My work colleague (who is a hard-core Republican married to a German lady) used to call me "commie," a somewhat endearing term that he always used when teasing me about my childhood spent growing up in socialist Yugoslavia. Tito was a dictator and all who lived in Yugoslavia were oppressed, according to him. Dark dungeons, KGB/Russian-type arrests and Stalin-era dark unhappy days were a constant for the Yugoslavs at the time, based on his perspective.
I have not worked with this person for several years now, but ever since Bernie Sanders entered the presidential race, I remembered the days I spent defending the socialist regime in ex-Yugoslavia. I argued that we've lived pretty good, with high levels of education and freedom of travel that were available to everyone. My father could take sick leave every time I did not feel well and he had to take care of me, up to three days, no questions asked (only a note from the doctor). At one point I remember reading that the Yugoslavian "red passport" was the most frequently stolen passport of all the countries (including the US and other European countries, such as England and France). The reason was that Yugoslavians could travel equally without restrictions to America and to Russia. They could travel to China and South Africa. Tito was well received and respected by the rulers of pretty much every country, NATO members or not. So, passports used to be stolen; they were forged and the illegal Yugoslavs were able to travel everywhere. So, if I look upon those days of old Yugoslavia and wonder how it would be to grow up in this system that had one political party (a communist party) well, call me a communist. I guess now if this was '40s or '50s Hollywood I would be arrested for defending the concept of socialism and communism.
What reminded me of the misunderstood days of socialism and the definition of communism here in the States was, of all things, a Google search. I had an idea to write a blog post about human alienation (I am still working on this) and I wanted to glance and see what internet had to offer. I toyed with concepts but wanted some references before I headed to the library. When I typed "human alienation" I came across a website containing a translation of the Karl Marx's work "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844" where he described a concept of human alienation within the system where property-less workers felt alienated from the society as they were being impoverished through their struggle to obtain a fair pay from the "property owners/capitalists" who formed a circular relationship with the workers. Owners tugging to increase profits, thus putting the strain on the workers who would eventually lose the battle in the race to the top. Workers would "in the extreme case" bear no fruits of their labor, majority of their work input going to benefit those on top. Thus, the workers would feel alienated and estranged from their labor objects and eventually they would become alienated from the society to which they contributed.
What I am describing above is a very loose explanation of what Mr. Marx wrote about. In all honesty, even while living in Yugoslavia, I was just too young when I left that I never really had a chance to read his works in full. Now, the beauty of America and the state where I live in is that I could type Karl Marx's name in my library catalog after my Google search and boom, I was able to reserve a copy of the manuscripts for leisurely reading. I am mentioning this to make sure that my post should not be misunderstood to be a rant, me complaining about freedoms I enjoy in America. However, I do want to bring forth the understanding that what Karl Marx is writing about is a very extreme case of capitalism where corporations or very rich individuals would eventually take advantage of the workers, similar to the royalty/feudalism system that was in place prior to the 18th century social and political revolutions in Europe, but through bear exploitation of the workers and taking the freedom of choices they once had.
As a working mother, an engineer, and an immigrant I have a firsthand experience in the present corporate structure of America. Now, my post is missing a crucial contribution from those who work in sectors such as fast food service industry, retail industry, construction, etc. These groups are even less fortunate than the likes of me, who is presently working in an office-type of a job. On the surface it would seem that I make a decent wage, I own my own house, my children are well dressed, we have medical insurance -- however, if you dig a bit deeper it will become obvious that the middle class to which I apparently belong too is threatened to become alienated from the objects/products of their labor inputs. In reality, the bank owns my home, and my medical insurance has a very high deductible, so if two years in a row it happens that we have something marginally serious happen to one of the members of my family (such as an emergency room visit), we could rack up a debt of $12,000. One could argue that we should always try and live within our means and avoid the possibility of going into bankruptcy and being pressed to work more hours just to support our lifestyle, but the fact is that even if we are being frugal (and we are) it takes a small twist of fate to quickly take away any sense of security we might have had while we were living our normal lives. Which is Marx's point. I would like to argue that middle-class America no longer owns their own destiny, regardless of how hard they work.
My family is fortunate, we live better than many. I cannot speak for those who make lower wages, only they can speak about the struggles they have, but that is just my point. How close are we to Marx's proclaimed alienation of workers from society? My family does not own the fruits of our labor, our bank does; government does not provide any amount of relief or protection from accidental healthcare cost incurrence. Those making minimum wage are at the mercy of the capitalist corporations. No matter how hard they work, they will not be able to get ahead and become equal to the "owners of the products."
When I read about the failed Pfizer deal to merge with Allergen and move the headquarters to Ireland, allowing them to evade paying US taxes, I think that I may be discussing a possible future for the US market. Large corporations are not interested in the common good of human beings that support their large profit-making machine. In my mind, we could be very close to the extreme that Marx is talking about. Bernie is certainly onto something. So, how do we reach utopia? Marx's argues through a pure communist system?
So, my colleague who called me a "commie" would probably say that corporations should not be worried about the common good of their workers, but once the human input becomes angry and dissatisfied and they feel that they are only part of a large money-making machine that does not contribute to their well being, they will likely seek change. This is what happened in 18th century Europe. I would not want to live through that.