Why Is There Money in Politics? Marxist Political Theory Offers an Answer

In recent years, “money in politics” has become an increasingly hot issue in political culture. During the 2016 American presidential election, the corrupting role of lobbying in government became not only an issue on the Democratic side with Bernie Sanders indicting Hillary Clinton of having ties to the financial sector of the economy but on the Republican side also with Donald Trump who claimed to be “self-funded” in comparison with other candidates. Two years earlier in 2014, a Princeton study concluded that the US was not a democracy.1 Progressives are right to expose the role of money in politics as a huge area of concern for any country that claims to be a democracy, but mainstream progressivism has had a significant lack of discussion in more philosophical or scientific terms of exactly why modern democratic republics suffer from lobbying from corporations and other wealthy private interests. With this in mind, Marxist political theory can offer comprehensive answers to the question, and the implication of accepting such comprehensive explanations is that from them can follow equally comprehensive solutions, solutions that are much more radical than anything conventionally prescribed by mainstream progressivism. The following article will explain just that.

It is surprising for many to learn that the existence of organized religion, marriage, social classes, and hierarchy in general is a very recent phenomenon relative to the history of humanity. In this list is also included the state – a social construct where some people have greater power than other people, and rule over the population as part of an institution composed of flags, emblems, laws, militaries, kings, queens, emperors, presidents, prime ministers, and so on. In the 19th century, philosopher, social scientist, and seminal figure of Marxism, Friedrich Engels realized and explained this in his treatise The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) after being inspired by Lewis H. Morgan, an anthropologist. Prior to these hierarchical social constructs, humanity, for most of its history on the planet, generally lived under a system that Engels called “primitive communism,” a system absent of social classes, slavery, political hierarchies, states, etc. The great and transformative change that ushered in these constructs was the Neolithic Revolution – the transition away from small tribes of primitive communism to agriculture and larger population. Specifically, one group of people claimed personal and private ownership over the agriculture needed to sustain the population, proclaimed themselves to be in power, and hired armed men to guard over this property which marked the first version of the state.


States, despite being so involved in our history books and everyday lives, have only existed for a fraction of our history. (Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill during the Tehran Conference, 1943)

Marxism, which is heavily influenced by this social science, is what then officially defines the state as the “organ of class rule” as Vladimir Lenin explained in his work The State and Revolution, a seminal text of Marxist political theory. Directly connected to the socio-economic system, the state is necessarily that institution controlled by the class of people who hold ownership of the means of production in society, which is essentially another term for workplaces – workplaces where people come together to provide products or services for others like farms, factories, restaurants, corporations, hospitals, and anything else you could imagine. In a capitalist economy, where workers sell their labor in exchange for wages and the owners of enterprises are the ones that collect profit, it is the capitalist owners of those enterprises that are the ones who possess the core influence over the state, and the ones who are in control of the “organ of class rule.” Lenin spent a bit of time analyzing democratic republics under capitalism, and while he noticed that they are indeed democratic in one specific sense, they are also very deceiving in another because of the economics that they run under:

In capitalist society, providing it develops under the most favourable conditions, we have a more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, and consequently always remains, in effect, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich. Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners. Owing to the conditions of capitalist exploitation, the modern wage slaves are so crushed by want and poverty that “they cannot be bothered with democracy”, “cannot be bothered with politics”; in the ordinary, peaceful course of events, the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life.

In fact, Lenin in quoting Engels argued that a democratic republic is the ideal form of government under capitalism in the sense of the potency it has in defending that economic status quo and system:

In a democratic republic, Engels continues, “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely”, first, by means of the “direct corruption of officials” (America); secondly, by means of an “alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange” (France and America)


Another reason why the omnipotence of “wealth” is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co.), it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.

Since Lenin made this argument almost exactly 100 years ago, it seems as if there might be concerns of its relevance. However the only premise that this and a contemporary Marxist framework works under is that there need only be private ownership of the means of production to automatically lead to lobbying and corruption of officials, a system of ownership which remains today. This capitalist system of ownership intrinsically leads to significant inequality of wealth and allows the wealthy to steer a republic’s policies to their interests. The viral 2014 Princeton study, which does not even work from this framework, had one of its authors conclude that “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States,” and that “government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of […] economic elites and of organized interests.”2 The study worked by examining the political desires of people of various income levels and correlating them with what happened with actual policy. The result was that the changes that the majority population desired did not happen, and instead the policy was in effect aligned with the wishes of a very small and financially well-off elite. Some of these desires that the majority had were financial reform, higher minimum wage, more education spending, and more support for the unemployed.

Since the Marxist premise is that the root of the issue is the socio-economic system in place, specifically the pattern of ownership of workplaces that intrinsically leads to inequality of wealth and the corruption of the political system, then a handful of proposed and popular solutions today will not work or be sufficient if we accept this premise. The first for example is voting in capitalists like Trump into political office under the meaningless view that they are “self-funded.” Trump is not only a large owner of capitalist arrangement of workplaces but cannot stop the rising inequality of wealth or money in politics as the issue is connected to the greater economic system. Bernie Sanders, while not being a capitalist like Trump and admirably pursuing policy changes like the overturning of Citizens United (a court ruling which deregulated lobbying) is again only one individual and does not support the elimination of private ownership of the means of production in the US economy nor could he accomplish this by himself. Generally, since there is no foreseeable path for a president to change the structure of property ownership in the economy, it is highly unlikely that presidential politics will lead to a solution to the problem of the kind described in this article.

The most truly sweeping, radical, and permanent solution to eliminate the power of financial elites in lobbying a state and to create genuine democracy that represents the majority population must involve a change in the ownership and management of the means of production. If the majority working class is in possession of the means of production, then the state as the organ of class rule becomes the organ of the working class, and consequently the state acts democratically and accordingly with the population. This article does not profess to have a specific list of steps that will lead to this politico-economic change. There would be great futility in immediately attempting to draw up such a list since we cannot have a cure if we as a people do not even agree on the diagnosis. Accordingly, the first and most important task then is to come to the consensus that the diagnosis for the present problems is capitalism, a system that is preventing us from having the democracy that we have been yearning for.

– Dino Mehic (Moontouch)


  1. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy
  2. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/princeton-scholar-demise-of-democracy-america-tpm-interview

Great Pieces of Left-Wing Propaganda

Propaganda is propaganda. It serves to further a cause or institution without regard to objectivity. However, it also often brings moments of artistic or ideological brilliance. Spanning different decades, the following is a collection of what I believe to be noteworthy pieces of left-wing propaganda that stick out ideologically or aesthetically.

Click on the image for full size.

"Love of peace - the Washington way" - (USSR)

“Love of peace – the Washington way” – (USSR)


“Our triumph in the cosmos [is] the anthem of the country of soviets!” – USSR

Pyramid of Capitalist System

“Pyramid of Capitalist System”, 1911, USA

"The time for talk is over," contemporary Spanish leftism

“The time for talk is over” – contemporary Spanish leftism.

"Evolution?" - anti-nuclear war poster (USSR)

“Evolution?” – anti-nuclear war poster (USSR)

"I Didn't Go to Work Today" - contemporary anarchism (USA)

“I Didn’t Go to Work Today” – 1970s anarchism (USA)

Soviet poster showing a black American being lynched and hanging off of the Statue of Liberty

Soviet poster showing a black American being lynched and hanging off of the Statue of Liberty

"(Let us) make the decisions of the 25th meeting of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union reality! Make the bond between the Hammer and Sickle stronger!" (USSR)

“(Let us) make the decisions of the 25th meeting of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union reality! Make the bond between the Hammer and Sickle stronger!” (USSR)

"To a bright future of communist society, universal prosperity and stable peace!" (USSR)

“To a bright future of communist society, universal prosperity and stable peace!” (USSR)

"Che" [Cuba]

“Che” (Cuba)

Poster indicting a sinister looking President Nixon as responsible for the deaths of civilians after American bombing in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. (USA)

Poster indicting a sinister looking President Nixon as responsible for the deaths of civilians after American bombing in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. (USA)

"Together with Vietnam" (Cuba)

“Together with Vietnam” (Cuba)

"After fulfilling our vow we give this freeway to the people, the Party and Tito" - (socialist Yugoslavia)

“After fulfilling our vow we give this freeway to the people, the Party and Tito” – (early socialist Yugoslavia)

Author unknown (Yugoslavia, 1945)

Author unknown (Yugoslavia, 1945)

"Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth" - (USSR)

“Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth” – (USSR)

"Knowledge will break the chains of slavery" - (USSR)

“Knowledge will break the chains of slavery” – (USSR)

– Dino Mehic (Moontouch)

We Can Do Better Than Markets: A Philosophical Critique

Imagine that you decide to go on a camping trip with a group of friends. Each member of the group is tasked with bringing some items that are essential for the group to use for the camping trip to be a success, and each member does exactly this. During the camping trip, some fish while others cook, and some prepare tents for sleeping while others tend to the fire. One day during the trip, Amy, a member of the group, finds a wild apple tree full of luscious apples and decides to claim it for herself as private property. When the rest of the group members reach the tree, Amy decides she will not allow any of her group to have access to the tree, but instead she will sell the apples for a personal gain. In a different scenario, imagine that John, another member of the group, also decides that he will charge other members of the group an hourly rate to use his knife.

Most of us will instantly recognize that intuitively there is something ethically wrong there, and that the group members breached a presumed egalitarian moral code where much of the property, tools, and personal assignments are democratically and collectively managed to maximize the interests of all group members instead of one over another. This paraphrased hypothetical was drawn up as a thought experiment by philosopher G. A. Cohen as a critique against capitalism/markets, and John and Amy’s thinking form the central behavioral schema of how markets work in our capitalist society. The point of the thought experiment is not necessarily to imply that all of society should function like a camping trip, but rather that the egoistic exchanges which John and Amy offered, exchanges of the kind that dominate everyday markets, do not present a moral ideal for us, and that we have moral inconsistencies about how we think people ought to behave in regards to property.

A camping trip signifies something more than just what people like to do for fun. It is a social arrangement where people temporarily have very different moral outlooks on property.

A camping trip signifies something more than just what people like to do for fun. It is a social arrangement where people temporarily have very different moral outlooks on property.

This consequently brings us to our first possible critique of markets, and that is that they intrinsically function as selfish or egoistic exchanges. Consider the common tug of war between a car salesman and the typical buyer, a tug of war that will always remains as such, with neither party considering the interests of the other. In this market exchange, the salesman desires to sell the car at the highest possible price, while the buyer wants the exact opposite. The salesman would sell the car at ten times the average price if he could or even completely empty the pockets of the buyer if there was a way to persuade the buyer to accept such an expensive deal. At the opposite end, the buyer desires a car for the cheapest price possible, and would not mind buying the car for $10 if the salesman offered such a hot deal. The nature of this market exchange, connected more deeply to the profit maximization behavior of capitalism, ensures that there is always a behavior of extreme self-interest in both parties, causing them to care only for themselves and never for one another, a self-interest just like that of John’s and Amy’s in the camping trip thought experiment.

Not only do markets promote a culture of selfishness, they also promote a culture of distorted and illusory values where a commodity is socially valued only from the fact that it exists within this logic of market exchange, our second critique. This second argument is part of Karl Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, a theory he first expounded in his influential work Capital. The illusion that commodity fetishism creates is that the commodity becomes the driving force behind the social relations we have in society, relations formed not of our own volition, but rather from the market transactions occurring. This creates the almost supernatural impression that commodities control human beings. The immeasurably large amount of money spent globally each year on advertising acts as a powerful influencing force on morality, values, traditions, customs, and other aspects of culture that we do not realize exist only because of commodity fetishism and not because we freely and collectively decided to value these things. From Capital, Marx explains his theory of commodity fetishism by arguing how the values we attribute to commodities do not actually come from the physical nature of the commodities themselves:

As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

A good contemporary example of commodity fetishism is the diamond. A lesser known fact about diamonds is that their expensiveness is not because they are inherently rare, but because diamond corporations artificially control the supply of diamonds in the market thereby dramatically raising their prices.1 The critical question is then raised of how truly and objectively valuable a diamond is, and where comes the value and urge to jump in to save a diamond ring when it accidentally falls into a body of water. Additionally, the most interesting fact about diamond rings is that the tradition of buying them as a necessary part of marriage was almost entirely concocted in the 1930s by the advertising of the company De Beers, a company which held a very long monopoly on the diamond supply throughout the 20th century. The historical tradition of diamonds being something possessed and worn only by wealthy ruling classes changed with the advertising campaigns of De Beers which successfully rebranded them as something valuable, desirable, and obtainable by the working class, a prime example of commodity fetishism.

From their high prices to involvement in social traditions, much of the aspects surrounding diamonds were created only by advertising.

From their high prices to involvement in social traditions, much of the aspects surrounding diamonds were created only by diamond corporations.

One of the primary philosophical arguments in defense of markets by capitalism apologists is that markets embody freedom and individual choice since persons freely consent to market exchanges, thus meaning that each exchange fulfills the interests of each individual. The problem with this view is that its premise of valid consent stands poorly since an individual has no choice but to participate in markets or else face the risk of starvation, homelessness, and other ills resulting from refusing to purchase or sell something. This is similarly why the supposedly “voluntary” employment between laborers and sweatshop owners in the Third World is not truly voluntary and consensual, as both markets and sweatshops represent the status quo, and individuals cannot feasibly and practically escape this status quo. One is thus born into a market society and through conditioning and lifelong practice is molded to think about goods and services as being inseparable from markets, and so markets cannot reasonably embody freedom and individualism through consent, but rather embody the status quo.

Since markets involve money, they are also one of the mechanisms that maintain inequality in our society, such as inequalities of wealth and class, which is our third and final critique. In explaining how “economic thinking and market reasoning have reached into spheres of life far beyond the domain of material goods,” philosopher Michael J. Sandel mentions how Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, seriously proposed that the public debate over immigration could be solved by selling or auctioning off the right to immigrate.2 The immediately visible problem with such proposals is that in an extremely unequal world where 85 of its richest people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world, this would end up not only maintaining inequality between citizens in a nation but between nations themselves, as only the financially privileged could afford the right to immigration.3 This proposal and many others, which reject ethics, illustrates the morally degenerate premises that mainstream economics often functions by and how markets can be instrumental in maintaining inequality. As another example, world hunger exists not because there is insufficient production of food to feed the entire world, but because we do not have an adequate system of distribution for this production leading to the tragedy of people starving in front of food because they cannot make a market purchase.4

If we accept these criticisms and conclude that markets are morally non-ideal, then we pave the way for subsequent discussions of economic replacements for markets, as markets are simply one possible system for the distribution of goods and services in a society. The notion that markets could be replaced in our society with an alternate system of distribution may seem initially radical, but such a change allows us to answer to long respected and uncontroversial moral virtues and principles like cooperation and to negate other vices like selfishness. This would allow for a society that exhibits significantly more consistency in its moral views, and which improves its practice in regards to handling goods and services. A philosophical and moral critique of markets should thus be included as an important part of a wider critique of capitalism and the status quo, a critique that is vital to establishing justice in the economic sphere of life.

– Dino Mehic (Moontouch)


  1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/02/AR2010070203990.html
  2. http://www.economist.com/node/16424085
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world
  4. https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2009-10-16/world-food-day-there-enough-food-grown-world-everyone-op-ed