|on popper versus marx, and the new class struggle
||[Jan. 22nd, 2006|12:33 am]
In book two of "the Open Society and its Enemies", Karl Popper, after briefly covering the period between Plato and Hegel, soon begins an analysis of Marx. He presents a succinct summary of Marxism, but criticizes Marx for Hegelian Romanticism in the sense that Marx (in its most radical form) concludes that because the (small) bourgeoisie oppresses the (large) proletariat in capitalist systems, there must be an end to the bourgeois class and that the proletariat must rise and rule. Popper concedes all of Marx's facts "on the ground", that clearly, unchecked capitalism is a problem, and the abuses of the 19th centure are/were inexcusable. However, he advocates not a revolution of the proletariat, but a continual tweaking of government in small steps to protect the interests of all people.
Popper then outlines (in the late 1940s) what could be a useful history of the future, were it viewed as such. He argues that government, rather than being the tool of capitalism and impotent, has the power to grant in small measures improvements to the proletariat. He argues it is the central responsibility of government (acknowledging Marx's analysis that in an ideal capitalist society the worker with little to offer must sell himself) to provide insurance to the worker (and indeed, to all people) to indemnify them against having to liquidate their only asset, themselves, in the face of adversity. Unemployment insurance, pensions, and laws guaranteeing the right to work are all considered.
Popper's history of the future, as I have called this, is exactly that: we have seen in the second half of the twentieth century a rise of the middle class in much of the western world, and I am of the opinion that we are seeing the rise of this class in countries such as China. I have argued in the past (on the basis of my travel in China) that China ca. 2000 is USA ca. 1900 and UK ca. 1850. All three are vastly different politial situations, and so there may still be something to Marx's "impotence" of politics. And yet, we see the role of government in forming policy to grant a larger group of the population more economic freedom by providing insurance to protect against the loss of one's economic means.
Insurance, however, is not simply a legal contract or policy. Insurance is a form of equity- the insurance policy, be it welfare, pension, or disability, is a contract to provide future economic benefit for a defined investment today, and as such, is a form of equity similar to stocks, bonds, or employment contracts. Insurance can be bought or sold. Markets can be created to value insurance. As such, the individual who holds rights to insurance is provided with a form of equity. Some equity, such as welfare or health care, is a inalienable asset and cannot and should not be "sold" and as such represents an intrisic value to the individual.
I would argue that the events of the past fifty years, between Popper and today, have brought about in fact if not in means the exact revolution that Marx had envisioned, albeit not universally. Marx has argued that the bourgeoisie must end because they represent the few in capitalism. I would argue that Marx had it wrong- imperialism, not capitalism, is the form of economic existince where the scant ruling class lords both political and economic power over vast empires. Marx confuses Imperialism with Capitalism (communist manifesto? need to read it), much the way Popper (open society and its enemies), Soros(open society), and Arendt(origins of totalitarianism) conflate Communism with National Socialism and Hitler(mein kampf) conflates Judaism with Communism and Capitalism. This is how modernism acts- it unifies all of its enemies under a science, a reductionist theory, simplifying even in the face of making incorrect statements which retain their usefulness because they unify and explain observed fact. If I understand it correctly, this critique is rooted in the essence of phenomenological critique- that is, don't develop theories, just observe facts.
Since insurance is a form of equity, all defined insurance becomes an asset of the masses and in fact, we see that much of the ownership of the former imperial bourgeousie, the single shareholders, has been transferred through capitalism into thinly divided entities, not only in the form of stocks and bonds, but also pension and social welfare obligations. In some cases, infamously such as that of the current ongoing case of General Motors and Delphi, companies have been oversold (fraudulently, IMO) and the pension and welfare obligations exceed the current book value and (by declaring bankruptcy) future earnings potential of the company. Nonetheless, it can be argued that the sum total of America's wealth rests not in the hands of the likes of the Walton family (who dominate the list of the world's wealthiest people) but rather in the hands of the majority. We have seen, in fifty short years, the rise of a majority, IMO, Bourgeois class. Small changes, such as stripping Wal-Mart of its wealth and placing the equity in the hands of the rightful owners, the workers, through improved benefits and pensions, is not inevitable but should and must happen. We cannot allow a return to the days of imperialism.
This represents, probably the great tragedy of the Democratic party. Republicanism is often associated with a return to imperialism because its trappings- protecting the interests of so-called big business and conducting wars in foreign lands- are imperial and colonial in nature. However, the real defeat of imperialism comes from protecting and extending the great redistribution of wealth that is occurring thanks to the rise of both public and private pensions and other forms of social insurance. We fear the great bugaboo, Socialism, because it has become synonymous, through military-industrial rhetoric, with Communism, despite the fact the two are not the same. Republican efforts to "save social security" while often misguided are deeply necessary and by letting the erstwhile imperialists of the republican party co-opt this issue is a deep tragedy. In addition, focusing on trivialities such as whether or not we teach evolution or intelligent design only represent at best a proxy for the real issues we should be fighting for. We do not want Roe, we want ethical treatment and protection of the ethical rights of women. We do not want Evolution, we want the right to empower all youth to learning and empowered productivity. Democrats must come to grips with their socialist past, and remeber that no word is dirty- only how it is used. Reclaiming this word from those who would ban it is the key to regaining power, not by becoming Clintonian crypto-republicans.
Socialism needs to become pro-business and pro-equity. Socialism needs to recognize that the revolution came, and was fought on the beach-heads of world war two. Imperialism and colonialism were severely hobbled and nearly defeated. World war two, in effect, was not won until the fall of Stalinism and Maoism sometime toward the end of the twentieth century, but it is the fall of imperialism in the West which is the true revolution. Socialism, through the programs of Social Security, Welfare, National Healthcare, and their private counterparts are the true heirs of Marx, not Lenin, Stalin and Mao, whose imperial power they wrested into the hands of the so-called "People's Party" but never ceded to the people, as they should have. The War is over, but we still have much cleanup left. We have still not truly devolved the accumulation of wealth which occured during colonialism. Europe is most guilty of this, though many American companies own physical assets which can be traced to colonial times.
Popper may be right, that romantic "revolutions" are not the answer, but to ignore the power of revolution is to deny the triple revolution of democracy, socialism, and capitalism which has overthrown kingdoms and imperial/colonial powers. That Popper is free to say his peace only arose from the revolutions which granted him such a right. He may decry the romanticism of revolution, but he should not be alowed to deny the revolutions which brought him the freedom to decry them, for in doing so, he makes the flaw of all science- a theory is a grand thing, but it is not truth, and can be no substitute. All things cannot be viewed through the simple lens of anti-historicism.