Economic Update: The Contributions of Karl Marx (Part IV)

Economic Update: The Contributions of Karl Marx (Part IV)

Welcome to part 4 of this four-part
series on the work and contribution of Karl Marx. I won’t repeat what we have
said at the beginning of the other segments, because you’ve heard it already,
and you know it anyway, we studied Karl Marx here, we summarized his work because
of the insights it offers us, ways for us to solve problems we face today this is
not about agreeing or disagreeing with what Marx is saying, it has to do with
finding out if there’s something important that we can learn. In this
fourth and final segment, I want to talk about what Marx gestures toward, as a way
to get out of the dilemmas of capitalism, to overcome the obstacles built into
capitalism that prevent us from achieving the liberty, equality,
fraternity, and democracy that we, like Marx and many others, have been committed
to for all of our lives. Before I jump into it, I want to make sure I’m clear
here, Marx never wrote a word, and certainly not an extended examination of
what a future society might look like, what a post capitalism might look like.
He didn’t believe in that kind of future gazing, he didn’t think it was serious,
he didn’t think anybody could know how the world was going to evolve in the
future; so he pointed a only in the gestural sense, that is, he gave some
ideas of what might have to happen, if we were gonna get beyond the capitalism. But
he didn’t offer blueprints, he didn’t offer complete images of what such a
society would look like, as I say, he didn’t believe in that being a useful
exercise; and in particular Marx never suggested, contrary to what so many have
said, that the state, the government had to play some sort of central role
in what this future post capitalism would look like. Later Marxists
interpreted him to have suggested that, but it’s hard to find in Marx any idea
like that, never wrote a book about the state, never wrote an article about the
state, just didn’t do it, because it wasn’t the center of his view; and I say
that to challenge those of you who may still believe that there’s something
intrinsically statist, or focused on the state in what Karl Marx did. So then what
is Marx’s basic idea: well, in a sense, the three segments we’ve already exposed in
this program answer that question. For Marx, the key thing is the
relationship between people, among people in production: the relationship of master-slave, Lord-serf, employer-employee. In each one of those, a minority of people
make all the key production decisions: masters, Lords, employers. They decide what
gets produced, how it gets produced, where it gets produced, and what is done with
the surplus from those workers who produce the surplus. So for Marx if you
want liberty, equality, fraternity, and democracy, the place it has to begin is
in production, in the enterprise, in the place where work gets done: the office,
the factory, the store, the home, wherever work gets done; and his idea is simple. No
more dichotomy between a few at the top, who make the decisions, and everybody
else; no more the mass of people produce a surplus that flows into the hands of a
small minority. That’s got to stop. In its place, Marx advocates points
toward a different economic system, one in which the workplace becomes
fundamentally egalitarian and democratic. What does that mean? It means that the
decisions of the workplace: what to produce, how to produce, where to produce,
and what to do with the surplus, is made by everyone together, one-person, one-vote,
a democratic decision making life at the job for all adults. After all, that’s
where most adults spend most of their adult lives: at work. If you believe in
democracy, Marx would have said well then, it has to start where you spend most of
your time, which is at work. So what is the solution he says: a transformation of
the workplace from the top-down, dichotomized, hierarchical employer at
the top, massive employees at the bottom, transform that into a democratic
institution, where everyone has an equal say on what is happening at work. Now let
me point out to you that what Marx is advocating for the economy, is precisely
what, for example, Americans and many Europeans and others in the world,
advocate for their political life. After all, we got rid of kings, and czars, and
emperors, and all of that, on the grounds that that was a tiny group of people
making decisions for all of us. In the United States, we made a revolution
against George the 3rd in England, because he said he could control what
happened here, and we said no, we want to control. And how do we want to do it? One
person, one vote in a democratic system. Took a long time to make all persons get
this right, but you could see where we were going from the beginning. The
democratization of politics has been a mantra, has been a slogan,
has been a goal for a long time. Marx asks the question: why only the
democratization of politics? Why not the democratization of the
economy? The same logic would apply, and I would go even further, having learned
this from Marx, I don’t believe you can have a genuine political democracy,
unless it is grounded on an economic democracy. If you allow capitalism to
make a few people rich, and the mass of people not, you can bet your bottom
dollar that the few rich will use their wealth to corrupt the political system,
to destroy the Democratic reality of it, and make it a contest between
billionaires buying maximum time on TV to get the votes. You don’t need me to
explain that to you, you’re living it every day. So Marx’s argument is: change
the economy. Now let me tell you what this implies, because it may not be
immediately obvious: one of the implications of Marx’s gesturing towards
a different way of organizing the workplace, a democratic way, one of the
arguments that flows out of it is, that it will never be enough for the state to
replace private entrepreneurs, or private employers. If all the state does is get
rid of the private people who are the employers, and replace them
with government officials who are the employers, we haven’t gotten rid of the
employer versus employee division. We have then what Marx would have called
state capitalism, rather than private capitalism, but it’s all capitalism, which
means it will operate in a similar way. Therefore, what the
Soviet Union did, what China did, what Cuba did, whatever the pros and cons of
replacing private capitalism with state capitalism might be, going beyond
capitalism they did not achieve, because that requires, if you’re gonna be taking
the lesson from Marx, transforming the workplace, so it isn’t an
employer-employee relationship. That has to be understood, because it’s the
logical outgrowth of everything Marx tried to understand and to achieve. Is
the question of realizing Marx’s dream, Marx’s solution, Marx’s idea of how to
actually get, excuse me, to liberty, equality, fraternity, and democracy, is
that just a utopian dream? My answer is not at all.
Marx was aware, as we are now, that human beings have understood this more or less,
for thousands of years. Yes, Marx is the formal statement of it,
he’s worked it out a bit further, he’s a modern, relatively modern exponent of
this idea; but the idea itself is very old. One of the ways it’s been embodied,
is in something we call worker-coops, where workers cooperatively run a
business. That’s as old as Methuselah. Early American history is full of
examples of worker-coops, workers in farms, in stores, in little craft
enterprises, getting together as groups of people, democratically, an egalitarian
wayn everybody gets the same wagen or roughly the same, everybody has one vote
in deciding everything the business does. There are examples all over the United
States. Today Spain has a famous example in the Mondragon corporation. Emilia
Romagna in Italy is a place where roughly 40% of
businesses are run as a worker coops, etc etc. So yes, Marx makes a breakthrough,
Marx teaches it in a systematic theoretically sophisticated way, but he
is recouping for us the history of many efforts, over many years, in virtually all
cultures to move in that direction, to see that as the way to realize the goals
for a just economic system. What’s the conclusion one can draw from all of this?
Marx was a critic. Marx said that capitalism is not the end of human
history, it’s just the latest phase. Marx reminds us, and he does it with a grin,
that the proponents and the celebrants of capitalism have often made the same
mistake as the proponents and celebrants of slavery and feudalism before them.
They imagined, with wishful thinking, that their system was the end of history, that
their system was the good as good as it gets, that you couldn’t do better than
what they had done. Every single one of those people over the last 5000 years, if
not longer of recorded history, has been proven wrong. That means that the people
who tell you today that we can’t do better than capitalism, that capitalism
is the greatest thing since sliced bread, it’s the end of history,
it’s the ultimate, there’s no more reason to believe that sort of argument today,
then there is reason to do anything but smile at the people who believe that
about feudalism, slavery, and everything else. It’s really the point of view of
people who are either afraid of or dead set against, progressive social change;
and that’s not Marx, that’s what he was about, and he felt that the capitalist
system had demonstrated enough for him by the 1850s, to know that we can, we need
to, we must do better; and as one who has learned from Marx, as I have learned from
all kinds of other thinkers, I have to say that the last hundred and fifty
years since he left the scene, has not made many of us one whit less impressed
by how much he understood, what incites he had to offer; and as an American, which
I am, and I’m glad I am, I am profoundly grateful on the one hand, that I can
explain all of this, and I can say it to you. But my pride in being able to do
that, is coupled with a shame that for the last seventy years, it has been in
the main, almost impossible in this society to get people to understand the
simple truth: that you have to listen and pay attention to the critic, as well as
to those who love the system, if you’re ever gonna get a balanced understanding
of the sort you need to do better. The best part of many of us is that
commitment to do better, and that alone is a reason to celebrate the 200th
anniversary of one of the greatest critical thinkers of the economic system
we live with. I want to thank you for staying with us through these four
segments. It was a pleasure to produce them. I hope it was interesting for you
to listen to them, and once again I want to invite you to join the patreon
community that supports all of this kind of work; and you can easily do that by
going to and following us, and supporting us in that way; and likewise through
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on our two websites. You can also follow what we
do the two websites are rdwolff with two Fs dot com and Thank you very much for your attention.

64 thoughts on “Economic Update: The Contributions of Karl Marx (Part IV)

  1. What absurdity. Marx assumes that every slug on the assembly line has the wisdom…the intelligence to influence what is produced. That would not even work on a farm.

  2. You offer clearly stated ideas – I am privileged to have stumbled across your work here – these ideas presented in this forum are appreciated – Thank You –

    My Neighbors fly American Flags juxtaposed to Trump and confederate Flags flying together as one statement.

    Many flagpoles line the main road through town, celebrating a fictional creation of white America. My neighbors are fearfully, satisfied with their success in our society and, hope to maintain superiority and isolation separating our community from the Americans of diverse cultures and backgrounds.

    Many here, would not like what you are addressing in this series.

  3. What professor Wolffe is implying that the Marxists interpreted Marx's works as implying a state economy is partially wrong (as he have stated before too). Although some have indeed done that, most Marxists subscribe to social ownership as in the form of workers councils (essentially worker cooperatives with political power). The thing is that Marxists advocate the nationalisation of industries as a means of the proletariat to be able to seize the means of production, in a case of civil war f.e., as well as the creation of socialism in a sometimes necessary transitional period between socialism and capitalism, such as the NEP.

  4. Creating a genuinely democratic economic structure would certainly buy us some time, but that's really all.

    In the end, someone, somewhere, will decide to subvert the system once people get complacent. And they'll absolutely get complacent, probably rapidly. It's inevitable…a biological obligation. Absolutely nothing can be done about it, short of drugs, genetic engineering, or mandatory brain surgery. It cannot be overcome with any amount of education or cultural change. Period.

    Once it happens, those few clever, unscrupulous individuals will once again plant the seeds of greed and fear in the most intellectually inept members of society, and convince them all to vote against everyone's best interests…and we'll just be back where we are now…if not worse. That's not to say that buying ourselves some extra time wouldn't be helpful…it certainly would. It's possible, if we can stretch it long enough, that we can develop the technologies required to divest ourselves of our evolutionary failings once and for all. Modify our genetics sufficiently to correct the defects in our inborn behaviors that cause these problems.

    But ultimately, that's the only way out. Homo sapiens simply cannot "will" themselves to stop doing what they do. Anyone who claims otherwise, is a liar, or an idiot. Minds do not exist. There is only the emergent properties of the brain's functions, and nothing more…and without the brain, or if it is damaged, then there is no emergent property any longer.

  5. Bottom line for Wolff (and for everybody on the political left) is always the fact that while capitalism has to get the credit for creating the highest standards of living for the greatest number of people in all of history, we need to find a way to spread the benefits of capitalism more evenly. In other words, Wolff resents the fact that the fruits of capitalism go heavily and, in his opinion disproportionately, to those who are most responsible for their creation, resulting in gross inequality of income and wealth.

    His argument resonates deeply with those (actually the vast majority of us) who are disproportionately short-changed in the lottery of innate talent, skill and ambition. We normal folks not endowed with entrepreneurial talent love the fact that the Steve Jobs and the Bill Gates of the world can do and have done so much to make us happy and improve our lives with electronic toys, and we do not resent their successes, but we feel that rather than being a gazillion times richer than we are, that they should be willing to settle for, perhaps maybe only a few million times richer.

  6. Their are various issues with your views on Marxism.
    1. You said that Marx does not give a clear vision of what a Marxist society would look like. It is true that his main concern was current capitalist society and how to abolish it. However, reading the communist manifesto is helpful in knowing the basic blueprints of such a is a regime that tries to abolish money , classes and Government. It's isn't the "co-ops " society you describe.

    2. Your view of historical socialist states childish. It is basically the same argument of "Not real communism". The real Marxist view of past socialist states is to praise certain achievements of such societies and criticize them in other areas of under performance. Then they move on. It is an attempt if "trial and error", it becomes experimentation that leads to success.

    3. Marxism requires temporary Government intervention in the economy.before there can be workers "democracy", there must be welfare and regulations on the state. The marxian economy would also eventually have to be against the very existence of the Market.

    4. The most cancerous thing about this video is that you did not mention that Marx advocated for violent revolution in certain situations. He is also the type of guy that hates Bernie sanders.

  7. Vielen Dank für diese vier Vorträge. Ich habe eine Menge gelernt und nun verstehe ich die Gedanken von Marx wesentlich besser.

  8. So if I want to start a business I have to get together a group to decide if what I want to "produce" and where I do it and to whom I sell it etc.etc. ?? Sounds like the new "beauracy" would put a real damper on start up businesses.

  9. How this old idea of cooperative production and sharing the fruits of collective labour changed over to this crony capitalism? The crony capitalism is hurting most of us but the crony Capitalists!

  10. Just seems very premature, if computers are already here and robots are well and truly coming and followed by cyborg alterations. Then the completion from trends to norms will be sometime during next century, just like dna and data nowadays is the norm.

    So, pointless advocacy and activism today when everyone is so preoccupied with whats happening to themselves

  11. In terms of the end of history idea, slavery and feudalism lasted longer than Capitalism has so far. It wouldn't be surprising if it took a while for Capitalism to be superceeded. Those in power, those who benefit from the way things are, will try to use that power to sustain themselves and the conditions necessary for them to exist. The people who wanted a civil war in America were mostly wealthy plantation owners in the South, and they made the majority fight for them to keep slavery. The average worker would've actually benefitted from slavery being abolished because it's hard to demand higher pay when you can 'pay' a slave with just food and water.

  12. "Assume man as man and his relation to the world as a human one, and you can exchange love only for love, confidence for confidence, etc. If you wish to enjoy art, you must be an artistically trained person; if you wish to have influence on other people, you must be a person who has a really stimulating and furthering influence on other people. Every one of your relationships to man and to nature must be a definite expression of your real, individual life corresponding to the objetc of your will. If you love without calling forth love, that is, if your love as such does not produce love, if by means of an expression of life as a loving person you do not make of yourself a loved person, then your love is impotent, a misfortune" Karl Marx

  13. Question please: given the focus of Marxists on the employer-employee relationship, what happens when the employer-employee relationship is replaced by the factory owner-automated factory relationship, where there are no employers or employees?

    An owner can automate the production of goods. With AI, an owner can automate the production of services. Where are the employers and employees in this kind of relationship?

    We still have a small minority, the owners, making all the decisions…what to produce, when to produce, what to do with the profits. I don't see the vast majority earning a living.

  14. What did Marx say about education and science? He died in 1883 when mass public education was just getting started in the United States. John Maynard Keynes was talking about a 15-hour work week in a couple of generations. Why couldn't we have had a 3-day workweek by the 1990s? If double-entry accounting had been mandatory in high school since Sputnik would households with a minimum NET WORTH of $500,000 have been common. Instead our schools indoctrinate us with 19th century ideas of work. "What do you want to BE when you grow up?"
    We work to produce consumer trash that depreciates. Rah, rah, GDP!

  15. I appreciate some of the analysis of the present economic system by Marx. On the other hand what is being said has already been tried and failed as well. I don't believe that the majority of the workers are even interested in what is being produced or why and are likely not properly motivated to care. I believe that banks and healthcare and institutions that should not be profit driven would be well served by this model. On the other hand to take risk out of the system would be a big mistake. If you are only talking about the USA then I would say that you have a long way to go. Canada already has systems in place to share the surplus. Universal health care is a good example of that. I would be in favor of including banks to be public institutions and the voting public would have a say in the policies of banks by virtue of political promises. Now I realize that that sounds stupid because politicians lie. It is their nature. Revolution could come to the political arena if any real leaders would come forward. Not the useless crud that seems to rise to the top of the existing political parties. I do enjoy listening to Richard Wolff but much of what is being said is just reworking old failed ideas.

    Merry Christmas to all.

  16. Your opening point on Marx not mentioning the role of the state I think is super important. I've always held that anarchic philosophies are not mutually exclusive to Marxian analysis and so on. I know that's not the direct point you where making, but it's a parallel observation I've drawn from reading Marx and being a firm believer in some of the ideas that anarchy in genral , and anarcho-syndicalism in particular introduce. I'm unsure who said it but the quote is "Anarchy is democracy taken seriously" and I think Marx's observations can only help us build a society that take's democracy seriously.

  17. I don't know if anyone knows but the head stone on Karl Marx's grave in London was defaced with red spray paint recently. The graffiti read "doctrine of hate" and "architect of genocide". This is how powerful the propaganda against Marx is, it lead a man to seek out a mausoleum and have at it with spray paint. 'Marxist' has even managed to become a pejorative in British political discourse, especially with the working class and conservative politicians. I probably don't need to point out the glaring irony here.

  18. Well… when you read what the communist party demanded during the failed march revolution, young mr Marx does appear fairly statist. He clearly wasn’t perfect, but that’s what we have you for, mr Wolff.

  19. IMO a problem with worker co-ops is that the organization of production is still ran by the market, without proper order. Co-ops, though democratically owned, the first priority of those is still maximizing profit in order to win the competition in the market and achieve monopoly status. Under this circumstance, people are literally "exploited by themselves", since it is their own responsibility to make the decision to use the surplus of their production for expanding reproduction and surviving the competition. And if there is any centralized agency regulating production, there will be no difference with the state capitalism since the power of decision is transferred into the hands of the minority in this way.

  20. Capitalism has ravaged the planet in so many ways at this point. Cheap energy has allowed us to overpopulate it and ravage it even faster. Horrible things are happening everywhere, but the capitalists won't tell you about them. Global warming, food and water shortages, ecosystem destruction, resource depletion and debt have all reached tipping points. A collapse is coming, but we aren't going to come out of it ever and not with a Marxist society. It's too late and will be more like Mad Max. I REALLY WISH I didn't believe that. But, from my age, experience and perspective, it's too late for humans to redeem themselves if it was ever possible. There are way too many sociopaths running things.

  21. Never understood what was so great about "Slice Bread" either myself, come to think about it, i've never cared for that Analogy!.

  22. The truth does not depend upon on democratic principals to be recognized…. better decisions are only made by expert knowledge and research, not by democratic voters. Do the workers know where to sell the wares they made better than the owner of the business whose job it is to seek out the markets ? Does it not take skill to organize the factory to run optimally ? Is that not a full time job ?
    An alternative view on this saga is that should the 'owner' decide vacate his position as manager, the business is not sold but transferred to the next most competent person to run the factory. Of course the owner must be compensated for the money he spent on the business start up, but the operation of the factory won't be terminated just because the owner leaves. That now becomes the workers concern as long as what they produce are in demand at a fair price. In a real democracy, skill and expertise won't be demeaned or 'equalized' but acknowledged.
    The democracy principal lies in the laws that protect workers from exploitation by raw capitalists against such things as : wages per hour or a minimum wage which strategically ignores the amount of work done ! In essence that is making labor and the worker himself into a commodity, a clear misconception.
    This is probably the biggest fallacy perpetrated by raw capitalists !

  23. The professor is a very enlightened economist. I have learned a lot from his lectures in the last few months. We should
    have individuals like him to run the world so that the average citizens can have a more equal and better life. THANK YOU and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  24. Thatcher: "The trouble with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples money."
    Marx, paraphrased: "The trouble with Capitalism is that you eventually run out of other peoples labour, and none of the workers have money to buy your overpriced crap." X3
    Tyler Durden: "The things you own, end up owning you…" "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don't need."

  25. Marx also wrote during a very BAD time for working people (in England, Europe, and during the beginning of the gilded age here.).

    We are returning to that situation of extreme corporate power – and that everywhere.

  26. We need to stop making this assertion which says that 'the Soviet Union was a State Capitalist system.' First of all, if we truly understand Marx, then we should understand that society has to reach a certain point of historical and economic development before it can fully transition to a Socialist and then a Communist society. Russia had just emerged from feudalism in the 1860s and was a largely rural, agricultural, bucolic society that had not undergone several decades, or even centuries, of capitalist economic development.
    Secondly, the Soviet Union HAD a large number of cooperatives … especially in the agricultural sector. Yes, it maintained a strong state, but if you have read Engels and Lenin, then you will understand that the "withering away of the state" never had an opportunity to progress. To not acknowledge what the USSR was faced with, in terms of embargoes, economic sanctions, surveillance, military aggression, invasions, sabotage, subterfuge and an endless stream of anti-communist propaganda, then you will see that they were not afforded the luxury of developing into a fully communal society along a natural trajectory. They HAD to have a strong state, in order to act quickly in the case of any emergency … and they faced many many of those.

  27. The part where Marx mentions a State is in the Communist Manifesto when he talks about methods of transitioning to Socialism, one being seizure of State power. But like you said, he never insinuated that the State must be apart of the main goals of Socialism. In fact, Communism is supposed to be Stateless.

  28. you cannot tease a person from his belief system to that Karl Marx was an extreme racist/ so I want to know how did he contribute his racism into his theory of socialism/ what did he suggest for Africans? thank you

  29. I think your videos are often insightful, but I disagree where you say that Marx never actually said that government would be involved in socialism. This was one of Marx and Engels primary disagreements with the anarchists.

    Marx does talk about the state taking a role in the transition from capitalism to communism. Marx explicitly says that the bourgeois bureaucracy, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, has to be smashed and lower socialism is the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means a state, much transformed and made to work for the people, with the former oppressed majority now oppressing the former oppressing minority.

    While our current liberial democracies are sham democracies, as long as one class is oppressing another a state exists there can be no true democracy. But once there is no need to oppress another class, because all class differences disappear, then the state will dissolve. Only then will we discover what democracy really is.

  30. In Colombia (South America), we live the same situation that this professor describes in relation with the tabu around criticizing capitalism, including in the academic environment. Colombia has been the major “ally” of United States in latinamerica. Draw conclusions.

  31. Another example of people working together was the German expressionist movement and socialist art school The Bauhaus. It was not all perfect, but it was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately it was closed by the Nazis in 1933. However, the lead architect and two of his students fled to America and created the first skyscraper (think it was the Chrysler Building), known as the International Style.

  32. Marx clearly says in Communist Manifesto that the proletariat will take the means of production from bourgeoisie and centralises them in the hands of State.

  33. I totally agree with you that you have to listen to the critic as well, but you should understand the motives of the critic as well. If you read notes on Marx by his contemporaries you know who he was and his real intention. Read Marx and Satan by R. Wurmbrand to see how intelect without loves and millions of deaths as a result.

  34. Professor Wolff you are the best professor of marxism in our time. Astonishing you are an American, and of a nation who has been always very afraid of Marxism. Maybe that is why you are so outstanding, you had to overcome all those obstacles lying within that society.

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