In spite of the collapse of communism around the world, Marxism and its worldview are still popular in today’s political discourse. President Obama’s recent efforts to reform the American healthcare system and other initiatives have oftentimes been met with warnings of Marxism. They claim that president Obama is creating class warfare in order to justify expanding the government’s control over health care and other important economic sectors, which will allow bureaucrats to have greater control over our everyday lives. While critics of the president’s initiative oftentimes go to far, it is true that there are Marxian influences in many of the current political debates in America today.
One of Marx’s main critiques of capitalism is that there is a deep disparity in wealth and power between worker and capitalist classes. We hear this all the time in modern political discourse. The theory itself has evolved over time to adapt to the greater complexity of capitalist economies. Nowadays the political rhetoric centers around the middle class and how they are being squeezed by the wealthy. When politicians campaign, almost all of them talk about ways to “strengthen the middle class.” From a big picture point of view, a middle class is a relatively modern phenomenon that has a lot of complexity within it. The statement “strengthening the middle class” is pretty meaningless because members within the middle class have differing interests. To illustrate this, think about how different the interests are between an GM assembly line worker in Flint making $50,000 a year and a project manager in Charleston making $80,000 a year.
Nevertheless, rousing up the crowds with talks of class conflict is still a surefire way of political success. A couple of years ago when oil prices were at their peak, there was widespread outrage over reports of companies like Exxon Mobile who were making record profits. Proposals to impose a windfall profits tax, which expressly punishes companies from making a perfectly legal and ethical profit. Why do such proposals get such public popularity? Because so many people still view the world through the lens of Marxian class conflict.
This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. The class-centric worldview of the Marxian school is intriguing in many ways. Marxism is attractive to academics and lay people because it makes the world of a more simple place. What is interesting is the disconnect between the surface level rejection of Marxism and the infiltration of Marxism into much of political discourse.
I think that one of the reasons why elements of Marxian class conflict is so common in modern political discourse is because it touches people on an emotional level. We humans have psychological mechanisms that cause us to compare ourselves to others and to become envious when of theirs have more than us even if it is not rational. An example is the income gap. For the past 100 years, The United States Economy has grown dramatically. All social classes have benefited from this. Americana living below the poverty line today are significantly better off than at most a middle class Americans were 100 years ago on a purely material level. Nevertheless, most political discourse to day focuses on view growing gap in income between rich and poor in the United States. In fact, there is a general sense that the American economy is on the decline because of this growing gap in income. This is a very Marxian critique of capitalism.
So twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union and the supposed victory of capitalism over communism, it can be argued that Marxism it is still a very strong force in politics, even in America. Marxist ideas like class conflict an inherent instability and capitalism are still very prevalent. Even though it is political suicide for an American politician to outwardly say that he has Marxist ideas, and very few people advocate for outright communism today, it seems that many of those Marxist ideas are in fact mainstream.