BY: JOSE A. ZORRILLA
When Thomas Pikkety published his book on Karl Marx (2013) there was the usual uproar; now on the 200th anniversary of his death the noise has begun all over again. Was Marx finally right or not? Had globalization vindicated the doom of the bourgeois world? I take no part in the argument but just remind the reader of a basic Marxist tenet. Revolution is inevitable as long as two factors remain constant- one, the industrial mode of production and two, the institutions of a bourgeois society (ante 1848). The first of the two conditions held until globalization changed the rules of the game. The second does not hold at all. Liberal societies understood long ago that the best way to refute Marx was universal suffrage and capital tax. Once benefits and capital were taxed, the flow of welfare went to those in need, one way or another. And that was the end of the all-consuming capital and of the bourgeois world. Many people believe that Marx´s prophecies failed to deliver but that is not the case. Marx did not prophesize. Doom was inevitable if and only if the two factors remained constant, in his words, productive forces and relations of production. Since then, relations of production changed. Today with more than 50% of the US budget going to social services to speak of bourgeois society is kind of a joke. Some people think that welfare has gone too far but the alarms were sounded well before. Schumpeter warned about the end of the bourgeois world back in 1942.
Of course the communist reading of Marx was another pair of shoes. Since the industrial working class is the universal class and elections purely a formal game, it was better to give all the power to a party representative of the universal class and set up a dictatorship. Of course, since the universal class is the Avant-Garde of History, it knows no boundaries, it makes no mistakes and is not under the rule of law. It means that it is not founded on private individuals and their needs or hopes. History is the collective subject to be worshipped. Do you remember the award-winning Soviet movie Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears? It used to be the canonical KGB warning when they showed up a 3 A.M. to take your beloved one to the Gulag. You cried? Beware, you enemy of the people! You were doing something against the march of History. Well, that was not exactly Marxism but rather Communism, courtesy of Lenin and Stalin. Needless to say things did not turn out the way their founders expected. It took seventy years but finally the economists that predicted the end of communism were vindicated. It fell.
Not all the critics to real communism were capitalists. Trotsky, for instance begged to disagree. The revolution should not develop in just a single country but everywhere, beginning in Germany. Trotsky was not just an author; he took active part in the business of founding communism. Many believed he was the one behind the victory in the Civil War thanks to his way of organizing the Red Army. Of course Stalin hated him beyond measure and did all within his power to have him killed. Eventually he succeeded- a Spanish communist, Ramon Mercader, murdered Trotsky in Mexico. Mr. Mercader, by the way, continues to hold his title of USSR´s Hero.
Trotsky´s followers did not count in the millions but they were enlightened and determined. Among them, George Orwell, who was horrified to see the Stalinist disaster and summed up his bitterness in a classic book, Animal Farm. It was harrowing to see good old comrade horse Boxer on his way to the slaughter house. Four years later in 1949, Mr. Orwell went on to write his arch famous dystopia, 1984. Well, both Mr. Orwell and Aldous Huxley were Eton alumni, where Huxley had taught French. Orwell sent his book to his old master of “Brave new World” fame and Mr. Huxley, after having thanked his ex-disciple, explained that in his view the future would be like his prophecies and not like that of 1984. It was easier to convince people with drugs and propaganda than to send them to a Gulag.
I always wondered. Who would be right? As I saw things both books held grains of truth. There are drugs, there is propaganda and there are enhanced techniques of interrogation. Let´s begin with tranquilizers. Its consumption in developed societies is reaching alarming heights. The maximum recommended dose is 24 per 1.000 persons per day. Spain is in the realm of 59 and increased approximately 181% between 2007 and 2013.
While some of us were keeping the jury out, so to speak, globalization altered the good old welfare state paradigm. We went back to the days of Free Trade, only this time there were no bourgeois states to create welfare 2.0 programs. Globalization this time did not include sovereign polities, the rules of the game went well beyond national boundaries. People went jobless, Brexit preyed on that, populism grew and the inequality index of the US mirrored that of China. Was Marx right after all? Were formal liberties, just that, formal? Was the system doomed? Pikkety said yes or so it seemed. Capital grows and grows, crowding out the rest of us, poor labor slaves. To make things worse, David H. Autor, an MIT economist, drew a map of the China Shock, (2014), that is, the US regions where the labor force was hurt most by the opening to the Chinese manufactures. Then came the second round. Angus Deaton landed a Nobel prize (2015) by explaining to everybody that yes, it was very likely that workers in the rich world were feeling the pinch. But workers in the Third World had gone from living on one dollar a day to three or five. That meant that Marx’s foresight held only if we took into account the domestic scenario of the developed countries, the vast fields of the world fared otherwise. Then this very same Deaton, only this time with the help of his wife Anne Case, jumped to round three and brought down the house with a sinister metric (2015). If you are a white old man without a college degree in the United States, your life expectancy is worse than the one gracing Latinos and African Americans. And what would be the main cause of death?
Here we go back to Huxley: Drugs, opioids, and suicide. To complete the Huxley picture, we have propaganda in the form of post truth, fake news, newspaper’s bankruptcies, take your pick. But Orwell lurks too. In the world, at large, democracy seems to be in retreat. You may check Joshua Kurlantzik´s book on the subject and if you need an update, the February issue of Foreign Affairs offers an alternative. The title of Gideon Rose’s article is impressive. Is Democracy Dying? And concerning Big Brother’s watchful eye: What do you think of Cambridge Analytica? The virtual world has made transparent us all and to sell our intimate musings is very profitable. So it seems as if Marx, Huxley and Orwell all were partially right. My favorite prophet, though, continues be Huxley. Why do you think grass is going legal?
Ambassador Jose A. Zorrilla is a career diplomat from Spain with postings in Milan (1989), Toronto (1993), Shanghai (2001), Moscow (2004), and Tbilisi (2009). He has published a book on the rise of China “China la primavera que llega” (China, the spring that arrives) and shot two documentary films (“Los Justos” (The Righteous) and “El desierto y las olas” (The Desert and the Waves)) and one full length film “El Arreglo” (The Deal) that won the Opera Prima Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 1983. He has just published a novel “El espía en Saratov” (The Spy in Saratov) (De Librum Tremens) and “Historia fantástica de Europa” (An Imaginary History of Europe). He is a frequent contributor to El Mundo with articles focusing mostly on current affairs.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.