On Marxism and Libertarianism

This is a tough one because I’m not even close to being an expert on either concept. Not even really a knowledgeable beginner. Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is a multi-volume zillion page tome I’ve barely been able to get far into. One of my professors is a Marxist and says it took him about 10 years to really get a handle on what Marxism is. So I’m certain my meager understanding just barely scratches the surface, so it would be nice to find someone knowledgeable to whom I can ask my questions and pose my issues with Marxism. Because on the one hand it makes perfect sense to me, and on the other, there are some very serious integral problems with it.

If you know me or read my blog you know I identify as a libertarian. Mainly a social libertarian. That is, I believe if it harm none do what you will. (Note: despite the use of the phrase I hate Wicca and think Alister Crowley was a freakin’ nut.) The government especially, but no one has the right to stick their nose in your personal business. Your health matters, bedroom behavior, love life, religion, so long as it all involves consenting adults, is no one’s business but those who you want to make it their business. Always have believed that, always will.

But for some time I’ve also been playing with the idea of economic libertarianism. I have pretty much always thought that the government that governs least governs best. And I do still believe that. The bigger the government, the more power it strives for, the more rights and liberties and freedoms it takes from those that supposedly grant the government its power–the people. But economic libertarianism believes in a completely free and open market with no government regulation. And that sounds great. What right does the government have to control how we spend our money whether as a consumer or a business owner.

But then… with no gold standard, money is a false construct kept in existence by the governmental power. Well, I’m not an economist, so I won’t try to deal with that concept any more. But, an economy with no regulation means rampant corruption and fraud. Even before I learned Marxism isn’t a dirty word, I’d been realizing that corporations are pretty much inherently “evil” and will seek to get away with anything and everything it can at the expense of every human and economic and ecological resource it comes in contact with. From Enron and Worldcom to the mining companies that violated safety regulations that lead to the miner deaths last year and the horrific ecological disasters with toxic dumping and the global warming…. Even with regulations, corporations will do everything possible for the almighty profit margin.

Now, the libertarian rebuttal is generally that the government allows and even creates an environment where corporations are able to do ill. The government creates laws and takes lobbyist money to create an environment that gives corporations unfair power with little to prevent it. In a true free and open market, the corporations wouldn’t get special dispensations, wouldn’t get special protections from lawsuits, wouldn’t get tax money, and the people will use the services of companies that are safe and responsible and not patronize companies that are harmful or unfair to workers.

That sounds great, but is it possible? I don’t think so; not in a real world. Corporations do a lot of things in secret that people don’t know about. Corporations by their very nature will strive to eliminate competition and prevent the people from having a choice in patronizing someone else for similar goods or services, or prevent people from being able to start new competing companies. Plus, there are industries that the average person simply can’t make informed decisions about, such as pharmaceuticals. We can see this all over the place with the difference between FDA approved medicine and the non-regulated herbal remedy stuff. The industry of herbal and holistic remedies that aren’t regulated is fraught with fraud and cheats and fakery and snake oil. And the profit margin on all that fakery from herbal cold cures to memory boosters is ridiculously high while they do nothing, while FDA regulated pharmaceuticals do work. Period. And despite what people think, the profit the companies get from drugs is much smaller that what people are making by sticking dried herbs into a capsule with no research & development costs and yet not having any real measurable medical effect. Known libertarian Drew Carey on flaming libertarian Penn Jillette’s radio show expressed that he wants to be able to just walk into a store and buy Lipitor as he needs it. And I’m thinking, how can we trust people to get good and right information from unregulated companies that only care about profit in a very very specialized industry where it’s extremely difficult to get good and proper information? I guess you can say caveat emptor, but we’re also talking about parents getting medicine and healthcare for their kids. I can’t even imagine the idea of having to treat my wife’s life-long and chronic multiple-connective tissue disorder in an environment where the companies are unregulated and will do everything possible to take advantage of being regulated only by whether customers will buy your product or not. We could still rely on our doctors’ advice, but with even less to no regulation, they will be even bigger shills for the pharm companies and will promote whoever they’re getting money from.

This has all concerned me and made me question my economic libertarian beliefs. So, going on to Marxism. As a “red blooded” American raised during the Cold War and on movies like “Red Dawn” and “Rambo” and the like, I grew up learning Marxism was Communism and both are evil evil evil! The mere mention of the word “Marxism” held magical power to bring forth evil spirits of anti-American godlessness and would make anyone in earshot question your patriotism. So it really hasn’t been until lately that I started looking into Marxism and realized that Marxism is really not the same as Communism and absolutely not the same as Soviet Communism. Soviet Communism is a dictatorship and Marxism is utterly against compelling people to follow a dictator. Against trying to stifle individuality and personal freedom. Communism failed because it wasn’t truly Marxist, and can’t be forced upon people. It has to evolve naturally just as capitalism evolved, and will pretty much only work when the world is naturally Marxist.

So I understand. (Preface everything I say about Marxism with “As far as I understand,” as I can be totally wrong.)

One of the biggest points of Marxism is that capitalism naturally supports monopolies. Part of the capitalist ideology that we’re indoctrinated into convinces you that capitalism is all about competition, and that’s utterly not true. Free market is about getting as much if not all of the market share as you can and running your competition out of business. You ask any board member of any corporation whether they’d rather have the competition or 100% of the market share, do you really think you’ll find a single “sane” member who would not say 100% of the market? The entire goal of capitalism is to make money, make as much of it as possible, and prevent everyone who would possibly hinder your ability to make 100% potential profit from doing so. And with this goal in mind, is there any question that capitalism encourages as much corruption and cheating as it can get away with for as long as it can get away with?

Now, we start getting into where I start having some problems with Marxism. According to Marxism, the capitalist ideology would have you believe that this is the natural state for humanity. That “greed is good,” that humans are inherently greedy and there’s really no way to have a socioeconomic system that is not inherently greedy, so why fight capitalism? (Sounds a lot like the fundamentalist Christian belief that all humans are inherently evil and must be saved.) So according to Marxism, there is no inherent and default human nature and social nature can be changed as needed for the betterment of the society. Like the libertarian dream of utopia which I don’t think possible, I think this might be the Marxist dream utopia that’s not really possible. It seems to me, even as much as I am working on breaking down my capitalist ideology brainwashing, that there still is indeed inherent human nature. (It’s not a supernatural condition Christians call “evil”, but) It’s an innate desire to have as much as possible. It’s a trait that can be seen in all types of cultures all around the world from primitive to modern. It seems to me that that would be evidence of an inherent human nature.

But then, maybe, it’s possible this greedy, envious nature may have a biological component that began with self-preservation (hoard food, fight for the best shelter, etc,) but can be changed completely to altruistic and generous when the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs are fulfilled and there’s no fear of losing them. If you don’t have to worry about your needs, you don’t have to work for your food and shelter and food and shelter and medical care are provided (without shortages and long lines) then there may not be any greed and envy triggers in human nature. Maybe, I don’t know. Who really knows.

Did you know the US is the only modern advanced society that has no universal health care? Kind of shows you where this country’s priorities are. Screw the citizens, the corporations are king. (As if the war in Iraq isn’t enough of a clue.)

I haven’t even touched on what little I know about commodity fetishism and the commodification of the worker. And how 5% of the population owns 95% of the country’s wealth. How 95% of the country believes they’re capitalists when they’re not…they’re working for the capitalists. Those with power are the ones who own the wealth and those are the capitalists. We, and even small business owners, are simply workers for the ones who own the country’s wealth. The capitalists want to destroy the middle class as much as they want to destroy competition. They believe the best running society is the one where the ultra-rich run the society and everyone else is too poor and disempowered to change it. And that’s the natural evolution of free and open market. That if all of the wealth in the world were equally distributed (hypothetically) every person in the world could have a basic American standard middle-class lifestyle. Everyone, from Alaska to Ethiopia. (Hypothetically.)
So on the one hand I distrust and despise government and value human liberty and freedom above all. No intervention so long as your actions and behavior do not negatively affect other people. But, I also despise corporate corruption and the cult of money capitalism creates. I totally believe that any free and open market will beget unchecked corruption and pain and misery all because of money and commodities. But socialism because it is supported by the entire society, requires that the society has a vested interest in what you’re doing that might affect the society, even if it’s a private and/or solely consensual behavior.

I need to spend days discussing these things with people smarter than I.

2 thoughts on “On Marxism and Libertarianism”

  1. I’ve thought I understood Marxism thoroughly, three times. I’m really getting there now, though, and it’s only taken me 20 years. I was lucky that my second attempt at ‘getting it’ was in the grip of a youthful fervour, and at the tutelage of an active, theoretically rigorous organisation. Marxism is, in a sense, one of those great faiths that’s near impossible to comprehend until you’ve dunked yourself right in it. I can’t imagine approaching it through book learning, alone.

    Academic marxism seems to me to have abandoned what I consider the valuable parts – an account of the formal, social limits to capitalist growth (and the choice this puts before us, of further human liberation, via socialism, or sliding back into, at best, a new kind of feudalism) and has eloped with a kind of soft pinko morality, barely – if at all – related to Marx’s work. My rough guide to who gets the basics is this: there’s a divide between those who appreciate why Sraffa’s critique of marxian value theory makes a schoolboy Ricardian error, and those who find they have more important things to think about.

    In any case, I’m coming around to a firm conviction that marxism and libertarianism are just a hair’s breadth apart, but that this distance shall always separate them. Neither expects a fundamental change in human nature (though both have somewhat unusual conceptions of what human nature consists in, today). Those conceptions are opposite, and probably irreconcilable – marxism finds individuals to be woven from society, while libertarianism believes that it is society that is woven from individuals.

    But away from such abstract distinctions, marxists and libertarians can find a great deal of common purpose in the present, when mainstream political dynamics are militating against individuals. Both systems of belief have a powerful central desire to liberate the human potential, and both require that individuals be permitted to be strong, independent, politically responsible and motivated – upholding a sense of an agentful human self that is increasingly regarded as irresponsible, and perhaps even toxic, in official discourses.

    Take the UK’s spiked-online as an example of what this kind of joint effort between libertarians and marxists (or possibly post-libertarians and post-marxists) might look like. There isn’t a name for the hybrid yet, but it surely beats liberal.

  2. Wow! That’s a great reply, gives me something to think about a some more encouragement to keep working on trying to grok it all. =)
    I know it will take years, most like, and some immersion.
    That site looks interesting…I’ll certainly spend some time on it.
    Thanks! =)

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