One oddity of this blog is that it is often better-regarded by righties than by lefties. One reason for this, I suspect, is that we Marxists are as sceptical about social democracy as rightists, albeit in different ways. It might be worth outlining the differences between Marxists and the non-Marxist left; I'm writing here of the differences as they apply today, rather than of historical ones, and this list might be idiosyncratic and incomplete.
Perhaps the biggest difference concerns the role of the state. Social democrats seem to think leftist objectives can be achieved to at least some degree if only Labour could win control of the state and show the courage of its convictions. Marxists are more sceptical. We think the state is captured by capitalist interests either directly, through cronyism, or indirectly because governments must maintain business "confidence". We also fear that, even without these constraints, governments can do less to improve the condition of working people partly because some economic problems - such as how to increase trend growth - are intractable, and partly because the state has inherently repressive features; when we see blacks and immigrants being harrassed, we see the state acting in character.
In similar vein, whereas social democrats are apt to see social change as being implementable by government, we Marxists conceive of it differently, as the complex outcome of interactions between technology and social norms.
Other significant differences are:
- Social democrats take voters' preferences for granted, and see politics as a marketing exercise, trying to appeal to these preferences. Marxists, by contrast, ask how such preferences are formed, and fear they are biased to be supportive of capitalism.
- Social democrats - at least until they discovered an interest in predistribution - have tended to shy away from the "hidden abode of production", believing that social democratic objectives can be achieved by macroeconomic policy, regulation and the tax and benefit system whilst leaving capitalist relations of production intact. Marxists doubt this, believing (pdf) that capitalism, even if softened by social democracy, is unjust, oppressive and exploitative.
- Social democrats are sympathetic to managerialism. The belief that the state can be run beneficially by the man in Whitehall is a natural accompaniment to the belief that companies can be run by bosses. However, we Marxists see managers' claim to expertise as being an ideological front, a justification for inequalities of wealth and power.
- Social democrats, more than Marxists, follow the day-to-day agenda of politics, as set by the media and political class. Marxists, by contrast, are interested in what isn't on the agenda, questions such as: Is top-down management really the best way of organzing firms? Can there be full employment and if so how? Is there a case for basic income?
In these senses, thinking of politics in left-right terms is misleading; Marxism is not simply an "extreme" form of leftism, but rather is in many ways qualitatively different.
There's something else to note here. Although Marxists are sometimes seen as spittle-flecked fanatics (an impression some don't break their backs to reject), the actual temper of Marxists - or at least this one - is of cool-headed scepticism.