Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto” and “The Capital” are two of the most influential books in modern history. It’s thanks to these writings that leaders in the Western world have tamed capitalism to reduce work hours and give the workers some days off. Without ideas such as commodity fetishism and labor alienation, we would have a hard time intellectually defining our social phenomena. Furthermore, the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels have spawned a new school of thought in politics, economics, and sociology: Marxism.
In the world of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, Marxism often bears a stigma. If you take a look at most bitcoiners on Twitter, you will notice an ideological pattern: most of them are carnivory gun-loving libertarians who hold rather radical ideas about taxation and have an affinity for Austrian economics. There is also a significant group of Keynesians who look for the “mean of exchange” side of Bitcoin, but they also seem to have voluntaryist ideas and despise central authorities. Yet, except for Jackson Palmer, you don’t see people who openly admit to have left-wing opinions about the economy – and this has to change.
Ultimately, Bitcoin is politically-neutral and has a monetary policy that doesn’t care about the ideological alignment of network participants. In many ways, it’s ridiculous that ten years after the network launch, we still see the king of cryptos being highlighted as a tool for right-wingers. Regarding privacy and private property as fundamental human rights isn’t too much of a stretch for Marxists. But in order to better understand the phenomenon and allow our Marx-reading friends to become our revolutionary comrades, we must take a closer look into the layers and degrees implied.
Marxists, socialists, communists
Even though these three terms are often used as synonyms, we must understand from the beginning that they are very different. “Marxist” is the umbrella term which encompasses every other sub-branch of left-wing political thought, and everybody from the SJW trying to impose a standardized language to the union leader who wants better conditions for the factory workers can be called one. Karl Marx has written exhaustively about the inequalities between those who own the means of production and those who use them in alienated labor. He also analyzed several social phenomena such as historical materialism. Therefore, everyone in any context can be called a Marxist as long as they share ideas presented within the writings of Marx.
The term “socialist” is more specific in designating a political compass, and often refers to the left-wingers whom we find within the framework of a democratic government. The socialists aren’t as revolutionary as the pure Marxists and pretty much oppose the idea that capitalism should be overthrown by small proletars (the working class). If anything, these folks are in favor of a stronger government which collects higher taxes and provides welfare services such as public healthcare, free education, subsidized public transportation. And there’s a smaller need for the average individual to worry about issues that don’t involve paying taxes. Socialists are the usual liberals/democrats from the USA, the Labour Party supporters from Great Britain, and the social-democrats from Germany. They are as pro-establishment as can be, and only take the learnings about social issues from Marx.
Last but not least, we have the communists. Even though the term bears the stigma of 20th century totalitarian regimes, there is a distinct type of communists who exist, read Marx extensively, and prepare for a revolution unlike everything we’ve seen. They organize meetings, they try to act for the working class, and they hate social order and authority to the extent that they despise their socialist friends. The expected communist revolution shouldn’t come from above and should never emerge as a regime change that’s driven by intellectual elites (as it happened with the 1917 Russian Revolution): instead, it’s the uprising of the workers that should bring the real communism where everybody is equal, private property gets abolished and the resources get distributed according to everyone’s needs.
Clearly, this brief classification simplifies the terms and only scratches the surface of the ideological implications of being a Marxist, a socialist, or a communist. There’s more to the (red) picture than meets the eye, and there are far more revolutionary ideas to be discussed as essential part of the topic. Also, there are far more categories on the political spectrum and we’re only talking about some of the best-known types. Nevertheless, the details presented are instrumental for understanding how these radical left-wingers can be invited to adopt Bitcoin. The next part will focus on the practical matter of convincing readers of Marx to accept Bitcoin as a currency.
How can marxists, socialists, and communists get into Bitcoin?
Now this is the trickier part. The three types of left-wingers have distinct points of divergence that can potentially make them incompatible with Bitcoin’s philosophy. For instance, the socialists have a greater trust in banks, are most likely fans of Keynesianism, and most likely don’t regard inflation as a bad phenomenon as long as other sides of the economy show growth. That is why, from the very beginning, they will be declared as the least compatible of all Marxists: they may be democratic, but they are more pro-establishment than their peers who don’t like authority and find themselves more on the left.
Consequently, socialists take the most effort and may just be impossible to convince when it comes to Bitcoin’s virtues. A fixed supply that’s achieved through a predictable inflation system? Governance by code as opposed to frequent meddling and toggling of the switches and knobs of economy? Difficult to define and almost impossible to tax precisely? These are all red flags for socialists – and not the kind they’re fond of.
However, you can hypothetically present the one percent issue in relation to Bitcoin: that the new elites who own large amounts of BTC aren’t the same bankers and rich venture capitalists who are obscenely wealthy and always find ways not to get taxed. The one percenters got into Bitcoin too late to actually take control of it and the ownership is much more decentralized than the world wealth. This can potentially persuade a couple of socialists to give Satoshi’s invention a chance.
On the other hand, communists are more radical and diverge from their socialist comrades on certain issues. For instance, they hate banks and big capitalist institutions. Also, they frown upon every attempt to create a bigger government and reject the idea of welfare states (which they regard as a Trojan horse for the working class and a roadblock in their revolutionary plan). The road to communism must be steady and radical. The growth must be achieved from within the oppressed proletars, and each attempt to water down capitalism is nothing but a trick that’s meant to prevent the real revolution from happening.
Given this radical worldview of communists and their rejection for capitalist governments, it would be easier to persuade them to adopt Bitcoin. Just explaining to them that embracing a politically-neutral, transparent, and uncensorable form of currency would threaten the economic model of exploitative nation states is a pretty good way to start. Then you talk about boycotting the plans of the financial elites who own ridiculously large amounts of resources (das kapital) and how the institutions didn’t get into BTC yet. Last but not least, the proletars has a shot at financial freedom and emancipation from the chains that keep it down by embracing Bitcoin. Who knows, maybe that their revolutionary uprising is more likely to happen if they manage to become independent from the means of production.
Speaking of means of production, here’s yet another argument for the entire spectrum of Marxists: anybody can acquire a mining rig, join a pool, and therefore participate in Bitcoin mining. Unlike Proof of Stake systems that are oligarchic in their nature (the rich only get richer proportionately to their wealth), Proof of Work allows for an unstable and dynamic system of elites. We’ve seen billion-dollar giants like Bitmain collapse, and it’s very likely to witness many overturns in our lifetime. Bitcoin mining is revolutionary in itself just because the incentive system encourages newcomers to participate and creates a system where elites can be challenged. The price of acquiring the means of production for Bitcoin are far lower than that of buying a factory, and the long-term benefits look promising.
The risks and benefits of having more Marxists get involved in Bitcoin
As a politically-neutral, uncensorable, permissionless and global currency, Bitcoin can be embraced by anyone without any kind of restrictions coming from within the system. Therefore, this shouldn’t be a matter of “should we let them join?”, but rather a problem of involving outsiders who don’t necessarily share the same core political ideas. Both Satoshi Nakamoto (the creator) and Hal Finney (the first major believer in the technology) were on the cypherpunk e-mail list, had a libertarian worldview which was influenced by the likes of Tim May and David Chaum, and believed that privacy is more important than compliance.
Only the most radical of Marxists can agree with this idea about absolute freedom, at all costs. And even though their ultimate goal diverges from the libertarian one, it’s still important to have powerful allies against the greater enemy. Also, as we’ve seen in the case of Jackson Palmer, it’s always useful to have a brutal and ideologically-opposing type of criticism (Jackson is a peculiar type of socialist who is admittedly uncertain about the need of governments, which also qualifies him as an anarchist). Some of these left-wing ideas may sound harsh and uncomfortable, but hearing what we need in order to progress is far more important than building an echo chamber of uniform ideas.
In a nutshell, there are two great benefits to involving Marxists into Bitcoin: firstly, increasing the network effect and secondly, the addition of opposing views that pose intellectual challenges to the most ardent supporters. Asking ourselves about the ultimate goal of Satoshi’s invention and what hyperbitcoinization really looks like is the kind of discussion that we should be having along with people who identify with all the major schools of thought. Our civilization hasn’t constantly evolved because we all agreed, but due to the constant conflicts that we’ve had. When Max Weber wrote about conflict theory and described the concept of beneficial clash of ideas, he was influenced by the sociological writings of Karl Marx – so even if we disagree on the economic side, there are still points of convergence that we as bitcoiners can find.
Naturally, there’s a great risk that we might face if Bitcoin turns into a coin for communists or corporate socialists: they will collectively find issues in the 21 million supply and complain that it doesn’t suffice for the working class or that it creates too much inequality. Economics professor Nouriel Roubini has spent quite a lot of time mentioning that the Gini coefficient (which indicates wealth and income distribution) of Bitcoin is worse than North Korea’s. Too many stubborn Marxists who run their own nodes can launch yet another social attack to challenge the supply of BTC. They can also claim that the transaction fees are too high and the miners are making too much money, so they propose a hard fork to increase the block size.
Nevertheless, these risks aren’t so realistic in technical terms: if the current infrastructure is powerful enough to deter governments and trans-national corporations to launch attacks, it’s very unlikely that the disaster will come from within the Marxist community. Additionally, we should keep in mind that the beauty of Bitcoin is given by its perpetual ability to create consensus (as opposed to the frequent political and economic regime changes we’ve seen across history). The system of incentives is designed to work in a way that rewards good actors, and in time we might even witness paradigmatic shifts in Marxism.
Bitcoin is a truly unique invention which has the potential to change the way we perceive both value and money, while also enabling for a greater social scalability. The beauty of it is found in its universality, and we can’t possibly reach that hyper-phase of adoption unless we also integrate these ideological opponents. There aren’t too many proponents of sound money, and there are even fewer who believe in Bitcoin. On the other hand, there are millions of passionate revolutionaries who want to change the world. Why not give them a taste of what the future of money looks like?