A view of Marx: left, right or something else?

If a ‘rightist’ is a person who supports corporate dominance and plutocracy, or established chains of authority, then Marx was clearly not a rightist.

If a ‘leftist’ is a person who supports state control over everyone and everything for the common good, then Marx was not a leftist – the state was to wither away under communism.

Marx believed that oppressed people should understand the system of suppression, then organize and rebel against it, constructing their own forms of governance using their active experience (praxis). This is one reason why he did not spend much time trying to describe the systems that might arise after the revolution.

The ongoing problem has been that revolutions produce chaos, as well as resistance, so that the revolutionaries, need to establish a system of order for the new regime to survive, and they tend to use the one that is already available, and so suppression starts again. Lenin promised this suppression would be temporary, but the system is always attacked from outside, so the suppression needs to be maintained, and it becomes easy for the dictators to take over.

Paradoxically, in many ways Marx was a conservative egalitarian. He believed that capitalism corrupted virtue, destroyed relationships between people, diminished craft skills, eliminated local cultures, and produced dependency and poverty – much of the Communist Manifesto could have been written by a 19th conservative hostile to the newly emergent industrial capitalism. However, he also believed it was possible to change things for the better, if you understood what was going on.

Marx’s primary legacies are: a) the understanding that capitalism is oppressive and destructive in its very nature and not because of the vices of the dominant people themselves, and b) that economics is never independent of political struggle.

He showed that capitalism is not trade, or mutual exchange, which is normal to most societies, it is a specific political form of organizing exchange, profit, production, dependency and distribution which requires and creates inequality and state based oppression.

Finally, in Marx’s view, history is driven by the struggle between groups of people and their ways of life, survival and economic organization. In that sense the drivers of history are primarily material.

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