What a great little book! This introductory work explores both the ideas of Karl Marx as well as their historical development. The presentation is atypical in that cartoon drawings are used frequently, mixed in with copies of print images or objects or people, so that it reads as a somewhat illustrated introduction. It is half-graphic novel, half basic text. I thought this was a very useful book because I now think I understand the basic tenets of Marxism and how it came to be. It is certainly one of those books that one wishes they could have the content stored in their brain as it is hard to remember the details going from Thales and Heraclitus to Bruno, Descartes and Spinoza to Hegal and…etc.
The main ideas that stuck out were:
1. The notion that labour is what increases the worth of a product and the misalignment is when this increase is not divided between worker and owner. Obviously this is a complex topic and I wasn’t fully convinced but there are many persuasive parts to the argument. To be further considered…
2. There does seem to be an increasing liberation of various social classes. A rough guide of various states of human organization being: a) Primitive; b) Slave; c) Feudal; d) Capitalist; and e) Socialist. Poor people just seem to change masters.
3. The abolition of private property. Not entirely of course, just for rich people. Of course this issue is usually dismissed by the ‘tragedy of the commons’ argument whereby if something isn’t privitized it will be overused and be ruined. This is not entirely true either… but not much is in this domain.
4. Alienation. That work itself alienates the worker. I can see this making sense for many labourers in industrial factories in the 19th century, but it seems less broadly applicable now. Those in the middle-upper class often enjoy their work or prefer to do some work compared to nothing. That comparison is important, because if you don't work and don't farm your own food, you have to survive somehow. Survival is alienating?
5. That many of the changes Marx called for have actually been implemented in modern democracies: graduated income tax, free childhood education, end to child labour, a national bank, national standards for various sectors, unions, welfare programs. Yes, the revolution hasn’t happened, but certainly things are objectively better for a poor person in many countries today than it was in those countries in Marx’s time.
I found it interesting that Marx was poor and that his family suffered because of it. Additionally, I was once again confronted by my ignorance and felt like that there is much more to learn, like just how Lenin was influenced by Marx, and then Trotsky and Stalin and Mao and… hmmmm, this might take awhile.
For all its valid points, Marxism does seem to get human nature wrong. We generally compete with each other and have trouble embracing fully egalitarian systems in society.
Marxism is not the same as Communism, but John Kenneth Galbraith’s quotation is germane: Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.
Go read it.