What one learns in school about Marxism Ruthless Criticism

What one learns in school about Marxism

That communism is a bad system, namely that of our old enemies; that Marxism is an abysmal and inhuman false doctrine, because it is incompatible with our nice values; that it is a pig-headed dogma, because it is not free and critical like approval of our system is; that it is a spiritual epidemic against which one must protect young minds, even though it is recommended nowhere. All of this has long been known by teachers of social studies, history, English, religion and even gym.

Once, some fledgling critical teachers still acknowledged old Marx, who developed such a radical theory, which thank God in today’s time is devoid of any basis because today things are so good, almost too good.

And now during these historic times, ladies and gentlemen finally stand on the side of the winners: they regard the fact that the so-called real-socialist states have torn down their own system and capitulated to the economic and military power of the West as the disproof of communism.

So no one needs to reject Marxism during tedious school lessons anymore, but simply celebrate our community as the nicest and the best.

One didn't need to read even a single line of the old theorist, either for the previous rejection of Marx or for today’s final victory. He is counted as a failure along with the failure of the states which invoked his name.

Incidentally, Marx regarded it exactly inversely. He produced an analysis of capitalism, and he stuck to his criticism of the system all the more when it functioned very well. The man is therefore quite current.

Everything has a price ...

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities.’”

So begins the first volume of Marx’s Capital. He finds that capitalism manages an enormous production of wealth as never before in history. This is not to be understood as praise. Because in what way does it take place? Indeed, the commodities, which are abundant in this system, are useful objects which can serve the satisfaction of somebody’s needs. Marx calls this use-value. But first they must be bought, i.e. exchanged for money, so that a little something is earned from them. They are only produced at all for this reason, because this nice commodity world is only about money, which embodies true wealth. If the commodities cannot be sold because the buyers do not want to pay money for them, or don’t have any, then overnight they become not wealth, but worthless junk. It doesn’t help at all if these useful things have terrifically useful characteristics or could be used by people who have no money. Even what constitutes use-values is completely uninteresting in this system, whether they are good or lousy, toxic, harmful or destructive. Business must be made with them. And for this purpose, glycol-wine or champagne, half-rusted used cars or glittering Mercedes with catalytic converters, unsafe nuclear power stations or ecologically friendly solar cells, war toys, NATO weapons and poison gas for Iraq are equally good. Solvent demand for the stuff simply must exist and is always there, e.g. for weapons, because states want to employ them for their purposes. So there are also clever businessmen who do not trouble their consciences about making a sure business with these use-values. They utilize the market laws of this system and, this being the case, only give a shrug for the moralizing friends of peace. Their well-intentioned objections against the destructive use-value of these types of goods surely have little to do with the functioning of the capitalistic money economy, because they don't want to say anything against money-making as a purpose and standard of the economy.

... even work

The fact that this society is only concerned with money and one gets the useful things for living only by giving money to their owners has a very disagreeable side for those who have no money and unconditionally require it as a means to finance their subsistence. They must earn it by working, namely working for others, the owners of money, because fretworks in the basement hobby room, as is well known, don't bring in anything, or at least not money. What one gets in exchange for working for others is called a wage; it is the price of work. Marx proved that this price is a different matter than the prices of chewing gum and T-shirts, with which it is certain what one gets for his money. It is different with work: the capitalist pays a wage and wants to squeeze out as much work as possible for it. He determines where, what, how intensive and how long work is performed. Therefore, there is exploitation with every wage and not just with starvation wages. The price of work is constantly manipulated because it depends on work at the lowest possible price as well as on a very profit-yielding performance for the company, thus on the relation between the costs for the purchase of the work of others and the financial result from the use of this work. This cost/benefit ratio, which Marx calls the rate of surplus-value, is the whole secret of the wage. Therefore Marx does not make the size of the wage the measure of exploitation, but the relation between the wage and the result of the performance of work. Therefore exploitation has not come to an end because these days workers earn $50 per hour and drive SUVs. Whether this relation of wage and performance turns out to be satisfactory for the company depends on all kinds of economic calculations about the organization of work, assembly-line speed, defective goods, downtime, raw material prices, credit costs and the like, and not about whether a wage is good enough for a living. One thing is clear anyway: the capitalist who stands as the best in the comparison to the other capitalists, called competition, knows how to most advantageously organize unit labor costs, i.e. the ratio between the labor costs and the value of the product of labor. He does this by cuts in wages and increases in efficiency. Therefore, wages represent magnitudes in capitalistic profit calculations and thereby become costs which are perpetually too high: here the cost calculations of a wage-earner for rising rents, food and gas prices counts for nothing. Because wages are a dependent variable on the business trend of a company, which is why one not only does not become rich as a wage-earner, but is under the lifelong compulsion to make his existence dependent on the cost/benefit analyses of non-wage earners.

Wages are costs ...

The life of a wage-earner also looks accordingly. Because wages are only paid for work from which the user draws as high a profit as possible for his private property, and this profit is bigger the longer and more intensely he uses the work, deadline pressure and speed-ups, overtime and extra shifts, night shifts and six-day weeks belong to normal business. An entrepreneur uses them only if, with their help, more can be extracted from the workers, or he can spare some workers along with their wage, without asking them whether they need him.

This then is the much-promised productivity and efficiency of the private market economy, against whose objective constraints, headaches and influenza, tension and overwork are subjective discomforts which – if they get out of hand – speak, from the point of view of the capitalist, against working, and not against working for wages. Someone who has worked for 10, 20 or even 30 years under conditions which augment the wealth of others, i.e. without consideration for his own physical abilities and health, without consideration of noise, burning stench and poison gas, also then inevitably looks old and ill. This has little to do with the natural aging process. One sees quite plainly in one’s wallet that the wage is not a means for a comfortable life but represents a cost factor for the capitalist, and is thus a restriction on his consumption. Here one is told to ration and buy bargains so that the money lasts until the 1st and – should something be left – save for a vacation, a washing machine, children and other luxuries. There remains, however, generally little on which car dealers, catalog companies and banks can build a solid basis and by deferred payments and overdraft credit they make an extra business with people, which implies responsible deductions from their future wages.

... and not a means of living

Old Marx criticized all this. He has said that in a society in which money is the highest purpose it is a logical impossibility that wage-earners have a comfortable life. Because wages are a means of business and not a means of life. Therefore they are also only paid when business can be done with them. If the calculation does not work out for the capitalist, he just pays no wages and throws his workers on the street. For him, this is a crisis; for the others it is a threat to their existence. This is also a society in which the majority of people depend on private business calculations, a matter of course which is reckoned with. Therefore, frightened statesmen from Bismarck to Blüm have established a social state so that the workers can stay afloat until somebody wants to use them again and they are no longer a burden to the state. This compulsory relation is not to be mistaken for a comfortable safety-net. What the social state distributes as benefactions to unemployed persons or analogously sick people and retirees, it has previously gotten from them as social security contributions by legal decree, without asking, when they were still wage earners. This is also necessary with people whose wages do not achieve their ongoing subsistence, never mind the sure-fire vicissitudes of working life. The achievement of the social state consists in the fact that it mends various holes and gaps, thus allows the financing of the tills by the working class and limits costs, i.e. the issuances to the recipients, and distributes the poverty among them equally. The achievements of the social state also look accordingly. Not enough to live and too much to die. In comparison, a wage-earner is almost a member of the affluent society whose enforced solidarity is only fair.

No private property without state power

Such uncomfortable relations – in which people without property are dependent on whether it is profitable for money owners to use their work – do not originate on their own. For them, one needs the freedom to dispose over money and the material conditions of production, such as factories, machines and raw materials as well as their results, the objects of consumption, and to exclude others from the use of these things. The critically-meant objection that one person owns so much that they can not possibly consume it all while others can barely scrape by, misses the point in a society in which the uppermost purpose is not the best possible supply of people, but the accumulation of money. Without the human right to property and the duty of those who have none to respect it, nothing in capitalism runs at all. This is guaranteed by the state and its force apparatus. It regulates all questions of property with an elaborate legal system enforced by a judiciary and police so that there is nothing to which somebody could not announce a claim, and this disproves the rumor spread over and over again that free private initiative comes best into play when the state keeps out of everything. If the only way one can access the use-values of things that belong exclusively to owners of private property is by a contract, a bill of sale, an employment contract, a contract of tenancy, a marriage contract or contract of inheritance, a force monopoly like the constitutional state is required. It controls the observance of this legal relationship and avenges violations when people want to use things that they do not own, or hinder the use of private property, like striking workers. This is what Marx calls the class state.

What this signifies is demonstrated at the moment by the example of the privatization of the former GDR. Everything which was there in material wealth and was previously used diligently in the workers and peasants state was suddenly no longer any good because up until then there was no category of private property. Every screw, every enterprise, every piece of land must first have its price and come under the sole control of an owner in order to be used as a means of business. Therefore the main problem with the unification of the GDR was the question of property, which was regulated in every detail by the monetary union, the unification treaty and the privatization agency. Therefore, capitalists did not want to invest over there until property questions had finally been solved. Therefore, the new federal states had to be “reconstructed” as if they were a bombed out wasteland. There it did not help at all that people in the old GDR had lived in houses and worked in factories. These scrap metal shacks were “constructed” only when they belonged to their former or new owners and offered a prospect of profitable use. Nothing in them had to be changed too much for this.

One must already be in favor of it

Capitalism is a class society which cannot exist without state power and exploitation. This system includes a lot of victims, poverty, unemployment, occupational illnesses and environmental destruction. They are indispensable to the system’s functioning.

Only, nobody wants to admit this in this country. The press and television, politicians and scientists, priests and artists, in short: the whole democratic general public strains to make it look completely different. Already one is supposed to call capitalism something completely different, to politely call it the “market economy” and regard it as the best system imaginable. Indeed, all the negative results and harmful consequences of this system are well known, just not as necessary results of the capitalistic system. One should not be for the market economy and separate everything that is not suitable from it and judge it as actually not at all proper to the system. These are “problems” which are supposed to be not so bad at all, because there are, in the end, a bunch of politicians to take care of them.

It is not that in this system one may not criticize, it is just that every criticism must be constructive: every so-called problem may be considered only as a result of somebody's mistakes or omissions, and in no case count as an argument against the market economy. Every criticism is obliged to say that nothing else follows from it other than a suggestion for improvement and a task for the responsible politicians – of all things, for the politicians who institute and guarantee the capitalistic relations through state power. They always want to be responsible for the solutions to the “problems,” never for their creation.

Marx called this the ideological superstructure: to always reinterpret the mode of capitalistic relations as something else; to acknowledge them as the most natural thing in the world, as simply inevitable and congruous to human nature; to provide it with the identification which allows it to appear in a rosy light and to attest achievements to it which are indeterminable in any way at all. And the fact that every praise of capitalism, every partisanship for the “market economy,” doesn’t get by without lies, was for him only another argument against these relations.