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Most people agree that we need to improve our economic system somehow.

Yet
were also often keen to dismiss the ideas of capitalisms most famous and
ambitious critic, Karl Marx. This isnt very surprising. In practice, his political and
economic ideas have been used to design disastrously planned economies and
nasty dictatorships. Nevertheless, we sholdnt reject Marx too quickly. We ought to
see him as a guide whose diagnosis of Capitalisms ills help us navigate towards a
more promising future. Capitalism is going to have be reformed- and Marxs analyse
are going to be part of any answer. Marx was born in 1818 in Trier, Germany. Soon
he became involved with the Communist party, a tiny group of intellectuals
advocating for the overthrow of the class system and the abolition of private
property. He worked as a journalist and had to flee Germany, eventually settling in
London. Marx wrote an enormous number of books and articles, sometimes with his
friend Friederich Engels. Mostly, Marx wrote about Capitalism, the type of economy
that dominates the western world. It was, in his day, still getting going, and Marx
was one of its most intelligent and perceptive critics. These were some of the
problems he identified with it: Modern work is alienated. One of Marxs greatest
insights is that work can be one of the sources of our greatest joys. But in order to
be fulfilled at work, Marx wrote that workers need to see themselves in the objects
they have created. Think of the person who built this chair: it si straightforward,
strong, honest and elegant. (arata o imagine cu un scaun ) Its an example of
how, at its best, labour offers us a chence to externalize whats good inside us. But
this is increasingly rare in the modern world. Part of the problem is that modern
work is incredibly specialized. Specialised jobs make the modern economy highly
efficient, but they also mean that it is seldom possible for any one worker to derive
a sens of the genuine contribution they might be making to the real needs of
humanity. Marx argued that modern work leads to alienation= Entfremdung, in
other words, a feeling of disconnection between what you do all day and who you
feel you really are and would ideally be able to contribute to existence. Modern work
is insecure, Capitalism makes the human being utterly expendable; Just one factor
among other in the forces of production that can ruthlessly be let go the minute that
costs rise or saving can be made through technology. And yet, as Marx knew, deep
inside of us, we dont want to be arbitrarily let go, we are terrified of being
abandoned. Communism isnt just an economic theory. Understood emotionally, it
expresses a deep-seated longing that we always have a place in the worlds heart,
that we will not be cast out. Workers get paid little while capitalists get rich. This is
perhaps the most obvious qualm Marx had with Capitalism. In particular, he
believed that capitalism shrunk the wages of the labourers as much as possible in
order to skim off a wide profit margin. He called this: primitive accumulation.
Whereas capitalists see profit as a reward for ingenuity and technological talent,
Marx was far more damning. Profit is simpy theft, and what you are stealing is the
talent and hard work of your work force.
However much one dresses up the fundamentals, Marx insists that at its crudest,
capitalism means paying a worker one price for doing something that can be sold

for another, much higher one. Profit is a fancy term for exploitation. Capitalism is
very unstable. Marx proposed that capitalist systems are characterized by series of
crises. Every crisis is dressed up by capitalists as being somehow freakish and rare
and soon to be the last one. Far from it, argued Marx, crises are endemic to
capitalism- and theyre caused by something very odd. The fact that were able to
produce too much- far more that anyone needs to consume. Capitalist crises are
crises of abundance, rather than - as in the past- crises of shortage. Our factories
and system are so efficient, we could give everyone on this planet a car, a house,
acces to a decent school and hospital. Thats what so enraged Marx and made him
hopeful too. Few of us need to work, because the modern economy is so productive.
But rather than seeing this need not to work as the freedom it is, we complain about
it masochistically and describe it by a pejorative word unemployment. We should
call it freedom. Theres so much unemployment for a good and deeply admirable
reason: because were so good at making things efficiently. Were not all needed at
the coal face. But in that case, we should- thought Marx- make leisure admirable.
We should redistribute the wealth of the massive corporations that make so much
surplus money and give it to everyone. This is, in its own way, as beautiful a dream
as Jesuss promise of heaven; but a good deal more realistic sounding. Capitalism is
bad for capitalists, Marx did not thing capitalists were evil. For exemple, he was
acutely awere of the sorrows and secret agonies that lay behind bourgeois
marriage. Marx argued that marriage was actually an extension of business, and
that the bourgeois family was fraught with tension, oppression, and resentment,
with people staying together not for love but for financial reasons. Marx believed
that the capitalist system forces everyone to put economic interests at the heart of
their lives, so that can no longer know deep, honest relationships. He called this
psychological tendency commodity fetishism, because it makes us value things
that have no objective value. He wanted people to be freed from financial constraint
so that they could- al last- start to make sensible, healthy choices in their
relationships. The 20th century feminist answer to the oppression of women has
been to argue that women should be able to go out to work. Marxs answer was
more subtle. This feminist insistence merely perpetuates human slavery. The point
isnt that women should imitate the sufferings of their male colleagues, its that
men and women should have the permanent option to enjoy leisure.
Why dont we all thing a bit more like Marx?
An important aspects of Marxs work is that he proposes that there is an insidious,
subtle way in which the economic system colours the sort of ideas that we ending
up having. The economy generates what Marx termed an ideology. A capitalist
society is one where most people, rich and poor, believe all sorts of things that are
really just value judgements that relate back to the economic system: that a person
who doesnt work is worthless, that leisure (beyond a few weeks a year) is sinful,
that more belongings will make us happier and that worthwhile things(and people)
will invariably make money.

In short, one of the biggest evils of Capitalism is not that there are corrupt people at
the top- this is true in any human hierarchy- but that capitalist ideas teach all of us
to be anxious, competitive, conformist, and politically complacent. Marx didnt only
outline what was wrong capitalism: we also get glimpses of what Marx wanted the
ideal utopian future to be like. In his Communist Manifesto he describes a world
without private property or inherited wealth with a steeply graduated income tax,
centralized control of the banking, communication, and transport industries, and
free public education. Marx also expected that communist society would allow
people to develop lots of different sides of their natures: in communist societyit
is possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the
morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after diner, just as
I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. After
Marx moved to London he was supported by his friend and intellectual partner
Friedrich Engels, a wealthy man whose father owned a cotton plant in Manchester.
Engels covered Marxs debts and made sure his works were published. Capitalism
paid for Communism. The two men even wrote each other adoring poetry. Marx was
not a well-regarded or popular intellectual in his day. Respectable, conventional
people of Marxs day would have laughed at the idea that his ideas could remake
the world. Yet just a few decades later they did: his writing became the keystone for
some of the most important ideological movements of the 20 th century. But Marx
was like a brilliant doctor in the early days of medicine. He could recognize the
nature of disease, although he had no idea how to go about curing it. At this point in
history, we should all be Marxists in the sense of agreeing with his diagnosis of our
troubles. But we need to go out and find the cures that will really work. As Marx
himself declared, and we deeply agree: Philosophers until now only interpreted the
world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.