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Friday, June 01, 2018

Karl Marx still fascinates both philosophers and revolutionaries after 200 years

By សតិវអតុ
It is the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx, the engineer of communism, along with co-writer, Friedrich Engels. Max and Engels forged a theory that is both a blueprint for socialist and communist revolution, and an accurate method of analyzing human history. I have found lots of magazine and blog articles on the left providing good coverage of this occasion.

From John Bellamy Foster, in Monthly Review: 

"Two hundred years after Karl Marx’s birth, the influence of his critique of capital is now as great as ever, in the context of what has been called the “Marx revival.” For those who believed that Marxism had simply died out with the fall of the Berlin Wall, a casualty of what Francis Fukuyama pronounced “the end of history,” this is no doubt a startling development.
In 1942, during what he dubbed the “Marxian revival” of his own day, the great conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote that
Most of the creations of the intellect or fancy pass away for good after a time that varies between an after-dinner hour and a generation. Some, however, do not. They suffer eclipses but they come back again, and they come back not as unrecognizable elements of a cultural inheritance, but in their individual garb and with their personal scars which people may see and touch. These we may well call the great ones—it is no disadvantage of this definition that it links greatness to vitality. Taken in this sense, this is undoubtedly the word to apply to the message of Marx.

I will argue that the “greatness” and “vitality” of Marxian social science that Schumpeter notes derives primarily from its inner logic as a form of open-ended scientific inquiry. Against attempts in the dominant ideology to characterize Marx as a rigid, dogmatic, deterministic, and closed thinker, it is precisely the open-endedness of his “ruthless criticism of all that exists”—an open-endedness inherently denied to liberal theory itself—that accounts for historical materialism’s staying power. This openness can be seen in the Marxism’s ability constantly to reinvent itself by expanding its empirical as well as theoretical content, so as to embrace ever larger aspects of historical reality in an increasingly interconnected world."

We also have a good article in Red de Blogs Comunistas (RBC), a blogging group I belong to:

200 years of the father of communism, Karl Marx

"Gray is the theory, friend, but green and leafy is the tree of life ." It is a phrase of Goethe that Karl Marx used to quote and that expresses well the method of thought that characterizes him, based, mainly, on the practical analysis of reality, with the essential objective of transforming it.

Marx, which marks 200 years of his birth, opened the way, laying the foundations of  the theoretical building that, later, the practice of class struggle and against all exploitation would develop in the inevitable path of humanity towards Socialism:

" The history of all the societies that have existed to this day " - says Marx in the Communist Manifesto (except the history of the primitive community regime, adds Engels later) - "... is the history of class struggles "

Marx taught the proletarians, and even the bourgeois themselves, that the transformation of capitalist society into a socialist society is inevitable: "The socialization of work, which is progressing faster and faster in thousands of ways, and which during the half century since the death of Marx is manifested in a very palpable way in the increase of the great production, of the cartels, the unions and the capitalist trusts, and in the gigantic growth of the volume and power of financial capital, is the most important material basis of the inevitable advent of socialism. The intellectual and moral engine of this transformation, its physical agent, is the proletariat, educated by capitalism itself. Its struggle against the bourgeoisie, which manifests itself in the most diverse forms, and increasingly rich in content, inevitably becomes a political struggle for the conquest of its own political power (the "dictatorship of the proletariat")", as Lenin explains in his article about the father, together with his comrade Engels, about communism."

And any time a person on the left has an important commemorative date, the right-wing, or US mainstream has to print the kind of garbage we got from James Bovard, of USA Today:

"Saturday marks 200 years since the birth of Karl Marx, and tributes are arising out around the globe. In a New York Times tribute headlined, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” philosophy professor Jason Barker declared that “educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement (with) Marx’s basic thesis” on the flaws of capitalism. But this is true only if “educated liberal opinion” simply does not care about tyranny.
But Marxism in practice didn’t work out so well. Communist regimes produced the greatest ideological carnage in human history, killing more than a hundred million people in the last century. While some apologists claim it is unfair to Marx to blame him, the seeds of tyranny were there from the start."
We on the left have learned to expect this kind of cold war hype that looks only at some unproven statistics to try and discredit Marx and his accomplishments. Marx can't be held responsible for what happens after he died. And the US revolution killed just as many people as any communist state has. Such claims are not only ridiculous but they are also simplistic. They over look the analysis Marx did, his theories of value, of dialectics, his theories of history, all of which had a lot less to do with the running's of modern states such as the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Marx goes way beyond a simple structure. And that structure is all the cold warriors care to look at. They also like to pain him as a tyrant.
This is a good time to look at the important past philosophers and revolutionaries who have influenced Marx and his ideas. He wrote his first published piece on the difference between Democritus and Epicurus, called The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature:

"As such an example I select the relationship between the Epicurean and the Democritean philosophy of nature. I do not believe that it is the most convenient point of contact. Indeed, on the one hand it is an old and entrenched prejudice to identify Democritean and Epicurean physics, so that Epicurus' modifications are seen as only arbitrary vagaries."


"Philosophy, as long as a drop of blood shall pulse in its world-subduing and absolutely free heart, will never grow tired of answering its adversaries with the cry of Epicurus: Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them, is truly impious. Philosophy makes no secret of it."

He liked Prometheus because of his lack of faith in religion:

"The confession of Prometheus: In simple words, I hate the pack of gods [Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound] is its own confession, its own aphorism against all heavenly and earthly gods who do not acknowledge human self-consciousness as the highest divinity. It will have none other beside. But to those poor March hares who rejoice over the apparently worsened civil position of philosophy, it responds again, as Prometheus replied to the servant of the gods, Hermes: Be sure of this, I would not change my state Of evil fortune for your servitude. Better to be the servant of this rock Than to be faithful boy to Father Zeus."

One of Marx's main influence was G.W.F. Hegel, an advocate of a “rational liberal state. Although he was not a leftist, his methods of logic were what Marx liked.
He also appreciated Giordano Bruno, Dominican friar, philosopher and cosmological theorist. He is known for his cosmological theories, which conceptually extended the then- Copernican model. He proposed that the stars were just distant suns surrounded by their own exoplanets and raised the possibility that these planets could even foster life of their own. He was burned at the stake for supporting Copernicus, in 1600.

“It appears that in Giordano Bruno, for example, there are many examples of such a new conception; Marx and Engels knew about Bruno. They knew about him and there remain traces of Bruno’s works in their notes. Conversely, Bruno was not without influence on classical German philosophy, etc.”[1]

His co-writer Engels wrote about Thomas Müntzer. He was a German preacher and radical theologian who helped lead the peasants during Germany's peasant uprisings of 1525. Engels was impressed by Müntzer's radical ideas for that time period.[2]
Marx was influenced by a lot of radical people who were ahead of their times. Likewise, Marx has influenced many future writers and leaders, Mao Zedong, VI Lenin and Antonio Gramsci just to name a few.
So it is a fine thing that Marx is being honored by so many for the groundbreaking work that he did.

[1] Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince & other writings, (International Publishers) 2000, pp. 109-110.
[2] Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, (International Publishers, New York), 2000, pp 9,10.

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