So in Part 1 of the On Marxism and Morality series, we discussed how Karl Marx used the word slavery as a sort of sleight of hand to imply that any free man who sold his labor was, in fact, a slave. In truth, slavery is a condition wherein you are fundamentally denied choice. The worker can walk away. The worker can go work for someone else. Indeed, the worker can change careers, or obtain capital himself. Many choices exist for him. The slave has none.
But as Francis pointed out, Marx was aware of this objection.
Marx was aware of the objections to his thesis on freedom grounds, so he did what any determined totalitarian would do: he redefined freedom. Freedom, according to Marx, is an absence of tension and conflict, which he maintained can only be achieved when the means of production have been put under control of the workers. A nice little circularity, eh?
Indeed it is. Let us turn to Marxists.org (I don’t want to give them traffic, but feel free to navigate there if you wish) for a suitably Marxian definition of freedom:
Freedom is the right and capacity of people to determine their own actions, in a community which is able to provide for the full development of human potentiality. Freedom may be enjoyed by individuals but only in and through the community.
Notice the qualifier at the end of their definition. In the Marxist world, freedom only exists through the community. This is fundamentally opposed to the Rightist notion of freedom as a natural state. The lone hunter-gatherer is free, in that he can do as he wishes. No one is applying force on him, save the laws of nature, which can neither be altered nor appealed to. The man becomes unfree when force or threat of force is used to compel him to do something.
If I hold a gun to your head and tell you to give me your wallet, that is a momentary state of servitude. It is a violation of freedom.
In the Marxian world, this is not quite accurate, because the community supersedes the individual. A man is a slave unless he is a part of a specific type of (read: Marxist) community. Let’s go further:
Only in community [has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
The German Ideology
This is actually very revealing. Freedom in the Marxist world speaks of human development. It is freedom from nature, not freedom from fellow man. As I’ve said before, this is a fundamental conflict with various forms of Rightism, which regard man as being free by nature, and only later being tied to bondage. In the Marxist world, man is born a slave unless he is a Marxist, living in a Marxist community. Convenient, isn’t it?
One exception is made: Marxists regard the ruling class as free, but only because it oppresses others. This is a contradiction. How could both Marxists and Oppressors be free, but non-Marxists who don’t oppress anyone categorically be slaves?
Let’s return to the concept Francis spoke of:
Positive Freedom and Negative Freedom:
Negative freedom means the lack of forces which prevent an individual from doing whatever they want; Positive freedom is the capacity of a person to determine the best course of action and the existence of opportunities for them to realise their full potential.
The overwhelmingly dominant tendency in the history of bourgeois society has been to open up negative freedom, by removing feudal and other reactionary constraints on freedom of action. Free trade and wage-labour are the most characteristic bourgeois freedoms which have resulted from this history: free trade being the freedom of a capitalist to make a profit without restriction, and wage-labour being the freedom of a worker from any means of livelihood other than being able to sell their labour power to the highest bidder. Thus this negative bourgeois freedom is a kind of freedom which is real only for those who own the means of production.
Positive freedom has been built up almost exclusively as a result of the struggle of the working class: initially the legislation limiting hours of work, child labour and so on, later the creation of free compulsory education, public health systems, right to form trade unions, and so forth, freedoms which explicitly limit the freedom of the capitalists to exploit workers, but give worker the opportunity to develop as human beings.
We see here that what a Rightist would define as freedom is actually acknowledged in Marxism as “negative freedom.” Marxists admit that “bourgeois society” has opened up negative freedom. But immediately this goes right off the rails. Marxism.org tells us that workers don’t really have this freedom because they don’t have capital, and thus must sell their labor. In this, they treat “labor” as a monolithic block. In reality, labor can be many kinds of things. You could be a plumber, or a writer, or a programmer, or an actor. You could work for a company, or you could be a contractor and work for yourself. Labor is not monolithic. Labor cannot be dismissed as non-free by itself. Only if someone is forcing you to do specific labor can it be called unfree. A slavemaster holds a whip and tells his slave to pick cotton. Slavery. A laborer agrees to work for $10/hour picking cotton. Not slavery. And in any case, the worker may obtain capital if he is unsatisfied with his role.
But then Marxism posits a ‘superior’ form of “positive” freedom, which is, in fact, nothing of the kind. And then Marxists try to explain that there is some kind of tension between all these forces, and only when it goes away and everything is cleared away for you (note: by someone else) are you “free” in any real sense.
It’s a bunch of rhetoric about “realizing their full potential.” This word is left undefined. When an artist gets government money to do some sort of modern art project, Marxists eat it up. We’re letting the artist be an artist, they say. He can realize his full potential, they claim. Except there’s a catch. If everyone realized this potential, who would clean toilets and pick up garbage? We’d have an awful lot of bad art, for what incentive is there to improve if you’re going to get the money anyway? And we’d have an awful lot of garbage and dirty toilets, because nobody “realizes their full potential” scrubbing fecal matter. But if nobody scrubs the crap, you get a dysfunctional (and smelly) society.
This is not a new concept. We can go back to the Greeks, and read Aristophanes, and see this central fallacy of Marxism laid bare for us:
“Praxagora: I want all to have a share of everything and all property to be in common; there will no longer be either rich or poor; I shall begin by making land, money, everything that is private property, common to all.
Blepyrus: But who will till the soil?
Praxagora: The slaves.”
Yes. 2,500 years ago, the Greeks understood the central points of Marxism well enough. And it is clear such foolishness was satirized rather heavily. Marxism needs slaves, real ones, not laborers cast as slaves because of political needs. And the people “realizing their full potential”? They will be the Party members, the new political aristocracy, whose coin will be popularity and political power instead of bank balances. They will realize their potential. You won’t.
Fact is, a human’s potential is unknowable by any but God anyway. Even a man himself does not know if there was more he could have done, or better choices he could have made in life. Whatever his pure theoretical potential, he will always fall short of it. Consider also that a man today, possessing machines to serve him, can do far more than a man thousand years ago. We can make more and better goods, grow more food, prevent more disease. Our potential is not some static number that you magically hit and suddenly you’re “free”. It is always changing, never certain, and not fully quantifiable.
Either Marx was aware of this, and didn’t care, or he was too dense to get it. But either way, the Marxist definition of freedom is bullshit. It is, in fact, even less true than the notion that labor is slavery. For at least labor can sometimes look rather similar to slavery in some superficial manner. “Positive freedom” and negative freedom have absolutely nothing in common. Positive freedom is pure bologna, because it’s not freedom at all. As Aristophanes explained for us, it actually implies that at least someone will have to be enslaved.
Many Americans have a near-instinctive loathing for Communism, both the word, and nations and leaders who have put it into practice. How many can articulate why it engenders such disgust?
SJWs and other assorted Marxists use the battle-cry “educate!” The assumption, of course, is that anyone who disagrees with Marxism is either uneducated or, somewhat less charitably, just so stupid as to be unable to grasp its nuances. Marxism, some have claimed, is itself something of a misnomer, for Marx did not expressly construct the ideology. He was, they say, merely a philosopher.
Whatever. Call the ideology whatever you wish, it still remains the same. My own familiarity with the ideology comes from a lifetime of learning from those who lived under it, including my own in-laws. In this, my education in Marxism has been rooted in practicality. What does this ideology produce when its adherents are granted power?
This is how most Americans approach the subject, for we are nothing if not a practical people. You can sell us on a shiny, stylish new car, and claim it is the greatest thing ever invented. But if it breaks down frequently, is expensive to maintain, and generally fails to do the job for which it was purchased, we account it as a shitty car. We treat Communism the same way. One might claim it is more fashionable and trendy, that it is a greater and more moral ideology than our own. But when we see it fail, in every time and place in which it has taken hold… Well, it doesn’t matter how good of a salesman you are, or how many times you say it wasn’t real Communism. The American will look upon it like the worst of lemons on the Buy Here, Pay Here lot.
Our intrepid, plaid-clothed salesman may claim that we are merely uneducated, for the car is loaded with the latest in technological progress, but the American pays him no mind. It’s not as if we haven’t heard that line a dozen times before. But when pressed, the American often has difficulty articulating precisely why views it as a lemon. “It just doesn’t work right,” might be the response. Or perhaps he will say “the sales guy sounded like a weasel, no thanks.”
The claim of uneducated has a ring of truth to it, which is why the dig is often so effective. An American might think “well, you’re right, I don’t know an awful lot about it. I just know it doesn’t work.”
So let’s pry the lid off Marxism a little bit and approach it from an everyman’s perspective, and see what we might find. Let’s dig in and see precisely why it is such a lemon. Where its failures are, and how we’ve come to the point where Marxism, despite being seemingly defeated in the Cold War, has come dangerously close to complete control over most of the Earth.
This will be an ongoing series, where I will select a passage from Marx’s Das Kapital and go over in detail what it means, and how it relates to our current situation. And rather than this being some kind of long-winded sociopolitical scholarly treatment, it will be plain, and written for the layman. There’s enough loaded jargon on Communism festering around on the Internet these days, after all. I’ve no desire to add to that particular landfill.
Here are two quotes for today:
“In reality, the laborer belongs to capital before he has sold himself to capital. His economic bondage is both brought about and concealed by the periodic sale of himself, by his change of masters, and by the oscillation in the market price of labor power. Capitalist production, therefore, under its aspect of a continuous connected process, of a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus value, but it also produces and reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on the other the wage-laborer.”
― Karl Marx, Das Kapital
“The essential difference between the various economic forms of society, between, for instance, a society based on slave-labour, and one based on wage-labour, lies only in the mode in which this surplus-labour is in each case extracted from the actual producer, the labourer.”
― Karl Marx, Das Kapital
Here Marx is attempting to sell the reader on the notion that workers are slaves, or at least have a relationship fundamentally similar to slaves with their masters. The worker may choose a different a master, says Marx, but he is still in economic bondage. It is still, in his words, a man conducting “the periodic sale of himself.”
In the days of the Industrial Revolution, this undoubtedly appealed to a great many workers. Let’s face it, life in the factory was hellish. They were dirty, dingy, disgusting, and undoubtedly dangerous. The hours were long, and the toil would have felt as close to slavery as anything could be. And then some Socialist agitator would come and explain that he had been granted insight into the ideology of Karl Marx, a man who said that one day they would escape this bondage.
Except the notion of this difficult labor as slavery is incorrect. It is the foundation upon which the rest of Marxism rests. That it is truly unjust for a man to work so. Let’s look at that notion more closely.
What would happen to a man in the stone age who refused to do the equally difficult and dangerous labor of hunting and foraging for food? Naturally, he would die. Was he thus a slave? If so, he would be a slave to Mother Nature. Before the Industrial Revolution, what would a man generally do for work? Most likely, he would be a farmer. Farming (especially back then) was also a hard, risky business. It is telling that people left the farms to go work in the factories, and never thought to go back.
You see, while the relationship between a factory owner and his workers may superficially resemble that of master and slave in some fashion, it really isn’t one. The worker can choose to do whatever he wishes, and whatever someone will pay him to do. He could be a farmer, or a servant, or a factory worker. He can choose who to work for, which is also very powerful.
Periodically, Facebook will fill up with comments about how evil and terrible Walmart is, as a company. They pay very little, it is said, and the work is demanding. Costco, they often claim, is so much better than Walmart in this respect. They pay their workers a living wage, provide healthcare benefits, and so on. The implied question is “why isn’t Walmart as good as Costco?”
That is a question I can answer, for many moons ago I worked at a Costco as a stocker and occasional cashier, when the dotcom bust hit in the early 2000s (no jobs for programmers back then). I would unload trucks, haul pallets around, and otherwise. And sure enough, they paid a great wage. Over $12/hour, and back then, it was good money for that kind of work.
So how was it that Costco could afford this, and Walmart couldn’t? Well, Costco is very picky about who they hire. And their expectations for work were very lofty. They worked me to the bone, let me tell you. And if you didn’t work to the bone, you didn’t last very long. Out of my crop of hires (over 20 new people), after three months I was one of only three still left. Some were fired. Most left on their own accord, because the work was too much for them. Walmart is much more lax about such things. When I go to a Walmart, I often see workers just lounging about, or slowly shuffling from place-to-place without any fanfare. Cashier lanes are much slower, too. You just didn’t see that at Costco. Or not for very long, anyway.
This gives the worker a choice. Go to Costco, where you’ll work very hard, but get paid pretty well to do it. Or slack off a little and make do with the Walmart wages. Otherwise, these Walmart workers would all be knocking on Costco’s doorstep for a job, rather than protesting in the streets, or posting rants on Facebook why Costco is great and Walmart stinks.
Is that really the choice of a slave?
Often times, the political Left will tell you that hard work doesn’t really get you anywhere. You’re exploited, you see, by the greedy Capitalists. But how many of them would really choose the higher-paying, but hard-working Costco job over the easier, lower-paying Walmart one? They want to have their cake and eat it too. Most folks have choices like this in their lives. You can almost always work more or harder, if you really want to. Whether the additional work is worth the payoff is another question entirely, but you do have a choice. And choice is precisely what separates you from slavery. If you take the choice away, i.e. embrace Marxist thought, you might be comfortable (probably only for a little while – see: Venezuela), but your lack of choice means you’ve effectively embraced enslavement.
And all of this presumes that you can’t, in fact, also acquire capital of your own. You can, and many folks do. Then you are no longer just a worker.
This notion of the worker as a slave is one of Marxism’s most important foundations, and it is built upon a lie. It is a lie designed to sound plausible, for after a long day of hauling pallets and paying rent, life can seem rather slave-like. Especially when you see the owner chugging up the hill in his fancy new Benz. But take it from a man who could afford pretty much any Benz he wanted, now, if he was inclined to be stupid with his money: you won’t always be where you are, and you do have a choice.
Nobody ever said that just because you aren’t a slave, life will be easy, full of plenty, and without dangerous, difficult struggles. A hard life doesn’t make you a slave, and an easy life doesn’t mean you aren’t one. Choice, not labor, is what determines your status as a slave or a free man.