Just for a laugh, I read aloud from a Guardian UK article in which David Simon expressed qualified approval of some Marxist ideas. Sure enough, my friend Swamp Rabbit called me a commie before I was halfway through the piece.
Simon is the fellow whose well-regarded TV series The Wire depicted life in the other America, the one where there is no law and order and no tangible connections to the so-called economic recovery that we hear about in mainstream news reports. The Guardian article, an edited transcription of a talk Simon gave in Australia, made plain what was implicit in The Wire — that the growing divide between rich and poor is a consequence of policies forged by free-market zealots who decided it was safe to throw the poor under the bus once it was clear that communism was no longer a viable threat to the status quo.
“Big words and ideas,” said Swamp Rabbit, who used to be a commie himself. He waved his old, battered copy of Marx’s Capital: Volume I and added, “We was hopin’ for heaven on earth, but all we got was Joe Stalin.”
But Simon doesn’t say Marx’s communist dream wasn’t deeply flawed; he merely reminds us that Marx, who became the butt of countless jokes when communism failed, was right about unbridled capitalism:
…Capitalism stomped the hell out of Marxism by the end of the 20th century and was predominant in all respects, but the great irony of it is that the only thing that actually works is not ideological, it is impure, has elements of both arguments and never actually achieves any kind of partisan or philosophical perfection.
It’s pragmatic, it includes the best aspects of socialistic thought and of free-market capitalism and it works because we don’t let it work entirely. And that’s a hard idea to think – that there isn’t one single silver bullet that gets us out of the mess we’ve dug for ourselves. But man, we’ve dug a mess…
Don’t let capitalism “work entirely” or you end up with a plutocracy, in which the wealthy thrive at record rates while the earning power of the middle class dwindles and the poor are deep-sixed. In which corrupt Democrats join Republicans in dismantling the New Deal, a force for change that involved a pragmatic mix of ideas meant to serve egalitarian ends, the first of which was to put people back to work. The overall goal was the triumph of social democracy.
Not so in our time. As economist Dean Baker recently noted, “At the moment, no prominent politician in national politics is arguing the case for a government budget that could bring the economy anywhere near to full employment.”
“That’s because the politicians are all owned by the skunks who profit by putting people out of work,” the rabbit said. “It don’t take no Karl Marx to figure that out.”
“Maybe not,” I said, “but if we don’t start pushing back against the skunks, like Marx did, then the joke’s on us.”