On the Continued Relevance of Marx's Immiseration Thesis

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On the Continued Relevance of Marx's Immiseration Thesis

Post by Celtiberian on Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:35 am


"But all methods of the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation, and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of these methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse."
—Karl Marx

Bourgeois historians and economists alike have long maintained that Marx's immiseration thesis, a cornerstone in scientific socialist thought, has been proven incorrect by capitalism's continued ability to generate wealth and, consequently, increase the proletariat's standard of living in the process. While it's true that technological innovation—facilitated just as much by public investment as by private, if not more so—has improved our quality of life over the years, Marx's theory of capitalism's tendency toward immiseration of the working class was meant in a relative, not absolute sense. As the post-World War II "Golden Age of Capitalism" continues to be exposed for the historic anomaly it was, Marx seems to have been vindicated due to the undeniable stagnation in real wages which has been exhibited since the 1970s and the vast increase in wealth inequity which has accompanied it. The paid apologists of the system have thus been placed in a position of having to defend capitalism and its chronic crises through increasingly daft trickle-down arguments.

The only method to combat inequality that exists within capitalist regimes is for the state to tax the bourgeoisie, which has been the social democratic proposal since the neoliberal epoch. This, of course, is a non-solution, as the state is controlled by the very class it would have to tax in order to establish a more equitable distribution of wealth. As the remnants of the welfare state continue to be privatized and the global economic crisis focuses the working class's attention on the glaring inequality between workers and capitalists, revolutionaries must take this as an opportunity to explain to the people that no solutions are to be found within the system itself. Unionization, if it were hypothetically allowed to reemerge, can only benefit certain segments of the working class and only for a brief period of time (to say nothing of the stagflation which ensues when labor exercises more leverage than capital); the welfare state is fundamentally unsustainable; and structural unemployment, caused by unplanned, market-driven technological innovations, threatens to render millions of working people redundant.

Which brings me to the importance of socialist vision. I realize that I raise this point rather often, but it bears repeating. Many radicals continue to dread offering proposals for how a post-capitalist economy will function, because they find such discussions to be "utopian" in nature. However, failing to work toward a vision is irresponsible, in my opinion. Few of us would deny that capitalism's internal contradictions are leading to a political instability so severe that revolution is a likely outcome. But if the working class were to succeed in overthrowing the system, there's no guarantee that they won't proceed to unconsciously rebuild capitalism in its place. (This is precisely where anarchists fail to appreciate the importance of a revolutionary vanguard and workers' state.) I don't deny that humanity innately dislikes bourgeois social relations, but unless a carefully designed system of collective property laws is drafted, nothing will exist to prevent collectives of workers from selling their land or equipment to one another, leading to the ascent of a new bourgeois class. Capitalism is maintained through the existence and enforcement of property laws, so too must socialism.

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Re: On the Continued Relevance of Marx's Immiseration Thesis

Post by Bold on Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:47 pm

If you are a socialist you must believe in the abolition of private property and the redistribution of wealth, if not you are merely a lackey of the bourgeoisie. Capitalism has been able to perpetuate itself by adopting socialist clothing and advocating minor measures to keep the proletarians quiet such as state health care and benefit payouts. In a socialist state there should not be benefits for those able to work, the state should provide work for the unemployed, not pay them to settle into a lazy, hedonist and parasitic lifestyle in which they leech off the rest of society just like the bourgeoisie.

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Re: On the Continued Relevance of Marx's Immiseration Thesis

Post by Celtiberian on Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:15 pm

I'm in agreement with you, with the exception of this remark:

Bold wrote:If you are a socialist you must believe in the abolition of private property and the redistribution of wealth

I would phrase the latter half of your sentence slightly differently. Socialism isn't about taking wealth from one group and redistributing it to another, but rather changing the entire manner by which labor is remunerated. Income will no longer be predicated on ownership and luck (genetic or environmental); effort and sacrifice will determine ones share in the social product.

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"The dogma of human equality is no part of Communism . . . the formula of Communism: 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', would be nonsense, if abilities were equal."
—J. B. S. Haldane Hammer Sickle

"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
—Mikhail Bakunin Red Star
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Re: On the Continued Relevance of Marx's Immiseration Thesis

Post by Rev Scare on Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:32 pm

Celtiberian wrote: effort and sacrifice will determine ones share in the social product.

And where it is warranted, need.

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Re: On the Continued Relevance of Marx's Immiseration Thesis

Post by Celtiberian on Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:44 pm

Rev Scare wrote:And where it is warranted, need.

Absolutely. Every civilized society secures provisions for the infirm, and services such as health care and basic housing should always be provided for on the basis of need.

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RSF Executive Committee (Chairman)
"The dogma of human equality is no part of Communism . . . the formula of Communism: 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', would be nonsense, if abilities were equal."
—J. B. S. Haldane Hammer Sickle

"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
—Mikhail Bakunin Red Star
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