G.U.T.3

 

Guest Of Honour

 

History is nothing but the activity of men in pursuit of their ends.

 

I described how Marx conjured for himself an historical invitation as guest of honour to the forthcoming revolution- to celebrate the emancipation of the ‘working class’ . The third part of his triangle- Capital, also had to be given form so that the working class had something to be liberated from. From this beginning the subject of Marx’s ‘scientific’ work was endowed  with one particular  purpose; it could not be allowed to discredit Marx and Marxism or by necessity we would never have heard of any of it. But how can Marx’s conception of history and the development of mankind be ‘scientific’ if it does not allow for the possibility that it is wrong in all or in part?

 

 

If thy eye offend thee…

 

Marx had been (self) selected by history to  create rational scientific socialism.  From the outset, given the transformative, millennial nature of his message  Marx understood the danger of being accused of creating a secular religion with himself as Moses (and God),  the workers as the Israelites and capital as Pharaoh. Marx, acutely sensitive to the charge of religiosity developed the argument that all ‘religion’ is the product of men and therefore essentially idol worship. Using an incredible parody of Judaic condemnation of paganism as justification, Marx argued it had now became necessary to rid socialism of all  idolatry religious content. But this purging meant excising morality and therefore the element of conscious choice. Socialism cannot embody conscious choice because it is amoral, or beyond morality. It is conscious in the sense that it is scientific and rational. As such it requires acceptance and submission to rationality, not choice. In order to enter scientific socialist heaven new scientific socialist man would have to sacrifice his moral conscience.

 

In building scientific socialism Marx found himself parodying Moses and the Israelites, then parodying the Judaic injunction against idols and the commandment that ‘Thou shalt have no other God but Me’. Finally the ‘rational’ socialism he created required absolute submission before revealed truth. It is little wonder that Marx increasingly complained that :

 

History (meaning religious history-author ) is a nightmare from which mankind (by which he meant Marx himself), struggles to extricate itself.

 

If Marx succeeded in freeing himself, socialism would no longer be moral choice but  scientific fact. Consequently a rational man may choose between two moral alternatives but is forced to choose scientific reality and therefore socialism would  be inevitable for rational people. Since understanding and implementing socialism was no longer a question of morality but one of  consciousness or rationality,  the question I pose becomes even more pressing – Under capitalism you are free to think and sometimes even to speak as you wish, so long as you do as you are told by Capitalists. Capitalism is what you do, not what you think.. Given that Capitalism is what you do, not what you think;  Why can you be an ‘unconscious’ capitalist and not an unconscious socialist? The logical answer is that if socialism did not require ‘consciousness’ there would be no need for Marx and Marxism. Marx would happily do anything for workers and the world revolution apart from write himself out of the picture.  Socialism has to be conscious, or else there is no role for Marx! The intellectual basis for Marxism can be nothing other than a justification for Marx himself….

 

The conscious ideology of Marxism is the product of Marx, but capitalism is not the product of any one person’s thought. Therefore it cannot be  conscious in the way that Marxism is conscious.  Rather, capitalism is the product of capitalists and  workers doing certain things. But we must conclude in line with Marxism  that when workers do what they are ‘supposed’ to do the product is capitalism, not socialism. It is only when workers think about what they are doing in a different way, that what they do could possibly be socialism. This is Marx’s historical warrant to write Kapital..to make capitalism in general and workers in particular, conscious.  But if capitalism is not already conscious, how can it have given rise to Marx and Marxism, which, by Marx’s own argument are the product of capitalism? How can unconsciousness spontaneously produce consciousness? Capitalism must have some seed of consciousness to produce Marx and Marxism. Marx had to find that seed of consciousness to explain himself….

 

A Tale Of Two Titles

 

If capitalism were actually conscious it might more rightly be called  ‘Smithism’  after author of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith. This is tacitly acknowledged by Marx  in subtitling Kapital ; ‘A Critique of Political Economy’ which effectively means a critique of Adam Smith and Ricardo and their conception of the significance of capitalism. This approach would account for Capitalism in as far as it was conscious. But capitalism is also unconscious and that also has to be accounted for.  If Marx succeeded in defeating the political economy of Smith and Ricardo, he would simply have defeated two of the high priests of capitalism; he would not have even scratched capitalism itself because capitalism is what you do, not what you say. The author of conscious socialism must also defeat the author of unconscious capitalism …Capital, hence the main title of his major work.  Marx  must critique Smithism, with his critique of political economy and must also critique Capital. So Kapital .. A Critique Of Political Economy came into being with two titles.  Like a dog chasing two hares at once Marx was destined never to catch either of them.

 

All that is solid melts into air..

 

For They Know Not..

 

For Marx’s historical  process to work it was necessary to make capitalism self aware. But what does this mean exactly? It means exactly and specifically to hold capitalism to its own rules. If capitalism cannot operate by it’s own declared rules it will be proved to be irrational and should be overthrown. But it can only be shown to have broken it’s own rules if there are defined rules to be broken. That means there has to be a defined authority to make these rules. But under capitalism everybody is that defined authority because capitalism is what the majority of people do in a capitalist country. And  capitalism can break the rules in two ways. It can knowingly break it’s own rules and it can unknowingly break it’s own rules.   This would come to be a fundamental part of the development of the subsequent  critique of capitalism. The difference between a venal and mortal sin is awareness of the nature of your actions. A sin is mortal if knowingly committed. This gives rise to a new vista: To what extent are the failures of  capitalists the result of ignorance or of conscious sin?

 

Forgive them, for they know not what they do

 

If Capitalists sinned knowingly then the answer and the judgement must be Marxism. But if capitalists sinned unknowingly then the answer and the judgement might be Keynesianism..

 

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G.U.T.

Whatever else Karl Marx was, he was not a Marxist- as he himself is reported to have said. This comment is generally taken as a dig at the intellectual quality of ‘Marxists’ and one all the more piquant because it comes from the progenitor of Marxism..  But it is possible to see this from another point of view; as a typically wry observation that Marx himself understood that he could not be a Marxist according to the logic of his own position, because he was unwilling and unable to apply a strict Marxist interpretation to Marxism itself. If Marx was accusing anyone, he was accusing himself…. His favourite motto:

De omnibus dubitandum [Everything must be doubted].”

would of necessity include Marx himself of course…

Marxism as an ideology necessarily comes into existence in it’s own terms. Marxism proclaims that it derives  purpose and validity solely by virtue of it’s own content. For a Marxist, there are no questions to be asked about Marxism’s  origins or the context in which it came to existence outside of the terms of Marxism itself. At first glance his seems a bit knotty, but in fact the logic is quite straightforward. Let me elaborate: Marxism is given as the product of Marx’s intellectual development which in turn is the product of the development of the objective conditions that gave rise to it; (That would be Marx’s intellectual development and also Marxism, which are two different things, but also the same thing,,,ahem..) Let me elaborate further…

The basic idea underpinning historical materialism is that capitalism inevitably comes into existence because of mankind’s increasing productive capacity through technological advance. By the same process socialism/communism also inevitably must come into existence because of the inherent nature of capitalism. In so far as mankind’s development is inevitable, so the development of capitalism from feudalism and then socialism from capitalism is inevitable.  And since socialism is the first truly self aware social movement, it’s ideology must also inevitably come into existence at the same time that socialism itself comes into existence.(Because if it didn’t then it wouldn’t be self aware..and therefore not Marxism/socialism). You can be a functioning capitalist without necessarily understanding capitalism but you can’t be a functioning socialist without understanding socialism. On the contrary, Marxists argue that it is a precondition of being a capitalist that you do not really understand the true nature of capitalism since if you did then you would be…. a socialist!

“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”
Karl Marx

This fundamental conditionality is encapsulated in the idea of ‘false consciousness’ which, like many such concepts, is used in inverse proportion to the extent it is understood. The vulgar exposition of false consciousness is that workers believe they have a stake in the ongoing success of capitalism when in fact their best interest would be served by its collapse. But actually the doctrine of false consciousness holds that thought is ‘falsely conscious’ when it holds itself to be the product of abstracted reason instead of objective conditions. In other words a thought is conscious in that it wants to be the product of reason (which is what consciousness consists of, according to Marx),  but it is false in that it is not actually the product of reason but an expression of the social relationships that gave rise to that thought. In more prosaic, (but no less convoluted), terms; You think that you think what you think because you have reasoned it out and therefore there is no reasoned alternative to what you are thinking.  But in reality you think what you think because you have been conditioned to think it. Simply because you are unaware that you have been conditioned to think as you do, your conditioned thought is non rational. If you did understand that you have been conditioned to think as you do, then this would necessarily be the first step toward breaking that conditioning and becoming truly aware, (a socialist).

“Necessity is blind until it becomes conscious. Freedom is the consciousness of necessity.”

In general the first step towards becoming a socialist/Marxist is to understand that there is an historical identity to capitalism because that specific understanding breaks the conditioning of capitalism.

“Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions collapses before their collapse in practice
Letter to Ludwig Kugelmann (July 11, 1868)”
Selected Letters: The Personal Correspondence 1844-1877

From this whole cloth the historical materialism I refer to above  is created. Historical materialism holds that the emergence, development and demise of capitalism is part of an ongoing historical process. On the contrary, modern capitalist ideology holds that capitalism itself is the end point of that process. (The ‘End Of History’ a la Francis Fukyama).

A brief word to clarify what is meant by conditioning here. This is not necessarily a directed process in the Pavlovian sense of training a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell, but rather a natural outcome of interaction with the world as it presently is. To a Marxist, thought is the contemporaneous state of the world mediated through the minds of the people that inhabit it.

“Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.”
Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy

As a consequences of this perspective, Marxism understands thought as a PRODUCT not a cause in distinction from capitalists who regard thought as a means to an end instead of an end product in itself. Thought is unconscious ( falsely conscious), to the extent  of being a product and not a cause. Thought is actually conscious to the extent of being a cause and not a product. ( hence the famous Marx quote:

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.

Eleven Theses on Feuerbach

These prophetic words are inscribed upon Marx’s grave. Irony.

Marx argued this in direct contradistinction to Hegelian philosophy although he claimed Hegel in part as inspiration. In fact, Marx characterised his materialism in exactly this way as the contradictory argument that refines Hegelian philosophy. Hegel starts from the process of thought and goes on to explain the thought process but Marx ends at thought. In this way Marx directly contradicts Hegel and yet claims though this contradiction to be his successor! This startling conception of the thought process gives rise to a problem however. If a given thought process is the product of the conditioning that created it, surely it is trapped by that very same conditioning. How can such a thought process ever realise that it is the product of conditioning? How can you modify your own thought process just by thinking about it? How can you lift yourself up by your own shoe laces? It is clear that for the argument to work some outside force becomes necessary to break into the conditioning/thinking feedback loop and produce a change.

Luckily as it turns out, capitalism just happens to contain within itself that agent of change!