“Capitalism is like fire: keep it under control and it will give you heat and light; leave it untended and it will consume everything in its path.”
Neoliberalism and Class Struggle
One of my favourite classes in University has been Social and Political Thought because it’s focused on important philosophers who’ve influenced the modern world as we know it. These philosophers have contributed to science, politics and the overall progress of civilization. We’ve read work by John Stuart Mill (a founding father of classical liberalism), Edmund Burke (a founding father of classical conservatism), as well as Immanuel Kant, Darwin, Locke, Marx, David Harvey, and many others…
I was completely enamoured by everything that I’d learned involving world politics, and of course, Kant’s theory of enlightenment. But my two favourite authors to read about, were certainly, Karl Marx and David Harvey (who is still alive today).
Now, Marx holds a bad reputation by some in North America for being associated with the Communist state (like the Soviet Union) which ended up being far more authoritarian than Utopian. Yet, Marx was actually quite brilliant and I dare say, his idea of what was possible for the equal treatment of all humanity is not so unrealistic. He’d seen the inequality that Capitalism had brought to the civilized world and the unhappiness that it brought the average worker. He had understood that if the working class were to rise up they could overthrow the wealthy aristocrats of his time and implement a more fair social dynamic for all people. He’d created a pamphlet to rile up the population called The Communist Manifesto and he wrote a book called Kapital which was more analytical and identified trends, both positive and negative, of the Capitalist system.
Marx wrote briefly about the history of humanity, and how there has always been class struggles between humans. There’s almost always been a ruling class and oppressed people in just about every society. It had been this way since the first man set up a fence, claimed a piece of land as his own and led others to believe that claim. He believed that private property was part of the design flaw in human civilization which led to inequality. The monarchies may have been slowly coming to an end around the world in the 19th century, but Capitalism was leading to a different type of inequality (the inequality of money power). Every man is technically free, but mostly just the rich; the laws, the structure of society and big corporations will convert the average man to nothing more than a mere “appendage of the machine”.
Capitalism resulted in the acquisition of resources and means of production by the ultra-wealthy, who eliminated more and more skilled labour jobs in exchange for machines. Because of this, the common skilled labourers of the medieval era were replaced by industrial advancements. Then rather than producing quality goods individually, the skilled labourers were forced to sell their labour as a commodity to those owning the tools and resources. Productivity and efficiency had increased in the Industrial era but jobs were simplified so that wage-labourers had also become less valuable in many ways. The simpler the production process was, the easier the worker was to replace and the less money they needed to be paid in compensation for their labour. Karl Marx referred to the ruling class as the Bourgeoisie, but we might know them today as the rich Aristocrats of our time. They hold the majority of capital and the means of employment.
“The worker of the world has nothing to lose, but their chains, workers of the world unite.” – Karl Marx
Karl Marx spent some time trying to identify how capital was actually created in a Capitalist society and what he discovered was that capital was created by taking a commodity and selling it for surplus-value. A commodity made from natural resources gained value, he found, by adding labour to it and then selling those resources (now transformed) at a higher value. Perhaps it seems common-sense to you, right?
Well, the problem with the acquisition of Capital in this sense is the surplus-value which comes from the sale of the product is often exploited from the wage-labourer who adds more value then they receive in compensation. The capitalists are also in competition with each other, so they drive down costs (including labour) to generate more profits so that it can be re-invested into new tools, innovation, machinery etc. Marx determined that it is because of the exploitation of the wage-labourer that Capitalists may continue to increase their capital and remain competitive in the marketplace.
That is not to say that Karl Marx hated Capitalism because he was, in fact, a fan of how it had transformed societies across the world to become more civilized. The free-market and the Capitalists pushed civil society to nearly every country on the planet to expand their money-making systems. Civilization was vastly improved by the new technology and more efficient means of production. However, there was still a class struggle happening and exploitation of the majority by the ruling few. It was this class struggle that Marx sought to rectify by pushing the common man to become revolutionary against the bourgeoisie majority.
In modern times, the teachings of Marx are still alive and making impressions on modern philosophers. David Harvey, a distinguished professor and economic geographer with a New York City University, has written a book called A Brief History of Neoliberalism which compliments the philosophies of Karl Marx in many ways.
Harvey details how after World War II social movements in Western countries greatly improved the welfare of the average citizen by instituting more social benefits and equality. Essentially, our societies became slightly more socialist with employment insurance and government benefits. For the working-class man and woman, these were huge leaps in progress, in comparison to the old system, which left many in poverty during the Great Depression. For the Capitalist elite, however, these social benefits did very little to benefit them and seemed like nothing but a burden on their bank books.
“Capitalism will never fall on its own. It will have to be pushed. The accumulation of capital will never cease. It will have to be stopped. The capitalist class will never willingly surrender its power. It will have to be dispossessed.”
After that, for around 30 years the median wage of the average household rose at the same rate as corporations, until about the 1970s when another economic crisis occurred and the Neoliberal movement was formed by the political elite. A narrative began to spread that the best way to fix the economy would be to deregulate the market, open up all trade barriers around the world, allow money to flow freely and to privatize more public institutions. It was told that this would create more money for the top earners but a trickle-down effect would help support all households. This lie has since led to worsening conditions for the average employee while big corporations have made larger and larger profits annually.
Corporations have since infiltrated governments in most societies and influence government legislation around the world. Countries have been converted to Neoliberalism if they appear to threaten the trend. Slowly, the economic gap has been increasing between the wealthiest of Western nations due to these inhumane policies. Government benefits that many had taken for granted after the second world war have been slowly dialled back, costs are rising and class distinctions are becoming more pronounced in civilized societies.
Neoconservatism and neoliberalism are both interested in preserving class power and oppressing the working class person to ensure the inequality is never rectified. However, as Marx had mentioned throughout his writings in the Communist Manifesto and Kapital, the working majority could flip the tables on these powers if they were to ever actually unite. We need to stop fighting each other and start fighting money power. The laws which help to protect the elite capitalists also give the wage-labourer power to make changes in their government. We may all get more involved in politics if we so choose. As long as the two camps keep the majority of working-class people fighting against each other rather than joining up to take down the elitists, then the system will continue to be corrupted.
The “socialist” movement in America led by key figures such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is actually a movement meant to correct this power imbalance. Socialism in a Democracy simply means to take power away from private ownership and to give that ownership back to the public; public healthcare, public education, enhanced benefits etc.
The only people that a socialist democracy would threaten are the capitalists and ultra-wealthy who dislike the idea of having to pay their fair share to support the most vulnerable. Neoliberalism is affecting the entire world today, and corporations have power in all corners of the globe because of this harmful propaganda they have been pushing for nearly 50 years now. It might be high time that we, the working class, begin to take power back for ourselves around the world.
“Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the one percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues.”
– Bernie Sanders
Are you ready for a revolution? Thoughts/Comments?
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