WORST PROPHECY OF THE CENTURY?
In 2001 Time magazine judged as the worst prophecy of the century, so far, was by Karl Marx: “Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of nature, its own negation.” And Time added: “By 2000, communism had won and lost a world.”
In the April, 2009, issue of “The Atlantic,” there is an article by Christopher Hitchens titled “He’s Back.” The “He” is Karl Marx. He is back because the current sickness of capitalism is the very disease that Marx predicted long ago. Here are some pertinent words by Hitchens.
“As I write, every newspaper informs me of frantic efforts by merchants to unload on the consumer at almost any price, the vast surplus of unsold commodities that have accumulated since the credit crisis began to take hold.”
Marx foresaw this. The surplus of things is the result of capitalist expropriation of the surplus value created by labor and the use of it to hire more labor to expropriate more surplus value and to produce more stuff, ad infinitum. Capitalists must expropriate and produce at a profit continuously and turn to government with cup in hand when the inevitable bubble bursts.
The current issue of Newsweek has on its cover the perennial Uncle Sam of 1918 vintage with index finger pointing demandingly: “I WANT YOU TO START SPENDING.” That’s the same message the president [George W. Bush] sent to this nation after he began his preemptive war against Iraq. Spend and consume and live it up even while soldiers die and civilians scurry in a panic to survive amid violent chaos.
In response to Time’s judgment of Marx’s prophecy in 2001, I wrote the following:
“Man’s allegiance is divided between Capitalism, the ultimate producer of material wealth, and Christ, the ultimate source or spiritual good, even though they have nothing in common. In fact, they are antipodal, antithetical and antipathetic, the former tending to seduce, subvert and crucify the latter. The compatible juxtaposition of Christianity and Capitalism in the same nation and in its homes is not just an oddity, it is an egregious example of man’s capacity to delude himself in order to have the ephemeral comforts of this world and the prospects of eternal security in the next. There is no possibility of an intellectual or moral reconciliation between Capitalism and Christ. There is only a compromise that produces in most humans a daily variation of pleasure, guilt and shame, except in those by nature exempt from empathy, conscience and scruples.
“Humans are split between self-preservation and altruism. Nature programmed self-preservation in them prior to evolving altruism, the emotion designed to perpetuate the tribe and thus the individuals in it. So egoism, even though it is still a superior motivation in most humans, is humanized by altruism in others. Self-preservation exhibits itself in competition; altruism in cooperation. Capitalism is competition; socialism is cooperation. Christ without doubt was a socialist.
“In every society there is politics and in every society the politics manifest itself in an identical spectrum: ultra-conservatism to ultra-liberalism, reactionaryism to radicalism, materialism to spiritualism. It is the same because humans have been, are and will be the same wherever. There are those in society who will hew their way to their goal with a bloody ax; and there are those in society who will build a house beside the road and become a friend to people or who will play the role of Johnny Appleseed or Francis of Assisi. Every generation has them and they reflect in their living where they fall within the political spectrum and vote in accordance with their political dispositions. The ax-hewers are egoists and capitalists. The birdfeeders are altruists and socialists.
“Humans do not live by bread alone. They are distinguished from baser species by their love of truth, their appreciation of beauty and their legacy of empathy. And their moral nature reached its epitome in the transcendent life and message of Christ, who taught material wealth was an insuperable obstacle to gaining the kingdom of God.
“Capitalism produces bread in abundance. But it is made at the expense of labor and is distributed unjustly. And its process of production and its things of production leave humans spiritually malnourished. Christ furnishes humans spiritual sustenance in abundance but advises the rich man that in order to gain heaven or spiritual purity he must give his riches to the poor and follow him.
“If humans as a species have a future it is not as those who are preoccupied with self-preservation and long life in order to acquire wealth and things, but it is as those who recognize that the level of their altruistic nature is unique and the most godlike aspect of their nature and is that aspect that they must nurture, refine and cherish, not that baser aspect that induces the masses to migrate to Las Vegas. The meek shall inherit the earth.
“Capitalism alienates humans from nature, the source and sustenance of their spirituality. It degrades nature inexorably in the process of making things and building an environment antithetical to that of nature and to the nature of humans. Capitalism’s agents hawk products inimical to people’s health in a manner insufferable to anyone with a sense of cosmic propriety. How can such a system endure when it is, in the very process of success, becoming a cancer on the beauty of nature and the body of humans and all the while smothering human’s nascent spirituality.
“Marx knew Christ; and he knew that Capitalism not only was economically unjust and environmentally devastating but that it was morally mortal. Worst prophecy? Time will tell.”
The current subprime bubble bust and the following depression would be no surprise to Marx. Surplus value or profit, created by labor, has accumulated astronomically in the hands of the capitalists, who once invested it in production of things at a rate that was not usurious. But with usury laws repealed and the prospect of loaning money at 35% or even 100% legally and with the Chinese producing mountains of things cheaply, the wealthy envisioned a usurious Heaven by pushing subprime housing loans at usurious rates and also luring everyone with a mailing address to use a credit card and pay only the 35% interest on the balance. Yes, Marx is back and this time his visit may last a while.