Why Should Grassroots Liberals Consider Marxism?


Through my work in numerous organizations which represent the interests of oppressed communities I have realized that, while many of my fellow activist's values are rooted in Marxism, they do not believe themselves to be Marxists. Most of the other people in such organizations identify as liberal when asked to identify their political stance, yet they do not agree with the values of that ideology when its values are laid bare. Most activists are at odds with capitalism, yet identify with liberalism because they have either been labeled liberal by others, or because they identify with the immediate aims of liberal politicians.

This observation has led me to examine how I, as a Marxist, might best engage both those who may identify as liberal and liberalism (the ideology).

Both grassroots 'liberals' and proponents of Marxism agree that the current political system of the United States is a formal democracy – that is, that the political system is supposed to treat everyone equally under the law. Both camps also agree that this idea does not actually mean that individuals in our society are treated as equals, and that, in reality, the wealthy are able to secure themselves preferential treatment.

For example, the person who can afford a better lawyer in the court of law is often able to secure a decision more favorable to them, one who runs a major corporation can secure government support for their business better than an independent shop owner, and that the very decisions of our government are more focused on the concerns of those who run certain industries before they consider the concerns of everyday workers.

Modern liberals even understand, as Marxists do, the effect original appropriation has on people of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, it is agreed that African Americans are disproportionately represented among the poor because they entered our capitalist economy at the bottom. In short, both liberals and Marxists agree that it 'takes money to make money.'

Liberalism and Marxism, the ideologies, differ significantly in their goals (and I suspect that many modern 'liberals' are more likely to adhere to Marxist ideology, instead of liberalism).

Liberalism shares the concerns that Marxism does in regard to our democracy's failure to treat everyone equally under the law. However, it is important that people understand liberal ideology desires only that our economic system allow 'equal opportunity.' Liberalism would like to ameliorate the effect of original appropriation, and do away with discrimination, while also continuing to allow private ownership of industry.

For any member of a group currently discriminated against in the US political arena, liberal ideology ought to appear lacking. Sure, ending discrimination based on one's race/sex/religion/sexual orientation is good, but what about everyone who remains working for others when such discrimination is done away with? Are they to remain without power? Capitalism requires the majority of people to be such workers. What happens to those workers' rights to equality?

Again: liberal ideology ends when everyone is equally able to achieve economic mobility, moving from one class to another. It cannot get rid of class, as capitalism requires a working class.

Liberalism, as a capitalist ideology, does not care to end the existence of class stratification.

After liberalism meets its goals, the continued existence of class continues to effect politics and society in a manner that disenfranchises workers. At that point, liberal ideology would claim that those who are in the working class genuinely deserve their servitude, as (according to liberal theory) the worker's situation would truly be a result of their actions. However, when one is not included in deciding the nature of his or her work, is it fair to blame one for not working hard? The worker is alienated, after all (I would even argue that such alienation would prevent the liberal goal of reaching 'equal opportunity' in the first place, as alienation continues to affect the disenfranchised and can only be eliminated by a democratization of work). Further, if capitalism requires a working class, can it really be said that those in that class are fairly denied a say in the direction both their industry, and the nation, are headed? To claim such would be undemocratic, and flies in the face of most community activist's core value: that everyone deserves an equal say in the direction of our nation!

With such reasoning, it be can demonstrate that, if one believes the lower class (who are proletarians – as capitalism requires) cannot be justly discriminated against and disenfrachised, they are actually a Marxist, not a liberal.

My encouraging others to examine Marxism by using the logic mentioned, combining the roots of people's activism with the observation that 'you might be a Marxist if,' has led one of my fellow comrades to call me the 'Jeff Foxworthy' of Communists. I can only hope that my 'blue collar' observations become as well known as the comedian's comedy tour.

As one of the most effective ways the Communist Party, USA, has been able to promote Marxist ideology is its practice of contributing party members to work in coalitions with other progressives on issues that have the real potential to create positive outcomes for working people, such commitment ought to continue. It shows that Party members are interested in results, just as working people are, and not lost in theoretical debates or utopian dreams. However, the Party has much to gain in discussing it's end goals, as such discussion necessarily involves exposing a key contradiction in capitalism.

From what I've heard from other party members, it seems the Communist Party finds most of its new members through collaboration. This is a fantastic process.

I believe the party can increase its effectiveness by appealing to like-minded individual's core values, framing our ideology as more democratic than liberalism. We can do this by continuing to discuss issues important to working people in our papers, magazines, online presence, and in person, while simultaneously making a conscious effort to adjust the context in which we discuss things so that Marxist theory can be shown to 'transcend' liberalism (while avoiding attacking the ideology many well-intentioned people identify with outright).

What we are proposing is the 'democratization of the economy,' afterall!