- Jan 14, 2016
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.