Despite Marxism's colossal failure in practice, it retains one appealing feature: its vision of a classless society.
If a class society is one with unjust distinctions between different categories of people, people in a favored category might support the status quo that benefits them. However if we had to choose a society to be born into, but were unable to pick which class we would occupy, no one would opt to live in a class society.
A classless society can be a goal for non-Marxists. Marx himself backhandedly admitted this in the "Communist Manifesto" (1848), sarcastically claiming that for "the socialistic bourgeois" a classless society would have "a bourgeoisie without a proletariat." For Marx, this idea was nonsensical, despite the fact that by his own logic it would be just as classless as the one he had in mind.
Marx said that under capitalism only two classes existed, the property-owning bourgeoisie who control the state, and the proletariat — workers who must sell their labor to the capitalists on disadvantageous terms. Marx considered the state as merely a mechanism whereby one class dominates and exploits another class, and he wanted proletarians to overthrow the bourgeoisie, seize the state, and turn the tables.
During a transitional "dictatorship of the proletariat" the bourgeoisie would be liquidated, perhaps physically exterminated or perhaps absorbed into the proletariat. Once the bourgeoisie disappears you don't have a one-class society, since for Marx a class cannot exist if there is no other class. You have instead a classless society.
Since Marx considered the state an instrument for subjection of one class by another, the state has "withered away." Society has arrived at Communism, a utopia where the ruling economic principle would be, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
Marx's prescription had at least two basic problems. First, completely decoupling a person's production from how much he consumes would undermine motivation to produce anything, and what is not produced cannot be consumed.
Second, the bourgeoisie would strongly resist being killed or pulled down.
So why not turn Marx's vision upside down and liquidate the proletariat by elevating its members up into the bourgeoisie? Proletarians would have no interest in resisting being pulled up.
The defining characteristic of a proletarian is total lack of property. If we can arrange for everybody to own significant property there would be no proletariat and we would have a classless society by Marx's standards.
The Alaskan oil dividend suggests how everybody could become property owners and thereby no longer proletarians. The state government, acting as trustee for the public, captures the "net rental value" of the oil, the portion of the selling price that is due to its scarcity rather than to the cost of the labor and capital used to detect, extract and transport it. This money goes into a trust fund from which an equal annual dividend is paid to every man, woman, and child living in the state. In effect, every Alaskan owns an equal share of the nature from which the oil is extracted.
The trust fund, and therefore the annual dividend, could become substantial if we gradually extend the Alaskan principle not just to oil but to nature in general, to what the American philosopher Henry George called "land" — defined as "all natural materials, forces, and opportunities. . . freely supplied by nature." I have discussed the possibilities here in my book, "The Metaconstitutional Manifesto: A Bourgeois Vision of the Classless Society."
A Metaconstitutional society would not eliminate economic inequality, wages still being determined by the interaction of supply and demand. But an equal social dividend added to unequal wages would reduce total inequality. The reduction would be large if the trust fund became big enough. Inequality would be reduced by making wages a less important part of incomes rather than by trying to equalize wages, with the bad side effects that produces.
One additional reform will make society classless in more than Marx's sense: elimination of all pseudolaws, rules enforced by deprivations of life, liberty, or property which are not general rules of action. Rules enforced by sanctions but applying only to people of a certain race, religion, sex, etc. are not genuine laws since they create classes of people. Genuine laws classify actions and circumstances, but not people.
St. Thomas Aquinas warned that, "Taking away justice, what is government but a great robber band?"
Government-as-bandit is the bad aspect of government which classifies people and inflicts pseudolaws. In a non-Communist classless society that is what will disappear, not the state as a whole.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published 1981 and his most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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