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Understand Marxism

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Understand Marxism

Post by Hush on Mon May 18, 2009 10:15 pm

The tradition of Marxist thought has provided the most powerful critique of capitalist institutions and ethics ever conducted. Its founder, Karl Heinrich Marx (1818–1883), was a German political, economic, and philosophical theorist and revolutionist. The influence of Marx’s ideas on modern world history has been vast. Until the collapse in 1991 of the communist systems of the USSR and Eastern Europe, one-third of the world’s population had been living under political administrations claiming descent from Marx’s ideas. His impact on the world of thought has been equally extensive, embracing sociology, philosophy, economics, and cultural theory. Marxism has also generated a rich tradition of literary and cultural criticism. Many branches of modern criticism – including historicism, feminism, deconstruction, postcolonial and cultural criticism – are indebted to the insights of Marxism, which often originated in the philosophy of Hegel. What distinguishes Marxism is that it is not only a political, economic, and social theory but also a form of practice in all of these domains.

Marx’s thought can be approached in terms of philosophical, economic, and political
strata. As a philosopher, Marx’s development has its roots in his early life. Born into a
Jewish family where his father had imbibed Enlightenment rationalist principles, Marx
was exposed to the ideas of Voltaire, Lessing, and Racine. He studied law at the University of Bonn and then Berlin. But much of his time was spent in literary composition and for a while he was enamored of the Romanticism then in vogue. While these influences were never fully to recede, they were superseded by Marx’s seminal encounter with the work of G. W. F. Hegel, whose dialectic shaped the form of Marx’s earlier, and arguably his later, thought. Also vital was Marx’s encounter with Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), whose importance lies in his collaboration with Marx to produce a critique of capitalist society based on a materialistic conception of history. Engels attempted to formulate a “scientific” basis for socialism, to explore the connections between dialectics and natural science, to analyze working-class conditions as well as the development of the family and state. In The Conditions of the Working Class in England (1845), Engels argued that the degraded conditions of the English proletariat, generated by their industrial exploitation, would eventually mold it into a revolutionary political force. It was largely Engels who was responsible for the initial dissemination, clarification, and popularization of Marxist ideas.
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Re: Understand Marxism

Post by Hush on Mon May 18, 2009 10:23 pm

Fundamental Principles of Marx’s Thought

(1) Critique of Capitalist Society

Marx attempted systematically to seek the structural causes behind what he saw as a system of capitalist exploitation and degradation, and to offer solutions in the spheres of economics and politics. As with all socialists, Marx’s main objection to capitalism was that one particular class owned the means of economic production: “The bourgeoisie . . . has centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”
The correlative of this is the oppression and exploitation of the working classes: “In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed; a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital.
These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity.” Marx’s third
objection is the imperialistic nature of the bourgeois enterprise: in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism must spread its tentacles all over the world: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production . . . The need of a constantly expanding market . . . chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe.” Marx tells us in the next few paragraphs that the bourgeoisie must necessarily give a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country; that raw material is drawn from the remotest zones; that demand for new products ever increases; that the bourgeoisie “compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production.” In short, the bourgeoisie “creates a world after its own image.” Finally, capitalism reduces all human relationships to a “cash” nexus, selfinterest, and egotistical calculation.1

(2) Adaptation of the Hegelian Dialectic

The dialectic is often characterized as a triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. It
would be more accurate to say that, in Hegel’s hands, the dialectic had both logical
and historical dimensions. Logically, it was a way of thinking about any object or
circumstance in a series of increasingly complex and comprehensive stages. Each stage supersedes the previous stage but retains what was essential in that previous stage. In the first stage an object was apprehended as a simple datum, as simply a given fact about the world; the second stage adopted a broadened perspective which saw the object as “externalized,” as having no independent identity but constituted by its relations with other objects. The third stage, from a still wider standpoint, viewed the object as a “mediated” unity, its true identity now perceived as a principle of unity between universal and particular, between essence and appearance. In this way, for example, “plant” could be viewed as the unifying principle of its own developing stages, bud, blossom, and fruit. Previous philosophers had offered one-sided accounts of the world, according to their particular biases. Descartes emphasized reason; Locke and Hume emphasized experience; Hobbes emphasized matter. Hegel saw all of these various systems in historical perspective, as one continuous system of philosophy which was always progressing through new visions while retaining what was important in previous ways of understanding the world.
Hegel also sees the dialectic as operating through history. He regards societies, from
the Oriental world through the Greek and Roman to the modern German world,
developing through successive stages of the dialectic: the underlying principles of one
society eventually give way to a new society based on different principles but which
incorporate whatever was valuable in the previous principles. On a political plane,
society’s laws become more and more rational while the individual’s correlative rational
growth enables him to see in the law an expression of his own free will. Hegel thus calls history a movement toward freedom, which is also a movement of absolute spirit
toward self-realization. Perhaps the most important feature of dialectical thought is its
insistence that whatever we examine, we place in a historical context, viewing it as a
product of certain historical relations and tendencies.

The importance of the dialectic for Marx stems from his awareness that the “freedom”
Hegel speaks of is the freedom of the bourgeois class to bring down the economic and political edifice of feudalism and absolutism whose social hierarchy rested on irrational theology and superstition: society could now be organized on rational principles, a freer market economy, and a human subject who saw his individual interests enshrined in the general law. Hence the dialectic provided a powerful political tool, one which could negate a given state of affairs. It also furnished Marx with a model of history not only as driven by political and ideological conflict but also where earlier phases were “sublated,” both preserved and transcended, in their negation by subsequent phases.

For a while Marx associated with the “Young Hegelians” who attempted to exploit the
negative power of the dialectic in political analysis. But Marx’s reading of French
socialists such as Proudhon, his concern with immediate political issues, his exposure
to Ludwig Feuerbach’s materialism, and his encounter with Friedrich Engels’ analyses
of capitalism impelled him to insist that the dialectic of history was motivated by
material forces.

In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Marx praises Hegel’s dialectic
inasmuch as it grasps the importance of labor, through which man creates himself,
but he views the dialectic in Hegel’s hands as abstract because it is a “divine process,”
first negating religion and then restoring it. Marx cites Hegel’s standpoint as “that of
modern political economy,” by which he means the bourgeois economists Smith,
Say, and Ricardo. In religious and economic spheres Marx advocates two kinds of
humanism: “atheism, being the supersession of God, is the advent of theoretical
humanism, and communism, as the supersession of private property, is . . . the advent of practical humanism. Hence for Marx the third stage of the dialectic is practical, not something which can be resolved in theory.2 Marx’s striking equation of religion and private property as expressions of alienation had been hinted at in an earlier article on Hegel. Here, Marx regarded religion as having an ideologically apologetic function, whereby it situated present miseries as part of a larger, justifying and consolatory, providential pattern: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world . . . It is the opium of the people.”3

1- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1952; rpt. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), pp. 11–16. Hereafter cited as MCP.

2 Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (1959; rpt. Moscow and London: Progress Publishers/Lawrence and Wishart, 1981), pp. 127–143.

3 Marx and Engels, On Religion (1957; rpt. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 39.
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Re: Understand Marxism

Post by Hush on Mon May 18, 2009 10:31 pm

(3) The Materialistic Conception of History

The Dialectical Movement of History

In The German Ideology (1846), Marx develops his critique of Hegel’s dialectic into what he calls the materialistic conception of history. Hegel’s dialectic furnished Marx with a model of history which he of course adapted. Like Hegel, he viewed the world, human beings, and history as a product of human labor. But whereas Hegel saw the dialectical movement of history as driven by an absolute spirit or God, Marx insisted that the dialectic of history was motivated by material forces, by upheavals in the forces and relations of economic production. In particular, he viewed history as driven by class struggle. As he declaims in The Communist Manifesto (1848): “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (MCP, 40). Marx alludes to the history of class conflict from the ancient world to his own times: between slaves and freemen, patricians and plebeians, lords and serfs. The major class conflict in modern times is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat or industrial working class. And, just as the capitalist mode of production superseded the feudal mode, so the capitalist mode will give way to socialism. It is the bourgeoisie itself which creates the instrument of its own destruction: the proletariat, on the one hand, who will unite against it; and, on the other hand, increasingly destructive economic crises which are internal to the operations of capitalism.

Finally, Marx opposed previous philosophical systems inasmuch as they were idealistic; he insisted that the dialectic in history involved a necessary combination of theory and practice, that a given economic and political system cannot be abolished by mere thought but by a revolution. His most famous statement in this respect was: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (MCP, 95). As will be seen below, Marx thought that the system of bourgeois dominance and capitalist exploitation would end when conditions for the great mass of people had sufficiently deteriorated.

Economic Base and Superstructure


The main premise of the materialist conception of history is that man’s first historical act is the production of means to satisfy his material needs. The production of life, through both labor and procreation, is both natural and social: a given mode of production is combined with a given stage of social cooperation. Only after passing through these historical moments, says Marx, can we speak of men possessing “consciousness,” which is itself a “social product.” Hence the realms of ideology, politics, law, morality, religion, and art are not independent but are an efflux of a people’s material behavior: “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (GI, 47–51).

(4) The Division of Labor

This model of superstructure and economic base furnishes the form of Marx’s analyses of state, class, and ideology in terms of the history of the division of labor. Marx tracesvarious stages of this history, affirming that they are effectively different forms of ownership. In general terms, Marx argues that division of labor is an index of the extent to which production has been developed. It leads to separation of industrial and commercial from agricultural labor, hence a conflict of interests between town and country. It then effects a separation of individual and community interests (GI, 43– 46). Moreover, the division of labor which first manifested itself in the sexual act appears eventually in its true shape as a division of material and mental labor; this is the point at which “pure” theory becomes possible.

Marx cites three crucial consequences of the social division of labor: firstly, the unequal distribution of labor and its products, and hence private property. The second consequence is the state. The division of labor implying a contradiction between individual or family and communal interest, the latter assumes an independent form as the state, as an “illusory communal life” divorced from the real interests of both individual and community. It is based especially on classes, one of which dominates the others. It follows, says Marx, that all struggles within the state are disguised versions of the struggle between classes. The third consequence of division of labor is what Marx calls “estrangement” or “alienation” of social activity. Not only does division of labor force upon each person a particular sphere of activity whereby his “own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him,” but the social power or “multiplied productive force” as determined by the division of labor appears to individuals, because their mutual cooperation is forced, as “an alien force existing outside them” which develops independently of their will. “How otherwise,” asks Marx, “does it happen that trade . . . rules the whole world through the relation of supply and demand?” (GI, 54–55).

(5) Marx’s Conception of Ideology

Marx observes that the class which is struggling for mastery must gain political power in order to represent its interest as the general interest (GI, 52–53). This is the germ of Marx’s concept of ideology. He states that the class which is the ruling material force in society is also the ruling intellectual force. Having at its disposal the means of production, it is empowered to disseminate its ideas in the realms of law, morality, religion, and art, as possessing universal verity. Thus, dominant ideas of the aristocracy such as honor and loyalty were replaced after bourgeois ascendancy by ideas of freedom and equality, whose infrastructure is class economic imperatives (GI, 64–65). Marx’s notion of ideology is this: the ruling class represents its own interests as the interests of the people as a whole. The modern state, as Marx says, “is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (MCP, 45–47).


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Re: Understand Marxism

Post by Hush on Mon May 18, 2009 10:41 pm

(6) Marx’s Economic Views

Marx’s economic views, which can receive only cursory treatment here, were worked out largely in the Grundrisse, a huge manuscript unpublished in his lifetime, and expressed in Volume I of Capital (1867). They derive in one sense from his inversion
of Hegel’s dialectic, expressed by Marx in his famous statement that with Hegel the dialectic “is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you woulddiscover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”4 Implied in this inversion is the insistence that labor was the foundation of economic life. The bourgeois economists Smith and Ricardo had expressed the labor theory of value, whereby an object’s value was measured by the amount of labor it incarnated. Developing their distinction between use-value and exchange-value, Marx arrived at his notion of
surplus value, whereby labor power as embodied in production is incompletely compensated: the worker might be paid for value of the products generated by only four hours’ work, whereas he was actually working for eight hours.

Marx saw this form of economic exploitation as underlying the ultimate downfall of capitalism: the first volume of Capital describes the “greed” on the part of the capitalists for surplus labor, and their attempts to intensify labor and profit through both technology and control of resources through imperial expansion, as well
as increasingly to centralize capital in the hands of fewer and fewer owners. In an apocalyptic passage, he states: “along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital . . . grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery,
degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself . . . The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” Significantly, Marx sees
this as part of a dialectical process moving from feudalism through capitalism to communism, whose essential feature is common ownership of land and the means of production: “capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation” (Capital, 715). Hence the capitalist world represents the second phase of the dialectic, negating feudalism. Communism is the “negation of the negation” whereby the contradiction between private property and
socialized production is resolved by the establishment of socialized property. Equally, the contradictions within the self, hitherto alienated from its own labor, as well as
those between individual and communal interests, are abolished.

In his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx had expressed this economic dialectic by saying that it was when “the material productive forces of society” came into conflict with “the existing relations of production” that
historical upheavals resulted.5 In The German Ideology Marx suggests that the estrangement which governs the second phase of the dialectic, the phase of bourgeois domination, can be abolished by revolution given two practical premises: it must have rendered most men propertyless and also have produced, in contrast, an existing world of wealth and culture (GI, 56). But he also emphasizes the universality or world-historical nature of this conflict: such revolution presupposes not only highly developed productive capacities but that individuals have become enslaved under a power alien to them: the world market. Marx accepted that the struggle between classes might begin in specific nations but must inevitably be conducted as an international struggle given that the bourgeois mode of production dictated constant expansion of markets and the coercion of all nations, “on pain of extinction,” into the bourgeois economic mold (MCP, 47).

In the year after Marx’s death in 1883 Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, a text widely regarded as the pivotal Marxist document forfeminist theory since it alone, among the works of Marx and Engels, offers a
comprehensive attempt to explain the origins of patriarchy. Drawing on Lewis H.
Morgan’s book Ancient Society (1877), Engels traced the rise of patriarchy through increasingly sophisticated economic and social configurations, from primitive communal systems to a class society based on private property. Following Morgan’s schematization, Engels cited three main forms of marriage: “for the period of savagery, group marriage; for barbarism, pairing marriage; for civilization, monogamy
supplemented by adultery and prostitution.”6 With the tribe, descent and inheritance were through the female line. But as wealth increased, the man acquired a more important status in the family than the woman and this “mother right” was eventually overthrown in what Engels sees as a momentous revolution in prehistory: “The overthrow of mother right was the world historical defeat of the female sex” (OF, 87).
Engels says that, with the predominance of private property over common property, father right and monogamy thereby gaining ascendancy, marriage becomes increasingly dependent on economic considerations. Because of the economic dependence of the woman on the man in bourgeois society, in the modern family the husband “is the bourgeois, and the wife represents the proletariat” (OF, 105). Engels suggests that the first premise for the emancipation of women is the reintroduction of the entire female sex into public industry and that when the means of production become common property, the individual family will cease to be the economic unit of society. Hence the economic foundations of monogamy as it presently exists will vanish, along with the institutions of the state which preserved them.
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Re: Understand Marxism

Post by Hush on Mon May 18, 2009 10:47 pm

Summary

The materialistic conception of history is characterized by a number of features:

(1) it is the activity and conditions of material production, not mere ideas, which determine the structure of society and the nature of individuals; law, art, religion, and morality are an efflux of these material relations;

(2) the evolution of division of labor issues in the concentration of private property, a conflict between individual and communal interests (the latter assuming the status of an independent power as the state), and estrangement or alienation of social activity;

(3) all struggles within the state are euphemisms for the real struggle between classes; it is this struggle which generates
social change;

(4) once technologically assisted capitalist accumulation, concentration, and world expansion have led to a world of sharply contrasting wealth and poverty, and working classes become conscious of their historical role, capitalism itself will yield to a communism which will do away with private property and base itself on human need rather than the greed of a minority for increasing profit;

(5) the exploitation of women, an intrinsic feature of capitalist economics, will also be abolished along with private property and the family as an economic unit.

Is Marxism dead? Can we, finally, consign it to historical and political obsolescence? In addressing these questions, we need to recognize that the connection between Marx’s canon and Marxism has always been dialectical: the latter has always striven to modify,
extend, and adapt the former to changing circumstances rather than treating it as definitive and complete. Marxism is not somehow a finished and static system but has been continually modified according to changing historical circumstances. We should also perhaps bear in mind that most of what has passed for “communism” has had but remote connections with the doctrines of Marx, Engels, or their followers.

Marx’s critique of capitalism, it should be recalled, was dialectical. He regarded capitalist society as an unprecedented historical advance from centuries of benighted and superstitious feudalism. The bourgeois emphasis on reason, practicality, its technological
enterprise in mastering the world, its ideals of rational law and justice, individual freedom and democracy were all hailed by Marx as historical progress. His point was not that communism would somehow displace capitalism in its entirety but that it would grow out of capitalism and retain its ideals of freedom and democracy. The essential difference is that a communist society would realize these ideals. For example, Marx shrewdly points out that the “individual” in capitalist society is effectively the bourgeois owner of property; individual freedom is merely economic freedom, the
freedom to buy and sell. The constitution and the laws are entirely weighted in favor of large business interests and owners of property. Private property, Marx points out, is already abolished for the nine-tenths of the population in capitalist society who do not possess it. The labor of this vast majority, being commodified, is as subject to the vicissitudes of the market as any other commodity.

One of the main sins of capitalism, according to Marx, was that it reduced all human relations to commercial relations. Even the family cannot escape such commodification: Marx states that, to the bourgeois man, the wife is reduced to a mere instrument of production. Moreover, once the exploitation of the laborer by the
manufacturer has finished, then he is set upon, says Marx, by the other segments of the bourgeoisie: the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker. In bourgeois society “capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality” (MCP, 51, 53, 65–70). The aim of a communist society is to procure genuine freedom, genuine individuality and humanity, genuine democracy.

As an internal critique of the tendencies of capitalism and its crises, Marxism is uniquely coherent and incisive. The influence of Marxism has been fundamental in challenging the claims of the law to be eternal, of the bourgeoisie to represent the interests of the entire nation, of individuality and freedom to be universal. It has also been important in the analysis of women’s oppression as an economic factor structurally integral to capitalism. And its insights into language as a social practice with a material dimension, its awareness that truth is an interpretation based on certain kinds of consensus, its view of the world as created through human physical, intellectual, and ideological labor, its acknowledgment of the dialectical nature of all thinking, and its insistence that analysis of all phenomena must be informed by historical context were articulated long before such ideas made their way into modern literary theory.
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Re: Understand Marxism

Post by Hush on Mon May 18, 2009 11:01 pm

The source: M. A. R. Habib, A History of Literary Criticism : From Plato to the Present, BLACKWELL PUBLISHING, 2005
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Re: Understand Marxism

Post by imy on Tue May 19, 2009 6:42 pm

thanks a lot hash for your help

mo3alim1
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