I am a dedicated marxist, and my big conundrum is, which is funnier, Go West or Night at the Opera? Oops, I forgot to include Das Kapital. In it’s own way it might be the funniest Marx comedy…..no, on second thought, it doesn’t have Margaret Dumont, so it’s out. It does take a wrecking ball to Western civilization, but how can that compete for laughs with tearing apart the wooden train and feeding the boards to the engine to win a race? Yeah, I think Go West is the funniest!
Not to slight Das Kapital though, it actually was an important and carefully thought out book. Since it was written before the “Industrial Revolution”, most references to “labor” mean manual labor, but the economics “lessons” and theories are secondary to his political theories. For Marx, Karl that is, the abolition of ownership of private property is one of the central aspects to his theories as expressed in “The Communist Manifesto”. This is not simply meant in terms of owning a home or a piece of land, but more importantly it refers to the means of production. This is true in the case of a factory owner just as it is true for a large landholder who owns several acres that need worked.
To Marx, this was a timeless imbalance that harkens back to the feudal days and doing away with the whole notion could happen through revolution. Without an uprising the issue of private property and the associated inequities would only continue unchecked. In many ways it can be suggested that to Marx, private property was at the center of almost all problems he saw in human society since it contributed to and signaled unequal distribution of wealth.
Rather than dive into the intricacies of his theory–I would lose all my readers–I propose testing the idea that private property is the, or even a, problem. Take a trip with me to the year 1620, as 101 weary, sickly passengers of the Mayflower went ashore at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Plymouth Company investors initially invested about £1200 to £1600 in the colony before the Mayflower even sailed. The colonists had to pay this money back over seven years by harvesting supplies and shipping them back to the investors in England to be sold.
Each investor in the Plymouth Company was issued shares worth £10 and each adult colonist received one share and were given options to purchase more shares later on. For the first seven years, everything was to remain in the “common stock” which was owned by all the shareholders. The common stock helped supply the colonists with things like food, tools and clothing. At the end of the seven years, the shareholders would divide the profits and capital (which included houses, land and goods) equally.
Yet, in 1623, the common-stock plan was abandoned and the land and houses were divided so that each colonist could reap the rewards of their own labor. The colony had been barely producing enough food to survive and the Governor of the colony, William Bradford, felt that the communal aspect of the colony was discouraging many of the colonists from working hard because they felt they were working for others rather than themselves. When the common-stock plan was abandoned and the new plan put into place, the colony suddenly began to flourish and they soon had an abundance of food. Corn production dramatically increased and famine was averted.
So in this simplest of all examples, private ownership of the land with the incentive of earning the fruits of your own labor was the only consistent difference between famine or plenty. Sure, weather and Indian relations were factors, but those were more or less similar during the first 3 years of want and the subsequent years of plenty. The central problem with Marxism and it’s children, Communism and Socialism, is ignoring human nature and it’s desire for personal gain.
How do you implement a system that contravenes human nature? With force! Ultimately, Das Kapital and Marxism are funnier than Marx Brothers comedies because everywhere Marxism has been applied–with the goal always to reduce inequities–the gap between the wealthiest classes and the poorest classes has been greater than in capitalist societies. Why? Because the force required to implement Marxism necessarily leads to plunder, and the removal of the incentive of personal gain results in lowered production. What a yuck.