Biography

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

  • Born in Tier, Germany in 1818
  • Family wasJewish, but to avoid antisemitism, converted to Protestant faith
    Karl Marx
    Karl Marx
  • Attended college at Bonn University (where he was wounded in a duel) and Berlin University
  • Influenced by professor Bruno Bauer, who introduced Marx to G.W Hegel’s works
  • 1840-1844 worked in socialist press; moved to France in 1844 to avoid arrest
  • Tension between Marx, the philosopher and Marx, the activist
    • Editor of a new political journal, Franco-German Annals
    • Worked with Friederich Engels & Michael Bakunin
  • 1844: Marx writes Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
  • 1847: forms the Communist League in London. Its aim was: “”the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the domination of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society based on class antagonisms, and the establishment of a new society without classes and without private property”.
  • 1848: Marx completes The Communist Manifesto
  • 1859: Marx writes A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
  • 1867-1870s: Marx writes his most comprehensive work, Das Kapital
  • Died on 14 march, 1883

Marxist Philosophy

MCM Formula

“Three of capitalism’s basic features make it anti-ecological: an imperative for constant expansion of the economy as a whole; the drive for profit in each economic unit; and a built-in focus on the short term. Marx captured capitalism’s general drive for expansion with his classic definition of the root purpose of the system—the “self-expansion” of capital, symbolized as M-C-M’. The process begins with money, M, which is turned into a commodity C, to be sold on the market for M’, where M’ is more money than the original M. The cycle then repeats on an enlarged basis with a larger starting pot of capital, M’. Thus capitalism entirely abstracts the exchange value of a commodity from its use value. Put another way, the only thing that matters is whether a commodity can be sold for more money than was used to manufacture it, not whether it’s actually useful.” –Chris Williams

Benefits of Capitalism: innovation/science, higher standard of living/quality of life, progress 

Negatives: boom and bust cycle, exploitation of workers, exploitation of the natural environment

Alienation

  • Marx believed that there were three types of alienation in a capitalist society:
    • First, the worker is alienated from what he produces.
    • Second, the worker is alienated from himself; only when he is not working does he feel truly himself.
    • Finally, in capitalist society people are alienated from each other; that is, in a competitive society people are set against other people.
    • Marx believed that the solution was communism, which would allow the development of our full “potentialities as a human”.
  • For Marx, the possibility that one may give up ownership of one’s own labor — one’s capacity to transform the world — is tantamount to being alienated from one’s own nature; it is a spiritual loss.
  • Marx described this loss in terms of commodity fetishism, in which people come to believe that it is the very things that they produce that are powerful, and the sources of power and creativity, rather than people themselves.

False Consciousness

Marx & Engels use the terms to mean essentially the same thing, ideas that reflect the interests of a particular class at a particular time in history, but which are presented as universal and eternal.

  • Not only are these ideas wrong, they serve an important political function—control of the proletariat.
  • In a sense, Marx & Engels argued that the people who controlled the production of natural resources also had control over ideas.
  • Marx’s critique of religion:
    • “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Dialectical materialism

 

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

  • Derived from Hegel’s dialectic, the belief that truth (synthesis) emerges from a comparison of a thesis and anti-thesis.
  • According to Marx, there were four distinct stages in human history, all defined by the primary means of property ownership:
    • tribal system of common property
    • ancient communal and state system of ownership (slavery and private property began)
    • feudal system
    • modern capitalism
  • Each of these steps represents a distinct mode of production, and the transitions between each are marked by stormy conflicts and violence.
  • Marx’s version was that human history was a series of steps towards a perfect economic arrangement—an inevitable march. According to marx, capitalism was the result of conflict between lords and serfs in feudal society and between guild masters and journeymen in pre-capitalistic society. The resulting conflicts created the capitalist class or bourgeoisie, which owns the means of production, and the wage workers or proletariat class, which has to sell its labor to survive.

The Labor Theory of Value

  • Marx argued that it is human nature to transform nature—he calls this transformation “labor”. While this is a natural capacity, it is intimately tied to the human mind and human imagination:
  • A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality.
  • “The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion to the devaluation of the world of men. Labour produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity — and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally.” –Karl Marx
  • Labor is the source of all surplus value (profit) which is appropriated by the capitalists and invested in more machinery.
  • Because the means of production change more rapidly than the relations of production¸ social upheaval is the inevitable result.
  • The result is a smaller labor force with a greater output of production. As a result, workers will not have enough resources to buy the products.
  • Cyclical depressions of increasing severity will result, leading to a revolution.

Post-Capitalist Society

  • Once they have arrived at class consciousness, the workers will begin the process of overthrowing the state, and creating a Utopian society.
  • Phase One, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The workers will assume power in order to eliminate class differences through reeducation.
  • Phase Two, Communal Society. This dictatorship would gradually give way to a communal society, governed by this principle: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” According to Engels, the state would not be abolished, but “wither away.”
  • Marx famously said that each person would contribute to this Marxist utopia: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

 

 

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