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Marxism, Reformism, and Interventionism

Social democrats might employ marxist rhetoric, but they are politicians. They will say what they must to appeal to their base.

Marxism, Reformism, and Interventionism

Social democrats might employ marxist rhetoric, but they are politicians. They will say what they must to appeal to their base.
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One of the points that I made in my previous article on socialism is that the Orthodox Marxists define socialism as the situation in which there is public (community) ownership of the means of production. Since historically labelled socialist regimes (Stalin, Venezuela) do not match this definition and because the means of production were controlled by a small number of people, the Orthodox Marxists consider these to be variants of capitalism.

In order to understand this fascinating fact, I gave a short history of socialism and pointed out the root of the split between the marxist purists and the reformists— the former denouncing the latter as non-socialists. Despite purist objections, the latter considered themselves to be socialists who wanted to use the tools that existed in the world around them (such as the state) to lead the transition to the Ideal.

As Stalin failed, abysmally, as did other attempts at state socialism, the Reformists fell into disarray. Who might trust their system, their path forward? The purists maintained that socialism was never given a real shot. And this is still their defense.

Indeed, as Mises observed, “Marxists rejected interventionism theoretically as mere bourgeois reformism.”

Today, the account above, and many other anti-reformist Marxists, dismiss individuals like Bernie Sanders and the recently popular Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as mere reformists, not true socialists. And the Marxists have a point. These individuals are not calling for a complete eradication of the present system and a revolutionary push toward the public ownership of the means of production. Now, I am more aware than these purist marxists of the evolving and broad definition of socialism such that it includes a variety of non-marxist flavors. But nevertheless, it is worth understanding the taxonomy of these things for clarity of conversation.

The social democrats who want increased nationalization of socio-economic concerns are not marxists. They might employ marxist rhetoric, they might even call themselves fans of disciples of Marx, but they are politicians. They will say what they must to appeal to their base.

The truth of that matter is that as reformist socialism was embarrassed on the world stage during the 20th century, it morphed away from the language of the “public ownership of the means of production” and Reformism gave birth to its successor: interventionism. The massaging and perfecting of capitalism not toward a Utopian ideal as the original Reformists sought, but toward a less definitionally precise set of goals including “equality,”economic egalitarianism,” “fair wages,” and so on. As Mises showed, intervention begets problems, which are addressed by the state with further intervention, and so on (Orthodox Marxists actually agree that interventionism will inevitably backfire). Thus, the interventionists always have a platform for their appeal to the voting class– there is always a Big Problem to solve.

But interventionism comes in flavors. The economic and social interventionism of Ocasio-Cortez is not the interventionism of Hillary Clinton, which is not the interventionism of the Supply-Sider Reaganite. Everyone’s an interventionist and everyone has their pet narrative.

Since Keynes, interventionism (which is vague), rather than classical socialism reformism (which is specific), has become the name of the game. This is because socialism itself had fallen into disrepute. Or at least it did until the post-Bush II years.

Marxists consider the definition of socialism to be “public ownership of the means of production.” Such a goal is to be pursued totally and in revolution, not by winning control of the present system and changing things over time.

Reformists once upon a time considered the definition of socialism to be “public ownership of the means of production” and this was to be pursued via gradual change and by leveraging the state for its aims.

Interventionism is mere trust in the state to determine the direction of society, to, sometimes by diktat, other times by the ballot box, determine what needs to be solved and the proper means of solution.

It was the Reformists who took the heaviest blow as the Soviet Union collapsed. And interventionism was swarmed by all sorts of newcomers. True marxists today are a rare breed. Everyone else is on the spectrum of interventionism.

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CJay Engel

CJay Engel

Creator and Editor of Austro Libertarian. Lives in Northern CA, runs several businesses, spends time with his family, and reads as much economics and political theory as possible.