Tyler Zimmer on What Marx Brought to Socialism

Tyler ZimmerThe simplest way to summarize the core of Marxism is to begin with Marx and Engel’s insistence that “the emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” “This struggle for emancipation,” they continued, “[is] not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule.”

The basic idea is this: instead of appealing to gods or saviors to liberate humanity from above, Marx argued that the masses of working-class people who make up the vast majority of modern capitalist societies could, by organizing themselves collectively, radically transform society for the better.

In capitalism, working people often feel like isolated, vulnerable playthings of chaotic economic forces they can’t control. The central theme in Marxism is that this need not be so. Rather than being passively subject to an ecologically ruinous system based solely on profit, Marx argued that the vast majority of human beings can and must bring the economic system under their conscious, collective control.

It’s important to remember that Marx and Engels weren’t the first socialists. They distinguished themselves by opposing earlier socialists who sought to administer socialism from above by devising detailed blueprints of what they saw as an ideal society. Unlike the “utopian socialists,” for example, who thought the masses too ignorant or helpless to liberate themselves from the injustices of capitalism, Marx and Engels argued that a better society could only be built by the conscious, deliberate activity of a democratically organized revolutionary movement of ordinary working people. This puts Marxism at odds with authoritarian bureaucratic regimes who claim Marx’s mantle like those of Stalin or Mao as well as with technocratic, neoliberal visions of governance that limit democratic participation to the vanishing point.

–Tyler Zimmer
Why Jonathan Chait Is Wrong About Marxism, Liberalism, and Free Speech

Lost in Neoliberal Hell

Covered California - Neoliberal HellIt’s that time of the year: the trudge through dozens of healthcare plans and figure out what your best option is. Because we all have to remember: we are all perfect consumers and by letting us waste hours and even days going over this, the God of Economics will look down on us fondly and make rich people even richer.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

I’m happy with my current plan, which is with Kaiser Permanente. I have a hippy doctor who believes in doing as little as possible. And I love that because I think doctors are really dangerous. But there are a number of Kaiser plans. And I’m not inclined to pay $500 per month this year for health insurance — which could happen because I make substantially more money this year than I did last year.

Change I Can’t Believe In

So I have to go onto the Covered California website to make changes. But when I do, it tells me that it is not open enrollment now. This could be. I don’t recall getting health insurance until maybe March. So maybe I shouldn’t be putting myself through this madness until February.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

The point of my bringing this all up is that I don’t need this extra stress in my life. It would be better if I just paid my taxes and the government dealt with the rest. You know, that way people who actually understand this stuff could take care of it. And I could just worry about when I ought to go to the doctor.

This Is Neoliberal Policy

My preferred system would be what we call “liberal” (or “socialist” if you want). The system we have now — Obamacare — is neoliberal. And this is one reason I got so mad when Jonathan Chait and others claimed that there really was no difference between “liberal” and “neoliberal” — except in terms of propaganda. In other words, “neoliberal” was just a pejorative for “liberal.”

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

That’s clearly not the case. Neoliberalism is what conservatism used to be — at least in terms of economics (which is pretty much the only conext that it is used in). You could call Reagan a neoliberal. So is anyone who thinks that the true way to help the world is to enrich the already rich. It’s why Nick Hanauer’s lecture about the myth of the job creator scandalized all those well-heeled “liberal” Ted Talk types.

The “Magic” of the Market

Neoliberalism is the belief that the best way to help the nation is through bank shots. A liberal would approach poverty by giving food, housing, and money to the poor. A neoliberal would give money to corporations with the idea that they would maybe give job training to the poor and thus allow the poor to get jobs and thus food, housing, and money to the poor. The critical element of neoliberalism is its fetishization of the market and its supposed magic powers.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”

And so, we couldn’t just have universal health insurance. No! We have to have healthcare exchanges where all of us totally unqualified people could take a whack at picking the right plan for us. And if we don’t have enough money to buy even the worst insurance, well, the government will pay. But not to us. We can’t be trusted to spend money properly — only to choose the right health insurance for us.

Making the Rich Richer

But there is a reason for all of this. The neoliberals are convinced that by involving the business community, everything will be much better. Oh, I’m kidding! They do it because the neoliberals who make the laws are themselves rich. They don’t want to see their rich friends miss out on the gravy train. (Of course: they couldn’t.) And as a result, I wasted hours this morning, doing my part to make the market do its magic.

“We are currently experience high call volumes and are unable to take your call at this time… Goodbye.”