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View Diary: The "Marxism is coming back" trope (264 comments)

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  •  He's right that there is more than one kind (39+ / 0-)

    of socialism.
       The problem is that so few of Marx's critics have ever actually read Marx.
    (same goes for Adam Smith and John Keynes)

    "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

    by gjohnsit on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 02:21:13 PM PDT

    •  I'm currently struggling to finish reading (18+ / 0-)

      The Fountainhead of all things. Every time I read something anti-marxist by an "Objectivist", it's completely obvious to me that none of them have ever actually read Marx. See this garbage, for instance. I decided I should read some Rand, lest I be guilty of the same thing.

      I'll tell you, though, it's not easy. The only way I've been able to motivate myself to continue past the halfway point has been a fervent hope (no spoilers, please) that the book ends with a piano falling onto Dominique Francon from a great height. I realize it probably won't end that way, but there's always a chance!

      To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

      by sneakers563 on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 02:31:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm currently fighting my way through Das Kapital (25+ / 0-)

        Marx may have been a great thinker, but no one would accuse him of being a great writer.

        "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

        by gjohnsit on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 02:32:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh I dunno - I think Marx has kind of a dry wit (22+ / 0-)

          that comes through in places. I love the ending to Part One, when he has that line about the worker being like "a man whose brought his own hide to market, with nothing to expect except... a tanning!" I took part in a Marx reading group in graduate school and used to read it in bed before turning in. My wife thought it was crazy that I would lie there laughing at Marx.

          I will say, though, that the money chapter is a real killer. I would advise anyone to skip that one as it doesn't come up again until Vol. 2 and the CMCMC stuff is sooooooo boring.

          Do you know about the recordings of the lectures from David Harvey's "Reading Capital" class? They're available here, and are really handy if you're reading it without the benefit of a group.

          To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

          by sneakers563 on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 02:43:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  May I recommend -- (9+ / 0-)

          Peter Hudis' book "Marx's concept of an alternative to capitalism"?  I thought Hudis broke down Marx's writing really well.

          "Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust" -- Karl Marx

          by Cassiodorus on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 03:15:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  If you are only in Volume I, I have bad news... (15+ / 0-)

          ...Volumes II and III put together by Friedrich Engels from Marx's notes are even tougher.

          Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

          by Meteor Blades on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 03:19:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's what I've heard (6+ / 0-)

            Volumes II and III are on my list to read, but they will wait. I've put Keynes' General Theory and Smith's Wealth of Nation and George's Progress and Poverty before those.

            "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

            by gjohnsit on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 03:23:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Engles irritates me about the Irish. (0+ / 0-)

            At least, I dimly recall starting a firestorm in class by remarking on what certainly seemed to me to be his anti-Irish racism.

            Sure once I was young and impulsive, I wore every conceivable pin. Even went to socialist meetings, learned all the old union hymns. Ah, but I've grown older and wiser. And that's why I'm turning you in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

            by SouthernLiberalinMD on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 05:43:00 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Marx is a great writer (6+ / 0-)

          It just helps to have some experience within the philosophical tradition in which he wrote - namely Hegel.

          “It takes no compromise to give people their rights...it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” ― Harvey Milk

          by lucid on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 03:27:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, that's just your thesis (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            chrississippi, TomP, dallasdunlap, nicteis

            This is my antithesis. Now synthesize THAT!

            "Reagan's dead, and he was a lousy president" -- Keith Olbermann 4/22/09

            by kovie on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 05:48:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  That is true but the Hegelian parts of Marx (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TomP, Alhambra, unfangus

            have not weathered so well. Hegel had a terribly hard time trying to articulate and systematize his own ideas.

            For me, Marx is a lot like Freud. Freud was a brilliant, learned man and a very talented writer. Most of Freudian theory has not held up well over time. But there is a core part of it that is still valid. Freud had the basically true insight that our conscious mind is only part of what is going in our brains. He tried to describe what the unconscious part was like, but it's not an exact or scientific description. It is a instead a bunch of approximations and metaphors, some of which are more useful than others, but none of which are really scientific. Freud himself knew his theories had limitations and he kept revising them.

            Marx also had some basically correct insights. There is such a thing as class struggle, and it is one of the central features of modern history, and we are still engaged in it. There is a a huge amount of injustice built into the capitalist system. So we can and we should think about alternatives to that system. I tend more towards the democratic socialist end of the left spectrum vs. the revolutionary end of it but I can appreciate that sometimes people suffer enough that they are driven towards revolution.

            •  I disagree about the 'poor' aging of the (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Castine, caul

              Hegelian influence. In fact, looking at an object [be it history or otherwise] from a dialectic perspective is one of the lasting achievements of German idealism within the history of not just philosophy, but political science, sociology, art history, literary criticism - even science.

              It is a perspective which explains how ideas develop organically within any given structure that are not only antithetical to that structure, but will eventually force a new structure to develop based on the ideas birthed in the previous. That's all a dialectic is. In fact, Marx mastered it more thoroughly than Hegel insofar as by the later Marx, he left intimtated the possibility that dialectics are open ended - they don't result in a final state of socio-economic organization required by Hegel [owing to Hegel's insistence on the 'final cause' from Aristotle's Physica].

              Marx also wasn't a revolutionary, in the Revolution! sense. The demise of capitalism would come, of necessity, by its very dialectic nature. The notions of human freedom and univeralism birthed by the relations of production in capitalism will eventually come in conflict with its socio-economic organization once the forces of production conquer scarcity [which, quite frankly, they have]. At that point capitalism will unwind, not by revolution, but evolutionary necessity... Whether or not one believes that to be correct, is quite a different issue, however.

              My point about Hegel was merely that it's much easier to read and understand Marx [and appreciate the quality of his writing] if one is well versed in the Hegelian lexicon.

              “It takes no compromise to give people their rights...it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” ― Harvey Milk

              by lucid on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 08:25:34 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Perhaps the historical failure (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                sneakers563, WB Reeves

                of Marxism (in the sense of its Soviet state socialist embodiment) could itself be considered an antithesis leading to a higher, more refined synthesis. Perhaps it is just beginning to emerge, so we cannot yet discern its essential features.

                Those Soviet professors of Marxism-Leninism I knew back in the 1970s were wrong to think the dialectic "stopped" with and culminated in Soviet State socialism. But Fukuyama et al were also wrong to think the dialectic stopped with post-industrial globalizing capitalism.

                •  I don't understand how they could have thought (0+ / 0-)

                  that. Lenin described the economic system of the Soviet Union as "state capitalism". It was explicitly supposed to be a transitory stage. Why would they think that the Soviet model represented the end of history, when Lenin didn't?

                  To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

                  by sneakers563 on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 09:52:40 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Lenin viewed NEP, (0+ / 0-)

                    the successor to failed War Communism, as the return to a gradualist state capitalist development strategy. But Stalin, in abandoning NEP in 1929 for a centralized planned command economy, considered himself to have transcended state socialism and achieved Socialism. Under the Stalinist definition of Socialism there was no longer any possibility of further dialectical movement through class conflict because class conflict was now over in the USSR: "There are but two friendly classes--workers and collectivized peasants-- and one stratum--the technical intelligentisa serving them."  

              •  It is the evolutionary necessity bit (0+ / 0-)

                that many people have difficulty with. Evolutionary necessity may make sense in the biological realm but the idea that Marx had discovered laws in the realm of societal evolution is problematic. At least, I think so. We have very recent examples of socialist societies devolving back into capitalism .. although you could certainly argue that they were never proper realizations of the socialist vision.

                •  Yes is it a biologistic metaphor (0+ / 0-)

                  It is the incorporation of Aristotelian causation into an understanding of history. My position on it has nothing to do with its ultimate truth value as a predictive science, but rather as an heuristic tool to apprehend a specific object - and this is what I mean by saying it is the lasting achievement of German Idealism.

                  As far as capitalism goes - it will collapse, be it due to it's internal contradictions [per a Marxist analysis], or the shear environmental catastrophe it is in the process of creating. What arises will be interesting to see & I certainly hope it isn't a new dark age.

                  “It takes no compromise to give people their rights...it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” ― Harvey Milk

                  by lucid on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:28:04 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  What follows collapse is almost always worse (0+ / 0-)

                    than the conditions that caused it. If there were any such thing as "Laws of History," that would be one of them.

                    There isn't.

                    --Shannon

                    "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
                    "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

                    by Leftie Gunner on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 04:14:27 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  You think that's bad (7+ / 0-)

          Try reading Chomsky's academic writings.

          "What could BPossibly go wrong??" -RLMiller "God is just pretend." - eru

          by nosleep4u on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 03:59:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  They're more coherent than his political writings. (0+ / 0-)

            Of course, that's because they're in a domain that he actually understands.

            They're also lot harder to read, for the same reason.

            --Shannon

            "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
            "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

            by Leftie Gunner on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 04:16:32 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  David Harvey's course can be helpful: (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          travelerxxx, 4Freedom, KJG52, TomP, caul

          Reading Marx's Capital with David Harvey

          The side bar "About the Course" will get you to the lectures on Kapital.

          The 99% are watching.

          by unclejohn on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 04:25:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Good luck (21+ / 0-)

          I tried Kapital a couple of times in college and gave it up early on.  Aside from Finnegan's Wake, I can't think of a more completely unreadable book I've ever opened the covers of.

          Uncharacteristically, I think the diarist was a little too kind to the right-wing propagandists here:

          Douthat's pattern is common to the genre: Mention the name "Marx," then loudly dismiss the idea that history has anything to do with class struggle.
          The genre usually is devoted to furthering the cause of econoic oligarchy, the precise condition both Marx and Piketty write about. It consists of clumsy juvenile propaganda in which any argument pertaining to economic justice or social equality is automatically ascribed to Marx, with a red hammer-and-sickle flag waving not too subtly in the background.  The wealthiest among us accumulating more wealth and power is crudely contrasted as representing the Stars and Stripes, with the common lie that democracy = capitalism implicitly or explicitly repeated.  

          Juvenile propaganda, in which patriotism is equated with the interest of the oligarchs and self-interest is treasonous.  It is the tragedy of America that our people are generally too brainwashed to see through it.

          We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

          by Dallasdoc on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 04:32:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The dialectic (heh) can basically be reduced to (8+ / 0-)

            Marx = Lenin + Hitler - Stalin

            Something something. It's a pavlovian thing with anything Marxist or socialist or in any way collective or communitarian (which are all not the same things) being about the same thing as a child molester stealing your money. They have no concept of or interest in the actual ideas and values behind these ideologies. To them it's all the devil's work, perhaps literally. They've been brainwashed into shutting off their minds as soon as these words are uttered.

            "Reagan's dead, and he was a lousy president" -- Keith Olbermann 4/22/09

            by kovie on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 05:53:22 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  So far (8+ / 0-)

            Marx writes Da Kapital with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. He doesn't make a point. He destroys a point.
               For instance, the point of all value coming from labor (the central point of Marxism) he doesn't actually come out and say until Chapter 5. However, he had already proven the point in Chapter 1. And in Chapter 2. And Chapter 3. And Chapter 4. And Chapter 6. etc.

              The good news is that his logic is unassailable. By the time he's made his point he's approached it from every possible angle, as if anticipating his critics beforehand. His point is now a reinforced fortress upon a mountaintop, sourrounded by a moat filled with sharks.

              That's why his critics so often have no idea what Marx actually said. And they are usually speaking to people who also haven't ready his books.

            "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

            by gjohnsit on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 06:20:37 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Sounds like a similar approach to Darwin's (8+ / 0-)

              Darwin took over 20 years to write Origin of Species because he wanted an exhaustive treatment of the idea, addressing all conceivable objections and marshaling all the evidence he could scrape up.  Darwin's book is exhaustive but readable, and you can see why he's doing what he's doing.  It's a mighty challenge to one of the most hallowed truths of the day.

              Marx had a similar challenge, and perhaps he took a similar exhaustive approach.  I just wish he'd been a little more linear in his arguments and less, uh, Teutonic in his writing style.  I felt the same way about Kapital that I feel about lobster:  pretty good, but not worth all the trouble.

              We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

              by Dallasdoc on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 06:31:47 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Discussing class struggle with students (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              gjohnsit, sneakers563

              My experience is that most students are open to the idea that politics is driven by class struggle-- they sense this from personal experience-- but they're still very resistant about using Marx to discuss it because terms like "bourgeoisie" and "proletariat" remain alien and suspicious to them.

            •  The problem with Marx has never been (0+ / 0-)

              his description of the problem, which was quite often dead right.

              It's with his solution, which is dead wrong. "Dead wrong," as in "lots and lots of people dead because it's wrong."

              Any solution to a society-wide problem that relies on altruism to work is doomed to failure... altruism is simply too rare to be relied upon on that scale. So a resort to force to compel it is inevitable, and that's always when the bodies start piling up.

              Central planning, which although it is not (that I recall) a feature of Marx's model, was a feature of every implementation of it, runs into insurmountable complexity and information-density problems... a modern economy has too many decisions happening for any finite group of planners to make them, and too much information content for them to have a prayer of making them correctly. I think that the reason that central planning always comes in is an attempt to solve the first problem. Since people will always tend to make decisions that benefit them, even if they harm the collective, the only solution is to make the decisions for them. Then, because people don't like to have decisions made for them, and they especially don't like it when the decisions are wrong, (which is guaranteed by the complexity and information problems,) the decision will always be made to resort to force to try to make it all work... and to protect the planners' power and position.

              The analogy between Freud and Marx is actually quite good... brilliant men who took a valid analysis of limited data and expanded it into a model that was as brilliantly wrong as phlogiston chemistry... and whose brilliance hid their wrongness for so long that they did incredible damage to the fields they were working in. Both psychology and economics would be a lot further along the road to being actual sciences than they are if Freud and Marx had stopped writing a lot earlier than they did, or if subsequent practitioners and educators had been willing to call out their wrongness much sooner.

              By now, both Marx and Freud should be taught in the same way as Lamarck...  it seemed plausible at the time, but it's utterly incorrect.

              --Shannon

              "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
              "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

              by Leftie Gunner on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 04:49:51 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Blah blah blah. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Dallasdoc

                Please take a look at actual Marx, and at Peter Hudis' "Marx's Concept of an Alternative to Capitalism," which goes through the MECW with a fine-toothed comb, before saying things like this:

                It's with his solution, which is dead wrong. "Dead wrong," as in "lots and lots of people dead because it's wrong."
                One of the reasons I write this diary was that practically everyone who talks about Marx has his/ her head up his/ her ass, because somehow it has become OK to claim to be an expert on Marx without having read a word of it.

                Marx conceived of communist society as an extension of capitalist society's highest ideal -- freedom -- only Marx realized that capitalist society only grants formal freedom to workers, which in actual practice means a choice of different forms of (wage) slavery.

                If you want Marx's last word on the post-capitalist world, you might start with the passage in the Critique of the Gotha Program:

                In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
                Yeah, lots of mass death there.  Uh-huh.  To continue:
                Any solution to a society-wide problem that relies on altruism to work is doomed to failure... altruism is simply too rare to be relied upon on that scale. So a resort to force to compel it is inevitable, and that's always when the bodies start piling up.
                The stock right-wing libertarian argument as stated above fails, as usual, because the Karl Marx utopia relies not on "altruism" but rather in the common interest in freedom shared by members of the working class.
                Central planning, which although it is not (that I recall) a feature of Marx's model, was a feature of every implementation of it, runs into insurmountable complexity and information-density problems...
                Marx doesn't commit himself one way or another about "central planning" -- and there are TWO concepts in Marx to work with, one as regards Marx's ideas about the TRANSITIONAL stage to communism, and the other as regards ACTUAL communism.  There is no central planning in actual communism because there is no state -- the state having been (in Marx's words) "withered away."  The picky details of how to manage the transitional stage so as to get actual communism (and not the USSR) are dealt with in great detail in a number of works by marxists -- see e.g. Peter Critchley's essay "Marx, Market Socialism, and Participatory Planning."  One thing to keep in mind as one reads through all of the marxist discussions of post-capitalism is this: what Marx wanted was a "union of free producers."

                Meanwhile, the proponents of "actually existing socialism" have tried a number of different models, from Lenin's USSR to Mao's China pre- and post- Great Leap Forward to Cuba to Sandinista Nicaragua to "21st Century Socialism" in Venezuela worked with the assistance of Marta Harnecker.

                Marx is not to be blamed for Stalin.  You, however, should be held responsible for your post here, which contains little (if anything) with which I agree.

                "Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust" -- Karl Marx

                by Cassiodorus on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 06:04:48 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Unlike capitalism (0+ / 0-)

                  Sure once I was young and impulsive, I wore every conceivable pin. Even went to socialist meetings, learned all the old union hymns. Ah, but I've grown older and wiser. And that's why I'm turning you in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

                  by SouthernLiberalinMD on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 07:08:57 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Nor did I ever claim otherwise. (0+ / 0-)

                    There are no good answers. There are only variations of more and less bad... which is a much more important distinction anyway.

                    "Good enough for now, and subject to revision" is the best we're ever going to be able to do.

                    --Shannon

                    "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
                    "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

                    by Leftie Gunner on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 08:54:54 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Right now, if we don't have some version (0+ / 0-)

                      of representative government and the rule of law, it won't matter what kind of economic system we have. And any economic system that mitigates against representative government and the rule of law is in the way of survival.

                      Sure once I was young and impulsive, I wore every conceivable pin. Even went to socialist meetings, learned all the old union hymns. Ah, but I've grown older and wiser. And that's why I'm turning you in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

                      by SouthernLiberalinMD on Wed Apr 23, 2014 at 09:35:57 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                •  There is no end state. (0+ / 0-)

                  You can no more prevent humans from politicking than you can prevent us from fornicating... and for the exact same reason:

                  "Let's go over there, fuck all their women and take all their shit" is baked into us too deeply to ever be rooted out.

                  So, the most important questions in politics are "who decides?" and "how do we limit the damage?" And, "nobody" and "there won't be any" aren't answers... after a couple of hundred thousand years, if there was a perfect system, we'd have found it by now. There are no perfect systems for organizing humans, because humans are not perfectible.

                  Utopians are terrifying.

                  --Shannon

                  "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
                  "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

                  by Leftie Gunner on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 08:52:08 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Nonsense. (0+ / 0-)
                    "Let's go over there, fuck all their women and take all their shit" is baked into us too deeply to ever be rooted out.
                    Billions of people the world over live out their entire lives in this era without any sense of "let's go over there, fuck all their women and take all their shit."  Overgeneralizing a few historical instances to some imagined innate tendency of the human race will convince nobody.

                    "Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust" -- Karl Marx

                    by Cassiodorus on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 09:04:19 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

          •  It used to be known as: (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dallasdoc

            Americanism vs Communism.
            Taught in my high school up to a few years before I got to it, by which time it was renamed "Advanced Political Systems."

            Sure once I was young and impulsive, I wore every conceivable pin. Even went to socialist meetings, learned all the old union hymns. Ah, but I've grown older and wiser. And that's why I'm turning you in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

            by SouthernLiberalinMD on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 05:44:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, you should give Henri Lefebvre's (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            gjohnsit, Dallasdoc

            The Production of Space a try. You'll be begging for Marx.

            To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

            by sneakers563 on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:13:52 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  You encourage me (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Dallasdoc

            I've read Finnegans Wake (Note that there's really no apostrophe - The title is an exhortation to the sleeping finnegans) from cover to cover, with frequent bafflement and more frequent guffaws.

            So, maybe Das Kapital, whose bulk has always intimidated me, isn't as impenetrable as I've always assumed.

            But I'd better buckle down and read it soon. Before another two years is out, I'll be retiring. And from what every retired person I've ever known has always told me, I will suddenly be too busy to read anything. Plus, I want to read Pickety first.

        •  If there is one thing all marxists seem (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gjohnsit, sneakers563

          to be able to agree upon is that Das Kapital is a challenge to read.

          that being said I really wanna give his writings a look.

          •  It's not *that* bad, really (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nicteis, gjohnsit

            It's best to read it as part of a group with someone who's read it before. Marx's approach is a bit strange at first. He doesn't take a conventional textbook approach where you define a subject completely up front, then move on to the next subject, etc. Rather, he continually circles back to things, looking at them from different perspectives. It's really at the end that you get a sense of the concepts in their totality.

            Also, some of his formulations are a bit strange from a modern perspective. For instance, he talks a lot about value but doesn't examine supply and demand at all in Vol. 1. These two things, continually refining concepts, and starting from an unfamiliar place, make the early part of the book difficult for new readers. That said, once you get to Part 2 of Vol 1, it gets considerably easier. For one, you're used to his writing style, and it's in Part 2 that you finally start to understand things. Most people give up in the money chapter, which is understandable, because the money chapter is by far the most tedious chapter in the book. It's unfortunate though, because it's material that's not taken up again until Vol. 2. I usually recommend skipping it.

            If you have an interest, you should try to find a reading group of some sort and give it a go. It really does give you a perspective you will not get anywhere else, and can't be reduced into little soundbites. It's quite amazing.

            If you can't find anything local, David Harvey's Reading Capital series is quite good.

            To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

            by sneakers563 on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:11:11 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  He has his moments. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mkor7, gjohnsit

          Marx's rage shines through when he describes the conditions faced by children working in factories - describing kids who reach their teens without having heard of Jesus Christ, or knowing that there was such a thing as the Queen of England.
             And there is his mockery of the business types boasting (in song) that the English will ever be free, while these same men employ enslaved children to toil in their factories.
            Or there's this little gem, in the middle of a dry discussion of the function of religion: "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
             Most of Marx's writing (particularly the ponderous "das Kapital) is pretty slow going. But there are enough brilliant passages in his work to make it worth reading.

        •  The biggest problem (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gjohnsit

          with Marx's style is that he rather stubbornly thought that his writing had to mimic or mirror the dialectical relations of the things that he was describing.  Rather than giving you a bloody thesis to tell you what he's going to demonstrate when discussing the secret of value in capital (how capitalist trade can produce profit as if by magic), he instead goes through all sorts of contortions to derive the concept of surplus-value.  This writing style is a terrible idea and completely unnecessary (I know purist Marxists will disagree with me, but they're wrong).  Had he been more direct and forthright we might be a lot further along in these debates.  Horrible and idiotic stylistic choices aside, it is one of the top five must read books for anyone on the left, I think.  Democratic activists really suffer from their lack of knowledge of Marx and endless get caught up in sideshows (which are really diversionary bait) rather than addressing the real issues.

          •  Then rewrite Marx (0+ / 0-)

            in a form more accessible to the working class who are rather short on energy after a day's work.

            We need to get past Marx the person, to the realm of knowledge which no one owns.  One of my criticisms of Marxists is the heavy reliance on the writings of single personality. If something has merit, certainly this can be expressed in a better, more accessible way, unless we want a society completely run by academics. Marx doesn't own the knowledge.

            I think one of the best sources of knowledge is what is experienced as a worker in a capitalist society. If all workers must read Marx's tomes (which even intellectuals commenting in this thread find challenging) before they are considered worthy or knowledgeable by Marxists, then we're doomed.

            I posted below part of an interview of Chomsky where he speaks of "factory girls" who hadn't read Marx or Bakunin, and yet organized anarchically against the owning class. People who work often wake up, and they do understand quite well the exploitation. Some prefer to debate in academic terms, some use the common language and experience of the working class. It isn't helpful to think exploitation can't be understood and expressed without having read 4,000 pages of impenetrable writing.

            The Spanish peasants and urban workers either understood through their experience or had read Kropotkin, Bakunin, and others, and they understood quite well the economic and political basis for revolt, and for forming the Spanish collectives.

            As Kropotkin wrote:

            Every machine has had the same history--a long record of sleepless nights and of poverty, of disillusions and of joys, of partial improvements discovered by several generations of nameless workers, who have added to the original invention these little nothings, without which the most fertile idea would remain fruitless. More than that: every new invention is a synthesis, the resultant of innumerable inventions which have preceded it in the vast field of mechanics and industry.

            Science and industry, knowledge and application, discovery and practical realization leading to new discoveries, cunning of brain and of hand, toil of mind and muscle--all work together. Each discovery, each advance, each increase in the sum of human riches, owes its being to the physical and mental travail of the past and the present.

            By what right then can any one whatever appropriate the least morsel of this immense whole and say--This is mine, not yours?

            "The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue." Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays

            by ZhenRen on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 01:04:47 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I watch Downton Abbey in the same spirit of (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sneakers563, kovie, caul

        schadenfreude. As for what Masterpiece Theater did to Zola, don't get me started.

        The frog jumped/ into the old pond/ plop! (Basho)

        by Wolf10 on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 04:16:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's a good show with likeable characters (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          claude, caul, mkor7, Wolf10, FindingMyVoice

          But then you realize that some of these people effectively own or have owned other people, and are enjoying privileges and wealth that they haven't really earned, but view as an absolute entitlement. And I've noticed that the writer, Julian Fellows, appears to have made a career of endlessly glorifying the British aristocracy and royal family in his many works. This show and others like it are, I suspect, at least partly Tory propaganda.

          "Reagan's dead, and he was a lousy president" -- Keith Olbermann 4/22/09

          by kovie on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 05:56:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  If you want Dominique to meet such an end... (0+ / 0-)

        ...you could always write the sequel.  I'm sure it would be of a higher quality than Rand's soap opera.

    •  I've encountered the (6+ / 0-)

      same thing with Nietzsche--people who have never read a word hate him (probably that whole god is dead thing--which requires context and thinking to understand).

      You can wake someone who is sleeping, but you cannot wake someone who is pretending to sleep.

      by gnothis on Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 05:39:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  So true. Most economists I know have never (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IreGyre, gjohnsit

      actually read Marx's "das Kapital," Smith's "Wealth of Nations," or even Keynes's "General Theory."
         So, discussions of any of the three are hampered by the fact that their understanding comes from second and third hand sources.
         I've never seen the value as "congealed labor" explanation given by Marx refuted except by simple affirmation.
         And neo-classical types are hilarious in their misunderstanding of Keynes, and their acceptance of things like the Friedman-Phelps long run Phillips Curve, which is entirely a creature of theory based on questionable simplifying assumptions.
         Whether history can be explained entirely as class struggle I don't know. But Marx's description of late stage capitalism (in which capitalist enterprises become more and more consolidated and international) seems right on target to me.

    •  Actually Read Smith (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IreGyre, gjohnsit, nicteis

      I feel that very few free market advocates have actually read Adam Smith. Smith makes very clear and persuasive arguments that unfettered capitalism leads to the poverty and destitution of the laboring class.

      •  Yes, David Caye Johnson points that out a lot. (0+ / 0-)

        For a Republican ( a traditional conservative, not some Neocon) he's a bit of a hero to many of us here on the left. Actually I wonder if he still considers himself to be one.

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