Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Further on Marx

It was interesting writing something in my last post about what I see as the obvious limitations and failure of Marx's program from the standpoint of the theoretical historical paradigm it was intended to address. One thing I left out was a small yet very important philosophical distinction made by Marx through association with the philosophies of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. 

Marx continued Hegel’s explicit attack on a priori knowledge. The idea that there were first principles in thinking or principles that didn’t correspond to phenomenology was implicitly rejected by Hegel and marked the beginning of the shift into Marx’s analysis of history occurring in stages based on material causes, including types of ownership, wealth and class struggle.

Interestingly, this most important issue, wealth, was left out of Marx’s writing, because wealth was, to the economists of the time, only considered as an entirety, that measured the results of all of mans activities within a nation. It didn’t matter what individuals accrued, since their wealth was part of what their nation owned anyway. Marx was interested in building a large movement, the International, which needed to attract wealthy individuals as members and donors.

Today we have the internationalist view of wealth, where it doesn’t matter where an individual of a nation invests his wealth; he can send it to other countries, as long as he has earned it. This corresponds directly to a continuing wider distribution of the planet's resources, which more and more include wealth, life styles, and education. 

Yet capitalism is as firmly in place as it ever was, with international programs already aimed at restricting consumption, health and population. Countries like Peru get money from the United Nations for not providing electricity directly through grids to their native peoples, for example, while people die in countries like Ethiopia where governments are currently being paid off for not using pesticides. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What of Marxism?

We all know how fun it is to speak of Marxism: Unlike politics in general, Marxism has great breadth. It is teleological without stating that it is necessary to have external deities, as in religion. It is militant, like countries out to fight battles for great causes. It is salvatory, since it can prescribe an improved order of society, and finally, it is sociological, in that it can be, and is used to explain many customs and events.

Stating that mankind has classes, which are forever doomed to fight, unless a historical resolution takes place at some juncture, what is empirical in Marxism is that it shows up and points to the upheavals which apparently must occur when classes do not anticipate and participate properly in the amelioration of existing evils in a society.

Karl Marx would react and anticipate my last sentence by stating that classes are not people and don’t react with a conscience. According to Marx, classes do not care about the evils done to others, but rather, unlike moral individuals, always act in their own interests. I don’t mean to imply here that men always act in the interests of others, but what I will imply is that men and women whom are aware of their existence as part of a self-conscious race, do tend to side with others on occasion, even if this is only the, “do unto you…,” moral phenomenon in action.

So Marx’s assertion that classes must always act in their own interests, would seem to apply based on empirical principles and carefully collected 18th and 19th century data, but only in that sense. In other words, teaching someone to be a Marxist is a lot like teaching someone to be a religious convert: The convert must be led to bridge this divide between individuals-like-himself whom are for-each-other, and classes which are against-each-other-for-themselves. Being able to accomplish this mental maneuver is indeed, a little bit like mastering a religion.

To be fair, Marxism also does assert that there was a precise tendency for people to become more, “for-each-other,” as they are “proletarianized.” The idea of a family moving from an originally well-balanced social habitat to the city to find work, or even to become social refugees and move from one country to another, could be the idea behind this notion. If I work as a peasant, which many people have done in the past, and because of mechanization or some other cause, find it inconvenient to continue my current existence in the country, I may decide to move to a city and find work there. The lifestyle of a poverty-stricken family in that new situation in a strange city may not always be comfortable, but it may tend to bring the individuals closer. Conversely, the proletization of the working individual and family could just be a convenient illusion based on the communal attitudes and ethics of people coming from the country. Whether Marx was right, or deluded in his concept of the, “revolutionary proletarian,” is in this way, something quite in doubt.

Marxism can be seen as an interesting 19th through 20th century trend in social and historical science. The possibility of assigning class causes for everything from historical movements and art trends through contemporary signs of progress has always been a favorite pastime of Marxists. 

Wait a second. Even if all of that stuff is true, but what about the interesting points that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels made about changing society? Isn’t it important that they predicted Feminism as, “The Community of Women”, and explained that roles in society would be reversed with a Dictatorship of the Proletariat? These ideas bear a careful further look.

Marx and Engels predicted, based on anthropological research and the abandonment of religious scruples, that women would attain a new level of status and freedom in society. Doubtless some of that has been realized today, if partially due to technology and shifting values such as family role-playing being considered less important in developed countries. Marxism, however, proves that it has a its own persistent influence – the Second Sex having been written in post-war France, for example, where the influence of Marxist parties was quite wide.

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat predicts that an absolute dictatorship is necessary, replacing democracy in order to accomplish the continuing worthwhile goals of civilization, once the capitalist class is no longer in power. This has been widely debated, with many sincere Marxists falling on the side of “social democracy”, against this idea, even before the “cults of personality” emerged in the 1930s. In my opinion, while the cult of personality is never something desirable, the use of democracy as a palliative has also become commonplace, with individuals calling for “more democracy,” while at the same time pining for, “someone to come in and put things right”.