Blog Archives

David Harvey on: Capital in the 21st Century

In honor of my current project working through Piketty’s tome, here is an interesting critique of the work by the prominent Marxian economist, David Harvey. Harvey, with greater vigor than I have mustered, challenges the work from the position of Marx’s Capital, and accuses it off failing to offer a coherent notion of capital, and thus, a coherent account of the underlying reality which generates the “law” r>g.

Taking on ‘Capital’ Without Marx

What Thomas Piketty misses in his critique of capitalism.

[ Edit: if the above link doesn’t work, here is the full address: http://inthesetimes.com/article/16722/taking_on_capital_without_marx ]

 

One Year Later

Today marks the first birthday of “The Space Beyond Being.” I know it is a cliche, but it seems like just yesterday I was searching for a creative outlet for my summertime boredom (if only I had the time to be bored this year…). In celebration of this momentous occasion, I give you this link to my very first post, a review of Michel Henry’s Marx: a Philosophy of Reality; a fortuitous first post, given the prominent role that both phenomenology and Marxism have played in the last year of blogging.

Also, here are some fun stats:

  • Most popular post: Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #7
  • Total “views”: 6,840
  • Most popular search term (leading people here): “summary of Feuerbach”
  • Visitors from over 100 nations

Thank you to all of my readers and commentors for a great first year. Here is my Gif(t) to you:

Philosophical Birthdays

Today marks two noteworth philosophical birthdays:

The first is one of the founders of existential philosophy, the Danish Philosopher and Theologian Søren Kierkegaard, who turns 200 today.

“Be cautious with an abstract thinker who not only wants to remain in abstraction’s pure being but wants this to be the highest for a human being, and wants such thinking, which results in the ignoring of the ethical and a misunderstanding of the religious, to be the highest human thinking.” –Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments

The Second is the philosopher, economic theorist, and political revolutionary, Karl Marx, who turns 195 today.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” –11th Thesis on Feuerbach [my analysis here]

Celebrate these two groundbreaking and revolutionary thinkers today.

Leon Trotsky: “Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism”

Independent Workers Party of Chicago

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Boston, we wish to make clear that the revolutionary socialist workers movement – of which we are a part – is now and has always been opposed to the philosophy of terrorism as a means of revolutionary change.  This early essay by the great Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky is an excellent outline of the revolutionary Marxist attitude towards terrorism.

IWPCHI

**************************************
Leon Trotsky
Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism
(November 1911)

Originally published in German in Der Kampf, November 1911.
Originally transcribed for the Philisophy/History Archive, which is now the Philosophy Section of the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Einde O’Callaghan, November 2006.

Our class enemies are in the habit of complaining about our terrorism. What they mean by this is rather unclear. They would like to label all the activities of the proletariat directed against the class enemy’s interests as terrorism. The…

View original post 1,704 more words

“Wage Slavery” #2

A continuation of my discussion with Amtheomusings, regarding the notion of “wage-slavery” and its theoretical legitimacy or illegitimacy.
Original post (Bryce): Here
My First Response: Here
Bryce’s Response: Here

Thank you for keeping this up Bryce, in regard to your earlier question,  I would be hesitant to call myself a Marxist, due primarily to its overly broad connection to Stallin (whom I don’t support), Lenin & Trotsky (whom I am painfully unfamiliar), and Critical Theory (which is too broad to generalize).  Let me simply reply that I would call myself a socialist (of some stripe) and that I am currently infatuated with Marx (particularly as interpreted by Michel Henry).

I believe that I must first clarify my earlier comment which you quoted: “the model of a non-wage based economics is […] the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a ‘wage’ is irrelevant.” To this you respond,

“But that’s exactly what I find ridiculous: that people shouldn’t act in order to produce something that they, or someone else, values. Unless it were valued, it shouldn’t be produced.”

If I might take this quote in reverse order, I must say that I completely agree with your second assertion: viz. it is only the value that should be produced.  What I must question in your response is the notion of value by which you are critiquing this position.  Specifically, what form of value does the “critic” (here, as elswhere, understood as the critic of “wage-slavery”) believe that productivity should be guided.  The answer, I believe, must be real, human value.  That is to say, it is not that production is not completed in respect to value, but merely that it is not completed in respect to abstract monetary value.  The craftsmen (to return to my previous example) produces his product for direct consumption, in order that it might fulfill the actual human need.  This is fully distinct from the motivation fo the industrialized worker who merely produces for a wage.  This is essentially identical to Marx’s distinction between “use-value” and “exchange-value,” if that helps.

In regards to your discussion of Co-op/worker-control models of production, I believe that you predictedmy response quite accurately when you wrote in your addendum:

“*Obviously, one cannot object that this is a wrong end, since isn’t the point of overturning the “wage-based economic/productive system” also supposed to be that it will make us all wealthier? Then there’s nothing wrong with working to make us all wealthier, if a co-op model of production were to do that.”

To this I must simply respond that, yes, I do believe that the “proper end” of production should not be wealth.  For, it is precisely inaccurate to argue that the restructuring of wage-based-labor will “make us wealthier,” if by wealth you mean “exchange value” (i.e. abstract wealth).  As for use-value (i.e. real value), I can only speculate.  As for quality of life (for the workers in particular) I think this is clear.

For now, I will leave “conservative anarcho-capitalism” [Randianism! 😉 ] aside.

J. Leavitt Pearl

“Wage-Slavery”

Motivated by a post over at Amtheomusings, I wrote the following analysis of “wage-slavery,” and thought I would share it here.  Please visit the original posting here.

If I might offer an alternative perspective, it seems that your critical analysis of this hotly disputed term, “wage slavery,” fails to encompass the specificity of this complex notion. That is to say, it is specifically the *wage-based* economic/productive system, understood as normative, that critics of “wage-labor” intend to overturn. Specifically, at one point you seem to mark the definition of “wage-slavery” as “working for a living amounts to slavery.” In this form, I would tend to agree with you, but I believe that the emphasis must be moved from where I read it in your essay. For, on a separate occasion, you mark the definition of wage-slavery as “they shouldn’t have to work in order to live,” here I must challenge, for it must be recognized that the first and second forms are distinct, precisely as regards wage.

It is not the “work” that is challenged by these critics, but the “for a living.” Advocates of a non-wage based system are not lazy, as naive commentators might lead one to believe, but more specifically are concerned with the “alienation” (to borrow a term from Marx [also, this should not be confused with Hegel’s distinct usage of the term]) of individuals from their work. That is to say, the separation of worker and product. Why, asks the critic, must work be mediated through a irreal system before it might be of value, not economic value, but real, human, everyday value.

In this sense, the model of a non-wage based economics is not the welfare state, the many living off the few, but instead, perhaps, the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a “wage” is irrelevant. The “freeing” of factory workers would not take the form of a burning of the factory, ending production, but on the contrary, a coop model in which the individual factory workers would be shareholders in the company, in which the success or failure of the company would directly (not mediately) relate to the workers.

Marx’s “Theses on Feurerbach” #11

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

Marx’s final thesis on Feurerbach constitute one of the most quoted portions of his oeuvre (along with the opening words of the manifest and his, generally misunderstood, “opiate” assertion). In his eleventh, Marx builds upon the distinction laid out in the tenth thesis.  Yet, here his distinction between traditional materialism and his “new” materialism has been broadened; it is no longer merely Feuerbach who is the recipient of his critique, but philosophy in its totality.

But, what is the essence of this critique?  simple quietism?  Is it merely the passivity of philosophy?  Perhaps.  But let us consider the historical situation of Marx.  Having been brought up under the shadow of Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Marx abandoned Hegel for Feuerbach.  Yet, following this detour into “traditional” materialism, Marx became disenfranchized with the couter-idealistic (i.e. post-Hegelian) movement of his contemporaries.  Citing the reification of abstract concepts and similar critiques, Marx similarly abandoned this group, setting out to establish his own “dialectical materialism.”

Yet, contrary to those who misinterpret his rejection of Feuerbach as a return to Hegel, Marx did not fully abandon this post-Hegelian culture. Instead, his critique of philosophy’s tendency to describe–its failure to change reality–may be seen as a direct critique of Hegelian conservativism.

Although leftist readings of Hegel’s philosophy have been popularized since the beginning, an honest reading of Hegel cannot fail to recognize a deep Prussian conservativism.  In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the state is presented as the objectified manifestation of the Absolute Spirit (i.e. God).  Such an assertion smacks of the radically conservative “divine right” political theories of the early enlightenment.

Against this Marx posits a new philosophical possibility: philosophy as a radically progressive movement.  Philosophy must not merely record reality, implicitly condoning its structure, but much seek to rearrange this structure through its own activity.  Philosophy itself must become a force of revolutionary reconstruction.  In this way, Marx completes the work begun in his tenth thesis and fully unites his philosophical and political projects under a single banner of revolutionary, social, living, sensuous, practical, reality.

(Thank you to those who followed me through this short project.  I ♥ my wordpress followers.)

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #10

“The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.”

In his penultimate thesis, Marx offers a resounding hammer-blow against Feuerbach, if not mid-19th-century materialism in toto.  Having mapped out a new materialism, one based upon “sensuous human activity, practice,” one which does not reduce human reality to an abstract “man,” Marx here attempts a clarification of the distinction between his new materialism and that former.

In the “old materialism,” the philosophical foundation remained “civil society,” that is, the political product of human activity and praxis.  Yet, this grounding of materialism in civil society is inescapably a grounding in irreality, in an abstract concept.  For Marx, civil society does not possess true reality, for reality is found only in the practical enactment of human life.

In order to overturn this “old materialism,” Marx seeks a new foundation of philosophy, a grounding in “human society, or social humanity.”  While certainly, at its face, “human society” appears to be a mere repetition of  “civil society,” this thesis must be read in the context of the prior theses.  For Marx, this distinction is essentially a question of source and product.  “Human society” and “civil society” cannot be identical because the latter ideality is grounded in the former reality.  It is true that, for Marx, human reality is essentially social, that is, communal; yet, this sociality is not “civil”: it is not institutionalized.

Grounding his philosophy in the reality of social humanity, Marx is therefore able to bypass institutionalized politics and found a new materialism upon the true essence of human value: sensuous practical activity, human life.  Through this bypassing, Marx is no longer tied to the particularities of an historical civil or political instituition; he is not bound, as Hegel* and Feuerbach before him, to cauterize this political institution into a philosophical necessity.  Rather, radical or revolutionary politics is now a possibility.  In this way, the link between Marx’s philosophical and political thought manifests itself; a link which will be further clarified in his final, 11th thesis.

*(Hegel is notorious for his idealization of the Prussian state, which provided the grounding of the conservative “right Hegelianism”)

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #9

“The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.”

Marx’s ninth “thesis on Feuerbach” functions as a bridge, simultaneously summarizing many of the critical points of the previous theses and pointing forward to the essential eleventh.  In order to understand this brief text, it must first be recalled that, in his first thesis, Marx established a category of materialism, “contemplative materialism,” primarily identified with Feuerbach.    Relying upon a dichotomy between sensuousness (practical activity) and contemplation (i.e. praxis and theoria), Marx rejects contemplative materialism for its reductionism, that is, its emphasis upon the purely rational character of human experience.

In the current thesis, Marx critiques this contemplative standpoint as the
“contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.”  Yet, is the contemplation of “single individuals” and “civil societies” not the precise intention of Marx’s own philosophical, historical, political, and economic work?  This seems undeniable.  In what way, therefore, must this critique be read, if it is not to collapse upon itself, if it is not to function equally as a refutation of Marx’s own project?  Here, “contemplation” must instead be read as “mere contemplation.”  In this sense, Marx’s rejection of contemplative materialism is essentially politically driven; it is an accusation of quietism.  For Marx, one must not merely “comprehend” individuals and society, philosophy itself must be “practical activity,” “sensuousness,” it must effect or affect individuals and society, it must make an actual difference to the experience of real human life.

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #8

“All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.”

Karl and Wife Jenny Marx

Alas, after his foray into Feuerbach’s critique of religion, Marx has once again returned to (what may be) the principle question of his theses, practice.  If we might return to the intuitions of the first couple theses, it should be recognized that “practice” designated more than mere activity, but instead an entire region being: the subjective, sensuous realm of human activity, the realm of truth. Returning to this realm, this region of Being, Marx’s eighth thesis identifies two important aspects of practice.

First, Marx resolves all social relations into practice.  Were practice misunderstood as mere activity, such an assertion would be decidedly banal.   Yet, recognizing Marx’s complex notion of practice, as nothing other than the subjective sensuality of human life, the placement of social relation within practice becomes a meaningful analysis.  Understood in this way, social relations are abstracted from the theoretical, economical, and political realms which remain fundamentally secondary to living praxis.  Instead of being mediated through these structures, sociality is recognized as a direct human connection, a piece of true human life and reality: prior to economics, prior to politics.

Second, Marx identifies this reality, practice, as the means by which the aporias of rational contemplation might be overcome.  In his critique of “mysticism,” Marx does not intend a particular religious disposition, but instead employs this term in reference to the philosophical movement beyond human sensuality, the excess of intellectual contemplation.  Instead of a radicalized intellectualism (e.g. Hegel, or even Feuerbach’s “contemplative materialism”), Marx proposes the sensuous activity of human life as the single adequate response to the “mysteries” of intellectualism.  Instead of pursing the ultimate philosophical questions (freedom, ethics, etc.) into successively more remote abstractions, Marx simply proposes a reliance upon non-contemplative methodology; Marx proposes a solution in the “comprehension of this practice,” that is, in a phenomenology of practical life.