Getting political: Marxism and social entrepreneurship

Marxism is back in the public eye, although mostly serving to highlight how much we’ve forgotten about it. This is probably intentional, as it wasn’t exactly the most popular kid in school for much of the last century. Indeed, a recent survey found that most people don’t want a return to the pre-2008 political economy, but rather than some Left or Right-wing alternative, they mostly want better education, better infrastructure, better banks and a more socially responsible business culture. History is bunk, or so it seems.

The apparent demise of ideology seems like a great opportunity for social entrepreneurs – the masses want pragmatic solutions and as the next recession probably won’t be for another 15 years, now is as good a time as any. But a key challenge for social entrepreneurs in rising to the challenge is that it requires scale and political backing. While it is true (as I’ve reported here) that politicians of all persuasions support the idea of social enterprise and entrepreneurship in principle, they do not yet see it as being a significant enough area to justify substantial policy interest.  Arguably this is not just because it lacks scale in terms of its operations, but also because social entrepreneurship as whole appears rather fragmented from the outside. Lots of people doing good stuff but with no common ask (like Occupy in slow motion?).

But if the pro-piracy movement can get its act together to get real political representation in multiple countries, surely social entrepreneurs and their supporters could do the same? Further to this, can social entrepreneurship be mobilised to provide a real critique and/or credible alternative to the political economy status quo?

A brief note on Marxism

It may seem counterintuitive to the discussion so far, but Marxism, with its incorporation of the economic, political and social, offers up one lens through which we might assess the potential of, and limits to, social entrepreneurship in affecting system change. I’ve personally hardly ever heard it discussed in relation to social entrepreneurship, so thought I’d take a look at it over the next few pages (be sure to click through at the bottom of each). This article therefore refers to Marxism in its form as a political and economic critique. It is not about promoting socialism or Communism, although I understand why people might conflate these.

The new international

Social entrepreneurship – uniting the social values of the Left with the market logics of the Right, and evading attempts to define them, offers attractive options to all political parties. Yet one of the key challenges for social entrepreneurship in trying to effect systemic change, is an absence or (at best) a poor understanding of how it actually links to politics. Without a better understanding of how the emergence of social entrepreneurship is related to the political climates of the countries in which it is situated, it will be difficult to fully mobilise the movement as a whole in order to hold the status quo to account, if indeed that is even an intention. For instance, in my Twitter feed I’ll often see excited exclamations about social entrepreneurship in China followed by another story of social entrepreneurship in the USA. But why is it that we think it is the same thing happening in neo-liberal America as in Communist China?

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2 thoughts on “Getting political: Marxism and social entrepreneurship

  1. When Marxist historian Eric Hobspawn was interviewed last year, what he said about the displacement of people and the need for capitalism to be made to be moral was very much in line with what we’d argued from the position of social enterprise. In 2004 we warned of the risk of uprisings.

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