2.2.09

Marx

As far as I understand it, this is how Marxist political theory runs. It starts of with the recognition of the evils of modern capitalist society, where the labour of the penniless majority is exploited by the idle, rich minority. This inequality is maintained by the idea of property rights. The owners of capital pocket the profits of industry simply because they own capital. The workers who actually produce the goods are only rewarded with the minimum amount to keep them alive. From this analysis, we looks back and find the same structure throughout history. Modern day factory workers are just like the slaves of antiquity or the serfs of the middle ages; the only change is in the level of technology, and the social values of the ruling class (religion, patriotism, self interest etc).

From here, we see that these changes are intimately linked with the oppression of one class by another -- that historical progress is ultimately due to struggles between different social groups bound by similar economic roles. And just as the newly emerged factory owners overthrew the agrarian feudal lords at the dawn of the capitalist age, the present day proletariat are also destined to rise up against their masters and usher in a new age of communism.

But this new society is difficult to pin down. We can only define it in contrast to what had come before -- the end of class antagonism (man against man) and the degradation of humanity (man’s true nature as opposed to man today). But what man’s true nature is remains elusive. The coming communist era is one where the oppressive forces of class, property and government no longer exist, and so man is free. But for the earth to be held in common ownership, where each man consumes resources according to his needs, a fundamental change in human behaviour is necessary. Marx argues that this is possible -- that ideas and behaviour change according to the social and economic context. But do they? This is the hinge on which all of Marxist theory rests. For communism to work, people have to be *different*. Can human nature be moulded by the progress of history? I have my doubts.

In the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of the Communist Manifesto, Gareth Stedman Jones argues that Marx stumbled on exactly the same point. He spent the last fifteen years of his life studying primitive societies, trying to identify this 'new' mankind. According to Jones, he never found it, which is why the blueprint of communism -- Capital -- was left unfinished.

In a q&a with Alex Callinicos (an expert on Marx at KCL), I raised the issue of the questionable existence of classless societies. He shot back that their existence *wasn't* questionable. Such communities *have* been found. So maybe Marx was right after all. Personally, I'm not convinced.

No comments:

Post a Comment