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*Updated. When I posted this in the middle of the night, I had no idea it would be rescued & make the rec list. I'm sorry I haven't been able to be more involved in the discussion. I got up today, had rehearsals & well, real life & didn't even realize this made the reclist until this evening.

I wrote a diary eons ago out of frustration with the general misapprehension of Marx by many then denizens of Dkos, exemplified by some derogatory quip made by Markos one day in an open thread. As I was perusing the thread in David Mizner's diary, I thought it might be time to go more into depth. The biggest problem with sensationalized articles about Marx [either for or against] is that the Marx appearing in them is unrecognizable to anyone who has actually spent a good deal of time reading him. I'm going to focus here on the the idea proposed at the end of the article:

[T]he workers of the world may just unite. Marx may yet have his revenge.
This displays an egregious misreading of the Marxist idea of history - specifically, dialectical history.

What is a dialectical notion of history? Marx's mentor, Hegel, was the most famous promulgator of the idea. It was his direct response to what he perceived as the cold rationalism of the Kantian view of the universe. Hegel viewed Kant's idea of reason as static, ahistorical and lacking the human context of community. I thoroughly disagree with this reading of Kant, but that is an entirely different diary. In order to remedy his perceived flaws with Kant's version of reason, Hegel reached back to the Aristotelian idea of causality. When the Enlightenment rediscovered a 'scientific' notion of causality, it excluded the most quirky of Aristotelian causes, namely the 'final cause'. In Physica, Aristotle's analysis of causality relied on four causes - formal, material, efficient and final. The scientific enlightenment focused primarily on efficient causality in its understanding of nature [for now I will dispense with formal and material - as they are caught up in the discussion of efficient causality] - namely what is the immediate cause resulting in an immediate effect. An apple falls from a tree - gravity. Or Hume's famous discussions of billiard balls. The notion of a final cause was absent from the scientific revolution [though interestingly enough now resides in lots of current scientific thinking - like ecology]. In short, a 'final cause' is the manifest actuality of a causal process - the final result - or when thought of as an historical process, the essential truth of an evolutionary process.

Hegel made the 'final cause' the centerpiece of his historical/philosophic system. As my good friend Agnes Heller used to say, "it is a biologistic metaphor: the truth of the tree is the flower, the truth of the flower is the fruit, the truth of the fruit is the seed, the truth of the seed it the tree." In the context of an historical theory, this means that within our various forms of human organization - social, economic, religious, etc. - truths develop that cannot be manifest within that form of organization creating a central conflict. This conflict results in the self-immolation of that historical order resulting in truth or truths that guides the next social order, which in turn develops new truths that conflict with that order. Rinse. Repeat. This is the ground of progressive history.

Marx took this idea from Hegel and plugged it into an economic, rather than epistemic, analysis of history. The central engine of this history is the conflict between the relations and forces of production. The relations of production are at base the manner in which we organize our society. The forces of production are simply our level of techological development. Within Marx scholarship, there is vast, really vaaaaassssst dissension on how to read Marx on that conflict. And, quite frankly, Marx himself took several positions throughout his writings. For purposes of simplicity, I will simply forward this. Within our history, the continual development of the forces of production create truths that directly conflict with the current state of the relations of production. I will further forward that the 'truths' created are always with respect to what I call 'manufactured scarcity'. This is not a Marxist term, but something I've been focusing on lately when looking at economic relations. But back to Marx, this conflict results in the dissolution of that order and the foundation of a new order based on the truths of the forces of production.

Like Hegel before him, because this biologistic read of history is based on a 'final' manifestation, Marx assumed that we would reach an historical epoch in which the forces of production reveal a final truth - the end of history. That epoch, gasp shockingly, is democratic capitalism. Capitalism reveals exactly how the game is rigged: through the notion of contract labor the alienation of individuals from the value they create within an economic system finally becomes the very basis of that economic system; the technological advances of capitalism lay bare the falsity of 'natural' scarcity; and the mechanisms of capitalism divorce us from the vestiges of social tribalism that have always been the cornerstone of the relations of production [family, ethnicity, religion and eventually the state]. This results in a set of 'final truths' about humanity: hierarchical modes of organization conflict with the intrinsic equality of human beings [illuminated by the system of contract labor]; scarcity, the cudgel by which relations of production are enforced, is conquered [and here I would say 'understood as manufactured']; the structures that reinforce both must by necessity fall away to manifest these truths in a new, final, form of human society - one whose systems of governance, distribution and social organization embody both egalitarianism and self creation. Species-being - the realization that those are one and the same thing.

This isn't a 'critique' of capitalism. In fact, Marx understood himself as seeing Smith and Ricardo to their natural end. When capitalist journalists, writing for capitalist publications write about Marx, they completely disregard the fact that Marx was a capitalist - in fact, the project of capitalism is the most important historical era, because it finally reveals fully the history of exploitation. It finally reveals fully the truth of human equality. It raises the blinders to the myth that we are currently self-governed. And it elevates human freedom - not freedom from, but freedom to - as the truth of our future social order.

For Marx this process is as natural as bees pollinating flowers. That there were 'revolutions' 100 years ago in specific nation-states that claimed to be Marxist is of no consequence to how Marx viewed history. There is no 'vindication'. Marx simply thought that capitalism would collapse eventually because of it's own internal contradictions & that the resulting form of organization would finally display our truth as a species.

That said, there is a whole lot of Marx about putting pressure on the relations of production to hasten that collapse... but, that is also for another diary. My point here is simply to start giving some actual context to understand Marx and combat the terrible misconceptions bandied about around town...

Originally posted to lucid on Fri Apr 12, 2013 at 10:39 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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