What did Karl Marx really say - Trying to Separate the Philosophy from the Myth

Tadhg Gaelach

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The members of this forum have always been interested in Marx. To some he is a Prophet, to others a Demon. The fact is, at the end of the day, he was a man. And men evolve over time - at least those who make an effort to think and learn evolve over time. Marx famously declared - I'm not a Marxist. Even in his own day he had attracted a rather fanatical following, that wanted a Saviour, not a man with the faults of men. Ironically, though Marx wanted to liberate humanity from dogma, too many of his followers wanted to turn his writings into religious texts. Marx himself always changed his views in the light of new information becoming available. This is something that both his fanatical followers and his fanatical detractors refuse to understand. The followers will jump through hoops trying to smooth out every contradiction, and the detractors will jump on every contradiction as "proof" that Marx was "wrong."

But, what did Marx himself say? I think there are a number of basic points that do remain constant through all of his vast works, and we might take a brief look at the main points over the next few days or so.

1. You ARE what you DO

Kant's famous advice to the world on how best to live was to always treat human beings, including yourself, as an end and never a means to an end. That means never to exploit other people as a way to get money or fame or whatever, and, indeed, never to exploit yourself either. Of course, Jesus had also said: Treat others as you would have others treat you.

Hegel and Marx pointed out that the human individual is what he or she does. The person\subject is not inside the human being, ready made and always the same no matter what that human being does. Instead, the person is always in the process of being created - by his or her actions - by their labour (and labour simply means any human activity, including thinking.)

So, is it not true that if you sell your labour as a means to an end (to get wages), that you are selling yourself, and treating yourself as a means to an end? After all, you spend most of your waking day getting ready to go to work, going to work, working, coming home from work, and then being too exhausted to do anything else after work.

If work is to be regarded as a means to an end, i.e. wages, then the people who do that work are also a means to an end.

And this holds for all types of human labour\activity. If we are not in the process of self actualisation in our everyday lives, then we are becoming alienated from ourselves, and becoming a pawn in someone else's game.

Marx believed that this is the reason why Capitalism must fail as people become more and more self aware, and demand that they be treated as an end in themselves and that they treat themselves as an end in themselves - not a means to the enrichment of the Capitalist Oligarchs - and their own daily survival.

Marx used the word Communism to denote that form of society in which human beings treat themselves and others, in the words of Kant, as ends in themselves, and not a means to an end.

And what is that end to which the person must tend? What does it mean to treat yourself as an end and not a means to an end? Hegel points out that:

"Mind is only what it does, and its act is to make itself the object of its own consciousness."

Hegel continues with the example of the carpenter making a table. He puts his heart and soul into that work, and when he looks at that table he sees before him a physical manifestation of his own mind. As Hegel put it; the table had become, for that moment, the mind of the carpenter physically before him as he consciously regarded and appreciated it.

Hegel thought that carpenters could continue to make such tables. As we now know, Capitalism was to destroy the craftsman - except for those who can pay very high prices for custom furniture. Instead of every table being a unique creation that puts a carpenter's mind in the world, today we have tens of millions of drone wage slaves making things that could never be regarded as an expression of themselves. If all the things we use are disposable \ throw-a-way, then so too is our labour disposable. And if our labour is disposable, and we are what we do, then we are just as disposable as persons.

I think it will be objected that the Communist states also fell into this trap and made human beings disposable. Sadly that's true to some extent - though the ideal in Communist states was to build a Workers State, and the building of the Workers State, rather than the table, was the work which manifested the Socialist consciousness. I don't think this really worked for most people. The Socialist State is rather hard concept to grasp compared to a table. Still, there does seem to have been more of a sense of purpose in the Communist states than what we get in consumer society.
 
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roc_

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Marx was a genius. We owe many of the insights that we draw on today to the acuity of his mind.

But much of his theory did not stand up to critical analysis over time. It was debunked.

What was left grew into a strange dogma that was able to evade critical analysis. The adherents of this dogma treat their dogma religiously and will not countenance putting their beliefs into the form of falsifiable hypotheses.

Because they know they won't stand up. What matter. Much stronger is the passion and sentiment in them. Their belief in their own righteousness. Their piety.

Marxists remind me of the little old ladies in midland Ireland in the 1980's clutching their rosary beads.
 

Tadhg Gaelach

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Marx was a genius. We owe many of the insights that we draw on today to the acuity of his mind.

But much of his theory did not stand up to critical analysis over time. It was debunked.

What was left grew into a strange dogma that was able to evade critical analysis. The adherents of this dogma treat their dogma religiously and will not countenance putting their beliefs into the form of falsifiable hypotheses.

Because they know they won't stand up. What matter. Much stronger is the passion and sentiment in them. Their belief in their own righteousness. Their piety.

Marxists remind me of the little old ladies in midland Ireland in the 1980's clutching their rosary beads.

Which parts of Marx's theories would you say have been debunked?
 

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Wasn't it Marx who said the capitalists would create a reserve pool of labour? Well that has certainly come true!

Yes, this was denied for a long time, but is now accepted by bourgeois economics. It is shown that as full employment is approached, the Capitalist economy will experience high inflation. Central banks will be forced to increase interest rates to cool the inflation rate. Increased interest rates will pull investment from the economy and a recessionary cycle will begin. Today, the Capitalist economy tries to extend the inflationary cycle by maintaining a Reserve Army of Labour. The only way to do this is by promoting mass immigration - particularly in developed nations were the fertility rate is below replacement.
 

mossyman

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Yes, this was denied for a long time, but is now accepted by bourgeois economics. It is shown that as full employment is approached, the Capitalist economy will experience high inflation. Central banks will be forced to increase interest rates to cool the inflation rate. Increased interest rates will pull investment from the economy and a recessionary cycle will begin. Today, the Capitalist economy tries to extend the inflationary cycle by maintaining a Reserve Army of Labour. The only way to do this is by promoting mass immigration - particularly in developed nations were the fertility rate is below replacement.
I also think the capitalists are creating a reserve pool of labour through outsourcing and automation. I was reading recently that there have been many cases where companies will opt for automation even when it costs more in terms of capital costs simply because they don't want the hassle of dealing with a workforce. And obviously outsourcing gives a near infinite supply of labour in developing countries. Then for services jobs in the West that can't be automated and outsourced they are using open borders.

Other important things Marx said were that communism was most likely to succeed in highly industrialised countries like Germany.
 

SwordOfStCatherine

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Which parts of Marx's theories would you say have been debunked?
At times Marx can be overly reductionist and determinist, also while he was critiquing Jacobinism there are still a lot of Jacobin vestiges in his writing. That said he was a far more subtle and ambigious thinker most of the time than either a lot of his enemies or admirers can see. For instance in the 19 th century when most of Western Civilization was spell bound by the cult of "Progress" which Marx is linked to he saw history as the gradual alienation of humanity from its true essence and praised capitalism primarily as a destroyer which would sweep away everything left over from the primordial community creating total alienation of humans from their essence and therefore leave the field open for the rediscovery of the essential human community of the Ur-Zeit. Anyone who has read also a significant amount of his work knows that he had a biting, sarcastic wit that was anything but "Politically Correct" and that he would have a very difficult time coping with today's "Social Justice Warriors". Another thing about him was that he loved the Irish but noted that when they in his opinion become thoroughly bourgeois they often turn into the most ridiculous, vile creatures imaginable- there is some truth in this, just examine "Young Student"'s posts.
 

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At times Marx can be overly reductionist and determinist, also while he was critiquing Jacobinism there are still a lot of Jacobin vestiges in his writing. That said he was a far more subtle and ambigious thinker most of the time than either a lot of his enemies or admirers can see. For instance in the 19 th century when most of Western Civilization was spell bound by the cult of "Progress" which Marx is linked to he saw history as the gradual alienation of humanity from its true essence and praised capitalism primarily as a destroyer which would sweep away everything left over from the primordial community creating total alienation of humans from their essence and therefore leave the field open for the rediscovery of the essential human community of the Ur-Zeit. Anyone who has read also a significant amount of his work knows that he had a biting, sarcastic wit that was anything but "Politically Correct" and that he would have a very difficult time coping with today's "Social Justice Warriors". Another thing about him was that he loved the Irish but noted that when they in his opinion become thoroughly bourgeois they often turn into the most ridiculous, vile creatures imaginable- there is some truth in this, just examine "Young Student"'s posts.

Very true a chara. The mid 19th century was a time of such incredibly rapid change - and it was forced on people who had experienced very little change for centuries - that it was extremely difficult to make any sense of it at all. I think it was Marx who established the way the Western world sees itself in the world of that change. Even the most hard core Capitalists inevitably see themselves through Marx's lens. Of course that doesn't make them any better people, or make them believe that anything should change - indeed, it may well just help them to make more profits on the backs of the Wretched of the Earth.
 

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Other important things Marx said were that communism was most likely to succeed in highly industrialised countries like Germany.
What Marx regarded as Communism was certainly directed towards highly developed nations where the working class had access to some level of free time and education. Though, in his later years he started learning Russian and began looking to Russia as a place where something interesting could happen.

As 20th Century history worked out, it was the more backward countries that adopted Communism. Here the function of the Communist Party became very different from what Marx imagined it might be. Instead of organising an industrial working class, the Communist parties in Russia, China, Vietnam, Laos, the DPRK and Cuba set about the creation of an industrialized working class. The dynamic here was to leap from a starting position in Feudalism - skipping bourgeois Capitalism altogether - to a form of State Capitalism, which could then give way to Socialist Development. Without a doubt, all these Communist states achieved the leap from Feudalism to State Capitalism. And, in my view, State Capitalism is vastly to be preferred to bourgeois Capitalism. It's very questionable if a genuine level of Socialist Development was ever reached on a grand scale - though, no doubt it was in individual collective farms and factories. Perhaps the DPRK has moved beyond anything that was achieved anywhere else in the creation of a Socialist consciousness. And I would say that this has a lot to do with the DPRK's heightened Nationalist consciousness.
 

SwordOfStCatherine

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I also think the capitalists are creating a reserve pool of labour through outsourcing and automation. I was reading recently that there have been many cases where companies will opt for automation even when it costs more in terms of capital costs simply because they don't want the hassle of dealing with a workforce. And obviously outsourcing gives a near infinite supply of labour in developing countries. Then for services jobs in the West that can't be automated and outsourced they are using open borders.

Other important things Marx said were that communism was most likely to succeed in highly industrialised countries like Germany.
I think this as opposed to anything else was the major error in Marx's thought; however in his correspondance with the Narodniki he did put forward the idea that it might be possible for Russia to skip over full blown Capitalism. Marx wrote a lot and did contradict himself in his writings. Another thing that people miss is that there was Marx the sociologist and Marx the philosopher- I dont think its possible to really get to grips with with reality with ignoring his sociological insights.
 

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2. REIFICATION

This is a very important concept for Marx. Its the tendency people have to express concepts as things, or processes as things. The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus had noticed this effect and said that we can never step in the same river twice. What he meant by this is that a river is really a process rather than a thing. Its the movement of water through a channel towards the sea. It changes every second and can never be the same again. So reification is very common and we all do it. We cannot possibly think of all the changes and processes that go into making a river, so we just think of it as an unchanging thing. We say "the Shannon" as if it were always the same thing.

Marx used this concept to talk about the way people speak about labour and capital as if they were things. Unlike other reifications, such as the river, Marx saw that this was a very harmful thing to do, since to make our labour a thing is to make ourselves a thing. We talk about selling our labour as if we were selling just another thing at the going rate. But we are not selling just another thing. We are selling what makes us human - our human activity, our labour.

The same goes for capital. We talk about it as if it were a thing that is measured in pounds and euros. But capital is not a thing. Its a human relationship. Capital can only come into existence when one person has land and the other person has no land and must sell his labour to the person with land. There is lots of land on Mars, but it is not capital, as no human labour can be put to work on it. Capital then is the human relationship between those who own the land and those who are landless workers. It is not a thing. To describe capital as a thing is to hide the human relationship between exploiter and exploited, as if it didn't exist.

PS. While it is true that land ownership is no longer the most obvious form of capital ownership, in fact land continues to be the main asset class in advanced Capitalist economies - a point made very clear by the 2008 financial crisis.
 
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Tadhg Gaelach

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Another point on reification. Science, by its nature reifies all processes. It does this because it needs to measure. You cannot measure a process, but you can measure a thing. For example, we have no idea what energy actually is. If you look at any dictionary, you will not find a definition that tells you what energy actually is, but only what it does. Science calls it a thing, and uses the metaphor of water to describe it. So we say that energy flows, or that energy builds up, or is absorbed. And we measure energy like we measure the flow of water. The same is true of Force. We have no idea what force actually is, but we call it a thing, and we measure it like we measure water. So science really has nothing to say on the quality of anything, you cannot measure quality. Science only talks in terms of quantity.

Stephen Jay Gould, the famous evolutionist, has written on how science measures human intelligence as if it was a thing, when, in reality it is a moving process. He shows how IQ tests are used to oppress the children of poor families and give privilege to the children of the rich and middle classes - based on the lie that rich children seem to be more intelligent and deserve more attention and resources. He points out how the IQ tests are set up to really measure how middle class the children are - not how intelligent they are.


The same is true of economics, which considers itself a science. Economics is not interested in quality, but only in quantity. But this is bad news for human beings, because we instinctively understand our lives in terms of quality. We appreciate the quality of a beautiful singing voice. But science can only measure that voice as a quantity, not a quality. In terms of its pitch, for example, or, in economic terms, how much money people will pay to hear it. The actual quality of the voice is of no interest to science, and science can say nothing about it.

We, as real human beings, value relationships in terms of their quality. Is it a good relationship or a bad one, or and exploitative relationship or a nurturing relationship. But science has nothing to say on such qualities. It can only measure relationships in terms that can be expressed as numerical quantities, i.e. as numbers. In that sense, the relationship between the worker and the capitalist is not expressed by science as a moral relationship, a relationship of which questions of right or wrong can be asked, but science will only measure that relationship in terms of money, i.e. in terms of numbers. So if a piece of land in one place is worth 20,000 euros and a piece of land, of the same size, in another place is worth 40,000 euros, science is measuring the relationship between landless workers and landed capitalists only in numerical terms, i.e. what science is expressing is that the productivity of the landless workers in the second place is about twice what it is in the first place, and that a capitalist will make twice as much money off the workers in the second place than the second. (Probably due to better technology being used in the second place. The productivity, i.e. the value produced by each worker per hour, of the workers in Intel in Kildare is obviously much greater than the productivity of rural workers in Leitrim, so land is much more expensive in Kildare.) But, of course, science is not making any direct admission that it is measuring a relationship, but only that it is measuring the value of pieces of land.

In this way, capital is being treated by science \ economics as if it were a thing, not a relationship, and this thing then seems to take on a life of its own.
 
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