Communism is Not The Answer
Carmen Romero is an employee at Leo O’Donovan Dining Hall, commonly known as Leo’s, in Georgetown University. Since she is a native Spanish speaker, I had the chance to sit down and hear about her story in Washington, DC. Carmen considers herself a working class person and is currently working two jobs. During the day she works at Leo’s and at night she works as a stitcher for Patagonia, the outdoor company clothing. One of her biggest grievances is that although she works day and night, she is unable to give her children a better life. What Carmen does not know is that, according to Karl Marx, her situation is a consequence of the capitalist system in the United States. Marx states in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts that capitalism manages to alienate labor. In the following paragraphs we will evaluate Carmen’s case under two of the ways Marx thinks capitalism is alienated, we will also examine Marx solutions to this alienation, and finally we will analyze the reasons why Marx solutions are unrealistic to the problem of alienation.
One of Marx ideas is that alienated labor separates the worker from the product of the worker’s labor. In Carmen’s case we can evaluate both of her jobs. In Leo’s Dining Hall, Carmen earns $15 per hour. Supposing she works 40 hours a week, she will earn $9,600 during the whole semester. The meal plan where she works costs almost $3,000, this represents a third of her income. Considering all of the other expenses Carmen has to cover, such as housing, transportation, school, insurances, and many others, it would be impossible for her to afford a meal plan at Georgetown. Marx would say that this alienation from Carmen and the meals she prepares happens because “the greater her activity, the less she possesses”, Marx explains that the object created by Carmen’s labor, in this case the meal plan, becomes more valuable itself than Carmen’s efforts. He also calls this a process of objectification. This type of alienation is even easier to understand in Carmen’s second job at Patagonia company. During her night shift, Carmen’ takes part in a chain of work. Every worker at this factory is in charge of a very specific thing; some people work stitching the bottom of the jackets, others are in charge of stitching the buttons, the logo of the company, and at the very end there are some workers that are in charge of quality control for every product. Carmen’s job is to stitch the neck hole of all winter jackets. It is important to note that Patagonia’s clothes are known for their exclusivity and high prices. Winter jackets range from $100 to $899, an excessive amount of money that Carmen cannot afford. Due to this capitalist system, she is unable to buy a product in which her labor was used. Marx believes that this system transforms labor itself into a commodity, which brings benefits to the capitalist, but poverty for the worker. Although Carmen works all day cooking food for Georgetown students and all night stitching Patagonia’s jackets, she will not be able to buy the food or the jackets she produces.
The second idea that supports Marx’s concept of alienated labor is that humans are alienated from other human beings. Marx explains that a byproduct of alienated labor is human relations being reduced to money-interest relations. In Carmen’s jobs we can see that her relation with her superiors is merely a market relation. In Leo’s she has a manager that is in charge of supervising Carmen’s productivity and in Patagonia, the quality control workers encourage her to work efficiently. Although Carmen might form a nice friendship while working, the reality is that her relation with her superiors is based on a money relation. Marx would say that through this process, “each man is alienated from other men”. In both of her jobs, Carmen is being alienated from other human beings, just because the market system defines them as her superiors.
However, Marx didn’t present only the problem of alienation. He also proposed a solution for this problem that can be considered the base of his own communist system, the abolishment of private property. Marx believes that private property is the cause of alienation because it creates division of labor, wages, and social status and that by eradicating it, the causes of alienation will also be eradicated. After this is done, Marx concedes that the new system must “be based on the reciprocal dependence of the individual and social community;” he calls this the communist society. Marx is confident that his system will depend on the government which will allow the expansion of individual and particular capabilities and potentialities.
Despite of Marx revolutionary solution, I believe that a beneficial possible outcome of the eradication of private property is not really possible in the long term. Let’s suppose that Leo’s and Patagonia close because they are private companies. According to Marx, Carmen would start working for the government, just as everyone else that had previously been working in the private sector. In the short term, Carmen would be happy because she earns enough to buy goods which will probably be subsidized by the government. The problem comes when everyone depends on the government. More people will demand jobs, causing a decrease in the workers’ wages, and Carmen and many other people will not be able to live the life they really want. In other words, the communist system will just be a capitalist system led by the government.
Even though I agree with Marx’s criticism on capitalism, I disagree with his solution. I believe that Marx’s proposal of eradicating private property is more an idealistic solution, rather than a realistic one. His arguments against alienation of workers show the inefficiency of capitalism, but the lack of practical solutions. As shown through Carmen’s story, communism is not the answer.
Held, Daniel. Marx on Alienation. Sociology 250 – Notes on Durkheim, University of Regina, 22 Sept. 1999, retrieved from: uregina.ca/~gingrich/s16f99.htm.
Marx, K. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, New York City, International Publishers, 1964.
The Wicked Problem of World Poverty
Poverty in developing countries has been a problem in the world since the concept of countries was created. Many people have tried to solve it, but just a few have tried to study and understand who is responsible for the millions of deaths a year due to famine, dehydration, and easily curable diseases. Two of these people are the philosophers Peter Singer and Thomas Pogge, which have identified the responsible factors causing poverty in developing countries and also proposed actions in order to solve this escalating problem. In this essay we will analyze both perspectives, how each one of them finds someone or something to hold accountable, the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective, and finally we will evaluate how both visions can complement each other in order to solve the poverty crisis in developing countries.
The Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, bases his argument on the moral responsibility of every individual. In his writings, he argues that most of the deaths that occur in developing countries due to lack of food, shelter, and medical care are “bad”. This simple statement is the base of the more complex argument of moral responsibility. Singer’s point becomes very persuasive the moment he compares the “bad” circumstances in developing countries with the lives filled of abundance and luxuries in the developed world. The parallel he creates between the wealthy and the miserable, calls upon individuals in favorable conditions to participate and donate to campaigns, charity funds, and different NGO’s. According to him, the money and resources raised can significantly help people that are starving and dying. One of the strengths of Singer’s argument is that he is not asking the wealthy individuals to give up any essential part of their lives. Instead, he asks the people of developed countries to sacrifice some of their luxuries, which are not as important, in order to save the lives of many. The Australian philosopher also adds that this donation will not only make the poor happier, but it will also make the donor happier because he will know that he has fulfilled his moral responsibility with the world. Through his argument, he considers this a win-win relation that brings more overall happiness to the world. On the other hand, this argument fails to create a system that can be self sustainable in the long term. Following Singer’s proposal, all the money and resources that a developing country receives will be very useful in the short term, but in the long term this country will be dependent on the international aid. Such dependance will block any possibility that the developing nations have to emerge and become a developed nation.
The other perspective to alleviate poverty in the developing world comes from Thomas Pogge. This German philosopher explains the starvation problem, but not as simply as Singer does in his argument. Pogge goes deeper by analyzing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and questioning who we should hold accountable for the many deaths caused by famine. After a profound analysis, Pogge believes that the responsibility of the many deaths relies on the system, focusing on the international economic agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Pogge relies on the idea that the world’s current economic system leaves too much space for corruption, smuggling, money laundering, and tax evasion by the political leaders of the developing world. The consequences of the crimes of the political leaders are payed off by the citizens of these countries. For this reason, Pogge’s proposal is to reform the actual global institutions in order to prevent illegitimate leaders to steal the resources that belong to the people of those countries. In contrast of Singer’s proposal, the main strength of Pogge’s solution to the poverty in developing world is that it creates a self-sustainable model that will support the development of these countries. The weakness of his idea, however, is the complexity of the international relations and the concept of multilateral organizations. Although it might be ideal to reform all the international organizations, it is almost unrealistic, because in the case of the WTO, for example, all of its 164 members must vote unanimously in order to pass a resolution.
Analyzing both perspectives, we can conclude that the visions of Pogge and Singer do not collide with each other. Instead they complement each other by addressing the problem from two different angles. I believe that the best solution for this problem is the implementation of both of the proposals. Singer’s approach will solve the immediate crisis that developing countries are going through by providing aid and resources to people that are dying from lack of food, shelter, and medical services, while Pogge’s approach could create, if it is actually achieved, a self sustainable system that would encourage the expansion of the developing countries.
Pogge, Thomas. Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor? Oxford Univ. Press, 2009.
Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save. Random House, 2010.
Van Der Meer, Erwin. Are Thomas Pogge’s and Peter Singer’s Approaches to Global Justice and Human Rights Mutually Exclusive? Academia.edu – Share Research, Summer School on Global Justice and Human Rights Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands, 3 Aug. 2012, Retrieved from: www.academia.edu/8270328
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