Tag Archive: Marxism

Toward a New Marxism

I’ve reentered school in the fall–a task which has kept me busy, however much I like it, and so I’ve let blogging fall by the wayside.  I really, truly, want to change that, to get back on the horse, so to speak.

The best way for me to start is to go where my heart has been in all this time since I’ve posted more regularly.

First of all, Egypt has inspired me.  From an internet based movement, sparked by the revolution and bravery of Tunisia, Egypt toppled a 30-year-old regime, despite opposition from the dominant party, precisely because regardless of difficulty, the Egyptian people never backed down, never resorted to violence, rape, looting (excepting the violence in defense from pro-Mubarak ‘supporters’), never strayed from message–they consistently would be placated with nothing less than ‘Mubarak, step down!’.  And step down he did.  That settled, and the military verbally guaranteeing reforms for a real democracy (whether they remain committed to such a vision remains to be seen), they proceed to clean up the mess that the protest has created.  This is how a protest should be–clear, revolutionary demands, without resorting to anarchy or being placated by red-herring false promises and impotent, minuscule changes.  And it was a neither a U.S. trained coup nor a militant, Islamist revolt against ‘secularization,’ but a multiparty coalition for democracy which has changed the face of the Middle East.  We should all learn from Egyptians. . . this is what hope and change look like.
In the West, we’ve gone so long without hope and change.  We’ve long felt impotent, and rationalized our inactivity.  “This is the way it’s always been. . . ” or “Americans aren’t willing to move with us for anything better. . . ,” or perhaps “It’s a Right Wing nation” or “Look at the obstacles to change!”  The leftmost phrase one can use to describe oneself is “progressive,” and that rather meaningless phrase is still labelled “Communist” in some crowds, depending on who you ask.  What does one do?
I am a committed Marxist, but not the “Old Left” or “New Left” kind.  The “Old Left” kind prioritized structures over agency, over the need to move in what Marxists called the “superstructure” to help people see the world they live in for what it is, and to pave a path to change it.  The “Old Left” prioritized class over gender, race, sexuality, environment.  The “New Left” hated the same systems of oppression, but saw gender, sexuality, race, and environment sometimes simultaneous to class, and sometimes instead of class.  They rejected authority, either Right or Left, and they fought for a world of TOTAL freedom.  But their overcorrection for the sins of the Old Left, their anti-authoritarianism, allowed them to descend into a rag-tag and decentralized band of competing struggles, each decidedly committed to their own ends and de facto competing against the ends of other New Left groups.  I consider the New Left generation of the 60’s to be the ‘Greatest Generation,’ whose war was not against fascism abroad but totalitarian unfreedom at home–fighting against alienation, homophobia, sexism, racism, capitalism, and for the oppressed, the exploited, the nonhuman animals.  But in their fight against all sources of oppression, the New Left so commonly devolved into a quasi-postmodern, infighting-prone, drug-dependent, and unprincipled band of uncoordinated movements, whose rejection of a capital-O Order resulted in the structural inability to meet their potential, their destiny.
It is our time to learn from their mistakes.  Inequality.  Environmental degradation.  Impotence in one’s workplace, country, city. . . life!  One drinks and lives vicariously through television and video games, playing Madden 2010 instead of football, watching James Bond instead of having martinis with beautiful women (or men, for that manner).  What went wrong?
I believe the New Left of the 1960’s had a lot right.  You cannot build a new society without abolishing racism, sexism, homophobia, traditional family structures, abandoning capitalism, reengaging the environment, seeking new spiritualities, rejecting war.  But the New Left maintained a definition of Freedom that was no more than an extension of the ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom into wider realms.  The ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom defines freedom loosely as the freedom to choose within a constrained choice set.  Let me be clearer.  ‘Bourgeois’ freedom argued that if a person’s society and nature keep them able only to choose between ‘A’ and ‘B,’ and prevents them from choosing ‘C,’ ‘D,’ etc. up to ‘Z’, when under other social rules one could have choices from A to Z, ‘Bourgeois’ or capitalist notions of freedom considers you free—because, hell, you have a choice, right?

The “New Left” extended this notion–they argued that no one has a right to make you choose only A or B, between Green Apple Antibacterial dish soap or Orange anti-grease dish soap, when you could have not only antibacterial AND anti-grease dish soap, but way more meaningful choices than soap at the end of the day.  They wanted you to be able to choose between A and Z. But they rarely connected the different systems of oppression, and they never looked at the effects of the systems of oppression and exploitation as a whole, ignoring that alongside the need to have self determination for your nation, your relationship(s), and your workplace, is the need to have self determination over your full self.  And this is not the Christian notion of feeling bad for every time you enjoy a piece of cake or a good lay, but the humanization of one’s desires, making them truly yours rather than enculturated or contradictory pursuits.  So they wouldn’t listen to each other (who are you to tell me what to do?) and they tuned out, and blew their minds.  What do we do?

Like I said, I am neither an Old Left nor a New Left Marxist, but there is value to each.  Perhaps you could call me a Now Left Marxist. Here is a part of where I stand (and if you happen to want the theoretical backing, quotes and such, leave a comment).
Meaningful freedom is more than what you can do with a limited choice set–freedom is both external (your liberty to do what you want without external barriers) and internal (your liberty to do what you want without mental or habitual limitations).  One creates oneself through habituation (among other things), and so either external or internal limitations cripple the self–you are limited in your own self-creating potential.  And there are two types of barriers, natural and social, which can affect either internal or external freedom (I’m sorry if this is too heady, I just have faith in you–if you need clarification, please comment).  I’ll probably expand upon this later, but for now suffice to say that the ultimate freedom is both democratic influence over all the external factors that constrain your choices (social or natural, and for all external structures) and over all internal factors (ideologies, command over one’s own inclinations, habits, desires, etc).  This latter part, I believe, is a fundamental component of Marx’s ultimate project, as well as my own, extending into one’s relationships, consumer activity, etc., and most particularly NOT resulting in a denial of one’s desires, i.e. towards sex, drink, etc., but merely the use of all things as informed by ones fully free choices.

The point is making oneself fully the person one wants to be.  That is freedom.  And advocates of a limited freedom–libertarians, Republicans, capitalist apologists–they don’t advocate full freedom.  They advocate a conception of the lowest level of external freedom–choice within social and natural constraints–but even then an inconsistent version, where one’s external freedom can limit the external (and internal freedom) of another, but for no good reason.  For example, a speculator can buy the property of a family facing hard economic times, and use that power to raise the family’s rent until they can no longer pay.  The speculator has external freedom–no government or external force prevents them from buying the house–but their freedom to do so violates the freedom of the family to stay in their house, and that limitation is first social (social rules backed by force allow the speculator to take the family’s house) and natural (that force, personified by police, can remove the family at a very real physical danger to their lives). People who equate capitalism to freedom don’t get freedom–and I don’t think they want to.  But my Marxism, and I believe it stems from Marx himself, is founded in a fully, consistent, internal and external freedom.

You should be free in your work, government, relationships, beliefs, and over yourself.  You should be connected with your true goals, loved ones, community, environment.  You should manifest your creative power and develop yourself in all aspects of life, be it work or sex, eating or playing, or anything else under the sun, so long as at the end of the day it helps others do the same, rather than hinders them.  Now Left Marxism is feminist, queer, antiracist, environmentalist, and Buddhist (in its emphasis, with Buddhism, on control over the self), and founded in a demand for full democratization and full liberation.  It is this philosophy that I hope to develop here, and I invite comments.  Let Egypt show us that true change is possible, and lesson learned, lets change the world ourselves.

After a solid month of visiting various friends and family members, I am now ready to start blogging more regularly again.  With all vacations, I emerged appreciating life more. . . which means I am going to take a break from reading classics of libertarianism for at least this week.  Today, I am going to do a brief review of Hannah Arendt’s Antisemitism, and proceed to draw out some of its implications for a Marxist theory of racism.

Arendt’s book is not about Marxism in any way;  it is an account of antisemitism, the ideology, itself.  The history of the phenomena, as Arendt explains it, begins with the slow development of the nation states in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Individual Jews became strongly associated with the state in these periods, as Jewish bankers became often the sole source of financing for state activities.  This gave European Jews both inroads into the inner circles of the state (without themselves gaining actual political power) and a corresponding dependence on the state for their protection in a society which is otherwise hostile towards them.

After the French Revolution, nation states emerged large enough to require more capital than any individual Jewish banker could supply.  Consequentially, the combined wealth of the wealthier Jews provided financing for state activities, which accorded special privileges to the Jews.  At this stage, wealthy Jews were fully integrated into the state as a sort of ‘financial arm.’  This period ended with the nineteenth century rise in imperialism, where capitalist expansion involved the direct aid of the state.  Early in this period, bourgeois businessmen saw the profitability of financing state activity and displaced Jewish bankers as the dominant source of state revenue.  This removed their long-standing state function, leaving them relatively unprotected yet with large remaining sums of useless wealth.  Additionally, despite the fact that Jews gradually lost their state function, and with it what social power they had (which, in reality, was shared only by rich individual Jews, not distributed to Jews as a group), their prior position as the prime source of financial revenue, and integration into political circles in every European country, connected them directly in the mind of most classes in society to the state independent of their actual position or power.  Thus, as discontent grew against the state, discontent grew against Jews as a race as representatives of the state.  Thus, the rise of Antisemitism, in short, is really a reaction against ‘the state’ which became a reaction against European Jewry.

This process shows its implications for Marxist theories of race after a few facts are introduced.  Jews became enmeshed in banking as a result of Christian prohibition of usury in the middle ages.  Jews were religiously persecuted, and commonly forbidden from traditional occupations, while in those same Christian regions usury (the reception of interest after the loaning of money) was prohibited to, essentially, everyone except the Jews.  The obvious consequence is that, in order to make a living, Jews had to engage in loaning money and receiving interest, a practice that was actually looked down upon rather than empowered (as is the case with modern financial capitalists).

The religious persecution of Jews (rather than racial persecution) resulted, thus, in the system of Jewish banking, that itself led to the process Arendt describes.  This gradually codified into persecution of Jews by race, and throughout this process the finance capitalist Jewry were essentially forced into this degraded class status until its power and profit potential was realized by the bourgeois;  at that point, the Jews could no longer serve this function, and they lost the only protected class status that any Jews had attained.  In short, the fact that Jews were Jews, first religiously then racially, forced them into subjugated economic positions, then forced them out when those positions were no longer subjugated.   Racism, here in the form of antisemitism, seemed to be a tool to force a group of people into a subjugated (yet functionally necessary) economic class.  This insight, though undeveloped, might be the foundation for a strong Marxist analysis of racism.

This post is just a plug for some excellent books and authors I want to share with everyone. –comment if you have one you want to add, or have a comment on one I’ve added.

Rodney Peffer- Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice

Charles Andrews – From Capitalism to Equality


Michael Albert – Parecon

Cockshott and Cottrell – Towards a New Socialism


 Erich Fromm – To Have or To Be, The Art of Loving, the Sane Society

Michael A. Lebowitz – Build it Now

Meszaros – Socialism or Barbarism