Social democrats seem to think leftist objectives can be achieved to at least some degree if only Labour could win control of the state and show the courage of its convictions. Marxists are more sceptical. We think the state is captured by capitalist interests either directly, through cronyism, or indirectly because governments must maintain business "confidence". We also fear that, even without these constraints, governments can do less to improve the condition of working people partly because some economic problems - such as how to increase trend growth - are intractable, and partly because the state has inherently repressive features; when we see blacks and immigrants being harrassed, we see the state acting in character.
In similar vein, whereas social democrats are apt to see social change as being implementable by government, we Marxists conceive of it differently, as the complex outcome of interactions between technology and social norms.Marxism vs social democracy. Worth reading in full.
I’ve never thought of myself as a Marxist, but reading the above, I’m starting to think I am. I admit that, in the past, it’s true that I’ve supported incremental government reforms, similar to the New Deal of the 1930’s, that made this country much better off and created the middle class and safety net we enjoy today, threadbare though it is. I also look to social democracies and mixed economies of Europe and Asia and see how much better they provide for their people, and how much more stable their societies are than the naked capitalist jungle of the United States.
Places like Denmark and Canada manage to have governments that are not despotic, so is it true that governments are inherently despotic? People in social democracies also tend to have less fear of their governments, but as we’ve seen, even Britain, France and Germany have been collaborating with the U.S. to spy on their citizens. But what examples can we point to of an alternative?
I still believe that to some extent, but at the same time I have no illusion that this in any way will fix all of the problems we have today, or that it will be anything more than a band-aid for the major issues of our time. I know many people who are considered “left” on the U.S. left/right political spectrum have abandoned any hope of the government ever providing any sort of reform, either because they distrust the institution itself, or because they believe it is irretrievably captured by special interests, and no force can undo that. Unfortunately, what that means is that they are impotent to effect any real change, as the Occupy Movement demonstrated. It is perhaps true that divide and conquer is now so powerful, that no centralized opposition to the status quo will ever emerge, and that all we can do is sit idly by and watch the old system slowly collapse and decay, and try to salvage something from the rubble. But it’s hard to accept collapse as anything but a last resort.
It seems like taking into account social/class/power relations, technology, natural resources and history makes Marxism a much better way to understand an economy that the "there is no alternative" cheerleading coming from mainstream economics. Unfortunately, Marxism comes loaded with a lot of unfortunate baggage. Then again, I inherently dislike being labeled an "ist" of any stripe. It seems a lot of this is just common sense.
I wish they had delved into anarchist thought a little bit - it seems like there is a lot of overlap with Marxism as described in the article.
ADDENDUM: Social Democracy For Our Time (Jacobin). A counterpoint of sorts.