Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Something more about Marxism

Marx and Engels working together

Karl Marx studied Law and later Philosophy and he was also interested in Economics and History. He worked as a journalist temporarily, but he spent most of the time writing books, where he explained his ideas.

Friedrich Engels´s father owned a textile factory in Manchester and Engels worked there, although he didn´t like the job. In Manchester Engels knew about the workers´ poverty and suffering and this caused  a strong  impression on him. Engels often helped Marx economically, lending him money, so that he could maintain his family. 

In 1848 Marx and Engels, who were members of the Communist League, were in charge of writing one of the most influencial books in history: the Communist Manifesto. This book started with the following words: "A spectre is haunting Europe- the spectre of communism". 

Marx wrote many other books. His major work was The Capital. Marx only finished the first of its three volumes. When he died, Engels completed and edited the two other volumes. 

Marx read a lot of books and drew inspiration from several thinkers: 
- The German Philosophers Hegel and Feuerbach.
- The British theorists of Economic Liberalism: Adam Smith and David Ricardo.
- The French socialists Blanqui, Proudhon and Blanc.

Here you have some of the conclusions Marx reached from his studies:

- Dialectical Materialism was the instrument used by Marx to analyze history. "Dialectical" comes from "dialogue" and it means reaching conclusions through debate, discussion. "Materialism" comes from "matter" and it means a scientific explanation of the world, letting divine explanations apart. According to Marx, humanity had moved forward due to a continuous fight between opposites. This confrontation (struggle) made change possible and gave birth to new situations.

Dialectical Materialism

Marx observed that human history had been a continuous confrontation between oppressors and oppressed. Social harmony was impossible, because the domination of one social group was based on oppressing and exploiting other groups. For him class struggle was necessary for human progress. In the 19th century the two confronted groups were the bourgeois and the proletarians (workers) and their struggle would result into a proletarian revolution and lead to a communist society after a transition stage (dictatorship of the proletariat).

Dialectical Materialist analysis on history

- During the French Revolution the bourgeois had fought to defend freedom and private property. They had succeeded and then the citizens were free in theory. But for most of the population (those who didn´t own properties) the only freedom they had was the freedom of selling themselves, the freedom of selling their labour force to survive. Marx considered private property as the maximum form of alienation, because  it obliged people to sell themselves in order to get things. The more things one had, the less of himself he had. And he also considered that much of the evil things of the world came from the defense of private property: wars, misery, crimes, discrimination, slavery... That´s why he predicted that in the future a revolution would end with private property and change it into collective.

- Marx was convinced of the fact that the internal contradictions of capitalism would lead to its destruction, because the workers wouldn´t stand the way they lived and they would start a revolution. Marx considered that workers had to be ready for revolution and they had to unite and form unions and political parties. However, Marx considered that labour parties could help workers get some concessions from the capitalists, but that wouldn´t modify the exploitation situation and revolution would be unavoidable.

- Marx also studied women´s condition and was a defender of women´s emancipation. He considered that in the family women were as proletarians and their husbands were as the bourgeois.

Marx´s works were read and interpreted by many people. Sometimes his ideas were misinterpreted to such a degree that Marx said "I´m not a Marxist". This means that he didn´t feel identified with many of the ideas considered to be Marxist. You don´t have to forget that Marx´s ideas were predictions, conclusions extracted from his studies, but not recipes or instructions about how to make a revolution. 

The Communist Manifesto: 

The Marx and Engels Internet Archive:


Laura Meco said...

Hi Paqui! I have found a mistake at the end of a paragraph: collective, you have forgotten a L.
I have found this post very interesting and Marx was a man who reached good conclusions such as the one about women. And it's also very interesting what he said: "I'm not a Marxist". I think people, before saying things without being informed first, should keep in silence because they can hurt the others.
But I don't understand very well the point about the internal contradictions of capitalism. Could you explain it to me please?

Paqui Pérez Fons said...

Hello Laura,

I´ve just corrected the word and some other mistakes I´ve found on a second reading.

When Marx talked about the internal contradictions of capitalism, he referred to cyclical crises and also to the fact that the interests of the capitalists and the ones of the workers were the opposite. If the capitalists tried to be richer and richer, they could only do it through a stronger exploitation of the workers. Workers would live worse and this would make them think in revolting against the bourgeois.

With the improvement of workers´ conditions thanks to labour movement, economists thought that Marx was wrong with his predictions. But this late crisis has shown that Marx was right in some aspects: workers´rights are getting cut, this generation is going to live worse than the previous one and the owners of the capital are getting richer and richer.

I hope you understand this better now. It would be easier to explain this in the classroom, but we´ll have to use this channel for now ;)

Laura Meco said...

Ah ok, now I understand much much better! This means that he was against the rich people who reached more power and money by exploiting other workers. Don't worry, if we have doubts we can ask you here!
See you!

Alejandro Torrillas said...

I've read the paragraph and I've seen some data which affirmed one questions which rounds me long time ago. Leaders thinks that they have are the best to rule a state, country, group... only because they have been taught for that, but time changes and how they can rule and solve people's problems if they didn't suffer those problems. I think the best leaders are those who have been suffering those problems and have fought arm with arm with the people. Engels knew about people's problems because he also suffered them.

Paqui Pérez Fons said...

That´s an interesting point, Alejandro. I agree with you, but things don´t work that way in the real world. I´ll try to explain it. If we are talking about democratic States, there are two facts that determine that a worker or someone who comes from a poor background won´t reach power:

- the rulers are chosen by citizens. And here we have something Marx and Engels didn´t foresee: if the working conditions improve little by little (or only a little bit), many workers will “lose” their class consciousness and start becoming conservative. They would be worried about the few things they own and they would want to preserve them and vote for more conservative parties. This explains that many conservative parties have reached power with the votes of workers. This may seem contradictory, but it is a fact and in this sense, it confirms another Marx and Engels´ idea, reflected on this quote: “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them”

- the second fact is money (capital). The owners of capital used and use it to support the candidates whose ideas fit better with their economic interests. These candidates will have more money for their political campaigns and this will result in more presence in the media, more meetings, more possibilities of spreading their messages and, if they are elected, the “investors” will have more opportunities of making business. It´s an investment and they do it to get profits. They will ask for compensation once the candidates they supported reach power. I´ll give you some examples of this:

o In Spain the big banks give bigger credits at a very low interest to the political parties that are in a better position to reach power (PP and PSOE). That way, these parties have more money for their campaigns.

o In the USA, the political candidates have no limits in collecting and spending money for their campaigns. There was a limit until 2010, but the Supreme Court decided that this was unconstitutional and now they can collect and spend all the money they want. If someone wants to run for the Congress, the Senate or the Presidence of the USA, either he/she is a millionaire or he/she will need the support of very rich people. The big companies in the USA (Microsoft, Apple, Ford, General Motors, McDonald´s…) give money to the candidates (bet for them) and they expect getting a compensation when they reach power. It´s perfectly legal.

The question is: can we then talk about a real democracy or better a plutocracy (government of the richest)? What do you think?

I recommend you to read the post about Eugene Debs, a very interesting (and unknown) figure in the history of the USA.

Alejandro Torrillas said...

I think it is a plutocracy, for example the leaders of Spanair have become richer and richer but making a very bad administration. This has led to their bankrupt, but the guilty people wont go to prison and they have received a lot of money from the Catalan government. But I think is our fault because we don't mobilized to ask for prison punishment for those who have become rich at cost of others. New Rumasa the same but the mistake was to trust again in someone who had committed the same crime years ago.
I think we led a lot of power to this shameless people because during some years we live a good life in which we can have a lot of whims. I expect the new government to change that and to ask for responsibilities for those who have taken advantage from his workers giving them a false sensation of stability which in difficult years will search for their own interests and not for their workers interests.

Paqui Pérez Fons said...

Alejandro, the people whom you´re talking are not politicians, but businessmen. We don´t choose them. Many of the things the do without punishment are allowed by law (the flying companies can receive subsidies from public institutions)or they have money enough to hire good lawyers and delay the process on court or be declared not guilty. As for the new government, I´m afraid they´re not thinking in the workers´ rights. The new labour reform won´t increase the workers´rights, but decrease them again. When the politicians talk about "labour reforms" they mean making the workers renounce to some of the rights they got fighting.

Alejandro Torrillas said...

Not but I'm trying to use them as examples of the power of the money because they would had to pay for their mistakes but judges don't punish them and I think that had political reasons.