Marxism Within Capitalism

As explained in an article celebrating Karl Marx’s birthday, “Marx’s vision of socialism had nothing in common with one-party dictatorships like the former Soviet Union that declared themselves to be socialist or communist. For Marx, the key question was not whether the economy was controlled by the state, but which class controlled the state. A society can only be socialist if power is in the hands of workers themselves.”

This is why the Soviet Union and Maoist China were never Marxist or ever attempted to be Marxist, in spite of Marxist rhetoric getting caught up in Cold War debates. Then again, capitalist rhetoric of ‘free markets’ has for generations been used to defend plutocracy, fascism, corporatism, and inverted totalitarianism. If we don’t differentiate rhetoric from reality, then any ‘debate’ is about declaring power rather than discerning truth.

To clarify an alternative perspective that was excluded from Cold War propaganda on both sides, Marx explained that, “No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.”

He had no interest in starting a revolution to replace one system of centralized authoritarian power structure with another. He saw the only way forward was through the system already in place. This is probably why, in writing for the leading Republican newspaper in the United States, he supported a capitalist like Abraham Lincoln. The last of feudalism in the form of slavery had to be eliminated and capitalism fully established before the new system could demonstrate what it was.

Such a system can’t be destroyed from without, until it has already weakened itself from within, based on the assumption this is the life cycle of all socioeconomic orders. Only by pushing the dominant system to its furthest extreme form and its ultimate conclusion could the potentials and flaws be fully seen for what they are. There is no short cut to avoid this difficult transition.

The dominant system either would collapse under its own weight, as happened with the decline of the ancien regime, or it would not. From a Marxist perspective, shifting control of the ‘capital’ in modern economy from plutocrats to oligarchs is the same difference. It’s still capitalism in both cases, although slightly different varieties (difficult to tell them apart sometimes, such as with China’s mix of statist communism and statist capitalism, demonstrating that there is no inherent contradiction between the two).

As Chris Saunders simply stated, “Marx had said that Capitalism was a necessary stage along the road to socialism. Those attempts by the USSR and China to by-pass capitalism, have instead necessitated the resort to state capitalism.” Capitalist rhetoric obscures the real world functioning of capitalism. It never required free markets. If anything, it’s easy to make the argument that capitalism is by definition and intent the opposite of free markets. The concentration of capital within the capitalist class, whether plutocrats or oligarchs, inevitably means the concentration of all else: power, influence, opportunities, resources, education, rights, privileges, and of course freedom itself. It should go without saying that markets can’t be free when people involved in and impacted by markets aren’t free.

Marxism has never exactly been implemented and certainly never failed. That is because Marx never offered an alternative utopian scheme. He assumed that only after the breakdown or during the process of weakening and decline could some other system organically arise and take form. Then the lower classes, hopefully, might begin to assert their own power for self-control and authority for self-governance. As far as a Marxist perspective is concerned, everything so far has been happening as Marx predicted it would.

Full steam ahead! Let’s find out what comes next. And that means understanding what is happening right now within the present society and economy. New developments are already taking root in the cracks of the edifice.

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Should we celebrate Karl Marx on his 200th birthday?
by Barbara Foley

In the wake of World War II, various economists heralded the narrowing of the gap between the richest and the poorest as evidence of the disappearance of class antagonisms.

But the long curve of capitalist development suggests that has widened, as illustrated in economist Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

The candle of the 2012 Occupy movement may have guttered, but its mantra of the 99 percent opposing the 1 percent is now a truiusm. Everyone knows that the super-rich are richer than ever, while for most of the working-class majority – many of them caught in the uncertainty of the “gig economy” – belt-tightening has become the new normal.

Those laboring in the formal and informal economies of much of Asia, Africa and Latin America, needless to say, face conditions that are far more dire.

Marx was correct, it would seem, when he wrote that capitalism keeps the working class poor.

He was also spot-on about capital’s inherent instability. There is some validity to the joke that “Marxists have predicted correctly 12 of the last three financial crises.”

Marx’s reputation has made a startling comeback, however, at times in unexpected circles.

In discussing the 2008 financial meltdown, one Wall Street Journal commentator wrote: “Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself. We thought markets worked. They’re not working.”

In 2017, the National Review reported that a poll found as many as 40 percent of people in the U.S. “now prefer socialism to capitalism.”

Notably, too, the C-word – Communism – has been making a reappearance, as is indicated by recent series of titles: The Idea of Communism,“ ”The Communist Hypothesis,“ ”The Actuality of Communism,“ and ”The Communist Horizon.“ Until recently, the word was largely avoided by neo- and post-Marxist academics.

Class analysis remains alive and well. This is because capitalism is no longer as seemingly natural as the air we breathe. It is a system that came into being and can also go out of being.

The Hidden Desire of the Imperial Subject

Anti-Federalists were to Federalists as Marxists were to Stalinists. The Anti-Federalists considered themselves to be the real federalists, similar to how some Marxists have thought of themselves as the real communists.

The Federalists and Stalinists turned out to be just different varieties of imperialists, something the Anti-Federalists and Marxists opposed. That is what the Cold War ended up being about, which imperialism would control the world. Oddly, the rhetoric of Anti-Federalism and Marxism was sometimes used to this end, as a rationalization of and distraction from the real purpose of accumulated power.

People are so easily deceived by rhetoric. But I wonder if there is more to it than that. I’ve recently thought that people accept the rhetoric even though at some level they know it’s propaganda. Many people simply want to be lied to by their political officials because it gives them plausible deniability. That way, they don’t have to admit they too want an empire.

It’s understandable, this divide in the public mind. We’ve been taught that empires are supposed to be bad. And no one wants to think of themselves as a bad person or as part of a bad society. Yet as imperial subjects, we gain many benefits: cheap products, freedom to travel, a protected life, etc. As long as an individual doesn’t challenge that power, the individual can live a good life within the empire. We grow accustomed to such benefits and they make it easier for us to quiet the voice of our conscience.

It’s hard to gain the self-awareness, social understanding, historical perspective, and moral courage to speak out against injustice and immorality. Few ever do so.

Freedom and Fate in Western Thought

I’ve observed a constellation of ideas that has been a part of Western thinking for a long time, but became most influential beginning with the Enlightenment.

It has to do with notions of freedom and determinism (specifically in terms of materialism and mechanism, environmentalism and communitarianism/socialism) along with heretical views about God and Nature, specifically such views as deism and pantheism/panentheism. It, of course, involves criticisms of biblical literalism and the rise of modern biblical studies in general, the Enlightenment idea being that faith and revelation doesn’t trump reason.

An early origin of this constellation has to do with the Stoics. They dealt with the problems of human fate. It was from the Stoics that the early Christians inherited natural law.

Freewill was a major issue for Christian theologians in those first several centuries. Augustine was heavily impacted by his experience as a Manichaean, and through this he introduced elements of Manichaeism into Catholicism. He particularly struggled with evil and freewill. This led him to a compromised position of Original Sin and the necessity of the Church as a proxy to enforce God’s will and hence enforce social order.

Later on, the Reformation era was a major factor in setting the stage for the Enlightenment. Take Erasmus as an example. He helped form modern biblical criticism and the humanistic tradition. He also was involved with a famous debate with Luther about freewill.

My focus on these ideas, however, isn’t as directly related to religion. The specific constellation of ideas can be seen in Hobbes’ writings, but more clearly takes form with Spinoza and Locke (the latter two born in the same year).

Spinoza and Locke represent the two sides of the Enlightenment, radical and moderate. Locke isn’t part of my main focus at the moment, although he forms an obvious context for most people in thinking about the development of the Western tradition. Instead, the more radical Spinoza has been on my mind. This constellation of ideas can be seen in the entire Enlightenment tradition and represents a core element, but it is most clearly manifest in the radical Enlightenment with its tendency toward deism.

In light of Spinoza, Hobbes has come to my attention. Hobbes is a precursor to the moderate Enlightenment, but he does share at least one thing in common with Spinoza. Both were determinists.

Hobbes saw human nature as dangerous. So, he put forth a secularized version of the Leviathan/Commonwealth where government takes on the role once held by the Church. 

Spinoza, however, saw human nature as having the individual capacity for moral good. So, he saw a kind of freedom to be had in knowledge and self-awareness. Certainly, Spinoza was the first advocate of the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and democracy. Spinoza was also an early materialist which was related to his views of mechanism and determinism.

About a century later, Paine came on the scene. Paine was indebted to Spinoza, at least in his later work but probably in his earlier work as well (Spinoza’s influence on English deism was well established by the time Paine was born; the influence on Paine probably being a combination of direct and indirect as Spinoza’s influence was wide-ranging across all of the Western world, including influence on Locke). Paine’s radicalism, maybe more than any other single factor, inspired the entire revolutionary era from Europe to North America.

Many early American radical thinkers had notions of America’s destiny. Paine saw it as being a revolutionary fire that would spread across the world and so a destiny not limited or owned by just Americans. Others have seen this destiny differently such as an American Manifest Destiny. Either way, it forms the background to the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and freedom.

Lincoln was inspired by Paine. Also, Lincoln was involved in a social circle that included many radicals: spiritualists, communitarians, free-soilers, abolitionists, feminists, left-wing revolutionaries, etc. Lincoln developed a more determinist view of humanity and history which he at least partly got from Robert Dale Owen, the son of the famous socialist. It was because of Lincoln’s determinism that he thought that slavery was fated to end.  Lincoln believed in natural law which closely relates to the deist Nature’s God which is the divine imminent in the world and in each person, hence all are equal (Lincoln was aware of Jefferson’s deism and his original draft of the Declaration of Independence that declared all people equal, no matter their religion, race or gender).

If freedom is part of natural law, then it is destined to be. God isn’t arbitrary. God’s will is the law of this world, i.e., natural law. As such, all of the world chafes at the reigns of oppression for, from this view, it is unnatural and unsustainable.

During Lincoln’s life, Marxism and socialism were having great impact. Many of the left-wing revolutionaries in Europe had immigrated to America, some even joining Lincoln’s administration or the leadership of the Union army. More of Marx’s writings had been published in a Republican newspaper than anywhere else in the world and that newspaper was regularly read by Lincoln. Marx was another thinker who was influenced by Spinoza, and some Marxists today have attempted to rehabilitate Marxism by way of Spinoza.

Socialism is closely related to environmentalism for the environment includes both the social environment and the natural environment. This also brings us to the whole deep ecology angle which relates to the Nature’s God of the deists and so goes back to Spinoza. The original influence on deep ecology came from a philosophical pessimist, Peter Wessel Zapffe.

There is the common idea of the environment influencing or determining human behavior, an idea that was implicit if often submerged in the Enlightenment project. Different theorists go in diverse directions about this environmental influence, but it has becoming increasingly central to the ideas most clearly formulated by the first Enlightenment thinkers.

Ideas about freedom have a close history with ideas about fate.

This reminds me, as many things do, of the Trickster archetype. There is the liminal space between seemingly polar concepts. They are secretly connected and can’t be divided for it goes beyond mere philosophy.

This is moreso about human nature than about any particular ideology. This constellation of ideas can lead to many ideologies. What makes me wonder is the factor that causes these ideas to constellate in the fist place. What is their affinity?

In the Trickster archetype, there are issues of egalitarianism in terms of bringing the high down low and there are issues of charisma that offers a vision of egalitarianism and empowerment. Thinkers such as Paine and Lincoln certainly weren’t lacking in charisma.

I’m not sure what all this adds up to. Just some thoughts rolling around my head.

Magical Marxism & Other Alternative Visions

I noticed the book Magical Marxism by Andy Merrifield (links at the end to give some understanding about the book and author). I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this post. I simply was interested in the basic idea as presented in the title.

I was thinking about how this could be taken in a slightly different direction: Imaginal Socialism, Fortean Anarchism, Zetetic Leftism, Gnostic Radicalism, Taoist Revolution, etc. My thought was combining two aspects: 1) the unknown and murky, desire and imagination, curiosity and wonder, questioning and seeking, etc; and 2) revolutionary politics, radical visions, ways of relating that challenge the status quo, etc.

The failure I see of left-wing politics seems connected to an overly masculine worldview. This made me think of the differences between a thick boundary type and a thin boundary type, and how these differences relate to the liminal, the imaginal, and the Trickster archetype. I see many left-wingers go back and forth between two masculine attitudes: 1) willful plans of action and tactics of directly challenging power; and 2) abstract intellectuality with in-group terminology to clearly define the boundaries and distinctions. The feminine aspects of being in the world are forgotten or dismissed or simply de-emphasized.  Politics, society and the larger world isn’t just about individuals acting. There is a being-in-the-world that goes beyond mere passivity toward a fecund creativity.

What if it isn’t about intellectually or tactically willing something into reality? What if, instead, there was some unknown to lure us forward into realms we could never find on purpose? Maybe the best way forward is to lose the path we’ve been following.

These are just thoughts. I haven’t cleared up my thinking. I was just wondering about a particular angle. I just wanted to pick at this crack I noticed at the foundation of leftist politics. I see some light shining out of the crack and it made me curious about what this light might be.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0JQP/is_442/ai_n57755935/

http://www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=d2703eda

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13604813.2011.595116

http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/SessionDetail.cfm?SessionID=12233

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:Qg8PHs9tG6EJ:www.amerikanistik.uni-muenchen.de/ip_60s/finalpapers/duncan_kjoelholt.pdf+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESh2hFN_bq5d9QuQfvJot8NOGsTPMBS4Oi9_s0QawavZwVGPSX98cnQsrqbpRJ99w7HQKWViBCejmSpu6pmg4kMHkQU_fE0AwgS0vOWHWLUu_ApDNgAibFtvCJ0IAiChTevyC34W&sig=AHIEtbRFJodqqntFCimQ1wLqQJJwdkSc4A

 

Re: Ideas are alive. We are their hosts.

I recently noticed another interesting blog post by Matt Cardin:

Ideas are alive. We are their hosts.

I posted it on Facebook which led to a conversation with a friend.

She wrote: “So, ideas as a kind of AI…”

I responded with: “Yeah, something like that. Ever since I heard of the theory of memes, it’s always made sense to me. It really makes sense to me when combined with Jung’s view of archetypes and the view of the imaginal.
“However, I’m not sure about the criticisms of Marx. I don’t consider myself a Marxist (mostly because I’m too uninformed about Marxism), but I’m certainly not an anti-Marxist. I do see truth that ideas often are fake, especially on the level of politics. A meme is amoral. It simply seeks to propagate itself. Political power is similar. A meme can reflect a deeper level of truth, but not always and maybe not usually.”

She then asked: “But what is it that feeds memes or ideas, that helps them propogate?”

The following was my answer:

That is an interesting and insightful question. It’s hard to answer as it implies further questions.

Asking what memes or ideas feed upon is the same as asking what are they dependent upon for their very existence and the continuation of that existence. How independent are they? To what extent are they self-propagating and hence independent of humans? Even if memes feed upon human psychic energy, is that their only food source? And either way, who created them originally or where do they come from?

It reminds me of the idea of thought-forms in the Tibetan tradition. They put an interesting twist on it. A ‘god’ or ‘buddha’ or other spiritual being is a thought-form. Ultimately, thought-forms aren’t real. They are merely useful in aligning our minds with some higher truth or, if they are of another variety, then they are the opposite of useful. This value of usefulness is held above any claims of reality. Focusing on thought-forms is useful because it makes us realize that we too are thought-forms and ultimately not real.

No matter their origins or their nature, it does seem that memes and thought-forms feed upon human psychic energy. In terms of human experience, at least, the paranormal tends to pay attention to a person when that person pays attention to the paranormal. Or is it that the person pays attention to the paranormal when the paranormal pays attention to that person? Are we feeding the beings of the imaginal realm or are they feeding us? Or is it a symbiosis?

Maybe the best explanatory model would be a metaphor, especially since we are trying to explain the imaginal where metaphors can resonate more deeply. The metaphor I had in mind is the garden.

The human psyche is a garden. All plants come from the wild as do humans. We create a garden that is separate from the wild, a safe area that we defend and tend. Humans eventually become so dependent on their garden that they forget about the wilderness except when it presents dangers and problems. The supernatural is the wilderness, the area we’ve chosen to exclude from our cultivated human reality. The garden is a reality tunnel, a filter throught which we see the world and a set of beliefs by which we interpret our experience.

The garden we create becomes an extension of ourselves. Maybe a meme is a humanized idea. Out in the wild, there are many thought-forms that float in and out of existence, that mate and evolve. When we domesticate an idea, we make it a part of the human world. We claim it as our own and if it is successful as a meme it becomes a part of our sense of identity. Eventually, the thought-form can become so domesticated that it can no longer survive in the wild.

This could be where symbiosis becomes possible.

Here is a quote from an article (Smithsonian.com: “What Defines a Meme?” — James Gleick, May 2011) in the above blog post:

“That “soup” is human culture; the vector of transmission is language, and the spawning ground is the brain. For this bodiless replicator itself, Dawkins proposed a name. He called it the meme.”

This seems to be the environment in which symbiosis takes place. When humans developed abstract thinking and language, they were able to grasp and more clearly perceive the non-material. This led to a familiarity, a closeness between the human species and the wild thought-forms. Humans became something more than just animal. As fairytales and UFO experiencers explain, maybe there even was a cross-breeding of sorts, a psychic melding between self and other.

I wanted to add some more commentary on Marx. I noticed that Matt Cardin linked to some writings by Marx:

“In every epoch the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas, that is, the class that is the dominant material power of society is at the same time its dominant intellectual power. The class that has at its disposal the means of material production also for that reason disposes simultaneously of the means of intellectual production, so that in general it exercises its power over the ideas of those who lacke the means. The dominant thoughts are, furthermore, nothing but the ideal expression of the dominant material relations; they are the dominant material relations conceived as thoughts, in other words, the expression of the social relations which make one class the dominant one, and thus the ideas of its dominance.”

This relates to two aspects.

First, there is propaganda that is controlled by those with the power, propaganda being a manifestation of and an extension of power. Even with the acceptance of the reality of the imaginal, the power of propaganda is no less real. Propaganda just demonstrates how we are controlled by ideas and how, therefore, we seek to control ideas. However, it must be pointed out that even the powerful end up falling under the sway of the ideas that they think they control. Memes are powerful, even more powerful than the most powerful humans, for the reason that their power is subtle.

Second, this can be interpreted in a more contemporary understanding through the lense of what Robert Anton Wilson wrote about reality tunnels. We get trapped in a reality tunnel and can’t see outside of it. It determines our thinking. An example of this is that the medium is the message. When humans shifted from oral speech to written text, all of society shifted and all of collective reality shifted with it.

This notion of reality tunnels is elucidated, in different terms, within Marxism:

“This phenomenon is not restricted to individuals; but can, significantly, be applied to the various classes in a society. Class ideals spring from the conditions and necessities of its members. The bourgeois notions of private property and marriage are thus extensions of the material position of the bourgeoisie. “But don’t wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class” (Communist Manifesto). Culture, as it is understood in the larger sense, can be viewed as an outgrowth of the beliefs held by that society’s dominant class, as it has the power to impose its perspectives and make them seem ‘natural’ or ‘universal’. Thus, institutions such as the family, law, and religion as manifested in bourgeois society should not be dealt with in the terms of ‘universal law’ in which the bourgeois is likely to understand it. Rather, they should be viewed strictly in terms of the ‘life-activity’ of the bourgeois class, namely, accumulation. Ideals such as that of the free market are merely the beliefs held by the dominant class. Marx cites the case of classical economists: “There are only two kinds of institutions for them, artificial and natural. The institutions of feudalism are artificial institutions, those of the bourgeoisie are natural institutions… Thus there has been history, but there is no longer any” (Capital 92). These constructs become the cultural norm insofar as they are imposed by the ruling class.”

Marx is challenging ‘natural law’. This is a fair criticism. By claiming that one’s beliefs are ‘natural law’, one claims one’s beliefs can’t be challenged as if one was speaking for God. The powerful will claim their beliefs are ‘natural’, meaning real, and everyone else’s beliefs are unnatural or unreal, somehow unworthy and even dangerous.

A reality tunnel is about what is perceived as real. Also, a reality tunnel is typically a collective phenomena. We all share some basic reality tunnels or else we couldn’t communicate at all.

“Thus, Marx views consciousness as interwoven with the practical elements of individuals’ lives; a person’s place in society conditions his or her opinions. Ideas and consciousness must necessarily be rooted in an individual’s life and daily activity; earlier thinkers’ notion of a ‘self-sufficient philosophy’ cannot accurately explain the relationship between consciousness, ideas, and life. Significantly, these ideas extend beyond the individual level such that one can speak of class-consciousness. Marx elaborates on this notion, understanding the power relations and struggles as having ramifications in the moral or ideological realm, as the dominance of one ideology or the conflict between ideologies speak to the underlying class dominance and struggles. In this way, material conditions are able to determine what human beings, as historical actors, are able to do.”

Marx was challenging Enlightenment ideals. He was pointing out that abstract thought isn’t separate from the everyday world. To most people today, that is commonsense and to claim otherwise would seem silly. After all, thoughts exist in the realm where psyche and biology meet. We aren’t disembodied thinkers. Enactivists most strongly challenge this false notion and they do so from within a scientific framework. The ideal of disembodied thought is a meme that has haunted modern humans for quite a while now and has caused Cartesian anxiety.

It’s probably true that Marx tended to go too far in the opposite direction in emphasizing the material world, but his insight shouldn’t be dismissed. In the context of the imaginal, a deeper resonance can be given to the Marxist worldview. The imaginal is the meeting and merging of the subjective and objective, the inner and outer, the material and non-material. Ideas, like plants, grow in the mud of the earth. An idea is just a seed until planted.

Here is another link from Matt Cardin and the relevant quote:

“Marx is, in fact, more complicated on this issue, however, since at other times he suggests that some aspects of ideology (for example, literature) can have a semi-autonomous existence; that is, that such cultural products can exert an influence that is at odds with the dominant mode of production.”

So, apparently Marx didn’t merely see ideas as being entirely controlled. Rather, he saw ideas as sources of power, both power to control and power to challenge control. Some aspects of ideology such as literature touch upon the imaginal and tap into the power of the imaginal, a power that isn’t human. I realize Marx probably didn’t understand it in this way, but Marx did recognize that ideas couldn’t always be controlled.

Simple Economic Truths

There is no capital without labor.
There is no land value without community.

Capital in the form of money is invested in capital in the form of raw materials and tools and labor-power, which is transformed — by the squeezing of actual labor out of the labor-power of the workers — into capital in the form of the commodities thereby produced, whose increased value is realized through the sale of the commodities for more money than was originally invested, which is the increased capital out of which the capitalist extracts his profits, only to be driven to invest more capital for the purpose of achieving ever greater capital accumulation.”
 – – –

Noam Chomsky: An Interview with Barry Pateman

 I always enjoy hearing Chomsky talk on almost any issue. In this interview, Chomsky discusses: anarchism, community, technology, class warfare, wealth transferral, taxation, free market, outsourcing, command economy, totalitarianism, Marxism, neoliberalism, and globalization.