by Rick Gunderman
Marxism, as an ideology, has served various currents of thought and action. Academics, trade unionists, guerrilla fighters and journalists across the world have been touched by the ideology of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Virtually all left-wing movements pay some degree of homage to Marxism.
Marxism has stood the test of time, influencing thinkers and activists for over one and a half centuries, because it effectively answers the most basic question, that question which all those seeking to understand our contemporary world must ask: “what is capitalism?”
To answer this question in the most basic way, Marx and Engels produced The Communist Manifesto, first published in February 1848. The Manifesto answers other questions, still very much pertinent today.
The “sociopathic society” is a natural outgrowth of capitalist development. Marx and Engels were able to see this in their own time:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.
It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”.
Prior to the industrial revolution, various forms of social relations existed, almost entirely corresponding to the way in which they produced to meet their needs. In feudal societies, the peasants were bound by one linkage or another to their lords, their “natural superiors”. Such was also the case in slave societies.
In these stages of development, the lower classes were raised to revere the upper classes, to unconditionally accept their leadership and power. The rise of capitalist economic relations dramatically altered this.
The transition from feudalism to capitalism was, to put it simply, change in class relations. Under feudalism, the continued development of economically productive capabilities, the expansion of the European powers’ colonial and trade links with the rest of the world, and new achievements in science and technology combined to create the merchant class.
By their nature, merchants buy and sell for profit. Naturally, they would wish to have as few constraints as possible on their ability to do so, constraints which, if given up by the feudal classes, would render the latter’s economic power obsolete.
This gave rise of liberal ideas of individual pursuit of power and profit – the rise of individualist ideology, which gave intellectual legitimacy to the goals of the merchant class. Thus we have the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the emergence of constitutional monarchy in Britain, the unifications of Germany and Italy, all designed to bring the merchant class up to the level of ruling class.
A change in the ruling class is necessarily preceded by, and followed by, a change in the dominant ideology of society. What was the dominant ideology under feudalism? What is it under capitalism? Again, the Manifesto:
It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.
It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade.
Few people in the modern, Western world, and indeed across the world, are unfamiliar with the term “free trade,” even if its meaning is not always consistently understood by all. It is the single phrase that best encapsulates the beliefs, goals and ideology of capitalism.
Under feudal discourse, one’s relation to the rest of the world, to other human beings, revolved around religion, chivalry, and sentimentalism. Feudal conceptions of “freedom” were incredibly subjective.
Under capitalism, all of these are rejected in favour of “egotistical calculation”, i.e. thought strictly for one’s own benefit. Freedom has now one single, paramount definition – the freedom to trade, and by means of this trade, secure a greater profit for oneself.
The ideology of the capitalist class, classical liberalism, of which modern liberalism and conservative are common descendants, holds egotistical calculation as its essence. As an extension, the narrative goes that all people should be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, under certain restrictions. What those restrictions are is a highly subjective matter, hence constant contradiction in the ruling class’s declared love for freedom but active repression of other classes.
What, then, has the transition from feudalism to capitalism accomplished ideologically?
In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
In other words, every man for himself. Dog-eat-dog. Cutthroat competition. Individualism.
History is full of examples of the pre-capitalist masses, the lower classes, being bound to each other in strong communities, upheld by religious and patriarchal concepts. Whether peasants or tribesmen, or somewhere in between, the lower classes were always bound together, and in a way that served the interests of the ruling classes.
Capitalism has no need for such things. It has ingrained, to various extents, its ideology into the working and oppressed masses. What better way to keep down the masses in a society dominated by individualist concerns than by infusing individualism into the masses? Turning every person against everybody else? All under the pretence that our society is so structured as to allow anybody to climb to the top, a claim unsupportable by any complete investigation.
A sociopath is a person who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. Is this not identical to classical liberal individualism, a belief in the primary importance of the individual above others?
Is it possible that our society creates sociopaths and, to borrow from Emma Goldman, gets the criminals that it deserves?