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Category Archives: Why do I do this to myself?

All right. If you thought I dropped off the face the planet you are correct. You need to take 30 credits for my Master’s and I took 40. How dumb is that? I spent all of December and January bleeding ink and paper. And what do I get? A number, they call it a ‘grade’ or a ‘mark’. I am marked and I am graded and that in relation to everybody else. Grades and results are two different things, but let’s not talk about that right now.

I’ve tried many things in the past to make this blog the proper habit it should be, and I think I may have worked out a solution. First, I am opening the format. Talking about Marx all the time gets tiresome. I love Marx, but I also love other things too -like Foucault, and Smallville, and so on.

 Second, taking stock, I actually have a number of blogs to keep up with. I have no idea how this happened. Anyway. Since this semester I take only one class and write my thesis, Monday is blog day. Period!! Third, I’m not going to be such a prick to every piece of literature I look at. Fourth, I want to devise creative ways of presenting the Marx read along. Ideas are welcome here… ‘Marx for Dummies’. Any masochists out there reading/who have read Capital? 

Fifth, if I get at least one person… Sorglose Nacht?  the Karl Marx Blog? to blog a book club reading of Grundrisse (or suggest another) with me (which I have never read BTW) that would be awesome. I’ll sit on this if I get no bites for 1 month; then I’m coming after YOU!!!

See, it’s fun to be informal. I’m really not so stiff. Soon I will have my web interlinked appropriately and you will see there are many ways to be a marxist, one of which is to speak in cryptic terms.

Now. I have written a number of papers. Some of them are interesting maybe, others not maybe. I do not know. I know what my professors claim to think about them, but that is not important to your reading; in the end, I don’t write for the grade but for understanding or some other such lofty nonsense. So I begin posting those now in serial, and responding to comments… and whatever else strikes my fancy (re. resolution 1).  

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why I started reading Marx in the first place. In the style of US education I experienced (mostly public, but with secondary education split: two years catholic-private and two years suburb-public advanced placement track), it occured to me, for a reason I am not aware, that the theories of Karl Marx were implicated in so many major events and yet so casually disregarded, or relegated to a single 45 minute class. Maybe some students read the Communist Manifesto, which even Engels says in the Introduction was a polemic, an important one no doubt, but a dated one as well. However it is perhaps impossible for most teachers let alone teenagers of the United States to read a polemic like the manifesto and understand, at the very least, what is meant by the term ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’. A dictatorship is a particular arrangement of rule generating fields. It can be a dictatorship in the sense we think of today, i.e. Pakistan, Cuba, North Korea, Libya, etc., or it can be a ‘representative’ republic. In either case there are those with much power to dictate and participate in dictation and those with much less. Furthermore, as even the most basic demographic and economic statistics will make clear, there are clear trends and dominant patterns as to which groups dictate in any given system. The ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ makes much more sense when put next to the concept ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’.

Of course, I’ll be the first to suggest that better and more sophisticated terms exist for analyzing the manifestations of dominant groups in society. However, that is not the issue at hand. The one or two classes that, thankfully, can be afforded the theories of Marx should at least present the material in an informed manner. The vast majority of school teachers (and probably even most teaching university) are not equipped to talk about Marx. Few of them have read it, and most of what they have read about it provided the very misconceptions they go on to teach. Do not get me wrong. Mrs. Fidler and Mr. Heys were (are I hope) great and passionate teachers who instilled the same in their students. However, neither could explain accurately the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and indeed both used it as evidence of marxism’s dictatorial (popular sense) agenda. This was the same teacher who created a handout bulleting some of the main points of a school of historians studying the US and USSR as ‘enemies in the mirror’ -a progressive idea in the US classroom; a hand out for which he claims he could have received some form of disciplinary action. Teachers need people with more knowledge on a subject from time to time. In fact, Mrs. Fidler often brought guest speakers into the classroom, an Egyptologist, a Hindu physics professor, a Zen monk of ‘western’ descent. Perhaps if I ever live in Omaha before she moves or retires I can feature for a class or two… Critical theorists, do you know a teacher? Should guest speakers become a bigger part of classroom agendas in general? If the teacher was more of a mediator between specialists and students, could the teacher then focus even more on their areas of interest and be expert in those? Dissolve the role of teacher by making the task universal (which it really already is in so many ways). Erect the role of mediator and guide.

The only two things of which we can be certain.

Praxis is essentially just one of those smarty-pants words for the process of doing, action, practice- practical application. It is something of an opposite to theory, or rather, it is the theory that theory must be applied if it is to ever carry much meaning. For example, anybody can theorize that a particular person is or was the child of god. However, it is not until enough people actually put this theory into practice, i.e. bahave as if this person is god's child, that the theory gains enough meaning to become 'true'.

In some remarkable instances these truths are so widely held that they become those 'inescapable', seductively empirical and all too 'natural facts of life'; they assume an existence outside and over us. What was made by humans comes to dominate humans so that in this instance a handful of creative subjects and generations of progeny enslaved themselves to, commited both acts of violence and compassion out of duty to the mass-figment of christ. Such inversions of subject and object, of society's agents allowing ourselves to be determined by external (although human-made) structures, is what the smarty-pants call reification. Religion in general, and Christians in particular, are one of the easiest examples of this reification concept. And as far as examples go it is really not very compelling, but it is clear.

Political economics and economic 'reality', how a society organizes its reproduction, is a lot like religion. It is a system of 'truths' come 'facts' we accept so often in thought and action as the 'natural' order of things. To use a crude example, the cliche about the only two certainties of life being death and taxes is based upon a reified notion of the state. It presupposes a particular form of state as always and forever existing, like the inevitable sorrow of death. Of course, to see beyond the reified state does one little good, for the state, like the Spanish Inquisition, will come looking for both confession and cash.

Money and the roles we allow it to play, indeed the entire structure we call capitalism is a reification of far greater power, violence, longevity and reach than anything we know of which predates. How many question the money, the market and all their categories? Who questions how it is that things come to carry a price? And yet in the mind it seems there is not much that money can't accomplish, and little some will not do to posess it in abundance. It becomes natural to conceive social reproduction only in terms of needing a 'job' and shopping for entertainment, services, or things (as though enterainment and services aren't things!!), we allow ourselves to believe that only under a system of profiteers, exploiters of our work can society have pop-songs, pubs, ipods, cream cakes, and fruit smelling body scrubs. 

It seldom occurs to us that money, 'in-fact', has no 'real' value at all, or when such a thought is entertained it is all too often finally and quickly silenced as unrealistic, wishful thinking. It is dangerous and subversive thinking, for to question the universal character of the money commodity is to jeaprodize, on the one hand, what may be an otherwise materially comfortable existence as a skilled labor commodity, and on the other hand, to endanger the very mystifications which underpin the 'reality' of the system itself. To use a late example, as more people become aware of the rather arbitrary assignation of price to song; of culture as exploitable property, the ideological edifice of capitalism comes under tension. As people become use to a truly 'free market' (that is non-market- the negation of the market) of songs (to use only one example) it may be that they become more ready to accept free market education, free market housing, free market food, free market pubs, free market mediation channels, and a profusion of voluntary, edifying, and non-exploitative labor. In 'reality' such a restructuring is only a question of social norms, skill development, and methods and tools for the reorganization of social reproduction.        

Economists and those in schools of business are the most extreme example of this reification of capital, for their entire discipline is dominated by a myriad of market functions. It forgets that their market is presupposed; taken as natural and given. Economics loses its transitory and historical character. It forgets that its object of study is entirely and utterly of human construction, and therefore potentially entirely and utterly subject to alteration by our collective will and hand. Economics does not study humans, it studies the creation that dominates humans and then presents it as that which makes us 'free'.

'As in religion one is governed by the products of their own brain, so in capitalist production they are governed by the products of their own hands' (Marx in Fromm: 51).   

The challenge for us as victims of this entire process is to figure out how to re-assert our governance so that the necessaries and luxuries we need and enjoy need not mean an indentured creative servitude in the workplace–a commercially colonized leisure for the lucky end of the global division of labor; any variety of mindless mechanical tasks for the less fortunate many; and of course endemic sickness and defeat for the non-elite rest. From the richest of board members to the poorest of urchins, all in this process have their humanity effaced, and there is no argument worthy of wearing humanist clothes that can justify the indefinite existence of such an economic mode; that cannot argue that we begin here and now to respond to this with praxis.

Praxis. It is through praxis that we organize our will and turn our hands toward change. The type of change we desire will not just happen, for we are its eventual agents. And it is with this in mind that I begin this here blog.    

Fromm, Eric. (1961). Marx’s Concept of Man. Frederick Ungar Publishing:
New York.