Introduction to Introduction to Marx

It’s a beautiful day and I have the day off from work! Hurrah! I have already gone for a long walk and enjoyed the sunshine, so now it’s time to tell you about the book I’ve been reading.

I started on “Marx for Beginners.” It’s a graphic (comic book) style book, which is nice. The author spends a long time at the beginning talking about the philosophers who came before Marx and who set the stage for his theories. In fact, it appears that about half the book is about the history of philosophy. The author obviously believes that Marx can only be understood by situating him in a historical context and by explaining how the field of philosophy developed into Marx’s dialectical materialism. (I still have zero comprehension of what this term means.)

So I have been reading about the history of philosophy. I’ll share with you some of the interesting things I’ve learned so far.

The author, Rius, says that all revolutions have a Marxist origin, (Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Vietnam, Korea, etc) and that Marx is indirectly responsible for such things as social security, pensions, paid holidays, unions, and scholarships. (I am enjoying a paid holiday right now. Thank you Marx!) Rius calls the publication of the Communist Manifesto one of the most important events in human history.

Marx worked as a writer but barely earned any money and mostly lived in poverty. Some of his children died in childhood. The entire focus of his life was writing about philosophy and politics. He spent the last 25 years of his life writing Das Kapital and died at his desk at age 65.

When humans first started trying to explain natural phenomena, they invented gods and magic. Some people started “using all kinds of cheap tricks” to “pass themselves off as special delegates of the gods with fantastic powers” (p38) and those people were magicians and sorcerers. “This is the way gradually an ‘upper class’ was formed, or a ruling class and a lower, or ruled class, those who let themselves be exploited and those who led fools by the nose.” (p38)

That really got me thinking. Is that how class society really formed, from people claiming to be delegates of gods and fooling others into believing it, which led to them gaining power over others? I feel like this is probably hundreds of years of history condensed into a single sentence, but this is an interesting concept. If I had more time on my hands, maybe I’d research this, but honestly this book is all the information I need at the moment.

Even modern capitalism is the same sort of deal as this. Some people come up with an idea that they can use to earn a profit, and they put it into motion, and they earn a profit through a combination of taking natural resources from the Earth and claiming ownership over them, turning them into a “product” that sells for more than the price of production, (using other people’s labor), and using advertising to convince people they should purchase the product. Just like the magicians and sorcerers from long ago, they come up with an idea that will bring them some sort of gain and implement it, and even if it is unkind toward others they feel justified in doing so. Simply being clever enough to come up with the plan and implement it is enough to justify it. If others didn’t have the idea, too bad for them.

This is where I see the conflict is between left and right. The right feels that it is acceptable and natural that those who can profit from the exploitation of the earth and other people should do so. They feel that everyone should have the freedom to do this, and if some people don’t come up with a business idea that makes millions, that’s their problem, their poverty is their own fault and it’s not up to the rich to share anything. The left feels that the land and its resources belong equally to all of us, and no matter what idea anyone has, the fruits of human labor should be shared among us and we should produce for the greater good of the community rather than for some people’s personal gain.

I don’t think this conflict is a matter of someone being right or wrong in the sense that someone’s argument can be considered logically “correct.” It’s a matter of values. Some people value personal accomplishment and personal gain and some people value equality and sharing. I often get the impression that values are a personality trait—I think we’re born with them. I had no idea if I was “right” or “left” until I was old enough to vote, and that was the first time I even started thinking about politics. As soon as I found out what they meant I knew I was on the left. Obviously what’s important is solidifying social programs and eliminating poverty. What human endeavor could be more important than that?

Okay, another thing from the book I found interesting. There has always been a dichotomy in philosophy between “religion” and “science” or in other words “idealist” and “materialist.” As Rius explains, “idealism starts by assuming the existence of super-natural and divine forces.” and “materialism considers that there is nothing beyond natural things.” (p67).

For example, as author Rius explains, Plato believed that “True knowledge of things comes neither through perception nor reason, or that is, man cannot know truth by means of science but only through “inspiration” arriving from beyond. Man cannot know things on his own, but only by the ideas God gives him of things.” (p48)

Whereas Democritus, for example, explained reality like this: “Cosmic substance is made up of an infinite number of elements or particles physically invisible, indestructible and infinite, which vary in size and shape, and are in eternal motion.” (p49)

When you think of reality as physical objects and reject spiritual inspiration as a source of truth, that eliminates the divine right of kings. That, of course, shook up the world quite a bit.

I have just now gotten to the part of the book where it’s going to be all about Marx rather than the history of philosophy. I’ve learned that understanding Marx’s work is a lifelong process. I believe you could continue to get deeper into understanding it forever. Those lefty dudes who like to yell at each other on the Internet probably don’t understand this stuff as well as they think they do.

Now that I’ve digested this portion of the book, I’m closer to being able to articulate why transgenderism is not aligned with the left, even though people keep saying it is.

The right is aligned with the old idea of “divine right of kings.” The right still believe that those with money and power, however unethically they may have gotten it, have the right to rule over/exploit others. They believe in individual freedom and rights and don’t believe in the welfare state. The right is also traditionally religious—basing their view of reality on faith and the teachings of “God.”

The left is more aligned with atheism and materialism. The left believes in human rights and the greater good. We are against the ability of the rich and powerful to exploit the less powerful. We don’t think morals should come from religion.

Transgenderism is a belief system that takes the position that one’s inner identity is more real than the physical body. This philosophical position is aligned with the religious view that we get our knowledge of things from an inspiration from beyond, rather than from the material world. Transgender politics also promotes an individual’s right to do what is best for them, other people be damned. That’s why a single man who wants to identify as a woman can make a washroom gender-neutral, and too bad for all the women who wanted that washroom—they can just deal.

I don’t believe that a person’s inner identity replaces the physical aspects of their body, because I believe we get our knowledge of reality from our senses and from study of the physical world.

When I was debating a few trans people last year I very much felt like I was debating the nature of reality. We, in fact, were. We were engaging in a thousands-of-years-old debate about where human knowledge comes from—mystical inspiration or the study of the physical world.

I remain convinced that human knowledge comes from our five senses and from study of the physical world. There is no God, and I don’t “believe in” anything I can’t see with my own eyes. Any atheist should feel the same way. To be an atheist and to believe in the politics of transgenderism is a contradiction. What I’ve demonstrated above is that transgenderism is much more aligned with the right than the left, from a philosophical standpoint. When people call transgenderism “the far left” it sounds like nails scraping on a chalkboard to me.

So next I will be reading more about Marx himself, now that I’ve had a 60-page comic-book-style summary of thousands of years of philosophy. I’m looking forward to it!

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16 thoughts on “Introduction to Introduction to Marx

  1. So far I’ve resisted bothering with Marx and the like because he is a man and I would want a new system built by women. I have also heard that these communist theorists have been criticised for being sexist, but as I said, I haven’t read their work.

    Should I give it a go?

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    • I totally know what you mean about male Marxists. I often find them intolerable. I think it’s good to separate the theory from the individuals who identify with the theory though. For the same reason that I don’t abandon radical feminist theory even though there’s a few individual women in the movement who behave in disappointing ways. The theory is worth engaging with, even if it’s just to sharpen the mind. I know there are books written by female Marxists from a female perspective. I haven’t read any yet.

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  2. The origin and significance of hierarchy is a critical question. I would argue that humans naturally exist in tribal groups, where place in hierarchy is determined by expertise and ability, and mutually agreed upon by all members of the tribal group. Thus power becomes supportive instead of abusive. Enforced hierarchies seem to me a corruption of this.

    I agree that everything has to come down to material reality. This, too, is a critical point.

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  3. His theories are interesting but in actual life experience, in Britain, I’ve found Right Wing people are much more often non religious and non spiritual than religious or spiritual, while left-wing or more communal minded people are as often spiritual or religious as not. Both sides seem the same in extremis, in having an authoritarian attitude to society where they believe the government should make life decisions for people, who should be “obedient citizens”. I get that in the US it is very different in that the Right and Christian religion usually go together and there is this focus on the idea of freedom. I would say here in Britain there’s more of a middle ground and most definitely a difference in outlook between, say, socialists and liberals, the latter belonging much more to the middle ground, where I would place myself.

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  4. All this works in a patriarchal framework. Take that out of the question entirely and see how it holds up. Miep has the right of it. Once a hierarchy becomes enforced it is fundamentally oppressive, no matter how the deck chairs are arranged, what they’re called, and who’s sitting on them.

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  5. If you want to understand the basic ideas of Karl Marx, I recommend you the book “The Fundamental Principles of Philosophy” by French authors Guy Besse and Maurice Caveing. It is a long book though the book is a summary of Marxism-Leninism. Besides, I must point out that it is a very old book and its author’s name was published as another French author Georges Politzer in Turkish, but I am not sure whether you can find its translation from French to English at bookstores in the West or not. On my blog, I published an article that was shared about it the first time two or three years ago on Facebook by me. If you want to read it, the web link of the article on my blog is this:
    mertesin.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/a-little-knowledge-for-beginners-to-dialectical-and-historical-materialism-by-mert-esin/

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  6. The class manipulation came about once agriculture allowed people to settle down and land ownership became important. We see this back in Babylonia, where in the beginning women had full rights, the goddesses and high priestesses were female, etc. Then men began to go to war over land and resources, and physical and military strength took over. Whoever had the most resources and the greatest ability to kill others ruled – there was no trickery about it until their kingdoms became so large they had to manipulate people through fear, and suddenly a lot of scary warlike gods appeared. From there the patriarchy was born, and we’ve been living with it ever since. The weapons just got bigger and the religious control more complex and subtle.

    I have to agree with others however that spiritual belief does not equal conservatism. The number of atheists in the US is small compared to the number of liberals who lean towards socialist ideals. The problem of “you gotta work for your money like I did” is much more complicated than divine right, and much more about pure greed and corruption amid the top 1%. As far as trans identity goes, I’ve found much more spiritual belief among lesbians and reidentified women, though it’s the kind of open-minded religion of wholeness that I think a lot of liberals ascribe to in one way or another. The trans cult and postmodern society in general is a cult of the self before all others and barren of any source of true connectedness. Identity is everything but not through a belief in “divine right” – rather just because our society nurtured the words “because I say so.” They may be sourced from patriarchal religions but have grown well beyond them.

    It’s all so much more about do you believe in your existence as an individual first and foremost or do you believe you are part of a common community of human beings. Marx was of the common community belief, and therefore wanted to breakdown any mechanism allowing one group of people power over others. It is good in theory but humans are such greedy creatures…

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  7. I’m guessing you were reading this (by Rius)? https://ia800204.us.archive.org/1/items/MarxForBeginners-English/marx_for_beginners.pdf

    I haven’t read it through fully (just tried working out what you might be referring to from your description and page number references).

    I think the book’s explanation of the matter you refer to – how classes were formed – is not very accurately reflective of the Marxist POV on this. The summary of this stance is “social being determines social consciousness”. Specifically, it’s the relations of production that are chiefly responsible for forming ideology, rather than the other way around. (It does work both ways, in that enough socialism-minded workers, acting together to overthrow the current relations of production, can change them. However, even once that’s accomplished we keep thinking and acting in ways learned from – in most cases – *many* generations of class society.)

    It’s this belief – that our lives and ways of perceiving the world are chiefly formed by the relations of production, and not the other way around – which is one of the core elements distinguishing marxism from bourgeois ideology. So it wouldn’t be marxist to say that men thought up capitalism, in other words. Capitalist social relations were, however, made possible in a small way by precapitalist social systems, while the full development of capitalism was still suppressed by them. Hence the bourgeois revolutions to overthrow feudalism and allow capital to rule.

    [I notice that this book does mention the relations of production, around p. 127, but I didn’t notice anything clear in that section either about how they relate to ideology. I have a headache so unsure if I got it all, but the fact that it was so unclearly described on the pages you refer to earlier suggests that the author doesn’t really get the importance of this.]

    Apologies for not being up to making a very explanatory comment, but this is why Engels published ‘Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State’ and other Marxist writers, such as Evelyn Reed, paid a lot of attention to the question of *how* private property and class relations arose. Because that really does get to the heart of several important matters.

    Anyway, this point about social being (esp. the relations of production and reproduction) determining social consciousness is very much what gives marxism its materialist nature and sets it in opposition to bourgeois idealism. I’m not *really* getting the sense from what you wrote about materialism and idealism that this dude adequately conveyed this.

    I just had a quick look around for better explanations, and this seems ok:
    http://www.marxist.com/an-introduction-to-historical-materialism.htm

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    • Yes, that’s the book I’m reading. I checked and the page numbers correspond to the edition I have. I’m only at the beginning of my Marxist journey so far, so I definitely cannot say I understand any of this yet! The link you sent implies that it is the process of evolution, rather than men’s ideas, that change the mode of production. I don’t think Rius was necessarily trying to imply that capitalism was an idea that men thought of—he was just mentioning a point about sorcerers and I read a lot into it. A lot of what I wrote here was my own ideas.

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      • Oh you didn’t misrepresent Rius – your quotation was correct. Like you said, he wrote

        out of this came the magicians and sorcerers who exploited the “idea of divinity” for their own benefit. By using all kinds of cheap tricks they passed themselves off as special “delegates” of the gods with fantastic powers …
        This is the way gradually an “upper class” was formed or a ruling class – and a lower or ruled class…
        Those who let themselves be exploited and those who lead fools by the nose

        Quite an unmaterialist explanation.

        Do check out that alternative explanation I found – it’s quite good 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh sorry yes you already took a look. I’m not sure evolution is the best way of conceptualising the change, since that’s more about how species change over time.

        Generally, changes in the mode of production are very much based not only on what the previous system makes possible, but also the conflict between the productive forces and the relations of production. Although ‘evolution’ is very much a death-based process, oddly it still has these peaceful connotations, so I thought I’d raise the conflict issue.

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  8. Re: “Then men began to go to war over land and resources, and physical and military strength took over. Whoever had the most resources and the greatest ability to kill others ruled.”
    This is a really good short summary of how patriarchy works, and it’s still very much like this. This is exactly what Trump represents, an attempt to hold on to patriarchal power in a chaotic world due to a belief that the solution to our problems is more brute strength and violent masculinity. I think it will only get worse as we run out of resources and have to all kill each other over the last remaining oil, water, and food. Very sad state we’re in.

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  9. I’ve always thought that I would have an easier time accepting trans ideology if it were presented as a religious belief. I mean, people change their names for religious reasons all the time! And I have no problem using their new names! Muhammed Ali’s name is Muhammed Ali, and I wouldn’t call him his old name because I understand it would be needlessly cruel. However, calling him Muhammed Ali doesn’t make me a Muslim. It’s just the same with trans. I will call people whatever they want, but I won’t believe what they believe.

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