There Have Long Been Too Many 'Have Nots' In the U.S.
(AP Photo/Channi Anand)
There Have Long Been Too Many 'Have Nots' In the U.S.
(AP Photo/Channi Anand)
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Some people continue to claim it’s much ado about nothing. Or, at most, not unlike what we’ve seen and been through before. There has always been an undercurrent of radicalism in the US as well as around the world, and that’s true. But what makes this one different is much more than the normalized fiery spectacle playing out seemingly each and every night on the TV news.

Yesterday, a guy by the name of Dick Costolo tweeted out the following:

“Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution.”

Not just some rando on Twitter, Mr. Costolo first has 1.5 million followers many of whom follow his every tweet with religious-like fervor. Beyond that, the guy was CEO of Twitter between 2010 and 2015. This ain’t fringe stuff.

The only surprising piece of his deviant twit was that Dick forgot to capitalize its final word: to each good standing Marxist of all varieties, it’s the Revolution.

This is what we, and Costolo, are really talking about – socialism in some variant form. Opponents like to distill the ideology into a single recipe, as if Marxism hasn’t itself evolved with the times. This is a mistake; for one thing, the very fact that it keeps changing tells you a lot about the soundness of its conclusions.

True science, of course, should change as it becomes warranted; that’s the bedrock principle behind it, the way human society moved out of the feudal Dark Ages and into the enlightened modern world. In the face of overwhelming evidence, to stick to one’s predetermined deduction is backward, anti-science folly.

Just as it is to (try to) turn inconvenient hard science into emotional pleas.

Karl Marx agreed. If the man contributed anything it was in recognizing even for its opponents that capitalism, that which brought Enlightenment science into freedom and advance for its proponents, was the key ingredient which did so. Neither Marx nor Engels could deny that much from what they hated.

But from that, Communism’s intellectual founders deduced a major flaw in its workings and associations; capitalism would expire from an inherent contradiction. To be workable for any prolonged period, the capitalist must exploit his workers; profits and all that. At a certain point, there would be no unspoiled workers left to spoil, thus too little profit left to keep the whole systemic enterprise afloat.

It was here that the Communist would be swept in; the revolution (sorry, Revolution) not mere accident of circumstance but a foregone conclusion of yet-to-be written history. Capitalism, Marx said, like all human beings it was born into its own grave.

The problem for these 19th century Marxists is that, well, it’s now the 21st century and only fits and starts with the socialism stuff. A century and more than a half later, and even the Russians got tired of waiting along the way. Chinese, too.

This is usually where the common criticisms of socialism, Marxism, Communism, communism, and Socialism all stall out. Maybe the Russians abandoned the project because it wasn’t the “right” project? As modern and post-modern Marxists contend, the 19th century version was simply Revolution 1.0.

It's also a mistake to view Dear Karl (as I’m doing right here) as mere caricature. The guy, like many psychopaths and narcissists, was brilliant. A lot of what he said about capitalism no one else had before, and much of it remains relevant today. You cannot simply throw the baby out with the bathwater if you want to successfully re-convert his faithful back to freedom and choice.

From the very beginning, Marx knew that it wouldn’t be so easy. In the preface to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, he wrote, “No social formation disappears as long as the productive forces which have developed within it still find room for further forward movement.” Taken further, what that meant for capitalism was clear; so long as it hadn’t yet exhausted itself, the Revolution would still have to wait.

Marx just didn’t think it would be that long of one.  

The proletariat, like the bourgeoisie, wouldn’t accede let alone participate so long as this remained true. Eventually, though, there would be no “further forward movement” possible so for Marx this was a question of pure timing.

To his later followers, it couldn’t be that because of…time. Generations of them have come and gone waiting for this to happen. Rather than accept that maybe capitalism, like entropy, is as inexhaustible as human ingenuity, so long as it is allowed, post-modern Marxists in particular have sought various explanations for their long dry spell. Capitalism must still suck, just not in the way we thought. 

Especially during the 1930’s; if ever there was a time when Communism seemed to have it right, all the capitalist critiques falling into line, the socialist tumblers each and every one clicked into place, the Great Depression was it.  Yet, once again, no revolution (sorry, Revolution).

To invent answers, new schools of leftist thought emerged which took, by necessity, Marx’s original vision and expanded on it. Capitalism was far more insidious than Karl, Friedrich, or Lenin had surmised. Not just some economic foundation, nor just the means of production for invention and exploitation of new riches, capitalism must be surviving instead because it is a whole way of life.

As Lenin had said:

“One of the fundamental differences between bourgeois revolution and the Socialist revolution is that for the bourgeois revolution, which arises out of feudalism, the new economic organizations are gradually created in the womb of the old order, gradually changing all aspects of feudal society…the difference between Socialist revolution and bourgeois revolution lies precisely in the fact that the latter finds ready forms of capitalist relationships.”

This was already a violation of founding Marxism; Karl had warned that feudal societies couldn’t be transformed. They absolutely needed to pass through a democratic/capitalist stage first, otherwise there’d be no miracle wealth and technology to support the new socialist structure. Lenin had jumped the gun in Russia, but even so he could still see the myriad problems in that place where only a thin layer of bourgeoisie had existed over top mostly feudal existence.

To put it bluntly: the vast majority of people like capitalism. That’s one reason why Marx had also declared the true socialist revolution (sorry, Revolution) must first come from the workers, not the bourgeoisie. The workers should be its biggest complainers, the least satisfied (in theory) to labor forever onwards under such heavy exploitation. If any class would accept Communist, it's this one - but strangely never is.

As Marx wrote, capitalism skirted a fine line “to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery.” And once it stopped being able to do that, then the workers of the world unite!

Since they haven't, later Marxist scholars have fingered instead what they call “tertiary” industries. In fact, if you research Chinese economic accounts, for example, they conveniently break many of them down by primary industries (simple agriculture and fishing), secondary industries (like actual hard industry, think factories), and tertiary industries.

This last category would include companies like Twitter; service-oriented micro-economies which really depend upon sectors like high tech, computers, computer networks and the like. The real modern world. According to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, tertiary industries made up 54% of China’s value-added GDP in 2019, contributing nearly 60% of its economic growth.

This is where an Italian Socialist by the name of Antonio Gramsci has been so influential, particularly since 1975 when his original work from the 1930’s was translated into many languages. Hardly anyone has heard this name, but his views have influenced everything including the leftist overtaking of schools, newspapers, law, as well as what sures like the politicization of every facet of society.

The bourgeois capitalist class could not, on its own, hold on to power in the way Marx had surmised – coercion economics alone. Instead, the capitalist vibe penetrates all levels of civic society; through the church, the media, the schools, etc. Gramsci called it “cultural hegemony.”

“Though hegemony is ethical-political, it must also be economic, must necessarily be based on the decisive function exercised by the leading group in the decisive nucleus of economic activity.”

The capitalists use these instruments of state and politics as well as all of civil, non-political society to reinforce their coercion and exploitation of the underclasses, who then accede to this arrangement as a sort of political compromise. So long as these elites keep making workers’ lives better, the peons won’t notice that they’re really slaves.

A later follower of Gramsci, Erik Erikson, pointed out how in this view capitalism has itself evolved not just new technologies to make lives better but simultaneously new ways to dominate humanity through the monopoly given to it by the state (thus the term monopoly capitalism). It has been an “artful perverter of joy and keen exploiter of strength.”

As such, Gramsci wasn’t willing to wait around for what he called Americanism and Fordism to flourish even for a time. His stated goal was to prevent “the proletariat of Western Europe and the United States from being kept quiet by bread and circuses, passively waiting for decadence and destruction.” Cultural hegemony meant that the socialists must first undertake a counter hegemony; or counter-cultural hegemony.

If today’s workers are too fat, dumb, and made happy by the proliferation of tertiary industries, then some part of the bourgeoisie rather proletariat could be carved off and converted into a sort of perverted Leninism; still the small group of revolutionaries (sorry, Revolutionaries) who would “guide” society toward its badly needed awakening; to have one’s eyes opened to what they claim is the reality of the human condition whether or not anyone wants this uninvited optical intrusion.

Because we are all slaves to the capitalist machine, the revolutionary (sorry, Revolutionary) believes our consent to living in such a system cannot be construed as meaningful. Here, even our consent is interpreted as exploitation (perfectly Orwellian justification). We need to be woke in order to see that we haven’t consented at all to what has been this compromise state.

You don’t get to disagree with the revolution (sorry, Revolution).

It has to be that way because the role of the state is to preserve the bourgeois hegemony. The inherent flaws in the capitalist structure (they still believe that) means it produces an unstable situation; that it must accumulate enough profits to keep the whole thing going as well as to be able to reinvest in tertiary industries and the like. If profits fall too low, then crisis; the workers don’t get their bread nor circuses, and there isn’t enough left to be invested toward keeping the whole thing afloat.

The post-modern version of the Great Depression is just this; that the system broke down kind of like Marx predicted, but that bourgeois hegemony was maintained anyway by its monopoly position with the state interested only in this compromise with workers. In some places, like the US, capitalism was “reformed” into something like the New Deal which represented a new sort of concession in lieu of the socialist revolution (sorry, Revolution).

In others, such as Gramsci’s Italy, this had led to fascism (and a long time before 1929; Mussolini interrupted Marx from an earlier capitalism crisis, jailing leftists like Gramsci for speaking out against it). Reorganizing the state of production by incorporating it more heavily into the state where political power could strengthen hegemony via these other means besides economy.

In other cases, perhaps later cases, should profits ever fall too low and the government response insufficient, then Gramsci surmised that would be the time when counter cultural hegemony would be in best position to forward the revolutionary (sorry, Revolutionary) cause; workers would be awakened enough by the lack of circuses to question their coerced consent to the capitalism compromise of such minority rule - even if capitalism still had something left in the tank, not completely exhausted. 

From that period forward, this brand of Marxism has spent decades preparing for that day, breaching all layers ("superstructures") of civil society in anticipation.

At this point, the state would have to increasingly resort to overt means to maintain the status quo; open coercion through the power politics more at home in the traditional Marxist critique. Mass demonstrations against what are feverish declarations of being stripped of rights, even outright clashes with the police and the attempted overthrow or destruction of symbols of the state (like federal courthouses, for one) and its monopoly capitalism.

This about sums up the full scale of 2020.

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (really 2007 to current) fit the narrative to a “T.” The government stepping in to "save capitalism” matching the Gramsci-definitions of a monopoly’s only interest in preserving bourgeois cultural hegemony; keeping the economic minority at the top position it cannot otherwise hold.

But bailouts and TBTF weren’t enough; constant need for things like QE which from the street level of the revolutionary (sorry, ah, you get it) amounted to explicit, in-your-face state monopoly support for this system which had, as Gramsci and other post-modern Marxists predicted, run afoul of its “unstable equilibria.” That's their new bogey, the new Marxist target.

As it more and more fails to provide new kinds of circuses in tertiary ways, this leads to more and more state penetration into not just economic but also civil institutions (further eroding, or taking away, perceived “rights”).  

The bourgeoisie can only call in the state to reorder or even alter (the way the New Deal supposedly had) the compromise position, as they’ve done unsuccessfully through central banks. From the leftist side it is for counter cultural hegemony to be well-enough established and stocked with sufficient and sufficiently aroused (woke) sympathizers.

And everything that has happened since 2008 has played right into their hands. Though this post-2008 economy has been called a boom, and a tech-led boom, it hasn’t even been growth. Sure, everyone has Twitter, but not anywhere close to enough have work. Sure seems unstable.

Have you seen the labor participation rate lately? It was big trouble even before 2020.

Why do the mainstream media, multitudes of school districts, near every single university, and so many lawyers and politicians sound like exactly the same cultural Marxist? Because later generations of socialists realized Marx was wrong about a fundamental precept. Capitalism might not be terminal, after all, but that didn't change anything so far as they were concerned.

They’ve instead been preparing not for its termination, but for any significant stumble which might afford them their first serious opportunity since the thirties to “wake” everyone up to what they claim is a much better, more “equal” way of living (of course, trading in any future progress for this new "equal" compromise).

Yes, society gets better and better, the human condition improves beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, but that’s all the more reprehensible to the hardcore Revolutionary; Orwell again, what's good is actually bad. Like Gramsci or those who followed him have said (Erikson):

“…to grow up healthily without reaching personal maturity, to live well but without purpose, to invent ingeniously without aim, and to kill grandiosely without need.”

Yep, damn those 23 different varieties of underarm spray deodorants, like Bernie said back in ‘15; screw the fact that the poorest among us are now far more likely to be obese, the Revolution demands those things back because the Revolutionaries know what true meaning is for the rest of us! How dare capitalism solve, and keep solving, the most basic wants and needs which have plagued human existence from time immemorial! It's just too messy.

Not a small difference from the original Marx which claimed capitalism can make things good but won’t last to the post-modern Marx which now admits it can keep making things good but, dang it, it just leaves you all empty - and envious - inside, some people rich while others not.

It's the proliferation of “nots” which has made this time different. Without anyone else to offer a scientific explanation for so many, emotion sure can substitute.

As really stupid as it all sounds, and should sound, without enough legitimate growth in primary, secondary, or tertiary industries since August 2007, too many “nots” for any system, and the constant, absurd, and floundering interference from the state because of this, more and more people are listening to it anyway. Just how many, that’s the question.

Is it really much ado about nothing this time?

Jeffrey Snider is the Head of Global Research at Alhambra Partners. 

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