Think about the following movies for a moment: 13 going on 30, Freaky Friday, and 17 Again. What do they all have in common? Well, their basic premise is one where the main character(s) are displaced from their normal environment or time period, and thrust into a new one. This causes the character(s) to develop new ways of seeing and thinking about things, often leading to epiphany’s concerning some of their core values and beliefs. In most cases, the character’s epiphany changes their opinion on some core aspect of their own values, and illustrates a maturing or “coming of age”, if you will. Now, believe it or not, this typical movie plot is pretty common even in everyday life. Perhaps it’s not as mystical as switching bodies with your mother, or magically gaining 20 years overnight, but the principle is the same. Any time we find ourselves in a new environment outside of our comfort zone, we tend to grow a little bit. By engaging with people who do not share our own beliefs, we expand our mind and force ourselves to reaffirm our beliefs, slightly alter them, or gain new ones. This is what I like to call “enlightenment”.
So, as I’m sure you’re wondering, how does this pertain to Polsci 101? Well, examining whether the views of some of the political theorists we’ve read might be different in a contemporary atmosphere would be intriguing. Personally, I find Karl Marx’s views fascinating; perhaps, because they differ so much from my own. Marx endorses communism. He also condemns capitalism, claiming it to be exploitive, destructive and a system that is prone to revolt because it prompts inevitable conflicts between classes. Not surprisingly, Marx’s background has a lot to do with his particular views concerning capitalism.
Marx was born in Germany during the Industrial Revolution, in the year 1818. The industrial revolution was good for the development of new technology and inventions; however, it was detrimental to the well-being of the workers involved in many production processes. Factory conditions were poor at best, workers lacked proper protection from exploitation like labor laws, unions, and regulations. Karl Marx, however, was never a worker in the lower class. He was born into a wealthy middle-class family, which allowed him to observe the mistreatment of workers as an outsider. In Marx’s Communist Manifesto, he says, “Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers…they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself”(Modern Political Thought, pp.830-31). This picture of factories painted by Marx is drastically different than the one he would see today. Nowadays, we have labor unions to speak in the interest of the workers, laws that prohibit exploitation and child labor; in short, society has learned to protect the workers and treat them with respect.
Those who support Marx’s views might say that while on the surface things look good, in reality not much has changed in the workforce. There is still corruption and mistreatment of workers, and employees are still exploited. Underneath all the sparkly civil rights banter, workers are still quite powerless. However, according to Marx’s views, over time the workers should have lost power in the workforce and the employers should have gained more. This is not what has occurred over the span of time, seeing how now we have strong labor unions who hold sufficient power. Also, employers are bound by law to provide their employees with things like benefits, adequate salary’s, and safe working conditions, limiting their power to exploit workers at their convenience. I think that this is a result of the increase in social mobility we have seen throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This social mobility allows people to pass from lower classes to higher classes by investing in education and allowing for innovation. Ultimately, this improves society as a whole, not just the employee-employer relationship.
Marx believed that communism would make everyone equal, and end all suffering by making all social classes equal, eliminating the idea of social mobility. While this idea is noble, we’ve learned that it is not the way things work. The problem with communism, is that people lack incentive to do a good job, lose motivation to advance in education, and work hard. Communism makes society worse off and while the otherwise poor and homeless are better off under communism, those in the higher classes lose more than their fair share.Obviously, no economic system can be perfect. But better one where everyone has a chance to be a winner, than one where everyone loses something. Being an immigrant, I endorse the idea of capitalism because if it were not for that system, my parents never would have been able to come to the U.S.A. with nothing, and achieve the life and status that they currently have.
This brings me to the idea that if Marx had lived in the 21st century, he would have a very different view upon capitalism. Workers are no longer exploited the way they used to be, we have sanitary work spaces, children under 16-years-old are not allowed to work, and everyone has rights to protect them. So, I ask you to think for a moment about how living in today’s society might have affected Marx’s views. Would his views change or stay the same, in your opinion? If they were to change, do you think he would most likely support capitalism, change his mind about communism, or endorse some hybrid of the two?
Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.