Tag Archives: historical materialism

Understanding Marx

Aaron dismisses the study of Marx as useless , but possibly falls into the the tempting trap of reductionism.

The study of Karl Marx is more than Communism, which of course is a failure, as mass deaths during communists regimes or the economic under-performance of communist countries versus capitalistic ones (North Korea v. South Korea, for example), shows. No one disputes this.

Likewise, studying Hitler doesn’t mean you legitimize Nazism. One should learn from the mistakes of history to avoid repeating them. Also, just learning about this stuff is interesting in and of itself.

Mark had some beliefs that even some on the ‘right’ can support – such as post-labor and post-scarcity societies in which technology and automation supplants the needs for work. The far-left, such as Obama, Keynes, and FDR, on the other hand, advocate ‘full employment’ even if such jobs create no economic value, are unprofitable for employers, and or are subsidized by taxpayers.

Post-scarcity economy

Karl Marx, in a section of his Grundrisse that came to be known as the “Fragment on Machines”,[22][23] argued that the transition to a post-capitalist society combined with advances in automation would allow for significant reductions in labor needed to produce necessary goods, eventually reaching a point where all people would have significant amounts of leisure time to pursue science, the arts, and creative activities; a state some commentators later labeled as “post-scarcity”.[24] Marx argued that capitalism—the dynamic of economic growth based on capital accumulation—depends on exploiting the surplus labor of workers, but a post-capitalist society would allow for:

Keynes, whose ideas are the intellectual forebear of Obama, believed full-employment at any cost was an ideal to always strive for, in contrast to Marx who rejected such idealism. But I’m not saying Marx is right about everything – Marxism is predicated on the belief workers are exploited by capitalism. I disagree, arguing that workers are NOT exploited and have a ‘good deal’. Marx also believed capitalism is self-limiting and would eventually fail, which I again disagree with.

Some of Marx’s ideas, such as Historical Materialism, which the exception of the parts about ‘revolution’, ‘liberation’, and ‘class struggle’, are not much different from introductory economics, or just plain common sense:

The basis of human society is how humans work on nature to produce the means of subsistence.

There is a division of labor into social classes (relations of production) based on property ownership where some people live from the labor of others.

The system of class division is dependent on the mode of production.

The mode of production is based on the level of the productive forces.

Society moves from stage to stage when the dominant class is displaced by a new emerging class, by overthrowing the “political shell” that enforces the old relations of production no longer corresponding to the new productive forces. This takes place in the superstructure of society, the political arena in the form of revolution, whereby the underclass “liberates” the productive forces with new relations of production, and social relations, corresponding to it.

Also, the ‘Marxian framework’ or ‘Marxian dialectic’ is an economic-centric one, referred to as ‘historical materialism’ or ‘dialectical materialism’ (the two are different in subtle ways that can be ignored for the sake of this discussion). In contrast to Weber and Hegel, Marx believed the entire world ‘revolves’ around economics – that economics, not culture or religion, is of foremost importance to all facets of human nature and society. Marx was obsessed with economics and believed it to be the driving force behind everything, and that all societal problems could be reduced to economic ones. In that regard, pretty much all economists, including even Milton Friedman, Rand, Hayek, and Rothbard, are at least tangentially intellectually related to Marx, in seeing the world from an econo-centric point of view, not a religious, cultural, or nationalistic one.

For example, Hayek:

In the book’s postscript, “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” Hayek distinguished his classical liberalism from conservatism. Among his grounds for rejecting conservatism were that moral and religious ideals are not “proper objects of coercion” and that conservatism is hostile to internationalism and prone to a strident nationalism.

This is related to Historical materialism:

Central to Marx’s thought is his theory of historical materialism, which argued that human societies and their cultural institutions (like religion, law, morality, etc.) were the outgrowth of collective economic activity.

Marx’s theory was heavily influenced by Hegel’s dialectical method. But while Marx agreed with Hegel’s basic dialectical thesis of social change, he disagreed with the notion that abstract ideas were the engine. Rather, Marx turned Hegel on his head and argued that it was material, economic forces—or our relationship to the natural, biological, and physical world—that drove the dialectic of change. More specifically, the engine of history rests in the internal contradictions in the system of material production (or, the things we do in order to produce what we need for survival).

And from Wikipedia:

Employing a critical approach known as historical materialism, Marx propounded the theory of base and superstructure, asserting that the cultural and political conditions of society, as well as its notions of human nature, are largely determined by obscured economic foundations. These economic critiques would result in influential works such as Capital, Volume I (1867).

I discuss this in more detail here:

Why Progressives Lose Their Minds When They Lose Elections

The Slavoj Žižek-NRx Connection

This difference between materialists and idealists is that for the former, matter is the antecedent of spirit; for the latter, it’s reversed.

Unexpectedly though, Marx and Rand tenuously share similarities, in both advocating a ‘materialist’ view of the world:

Now we begin the process of the deconstruction of Rand’s views. The role of materialism in the philosophy of Marx and Rand can be used as a good starting point. Rand advocated in her writing as a materialist, not doing any less in that regard than Marx. The latter seems, however, by several orders of magnitude a more sophisticated philosopher, as he thoroughly knew the German philosophy, with its deep interest in the complexities of the process of cognition. The main principle of the philosophy of “objectivism” Rand formulated as: “Facts are facts and are independent of human feelings, desires, hopes or fears.” Adjacent to the other premise – a principle of the “identity” – “A is A”, meaning that “the fact is a fact” (the third part of “Atlas Shrugged” is subtitles “A is A”) strikes with primitivism, as well as her critique of Kant. Only Lenin, in his book Materialism and Empirico Criticism published in 1908, had a philosophy almost exactly like Rand’s which was formulated a half-century later: “Consciousness is the mirror image of reality.” Any further than Lenin, the layman in philosophy, though educated for those times, Rand did not go.

Whether materialism is the same as objectivism is heavily debated.

Somewhat similar to Hegel, Max Weber believed that religion underpins capitalism:

This Weber called the “spirit of capitalism”: it was the Protestant religious ideology that was behind – and inevitably led to – the capitalist economic system.[84] This theory is often viewed as a reversal of Marx’s thesis that the economic “base” of society determines all other aspects of it.[73]

The weird thing is, Weber was actually a liberal, founding the German Democratic Party in 1918, the German-equivalent of Bernie Sander’s brand of democratic socialism today, and his analysis influenced the creation of the Frankfurt School – or what some call ‘Cultural Marxism’.

Weber also made a variety of other contributions in economic history, as well as economic theory and methodology. Weber’s analysis of modernity and rationalisation significantly influenced the critical theory associated with the Frankfurt School. After the First World War, Max Weber was among the founders of the liberal German Democratic Party.

The Frankfurt School, related to post-structuralism, rejects the Marxian and positivist ideal that the complexity of society can be reduced to economics. Although it’s related to Marxism, adherents oppose the ‘Stalinesque’ centralized version of communism, in addition to rejecting democracy. Frankfurt School, despite being ‘leftist’, is critical of both mainstream liberal and conservative critiques. Mainstream liberals assume democracy and freedom will fix everything, but the Frankfurt School is critical of this reductionist view.

Regarding religion, Émile Durkheim (considered one the l’principal architects of modern social science’, along with Marx and Weber) shared views similar to Weber and, like Marx, that capitalism gives rise to inequality:

In an advanced, industrial, capitalist society, the complex division of labor means that people are allocated in society according to merit and rewarded accordingly: social inequality reflects natural inequality, assuming that there is complete equity in the society. Durkheim argued that moral regulation was needed, as well as economic regulation, to maintain order (or organic solidarity) in society with people able to “compose their differences peaceably”.[2] In this type of society, law would be more restitutive than penal, seeking to restore rather than punish excessively.

Durkheim saw religion as the most fundamental social institution of humankind, and one that gave rise to other social forms.[60][76] It was the religion that gave humanity the strongest sense of collective consciousness.[81] Durkheim saw the religion as a force that emerged in the early hunter and gatherer societies, as the emotions collective effervescence run high in the growing groups, forcing them to act in a new ways, and giving them a sense of some hidden force driving them.[54] Over time, as emotions became symbolized and interactions ritualized, religion became more organized, giving a rise to the division between the sacred and the profane.[54] However, Durkheim also believed that religion was becoming less important, as it was being gradually superseded by science and the cult of an individual.[57][76]

This is an example of how the the political spectrum may actually be a loop or horseshoe-shaped, with the far-left and far-right meeting on certain issues.