Marx was born May 5th, 1818. Since he died in 1883, in only 140 years, his ideas have spread throughout the world and in turn, have been understood differently by different people.
Richard Wolff is here with a new lecture to guide you through what you need to know about Marxism- what it is fundamentally, and how a new generation of Marxists are returning to the central focus of Marx: the workplace.
Watch “Marxism: From Critique of Capitalism to Alternative System” on our website or listen as a podcast today.
Prof Wolff starts this lecture with some short updates about Global Capitalism before diving into the central topic of Marxism. Wolff offers his insight into the recent labor militancy in Amazon, Starbucks and an entirely unionized college campus. Then, he offers insight into the divided French left and how a coalition of left parties are ready to unify behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon and create a wave in French politics. As this article puts it… “Watch out, Macron and Le Pen.” Wolff takes a hard look at the student debt crisis and the GOP’s continued attack on working people. Finally, he rings a warning to all listening about today’s housing and stock markets, and the frightening gap between economics’ fantasy and the dangerous reality for people around the globe.
“Either the housing market or the stock market with crashes will have extraordinary fallout effect across the system. Not just the United States but globally. The notion that the economy of the United States is strong, which is what our leaders tell us, is recovering from the crash and pandemic of 2020 and 2021? This is one of the great examples of wishful thinking that I can think of in world history."
The main topic of this lecture is about Marxism. Wolff lets us know the origins of Marx. For Marx, the central relationship in capitalism was of the employer and the employee. This division of labor was what distinguished capitalism from previous economic systems like feudalism or slavery. Marx criticized this economic system and believed a working class movement would eventually force into a better system. Perhaps one day, Prof Wolff suggests, we will abolish employment just like we abolished slavery before.
“Marx's conclusion was clear. This system has to be changed. This system and right at the core in the workplace. We have got to stop an arrangement in which a mass of people work hard to enable a very small number of people to control everything and to amass the riches that labor together achieves. If we don't change that system, we will be looking at inequality, instability, injustice forever.”
Marx’s criticism spread around the world. Soon, people in every country on the planet were interested in what he had to say about capitalism. Therefore, a very diverse tradition of different interpretations of Marx exist around the world. People began imagining, ‘how can we do better than capitalism?’ Experiments in Germany and more famously the Soviet Union explored Marxism in the context of building a new society. Once Marxists seized the governments in these countries, they began asking how to use the state to create a new socialism.
“Wherever you looked inside Marxism, outside Marxism, the state was the vehicle the agent that was going to solve the problem. Wow. This focus on the state was a phase of socialism and of Marxism, but it suffered two results that we're now living through.”
However, this focus on government power has led to new questions in Marxism. If you replace a capitalist business with a state, does it change the relationship between someone in charge of production v.s. a worker? Even if you do seize the state, it doesn’t create the socialism that was desired.
For Prof Wolff, his 21st century Marxism returns back to that fundamental relationship for Marx of employer vs. employee. This is why workplace democracy, not the state, can be a positive focus for Marxists today in an effort to create a better economic system of equality, stability and efficiency.
“Marx's original work focusing on the workplace organization tells us what we need to do now. The critique of capitalism but that critique focused on the organization of the enterprise and the solution to capitalism again focused on the democratization of that enterprise. That's a strategy. That's a focus. That is an approach to what the critique of capitalism means and what the solution is.”
Enjoy this lecture in full on our website, YouTube channel or on your favorite podcast player. Share with your friends, family and colleagues in order to spread the message of Democracy at Work.
Producing these lectures has always depended on audience donations. Consider donating to Democracy at Work with a monthly or one-time gift. Our monthly supporters are invaluable to us, in that they allow us to plan for the future, and commit to bringing you more media from an anti-capitalist and pro-workplace democracy perspective. Thank you.