Where was Karl Marx right?

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Where was Marx right? Of course you cannot hold people in inhuman conditions, feed them poorly, make them work sixteen hours a day and pay them hardly anything. This is bad for everyone. However, for the last 150 years capitalist societies have developed such social systems that one can do little more than speak of their saturation, and of the fact that they procreate spongers and destroy society.
Who was this Karl Marx? Long since taken as a largely symbolic figure, it is as if he was detached from real time and physical reality while these explosive ideas, so fatal for mil-lions, were being created.
What drives people like Marx? Passion. And passion is seldom able to see straight. Karl Marx is hardly an economist in essence, and as a philosopher he is highly suspect. Piling everything into one heap, philosophy and economics, literature and politics, Marx does not fit into any standard classification.

Submitted: January 30, 2008

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Submitted: January 30, 2008

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 Any issue concerning human society can be analyzed from two perspectives: from the individual point of view and from the point of view of society itself. Usually when we deal with organizing different systems we don’t take into account the interests of the individual units that built up the systems. It is degrading to try to respect or even to identify the individual needs of computer files on your desktop. We create, save, modify, and delete them on an entirely by-need basis. It is generally assumed that computer files don’t have any individuality and therefore there are not supposed to be such things as ‘computer file’s needs’. But what about cattle? We don’t respect the natural right of cows to live and butcher them, again on a by-need basis, although while they are still alive we try our best to create conditions that will be most beneficial for their growth and well-being by supplying a dry barn and appropriate food and other needs. In both cases our approach is entirely utilitarian and based on a desire to do what benefits us. 
This is not much different than self-organizing systems such as an anthill or a beehive. There is no recognizable individual beneficiary that would seem to derive benefits from the tremendous efforts of individual ants and bees to secure the optimal functioning of their communities. (Specialists call this non-existent beneficiary the “spirit of the beehive”.) The queen bee is not a monarch in the human sense; she is just a life factory that produces the next generation of bees until she can’t do it anymore, and when she gets old the other bees just stop feeding her until her dies. It is even harsher in termite society where, when their equivalent of the queen bee becomes less productive, they just choose another one and the old one gets eaten, which is not exactly the humane way of treating royalty. 
Some people try to treat human society in the same way they cultivate a vegetable garden, by trying to uproot what they consider weeds and grow only carrots, until they eventually harvest them for eating. This approach is good for a gardener but it cannot possibly be good for any human because, as an individual, he can always be considered either a carrot or even a weed himself. 
Ignoring the need of analysis from an individual point of view leads to a situation where we assume that there is some sort of super-carrot level, from which we can govern society. 
In many cases we might encounter discussions that are carried out on either ‘super-carrot’ or just ‘regular-carrot’ levels. Two opponents from different levels will never agree on any social issue because the ‘super-carrot’ approach tries to treat humans as carrots in the vegetable garden, taking into account only the benefit of the society as a whole, and the ‘regular-carrot’ approach looks at any problem entirely from the perspective of the individual carrot. Both approaches are incomplete because of their inherent bias. 
The solution could be in a compromise between these two levels of consideration. The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau sets guidelines for the creation of such a compromise between the ‘general will’ and individual interests. Unfortunately, in the real world the ‘general will’ has a lot more power than any particular individual or even the totality of all individuals within the society. For example, it is very common in well-developed democratic societies for there to be only two leading political parties to choose from at the time of national elections. For example, there are Republicans and Democrats in the United States, and Liberals and Conservatives in Canada. Their political platforms become very similar at election time and most of the time the voter finds himself in the situation where he has no one to vote for because none of the leading political parties quite represent his individual interests. Such failure to provide a voter with fair representation in elective assemblies constitutes the failure of democracy itself. 
Once society tries to meet its objectives it follows a path toward an ideal society—one that has been laid out by different philosophers such as Plato, Campanella, Hegel, Kropotkin, as well as Marx. In all the cases mentioned, such philosophers approach the organizational problems of society from the ‘super-carrot’ perspective. 
As far back as Plato’s Republic there were those who believed that some people were most fit for different roles in society. Plato went so far as to propose breeding humans for desirable characteristics. The Hegelian model of society is based on this concept, and it leaves no place for individual liberties or private property rights. Nazism and Marxist Communism are in turn based on such ideas. 
Although Nazism has mostly faded away long since and the world doesn’t seem move as much anymore in the direction of strong national states, communist ideas are still very deeply implanted in people’s minds all over the world. Its main idea is based on the just distribution of material assets within society. But what is ‘just’? 
What does the idea of socialism/communism involve? Basically, the fair distribution of material benefits. And what does “fair” distribution mean? This is a principle that is based on the idea of the equality of all people and it is deep-rooted in the basic consciousness of all humans, those very beings that we see in the bathroom mirror, that meaty being made of flesh and surprisingly not of what we feel we are made of the rest of the time. What goes badly with this being is the proud and theoretically-generalized name ‘human’. It is this same carnal being that thirsts for a fair share, and it is here where the essence of socialism/communism can be found. This of course is in contrast to the tendency within us to accumulate various things, something observed in squirrels and in certain breeds of monkey and a number of other animals.
The innovation of the idea that he who works more should get more, as in the classical socialist distribution model, is really nothing new, since in nature the strongest gets the lion’s share. And what’s the difference if this strongest being applies his strength to locking horns with an opponent or extracting coal from the earth? Both require energy, and it is not important where this energy is directed. That is, he who expends more energy should receive the greater compensation.
Many of Marx’s ideas today appear crazy, unfounded and unnatural, in particular his ideas about society. Let’s look at human society as the well-organized organism that it is. Part of it is responsible for control, part for protection. Part is responsible for feeding and a certain part, for excretion. All these parts have stimulation, based on feedback. If parts work effectively they are fed more and develop, while if parts are inactive they dry up and die out. Marx proposes that we cut off and discard a part of our vital organs, declaring that other organs can easily fulfil that part’s function. Have you tried to perform a thought process with your buttock muscle instead of your head? How about digesting food with your back muscles? You try it. What you’ll get is a really Marxist system for the organisation of society. Which organ is Lenin’s cook and which should run the country in our comparison with the system of organs? There’s something to dwell on in your free time...
I experience contradictory feelings towards this well-thrashed subject. To me it seems absurd, inveterate, and passé. And yet I still want to get to the bottom of what lies behind this human striving to achieve an equal share wherever possible, this envious attitude toward everything, including oneself. I feel that I have still not settled on an understanding of this matter and I am thinking of it again while reading Marx’s biography and other essays, like “The Manifesto of the Communist Party”. It is difficult to take these scriptures[1] in when we are so far from their historical context, and they have been devalued by scholars with their many interpretations and perceptions of its meaning. Of course the crux of the matter doesn’t lie in Marx and it doesn’t lie in this latest attempt to make humankind happy that had turned itself into a terrible machine by which we can portray the Twentieth Century that inevitably followed. If we are so dependent upon the genes that are embedded in us through natural selection and if we are so similar to animals in practically everything, why is it that animals know when to run from an earthquake and we do not? Why is it that we have adopted only the animal qualities of animals and not their keen intuition? It is not easy being a captive of one’s own species, of a biological substance, and even of this four-sided Universe at the end of the day. Yet, somehow, we are able to understand the world at the end of it all. Somehow we have surpassed our dear animals.
So, striving towards a fair share and having faith in human equality is a truly ancient thing. It has always been built on the shoulders of slaves, even in the very darkest days of humanity. However, I would say that people behave more in accordance with the accepted doctrines of society today. If it is accepted within a society that a part of it is plebeian—the lowest caste, the untouchable—then such beings, placed on a level with slaves, feel themselves as such and feel little distress in this regard, let alone feel like making proclamations for freedom and equality. Many of them know their place and remain within the confines of their class. The question of intolerance of a job or other position is truly relative. Most often people tolerate their job placements as long as they are fed enough and given the chance to reproduce; this tolerance can last for generations. In this regard communism is an infection, infecting minds, like any other Utopian destructive idea. However, any idea is destructive if it is taken to the extreme. It is not likely that Christ and the Lord God applied a mandatory application in the style of the inquisition into their “Love thy neighbour” campaign.
For example, the modern idea of turning things around, which was used to protect the colored minorities in the USA, is an excellent example of the perversion of an idea, taken to absurd proportions. This is confirmed by the famous French writer Michel Houellebecq, called by Paris Match “Zarathoustra des classes moyennes” (“the Zarathustra of the middle classes”). He calls this phenomenon “l’antiracisme ou plus exactement le racisme antiblanc”[2] (“antiracism or, more precisely, racism against the whites”). Generally any idea that is forced into society in a certain way has a tendency to be perverted. The problem lies in the fact that we view every phenomenon in a biased way and from the peak of its development and sophistication.
There was a time when I saw communism as unnatural. On the first course of a still residually Soviet institute I wrote a work on communism in the kibbutz as an example of the success of communism overall. I explained this success by nothing more than the fact that communist principles are inherent in only 3 percent of the regular population (this is the proportion of the population of Israel that lives in a kibbutz), and that the intrusion of this way of life into the lives of everyone else (the remaining 97 percent) is indeed unnatural, and this is what leads to the nightmare we have observed in our much-bemoaned socialist motherland. I am afraid that I was wrong. As my subsequent experience has revealed, people are all communists in the depths of their soul, be they poorly educated or the clever sorts—they are all the same.
There is a deep-seated contradiction in the statement that all people are equal. In whatever society you may take, even the most humane, there is an ever-present grading of people into the best and the worst— into different groups, with different salaries and rewards, different levels of assessment, with praise and punishment varying accordingly. When people are considered equal there is no hierarchy and no system will work. It is not important if people are unequal by birth or by social definition; inequality is a prerequisite for the existence of any system. There have to be both managers and the managed, both givers and takers, both punishers and the punished, both those doing the rewarding and those being rewarded.
A fundamental feature of a society built on inequality while under an official proclamation of equality is that it produces the sense of being duped among a large part of the population. The majority of people simply do not know their place. I do not mean that I am somehow better than others and in no way am I calling for a fascist-Platonist distribution into castes. But judge for yourselves. None of us knows our place. Unlimited potential and tales of their equality create unrealistic expectations in most people. In the meantime rigorous statistics clearly show that the chances of a certain individual, ‘A’, achieving the high status of another individual, ‘B’, are almost equal to zero. Yet social propaganda, upbringing, and mass culture force individual ‘A’ to strive for status similar to that of individual ‘B’, despite the fact that it is practically impossible to achieve. And what do we get as a result? Individual ‘A’ behaving dysfunctionally in everything linked with his life and his achievements. Not knowing one’s place in society brings on a constant dissatisfaction with oneself, one’s work, one’s home, and one’s financial potential. This situation is well exemplified in contemporary, developed society.
From this comes overall discontent with one’s occupation. People everywhere feel their professional occupations to be a punishment. However clean and stress-free a job may be, many people suffer from boredom and discontent in their positions. Work is viewed as a negative aspect of life. And so it goes that the issue lies not in working conditions, not in the size of one’s paycheck or the length of the working day, but how, in psychological terms, a person perceives their job. In his book Candide, Voltaire concludes that hard work is the only way to survive melancholy and boredom in life and he concludes with the wonderful phrase, “il faut cultiver notre jardin” (“it is necessary to cultivate our garden”). In The Third Wave,[3] Alvin Toffler notes that more and more people prefer to do work around the house themselves rather than call on a specialist. There are now more and more skilled do-it-yourself workers. Toffler explains this with economic reasons: it is an attempt to save on paying for professional services. It is also possible that this trend results from a person’s discontent with his or her official job, and hence the tendency to make up for this discontent by replacing it either with additional work around the house or on the roof or by building an extra room.
Contemporary society, having declared people’s equality, that true Utopian phenomenon, has formed a society of individuals who have lost their real orientation. They do not know their place and purpose and do not know how and which garden to cultivate.
Is a striving for equality a normal, natural phenomenon in people?
I would say that there is little in humans that is placed there by nature. Humans differ from animals in that, as a rule, they act against the rules. Most animals are easily predictable because they act in accordance with their natural needs. Humans are actually even more predictable, if we assume that they will act most often contrary to their inherent natural needs.
A human is a clean slate upon which society can imprint many characteristics, dictating his position and the place from which his behaviour will spring, either in line with the intentions of society or as a protest against them. But this always occurs on the same plane. It is these imperatives, dictated by society, that make a human act in one way or another. Thus, the imperatives of societies where determination was high, like the caste system in India or ancient Egypt, prompt the human psychology to develop in accordance with such segregation. The fact that we believe a caste system to be wild in no way means that it really is wild. It simply means that our psychology, forced upon us by contemporary society, campaigns for an imaginary equality and against segregation, although it has almost the same segregation as the most segregated society of Orwell’s utopia. A society built on lies about the unlimited capabilities inherent in each individual will inevitably conflict with real segregation and the practical lack of this potential. Such a society is by no means the best solution for human happiness, although it is entirely possible to increase the needs and raise the expectations of the populace, such as by expanding the capitalist market system. And there is no need to say that if people in Western society are clothed and not dying of hunger that this is the final proof that this is the best possible form of human co-existence.
How did America solve the problem of its people’s happiness? Very simply by making the formula “it’s all OK” its standard. Smiles on every face and “it’s all OK.” And the people experience feedback: I say I’m feeling good, which means I really do feel good. That is why, according to data published in 2005 in Time magazine in an article devoted to happiness, 80 percent of Americans stated that they were happy.
Let’s return to Karl Marx. Marx does not take the role of the capitalist entrepreneur into consideration at all. Reading the ninth chapter of the first volume of Das Capital,[4] you are amazed that he refuses to see that an entrepreneur is also a human, with his own motives and actions. OK, so he doesn’t slog away for ten-hour shifts in the mill, but his actions also have to be motivated and compensated. Such short-sightedness is amazing. The trick in comparing surplus value with salary when discarding accounts for the other part of involved capital, and the conclusions on 100% exploitation are pitiful and unsubstantiated. Furthermore, everything is lumped together, from difficult employment conditions to what young workers will do if they are let off work an hour early.
All this falls into one big heap.
The basic interest of capitalism is the even distribution of capital among the population, which creates a colossal and most reliable form of market. Now if only a small group of people were given all the wealth, leaving the rest of the population in poverty, capitalism could not continue to exist because the poor would not be able to create a consumers’ market. And there would not be enough rich people to do this. I would explain the birth of the first French Revolution, with its freedom, equality and sense of brotherhood, as an attempt by a young form of capitalism to create equal conditions for the masses and to expand the marketplace.
Marx defined labor in absolute terms and proclaimed it to be a “social substance”, stating that any labor is productive. I have not once come across this way of thinking among the simple workers in different continents. Whenever I pointed to the counter productivity of the work of a particular employee and even the damage that this employee was causing with his work, be it in Israel or in Canada, I received one and the same response, “But I was at work!” This response was heard in different languages and even in the coarsest terms, such as “But I was working eight f...ing hours!” No attempt of mine to explain that it would have been better for the employee to remain at home rather than do the work he did, which bore no fruit, had any effect. Not that I would refuse to pay such a worker; that was not the point. The employment legislation of all developed countries requires remuneration for labor regardless of its results. No, the point was simply to make a criticism of the work, to which I invariably received the response, “But I was at work!” And this was in Canada, a country which it seems has not been deeply touched by the socialist mentality.
Seeing labor in absolute terms was Marx’s principal mistake, albeit not his only one. Putting labor in absolute terms and creating on this basis a theory of surplus value is to directly tamper with the figures, like adding mugs to bricks.[5] In addition, using Adam Smith’s division of society into economic classes, Marx created theories of class struggle, expropriation of the bourgeoisie, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. What these theories led to was violence in general and a proletarian revolution in particular.
Another conclusion, which is fairly logical from the point of view of the Marxist theory of labor in absolute terms but absurd from the point of view of common sense, is that “land is worth nothing because it has not been created by labor”!
It is hard to say if Marx counted on the application of his theories, as at the end of his life he actually disowned them. This is evidenced in the last lines of the fourth volume of Das Capital:
“The basis of absolute surplus value, that is the actual condition for its existence, is the natural fertility of the land and of nature, while relative surplus value is based on the development of social production forces.”
However, the Russian Bolsheviks, who apparently had not yet finished reading Marx, had run off in the meantime to start a revolution anyway. Everything that was created in Russia (and then the USSR) from 1917 on, with the exception of NEP, was a fulfilment of Marxist theory. Stalin, the “Leader of the People”, proved to be an extremely zealous follower of Marx. The industrial armies that were predicted by Marx were brought to life by Stalin in the collective farms and concentration camps where “surplus value” was squeezed from human muscles. One of the most important manifestations of the dictatorship of the proletariat was the collectivization of agriculture. Violence was implemented by the regressive and punitive organs of the deformed and swollen state, which was by no means planning to die off, as Marx had assumed. Behind the Iron Curtain, hypocritically covering themselves with “the bright future of communism,” the Soviet leadership reprocessed the people into “surplus value”. The Twentieth Century proved to be as entangled in barbed wire as Marx was by his own thinking. This terrible experiment might have continued for a long time had Mother Nature not risen up herself.
I have found many references to Adam Smith in Marx’s work. Marx, after all, is seen as someone who based his theories on the classic economists. It is important to understand the circumstances of the time when certain ideas and concepts arise. The greater the number of facts that are taken into account, the more probable that the essence of the idea will appear. Ideas detached from their historical context are invariably interpreted falsely. Adam Smith had a view on feudalism that any person of his time might have had, when the spirit of feudalism hovered over Europe and was not something as hard to imagine in practice as it was in Karl Marx’s time and is even more so in our time.
In his chapter on money Adam Smith declares, incidentally, that in any event we are all merchants: “Every man thus lives by exchanging, or becomes in some measure a merchant, and the society itself grows to be what is properly a commercial society.”[6] this understanding of benefit, gain, and the magic of the equality of exchange had taken root in the masses, it is possible that there would not have been the horrors that have shaken the world over the last three hundred years or so. Exchange is the greatest proclamation of human freedom. It is not just empty rhetoric or a cheap trick, but something definite, proven, and just. As someone goes along with you in making an exchange, they are not out to kill you, rob you or make you work as a slave. I don’t know if animals have the concept of exchanging; in any case I have never paid this any attention. Animals can share or give away their bit. Yes, you can find mutual benefit among the apes: you scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours. Generally speaking, these are the leanings of a culture of exchanging.
Communism rejects exchange. It violates this thin thread of freedom—fromeachaccordingtohisability, toeachaccordingtohisneed. And to insure the needs do not become inflated, train in modesty. It also violates the division of labor: going fishing in the morning, running the country in the evening. Exchange is the only guarantee of human freedom. While people are exchanging with you, if freely and without pressure, then you are accepted as an equal, a partner in negotiations. It is a worthy exchange, and not a matter of seizure by force, or of someone ignoring you. If the feeling of being a merchant was embedded in us through our mother’s milk and along with our education, rather than people trying out bad ideas from some super-carrot/super-human level, then there would have been no place for these daft communist ideas to take hold. Communism is nothing more than striving to get a free lunch, a sacred, all-conquering and all-consuming freebie, under which there is and can be no exchange. The fundamental part of Marx’s theory, which substantiates the nature of surplus value, the “cornerstone” of this economic theory as Lenin put it, is erroneous. The fact is that humankind lives thanks to solar energy. Marx could not have understood this, as the knowledge of photosynthesis did not exist then and accordingly there was no concept of the role of solar energy in the lives of humankind at that time. We now understand that the flow of solar energy to earth, the assimilation of which through photosynthesis takes place in plants, is indeed the fundamental principle of life. Assimilated by plants, this energy becomes food, is consumed by people and in essence is something of genuine value. Accordingly, we should begin not with labor, but with the energy that makes this labor possible! The law of energy conservation and energy conversion is what brings us to this consideration. Before going to work a human has to have breakfast; then there is the lunch break. As a human feeds, he is taking in the appropriate quantity of solar energy which is then expended in labor. In a word, from seeing labor in absolute terms we need to shift to seeing the cosmic energy that feeds human labor in absolute terms. Here we can equate a human with a machine (and in this case there is no sin in doing so), as in our mundane life we are transformers of solar energy. Thus, a human being cannot live without consuming a portion of solar energy from time to time. It is from here that value is born. And how does this happen? Let’s put it this way: in the spring we threw a grain of corn into the ground. By the autumn an ear has appeared on which there is not one grain, but a hundred. Adam Smith, and Marx after him, similarly grow a harvest from labor. But are they right to do so? Only in part. Naturally, a certain volume of the harvest comes from labor, but by no means all of it. It goes without saying that the better we till the field, the more care we take of the plants, the more we will get. Let’s assume that the contribution of labor is 40%. And what about the remaining 60%, if it doesn’t come from labor? No, the 60% does not come from labor; it is a gift from Nature. And finally, it was not the human that created the ear of corn! Accordingly, this is how surplus value arises. Absolute surplus value is that part of the harvest that the peasant takes to market. Cities have risen thanks to absolute surplus value and it is because of it that civilisation as a whole develops. Any person today lives by exchanging and in Adam Smith’s time everyone lived by exchanging, so correspondingly everyone was a merchant. If
Let us now imagine that the peasant has consumed the entire cultivated harvest. He worked and then consumed the fruits of his labor, leaving enough just for sowing and for sustenance until the next harvest. Nothing is left for selling. How, in this case, will industry operate, how will a city thrive and government function? Now it is clear that everything begins with a seed and a field; here is where surplus value is born. Then it will acquire other forms: industrial goods, money and so on, but we should seek its origin right here, in the field.
So where was Karl Marx wrong? It was in his simplified approach to economics, his shallow, superficial, and thus ever-erroneous analysis of labor relations, means of production and the motives of entrepreneurship. According to Marx, capital exists as if somehow lowered from the sky and the entrepreneur—with his interests, risks and motives—is ignored as if he has already faced the firing squad. Everything is heaped in a pile and expressed in a poetic style, as was sometimes the case with Nietzsche.
So where was Marx right? Of course you cannot hold people in inhuman conditions, feed them poorly, make them work sixteen hours a day and pay them hardly anything. This is bad for everyone. However, for the last 150 years capitalist societies have developed such social systems that one can do little more than speak of their saturation, and of the fact that they procreate spongers and destroy society.
So who was this Karl Marx? Long since taken as a largely symbolic figure, it is as if he was detached from real time and physical reality while these explosive ideas, so fatal for millions, were being created.
What drives people like Marx? Passion. And passion is seldom able to see straight. Karl Marx is hardly an economist in essence, and as a philosopher he is highly suspect. Piling everything into one heap, philosophy and economics, literature and politics, Marx does not fit into any standard classification.

 
 


[1]“Scriptures” in the biblical sense.
[2]  Paris Match, No. 2935, p.7.
[3] E. Toffler, The Third Wave. Published by ???, ?., 1999, pp. 6-261.

[4] Karl Marx. Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, ed. Frederick Engels, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (New York: International Publishers, 1939).

[5] I will refrain here from bothering the reader with classroom arithmetic and an analysis of Marx’s sums in the style of “a
worker can produce so many kilograms of so-and-so.”
[6] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Modern Library Edition, 1994. Chapter IV, The Origin and Use of Money, p. 24. First published: 1776.
 


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