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What Content of Marxism Is Out of Date Today, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1541

Research Paper

One of the most interesting aspects of Marxism is the way in  which the political and economic theories of Karl Marx have been so widely interpreted from numerous, differing perspectives. The impact of Marxism on modern governments and world economics is, therefore, quite difficult to judge from an objective standpoint. While it is certain that Marxism has exerted a tremendous influence over  global-politics since its advent in the mid to late nineteenth century. As Steve Weinberg points out in the article, “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life” (2013) the propensity for individual scholars, activists and observers to use the basic theories of Marxism as a point of departure for their own agendas is quite natural. Weinberg writes that “”Naturally, given such disparate movements inspired by Marxism, advocates within each movement gave Marxism their own interpretations.” (Weinberg) This is an extremely important factor to keep in mind when making a determination as to whether or not Marxism is, in fact, “out of date” in modern times. As the following discussion will clearly show, the theories associated with Marxism are “dated” in at least three highly significant ways.

The first way in which the foundation theories of Marx may be considered to be dated is in the way that Marx envisioned the traditional working-class. As Weinberg indicates, the changing circumstances of global economics have moved somewhat beyond the conditions that Marx responded to in his lifetime. Weinberg mentions that “”Keeping Marxs life in the 19th century is vital … because what Marx meant by capitalism in his famous The Communist Manifesto is different from what we think of as the capitalism of 2013.” (Weinberg) The changing economic and production methods that are utilized in the twenty-first century  mean that traditional Marxist conceptions of labor must be modified. Rather than viewing labor as a more or less homogeneous class of industrial laborers who are systematically exploited by an ownership-class, today’s Marxism should be modified to account for the deep schism that exists between various classes of labor. On one hand, there are severely  exploited workers in third-world factories who earn only pennies an hour for their work. On the other hand, white-collar workers in the US and other developed nations are equally exploited by their corporate employers but are seemingly oblivious to their status as laborers, posing behind a veneer of “middle class” status.

What remains true is that an international industrial class of workers is still extant and the degree to which their labor is being stolen by profit-driven capitalists has increased rather than diminished. Rather than improving conditions for workers, the ownership class has merely changed its tactics and gained ground over labor rather than accommodating a more just and humane approach to business.  By pitting one class of workers against another within a false class-schism of “working” and “middle” class, the ownership caste is able to continue its parasitic existence while quashing the chances that laborers from disparate cultures and industries will recognize their shared plight and unite to demand just wages and fair treatment. Due to this fact, Marxism seems “dated” in that it does not provide an ample theoretical framework for this modern paradigm.

A second point where Marxism can be accused of being “dated” is in regard to Marx’ famous “theory of value.” According to Marx, the theory of value is determined by gauging the amount of labor and production time it takes to manufacture a given object or good. This theory, while quite sound in the nineteenth century, is a bit out of step with certain developments in marketplace valuation in the modern global economy. For example, a shoe-company like Nike is able to exploit poor, nearly indigent workers by paying them less money in a week than it would cost to purchase a single pair of shoes. At the same time, the same company pays a single celebrity, such as Michael Jordan or tiger Woods, more money for a single endorsement contract than the entire labor-forced of an entire third-world country makes in a year.  This indicates another dastardly tactic used by modern capitalists to fragment and control the world population. This establishes not only a difference between workers, but a difference between nations as a whole. The whole conception of “third world” nations might just as easily be taken to mean: the slave-force of global capitalism. The money earned by a corporation like Nike is as dependent on its global status as in the exploitation of cheap labor. Therefore, Marx’s theory of value is a bit dated in that it fails to account for intellectual property, celebrity value, and ownership of trademarks and intellectual property.

This is an important fact to keep in mind because there is not real difference between the way in which the ownership class “steals” labor and the way in which the ownership class “steals” intellectual property and trademarks. In both cases, the labor and goods and intellectual ideas that are created by the under-classes become owned by capitalists who merely take the creations of others to exploit and sell back to the population. However, because specific individuals of the underclasses seem to prosper occasionally from the system, it appears that compensation is being given. In reality, the modern paradigm simply includes a greater degree and scope of global exploitation of workers and creators by a useless, non-creative and highly parasitic ruling class which stands “above” all economic and cultural laws.

These facts directly contradict the traditional foundation-principles of Marxism, in that they challenge Marx’s conceptions of the theory of value and his idea about the nature of the working-class. Similarly, the third way in which Marxism can be considered dated has to do with this very principle of class struggle and the evolution of human society. This third aspect of Marxism’s being  “out of date” is probably the most crucial and most formidable aspect of modern Marxist theories. In other words, the challenge to keep the proletariat informed and engaged about the struggles of workers against capitalist exploitation is the most significant and difficult challenge that exists for Marxism today. This is due to the fact that in Marx’s original vision, the energy and commitment of the working class is viewed as being integral to the eventual establishment of a classless society.

According to Peter Worsley in his book  Marx and Marxism (2002), one of the keystones of Marx’s political and social theories was the idea that the defeat and eventual collapse of capitalism was more or less inevitable. Worsley writes that, according to the Marxist ideal, “Only by destroying capitalism, and replacing it by another, superior economic system in which ownership and production were both social, could the central economic contradiction of capitalism be overcome and a more just and humane society created.” (Worsley 37) However, the destruction of capitalism and the creation of a more just society was also predicated on workers taking the initiative to challenge the status-quo.

However, in today’s world, workers are not only brought into an artificial conflict with one another due to competition for jobs, resources, and social status, they are geographically, and racially segregated as previously mentioned. Similarly, workers in developed countries such as the US and UK have been “bought off” with small amounts of disposable income, media entertainment, technological toys, professional titles, and the illusion of a “middle class” life. Such a state effectively undermines the will of the workers to assemble together and fight for better wages and working conditions. To state it in simple terms: most workers have been paid off, and made intellectually “tame” by an education system and media that exists to “brainwash” the average worker into inaction.

Despite this fact, it must be remembered that in traditional Marxist theory, “such a system is exploitative as well as, in the final analysis, economically irrational” and will therefore eventually crumble. Those who have observed the spread of global capitalism over the past decades will find themselves wondering just how long it is supposed to rake until the collapse actually happens. The main objective of Marxism is to arrive “at the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a classless society in which goods are produced for their usefulness not profitability” (Worsley 8). The failure of workers to push for this kind of reform has been interpreted by many as a sign that the ruling class have effectively devised ways in which to  placate and ‘stupefy” workers in such as way that the natural evolution of society has been impeded. This presents a new “wrinkle” in the global class-struggle for which Marx seems to have failed to account.

As the following discussion has established, traditional Marxism is dated on at least three crucial points. These points are: the definition of the working-class, the definition of the “theory of value,” and the understanding of the modern paradigm of class struggle. Each of these points is highly important in regard to Marxism as a political and social theory. Only time will tell if Marxism can adapt and evolve to meet modern challenges, or if another system of philosophy will emerge to carry the mantle of labor and workers’ rights into the near and long-term future.

Works Cited

Weinberg, Steve. “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life.” The Christian Science Monitor 19 Mar. 2013.

Worsley, Peter. Marx and Marxism. Revised ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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