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An introduction to the Marxist critique of political economy

1.

The rich societies of the West are full of poverty. In these times of virtually fully automatic production, the majority of people still have to struggle for a sufficient income. By far not everyone achieves enough success to live comfortably above the subsistence level; in fact quite a few are entirely excluded from the existing means of consumption.

These same well-organized democracies are full of violence — private and public violence toward those within the country, as well as toward those on the outside. People become victims of government decisions — and if they protest or try to resist, the police at a minimum take notice, and sometimes really come and take care of them. Others are sent to kill and die in the wars that always seem to ‘break out.’ Still others become victims of unauthorized forms of acquisitiveness or aggression by their frustrated fellow citizens. This is all the more true for the less successful countries participating in the global market economy. Outside the successful centers of democratic capitalism, poverty and violence, repression and neglect are everyday normality. And it doesn’t take a Marxist to discover and condemn this: everybody already does it — clergy of every stripe, poets, humanists, civil rights activists, and even the politicians who manage and proudly assume responsibility for these conditions.

2.

However, no sooner do those affected, or their political guardians, complain about one of the familiar societal evils than they spout their conviction that this evil has nothing to do with, and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with, the social system in which this evil appears.  They are sure that what’s continually bothering them is a corruption of the system that would never take place if the state and economy functioned the way they should.  When workers are let go, they moan about alleged mismanagement; when the government slashes pensions and social welfare, those affected protest against a clumsy, unnecessary, and ultimately counterproductive policy.  When wretched creatures are exploited for a few dollars an hour, excessive private avarice is seen to be at work;  when hoodlums and the down-and-out knock each other off, public opinion discovers a decline in their morals; and when the government once more finds war necessary, people talk of a failure of politics.

This kind of criticism is ‘responsible’ and ‘respectable,’ because as a matter of course, it never impugns the principles of ‘our’ economy, form of government and way of life. Really, this criticism sticks to the principle that protest against any kind of nasty social condition is invalid unless it expresses the belief that the deplored evil is a malfunction of the system, not a necessary component of it. In the face of each and every negative experience, people dogmatically maintain the belief in the ‘true’ and ‘lofty’ principles of the system;  the bad experience is not to be taken as an objection.

3.

By and large, Marxist critique focuses on phenomena the bourgeois world is already familiar with and deplores as evil.  But communists don’t let themselves be tied down to the dogmatism of constructive criticism, to a partisanship set from the outset on democracy and market economy.  Quite to the contrary, we offer and demand the detachment necessary for an objective investigation of the causes of the evils deplored on all sides — because a fight that doesn’t aim toward the elimination of the causes is simply not serious.

Therefore, we also know that the hardship of those affected offers no guidance as to just what has to do with eliminating this hardship. Their protest considers the most awful, the most onerous situations as wrongs to be righted, in order that the casualties can better cope with the conditions that lead to these hardships.  This kind of protest is a sort of supplication, and an illusory one at that.  From this it follows that solidarity with the ones going to the dogs does not consist in supporting their cries for help and bolstering their marches for alms, but rather in finding out what causes their hardships and — even in the face of the victims’ opposition — insisting on fighting for the elimination of these causes.

4.

The Marxist critique of political economy, “scientific socialism,” explains how and why the social evils the whole world deplores — unemployment and neglect, lousy wages and poverty, violence and war — are not accidental malfunctions.  Rather, they are damned necessary given ‘our’ social system of private property; and given states that found their continued existence on the success of private enrichment, and compete with all their economic, political and military might against each other to acquire global, capitalistic wealth.  Every article and book from GegenStandpunkt Publishers furnishes yet another proof.

An invitation

You’ve got questions?

We know that our analyses of capitalism, state and imperialism, as presented in the articles and books below, can be rough going. The same can be said of Marx’ Capital, or of any new thinking. It’s always easier to digest the old ideas and familiar prejudices. So, to help out, we’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. Write to the GegenStandpunkt editors at

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Last update: July 7, 2012