Bogo's Introduction to Marx & Socialism (RIP Michael Brooks)

Bogotazo

Administrator
Staff member
Welcome, comrades, to Bogo’s thread on Marx and Socialism.

The purpose of this thread is to educate interested folks on the theory and history of socialist politics in an accessible way. My goal is to try and capture the most important philosophical and historical points in a way that’s easy to understand. I, quite obviously, have a bias in the sense that I am a socialist. However, these essays will not be designed to attract you to socialism, but rather present its basic history and core arguments in their simplest form.

I hope to keep the discussion tight and relevant to the specific details of the topic at hand, rather than jumping ahead and all over the place. These posts are designed as a sequence of chapters.

Today, we begin with the question: What is Capitalism? What makes it distinct from other economic systems? Why do socialists oppose it?

Let’s preface with the Merriam-Webster definition:

“an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

This is accurate enough, and gives us a working definition to keep in mind.

More than anything, Marxism is an interpretive tool that allows us to analyze the dynamics of capitalism. Marx believed that material conditions, rather than ideas, are the driving force of societal development. (This is an important concept that influenced a wide range of methodologies in social sciences, and distinguishes Marx from earlier “utopian socialists” who dreamed more than they analyzed). Before diving into the theoretical specifics of how Marxists and socialists view capitalism, let’s start at the point all critical forays should begin: the historical development of the thing itself.

Marx categorizes human societies in several basic categories based on its class system:

Primitive Communism - This is humanity at its earliest. Hunter-gatherers living in small family units, who all share some role in maintaining the group’s existence, and share the fruits of their labor in common. Some scholars argue that the term also applies to early communal agricultural societies without much social stratification.

Ancient Slave Societies-Agricultural societies grew more complex, and social stratification saw the rise of slaves a major part of daily life. However, production was mainly for use, rather than profit; slaves produced what was needed for their owner’s/community’s consumption.

Feudalism-A new form of social stratification in which military aristocrats became hereditary lords over land which was worked by peasants/serfs. Serfs were generally tied to the land, and owed a form of rent to their “landlord” in exchange for protection, in the form of a portion of their crops, but were otherwise entitled to consume their cultivated crop as subsistence and had access to a “common” part of the estate. Professional trades were organized into guilds. (There were also medieval communes, which were cool).

The Development of Capitalism:

As innovations in technology accelerated trade on the global market, the merchant class began to rise, and commodity production completely changed the way goods were ascribed value. For most of human history, goods were produced for use. Food was grown to be eaten, clothes made to be worn, etc. Early trade introduced production for profit, but only on a limited scale; you created a commodity, like clothes, and sold them. With the money received in the exchange, you bought other commodities you needed of roughly equal value, such as food and shoes and tools and supplies. Marx formulates this as C-M-C; commodities, to money, to commodities.

Globalized markets and agricultural innovations (and later industrialization) amplified trade to such a degree that production, and thus social relations, were entirely remade.

Suddenly, money played a larger role in society than ever before. In order for merchants to compete in the world market, they needed an investment to produce an initial set of commodities. Once made, the commodities would be sold on the market for a higher price than the cost of the initial investment. Now in order to achieve that profit margin, you pay your workers less than the value of what they produce and keep the rest, in order to later reinvest and remain competitive. M-C-M’; money, commodities, and an additional layer of surplus money extracted from labor. This process is at the heart of the capitalist system.



After the industrial revolution, a miraculous explosion of productive force was created. Food and material goods become more plentiful than ever before in human history. And yet Marx observes a tragic irony of this system in Capital Vol. 1; society became richer in goods, yet in their plentifulness, prices drop and they lose market value, and those who create these goods-workers-become poorer and less able to afford them, as their boss must extract more surplus value from them to turn a profit.

Now let’s pause and backtrack. Where the hell did these workers come from? Weren’t there serfs tied to land estates? How did we get from kings, lords, and peasants to bosses and workers? It’s actually quite simple. As power and prominence depended increasingly on wealth and productive capability, the system of rigid land titles & rights became obsolete. Instead of a knightly nobility overseeing fiefdoms, the state had an interest in transforming lands held by the nobility or in common into large-scale fields owned and controlled by private landholders. This transformation, called Enclosure, required a forcible seizure that we might also call plain theft or robbery. Small landholders were legally dispossessed, commoners lost their rights to farm for subsistence, and riots broke out in protest for years during this process, put down violently by the gentry and state. Peasants and farmers became landless workers, while the landed gentry was given the right to extract all profit from work done on their land. This was the very first form of capital accumulation into private hands, what Marx calls “Primitive Capital Accumulation”. Thus, the working class as we know it was born, and the bourgeoisie began to form.

So to summarize, Capitalism is distinct because:
  • It divides society into two broad categories: owners of capital, and proletarians who own no productive property and must sell their labor for a wage used to pay for their basic needs
  • Production is for profit, rather than for use
  • Wage labor creates that profit
  • Supply and demand dictate price and drive decisions of production made by private owners; they are not planned, and not based on need
  • Industrialization provided a productive capacity never before seen
I think it’s worth saying a word about capitalism’s prominence in classical liberal thought, as the institutions of modern society stem directly from this period. The renaissance and development of enlightenment theories are often portrayed as really smart guys suddenly having great ideas. But those ideas developed in a context of new emerging social forces. Naturally, the conventions that once held up feudal social relations-the supreme authority of the church, the divine right of the monarch, the permanent cultural distinctions between noble and common men, the hereditary rigidity of land management-these ideas no longer applied. Instead of a royal court, a stately forum, or parliament, was needed for the property-owning classes to manage affairs and quell common grievances; scientific innovation would bring more profit than religious superstition; the innovation of private contracts in the marketplace needed third party enforcement; property needed protecting, and violent workers needed subduing. Thus, civil society was born.

These reforms were not achieved without a fight, however; one which was fought largely by the working class in the revolutions of 1848. While urban workers were feeling the pressures of industrialization, the industrial property owning class and their adjacent professions were butting against monarchical power for their own interest in gaining yet more power. In certain struggles their interests overlapped and encouraged coalitions, and in others they diverged completely and intensified class warfare. It was the bourgeoisie that emerged victorious in the struggle against the last vestiges of feudal power, and the nation-state (a centralized body with a monopoly on the use of force) became the dominant political formation. It’s important to note that Marxists and Marx himself view these bourgeois revolutions as progressive developments in human history which expanded political rights.

And that is where I’ll leave it for now. I hope you will recognize that by and large, I have not described capitalism as good or evil, as inferior or superior to other forms of production, but rather described its origins and core characteristics in concrete terms within the theoretical framework of discussion.

For the few who actually took the time to read this, I thank you and invite you to discuss and comment. As I’m not a historian, there’s plenty to refine and dissect. But I hope you appreciate the framework I’ve laid out.

Takeaways I want to emphasize:
  • Human society has not always been “this way”. Neither capitalism nor liberal institutions are natural ways of living encoded in our DNA; they are socially constructed rules which can be critically examined and changed.
  • Likewise, the origins of private property and the boss-worker relationship as we know it were entirely coercive, not “natural” or the just earnings of some special species of hard-working individuals.
Next time, we’ll talk more about modern capitalism and the history of early socialist movements.

Trivia: Did you know that Albert Einstein was a socialist?

"I honor Lenin as a man who completely sacrificed himself and devoted all his energy to the realization of social justice. I do not consider his methods practical, but one thing is certain: men of his type are the guardians and restorers of humanity."

“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion.”


Read his essay “Why Socialism?” in full:

https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism
 
Country Flag
England
Welcome, comrades, to Bogo’s thread on Marx and Socialism.

The purpose of this thread is to educate interested folks on the theory and history of socialist politics in an accessible way. My goal is to try and capture the most important philosophical and historical points in a way that’s easy to understand. I, quite obviously, have a bias in the sense that I am a socialist. However, these essays will not be designed to attract you to socialism, but rather present its basic history and core arguments in their simplest form.

I hope to keep the discussion tight and relevant to the specific details of the topic at hand, rather than jumping ahead and all over the place. These posts are designed as a sequence of chapters.

Today, we begin with the question: What is Capitalism? What makes it distinct from other economic systems? Why do socialists oppose it?

Let’s preface with the Merriam-Webster definition:

“an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

This is accurate enough, and gives us a working definition to keep in mind.

More than anything, Marxism is an interpretive tool that allows us to analyze the dynamics of capitalism. Marx believed that material conditions, rather than ideas, are the driving force of societal development. (This is an important concept that influenced a wide range of methodologies in social sciences, and distinguishes Marx from earlier “utopian socialists” who dreamed more than they analyzed). Before diving into the theoretical specifics of how Marxists and socialists view capitalism, let’s start at the point all critical forays should begin: the historical development of the thing itself.

Marx categorizes human societies in several basic categories based on its class system:

Primitive Communism - This is humanity at its earliest. Hunter-gatherers living in small family units, who all share some role in maintaining the group’s existence, and share the fruits of their labor in common. Some scholars argue that the term also applies to early communal agricultural societies without much social stratification.

Ancient Slave Societies-Agricultural societies grew more complex, and social stratification saw the rise of slaves a major part of daily life. However, production was mainly for use, rather than profit; slaves produced what was needed for their owner’s/community’s consumption.

Feudalism-A new form of social stratification in which military aristocrats became hereditary lords over land which was worked by peasants/serfs. Serfs were generally tied to the land, and owed a form of rent to their “landlord” in exchange for protection, in the form of a portion of their crops, but were otherwise entitled to consume their cultivated crop as subsistence and had access to a “common” part of the estate. Professional trades were organized into guilds. (There were also medieval communes, which were cool).

The Development of Capitalism:

As innovations in technology accelerated trade on the global market, the merchant class began to rise, and commodity production completely changed the way goods were ascribed value. For most of human history, goods were produced for use. Food was grown to be eaten, clothes made to be worn, etc. Early trade introduced production for profit, but only on a limited scale; you created a commodity, like clothes, and sold them. With the money received in the exchange, you bought other commodities you needed of roughly equal value, such as food and shoes and tools and supplies. Marx formulates this as C-M-C; commodities, to money, to commodities.

Globalized markets and agricultural innovations (and later industrialization) amplified trade to such a degree that production, and thus social relations, were entirely remade.

Suddenly, money played a larger role in society than ever before. In order for merchants to compete in the world market, they needed an investment to produce an initial set of commodities. Once made, the commodities would be sold on the market for a higher price than the cost of the initial investment. Now in order to achieve that profit margin, you pay your workers less than the value of what they produce and keep the rest, in order to later reinvest and remain competitive. M-C-M’; money, commodities, and an additional layer of surplus money extracted from labor. This process is at the heart of the capitalist system.



After the industrial revolution, a miraculous explosion of productive force was created. Food and material goods become more plentiful than ever before in human history. And yet Marx observes a tragic irony of this system in Capital Vol. 1; society became richer in goods, yet in their plentifulness, prices drop and they lose market value, and those who create these goods-workers-become poorer and less able to afford them, as their boss must extract more surplus value from them to turn a profit.

Now let’s pause and backtrack. Where the hell did these workers come from? Weren’t there serfs tied to land estates? How did we get from kings, lords, and peasants to bosses and workers? It’s actually quite simple. As power and prominence depended increasingly on wealth and productive capability, the system of rigid land titles & rights became obsolete. Instead of a knightly nobility overseeing fiefdoms, the state had an interest in transforming lands held by the nobility or in common into large-scale fields owned and controlled by private landholders. This transformation, called Enclosure, required a forcible seizure that we might also call plain theft or robbery. Small landholders were legally dispossessed, commoners lost their rights to farm for subsistence, and riots broke out in protest for years during this process, put down violently by the gentry and state. Peasants and farmers became landless workers, while the landed gentry was given the right to extract all profit from work done on their land. This was the very first form of capital accumulation into private hands, what Marx calls “Primitive Capital Accumulation”. Thus, the working class as we know it was born, and the bourgeoisie began to form.

So to summarize, Capitalism is distinct because:
  • It divides society into two broad categories: owners of capital, and proletarians who own no productive property and must sell their labor for a wage used to pay for their basic needs
  • Production is for profit, rather than for use
  • Wage labor creates that profit
  • Supply and demand dictate price and drive decisions of production made by private owners; they are not planned, and not based on need
  • Industrialization provided a productive capacity never before seen
I think it’s worth saying a word about capitalism’s prominence in classical liberal thought, as the institutions of modern society stem directly from this period. The renaissance and development of enlightenment theories are often portrayed as really smart guys suddenly having great ideas. But those ideas developed in a context of new emerging social forces. Naturally, the conventions that once held up feudal social relations-the supreme authority of the church, the divine right of the monarch, the permanent cultural distinctions between noble and common men, the hereditary rigidity of land management-these ideas no longer applied. Instead of a royal court, a stately forum, or parliament, was needed for the property-owning classes to manage affairs and quell common grievances; scientific innovation would bring more profit than religious superstition; the innovation of private contracts in the marketplace needed third party enforcement; property needed protecting, and violent workers needed subduing. Thus, civil society was born.

These reforms were not achieved without a fight, however; one which was fought largely by the working class in the revolutions of 1848. While urban workers were feeling the pressures of industrialization, the industrial property owning class and their adjacent professions were butting against monarchical power for their own interest in gaining yet more power. In certain struggles their interests overlapped and encouraged coalitions, and in others they diverged completely and intensified class warfare. It was the bourgeoisie that emerged victorious in the struggle against the last vestiges of feudal power, and the nation-state (a centralized body with a monopoly on the use of force) became the dominant political formation. It’s important to note that Marxists and Marx himself view these bourgeois revolutions as progressive developments in human history which expanded political rights.

And that is where I’ll leave it for now. I hope you will recognize that by and large, I have not described capitalism as good or evil, as inferior or superior to other forms of production, but rather described its origins and core characteristics in concrete terms within the theoretical framework of discussion.

For the few who actually took the time to read this, I thank you and invite you to discuss and comment. As I’m not a historian, there’s plenty to refine and dissect. But I hope you appreciate the framework I’ve laid out.

Takeaways I want to emphasize:
  • Human society has not always been “this way”. Neither capitalism nor liberal institutions are natural ways of living encoded in our DNA; they are socially constructed rules which can be critically examined and changed.
  • Likewise, the origins of private property and the boss-worker relationship as we know it were entirely coercive, not “natural” or the just earnings of some special species of hard-working individuals.
Next time, we’ll talk more about modern capitalism and the history of early socialist movements.

Trivia: Did you know that Albert Einstein was a socialist?

"I honor Lenin as a man who completely sacrificed himself and devoted all his energy to the realization of social justice. I do not consider his methods practical, but one thing is certain: men of his type are the guardians and restorers of humanity."

“I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion.”


Read his essay “Why Socialism?” in full:

https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism
TLDR?
 

TFG

WORLD CUP CHAMPION
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England
Probably better if you create some points of debate or questions alongside the explanations otherwise it's going to be difficult to get discussion going

Be a shame if all this info wasn't put to use
 

Bogotazo

Administrator
Staff member
Probably better if you create some points of debate or questions alongside the explanations otherwise it's going to be difficult to get discussion going

Be a shame if all this info wasn't put to use
Good point. I think that’s a good idea for upcoming chapters about the modern economy where the concepts are less abstract. I wanted to lay a historical foundation first.
 
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TFG

WORLD CUP CHAMPION
Country Flag
England
Good point. I think that’s a good idea for upcoming chapters about the modern economy where the concepts are less abstract. I wanted to lay a historical foundation first.
Are you into philosophy much?

I was thinking of doing something similar with philosophy but didn't know if there were many keen readers on the forum, stuff like free will v determinism could be interesting debates that help people unlock how they actually view the world.
 

Bogotazo

Administrator
Staff member
Are you into philosophy much?

I was thinking of doing something similar with philosophy but didn't know if there were many keen readers on the forum, stuff like free will v determinism could be interesting debates that help people unlock how they actually view the world.
That would be excellent, actually, and I suspect far more successful than this thread series :lol: So I would gladly participate.
 
Are you into philosophy much?

I was thinking of doing something similar with philosophy but didn't know if there were many keen readers on the forum, stuff like free will v determinism could be interesting debates that help people unlock how they actually view the world.

I wouldn't get involved in the debate, but I'd certainly enjoy reading the thread.
 
Are you into philosophy much?

I was thinking of doing something similar with philosophy but didn't know if there were many keen readers on the forum, stuff like free will v determinism could be interesting debates that help people unlock how they actually view the world.
Much reading of neurophilosophy?
 

Lunny

Former OTH PL Cup Winner
Staff member
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United Kingdom
Are you into philosophy much?

I was thinking of doing something similar with philosophy but didn't know if there were many keen readers on the forum, stuff like free will v determinism could be interesting debates that help people unlock how they actually view the world.
I did a couple of audio books on the history of philosophy and that last year.

Can't remember anything mind but it's interesting looking at the different philosophers and what they came up with.

@Matty is a philosophy boy I think
 

Davie

Former Prediction League Champion
Country Flag
Scotland
Do you believe this is better that gradual re-introduction of socialist ideals such as nationising certain key industries and sector into the current democratic and capitalist system?
Why?

What would you do different to previous failed Communist projects and how do you prevent previous failures reoccurring comrade?
 
The communist manifesto explicitly states that you need to be despotic to install it, which might give a clue as to why every communist regime has been despotic.

The only thing you can say in its defence is that it was intended to be introduced to nations which had gone through capitalism, whereas all of the regimes of note were introduced to nations with either monarchies and peasants or largely agrarian societies who were developing, rather than fully developed industrialised countries.
 
The communist manifesto explicitly states that you need to be despotic to install it, which might give a clue as to why every communist regime has been despotic.

The only thing you can say in its defence is that it was intended to be introduced to nations which had gone through capitalism, whereas all of the regimes of note were introduced to nations with either monarchies and peasants or largely agrarian societies who were developing, rather than fully developed industrialised countries.
Chile was pretty far along when they turned socialist.
 

Davie

Former Prediction League Champion
Country Flag
Scotland
The communist manifesto explicitly states that you need to be despotic to install it, which might give a clue as to why every communist regime has been despotic.

The only thing you can say in its defence is that it was intended to be introduced to nations which had gone through capitalism, whereas all of the regimes of note were introduced to nations with either monarchies and peasants or largely agrarian societies who were developing, rather than fully developed industrialised countries.
Aye, the Communist manifesto was written 170 years ago and applied to a different world.

In the modern world, is there no way the ideals could be introduced without an ultra-authorotarian dictatorial leader applying it by force and ruling with an iron fist?

Possibly not due to the resistance of the current state and owners of production?
But I like the idea of gradual movement toward intergrating socialist ideal into the current system in a constant drift towards common ownership.

A lot if shit I've read insist the incompatibility of capitalism and socialism insists the two cannot live side by side and communism need to be applied wholesale and by, as you say, a despot.
 
Aye, the Communist manifesto was written 170 years ago and applied to a different world.

In the modern world, is there no way the ideals could be introduced without an ultra-authorotarian dictatorial leader applying it by force and ruling with an iron fist?

Possibly not due to the resistance of the current state and owners of production?
But I like the idea of gradual movement toward intergrating socialist ideal into the current system in a constant drift towards common ownership.

A lot if shit I've read insist the incompatibility of capitalism and socialism insists the two cannot live side by side and communism need to be applied wholesale and by, as you say, a despot.
We can safely move to more socialist policies and that would be to the benefit of society and most people. But to implement actual communism...yeah it needs despotism and it is not a system that most people would naturally gravitate toward.
 
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