I promise this is the last in the series. As noted in previous essays, critics of capitalism are often accused of being Marxists and this attack is used to fallaciously justify rejecting their claims. The accusation of Marxism is also used as a signal with certain audiences; it is a way of saying that the target is a bad person and should be disliked. In most cases the target is not a Marxist—they are rather rare in the United Sates, even in higher education.
While some might suspect that philosophy departments would be infested with Marxists, this does not match my own professional experience. Large philosophy departments, such as those at Ohio State or Florida State, do sometimes have one seemingly token Marxist. Most professional philosophers do not embrace Marxism and a common view was best put forth my advisor when I told him I was taking a class on Analytical Marxism: “Analytical Marxism…that would be doubly vacuous.” While I do think that Marx and those who influenced have offered some useful insights into political philosophy, I was not won over by Marxism. Since Marxism is now a vast philosophy with uncounted variants I cannot go through all the points of disagreement I have with Marxism. Instead, I will focus on the main philosophical disagreements I have with classic Marxism.
While not focused on metaphysics, Marxism endorses metaphysical materialism and economic determinism. Materialism, in this context, is the view that reality is entirely composed of physical entities. This is usually contrasted with dualism, which is the view there are two basic types of entities: physical and immaterial. Descartes is a paradigm example of a dualist, since he argues for the distinction between mind and body. Marx’s materialism involves the obvious rejection of God. I’m a Cartesian dualist, so I most certainly part company with Marx here. I also am more of a skeptic regarding religion than an atheist, so I also part company with Marx here.
While economic determinism can be analyzed in a variety of ways, the oversimplified idea is that we are not free and are instead controlled by economic factors. This is not in the everyday sense that people are controlled by their need to work in order to survive, but in a more metaphysical sense. My argument for freedom is weak, but I rather like it. If we are not free, then I am caused to say that I believe we are free. I am wrong but could not do otherwise. If we are free, then I am right. A silly argument but perhaps the best that can be done. In any case, I reject economic determinism.
As part of this determinism, Marx believed that he could predict the future: the bourgeoise would shrink as the proletariat grew, leading to a revolution. This would give rise to socialism (the state owning all the means of production) which would end in communism (the state withers away and utopia is reached at last). While Marx was obviously right that wealth tends to be concentrated and that revolutions occur, I do not agree with his vision of the future—I tend to think that the state will endure as long as humans remain roughly as they are now. I can certainly imagine science-fiction scenarios in which the state no longer exists as a human institution; but these scenarios require far more change than Marx envisioned. In favor of my view is the fact that socialist states do not seem to be progressing towards the state withering away. “Communist” states like China seem to be doing the opposite—the state grows ever stronger.
Marx also believed in the existence of economic classes but this is something so obviously true and widely accepted that believing it would not make one a Marxist. If it did, we’d all be Marxists. Given how my views differ from Marxism, it is safe to conclude that I am not a Marxist.
It could be contended that I secretly hold to Marxism and am engaging in a Marxist form of taqiya: denying my true faith so as to remain hidden. This would require that I have been engaged in systematic lies when doing philosophy and have been living a comfortable middle-class life under capitalism in order to hide the truth. While not impossible, supporting this claim would require strong evidence. Merely being critical of the excesses and harms of current capitalism would not suffice as evidence of Marxism—or most people would be Marxists.
It could also be claimed that while I disagree with the core metaphysics of Marxism, I could still be a Marxist in some manner. While people do tend to be sloppy in their ideologies, this would be like saying that a person is a Christian despite their claims they reject the core metaphysics of that religion. This is not impossible, but would be a bit odd.
In closing, the truth of my claims and the quality of my arguments are unaffected by whether I am an envious Marxist. There is also no evidence of my being either envious or a Marxist—so such a charge seems to be either a set up for ad hominem attacks or simply signaling that I am “bad.”