We have now reached the final episode of Jonathan Witt's A Cultural Case For Capitalism. In this article, Witt acknowledges that Capitalism is challenged by Marxism but he rejects the challenge. His rejection is partially based on his view of Marxism and the question is, does Witt demonstrate a significant understanding of Marxism? It doesn't seem so.
Witt's understanding of Marxism is confined to its main example, the old Soviet Union, and brief references to atheism and materialism. Other than that, there is no discussion of Marxism which, in turn, fails to support the 'Beyond Marxism' part of the title. We should note that the only other reference Witt makes of Marxism here is the categories used by some to critique Capitalism. But there is no description of Marxism either substantial or cursory. One can only conclude then that mentioning the Soviet Union was a significant enough description of Marxism for Witt to make.
So there is either a problem with Witt's title or his content. So let's take a look at the Soviet Union and see how it represents not just Marxism but Socialism in general. The criticism Noam Chomsky levels against Lenin and the beginning of the Soviet Union describes the two directions in which Socialism went with the Russian Revolution and identifies which direction was truly socialistic based on facilitating workers' control of the means of production (click here). In the one corner was an ideological approach in need of a vanguard. That approach was taken by Lenin. His leadership told the people that only certain elites could lead the country in socialism. And thus, those with opposing opinions were silenced as heretics. However, in taking that approach, control was taken out of the workers' hands and given to Lenin's vanguard. This vanguard would be the judges of what was true socialism and what wasn't. Chomsky noted that since the vanguard overthrew and replaced the workers councils (a.k.a., soviets), the term 'Socialism' was only used as a marketing tool.
Criticisms of Lenin revealed another side of Socialism, it was Socialism as a practice. Rosa Luxemburg called Lenin's take over of the Revolution and his subsequent rule a 'bourgeoisie dictatorship.' Karl Kautsky strongly criticized Lenin for his silencing of fellow Socialists. Kautsky favored democracy. We should note that Luxemburg criticized Kautsky as favoring a 'bourgeoisie democracy.' But by favoring democracy, both Kautsky and Luxemburg supported Socialism as a practice where decisions are made democratically by representatives who belonged to the proletariate and who were elected by peers.
Witt's conflating of the Soviet Union with Marxism thus misses two points. The first point is that Marxism and Socialism are not monoliths. Though one can hardly fault Witt for not knowing all of the different flavors of Marxism, this does not excuse his conflation of the different forms of socialism under the heading of the old Soviet Union. And lest Marxists feel singled out, we should note that, throughout this series, Witt seems unaware of the different kinds of Capitalism as well.
Second, what is most important in Marxism is who has control. While conservatives like to call big government Socialism, Socialism is really about the distribution of power among the proletariate and thus, not all examples of big government are socialistic. For example, in writing about the Jewish Question, Marx stated that in America, private property had been abolished in the America of his time because non-landowners could write laws governing the actions of landowners. Note that though landowners still owned private property, but since their hold over society and politics, according to what Marx perceived, had been broken, control of those who held private property had been abolished.
So with Witt equating Marxism with the Soviet Union, he shows a gross ignorance of Marxism and Socialism. Thus the part of the title, 'Beyond Marxism,' is a misnomer because Marxism is not first adequately defined.
Now Witt goes on to talk about the materialism that serves as a foundational part of Marxism. Here, Witt should have consulted Martin Luther King Jr. because Marxism, according to King, did not have a monopoly on materialism. Capitalism could also be materialistic (see page 95 of this link). And even without the King's charges, we should note the materialism that is a foundational part of Capitalism. After all, what is American Capitalism's claim to fame? Is it not that it has produced the greatest material wealth in the history of mankind? In addition, how is it that we can so focus on competition for business and profits and not be materialistic?
And yes, Marx was an atheist. But that does not make atheism a requirement for at least partially agreeing with Marx.
In opposition to the Marxism Witt fails to adequately define or describe, stands Capitalism that, according to Witt, based on a Judeo-Christian view of people. Central to that is the belief that ideas have consequences. Such seems sound until one happens upon some of the consequences that occur but are not mentioned. What if my ideas cause my investments or business to bust, should the consequence include poverty, homelessness, and death? If so, then the basic foundation of Witt's Capitalism is Social Darwinism, not Christianity. And the chief apostle of such Capitalism is Ayn Rand. And the idea that voluntary organizations can pick up enough of the pieces of people's failure is deliberately delusional and designed to free private sector elites from their social responsibilities.
And just perhaps, Witt's association of Christianity with today's Capitalism is to lure unsuspecting Christians into the trap of supporting the status quo rather than acting as today's prophets. For while Witt acknowledges that today's Capitalism needs some corrections, the corrections he is thinking of involve implementation rather than structural change. For little does Witt suspect that Free Market Values of self-interest and competition sabotage the Free Market itself. And thus, just perhaps, the Free Market is not based on Judeo-Christian values as much as he claims. These points have been made in the reviews of the other parts of his A Cultural Case For Capitalism.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10