Saturday, February 15, 2014

Capitalism and a misreading of Marx

Here in the U.S. we have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of society. Somehow, we think that the capitalist system is natural, that it is society itself, and that there's nothing prior to it whatsoever. But the truth is that people, and their relations with each other, come before any economic system, and they form society, out of which the economic system comes. While Marx's philosophy of historical materialism has sometimes been taken to mean that historical periods and economic systems are the same thing, this is a mistake. Instead, Marx's viewpoint, expressed in the Grundrisse among others, was that the economic sphere structured human society itself, but humanity's core, what he called its species-being, was what that economic sphere was ultimately made of.

Economic systems, then, are different modalities for solving common problems that come out of the physical needs and wants of people who are living together in a society, namely how to provide for them. This, however, is ultimately a secondary thing, the primary thing being both ones own self determination and ones non-economic relations with other people.

Capitalism, then, as well as socialism, or feudalism, is ultimately just one means to that end, and can be replaced. In fact, what Marx was advocating was for people as a whole, together as a society, to take back control of how the economic factors of life structure their society, and instead of having people work for the greed of others, have the economy work for the people as a whole, in society.

The rights of society come first, and are not invalidated by the economic system that that society molds itself into. Universal health care, social programs, subsidies for the arts, all of these could come under the heading of society as a whole taking care of itself. The economic niceties of this are either secondary or not important, because the human case is more compelling.

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