Did Marx Get It Right?

Are today's riots the fulfillment of Marx's predictions?

Karl Marx predicted in Das Kapital that capitalism would destroy itself.  He believed that capitalism created two classes: the bourgeois upper classes and the proletariat lower classes.  Capitalism couldn’t help itself, Marx thought, from growing the latter.  Eventually, it would create a massive underclass that would rise up against its overlords.

There have been two theories as to why Marx was wrong.  The first theory, bought lock, stock and barrel by the academic establishment, is that capitalism prevented its destruction by buying off the underclass.  This technique was first implemented by Otto von Bismarck, who put in place state pensions, medical care, and unemployment benefits.  By the twentieth century, this idea was being promoted in America by figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  Even today, many businessmen and conservatives believe that paying off the poor is the way to prevent revolution.

The second theory regarding Marxism’s failure is that capitalism does not result in two classes, but in three: the rich, the laboring class, and a powerful middle class.  None of these classes are permanent. Lower classes can rise through hard work and wise investment; middle classes can become rich through the same formula. No man is chained to his station.

There are consequences to adopting either of these theories. If we accept the first theory, it is incumbent on us to raise taxes and to create government welfare schemes – in essence, to embrace redistributionism in order to prevent social upheaval. A bit of socialism inoculates us to communism.

If we accept the second theory, then the way to prevent the rise of communism is to embrace its opposite, capitalism. Individualism here represents the greatest bulwark against massive class warfare.

Now we are seeing pseudo-Marxist uprisings across the globe. All over the world, the supposed proletariat are rising up against the supposed bourgeois. In London, fires and violence have broken out. Looting is taking place in Birmingham and young people are attacking police in Hackney. In Israel, nearly 300,000 people have marched in protests questioning the cost of living. That’s about five percent of the total Israeli Jewish population. Greece has seen chaos; so has Spain.

Are these uprisings the result of the failure of the first theory or the second?

There can be no doubt about the answer. London is one of the most redistributionist cities in the world. Israel is largely socialist. So is Greece. Unabashed capitalism has never resulted in mass uprisings, but soft socialism has.

Unfortunately, too many Americans seem to reject the second solution. They would prefer to believe that poverty-stricken Americans can be bought off with a few benefits rather than a job, with welfare rather than with income.

Unfortunately, a population bred to believe that the welfare state is good and capitalism evil cannot comprehend that it is precisely that welfare state that deprives them of their true welfare.