Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chatting at the hate show

In George Orwell's terrific, terrifically flawed, permanently misunderstood novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the happy citizens of dystopia take part with troubling enthusiasm in a daily ritual called the Two Minutes Hate. Assembling in rundown halls hung with posters of the ubiquitous yet elusive dictator Orwell names Big Brother, men and women scream, wave their fists, and burst into tears of excited hatred as they watch a film clip denouncing Goldstein, a character Orwell seems to have modelled on Leon Trotsky.

The Two Minutes Hate is not an expression of political thought, but rather a way of precluding political thought and discussion. By working their way into an animal rage against Goldstein, and by extension against any opponent of the regime of Big Brother, the participants in the Two Minutes Hate forget the miseries of their lives, and forget the possibility that their lives might be different.

Many readers believe the gritty satire of Nineteen Eighty-Four is aimed only at Stalin's Soviet Union. As a number of scholars have noted, though, the novel lashes out at American capitalism and British social democracy as well as at Stalinism. The elitism of the dystopian regime, which divides itself into an 'inner' and 'outer' party, and which forbids members of either group to associate with the 'proles' who make up the vast majority of the population, expresses Orwell's alarm at the distance which had opened up, by the middle of the '40s, between the leaders of Britain's Labour Party and ordinary workers. The porn books which Orwell's heroine helps mass produce for the politically apathetic 'proles' are a swipe at the new popular culture, with its gangster films and potboiler novels and smutty comics, which had emerged in America early in the twentieth century and spread to other capitalist nations like Britain.

The Two Minutes Hate is certainly supposed to remind us of the show trials and the hysterical propaganda which were such features of Stalinist society. There is no reason to assume, though, that Orwell didn't think the ghastly ritual he described couldn't find parallels beyond the Soviet Union. Had he lived into the 1950s, and been able to observe the phenomenon of McCarthyism, with its the endless 'public hearings' at which citizens were ritually denounced in the most vituperative language for holding the wrong set of political beliefs, the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four may well have been reminded of the Two Minutes Hate. In America and elsewhere, large parts of the right have never fallen out of love with McCarthy's creed and methods, and there is something a little McCarthyist about the way that right-wing members of the Kiwi blogosphere have reacted to the formation of Hone Harawira's Mana Party.

At the ever-popular Kiwiblog, for example, longtime National Party activist David Farrar has made a series of short posts which seem designed as invitations to the ritual denunciation and demonisation of Harawira and other Mana leaders like John Minto and Matt McCarten. Rather than construct some sort of argument, however foreshortened and partial, against the Mana Party's policy programme, Farrar has preferred to cast the first of what have quickly become hundreds of rhetorical stones against Mana's Goldsteins. Here's the complete text of a post Farrar made last week:

With John [Minto], a committed Marxist, looming to be a candidate, and with all the Mana Party policies focused on non-Maori issues such as promoting compulsory union membership, I wonder whether the party would be more accurately named the Marxist Party.

Once they register and publish a party list, it will be interesting to see what proportion of their top candidates are Marxists (or Maoists).


During a recent debate about the role of intellectuals in New Zealand politics, I argued that the right, in New Zealand as much asin America, has turned the word 'Marxist' into a sort of catch-call term of abuse, and lost even the most basic idea of who Marx was and what he thought. I think that the outpourings at Kiwiblog in response to the formation of the Mana Party bear out my argument.

I'm sure I had something better and more intellectually stimulating to do, like cleaning the toilet or listening to Lady Gaga's new single, but I got involved in one of the recent 'discussions' of Marxism and the Mana Party at Kiwiblog. Reproduced below is an edited but not inaccurate record of my strange journey through one of the site's long and tangled comments threads. The bolded names represent the various commenters...

Scott

The endlessly superficial threads about Marxism here puzzle me. For all their references to Marxism the folks at Kiwiblog never seem to cite, let alone discuss, a text by Marx, or a Marxist concept. For them, Marxism and socialism seem to have become nothing more than swear words...

Reid

After decades of real life after uni, I’ve decided that none of the political philosophers explain society sufficiently enough to make it useful as anything more than background. So I just these days and have for decades, look at what actual people and countries and economies actually in fact do and I have models that have been synthesised from all sorts of sources which help me to predict and understand behaviours. This is called thinking.

Seriously Scott, if you want to discuss the in’s and out’s of the Marxist dialectic here, on a thread about commies, whether or not they are also marxists, I’m not sure you’re barking up the right tree.


Scott

Reid, I don’t see how you can so easily contrast empirical studies and model-building with Marx's method of working. Marx was nothing if not a gatherer and a synthesiser of data – he had an incredible capacity for empirical work, and he produced one model after another in an attempt to get a handle on his world, often throwing out or radically modifying models as he went along.

The curious thing is that none of those who preach the evils of Marxism here ever discuss any of his texts or models. How do you feel about, say, Marx’s claim that the course of history is overdetermined by material, ie economic and technological forces? What about Marx's claim that capitalism is subject to inevitable crises of overproduction? What about Marx's invention of the concept called the Asiatic mode of production, which was supposed to explain the 'failure' of India and China to develop capitalism? It’s theories like these (and I certainly don’t agree with all of Marx’s theories) which need to be knocked down, if anti-Marxism is to be anything more than hot air…

Reid

Scott if you really think Marxism is a practical solution then how come the rest of the 8.2 billion or so don’t think so? How come capitalism rules? I’ll tell you why. It’s cause capitalism is a superb self-adjusting distribution and price-setting mechanism...So if you can give us a Marxist model that is all of the things that capitalism is and none of the things that Communism is, then pray tell. But if not, then get with the program, cause the capitalist world is up and running and you might as well deal with that fact and live accordingly. It’s not so bad.

Scott

Your words of praise for capitalism sound remarkably like the first section of The Communist Manifesto, Reid. Marx was one of the first thinkers to try to get to grips with capitalism, and especially in the first decade or so of his career we find him praising capitalism as often as he damns it. Christopher Hitchens has parted company with his old socialist friends, praised George Bush and the American Republican Party, and proclaimed his support for the US invasion of Iraq, but he still calls himself a Marxist, because he holds to the ebullient view of capitalism put forward by the young Marx.

Fortunately, there are other Marxes - many other Marxes - besides the young man bewitched by the power of capitalism. The elderly Marx is depressed at the damage done by capitalism in the colonial world, and decides that pre-capitalist peoples like the Russian peasants and the Iroquois Indians might be a better bet for revolution than the Western working class.

And the elderly Marx’s belief that capitalism doesn’t so much gloriously transform older modes of production but instead lives parastically off them could be mentioned in the context of your claim that all 8.2 billion of the world’s people live in capitalist societies. I’d guess that at least a quarter of those people live in societies where pre-capitalist modes of production dominates, at least outside the large cities and their cash economies. Most of the nations of the Pacific still have strong pre-capitalist modes of production involving subsistence or semi-subsistence farming, collective ownership of land, and non-monetary exchanges of goods.

Even in the heart of the capitalist world, cities like Detroit and Baltimore are decaying, and pre-capitalist economic practices like barter and subsistence living are reappearing. I’m not sure if I’d agree, then, that the vision of capitalism as an unstoppable revolutionary force which Marx laid out in the Manifesto in 1848 holds true today. I don't think it held true even in the nineteenth century.

James

Marx's central pillar, the labour theory of value...fails because it doesn’t acknowledge that value is subjective and that while a worker may labour to produce something that doesn’t give the product value...the desire of the end consumer does that.Indeed its possible to mix labour with resources and actually destroy value.I could take paint and fresh canvas and create my own masterpiece to sell but people may reject it and not want to buy it.I am left with useless canvas and am poorer for the effort.

Scott

I don’t see the labour theory of value as Marx’s 'central pillar', but it’s worth noting that the theory doesn’t assert that all labour creates value. You can perform labour without creating value; not all created things are commodities. Nor does Marx say that labour is the source of all wealth: to do that would be to deny the role of the environment, for instance.

Reid

Essentially what I’m saying Scott is, who cares?

Fact is, capitalism is the only proven operating system. Nothing else features. I’m not saying it doesn’t stink. I’m saying that like democracy in the political arena, capitalism is just better than all the rest, in the economics arena. I mean it seriously stinks. Everyone knows that. Duh. But it’s still the best of the available alternatives.


Scott

Reid, you’ve got every right not to care about what Marx wrote – as long as you don’t want to argue that Marx’s ideas are invalid, old hat, discredited, evil, or whatever. The moment you and others here make claims like these, then it’s reasonable to ask you to back them up with some substantive critiques of Marx’s texts and theories.

Even if you were correct, and capitalism really was the only economic-social system which existed in the world, that wouldn’t count as an argument for the automatic irrelevance of Marx, because the vast majority of Marx’s texts are studies of capitalism.

You and others here seem to think Marx spent all his time talking about the glorious socialist future. In fact, he was extremely reluctant ever to describe what socialism would look like in any detail. When he did offer suggestions they involved real-life models he had studied – the Paris Commune, for example. Marx wrote obsessively about capitalism – its prehistory, its growth, its various forms, its depredations – and so the relative dominance of capitalism in today’s world if anything only makes his work more topical.

Marx’s writings on rural development in Russia and India are of great interest to scholars of agrarian societies undergoing capitalist development today. His view of capitalism as a system guaranteed to go through regular crises has attracted the interest of many commentators in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. Those who say Marx has nothing to offer have to contend with, amongst other things, the continuing use of his work to analyse capitalism.

Reid

Scott I’ve never said I don’t care about what he wrote, I’m saying and have been for some time that in the context of 2011, so what. If you want it put crudely but please steel yourself cause sometimes lefties get the wrong idea: So. Fucking. What?

I mean it. You have had two great experiments in Russia and China and both failed miserably and you may not put that down to Marxism yourself but surely if it was going to work someone somewhere in the 50+ years those states were in full flight, some scholar somewhere would have decoded the key…Meanwhile, back in 2011…


Scott

If I understand you rightly Reid your argument is ‘I’m not interested in reading Marx’s texts and leaning about his ideas, in fact the prospect bores me, but I know that Marx’s texts and ideas are worthless because of Stalin and Mao’.

Given that 95% of Marx’s texts are concerned with nineteenth century Europe and the parts of the world Europe was colonising, and that they contain not a single extended blueprint for how a future socialist society should look, let alone a blueprint which corresponds to what Stalin and Mao created, I can’t agree with you.

The fact that Stalin supressed many of Marx’s works and killed off David Ryazanov, the great achivist who had tried to produce scholarly editions of those works, only makes your argument stranger.

Rich Prick

Scott, sorry, emperical studies don’t count much for all of the souls that are now bodies in graves. That is Marxism in its application, and we have recent decades as proof. That is all, please take your thesis elsewhere. we are more concerned with living Marxism and where it might take us in the form of the Mana Party.

Scott

So Pol Pot’s killing fields and Stalin’s gulags automatically invalidate every argument Marx was making a century earlier during his studies of capitalism? Let’s take Marx’s theory, which he arrived at after a study of the economic crisis of 1857-58, that capitalism is prone to recurrent crises of overproduction, because of the way investors pour capital into briefly profitable sections of the economy and eventually create a glut. This theory has been debated for one hundred and fifty years, and the financial crisis of 2008 seems to have brought it into favour in some quarters. Are you seriously suggesting that the theory of recurrent crises brought on by overproduction can be dismissed as false because of what Pol Pot did in the 1970s? Why? Do you really think there’s a causal connection between Marx’s argument about overproduction and the graves at Tuol Seng?

Rich Prick

“So Pol Pot’s killing fields and Stalin’s gulags automatically invalidate every argument Marx was making a century earlier during his studies of capitalism?”

Yip, pretty much, when added to Stalin’s, Mao’s and every other crack-pot Marxist’s toll on humanity. Lets see where the Mana Party goes with the theme.

Scott

‘Yip, pretty much’

How? I’m genuinely curious as to how you think Pol Pot’s crimes invalidate a theory Marx produced to describe the behaviour of economic systems in the West. Do you really think that anyone who accepts the theory of periodic crises of overproduction is in danger of wanting to herd his fellow citizens out of the cities and work them to death amongst paddy fields and clogged canals?

Rich Prick

Oh for fucks sake, when did Marxism/Socialism/Communism/Maoism ever cause “over-production”? Well, I think it did once, it was in left footed shoes in Moscow circa 1980 – but not reported was the shortage in right-footed shoes.

Scott

We’re twelve or so comments in and, James’ comment about the labour theory of value apart, I’m still waiting for a concrete piece of criticism to be aimed at one of Marx’s texts or theories!

Rich Prick thinks that if we accept any of Marx’s theories as correct we set ourselves in the footsteps of Pol Pot. It’s a short step, apparently, from arguing that capitalism is periodically prone to crises of overproduction to digging mass graves.

Let’s apply Rich Prick’s dubious logic consistently, though. In The Communist Manifesto Marx argues that capitalism acts progressively, when it spreads over non-capitalist parts of the earth. He salutes the colonisation of parts of the non-European world because he believes capitalism is an improvement on what existed before (Marx subsequently changed his mind, but his paean for capitalism in the Manifesto remains one of the most famous things he wrote).

Now, could I assume that the likes of Rich Prick and Reid would agree with the Marx of the Manifesto that capitalism is a progressive force, and that colonisation had progressive results in the non-European world? Certainly such views are not rare on the right.

Following Rich Prick’s logic, though, agreeing with Marx’s theory puts him in the camp of Pol Pot and Stalin. After all, all of Marx’s ideas, no matter what their ostensible content, are actually, according to Rich Prick, anticipations and glorifications of the killing fields and the gulag…

Rich Prick

Scott, wot?? you are serriously fucked up. Go to bed, there may even be a little bit of warmth left in Marx’s body for you to cuddle.

Rich Prick

“Marx’s ideas, even relatively obscure economic arguments about overproduction, lead, according to RP, to the killing fields and the gulag…”

Tell it to all the dead. Wanker.


Kiwi in America

Scott
My father is a history professor and I grew up with insufferable academic bores and you show all the signs of being one. Apart from being isolated from the real world in the ivory tower, Marxist academics display a unique level of disconnect from the real world as was painfully evident from your rambling discourses on Marx.

99% of people couldn’t give a toss about the theory of Marx – all they know is what it looks like when applied in the real world. They see group think, brainwashing, absence of real democracy, suspension of freedoms, summary imprisonments and executions, no freedom to speak/write/broadcast/protest anything other than the party line...

Capitalist owners of capital risk their savings to start the companies that pay the taxes and hire the workers who also pay the taxes to fund the universities so wankers like you can sit in your office and spout your communist crap.
Scott

Are you guys ever going to get round to talking about one of Marx’s texts or theories? So many of you have spent so many words, and yet, apart from James, who discussed the labour theory of value, we still have not seen anyone explain why they disagree with a single one of Marx’s arguments.

I should make it clear that I'm not suggesting that it's necessarily wrong to look at Marx’s life and writings in the light of the regimes that eventually used his name, and to ask whether there was there something in his work that left it vulnerable to misuse. The British historian EP Thompson made a fascinating argument when he said that Marx’s thinking is too cold and quantitative and economics-obsessed, and that it lacks imaginative and aesthetic qualities. Thompson felt that Marx could have taken a different turn by embracing the ideas of his near-contemporary William Morris, the poet, painter, and designer who was calling for a revolution in the arts and in the human spirit, as well as in the economy. Thompson felt that Morris could have loosened Marx up.

I'm not, then, against trying to relate Marx's ideas to subsequent history. I just don’t think shouting ‘Pol Pot!’ at the top of your lungs quite cuts it as a criticism of the theory of the tendency to crises of overproduction.

Robert Black

Oh just fuck off you pious wanker, we hate Marxism round here and you are clearly a script-bot, so just fuck off to a place that might suit you, like North Korea. I bet you have a beard and take the bus everywhere too, and smell bad.

Kiwi in America

Scott
You still don’t get it – no one cares about the minutiae of Marx’s theories – except the radicals that infest the English and Wimin’s Studies departments at universities. We’re more concerned about the horrific real world application of Marxism – something you seem to be blithely unconcerned about.


Black with a Vengeance

SCOTT HAMILTON vs THE (kiwiblog) WORLD

current score : Scott 7 World 0
SCOTT HAMILTON FTW !


Kiwi in America

No Black its actually

The REAL world 7 Scott 0


Black with a Vengeance

Heh

Maybe so k.i.a, but here in VIRTUAL Kiwiblogistan, you’re all getting pwned.


Black with a Vengeance

The main point is that none here, apart from Scott, seems to know enough about Marx to be able to criticize him or his theories with any validity. And that David Farrar is looking to scare the dumbass redneck fraternity with the old ‘reds under the bed’ myth, some ‘asian invasion’ Maoists and dancing Maori cossacks pissing on the graves of the illustrious european Kiwi forefathers capitalist utopia, hiding behind the Mana party.

*yawn*…not much of a bedtime story but hey, it keeps the faithful barking til all hours and provides a nice wee distraction for team blue getting their arses kicked on their dismal track record with the economy and blaming everything on the past Labour government.


Scott

I have to confess that I’m not too worried about the horrific real-world effect of the theory of recurrent crises of overproduction on its advocates, Kiwi in America. I haven’t noticed the scholars who use that theory or one of Marx’s other hundreds of theories looking longingly from their ivory towers at the distant countryside and dreaming of driving us all there at the point of a kalashnikov to work on giant ineptly-planned hydraulic schemes.

It’s clear that the Marx-knockers here don’t feel that they have to read the man’s works and construct criticisms of his theories. It’s enough for them to point out societies like Pol Pot’s Angkar and Stalin’s Soviet Union and say ‘look – that’s what you support if you find one single correct proposition in Marx!’ Apparently everything Marx wrote is connected, in some way which no one can explain, to the career of Pol Pot. And anyone who proposes even moderately left-wing policies – the construction of a public health care system in the US, for instance, or the scrapping of GST down here – can be accused of heading off down that slippery slope to Pol Pot.

Kiwi in America is obviously quite satisfied with this sort of anti-Marxist/anti-leftist routine, and he thinks ’99%’ of the public like it too. But a look at the way that the radical right have campaigned in America against Obama’s health care programme suggests that the old ‘This is what created Pol Pot! Walk away slowly’ rhetoric might have worn a bit thin. The constant claims by the Tea Party and Palin that Obama is a dangerous socialist and that Obamacare would lead to totalitarianism just aren’t accepted by the majority of Americans. In fact such warnings have become a joke. There are echoes of the way the Brtish public rejected Winston Churchill’s hysterical claims that a welfare state and nationalisation of key industries would bring gulags and secret police to Britain and voted Labour into office in 1945.

It’s pretty obvious that the attempts of the hard right to redbait Obama have been unsuccessful. Kiwi in America tries the same sort of tactic here when he accuses anyone who says something positive about Marx’s analyses of capitalism of being a secret Pol Potist, and when he tries to link John Minto, whose politics can probably best be described as those of a classical social democrat, of the sort which dominated the Labour Party in its early years, to Stalin. It really is silly stuff, and I don’t see why it’ll work any better against Minto than it did against Obama.

Pete George

Scott, to me Karl Marx is a bit of an historical curiosity, the world has changed a huge amount in the last 150 years. We can learn a bit from what people have written in the past, but we benefit more by focussing on modern realities.

Scott

I agree with you, Pete, about the danger of erecting idols and letting them become covered in dust. But I wonder whether you’d argue that, say, Plato or Saint Augustine or Machiavelli or Kant are old hat now, just because they lived in previous eras? Isn’t there a quality in great thinkers which protects them, to some extent at least, from the attrition of time?

Some of Marx’s theories were outdated and were being abandoned or substantially modified even in his lifetime; others, though, seem still relevant, if not necessarily entirely correct. When my mate Mike Beggs gave a course designed to outline Marx’s theory that capitalism inevitably suffers from cyclic economic crises back in 2008, just before the global financial crash, he found to his surprise that there were several stockbrokers in his audience! Perhaps they were able to use a bit of Marxian foresight to avoid the disaster about to hit their profession. It’s hard to remember now, I know, but there were media pundits and even politicians like Gordon Brown who were talking, in the years before the crash, about the end of the boom-bust cycle that has always afflicted capitalism. These people were predicting a permanent upswing in house prices and other key commodities. Marx was wiser than them.

And there’s also the question of Marx’s historical materialist method, as opposed to the theories he developed with that method. The view that societies have a material (eg economic and technological) ‘base’ and a cultural and ideological superstructure (think of religious ideas, politicial ideologies, and so on) and the claim that the base tends to influence the superstructure more than vice versa has become mainstream in the social sciences. It’s probably become common sense to many folks.

Pete George

Plato or Saint Augustine or Machiavelli or Kant are old hat too. You can learn something from anyone historical, but they had no idea about contemporary social and political issues in New Zealand, and that’s what’s most important to most of us here now.

Scott

But you can’t just look at a problem and get an answer to it pop into your head, Pete. There’s no interpretation inherent in any piece of social phenomena: we have to bring our interpretations with us. We need tools to work the rough ground of fact, and some of the thinkers I mentioned created tools which are still pretty sharp. Some Maori scholars have examined the problem of Maori sovereignty and biculturalism in New Zealand using dusty old Kant. Marx inspired some of the most influential scholars of New Zealand society, like Bruce Jesson, Dave Bedggood, Dick Scott, and Len Richardson.

Scott (2)

Regarding Marxism and Scott Hamilton’s passionate defence I actually think that Marxism is very much alive and well and being applied in real-world situations. Although the economic side of Marxism is only being applied in a very few countries now the social side of Marxism is bigger than ever. The thesis that there is an oppressor and an oppressed, the idea of struggle and liberation has been used successfully by the gay rights movement, the Maori separatist movement and the women’s liberation movement. All of these movements claim an oppressor — in these cases the oppressors are in order — heterosexual men, white men and all men in general. And all of those movements claim an oppressed — homosexual men and women, black men and women, all women.

Marxism has been a force for violence and revolution for many years. Now it is used to destroy our institutions and particularly to destroy our Judaeo-Christian morality. I actually think Marxism is from the devil. That’s just me being theological — but that’s what I actually think. I think Karl Marx was an agent of Satan as was Lenin as was Stalin as was Pol Pot as was Chairman Mao. I think feminism is seriously misguided as is gay rights. As is our Maori separatist
movements. But they all have borrowed heavily from Marxist theory.


Scott

‘I think Karl Marx was an agent of Satan’

Oh dear. First everyone who thought Marx had something interesting to say about capitalism was a secret admirer of Pol Pot; now they’re part of some Satanic cult. I did once spot a website which argued that Marx was a Satanist because, as a young man, he had made a few fragmentary and indifferent attempts to rewrite Goethe’s verse play Faust. I’m not sure if that literary endeavour quite counts as evidence for an unusual attraction to Satanism, because every young German intellectual of Marx's era seems to have tried at one point or another to write like Goethe! Faust and the devil lurk in thousands of unpublished poems and half-finished verse plays.

If Scott wants some fresh material, though, he could have a look at the way that the structure of The Communist Manifesto, which is still (unfortunately, from my perspective, given the jejune praise for capitalism and colonialism in its first section) Marx’s most famous text, takes its formal structure from Faust. Each section of the Manifesto corresponds to a section of Faust. Suspicious? I must sniff the pages in case they reek of sulphur…

I’m not too sure whether Marx, who was a bit of a sexist old devil – he fathered but failed to acknowledge an illegitimate son, and said in a late text that he valued weakness in a woman – would be too happy at being made the flagbearer for women’s lib. If Scott broke with the Kiwiblog approach to left studies and actually read a few things by Marx and his followers, he’d see that there has been the odd blue over the years between feminists and Marxists of one stripe or another. Marx was preoccupied with exploitation, not oppression, and attempts to claim that the oppression of minorities are as important as the exploitation of the working class have tended to rile many – though certainly not all – Marxists over the years (they don't rile me). There are still hard-fought debates about this subject erupting at places like Chris Trotter’s blog.

But who needs to take the trouble read Marx and his many and varied successors when one can sniff about for sulphur, or shout ‘Pol Pot!’?

28 Comments:

Anonymous Edward said...

I had a look at that discussion the other day, but couldn't bring myself to comment. I don't know how you found the patience Scott. It was amazing how it progressed, and really reminded me of the scene in 'The Holy Grail' when the towns folk want to burn the "witch":

Person x: 'Marxism is bad', 'Marxists under beds', 'Marxists are responsible for all the horrors in the universe' etc. etc.

Scott: 'Why? Which part? Have you read any of the work?'

Person x: 'don't be foolish you PC ivory-tower-living red, I never read what ever it is I'm ranting about!'

Person Y: 'yeah!, we don't need to comprehend or learn what it is we're screaming about, know the context of history, or have critical insight into current events, we just know Stalin and Mao were bad commies'

Scott: 'I'm not sure Marx can be forced into the role of stalanist-thinker. Perhaps if you could look at some of the Marxist literature and we can have a rational discussion?'

Person x: 'Na. I learned all I need to through osmosis via kiwiblog and rumour and superstition. Capitalism is the only one that works because it's the one we have now, and I don't like thinking in terms which are longer than my own existence. Besides, Stalin, Mao, Satan rah rah rah'.

Person Y: 'Yeah!, [insert overly emotive twaddle here]. We don't have time for 'reading', that's just something you PC academics who don't understand the real world want us to think. But you're just [insert crass insult here]'.


That kiwiblog place really is quite horrible. I read one ex-cop called 'Murray' call a woman a f'n b'tch followed by a tirade of further insults-come-mental masturbation. It's quite concerning.

9:25 am  
Anonymous JJW said...

Wow. Why did you put yourself through that?

You've at once destroyed my faith in humanity — by showing the sheer ignorance of the other commenters — and rekindled my faith in humanity by providing a logical narrative argument throughout the entirety of your side of the exchange.

9:28 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

I got stuck at the 8.2 billion people line. The most generous current estimates is that there are about 7 billion people in the world. Where do the extra 1.2 billion come from? And are they all secret Marxists? That would hearten me.

9:38 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Reid: “Scott if you really think Marxism is a practical solution then how come the rest of the 8.2 billion or so don’t think so? How come capitalism rules? I’ll tell you why. It’s cause capitalism is a superb self-adjusting distribution and price-setting mechanism”

I am the layman here, but even I wonder how you can make such a claim. Most of the world is capitalist, and most of the world is poor. If the system is so perfect, why were all those professional economists, financiers and Wall Street types unable to predict the 2008 crash? They have all the models and data, they look at this stuff all day and yet they still drove the world economy into the toilet.

@Reid: re-Stalin & Pol Pot: Using Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot in order to dismiss Marx is a bit like saying we ought to dismiss Christianity on the basis of their bloodstained history. Let’s not forget that many modern capitalist nations are themselves the product of a history of genocide, slavery, and violence every bit as abhorrent as Stalin. It’s just that they have existed long enough for most people to forget these things.

@Kiwi in America: “99% of people couldn’t give a toss about the theory of Marx – all they know is what it looks like when applied in the real world. They see group think, brainwashing, absence of real democracy, suspension of freedoms, summary imprisonments and executions, no freedom to speak/write/broadcast/protest anything other than the party line...”

I love it when people refer to invented statistics from non-existent studies in an attempt to provide credibility with claims like “99%”. If what you said were really true, then copies of Das Kapital shouldn’t be experiencing a worldwide surge in book sales, and those of the right wing of US politics wouldn’t have to label everything and everyone they don’t like as “Marxist”.

Let’s not forget that those social freedoms and civil liberties you mention are not because of capitalism. They exist because people fought for them. They exist in spite of capitalism.

I live in the US too, so how can you claim an “absence of real democracy” in a feeble attempt to dismiss Marx when we can see, as a recent example in Wisconsin illustrates, how the Republicans walked all over due process to implement their legislation to ban collective bargaining and weaken unions despite unprecedented and sustained public protest?

Did the US public have any say in the bailout to save Wall Street with corporate welfare paid by the US taxpayer? The US public is told that they can’t afford Social Security and Medicare, while GE posts record profits (USD$14B in 2010) and is made exempt from paying federal taxes on that income.

And if we’re going to talk about suspension of freedoms, summary imprisonment and no freedom to speak then we should consider the erosion of American civil liberties under the Patriot Act, summary imprisonment without trial at Guantanamo Bay and the freedom to dissent in the wake of Bradley Manning and Wikileaks.

Regards
M

10:11 am  
Blogger Marty Mars said...

I'm with edward - I watched the thread and the more i read the less i wanted to read. It can be fun playing with those folks, good on you maps, I admire your forebearance.

10:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marty Mars OPENLY supports the Mana Marxist Party.

A fanatic, in other words.

11:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For your information Satanism and demonic possession are no joke.

2:06 pm  
Anonymous Hope said...

Marx? The invocation such a long-dead economic theorist

It's like calling yourself an Aristotelean. The sacralistic worship of particular texts. The narrowly interpreted materialism. Tying yourself to the entirety of one man's written thought, or else having to justify at length why some of those thoughts you agree with, and others you don't. Why not simply a 'socialism' with all the inherent possibilities this affords?

5:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'or else having to justify at length why some of those thoughts you agree with, and others you don't'

Wow. Yeah. Terrible. Having a nuanced view...

6:39 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Yes. Except the word Marxist implies adherence to a system of thought, which renders nuance a little problematic. I took this to be the main gist of the Kiwiblog commentariat: okay, you can quibble over the actual merits and enduring relevance of Marxian theories as much as you want, but Marxism (there's a reason why we have two separate adjectives) exists as a galaxy of historical movements quite separately from Marx's own ideas, and so long as one claims the word, they must also own the history.

6:49 pm  
Anonymous George D said...

Socialism is a system of government, Marxism is a system of thought.

I can't say whether I support or oppose Marxism - which parts? In this, I don't think I'm all that different from the commenters you decry. My knowledge is limited to what I've read (parts of works) and what I've heard and seen. I feel like this is sufficient to make me comfortable with some things, and uncomfortable with others. Those things I'm comfortable with I can readily access elsewhere.

What I think the last decade has given us (in spite, or because of the floating signifiers that the execrable New Left of the right uses) is the possibility of thinking socialism outside of Marx. There are a great deal of philosophical and political questions that can be addressed and dealt with within a socialist meta-framework. It would be a pity to foreclose this again. I don't think this is your intention, but the effect of saying that we must address, or "know" Marx is to radically identify current and future socialism with a particular history and set of meanings. The dead hand of the past weighs heavily.

11:06 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I saw some of those comments on Kiwi Blog. No one wanted to actually discuss Marx's ideas!

Cycles of production to overproduction are inherent
in the very nature of capitalism.

That Marxism hasn't produced Utopia doesn't mean that better systems may not be possible or may not evolve.

Marx is one of the very important writers and thinkers of all time. I would also so say that Lenin and Mao tse Tung is also. I don't know Trotsky's writings.

One commentator said. Maoists hate Marxists. Maoists aren't Marxists. now that is nonsense as Mao Tse Tung and others of the Chinese Communist Party were deeply Marxist an also Leninists. They rejected Trotskyism (perhaps wrongly).

Mao, as a bogey ash been created by writers who were initially anti Communists. I recall the 60s when China was considered to be a place of the devil. Endless things the Reader's Digest about missionaries being killed and raped in China. Eventually one believed (as I did in those days, at one stage,as teenager, I thought that some communists knew I had capitalist sympathies and were plotting to kidnap me); that China and Russia were our enemies. That they were "Red" or "Communists" and that communism was an evil, a cancer in society. That (fostered by CIA paid writers and new people) was the automatic thing in those days (it hasn't changed hugely as once can see on Kiwi Blog) Military personnel came to my school in the 1960s when we did some military training and also told us of the danger of China. How there could be another expansion from China to NZ like the Japanese one in WW2 (the famous "Domino effect").

That was the really paranoid atmosphere in the 50s to 60s. We were also brain washed by US and other fears of a nuclear attack. This was going to be started buy USSR (but if you read Bertrand Russell's book "War Crimes in Vietnam" it is clear in there that it was the US military who were the aggressors, constantly harassing the USSR. The US endangered the world with nuclear holocaust. The Soviets rightly just defended themselves.

However (by 1969, at the Railway Workshops where the Marxist Ray Gogh gave me the book 'Rape of Vietnam' which changed me completely - I had more or les believed in Capitalism until then). I started reading Marx and things about China (such as Jack Belden's "China Shakes the World" and Agnes Smedley's great book about Chu Te) as well as 'Rape of Vietnam' by Harold Slingsby. Also abook about atrocities by the US in Korea - which was corroborated later for me in the mid 70s when an ex British navy bloke I worked with told of their (British Navy personnel slinging off at US Navy) laughing as US pilots came in to land on the aircraft carriers boasting of shooting civilians on bicycles, gunning down school kids and bombing hospitals. They could hear this over their intercoms. The guy who said that was pretty right wing but being British (and a Thatcher supporter) was "undermining" the US as a military force and he said it not to me but in conversation).

During the mid to late 60s many of us read Marxism and other books and our views changed. This didn't mean we became instant communists but we were prepared to think about all sorts of ideas including Marxism.

I was very interested, for example in the Black Panthers and the Cuban revolution.

12:03 am  
Blogger Richard said...

The other thing was the attack at Kiwi Blog on the integrity of John Minto.

I was in the 1981 demonstration at Eden Park and I and Minto were later attended by the same nurse for facial and head injuries. Minto as far as I know was never a Marxist. he may have been influenced by Marxism but unlike Bruce Jesson he was not a Marxist in his views as far as I new. He was to me and still is a passionate fighter for justice.

A man of great courage and humanity and integrity.

He was dragged from his house by rugby supporters in 1981 and beaten up, but despite that, and other things, he never gave up and he was hugely determined, courageous, and had and has very strong moral views of what is right and wrong.

He is one of the great, and truly heroic New Zealanders.

12:14 am  
Anonymous Young Dennis said...

"Kiwi in America:
My father is a history professor and I grew up with insufferable academic bores..."

I studied history through to Post-graduate level and this comment has got me wondering which unfortunate historian fathered such a blow-hard, Right-Wing dullard ?

3:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo to Richard Taylor for defending John Minto from the slanders of KB.

7:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'For your information Satanism and demonic possession are no joke.'

LOL

Having to run to the toilet all the time is no joke either...

7:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I studied history through to Post-graduate level and this comment has got me wondering which unfortunate historian fathered such a blow-hard, Right-Wing dullard?'

LOL #2

Michael Bassett? Tho he's not a real historian...

7:59 am  
Anonymous Pete O'Keefe said...

All this fretting is pointless. Soon the Sun’s going to turn into a red giant and destroy the Earth.

Then Christ will come.

8:58 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Shouldn't it be the other way around?

9:10 am  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for the comments folks - it did feel rather lonely fighting the good fight at Kiwiblog!

I'm not against trying to relate Marx's ideas to the movements and governments which have claimed his name - I dislike those tiny sects like the Socialist Party of Great Britain (or the Small Party of Good Boys, as they're sometimes nicknamed) who insist that only they know what socialism is, and that socialism has never been practiced, because by definition socialism is perfect and there has never been a perfect socialist society. Outfits like that remind me of Catholics who talk about the divine rightness of their church, and then brush away imperfections like support for oppressive governments with phrases like 'but of course men are fallible'.

My problem is not with the principle of relating ideas to practice, but with the crude way in which this is often done. Saying that John Minto shares the worldview and political programme of Pol Pot just because both men cite Marx occasionally is about as credible as saying that Minto has the same worldview as Bill English, on account of their common membership of the Catholic church. Absurdly long bows are being drawn.

Although I agree in principle with George's argument that discussion of future socialisms should not have to involve Marx, I kept finding that Marx, in some point in his vast and untidy oeuvre, was jumping ahead and ruining the novelty of an idea which occurred to other people in the twenty or twenty-first century. His relation to the history of socialism is a bit like the relation of Miles Davis to the history of jazz: he seems to have at least hinted at, if not comprehensively mapped out, all the future paths...

12:08 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Thank you. 1981 was a scary time.

12:13 am  
Anonymous Phil Sage said...

Scott - You might be right that Marx endlessly studied capitalism. But he came to the wrong conclusion so that makes investment of time studying his ideology worthless. End of discussion.

The social experiments in his name killed, actually and relatively impoverished millions of people. Aren't you ashamed to support such an ideology and shouldn't it just be consigned to the dustbin of history?

12:18 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I'm not an "Aristotelian" and I haven't read much of him (I feel I should) but that doesn't mean that I have been influenced by his ideas (probably everyone in the world today who has any significant learning has had some influence from him). Nor doesn't mean I don't think they have any validity. Same with Marx.

Marx is there to be studied. I think that Tiso is right (in his implications) it is hard to avoid branding oneself and taking on these ideas or the shell of them under a name,...in the late 60s to 70s my anger at many injustices almost drove me toward a deep fanaticism that I found almost comforting.

At one stage I thought that I would read everything by Lenin and Marx and then join the Communist Party. Sacrifice myself to the working class...it is kind of seductive.In a way it is like a religious conversion, and in some ways, to risk sounding over rhetorical and badly clichaic, of "solving" certain of one's own deep existential dilemmas* and so on...whatever...but I didn't ever get that far.

(I fell in love, with a woman! Raised a family etc)

I didn't have the drive or passion of someone like Minto who
(I think) derives his power and moral vision from his Catholic beliefs or his ex Catholic beliefs I am not sure.

Being constantly anti things, admirable as it is (some things are definitely achieved that way), it is very hard. Some are suited to the rough of politics but in reality I am too soft (despite what people might think) and maybe I'm too sentimental...or maybe I am not just using it as an excuse? If don't know, who does?!!

But Maps was right to give some clear facts to answer a lot of the mixed thinking on Kiwi Blog.

This doesn't mean I have "given up".

I am still though very fond of the late Roger Fox's description of me: "He's a demoralized CP element." !!

*That doesn't mean I didn't absorb a lot of useful Marxist ideas and learn a lot of good lessons from books and actions.

12:43 am  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for elegantly and succintly restating all of the non-sequitirs from the Kiwiblog thread, Phil Sage.

It's hard to engage with you when you state as conclusions the very claims being disputed here, and neglect to preface your conclusions with argument.

1:17 am  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Richard,

I think some of your experiences with the more dogmatic members of the Communist Party show that both right-wingers and many dogmatic leftists have a desire to present Marx's oeuvre as a unified, internally coherent thing with one inevitable set of real-world consequences.

Some of the old-time Stalinists thought Marx presented a series of iron laws of history which had inevitably resulted in the triumph of the Russian and Chinese revolutions and would lead to the Soviet Union and/or China spreading their power over the world; many right-wingers still seem to hold to the view of Marx as a man who wrote some sort of blueprint for every society from Soviet Russia to Pol Pot's Kampuchea.

Now that the Cold War is over some of the mythmaking has dissipated and more archives are open. We can see that Marx laid down no iron laws or detailed blueprints for the future. Not that the likes of Phil Sage will engage with recently scholarly work on Marx, or indeed with the texts Marx actually wrote.

For the sake of debate here are five theories of Marx which I think are discredited, and five which I think hold up well:

Discredited:

the theory, put forward in the Communist Manifesto and some of the early journalism - eg some of the 1853 articles on India - that capitalism is an inevitably revolutionary force, and that its expansion at the point of a gun into the colonial world is to be welcomed.

The view, put forward in the same texts and elsewhere in the 1840s and 1850s, that history follows certain inevitable stages - slave society, feudalism, capitalism - in a unilinear fashion.

The theory of the Asiatic mode of production, which relied on some whopping speculations, and which existed to solve a problem - the supposed 'failure' of Asian societies to do the supposedly historically inevitable thing and develop capitalism - which doesn't actually exist when you abandon a teleological view of history.

The distinction, developed with Engels, between 'historic' and 'non-historic' nations, and the related claim that many of the smaller Slavic nations - the Czech nations, for example - have no right to self-determination. This was really a silly example of Marx's Slavophobia - a Slavophobia that would survive until he studied Russian society in great detail in his last decade.

The silly but famous claim in the Theses on Feuerbach that pre-Marxist philosophers were wasting their time because they only interpreted the world, rather than changed it. Such a dismissive statement doesn't sit well with Marx's own debts to Heraclitus and Hegel. And besides, as Heidegger has pointed out, to interpret the world is ipso facto to change it.

2:04 am  
Blogger maps said...

Five Marxist theories which have stood up fairly well, as far as I can see:

the view that the material foundations of society (eg the economy and technology and class structure) exert an important and often determining role on the shape of the culture of that society. The 'materialist' view of culture is not universally accepted - postmodernism represented, in many ways, a strong reaction against it - but it is very influential, in one form or another, simply because it helps scholars in the humanities and social sciences explain so much so efficaciously.

The dialectical method: controversial in many quarters, but has been deployed well by a variety of scholars, from Stephen Jay Gould, who used it to develop his theory of punctuated equilibirum as the basis of the process of evolution, to the Pacific scholars of the 'Atenisi school to historians like Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson.

The older Marx's notion that capitalism can incorporate other, older modes of production whilst remaining the dominant mode of production in society. In many parts of the world today the capitalist mode of production coexists with fragments of a lineage mode of production or a feudal mode of production, or both. Capitalism's growth was actually facilitated by the maintenance of older modes of production in many places (in New Zealand, for example, the Maori mode of production persisted even as capitalism grew, and this was beneficial to many capitalists, as they could rely on Maori employees to live partly on food grown on Maori land, and thus pay those employees sub-subsistence wages).

The concept of Bonapartism, which Marx created in his text The 19th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonapartism is used to describe the way a strong leader can wield power in a class-divided society by seizing the state and playing the different classes off against each other. Often he is supported most closely not by one 'whole' class or another by by fragments of different classes, or by a sort of underclass - a 'lumpen proletariat', as Marx put it. Bonapartism has been used a little too freely by modern scholars, but it probably still helps us to understand quite a bit about a leader like Gaddafi. Might it help us make sense of Bainimarama, too?

The theory of the tendency of capitalism towards cyclical crises, brought on by factors like over production - just look at the global financial crisis for support for this one!

Sorry for the fatuous brevity of these points - I'm typing against a time limit! I was just hoping yet again to emphasise that it's possible to a nuanced rather than fanatically hostile or dogmatically loyal (and thus, ultimately, politically useless) view of Marx.

2:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maps

I might have this ass backwards, but I read somewhere that the theory of the Asiatic Mode of Production was more or less the result of a failure on the part of Marx and Engel’s to seriously confront or challenge elitist social theories of their day such as environmental determinism (which I am led to believe the AMoP is part of), and that the reason for this is because of the elitist nature of their 19th century German education in which their view of Asia was shaped by the prevailing attitudes of the day.

James Blaut (The Colonizer’s Model of the World) argues that while Marx and Engel’s were sceptical of elitist European social theories in vogue at the time, that their scepticism had inevitable limits and that believing Asians to be no less rational than Europeans caused them to speculate that the cause of Asiatic “unprogressiveness” lay not in Asian society, but in the natural environment on the basis that a prerequisite for capitalism is private property, but that the notion of private property in land did not take root in Asia because of supposed harsh climate, poor soil etc…

Blaut suggests that the AMoP theory was tentative at best, and that Engel’s appeared to have rejected it altogether in his late writings.

Regards
M

12:07 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for that M. I was a bit lazy to try to lump the AMoP in with Marx's early work, because he really came up with it a little later, didn't he? I think that in works like the introduction to the Grundrisse, where he discusses the different routes different societies take through the history of class society, that Marx is beginning to move away from a completely unilinear notion of history.

Patrick Vinton Kirch has a fascinating book called The Wet and the Dry where he examines the hypothesis that societies with large-scale irrigation are more hierarchical - a proposition that is implicit in the AMoP, of course - by examining the history of the Polynesian island of Futuna, which has traditionally been divided into irrigated and non-irrigated kingdoms. Kirch finds that the non-irrigated, less wealthy society is more hierarchial and aggressive, and he suggests that his finding could be generalised across Polynesia. He suggests that poorer societies had to become more militaristic, and thus more hierarchical, because they had to raid their neighbours...

5:28 pm  

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