Saturday, May 5, 2012

Marx, the One-Dimensional Character

Normally I like the Christian Science Monitor as a unique fixture in the US, comparable to Al Jazeera. But sometimes it releases stories surprisingly soaked in Western chauvinism. This is one such example:
"Marx provided the intellectual foundation for an array of regimes that at one time governed nearly half of Earth's population.
These regimes were, for many, a long nightmare of state terror, genocides, deportations, extrajudicial executions, forced labor, and artificial scarcity, crimes that left tens of millions of people dead and deprived many more of basic dignity. 
But while Marx's solutions are widely and rightfully condemned, his analysis still resonates among workers and intellectuals alike around the world." -Karl Marx: 10 Great Quotes on his Birthday, Eoin O'Carroll
Of course, the article is incorrect when it says that Marx's suggestions are "rightly rejected" after insinuating that the fascist regimes using his namesake followed them. It's pretty simple to see that worker control wasn't even tried by the prevalent regimes in question, which was basically the only suggestion that Marx made. Furthermore, most of the quotes are clichés: vampiricism of capital, the opiate of the masses, and similar quotes that have been emphasized for their rhetorical value more than the value of their inherent analysis. Omitted are quotes like this:

"Taxes are the life source of the bureaucracy, the army, the priests, and the court – in short, of the entire apparatus of the executive power. Strong government and heavy taxes are identical. By its very nature, small-holding property forms a basis for an all-powerful and numberless bureaucracy."2
 Or this:
 "But at the very heart of the bureaucracy this spiritualism turns into a crass materialism, the materialism of passive obedience, of trust in authority, the mechanism of an ossified and formalistic behaviour, of fixed principles, conceptions, and traditions."3
And why should these quotes be emphasized? After all, these clash in a rather jarring way with the prevalent narrative on Marx and his attitudes towards institutions. It would be hard to complain about Big Government as an aspect of Marxism if we were to take into consideration his blasting of bureaucracy and the tax regime here.

On the contrary, we have the quotes that high school textbooks and flippant teachers use to reinforce a clichéd narrative: quotes that prove his atheism. Quotes that prove he was for the poor. Quotes that prove that he was critical of the ruling class and that he was pro-labor. Indeed, if I knew less about Marx, this would only prove the stereotypes to me.

I could forgive O'Connell if he said this to me in a bar: after all, the conflation of Marxism and state terrorism is a common one in the West, reinforced by a deliberate propaganda system in much the same way Capitalism was characterized in the Communist-led nations. But O'Connell seems to think that it is the journalist's responsibility to reinforce stereotypes about the subjects of their stories, rather than to inform consumers about data which might better inform them of their subject. If he wants to explain how Marx can be topical, the very worst method is to repeat those things already accepted in the mainstream Western canon, as O'Connell does here.

We are at a crossroads in the global economy, with major critical realignments in the works across the world. Per Ferguson, these realignments will be primarily authored by corporate and bureaucratic agencies. If we want to consider where Marx stands, it is simple: he stands for worker control, an idea not yet tested on any massive scale. One wouldn't know it to read the off-handed references to Marx in the mainstream media, but then maybe we should no longer expect any higher level objectivity and academic integrity than that at the Christian Science Monitor, either.

1Eoin O'Carroll: Karl Marx: 10 Great Quots on his Birthday, Christian Science Monitor Online

2Marx, Karl: 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Online
3Marx, Karl: Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right Chapter 3 Online

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. As you note Marx's ideas have never been tried and probably never will be. Tyranny marches under all banners. Communism and capitalism alike. Adds meaning to the phrase "equal opportunity"


Comments are appreciated. Offensive comments and spam will be removed.