most people agree that we need to improveour economic system somehow. yet weâ€™re also often keen to dismiss the ideas of capitalismâ€™smost famous and ambitious critic, karl marx. this isnâ€™t very surprising. in practice, his political and economic ideas have beenused to design disastrously planned economies and nasty dictatorships. nevertheless, we shouldnâ€™t reject marx tooquickly. we ought to see him as a guide whose diagnosis of capitalismâ€™s ills helps usnavigate towards a more promising future. capitalism is going to have be reformed - andmarxâ€™s analyse are going to be part of any answer.marx was born in 1818 in trier, germany.
soon he became involved with the communist party, a tiny group of intellectuals advocatingfor the overthrow of the class system and the abolition of private property. he workedas a journalist and had to flee germany, eventually settling in london. marx wrote an enormous number of books andarticles, sometimes with his friend friedrich engels mostly, marx wrote about capitalism, the typeof economy that dominates the western world. it was, in his day, still getting going, andmarx was one of its most intelligent and perceptive critics. these were some of the problems he identifiedwith it: modern work is â€œalienatedâ€one of marxâ€™s greatest insights is that
work can be one of the sources of our greatestjoys. but in order to be fulfilled at work, marxwrote that workers need â€˜to see themselves in the objects they have createdâ€™. thinkof the person who built this chair: it is straightforward, strong, honest and elegant itâ€™s an example of how, at itsbest, labour offers us a chance to externalise whatâ€™s good inside us. but this is increasinglyrare in the modern world. part of the problem is that modern work isincredibly specialised. specialised jobs make the modern economy highly efficient, but theyalso mean that it is seldom possible for any one worker to derive a sense of the genuinecontribution they might be making to the real
needs of humanity.marx argued that modern work leads to alienation = entfremdung in other words, a feeling of disconnectionbetween what you do all day and who you feel you really are and what you think you ideally be able tocontribute to existence. modern work is insecurecapitalism makes the human being utterly expendable; just one factor among others in the forcesof production that can ruthlessly be let go the minute that costs rise or savings canbe made through technology. and yet, as marx knew, deep inside of us, we donâ€™t want tobe arbitrarily let go, we are terrified of being abandoned.communism isnâ€™t just an economic theory.
understood emotionally, it expresses a deep-seatedlonging that we always have a place in the worldâ€™s heart, that we will not be castout. workers get paid little while capitalistsget rich this is perhaps the most obvious qualm marxhad with capitalism. in particular, he believed that capitalists shrunk the wages of the labourersas much as possible in order to skim off a wide profit margin. he called this primitive accumulation = ursprã¼ngliche akkumulation whereas capitalists see profit as a rewardfor ingenuity and technological talent, marx was far more damning. profit is simply theft,and what you are stealing is the talent and
hard work of your work force. however much one dresses up the fundamentals,marx insists that at its crudest, capitalism means paying a worker one price for doingsomething that can be sold for another, much higher one. profit is a fancy term for exploitation. capitalism is very unstable marx proposed that capitalist systems arecharacterised by series of crises. every crisis is dressed up by capitalists as being somehowfreakish and rare and soon to be the last one. far from it, argued marx, crises are endemic to capitalism - and theyâ€™re caused by something very odd. the fact that weâ€™re able to produce too much - far morethan anyone needs to consume.
capitalist crises are crises of abundance,rather than - as in the past - crises of shortage. our factories and systems are so efficient,we could give everyone on this planet a car, a house, access to a decent school and hospital. thatâ€™s what so enraged marx and made himhopeful too. few of us need to work, because the modern economy is so productive. but rather than seeing this need not to workas the freedom it is, we complain about it masochistically and describe it by a pejorativeword â€œunemployment.â€ we should call it freedom. thereâ€™s so much unemployment for a goodand deeply admirable reason: because weâ€™re so good at making things efficiently. weâ€™renot all needed at the coal face.
but in that case, we should - thought marx- make leisure admirable. we should redistribute the wealth of the massive corporations thatmake so much surplus money and give it to everyone. this is, in its own way, as beautiful a dreamas jesusâ€™s promise of heaven; but a good deal more realistic sounding. capitalism is bad for capitalists marx did not think capitalists were evil.for example, he was acutely aware of the sorrows and secret agonies that lay behind bourgeoismarriage. marx argued that marriage was actually anextension of business, and that the bourgeois
family was fraught with tension, oppression,and resentment, with people staying together not for love but for financial reasons. marx believed that the capitalist system forceseveryone to put economic interests at the heart of their lives, so that they can nolonger know deep, honest relationships. he called this psychological tendency commodity fetishism = warenfetischismus because it makes us value things that haveno objective value. he wanted people to be freed from financialconstraint so that they could - at last - start to make sensible, healthy choices in theirrelationships.
the 20th century feminist answer to the oppressionof women has been to argue that women should be able to go out to work. marxâ€™s answerwas more subtle. this feminist insistence merely perpetuates human slavery. the pointisnâ€™t that women should imitate the sufferings of their male colleagues,itâ€™s that men andwomen should have the permanent option to enjoy leisure. why donâ€™t we all think a bit more like marx? an important aspect of marxâ€™s work is thathe proposes that there is an insidious, subtle way in which the economic system colours thesort of ideas that we ending up having. the economy generates what marx termed anâ€œideologyâ€.
a capitalist society is one where most people,rich and poor, believe all sorts of things that are really just value judgements thatrelate back to the economic system: that a person who doesnâ€™t work is worthless, thatleisure (beyond a few weeks a year) is sinful, that more belongings will make us happierand that worthwhile things (and people) will invariably make money. in short, one of the biggest evils of capitalismis not that there are corrupt people at the topâ€”this is true in any human hierarchyâ€”butthat capitalist ideas teach all of us to be anxious, competitive, conformist, and politicallycomplacent. marx didnâ€™t only outline what was wrongcapitalism: we also get glimpses of what marx
wanted the ideal utopian future to be like. in his communist manifesto he describes a worldwithout private property or inherited wealth, with a steeply graduated income tax, centralisedcontrol of the banking, communication, and transport industries, and free public education.marx also expected that communist society would allow people to develop lots of differentsides of their natures: â€œin communist societyâ€¦it is possible forme to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon,rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as i have a mind, without everbecoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.â€ after marx moved to london he was supportedby his friend and intellectual partner friedrich
engels, a wealthy man whose father owned acotton plant in manchester. engels covered marxâ€™s debts and made sure his works werepublished. capitalism paid for communism. the two men even wrote each other adoringpoetry. marx was not a well-regarded or popular intellectualin his day. respectable, conventional people of marxâ€™s day would have laughed at the idea that hisideas could remake the world. yet just a few decades later they did: his writings becamethe keystone for some of the most important ideological movements of the 20th century. but marx was like a brilliant doctor in theearly days of medicine. he could recognise
the nature of the disease, although he hadno idea how to go about curing it. at this point in history, we should all bemarxists in the sense of agreeing with his diagnosis of our troubles. but we need togo out and find the cures that will really work. as marx himself declared, and we deeplyagree: philosophers until now have only interpreted the world in various ways. the point, however,is to change it.