So, I’m a Marxist. I’m also a socialist, a liberal, a progressive, and a Democrat.
What of it? I also am an American…
One of the great advantages of living in an open society is that no matter what you believe, sooner or later, you’re going to run across someone who believes the exact opposite. As an unrepetentant leftist, I’ve been blessed with a surfeit of that advantage over the last few years, as I’ve seen policies and political ideals that look like moderate, even conservative proposals decried as marxist, socialist, anti-american claptrap. I keep encountering people who come at the theory of good government and, in particular, fiscal policy from a very different point of view from mine, and it really is a blessing because it has given me the opportunity to sharpen and flesh out what it is that I believe. Opposition is good for that.
What opposition is not so good for is problem solving. In the face of Occupy Wall Street, I am already hearing the early refrains of an old song about the dangers of marxism and international socialism. Frankly, I don’t think that’s going to get us anywhere useful, no matter what you believe.
So me? I’m a Marxist. I’m also a socialist, a liberal, a progressive, and a Democrat. What of it? First and foremost I’m an American and I care about the future of my nation and my people. And I believe that the same is true for those people who disagree with me and who reflexively recoil at that long list of labels I just tagged on myself. And because of that, I believe that if we can just get the name calling out of the way, we ought to be able to have a reasonable conversation.
What do all of those labels mean anyway? To me, a Marxist is just someone who accepts, in some form, Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism. The fundamental idea is that, over time, wages will tend to stagnate, as those who own the means of production increase in wealth by extracting profit from the market through the conversion of surplus value in the form of uncompensated labor. Whether you agree with anything else about Marxist ideology or not, that this has happened over the last 30 or so years in the United States is empirical fact. All you have to do is look at a chart of income inequality since 1950 to see it. At this point in history we can either recognize that there was some measure of truth in Marx’s diagnosis of the problems with capitalism, or we can willfully blind ourselves to reality.
Now, having said that, just because someone sees the soundness of Marx’s diagnosis, it doesn’t follow that the right cure is the one he prescribed. There is a lot that is wrong with the Marxist view of history, religion, and social class. Governance is about finding solutions to problems, however, and that’s what the rest of those labels mean. They identify the sorts of solutions that I prefer. And that’s it. They should not get in the way of us generally agreeing that we should do something to counteract the features of market capitalism that tend to cause social distortions.
But beyond that, and more importantly, there are real values that I think most of us share regardless of the labels of our politics. I think we all agree that our infrastructure should be maintained and improved. I think we would all like to see a resurgence of the American manufacturing sector brought about through a reversal of some of our experiments in trade over the last 20 years. I think we all want to see effective and efficient use of our resources in the provision of necessary governmental services that keep us secure in our homes, help us educate our children, and allow us the basic civic comforts of post-industrial life.
And I believe that even though we are bound to disagree about the methods to solve them, we can recognize that we share a set of problems that disturb us all. We all agree that no child in America should go hungry, and that the solutions currently in place to address that problem are inadequate. We all agree that any person who wants to work should be able to find a job that will pay him or her a living wage. We all agree that the state should stay out of our private lives, our personal affairs, and the dictates of our consciences. We all agree that there is value in our natural resources and that we can do a better job of stewardship in order to conserve them for future generations. We are Americans, and this stuff is in our blood.
I would like to see American politics turn in a direction where there is greater recognition of the places where we fundamentally agree, toward less animosity and more good-faith dialog about solutions. I propose that while you may not be a left wing, Marxist, socialist, liberal, progressive Democrat like me, even if you are on the diametrically opposite end of the political spectrum, we should still be capable of having a political dialog that is civil and productive. I propose that this is what it means to live in a republic that honors the democratic values that we share. And I propose that if we spend less time trying to tear down the other side and more time trying to find agreement on core problems and then compromise on policies to address those problems, in the end we will all get more of what we want to see out of government. The alternative is to allow our political discourse to languish in its current state, little more than a childish schoolyard game of petty one-ups-manship and blame-shifting.
It is easy to forget that in a republic whose sovereignty is founded on the consent of the governed that we are our government, and that our political leaders reflect us and who we decide to be, not the other way around. To me, that is what both the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements are ultimately about. They reflect our decisions to try to be better than who we have been, and to try to come to real solutions that reflect the best of who we think we are. It remains to be seen how any of this will unfold in the realm of policy and government in the coming political seasons, but at the very least it serves to remind us that in the end we are all in this together, left and right alike. I think ultimately that is what being the other 99% has to mean.