Karl Marx has convinced generations of western intellectuals that capitalism is evil. He witnessed capitalism during its early and ugliest stage, in 19th century England, and made the case that capitalism was an unavoidably diabolical exploitation of the many by the few. Alas, over the next 150 years, capitalism lifted the material well being of the working masses to a degree unimaginable by Marx in his time, sparing mainly those who decided to follow him. And yet Marx lives on.
In Das Kapital, A biography, by Francis Wheen, 2006, we meet Karl Marx the man. He is a polymath, a voracious reader, an energetic, ideophoric thinker. He is a very unappealing person. He is angry, grandiose, self-loathing, eccentric, obsessive, argumentative, distractable, litiginous, compulsive, sickly, mean, sarcastic, a severe procrastinator, and unkempt most of the time. He would not have succeeded on TV.
Das Kapital, his major work, was never finished. It is ponderous, full of literary reference, circuitous, and contradictory. It may be the most unread but revered book ever written. His most enduring point was that history had a logic, history was not just ‘one damn thing after another’, it was humans exploiting humans in an dynamic process (heretofore not understood until by him). We can all relate to that.
Marx predicted that Capitalism would degenerate into crisis. Capitalism fosters technological innovation, which increases productivity. But this has precarious effects on employment. Sometimes increased productivity creates new markets and new employment, at other times, it does not, or not soon enough. In the Great Depression, the tractor destroyed farm labor faster than the industrial economy could create new employment. Marx would have expected the Great Depression. He wouldn’t have expected its recovery with the modern social welfare capitalist state.
As the economist Joseph Schumpeter famously said: “Marx asked all the right questions, but got all the wrong answers”.
Marx revelled in his apocalyptic vision. He enjoyed the devilish, sinister story of history he was convinced that he uniquely discovered. ” Das Kapital can be read as a vast Gothic Novel whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created“.
One of Marx’s favorite books was Frankenstein.
Das Kapital is a passionately condemns western enlightenment. He was one of many who would deride the very kind of society that allows people like him to do with such relish what they love to do – – independently think, read, and philosophize.
“one can argue that the most truly Marxist achievement of the Soviet Union was its collapse: a centralized, secretive, and bureaucratic command economy proved incompatible with new forces of production.”
Today, Marxist ideas linger on in the shadowy background of cultural studies. Here, diabolical, unconscious exploitation carries on in language, in words, in mores, in texts. Culture, now, is the exploiter. And so Marxism lives on in issues of education, religion, psychology, and family – ironically, all areas Marx considered ‘bunk’.