Ten Musings on Marx

History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy.

Reflections of a Young Man (1935)

What, then, do history and experience call the man who has devised the means to the most universal forms of collective misery, and in whose name mankind has perpetrated the greatest number of violent deaths?

Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.

Letter from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher to Ruge (1843)

It seems that even a self-loathing man, who conceived the human mind’s most cunning rationalization of raw envy and hatred, can fall prey to the standard German intellectual instinct for “cheating” on one’s logic with pithy pronouncements intended to round off the weak points in one’s reasoning with the power of paradox. Such clever epigrams, delivered with an air of finality and historical supervenience, are meant to overwhelm us with their wisdom — and do indeed overwhelm the rational faculties of many readers — but in fact only reveal the Big Lie aspect in most German thought, specifically the hope that if you say something insupportable, but say it just cutely enough, this cuteness might supplant the need for a proper justification. Thus, the reader might be willing to follow you in suppressing the evidence of his own common sense and denying the opposing force of thousands of years of human spiritual endeavor.

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Theses On Feuerbach: Thesis 11 (1845)

Yes, a German. “My mind is the universe, the universe my mind. Therefore, if I wish the universe to be other than it is, I need only to think differently — and of course to convince everyone else in the world to think what I am thinking at the same time, lest there appear any disruptive cracks in my dream world.”

Marx, amusingly, was an idealist in the end, though one seething with self-hatred and self-suspicion. We might say the whole of “dialectical materialism” (not Marx’s own term, but a fair representation) is an elaborate mask for concealing this idealism, which made him feel ashamed. And he deserved to feel ashamed. He pretended to be correcting Hegel; but he was, in the end, perhaps just Fichte with no guts, a puny and insecure Fichte grasping weakly after paltry “scientific” grounds for the socialism and collectivist mysticism that the real Fichte had simply declared as the necessary and fully-gestated moment of a new, post-historical man.

Marx, then, was a German, but not a very good one.

While the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser.

Capital, Volume I, Chapter 4 (1867)

And while the parasite is merely a idler without conscience, the communist is a rationalizing parasite.

Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth–the soil and the labourer.

Capital, Volume I, Chapter 15 (1867)

“The original sources of all wealth.” The original material sources, of course, which are the only sources Marx acknowledges. This is typical of the purveyor of lies (particularly lies he tells himself) who realizes that in order to sustain the heart of the lie, there are certain inconveniently obvious facts he will have to conceal (particularly from himself) forever. He achieves this concealment by endless and increasingly vehement declarations of the half-truths he needs his listeners to absorb as whole truths.

Soil produces no wealth, but only things on which men may place value. “The labourer” is an abstraction without concrete reality until and unless someone — the man himself or another — provides a project or aim to which to apply his effort. In both cases — soil and labor — it is only the human mind that makes them “sources” of wealth, precisely by giving birth to the notion that there is something valuable in these material conditions.

Formal and final causes give reality to material and efficient causes. Metaphysics and the human psyche win again, whether it is socialistically fashionable to admit this or not.

A schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation.

Capital, Volume I, Chapter 16 (1867)

Very true. And if one were to universalize this process, to supplant the “capitalist” proprietor with the State, to make the schoolmaster a government laborer, and to make the scholars compulsory victims of this industrial production — which is what Marx advocated and what we, the advanced world’s heirs to his dream, have realized in practice — one would have a near-perfect sausage factory for the mind, a spiritual meatgrinder at the other end of which each incoherent morsel or “product” will be able to imagine no life for itself other than as packed into its assigned social unit and suffocated within its designated membrane.

The English have at their disposal all necessary material preconditions for a social revolution. What they lack is the spirit of generalization and revolutionary passion. Only the General Council [of the International] can provide them with this, and thus accelerate a truly revolutionary movement here and, in consequence, everywhere.

Confidential Communication on Bakunin (1870)

Stated without the presuppositions: “The English still value the individual human being and the virtue of moderation. Hence, though they have the kind of industrial society that could, were the English driven by irrational passions (envy, class hatred, greed) descend into plunder and murder, they have not yet reached the level of moral decay (‘revolutionary passion’) and intellectual abstraction (‘generalization’) that would make this sort of mass criminality desirable or forgivable to them.”

The bourgeoisie is just as necessary a precondition for the socialist revolution as is the proletariat itself.

On Social Relations in Russia (1874)

In other words, “How can you have a violent usurpation, and a self-righteous assault on and appropriation of private property, if the ignorant and manipulable masses have no easily identifiable object of envy to which we may rile them up to revolutionary hatred?”

Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.

Letter to Bracke (1875)

There is the principle driving all modern progressive politics. It explains why there is not a literature department in the developed world that does not reduce all past literature to “evidence” for neo-Marxist theories of systemic oppression and capitalist enslavement of the masses. It explains why we speak so matter-of-factly of a progressive ratchet — why late modernity tends always in one direction, indefatigably, such that ideas regarded as subversive radicalism in one generation become universally granted preconditions of all possible political thought in the next, though no one can point to the moment when this fundamental transformation occurred.

Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

Critique of the Gotha Program (1875)

And if this transitional period should turn out to proceed so gradually as to devour centuries of human civilization; to necessitate the annihilation, by the “transitional” dictatorship, of hundreds of millions of human lives; and as a byproduct of its progress, to reduce the majority of the human race to brutish irrationality, materialistic hedonism, and bloodless greed — if all this, and more of a similar tenor, should prove necessary for the sake of pursuing the untested speculative fantasy of the communist ideal of a withering political hierarchy? Well, then so be it! Let the two-hundred-year universal conflagration begin! Because maybe, just maybe, if Karl Marx was right in that book he wrote in 1875 — in spite of so many of the practical aspects of his theory having been revealed as completely false through the intervening history — the eventual outcome might indeed be a stateless communist utopia, which could, in principle, if he was right, lead to universal happiness; or not, since of course no one can know the real results of implementing a theoretical model that has never been even remotely attempted. But still, it’s worth a shot, right?

Thanks to our friends at marxists.org for all the great quotes, properly attributed.

A non-running dog

You may also like...