Karl Marx died 130 years ago in London, yet his legacy lives on through America's latest populist uprising. No, I don't mean the flame out that was Occupy Wall Street, though that group certainly shared some of Marx's ideological heritage as well. The populists I speak of are America's own Marxists, aka the Tea Party. To be sure, many who associate themselves with the tea party will take umbrage with the veracity of my analysis. I don't care...if it acts and thinks like a Marxist it must be a Marxist.
I began thinking about this subject after a conversation with a gentleman who said Bill O'Reilly was too 'left of center' for him and that Van Jones was further to the left than Karl Marx. When Bill O'Reilly is left of center I'm no longer certain where the center is. Nevertheless, let's explore a little of the core beliefs of Karl Marx and the Tea Party. I'll begin with Marx.
First and foremost, Marx was a philosopher writing about the political economy that existed in mid 19th century Europe. What he saw everyday was hordes of workers shuffling off to the factories and fields, exchanging their labor for minuscule wages so they might continue to subsist. Not thrive mind you but just continue to breathe. This exchange of labor for pay was not voluntary, it was a form of forced servitude that removed the individual's freedom to be his own master. Unlike modern neo-Marxists, Marx himself was not an egalitarian. His primary concern was how the unbridled capitalism of his day restricted the individual from achieving his full potential. Capitalism did this through the alliance of the bourgeoisie and the state. Compare that with the Tea Party rhetoric opposing crony capitalism and the loss of individual freedom at the hands of the statists, of whom Barack Obama is supposedly the chief.
The free market, Tea Partiers argue, should choose winners and losers, not the government. Perhaps, but it is now and always has been a myth that there is a truly 'free' market. A truly free market would be based upon the free exchange of something of value for something of equivalent value. That would leave neither party worse off nor better off than they were upon entering the market. When a laborer exchanges his labor for a wage that allows him to survive does he enter that transaction freely and upon equal standing with the one who has a job that needs to be performed? Only in an economy where there are exactly the number of workers needed to for every available job. In any other situation, one side or the other is disadvantaged. Usually, it is the laborer. Additionally, the laborer is not free to abstain from the marketplace and open his own business because the cost of entry into many areas of commerce are enormous. Suppose one wants to begin a railroad to deliver goods from a port to warehouses more efficiently than another. The capital needed to create the infrastructure to compete in that market is prohibitive. The effect is a monopoly that is usually supported by the state. Sure, the costs of entry may be lower and less prohibitive in some other markets but so too is the risk of market over saturation, which may lead to the collapse of some businesses and the falling into destitution Marx envisioned as stronger competitors eat up weaker ones.
Further, in order for the capitalist to survive, he must realize a profit from the exchange he has made with the one who labors. If I sell eight hours of my time to an employer for $100 I must produce something valued at much more than $100 if the employer is to remain in business. In this, Marx recognized how capitalism in his day had abandoned the Lockean principle of private property that meant the laborer had a right to keep what he produced or created. Marx referred to this as the exploitation of the laboring class. The greater the difference between the amount the laborer received for his work and what the capitalist could reap from it was the level of exploitation experienced by the worker. This becomes important when discussing the Tea Party because it ostensibly opposes the oppression it perceives to come from the crony capitalists such as bankers and the political elites, or those who benefit from their affiliation with the state they oppose. The irony is, of course, that the Tea Party by and large are white, male, and over 45. They also largely support the Republican Party, which is every bit as state oriented as the Democrats. Therein lay the roots of the civil war being waged within the modern GOP.
The Tea Party, like Marx, had he been alive today, opposes the modern welfare state, though for very different reasons than Marx would have. For the Tea Party, the welfare state takes what they have earned from them by force and gives it to those who have not earned it. Yet, much of the Tea Party opposes any changes to Medicare or Social Security, the two largest entitlement programs. The Tea Party also largely supports the military industrial complex, the ones who carry the guns for the state they so deplore. Rather, Tea Partiers oppose 'welfare' programs for the poor, who they see as lazy slackers.
Marx, on the other hand, would likely oppose the welfare state because it interferes with the rise of the proletariat by mitigating the effects of capitalism. By providing a level of sustenance to the poorest and propping up many low wage earners with programs like SNAP and Medicaid, the impetus to organize and overthrow their oppressors is largely removed. This why Franklin Roosevelt, in the midst of the creation of the welfare state, could say that he was 'The best friend capitalism ever had.' Apart from the welfare state, it is likely America might have seen some uprisings such as have occurred in many poorer nations in South and Central America.
In sum, the Tea Party and Karl Marx share much in common. The Libertarians in the Tea Party hate the state and see it as a coercive force that steals their God given liberty. Marx saw the state as stealing individual liberty from the proletariat through its alignment with the capitalists. Marx's hatred of the state drove his vision of a communist utopia that emerged from the wreckage of not only capitalism, but its successor, socialism. Far from being anti-capitalism, Marx saw it as a necessary stage in the development of communism. Ironically, the anti-welfare state mentality of the Tea Party, if made reality by gaining power, could very well be the catalyst that awakens the proletariat that has been lulled to sleep by the statists on the left and the right. The very thing the Tea Party fears most may be what it ultimately creates.