Sunday, 9 December 2012

Layman notes trying to understand Marxism Part 1.

Layman notes trying to understand Marxism Part 1.

Hegel was an idealist. He held the zeitgeist was a force moving through history via dialectical syntheisis of opposing forces(theses) which would lead to the end of history. He also mentioned Alienation.

Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians brought this down to earth,humanized it and made it materialist.They tried to work out the practical consequences of this for human beings. Feuerbach said religion led to alienation of humans from themselves because it sets god(s) up as ideas beyond humans when infact it was humans who created them.He sees religion as a human social construct.

Marx takes young hegelian ideas further.He agrees with Feuerbach.He sees economics as causing alienation.Communism is the practical form of Hegel's end of history which will abolish alienation as well as religion.It will be brought about not by the zeitgeist but by the proletariat class.Alienation is caused by the need to produce for economic ends not purely for necessity or beauty etc. Theses on feuerbach is where Marx develops beyond Feuerbach's ideas.He talks about human activity and how theoretical problems are solved by practical matters.

It seems Marx brings down to earth and makes Hegel humanist and practical in much the same way Dewey gets rid of the transcendental and almost mystical aspects of philosophy to make Philosophy about humans not abstract entities or ideas.

Marx says productive forces i.e. technology , determines the relations of production e.g. wage labourer and boss which then determines the way society is organized(superstructure). As technology changes ,old relations break down and are replaced by new ones e.g. feudalism gives way to capitalism. If this sounds quite simplistic then it is.In some places Marx argues as simply and deterministically as this.In other places e.g. 18th Brumaire of Bonaparte he's less deterministic.

Marx did not refer to 'historical materialism' or  'dialectical materialism'.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they

please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves,

but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted

from the past"(18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte)

Engels rejected claims that Marx thought things were as simple as this.
It doesn't seem to make sense to ask which comes first relations of proudction or superstructure they are co-influencing factors.Marx seems less determinist also in his Grundisse.

"We cannot solve the chicken-and-egg problem by saying that while the existence of the species is not due to the egg alone, the egg has more to do with it than the chicken"- Peter Singer.
Was Marx a strict determinist who saw history as having a cumulative purpose? sometimes it appears so,
"England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindustan, was

actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of

enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can

mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social

state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England,

she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that

revolution." Marx's ideas on certain points are far from unambiguous.

To Marx, Capitalism leads to the social conditions that will result in Communism.Marx underestimated the adaptability of Capitalism and the difficulties of achieving Communism.
 Marx could not/did not foresee movements like civil rights,feminism,environmentalism etc so a more comprehensive factoring of these into his ideas is lacking so his views on reform are more bleak.

Communism as described by marx is stateless and classless.Production is for use and need not for profit and there is no money.So to marx ,the USSR etc are not communist.Socialism involved the idea of equal payment for labour-payment based on labour.Obviously post-marx and during marx's time, these were debated and controversial issues.
I've looked at some later marxists and post-marxists.I find Adorno bland and irrelevant. Althusser seems dogmatic though his idea of ideological state apparatus is interesting.Gramsci seems more my kind of guy.Some of the marxists post-marx were very dry and dull and dogmatic.
I find I'm more into New Left ideas like C Wright Mills and Analytical Marxism.Analytical Marxism seems to have what I want:- non dogmatic,provisional,empirical,passionate,pragmatic. Erik Olin Wright seems the best of the bunch from all I've seen he's wrote and said.He's passionate but realistic, not dogmatic or utopian.
Overall, I think Marx had some interesting ideas but it was only the beginnings and he obviously made errors and false predictions.
I've also been interested in Sidney Hook's pragmatist Marxism and Dewey's opinions on Marxism.

"Marxism-Leninism constructed around Marx's writings, to the extent that these were available, a grand theory concerned with the ultimate laws and constituents of the universe, the natural as
well as the social world, even though Marx himself had maintained discretion on such universal questions. Naturalism and cosmology were "domains distantly removed" from Marx's chosen area of expertise, the critique of political economy"-Cambridge Companion to Marx, p.49
"Marx's silence on many of the issues that were held to constitute his system denoted not so much a failure of the scholarly imagination as a well-judged reluctance to extend his arguments into the domains of nature and physical science, domains to which his arguments could have no meaningful application. When we ask ourselves who thought Marx's arguments could and should be extended into "domains distantly related" to his own and who regarded natural science and the laws of thought as gaps needing to be filled with Marxist argumentation, Engels snaps into focus."-Cambridge Companion to Marx,p.49.
"But historical materialism was something left to us not by Marx but by Engels, even though Engels originally credited it to Marx. From the very beginning, Engels's Marxism - and it was Engels who "brought Marxism into existence had an improperly scientistic aspect that is at variance with what we can now identify as Marx's approach,method, and subject matter (Carver, 1981: 38). Engels claimed that Marx's method produced a law of historical development of the kind that invited comparison with Darwinian biology. (Kautsky, too, was obsessed with Darwin and the supposed social application of Darwinism. ) Engels proceeded blithely but fatefully to make claims about the certitude and universality of this law that have no counterpart in Marxs writings"- Cambridge Companion to Marx.
"By contrast, Marxs laws of capitalist development - which are in fact tendential lawlike statements rather than anything else - were never intended to have any application outside the capitalist mode of production.
Marx, unlike Engels, never equated these laws with the laws of matter in motion, laws that he never discussed."-Cambridge Companion to Marx.   *Is this true?*
It's argued extensively by nondogmatic marxists, socialists and admirers of marxists that Karl Marx was misunderstood and misrepresented.He was neither a socialist saint or a scientist-he lived on borrowed funds etc but nor was he evil. May have had some authoritarian tendencies???
Was Bakunin right about some of his ideas???
Marx/Marxism allows for reforms in the short term(I think it's argued it's impractical to oppose reforms) but believes in abolition of capitalism and communism in the long term.

Marx wrote on science? Marx didn't write on science and only Engels did?? Engels was more the one trying to be scientific with his marxism?? German Ideology(1845,published in 1932)- marx's work most like traditional philosophy.Critique of Hegel's politics. Critique of Marx Stirner.Marx's theory of history. Wage Labour and Capital-written in 1847 ."Some of the main topics that the book examines are about labour power and labour, and how labour power becomes a commodity. It also presents the Labour Theory of Value that further develops the distinct differences between labour and labour power. The book also examines the commodity and how the economic principles of supply and demand affect the pricing of certain commodities. Beyond that the book explores how capital and capitalism do not service any purpose other than to gain more of it, which Marx presents as an illogical method of living one’s life". "Grundrisse is central to Marx's body of work. Its subject matter includes production, distribution, exchange, alienation, value, labor, capitalism, the rise of technology and automation, pre-capitalist forms of social organization, and the preconditions for a communist revolution. Scholars have noted major differences between Marx's earlier writings, such as The German Ideology and The Communist Manifesto, and the late ones, Das Kapital and Grundrisse".  

"The Frankfurt School (German: Frankfurter Schule) refers to a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory,[1] associated in part with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main. The school initially consisted of dissident Marxists who believed that some of Marx's followers had come to parrot a narrow selection of Marx's ideas, usually in defense of orthodox Communist parties. Meanwhile, many of these theorists believed that traditional Marxist theory could not adequately explain the turbulent and unexpected development of capitalist societies in the twentieth century. Critical of both capitalism and Soviet socialism, their writings pointed to the possibility of an alternative path to social development"
"Unlike orthodox Marxism, which merely applies a ready-made "template" to both critique and action, critical theory seeks to be self-critical and rejects any pretensions to absolute truth."
"Horkheimer maintained that critical theory should be directed at the totality of society in its historical specificity (i.e. how it came to be configured at a specific point in time), just as it should improve understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology. While critical theory must at all times be self-critical, Horkheimer insisted that a theory is only critical if it is explanatory. Critical theory must therefore combine practical and normative thinking in order to "explain what is wrong with current social reality, identify actors to change it, and provide clear norms for criticism and practical goals for the future".
For their part, Frankfurt School theorists quickly came to realize that a dialectical method could only be adopted if it could be applied to itself—that is to say, if they adopted a self-correcting method—a dialectical method that would enable them to correct previous false dialectical interpretations. Accordingly, critical theory rejected the dogmatic historicism and materialism of orthodox Marxism.[30] Indeed, the material tensions and class struggles of which Marx spoke were no longer seen by Frankfurt School theorists as having the same revolutionary potential within contemporary Western societies—an observation which indicated that Marx's dialectical interpretations and predictions were either incomplete or incorrect.
Contrary to orthodox Marxist praxis, which solely seeks to implement an unchangeable and narrow idea of "communism" into practice, critical theorists held that praxis and theory, following the dialectical method, should be interdependent and should mutually influence each other. When Marx famously stated in his Theses on Feuerbach that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it", his real idea was that philosophy's only validity was in how it informed action. Frankfurt School theorists would correct this by claiming that when action fails, then the theory guiding it must be reviewed. In short, socialist philosophical thought must be given the ability to criticize itself and "overcome" its own errors. While theory must inform praxis, praxis must also have a chance to inform theory."


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