Posts Tagged ‘Marxism’

Frederick Engels about his role in Marxist theory

February 9, 2017

Nasir Khan, February 9, 2017

The names of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels are inseparably linked for laying the foundations of Scientific Socialism in contrast to the previous versions known as utopian socialism. As long they lived, their intellectual partnership was in the service of a common cause but deeply rooted in rigorous scientific work in social sciences including history, economics and the socialist movement.

After the death of Marx in 1883, Engels had the ardous task of sorting out the unfinished notes and scripts that eventually he published as the rest of the volumes of Das Kapital. He wrote a number of books on history and philosophy which hold a pre-eminent position within Marxism.

But how did he see his contribution to the new theories the two friends had developed? Any normal human being who works all his life and produces so much worthwhile scientific works will take pride in his/her accomplishments and will not allow anyone or anything to take away the credit he/she deserves. It is just being human to think so.

But the co-founder of Marxism was a great human being in another respect also. He refused to take any credit for his contributions and instead accredited Marx with developing the fundamental theories that are called Marxism. In fact, I can’t find another example of a dedicated thinker and writer anywhere in world history who showed so much modesty as Engels did about his role.

While reading once again Engels’s Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (first published in German in 1886), the following marginal note he wrote profoundly stirred me. Such was the friend of Karl Marx!

“Lately repeated reference has been made to my share in this theory, and so I can hardly avoid saying a few words here to settle this point. I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years’ collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, and more particularly in its elaboration. But the greater part of its leading basic principles, especially in the realm of economics and history, and, above all, their final trenchant formulation, belong to Marx. What I contributed—at any rate with the exception of my work in a few special fields—Marx could very well have done without me. What Marx accomplished I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw further, and took a wider and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name. (Note by Engels, in Chapter IV)

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Why you’re wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism)

February 9, 2014

Most of what Americans think they know about capitalism and communism is total nonsense. Here’s a clearer picture

Why you're wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism)Karl Marx, Gordon Gecko

As the commentary around the recent deaths of Nelson Mandela, Amiri Baraka and Pete Seeger made abundantly clear, most of what Americans think they know about capitalism and communism is arrant nonsense. This is not surprising, given our country’s history of Red Scares designed to impress that anti-capitalism is tantamount to treason. In 2014, though, we are too far removed from the Cold War-era threat of thermonuclear annihilation to continue without taking stock of the hype we’ve been made, despite Harry Allen’s famous injunction, to believe. So, here are seven bogus claims people make about communism and capitalism.

1. Only communist economies rely on state violence.

Obviously, no private equity baron worth his weight in leveraged buyouts will ever part willingly with his fortune, and any attempt to achieve economic justice (like taxation) will encounter stiff opposition from the ownership class. But state violence (like taxation) is inherent in every set of property rights a government can conceivably adopt – including those that allowed the aforementioned hypothetical baron to amass said fortune.

In capitalism, competing ownership claims are settled by the state’s willingness to use violence to exclude all but one claimant. If I lay claim to one of David Koch’s mansions, libertarian that he is, he’s going to rely on big government and its guns to set me right. He owns that mansion because the state says he does and threatens to imprison anyone who disagrees. Where there isn’t a state, whoever has the most violent power determines who gets the stuff, be that a warlord, a knight, the mafia or a gang of cowboys in the Wild West. Either by vigilantes or the state, property rights rely on violence.

Continues >>

Book review by Jay Raskin: Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings

April 21, 2008

Canadian Philosophical Review, xv no. 6-xvi. 2 December. 1995-April 1996

Book review by Jay Raskin

Nasir Khan, Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings.

Portland, OR: International Specialized Book Services (for Solum Forlag, Oslo) 1995
Pp. 294
US $45.00. ISBN 82-560-0976-4.

[NOTE: This book can be downloaded here ]

This is a good book for Marxist scholars to review some important basic concepts and a good book to include in a graduate course on the early writings of Marx. It increases the understanding of Marx in two important areas. First, it clarifies the logical development that took place in Marx’s thinking as he crossed the boundary from democrat to communist. Second, it gives a precise description of the relationship between Marx’s fundamental worldview and those of Hegel and Feuerbach.

Not that others have not covered this territory before, it is just that Nasir Khan does it as well or better. Khan accomplishes this by vigorously focusing his research. He examines the period from March 1843 to August 1844, concentrating on three works by Marx: ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, ‘On the Jewish Question’, and ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844’. He further delimits his work by examining only the basic topic of alienation.

Khan demonstrates that at the time of writing the ‘Critique’, (in March through September of 1843, at the age of 25) Marx still thought that full political rights for all people and democracy would solve the problem of human alienation. In the ‘Critique’, Marx calls for the full democratization of the state (130). A month or two later, writing in ‘On the Jewish Question’ and his ‘Introduction to the Critique’, Marx rejects such a partial, purely political solution to the problem. Marx now calls for the abolition of the state (131).

This clarification alone makes the book important to Marxist scholars. The transition of Marx from democrat to communist is so swift that it is easy to miss or forget. It often appears that historical materialism just emerges full blown from the head of Marx. Khan carefully refutes this by tracing the progressive steps in Marx’s thinking from the ‘Critique’ to the ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’. He shows that Marx goes from criticism of religion to criticism of philosophy, from criticism of philosophy to criticism of the state; from criticism of the state to criticism of society; and finally from criticism of society to criticism of political economy and private property (145).

Khan’s second clarification involving the Hegel-Feuerbach-Marx relationship also merits study. George Plekhanov in his chief work Fundamental Problems of Marxism (1908), spent the first 20 pages complaining that the Marxists of his day were unfamiliar with the works of Hegel and Feuerbach, and thus had a distorted picture of what Marx was all about. This complaint still rings true today. Khan gives a clear, demystified model of the relationship.

This is not an easy thing to do. In works about Marx, one often reads how Marx turned Hegel on his head, or how he criticized Feuerbach for only conceiving of man abstractly and not as an historical and sensuous being. Yet the exact relationship among Marx’s concepts and those of Hegel and Feuerbach’s are more interesting.

Khan examines how Hegel had thought he had overcome alienation by showing that ultimately man was God (absolute spirit) in self-alienation (52). Feuerbach reversed this formula and turned Hegel upside down to show that the concept of God was really man in self-alienation. Marx deeply appreciated Feuerbach for this, but realized he had only challenged the top of the Hegelian system. Feuerbach had correctly criticized humanity’s alienation from in its holy form—religion, but not in its unholy forms—the state and private property. Marx attacked Feuerbach for not taking this next obviously necessary step. Marx himself took this step in his later writings. What Feuerbach had done to the crowning religious part of Hegel’s system, Marx did to the rest of it. Marx appreciated Hegel, on the other hand, for his introduction of the historical method into philosophy; i.e., for showing spirit as historically evolving through dialectical conflict. Marx simply replaced Hegel’s Alienated God-Spirit by actual historical man as the true subject of history and ran Hegel’s film backward to reveal that far from having overcome alienation through Hegel’s philosophy, actual man was more alienated than ever by his real socio-economic conditions. This set the stage for Marx’s later works when he delved ever deeper into the exact nature of those alienating conditions and came up with solutions for them.

In the shadowy background of Khan’s book stands Louis Althusser’s anti-humanist theory, as presented in ‘For Marx’ and ‘Reading Capital’. Althusser put forward the theory of an epistemological break in Marx’s works that turned them from reflecting a humanist ideology into a new science of society. Khan refers to this theory obliquely several times and firmly rejects it. Khan maintains ‘Marx’s ideas regarding humanist perspective and the question of alienation show continuity, but with important differences in the content and form of the concept and theory of alienation in the period under review’ (19). Khan’s work will give comfort to those who oppose Althusser’s theory, but because it concentrates so strongly on the early works, it really cannot be considered a strong refutation. Althusser would certainly grant Khan’s thesis that Marx’s early works are strongly influenced by humanism. It is the late works that Khan does not really examine that Althusser would contend go beyond humanism.

Khan writes in an easy, clear and thoughtful style. His writing is pleasantly non-polemical. Khan declares, ‘I have tried to present Mar’s views on alienation as dispassionately as possible and have not let my own likes and dislikes dictate the inquiry’ (18). It is to his credit that he presents conflicting views on many issues quite fairly.

One hears common talk of Marxism being dead as a result of the Marxist parties in Eastern Europe losing state power. Yet, Khan’s book proposes that the essence of Marxism is the overcoming of alienation, and holding state power is only a small part of that. He suggests that Marx thought of Communism in three stages. In the crude stage, equal distribution and consumption are emphasized without an understanding of the mechanism of production. In the second stage, the proletariat controls state power and thinks of society in terms of pure politics. The third stage is the positive appropriation of the human essence by and for man (246-52). If Khan is right, events in the early 1990s in Eastern Europe should have about as much effect on Marxist Philosophy as the Fall of the Roman Empire had on Christianity.

Jay Raskin
University of South Florida