We Enablers (Monday evening in May rambling)

If Americans, feminists in particular in this instance, cared so much about the conditions confronting Arab and African women and children, we wouldn’t be allowing our government and military to bomb and invade them. Because witnessing your child getting caught up in the crossfire isn’t exactly an improvement on living under patriarchal command. Neither is seeing your home and city be reduced to rubble. But we don’t care all that much apparently. Popular as it is to chat about the horrors of genital mutilation (god awful as that reality indeed is), for most folks living far removed from “those people” it’s more about philosophical and theoretical arguments, not actual human beings and not trying to get down deeper to the bottom of what’s happened to humanity. Because if we dig down deep, we come up with blood on our own hands too. We American women are not innocent, we’re not mere bystanders. We’re voters and tax-payers—in other words, we are enablers.

Breaking these chains requires placing the focus on oneself and recognizing the carnage we help perpetuate. In coming to terms with our own selfishness and greed, with our own fear and cowardice, our own lack of concern and our failures and shortcomings, we come to see how easy it is to be swept with the tide and to wake up one day in a world we do not recall co-creating. But we were there, standing idly by, entertaining ourselves with the latest fashions and bickering over the news of the day. We use the stories of distant people to bolster our arguments with one another, sheltered oceans away and content to remain blissfully ignorant of what all is being done in our names to them. Much better to keep the focus on the other guy, on some stranger we can stereotype and make light of, to distort distant people’s reality into an abstract exercise for our own amusement. Because if we really did care, we’d ask what it is we’re doing (or not doing) that is grievously harming others, and we’d take individual action to rectify these wrongs, by whatever means we are able. Right?

But no, it’s much easier to finger-point and to argue from comfortable perches.

We don’t care because we don’t know what it’s like, we can’t relate, our imaginations being so warped and narrow. For all the heinous shit we can imagine, it’s apparently too much of a stretch for us to see ourselves in the role of predator unto others, whether that be directly or indirectly, intentionally or inadvertently or due to a lack of curiosity on our parts to seek out the truth wherever it may lie. One such truth is that we each are working to pay taxes that fund our military machine that is directed by politicians (whom we also elect to power) who belong to parties that are bought and paid for by major monied interests who push to carry out agendas devoid of any regard for those unlike themselves, which is nearly all of us throughout the world. In this game, humans are treated like pawns, and we are rendered completely disposable and interchangeable. Yet we fund this scheme, unwittingly perhaps, believing there can be no other way and that it is outside of our control, as if we are barnyard animals caged in by electric fencing, awaiting our day to be led to slaughter.

Cowards, that’s what nearly the whole lot of us are. We’re accepting life lived on our knees, preferring to remain alive at all costs, even if that means selling our souls completely and watching hell on earth unfold all around us. We talk the big talk and we butt heads over this or that piece of legislation, but then tomorrow we’ll rise and shine and head to work so as to generate more money to feed the beast that’s killing in our names. We’ll bitch and bicker over how many cents on the dollar we’re earning compared to him or her while sipping our mochas and shopping online. We’ll gripe about common courtesies and hurl undue insults at one another, then return home to cook dinner and to snuggle up to our pets, flipping on the television and tuning out. The media doesn’t report on much of the mayhem done in our names anyway, and if it does there’s always CSI or Jersey Shore to retreat to.

And as we snuggle in at night under blankets sewn by serfs in China, we’ll take our Lunesta so as to bypass the dreams of how our time on this planet may be better spent.

Nevermind. Just roaming thoughts of a woman sitting in her Taiwan-manufactured computer chair, ruining her lungs with smoke, sipping water out of a plastic bottle, waiting for the clock to roll around to the time for my next job appointment. Hypocrisy-in-action?

A better use for feminist angst?

Was just chatting on the phone with a guyfriend when an idea struck me. I may have come up with a useful outlet for all this pent-up anti-patriarchy energy in my country. Consider this. Here in America we have many, many women highly upset with what remains of our patriarchal history, venting frustration over full 100% equality not having come into complete fruition as of yet. Despite several decades worth of feminist efforts, many feminists apparently remain nonplussed, arguing that something is still holding them back from whatever ultimate goal they envision for this society.

When arguments over gender matters arise, there’s the typical litany of examples of inequalities, including pay differentials and various other statistics. But also within these arguments there’s a good bit of talk about the patriarchal mindsets that maintain a stronghold in cultures outside of the U.S. Much arguing and finger-pointing ensues, using the Middle East as an example of the prevalence of male domination. BUT, what are Americans to do about practices occurring outside of our borders? How is it our responsibility to change people’s minds and lifestyles abroad? And especially how is it the fault of American men, or white men in particular, that men of other colors elsewhere on the globe are perpetuating patriarchy of old? Yet this is how the blame-game goes, and it’s proving very unproductive and disruptive in today’s society, particularly when the focus is on matters outside of our direct control.

Well, I gave this about 15 minutes worth of thought this afternoon and think I’ve come up with a plan for feminists who are truly sick and tired of the patriarchal past lingering on in modern times. Why not head to these countries in the Middle East and Africa and unleash that aggression on a source better deserving of it? Witness a man caning a woman in the street? Shoot him. Learn of an abusive husband mistreating his wives and kids and keeping them slaves in their own home? Abuse him. Ya know, give the men who behave like this a taste of their own medicine. This serves as a three-fold solution where American feminists (and Canadian and British and whoever else cares to join) can take a proactive stance going up against the very men they take most issue with, thereby dispensing justice where it arguably belongs and protecting vulnerable Middle Eastern women that Western feminists seem to care so much about, all while allowing feminists to put their aggression into purposeful use likely to bring about greater change than bickering online and pushing for evermore laws in the U.S. I see this as a potential win-win situation.

Now, granted, it would be tricky, and there’s no guarantees these feminists would prove successful, so they’d need to be smart and very cunning in their tactics. They could first take the opportunity of trying to reason with Middle Eastern men face-to-face, not that I believe that will wind up doing much good. But it’s worth a try before resorting to violence. Because many feminists seem to be holding onto an idealistic approach to solving gender relations, they might first try the tactics attempted here in the U.S. to see if they can make any headway, such as setting up shelters and attempting to work with Middle Eastern women to encourage them to join in taking a proactive and rebellious stance against this outdated form of subjugation. If and when that fails, it’s time to move on to plan B. I imagine that weaponry will be an indispensable asset in that phase of the initiative, because men do typically possess greater physical strength capable of overcoming unprotected women.

What’s great about this plan is that it brings academic theory down to the ground, so to speak, forcing it to contend with practical realities. Many American feminists shun the notion of using firearms, which strikes me as very stupid indeed if your ultimate goal is to protect yourself from rape, beatings, and other attacks. By heading to a country like, say, Saudi Arabia and learning how men get away with what they do in that country, it could prove to be a valuable lesson in how one utilizes their power in an effective response. The beauty of firearms is they are a great equalizer — no matter how brawny or beastly a man may be, he will still succumb to fire power. And the pulling of a trigger is so easy a child can manage it, as is commonly known. This is what makes weapon technology so impressive and incredibly useful in the modern world — because anyone can use it, not only men.

Feminists could take a firm and direct stand against that form of tyranny and free women of those countries to engage in lives that they determine on their own accord, not merely those chosen for them. Female and male genital mutilation could become a thing of the past. And the women of these countries might be impressed to learn that women can mobilize and respond with lethal violence in response to unwarranted male violence. Might give them a few role models to look up to, especially in the next phase where governments and laws are altered to declare women as possessing rights that have historically been denied to them.

If nothing else it would be a valuable learning experience on how power actually works, not only within “civilized” and centralized societies but within countries where a willingness to fight dirty has a greater influence than words. It’s an opportunity to take what academe in the West has taught and to see how far it can carry you when it comes down to the nitty-gritty side of life. Because I’m willing to bet many feminists would be radically transformed themselves to where they no longer placed so much value in social theories concocted by tenured professors living in the comfort of secluded American suburbia. This would demonstrate to women what they are really made of, what they are actually capable of, and they would see that they are not simply put on this planet to look pretty and to spend money on unneeded consumer items and to run our mouths without lifting a finger to take affirmative action.

Lastly, this would prove to be an alternative to enlisting in the U.S. military where women aren’t really wanted. They’ll recruit you, but they tend to resent you being within their ranks, as if that’s not readily apparent by now. Feminist women could opt to form their own militia and to root out men who endanger and suppress the possibility of the sexes coexisting in an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation for what each brings to the table.

Much progress has been made in the U.S. in terms of laws on the books intended to protect women’s interests, so at this point we in the U.S. need to shift our focus toward the sexes working together and seeing the value in one another. This necessary phase in our own social development is being obstructed by angry feminists intent on picking fights with men and pushing for more and more oppressive laws that invite our government increasingly into our personal lives, homes, schools, and workplaces. This is unacceptable and is breeding deep resentment that will likely result someday in a backlash if we do not change course immediately. By encouraging angry feminists to utilize their aggression and hostility in a more proactive way and direct it toward those who are openly and proudly upholding the patriarchal past, it shifts their focus from every man they come into contact with here in the U.S. and onto men deserving of more attention elsewhere. Again, a win-win situation potentially, assuming these feminists could carry out their plan with an eye toward justice and fairness tempered with mercy, as we’d expect from any ethical being.

It’s just a thought. beamup

On the question of freedom — an excerpt from the book “I and Thou”

Recently finished reading the book I and Thou by Martin Buber (1958) and I’d like to transcribe a little, beginning on page 51:

Causality has an unlimited reign in the world of It. Every “physical” event that can be perceived by the senses, but also every “psychical” event existing or discovered in self-experience is necessarily valid as being caused and as causing. Further, events to which a teleological character may be attributed are as parts of the unbroken world of It not excepted from this causality; the continuum to which they belong certainly tolerates a teleology, but only as the reverse side worked into a part of causality, and not impairing its continuity and completeness.

The unlimited reign of causality in the world of It, of fundamental importance for the scientific ordering of nature, does not weigh heavily on man, who is not limited to the world of It, but can continually leave it for the world of relation. Here I and Thou freely confront one another in mutual effect that us neither connected with nor coloured by any causality. Here man is assured of the freedom both of his being and of Being. Only he who knows relation and knows about the presence of the Thou is capable of decision. He who decides is free, for he has approached the Face. 

The fiery stuff of all my ability to will seethes tremendously, all that I might do circles around me, still without actuality in the world, flung together and seemingly inseparable, alluring glimpses of powers flicker from all the uttermost bounds: the universe is my temptation, and I achieve being in an instant, with both hands plunged deep in the fire, where the single deed is hidden, the deed which aims at me—now is the moment! Already the menace of the abyss is removed, the centreless Many no longer plays in the iridescent sameness of its pretensions; but only two alternatives are set side by side—the other, the vain idea, and the one, the charge laid on me. But now realization begins in me. For it is not decision to do the one and leave the other a lifeless mass, deposited layer upon layer as dross in my soul. But he alone who directs the whole strength of the alternative into the doing of the charge, who lets the abundant passion of what is rejected invade the growth to reality what is chosen—he alone who “serves God with the evil impulse” makes decision, decides the event. If this is understood, it is also known that this which has been set up, towards which direction is set and decision made, is to be given the name of upright; and if there were a devil it would not be one who decided against God, but one who, in eternity, came to no decision.

Causality does not weigh on the man to whom freedom is assured. He knows that his mortal life swings by nature between Thou and It, and he is aware of the significance of this. It suffices him to be able to cross again and again the threshold of the holy place wherein he was not able to remain; the very fact that he must heave it again and again is inwardly bound up for him with the meaning and character of this life. There, on the threshold, the response, the spirit, is kindled ever new within him; here, in an unholy and needy country, this spark is to be proved. What is called necessity here cannot frighten him, for he has recognized there true necessity, namely, destiny.

Destiny and freedom are solemnly promised to one another. Only the man who makes freedom real to himself meets destiny. In my discovery of the deed that aims at me—in this movement of my freedom the mystery is revealed to me; but also in failure to fulfill the deed as I intended it to be—in this resistance, too, the mystery is revealed to me. He who forgets all that is caused and makes decision out of the depths, who rids himself of property and raiment and naked approaches the Face, is a free man, and destiny confronts him as the counterpart of his freedom. It is not his boundary, but his fulfillment; freedom and destiny are linked together in meaning. And in this meaning destiny, with eyes a moment ago so severe now filled with light, looks out like grace itself.

No; causal necessity does not weigh heavily on the man who returns to the world of It bearing this spark. And in times of healthy life trust streams from men of the spirit to all people. To all men indeed, even to the dullest, meeting—the present—has come somehow, naturally, impulsively, dimly: all men have somewhere been aware of the Thou; now the spirit gives them full assurance.

But in times of sickness it comes about that the world of It, no longer penetrated and fructified by the inflowing world of Thou as by living streams but separated and stagnant, a gigantic ghost of the fens, overpowers man. In coming to terms with a world of objects that no longer assume present being for him he succumbs to this world. Then smooth causality rises up till it is an oppressive, stifling fate.

Every great culture that comprehends nations rests on an original relational incident, on a response to the Thou made at its source, on an act of the being made by the spirit. This act, strengthened by the similarly directed power of succeeding generations, creates in the spirit a special conception of the cosmos; only through this act is cosmos, an apprehended world, a world that is homely and houselike, man’s dwelling in the world, made possible again and again. Only now can man, confident in his soul, build again and again, in a special conception of space, dwellings for God and dwellings for men, and fill swaying time with new hymns and songs, and shape the very community of men. But he is free and consequently creative only so long as he possesses, in action and suffering in his own life, that act of the being—so long as he himself enters into relation. If a culture ceases to be centred in the living and continually renewed relational event, then it hardens into the world of It, which the glowing deeds of solitary spirits only spasmodically break through. Thenceforth smooth causality, which before had no power to disturb the spiritual conception of the cosmos, rises up till it is an oppressive, stifling fate. Wise and masterful destiny, that reigned, in harmony with the wealth of meaning in the cosmos, over all causality, has been changed into a demonic spirit adverse to meaning, and has fallen into the power of causality. The very karma that appeared for the forefathers as a charitable dispensation—for what we do in this life raises us up for a future life in higher spheres—is now recognized as tyranny: for the karma of an earlier life of which we are unconscious has shut us in a prison we cannot break in this life. Where hitherto a heaven was established in a law, manifest to the senses, raising its light arch from which the spindle of necessity hangs, the wandering stars new rule in senseless and oppressive might. It was necessary only to give oneself to Dike, the heavenly “way,” which means also our way, in order to dwell with free hearts in the universal bounds of fate. But now, whatever we do, we are laden with the whole burden of the dead weight of the world, with fate that does not know spirit. The storming desire for the salvation is unsatisfied after manifold attempts, till it is stilled by one who learns to escape the cycle of births, or by one, who saves the souls, that have fallen to alien powers, into the freedom of the children of God. Such an achievement arises out of a new event of meeting, which is in the course of assuming substantial being—out of a new response, determining destiny, of a man to his Thou. In the working out of this central act of the being, one culture can be relieved by another that is given up to the influence of this act, but it can also be given new life in itself alone. 

The sickness of our age is like that of no other age, and it belongs together with them all. The history of cultures is not a course of æons in which one runner after another has to traverse gaily and unsuspectingly the same death-track. A nameless way runs through rise and fall: not a way of progress and development, but a spiral descent through the spiritual underworld, which can also be called an ascent to the innermost, finest, most complicated whirlpool, where there is no advance and no retreat, but only utterly new reversal—the break through. Shall we have to go this way to the end, to trial of the final darkness? Where there is danger, the rescuing force grows too.

The quasi-biological and quasi-historical thought of today, however different the aims of each, have worked together to establish a more tenacious and oppressive belief in fate than has ever before existed. The might of karma or of the stars no longer controls inevitably the lot of man; many powers claim the mastery, but rightly considered most of our contemporaries believe in a mixture of them, just as the late Romans believed in a mixture of gods. This is made easier by the nature of the claim. Whether it is the “law of life” of a universal struggle in which all must take part or renounce life, or the “law of the soul” which completely builds up the psychical person from innate habitual instincts, or the “social law” of an irresistible social progress to which will and consciousness may only be accompaniments, or the “cultural law” of an unchangeably uniform coming and doing of historical structures—whatever form it takes, it always means that man is set in the frame of an inescapable happening that he cannot, or can only in his frenzy, resist. Consecration in the mysteries brought freedom from the compulsion of the stars, and brahman-sacrifice with its accompanying knowledge brought freedom from the compulsion of karma: on both redemption was represented. But the composite god tolerates no belief in release. It is considered folly to imagine any freedom; there is only one choice, between resolute, and hopeless rebellious, slavery. And no matter how much is said, in all these laws, of teleological development and organic growth, at the basis of them all lies possession by process, that is by unlimited causality. The dogma of gradual process is the abdication of man before the exuberant world of It. He misuses the name of destiny: destiny is not a dome pressed tightly down on the world of men; no one meets it but he who went out from freedom. But the dogma of process leaves no room for freedom, none for its most real revelation of all, whose calm strength changes the face if the earth: turning. This dogma does not know the man who through reversal surmounts the universal struggle, tears to pieces the web of habitual instincts, raises the class ban, and stirs, rejuvenates, and transforms the stable structures of history. This dogma allows you in its game only the choice to observe the rules or to retire: but he who is turning overthrows the pieces. The dogma is always willing to allow you to fulfill its limitation with your life and “to remain free” in your soul; but he who is turning looks on this freedom as the most ignominious bondage.

The only thing that can become fate for a man is belief in fate; for this suppresses the movement of turning.

Belief in fate is mistaken from the beginning. All consideration in terms of process is merely an ordering of pure “having become,” of the separated world-event, of objectivity as though it were history; the presence of the Thou, the becoming out of solid connexion, is inaccessible to it. It does not know the reality of the spirit; its scheme is not valid for spirit. Prediction from objectivity is valid only for the man who does not know presentness. He who is overcome by the world of It is bound to see, in the dogma of immutable process, a truth that clears a way through the exuberant growth; in very truth this dogma enslaves him only the more deeply to the world of It. But the world of Thou is not closed. He who goes out to it with concentrated being and risen power to enter into relation becomes aware of freedom. And to be freed from belief that there is no freedom is indeed to be free.

Let’s stop there for today, on page 58. That was a very timely piece that I’m glad to have just now reread while transcribing. Let it be known that I type up pages from books for others to enjoy, but mostly I do it for myself, to force myself to go over the words more carefully and to more deeply consider the content.

Take a long, long ride with yourself

That was Rhinobucket’s “Ride With Yourself” — a terrific song.

Needing to decompress a little this Friday evening. The work schedule currently has me heading out for an appointment or two, back for a couple hours, out again, back again, out again, all weekend long. Which is fine. Such is my life. But doesn’t lend itself well to going out or making plans, needing to be up early tomorrow.  Hopefully Sunday afternoon we’ll find time for my beau to add freon to my brake lines (non-working air-conditioner in the car as of right now).

Had a conversation with an older lady I’m pretty well-acquainted with yesterday that’s left me doing some deep pondering, wrestling with her claims about life and her expressed cynicism. What troubles me most about her views is the field she works in while she professes such incredible disdain for the overall human population. I keep telling people it’s folks in social control-oriented lines of work we need to be keeping an eye on and learning more about, because they wield an inordinate amount of power in this day and age. We’ve placed too much faith in them and the ‘pseudoscience’ they often rely on, that is my belief. Not because I don’t like this woman — I do. But because those views coincide with her possessing authority. It strikes me as very unsettling. To perhaps be explained in greater detail another time.

Sunday thoughts on collectives and groups, feminism and MRAs

I continue pondering over here where to take the conversation on feminism. Having made a couple videos speaking out against feminism and a couple in general response to MRAs I’ve come into contact with on youtube, I haven’t really fleshed out the topic in greater detail on this blog. Been hesitant to do so because I’m still collecting my thoughts. But one thing remains a constant: I continue to care about the rights of womankind. Just as I also care about the rights of mankind. My own views, however, break apart from the politically-minded feminist bandwagon, because I do not believe social problems can be remedied by legal means alone or primarily (as I will keep repeating). Much of what we face today stems from economics, which cannot help but deeply impact the social sphere because we are its workers competing for wages and we are its consumers. Our economy is largely backed by our government, so we are in a serious conundrum at this point. What’s even more unfortunate is how people have come to view everything as a legal contest and join sides and battle one another as groups on ideological grounds, creating deeper divisions between the people and painting complex issues with broad brushes that ignore relevant nuances and undermine further attempts at effective communication. In other words, people are declaring war, social and legal war, on other groups of people.

That I am tiring of. Is there not enough competition already to satisfy us that we must create more?

I do not automatically view men as my enemy, nor do I automatically view women as my enemy, nor do I automatically view members of either sex as compadres. This life has shown me firsthand some horrible people of both sexes, and wonderful people of both sexes, to where I am unable to take gender-related generalizations too seriously. People are people, it is true. We are individuals who must be known as such, and these generalizations tend to dehumanize us, robbing us of our individuality, ignoring our perspectives and histories and choices, rendering us nearly invisible to those who lump us into association with whoever or whatever else appearing to possess something in common, no matter how trivial or tenuous, and then dismiss us out of hand on that account. How is that respecting individuals? So many claim to care about individual rights, and yet they have blinders up when it comes to the individuality of those they stand in opposition to. Blinded by group affiliation, people demonize the “others.” As has been common all up through human history.

Makes me wonder why we like to boast how we’ve come so far when it is apparent we have so much farther to go, assuming we are able and willing.

There are men who had dramatic impact on my life. I do know what it’s like to be mistreated a bit, by men and by women, by family members and people I once looked up to, as well as relative strangers. I do not live in some fairy tale where all has been given to me or where others have walked as if on eggshells to appease and protect me (though perhaps to avoid arguments — I do get riled up at times). The reality I’ve witnessed, whether directly or through those I’ve met along the way, has been raw and has left scars that I am coming to terms with being a part of me for the rest of my life (as I’m certain I’ve left scars on others). There is nowhere to run to escape the reality we’re all helping bring about, so I turn to us—to myself and to others—to seek remedy. Because the power has always lied with us, much as we struggle to grasp that concept. Changes take time and there’s no way to rush these processes. But there are ways to hinder them, and we’re proving to do a fine job at that.

I don’t particularly get along well with other people. (Laughter and grimaces there — it’s not by deliberate intent, but whatever, that’s a separate topic.) With a few I do, and I love them dearly. But I don’t expect to win many more friends in this lifetime, and that’s all right. Striving for popularity never made much sense to me, because then you wind up acting in accordance with what members of your group expect from you, which is limiting. It cages you in and polices your thoughts and words, ridiculing you for speaking out of turn or saying something they don’t want to hear. Much has been documented about group dynamics and how we tend to behave differently when group-minded or in a group setting versus when we act and think on our own accord. But I do not say any of this to give the impression that all groups are worthless all the time — no, they have their benefits and purposes. But when group membership or classifications come to eclipse the individuals therein, as they always have, we then lose ourselves to them, and this I take extreme caution with.

Out of loyalty for the group, we tend to overlook the fanatics and extremists within, preferring to ignore them, thinking their views will shrivel up and die away eventually. Just as the majority of religious persons assume to be the case with fringe cults — until those cults gain enough followers to seriously challenge and contend with the wider religion, as happened over and over again. Extremists draw attention and their words appeal to the core where we desire radical change, tricking some into believing shortcuts are possible if they are willing to go on the offense and use whatever tactics are at their disposal to undermine their “opposition,” even if that leads to outright war. The more tensions mount on each side, the more that members within either “camp” become unwilling to criticize their own, especially publicly, because they are locked into a contest where they don’t wish to display “weakness.” Admitting there is flawed thinking within the ranks of the group you belong to apparently is viewed as “weakness” to people in a competitive mindset. So the extremists within each camp continue on largely unchallenged except by the supposed “opposition,” and the silence of their more moderate group members is taken as a sign of consent to the message being put forth. With no obstacles aiming to challenge the extremist message, newcomers take it in as representative of the larger group. If that weren’t the case, debate would be taking place, isn’t that so? And this is how feminism is being framed by people calling themselves MRAs. And I see where MRAs are doing the exact same thing without realizing it, as the video above helps point out.

I don’t know what to think of humanity most days. Not sure where we might go from here. Not convinced we’re willing and able to change direction from this path of least resistance, this descent into incessant bickering and fighting and feuding and competing. If enough people want it this way, they will have it this way. If people prefer to fight rather than seek outside the box for possible solutions and ways to work together, we will experience history repeating as it has so many times before. And we will demonstrate that we have not evolved near as far as we like to think we have — despite all of our modern technological gadgetry and scientific innovations, we are animals at war with our own selves, with both our potentials and our base natures. Collectively this problem cannot be adequately addressed because fundamentally it is an individual concern that requires each individual to grow as we are able. Collectives tend to take on lives of their own and come to discourage this sort of personal growth and exploration so as to use its members to suit its own political or social ambitions (and whatever those ambitions morph into over time).

And now I must head back out to work. I hope to return to this subject later today, if I feel up to it.

“The Inexorable System of Karl Marx” — PART 2 transcribed from the book “The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert L. Heilbroner

Returning to where we left off in Heilbroner’s book The Worldly Philosophers (1999, 7th ed.), in the chapter titled “The Inexorable System of Karl Marx,” picking back up on page 139:

The Manifesto, as everybody knows, was the brainchild of that angry genius, Karl Marx. More accurately, it was the result of collaboration between him and his remarkable companion, compatriot, supporter, and colleague, Friedrich Engels.

They are interesting, and, of course, enormously important men. The trouble is, they rapidly became not just men, but figures. At least until the Soviet debacle, Marx was widely considered a religious leader to rank with Christ or Mohammed, and Engels thus became a sort of Saint Paul or John. In the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, scholars pored over their works with the idolatry they ridiculed in the antireligious museums down the street. But while Marx and Engels were canonized in Stalinist Russia and, to a lesser extent, in Maoist China, they were regarded as creatures of the devil in much of the rest of the world.

They merit neither treatment, for they were neither saints nor devils. Nor is their work either Scriptures or anathema. It belongs in the great line of economic viewpoints that have successfully clarified, illuminated, and interpreted the world for us, and like the other great works on the shelf, it is not without flaw. The world have been preoccupied with Marx the Revolutionary. But had Marx not lived, there would have been other Socialists and other prophets of a new society. The real and lasting impact of Marx and Engels is not their revolutionary activity, none of which bore too much fruit during their own lifetimes. It is with the vision of Marx the Political Economist that capitalism must finally come to grips. For the final imprint he made on history was his prediction that capitalism must inevitably collapse. On that prediction, communism built its edifice, heedless of its own weaknesses.

But let us see the men.

They were very much opposites in appearance. Marx looked like a revolutionary. His children called him “The Moor,” for his skin was dark and his eyes deep-set and flashing. He was stocky and powerfully built and rather glowering in expression with a formidable beard. He was not an orderly man; his home was a dusty mass of papers piled in careless disarray in the midst of which Marx himself, slovenly dressed, padded about in an eye-stinging haze of tobacco smoke. Engels, on the other hand, would pass for a member of his despised bourgeoisie; tall and fair and rather elegant, he had the figure of a man who liked to fence and to ride to hounds and who had once swum the Weser River four times without a break.

It was not only in their looks that they differed; their personalities were at opposite poles. Engels was gay and observant and gifted with a quick and facile mind; it was said that he could stutter in twenty languages. He had a taste for the bourgeois pleasures in life, including a good palate for wine, and it is amusing to note that although he turned to the proletariat for his amours, he spent much of his time romantically (and unsuccessfully) trying to prove that his working-class mistress, Mary Burns (and later, after her death, her sister Lizzie), were actually descended from the Scottish poet.

Marx was much more ponderous. He is the German scholar par excellence, slow, meticulous, and painstakingly, even morbidly, perfectionist. Engels could dash off a treatise in no time at all; Marx was always worrying one to death. Engels was fazed only by Arabic with its four thousand verb roots; Marx, after twenty years of practice, still spoke hideously Teutonic English. When he writes of the great “chock” which events have caused him, we can almost hear him speak. But for all his heaviness, Marx is the greater mind of the two; where Engels supplied breadth and dash, Marx provided the depth.

They met, for the second time, in 1844 in Paris, and their collaboration begins at this date. Engels had come to merely call on Marx, but they had so much to say to each other that their conversation lasted for ten days. Thereafter there is hardly a product of the one that was not edited or rewritten or at least debated with the other, and their correspondence fills volumes.

Their paths to that common meeting ground in Paris were widely divergent. Engels was the son of a pietist, Calvinist, narrow-minded father, a manufacturer in the Rhineland. When Friedrich as a young man had shown an incomprehensible taste for poetry, his father had packed him off to Bremen to learn the export business and to live with a cleric: religion and moneymaking, according to Caspar Engels, were good cures for a romantic soul. Engels had dutifully applied himself to business, but everything he saw was colored by a personality in revolt, a happy-go-lucky personality that was incompatible with his father’s rigid standards. He went down to the docks in the course of business, but his observant eye took in not only the first-class accommodations “in mahogany ornamented with gold” but the steerage as well, where the people were “packed in like the paving-stones in the streets.” He began to read the radical literature of his time, and by the age of twenty-two he was converted to the ideals of “communism”—a word that then had no very clear definition except insofar as it rejected the idea of private property as a means for organizing society’s economic effort.

Then he went to Manchester to enter his father’s textile business there. Manchester, like the ships in Bremen, seemed to Engels a facade. There were pleasant streets lined with shops and suburbs ringing the city with pleasant villas. But there was a second Manchester as well. It was hidden behind the first and laid out so that the mill owners never had to see it on their trips to their offices. It harbored a stunted population living in a state of filth and despair, turning to gin and evangelism and doping itself and its children with laudanum against a life that was hopeless and brutal. Engels had seen similar conditions in the factory towns of his Rhineland home, but now he explored Manchester until he knew every last hovel and each ratlike abode. He was to publish his findings in the most terrible verdict ever passed on the world of industrial slums: The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. One time he talked of the misery of the place to a gentleman friend and remarked that he had never seen so “ill-built a city.” His companion listened to him quietly and then said, “And yet there is a great deal of money made here; good day, sir.”

He was writing now—treatises to show that the great English economists were only apologists for the existing order—and one of his contributions made a special impression on a young man named Karl Marx, who was editing a radical philosophical magazine in Paris.

Unlike Engels, Marx came from a liberal, even mildly radical, family background. He was born in 1818 in Trier, Germany, the second son of a prosperous Jewish family that shortly thereafter adopted Christianity so that Heinrich Marx, an advocate, might be less restricted in his practice. Heinrich Marx was a respected man; he was, in fact, even appointed Justizrat, an honorary title for eminent lawyers, but in his day he had joined illegal banquet clubs that drank toasts to a republican Germany, and he had reared his young son on a diet of Voltaire, Locke, and Diderot.

Heinrich Marx hoped that his son would study law. But at the universities of Bonn and Berlin, young Marx found himself swept up in the great philosophical debate of the day. The philosopher Hegel had propounded a revolutionary scheme, and the conservative German universities found themselves split wide open over it. Change, according to Hegel, was the rule of life. Every idea, every force, irrepressibly bred its opposite, and the two merged into a “unity” that in turn produced its own contradiction. And history, said Hegel, was nothing but the expression of this flux of conflicting and resolving ideas and forces. Change—dialectical change—was immanent in human affairs. With one exception: when it came to the Prussian state, the rules no longer applied; the Prussian government, said Hegel, was like “a veritable earthly god.”

This was a powerful stimulus for a young student. Marx joined a group of intellectuals known as the Young Hegelians who debated such daring questions as atheism and pure theoretical communism in terms of the Hegelian dialectic, and he decided to become a philosopher himself. He might have, had it not been for the action of that godlike state. Marx’s favorite professor, Bruno Bauer, who was eager to procure an appointment for him at Bonn, was dismissed for proconstitutional and antireligious ideas (one evidently as bad as the other), and an academic career for young Dr. Marx became an impossibility.

He turned instead to journalism. The Rheinische Zeitung, a small middle-class liberal newspaper, to which he had been a frequent contributor, asked him to take on its editorship. He accepted; his career lasted exactly five months. Marx was then a radical, but his radicalism was philosophical rather than political. When Friedrich Engels came respectfully to call on him, Marx rather disapproved of that brash young man brimming with Communist ideas, and when Marx himself was accused of being a Communist, his reply was equivocal: “I do not know communism,” he said, “but a social philosophy which has as its aim the defense of the oppressed cannot be condemned so lightly.” But regardless of his disavowals, his editorials were too much for the authorities. He wrote a bitter denunciation of a law that would have prevented the peasants from exercising their immemorial rights to gather dead wood in the forests; for this he was censured. He wrote editorials deploring the housing situation; for this he was warned. And when he went so far as to say some uncomplimentary things about the Tsar of Russia, the Rheinische Zeitung was suppressed.

Marx went to Paris to take over another radical journal, which was to be almost as short-lived as the newspaper. But his interests were now turned in the direction of politics and economics. The undisguised self-interest of the Prussian government, the implacable resistance of the German bourgeoisie toward anything that might alleviate the condition of the German working classes, the almost caricaturesque attitudes of reaction which characterized the wealthy and ruling classes of Europe—all of this had coalesced in his mind to form part of a new philosophy of history. And when Engels came to visit him and the two struck up their strong rapport, that philosophy began to take formal shape.

The philosophy is often called dialectical materialism; dialectical because it incorporates Hegel’s idea of inherent change, and materialism because it grounds itself not in the world of ideas, but on the terrain of social and physical environment.

“The materialist conception of history,” wrote Engels many years later in a famous tract titled “Anti-Dühring” (it was aimed against a German professor named Eugen Dühring) “starts from the principle that production, and with production the exchange of its products, is the basis of every social order; that in every society that has appeared in history the distribution of the products, and with it the division of society into classes or estates, is determined by what is produced and how it is produced, and how the product is exchanged. According to this conception, the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in the minds of men, in their increasing insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the mode of production and exchange; they are to be sought not in the philosophy but in the economics of the epoch concerned.”

The reasoning is powerful. Every society, says Marx, is built on an economic base—the hard reality of human beings who must organize their activities to clothe and feed and house themselves. That organization can differ vastly from society to society and from era to era. It can be pastoral or built around hunting or grouped into handicraft units or structured into a complex industrial whole. But whatever the form in which men solve their basic economic problem, society will require a “superstructure” of noneconomic activity and thought—it will need to be bound together by laws, supervised by a government, inspired by religion and philosophy.

But this superstructure of thought cannot be selected at random. It must reflect the foundation on which it is raised. No hunting community would evolve or could use the legal framework of an industrial society, and similarly no industrial community could use the conception of law, order, and government of a primitive village. Note that the doctrine of materialism does not toss away the catalytic function and creativity of ideas. It only maintains that thoughts and ideas are the product of environment, even though they aim to change that environment.

Materialism by itself would reduce ideas to mere passive accompaniments of economic activity. That was never Marx’s contention. For the new theory was dialectical as well as materialist; it envisaged change, constant and inherent change; and in that never-ending flux the ideas emanating from one period would help to shape another. “Men make their own history,” wrote Marx, commenting on the coup d’état of Louis Napoleon in 1852, “but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past.”

But the dialectical—the internal dynamism—aspect of this theory of history did not depend merely on the interplay of ideas and social structures. There was another and far more powerful agent at work. The economic world itself was changing; the bedrock on which the structure of ideas was built was itself in movement.

For example, the isolated markets of the Middle Ages began to lock fingers under the impetus of exploration and political unification, and a new commercial world was born. The old hand mill was replaced by the steam mill under the impetus of invention, and a new form of social organization called the factory came into being. In both cases the determining framework of economic life itself changed its form, and as it did, it forced a new social adaptation from the community in which it was embedded. “The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord,” Marx wrote, “there steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”

And once such a change had taken place, it carried with it a whole train of consequences. The market and the factory were incompatible with the feudal way of life—even though they were born amidst it. They demanded a new cultural and social context to go with them. And they helped in that difficult birthing process by creating their own new social classes: the market matured a new merchant class, and the factory gave birth to an industrial proletariat.

But the process of social change was not merely a matter of new inventions pressing on old institutions: it was a matter of new classes displacing old ones. For society, said Marx, is organized into class structures, aggregates of individuals who stand in some common relationship—favorable or otherwise—to the existing form of production. And economic change threatens all of that. As the organizational and technical forces of production change—as factories destroy handicraft industry, for example—the social relations of production change too; those on top may find the ground cut from under them, while those who were on the bottom may be carried higher. We have seen just such an upset of the relative position of social classes in Ricardo’s day in England, when the capitalists, riding the wave of the Industrial Revolution, were threatening to usurp the time-honored prerogatives of the landed gentry.

Hence conflict develops. The classes whose positions are jeopardized fight the classes whose positions are enhanced: the feudal lord fights the rising merchant, and the guild master opposes the young capitalist.

But the process of history pays no attention to likes and dislikes. Gradually conditions change, and gradually, but surely, the classes of society are rearranged. Amid turmoil and anguish the division of wealth is altered. And thus history is a pageant of ceaseless struggle between classes to partition social wealth. For as long as the technics of society change, no existing division of wealth is immune from attack.

What did this theory augur for the society of Marx and Engels’s day? It pointed to revolution—inevitable revolution. For capitalism, according to this analysis, must also contain “forces” and “relations” of production—a technological and organizational foundation, and an architecture of law and political rights and ideology. And if its technical base was evolving, then necessarily its superstructure must be subject to increasing strain.

That is exactly what Marx and Engels saw in 1848. The economic base of capitalism—its anchor in reality—was industrial production. Its superstructure was the system of private property, under which a portion of society’s output went to those who owned its great technical apparatus. The conflict lay in the fact that the base and superstructure were incompatible.

Why? Because the base of industrial production—the actual making of goods—was an ever more organized, integrated, interdependent process, whereas the superstructure of private property was the most individualistic of social systems. Hence the superstructure and the base clashed: factories necessitated social planning, and private property abhorred it; capitalism had become so complex that it needed direction, but capitalists insisted on a ruinous freedom.

The result was twofold. First, capitalism would sooner or later destroy itself. The planless nature of production would lead to a constant disorganization of economic activity—to crises and slumps and the social chaos of depression. The system was simply too complex; it was constantly getting out of joint, losing step, and overproducing one good while under-producing another.

Secondly, capitalism must unknowingly breed its own successor. Within its great factories it would not only create the technical base for socialism—rationally planned production—but it would create as well a trained and disciplined class which would be the agent of socialism—the embittered proletariat. By its own inner dynamic, capitalism would produce its own downfall, and in the process, nourish its own enemy.

It was a profoundly important insight into history, not only for what it betokened for the future, but for the whole new perspective it opened upon the past. We have come to be familiar with the “economic interpretation” of history, and we can accept with equanimity a reevaluation of the past with respect to the struggle, say, of the nascent seventeenth-century commercial classes and the aristocratic world of land and lineage. But for Marx and Engels, this was no mere exercise in historical reinterpretation. The dialectic led to the future, and that future, as revealed by The Communist Manifesto, pointed to revolution as the destination toward which capitalism was moving. In somber words the Manifesto proclaimed: “The development of modern industry . . . cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

The Manifesto, with its rumbling, inexorable interpretation of history, was not written in Paris. Marx’s career had been brief in that city. He edited a caustic, radical magazine; he again rubbed the sensibilities of the Prussian government; and at its behest, he was expelled from the French capital.

He was married now—in 1843 he had married Jenny von Westphalen, who had lived next door to him as a child. Jenny was the daughter of a Prussian aristocrat and Privy Councillor, but Baron von Westphalen was nevertheless a humanist and liberal thinker. He had talked to young Marx about Homer and Shakespeare and even told him about the ideas of Saint-Simon despite their pronouncement as heresy by the local bishop. As for Jenny—she was the belle of the town. Beautiful and with suitors galore, she could easily have made a more “suitable” match than the dark young man next door. But she was in love with him, and both families smiled their approval. For the Marxes such a marriage would be a not inconsiderable social triumph, and for the Baron it was, perhaps, a happy vindication of his humanist ideas. One wonders if he would have given his consent could he have foreseen what was to happen to his daughter. For Jenny was to be forced to share the bed of a common prostitute in jail and would have to beg the money from a neighbor to buy a coffin to bury one of her children. In place of the pleasant comforts and the social prestige of Trier, she was to spend the years of her life in two dismal rooms in a London slum, sharing with her husband the calumny of a hostile world.

And yet it was a deeply devoted union. In his dealings with outsiders, Marx was unkind, jealous, suspicious, and wrathful; but he was a joyous father and a loving husband. At one period, when his wife was ill, Marx turned to Lenchen, the Westphalian family maid who stayed with them, unpaid, all their days, but even that infidelity—from which an unacknowledged child was born—could not undo a relationship of great passion. Later, much later, when Jenny was dying and Marx was ill, this lovely scene was witnessed by her daughter.

Our dear mother lay in the big front room and the Moor lay in the little room next to it. . . . Never shall I forget the morning he felt himself strong enough to go into Mother’s room. When they were together they were young again—she a young girl and he a loving youth, both on life’s threshold, not an old disease-ridden man and an old dying woman parting from each other for life.

The Marxes had moved to London in 1849. Expulsion from Paris, four years before, had landed them in Brussels, where they stayed (and the Manifesto was composed) until the revolutionary outbursts in 1849. Then, when the Belgian king had secured a firm enough grip on his shaky throne, he rounded up the radical leaders in his capital, and Marx went briefly to Germany.

It was the same pattern all over again. Marx took over the editorship of a newspaper, and it was only a matter of time before the government closed it down. He printed the last edition in red—and sought a haven in London.

He was now in desperate financial shape. Engels was in Manchester, leading his strange double life (he was a respected figure on the Manchester Stock Exchange, and he supplied the Marxes with a never-ending stream of checks and loans. Had Marx been a financially orderly person, the family might have lived in decency. But Marx was never one to balance his books. Thus the children had music lessons—and the family went without heat. Life was a constant struggle against bankruptcy, and money worries were a suffocating presence always.

There were, in all, five of them including Lechen. Marx had no work—except his never-ending stint in the British Museum from ten o’clock every morning until seven o’clock at night. He tried to make a little money by writing articles on the political situation for the New York Tribune, whose editor, Charles A. Dana, was a Fourierist and not averse to a few slaps at European politics. It helped for a while, although it was Engels who bailed Marx out by composing many of his pieces for him—Marx meanwhile advising by letter as follows: “You must your war-articles colour a little more.” When the articles stopped, he tried to get a clerical job with a railway, but was rejected for his atrocious handwriting. Thereafter he pawned what was left to his name, all the family silver and valuables having been sold long ago. At times his want was so intense that he was forced to sit home because his coat and even his shoes were in pawn; on other occasions he lacked the money to buy postage stamps to send his works to the publisher. And to compound his difficulties, he suffered from the most painful boils. When he arrived home one evening after writing in misery all day long in the Museum he remarked, “I hope the bourgeoisie as long as they live will have cause to remember my carbuncles.” He had just composed the terrible chapter of Das Kapital which described the Working Day.

There was only Engels to fall back on. Marx wrote him constantly, touching on economics, politics, mathematics, military tactics, on everything under the sun, but especially his own situation. A typical excerpt reads:

My wife is ill. Little Jenny is ill. Lenchen has a sort of nervous fever and I can’t call in the doctor because I have no money to pay him. For about eight or ten days we have all been living on bread and potatoes and it is now doubtful whether we shall be able to get even that. . . . I have written nothing for Dana because I didn’t have a penny to go and read the papers. . . . How am I to get out of this infernal mess? Finally, and this was most hateful of all, but essential if we were not to kick the bucket, I have, over the last 8-10 days, touched some German types for a few shillings and pence . . .

Only the last years were a little easier. An old friend left Marx a small bequest, and he was able to live in some comfort, and even to travel a bit for his health. Engels, too, finally came into an inheritance and left his business; in 1869 he went to his office for the last time and came over the fields to meet Marx’s daughter, “swinging his stick in the air and singing, his face beaming.”

In 1881 Jenny died; she had buried two of her five children, including her only son; she was old and tired. Marx was too ill to go to the funeral; when Engels looked at him he said, “The Moor is dead, too.” Not quite; he lingered for two more years; disapproved of the husbands two of his daughters had chosen’ grew weary of the bickering of the working-class movement and delivered himself of a statement that has never ceased to bedevil the faithful (“I am not a Marxist,” he said one day); and then on a March afternoon, quietly slipped away.

What had he done, in these long years of privation?

He had produced, for one thing, an international working-class movement. As a young man, Marx had written: “The philosophers hitherto have only interpreted the world in various ways; the thing, however, is to change it.” Marx and Engels had given the accolade to the proletariat in their interpretation of history; now they set about steering and guiding the proletariat so that it should exert its maximum leverage on history.

It was not an attempt crowned with much success. Coincident with the publication of the Manifesto, the Communist League had been formed, but it was never much more than a paper organization; the Manifesto, which was its platform, was not then even placed on public sale, and with the demise of the revolution in 1848, the League died too.

It was followed in 1864 with a far more ambitious organization, the International Workingmen’s Association. The International boasted seven million members and was real enough to have a hand in a wave of strikes which swept the Continent and to earn for itself a rather fearsome reputation. But it, too, was doomed to have a brief history. The International did not consist of a tough and disciplined army of Communists, but a motley crew of Owenists, Proudhonists, Fourierists, lukewarm Socialists, rabid nationalists, and trade unionists who were leery of any kind of revolutionary theory whatsoever. With considerable skill Marx kept his crew together for five years, and then the International fell apart; some followed Bakunin, a giant of a man with a true revolutionist’s background of Siberia and exile (it was said that his oratory was so moving that his listeners would have cut their throats if he had asked them to), while others turned their attention back to national affairs. The last meeting of the International was held in New York in 1874. It was a lugubrious failure.

But far more important than the creation of the First International was the peculiar tone which Marx injected into working-class affairs. This was the most quarrelsome and intolerant of men, and from the beginning he was unable to believe that anyone who did not follow his line of reasoning could possibly be right. As an economist his language was precise, as a philosopher-historian it was eloquent, as a revolutionary it was scurrilous. He stooped to anti-Semitism. He called his opponents “louts,” “rascals,” even “bedbugs.” Early in his career, when he was still in Brussels, Marx had been visited by a German tailor named Weitling. Weitling was a tried son of the labor movement; he had scars on his legs from the irons of Prussian prisons and a long history of selfless and valiant efforts on behalf of the German workingman. He came to speak to Marx on such things as justice and brotherhood and solidarity; instead he found himself exposed to a merciless cross-examination on the “scientific principles” of socialism. Poor Weitling was confused, his answers were unsatisfactory. Marx, who had been sitting as the chief examiner, began to stride angrily about the room. “Ignorance has never helped anybody yet,” he shouted. The audience was over.

Willich was another to be excommunicated. An ex-Prussian captain, he had fought in the German revolution and later was to become an outstanding general on the Union side of the American Civil War. But he clung to the “un-Marxist” idea that “pure will” could be the motive power of revolution instead of “actual conditions”; for this notion—which Lenin was one day to prove was not so far-fetched after all—he, too, was dropped from the movement.

And the list could be extended endlessly. Perhaps no single incident was more provocative, more prophetic of a movement that was one day to degenerate into an internal witch-hunt for “deviationists” and “counterrevolutionaries” than the feud between Marx and Pierre Proudhon. Proudhon was the son of a French barrelmarker, a self-educated brilliant Socialist who had rocked the French intelligentsia with a book entitled What Is Property? Proudhon had answered, Property is Theft, and he had called for an end to huge private riches, although not to all private property. Marx and he had met and talked and corresponded, and then Marx asked him to join forces with himself and Engels. Proudhon’s answer is so profoundly moving and so prescient that it is worth quoting at some length:

Let us together seek, if you wish, the laws of society, the manner in which these laws are reached, the process by which we shall succeed in discovering them; but, for God’s sake, after having demolished all the a priori dogmatisms, do not let us in our turn dream of indoctrinating people. . . . I applaud with all my heart your thought of inviting all shades of opinion; let us carry on a good and loyal polemic, let us give the world the example of an informed and farsighted tolerance, but let us not—simply because we are at the head of a movement—make ourselves into the leaders of a new intolerance, let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, the religion of reason. Let us gather together and encourage all dissent, let us outlaw all exclusiveness, all mysticism, let us never regard a question as exhausted, and even when we have used one last argument, let us if necessary begin again—with eloquence and irony. On these conditions, I will gladly enter into your association. Otherwise, no!

Marx’s answer was this: Proudhon had written a book called The Philosophy of Poverty; Marx now annihilated it with a rejoinder entitled The Poverty of Philosophy.

That’s enough transcribing for this evening, leaving off on page 154. To be resumed another day.

[Sorry for the typos — cleaned them up 2/10/2014 and please let me know if anyone notices any I might have missed.]

“The Inexorable System of Karl Marx” — an excerpt from the book “The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert L. Heilbroner

Today I’d like to begin transcribing the chapter titled “The Inexorable System of Karl Marx” from the book The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (1999, 7th ed.) by Robert L. Heilbroner. Because people love to distort and expand his theories, yet know virtually nothing about the man. So, beginning on page 136:

The Manifesto opened with ominous words: “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police spies.”

The specter certainly existed: 1848 was a year of terror for the old order on the Continent. There was a revolutionary fervor in the air and a rumble underfoot. For a moment—for a brief moment—it looked as if the old order might break down. In France the plodding regime of Louis Philippe, the portly middle-class king, wrestled with a crisis and then collapsed; the king abdicated and fled to the security of a Surrey villa, and the workingmen of Paris rose in a wild uncoordinated surge and ran up the Red Flag over the Hôtel de Ville. In Belgium a frightened monarch offered to submit his resignation. In Berlin the barricades went up and bullets whistled; in Italy mobs rioted; and in Prague and Vienna popular uprisings imitated Paris by seizing control of the cities.

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims,” cried the Manifesto. “They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social relations. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

The ruling classes did tremble, and they saw the threat of communism everywhere. Nor were their fears groundless. In the French foundries the workmen sang radical songs to the accompaniment of blows from their sledgehammers, and the German romantic poet Heinrich Heine, who was touring the factories, reported that “really people in our gentle walk of life can have no idea of the demonic note which runs through these songs.”

But despite the clarion words of the Manifesto, the demonic note was not a call for a revolution of communism; it was a cry born only of frustration and despair. For all of Europe was in the grip of reaction compared with which conditions in England were positively idyllic. The French government had been characterized by John Stuart Mill as “wholly without the spirit of improvement and . . .  wrought almost exclusively through the meaner and more selfish impulses of mankind,” and the French had no monopoly on such a dubious claim to fame. As for Germany, well, here it was, the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, and Prussia still had no parliament, no freedom of speech or right of assembly, no liberty of the press or trial by jury, and no tolerance for any idea that deviated by a hair’s breadth from the antiquated notion of the divine right of kings. Italy was a hodgepodge of anachronistic principalities. Russia under Nicholas I (despite the Tsar’s one-time visit to Robert Owen’s New Lanark) was characterized by the historian de Tocqueville as “the cornerstone of despotism in Europe.”

Had the despair been channeled and directed, the demonic note might have changed into a truly revolutionary one. But, as it was, the uprisings were spontaneous, undisciplined, and aimless; they won initial victories, and then, while they were wondering what next to do, the old order rocked invincibly back into place. The revolutionary fervor abated, and where it did not, it was mercilessly crushed. At the price of ten thousand casualties, the Paris mobs were subdued by the National Guard, and Louis Napoleon took over the nations and soon exchanged the Second Republic for the Second Empire. In Belgium the country decided that it had better ask the king to stay after all; he acknowledged the tribute by abolishing the right of assembly. The Viennese and Hungarian crowds were cannonaded from their strongholds, and in Germany a constitutional assembly that had been bravely debating the question of republicanism broke down into factional bickering and then ignominiously offered the country to Frederick William IV of Prussia. Still more ignominiously, that monarch declared that he would accept no crown proffered by the ignoble hands of commoners.

The revolution was over. It had been fierce, bloody, but inconclusive. There were a few new faces in Europe, but the policies were much the same.

But to a little group of working-class leaders who had just formed the Communist League, there was no cause for deep despair. True, the revolution for which they had entertained high hopes had petered out and the radical movements pocketed throughout Europe were being more ruthlessly hounded than ever before. Yet all that could be regarded with a certain equanimity. For according to their understanding of history, the uprisings of 1848 were only the small-scale dress rehearsals of a gigantic production that was scheduled for the future, and of the eventual success of that awesome spectacle there could be not the shadow of a doubt.

The League had just published its statement of objectives and called it The Communist Manifesto. With all its slogans and its trenchant phrases, the Manifesto had not been written merely too whip up revolutionary sentiment or to add another voice of protest to the clamor of voices that filled the air. The Manifesto had something else in mind: a philosophy of history in which a Communist revolution was not only desirable but demonstrably inevitable. Unlike the Utopians, who also wanted to reorganize society closer to their desires, the Communists did not appeal to men’s sympathies or to their addiction to building castles in the air. Rather, they offered men a chance to hitch their destinies to a star and to watch that star move inexorably across the historical zodiac. There was no longer a contest in which one side or the other ought to win for moral or sentimental reasons or because it thought the existing order was outrageous. Instead there was a cold analysis of which side had to win, and since that side was the proletariat, their leaders had only to wait. In the end, they could not lose.

The Manifesto was a program written for the future. But one thing would have surprised its authors. They were prepared to wait—but not for seventy years. They wee already scanning Europe for the likeliest incubator of revolt. And they never even cast a glance in the direction of Russia.

Needing to stop there for now, on page 139. Time for dinner. To be resumed.

Late-night doodling and thinking

Never know what I’m going to come up with…

left_right_rippling

Just playing around with the GIMP program while listening to this speech on Karl Marx’s economic views:

[Dammit, the video was removed from YT and I can’t recall the name of the lecturer to replace it.]

Since being referred to as a “Cultural Marxist” by a stranger the other day, figured I ought to brush back up on what he put forth. I get how Karl Marx’s ideas might could translate in smaller communities where people grew and raised their own foods and largely provided for their own needs. But once we expand out into an industrial or, in today’s case, a largely post-industrial setup, many jobs created are tailored to providing for a major population, which entails breaking labor down into assembly lines for greater efficiency. And those kinds of jobs tend to be monotonous and unfulfilling, hence why they’re typically relegated to lower-class workers (and often for crappy pay). Indeed even Marx agrees, as I interpret what he’s primarily referring to as the sort of worthwhile labor that directly contributes value to our lives involves those tasks required to nurture our bodies. The forms of labor people find themselves trapped in today oftentimes are positions that wouldn’t exist if not for the economic machine of such tremendous scale that currently exists.

That consideration ties in with my own view that the work we do must correspond with creating value for ourselves and others, this being one necessary component if we endeavor to live truly productive lives capable of experiencing freedom. So long as we remain dependent on major corporations to provide us with everything we need to survive, we will always be expected to play this economy’s game, from start to finish (employee to consumer); it is those possessing power within that setup who decide pricing, not what’s posing as a supposed “free market” today. They possess the drive and apparently the ability (thanks to a lack of regulations enforcement) to monopolize and oligopolize and thereby set their own rules since real competition is actively stifled. Small businesses demolished in this process was no accident — it was necessary to forge the kind of society we have now, and we’d be fools to believe its growth will halt anytime soon.

The truth about capitalism is that it is a beast that will run and run and run so long as it can. The regulators of it were supposed to be us and our government, yet unfortunately our government was formed at the same time modern corporations got their start, so there was little wisdom at that time to draw up in the Constitution on how we might best manage what turned out to be a new economic and technological age, unprecedented and unpredictable 250 years ago.

Through the immediate colluding between monied interests and those working within government, fascism began to take shape in the 19th century. It had been coming long before the two world wars, and it’s here now, and it will be closer still tomorrow.

Citizens, in such a short span of time, have grown dependent on this way of life and many can imagine it no other way. We are locked into its narrative, chasing its fantasies, dodging its pitfalls where able, and worshiping its gods of money and usury and superficiality. Money is not the root of all evil, per se. The evil here appears to be in the conformist vision that aims to bend humans to fit the machine, even if it breaks us and destroys our quality of life and disrupts the social relations that make our lives worth living. And all for what? For power. For greed. For control. To suit the ambitions of a few who aspire to god-like status above all other human beings,  and to serve whatever lunatic ideologies they operate with. But it is not they who concern me most. It is us who allow this to be.

That all said, there are plenty of spots where Marx and I diverge and head off in our own directions, as to be expected. But the lecturer is correct that Karl Marx posed questions that won’t easily go away or find resolution.