’s also easy to overlook this.

Not so with Darwinism.

Exactly how the author arrived at the conclusion of “Marxism and Darwinism are inherently linked” is- quite frankly- hard to grasp. Throughout the article, Bergman makes assertions that “…Darwin and Marx were truly comrades…” and that “Marx believed his own work to be the exact parallel of Darwin’s…”.

To make these statements shows a genuine (and appalling) ignorance of Marxism. Bergman claims that “the communist core idea [is] that violent revolution, in which the strong overthrow the weak, was a natural, inevitable part of the unfolding of history from Darwinist concepts and conclusions.” The strong overthrow the weak? This is the exact opposite of Marx’s argument in The Communist Manifesto. Marx describes the proletariat as exploited victims- the bottom of the social food chain. If anything, Marx’s ideology is linked to the Christian doctrine of the “last becoming the first”. Marx does have some similarities in that he divides up history in periods (as Darwin does), however one would be hard pressed to find a worldview where history is viewed otherwise. Christianity divides time up into periods repeatedly (see the prophet Daniel’s vision of the kingdoms)- yet no one accuses Christianity and Darwinism of being linked. Granted, Marx and Darwin share a belief that the world is shaped through struggle, but again, so do most worldviews- including Christianity (the “war in heaven” and the “…struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world…”). Was the author of this passage a Darwinist? Hardly. Once again, we have a logical fallacy in the article’s argument. One could never argue that “Miss Jones admires Martin Luther King Jr., Miss Jones wrote a book, the book is based on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.”- the book might be about Martin Luther King Jr. or it might having nothing to do with him. There might be similarities between Miss Jone’s book and the teachings of MLK, but they might be a result of a shared source (Ghandi’s teachings on non-violent protest, for example). In short, just because there are similarities between Marx and Darwin, or just because Marx admired Darwin does not make Marx’s philosophy in any way based on Darwinism. If anything, Capitalism– not Communism- is based on the ideal of the “survival of the fittest”, rather than Marx’s ideals of cooperation and revolution of the exploited.

All in all, one can forgive misinterpretations of Marx- he’s not always the most coherent author and after all, to err is human. To repeatedly make connections where there none, to associate false-Communists with Marxist philosophy, to twist Marxism and to make it appear to be based on unrelated philosophy, and, above all, hypocritically condemn Marxism for aspects that even Christianity has- this is unacceptable, particularly from a person of Bergman’s education and standing. Bergman might disagree with Marxism- he’d be within his rights to hate it. To lie about Marxism or indeed, any worldview, is unacceptable no matter what the circumstance.

22
Jun
09

Fareed Zakaria’s Capitalist Manifesto

The June 22 issue of Newsweek displayed a cover similar to what one might find on a copy of Marx’s Das Kapital or Che Geuvara’s Guerrilla Warfare. In reality, it’s just the opposite, bearing the title of “The Capitalist Manifesto”.

The central article of this issue was acclaimed journalist Fareed Zakaria’s “In Defense of Capitalism”, in which the author makes an eloquent, though logically unsound, vindication of the system.

For example, one of Zakaria’s primary arguments is that in order to avert economic crises (such as the current recession), “there’s a need for greater self-regulation…”. This is faulty by both the standards of Communism and (ironically) classic “Capitalism”. From a Communist perspective, one could argue that regulation isn’t the issue, it’s the system itself. An economic system based on self-interest will, inevitably, create more losers than winners. Even with regulation (be it self or state regulation), the “survival-of-the-fittest” process will be simply slowed, not altered. From a classical or “pure” Capitalist standpoint, Zakaria’s statement is also flawed since regulation, in any way, shape, or form, inhibits the growth of the free market. And even if one were to ignore the arguments against Zakaria’s statement (from both ends of the political-economic spectrum), one would be forced to ask whether or not “greater self-regulation” is even feasible. Humans have a hard enough time keeping themselves on their diets or giving up smoking, how can one be expected to self-regulate something as gargantuan as the economy? Again, the laissez-faire will argue that Capitalism shouldn’t be regulated and the Communists will argue that Capitalism shouldn’t exist period.

Now if it were the only flaw in Zakaria’s argument, then it might be excusable as simple idealism- a problem every system has to some degree. Sadly, this isn’t the case and there are plenty more defects plaguing the article.

At one point, Zakaria asserts that “What we are experiencing is not a crisis of Capitalism… Finance screwed up, or to be more precise, financiers did… Finance has a history of messing up”. Now before we can pass judgment on this statement, we have to dissect it first. Capitalism is, as described in previous posts, a system in which the end goal is capital, i.e. money. Finance is the current state of that capital, and financiers are those who deal in the exchange and/or circulation of money. In more simple terms, Zakaria has claimed that “The system isn’t to blame for the current situation being bad, it’s the people, and the situation is going to be bad a lot”. While this might sound reasonable, let’s take the logic behind this and apply it to a different scenario. Using Zakaria’s reasoning, one could look at a disease and claim that it’s not the fault of the treatment or the medicine the treatment requires but the patients who are to blame for not recovering. Of course, this is ridiculous. Anyone with a basic grasp of algebra can tell you that when there’s a problem with the result there must be a problem with the equation. Even if an advocate of Capitalism were to argue that the system is made up of humans and humans are naturally fallible, he or she would still arrive that the same conclusion (“therefore, Capitalism is naturally fallible”)!

And there’s more.

Zakaria claims that “over the past quarter century, more than 400 million people across Asia have been lifted out of poverty”. Now there are several issues with that statement in and of itself, not counting it’s wider implications. Firstly, there may or may not be any connection between these people’s rise out of poverty and Capitalism. Firstly, by simply redefining the word “poverty” one could technically determine the percentage of the world that is “impoverished”. Secondly, if poverty is defined by a person being paid less than one dollar a day, that said person could be “out of poverty” by being paid one dollar and one cent, rather than ninety-nine cents. Just because he or she is no longer in poverty, doesn’t mean his or her life is in any way improved. Thirdly, one must keep in mind that four-hundred million people have been [allegedly] lifted out of poverty in Asia. Zakaria fails to mention that poverty levels in Africa and much of the rest of the world continue to rise. Even if one were to look at Asia alone, at what cost has it dragged itself out of poverty? South East Asia has one of the highest levels of prostitution and sex-slavery in the world, and sweat-shop labor is rampant in the rest of the continent. All in all, Capitalism may have lifted many people out of poverty, but the number is negligible compared to the number of people still destitute, starving, and homeless.

In short while Zakaria’s article is well-written, in all honesty, the arguments made in the defense of Capitalism are unsound. Zakaria makes as good of a defense of Capitalism as Don Quixote made a good assault on the windmills, though in Don Quixote’s defense, he thought the windmills were evil giants, whereas Zakaria has no illusions of the nature of the system he’s defending.