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I'm going to reproduce a an r/philosophy reply, since I think it fits well

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http://www.reddit.com/r/philosophy/comments/2uegfi/karl_marx...

I'm a doctoral student in philosophy, who focuses on Marx and Marxism. It's the only subject I feel confident speaking on with some degree of authority. I do want to point out that those who see this article as starting from an erroneous point of view are correct. There's several clarifications that should be made if one is going to understand Marx (and I emphasize understand, not support – not that supporting Marx’s work is good/bad in and of itself).

First: The constant idea that Marx can be tied to the dungeon regimes of the 20th century is untenable. Of the tens of thousands of pages and approximately 50 volumes of collected works of Marx, at most 5 pages spell out what socialist society should or ought to look like. There's many reasons why Marx thought a discussion of what a future society should look like is a dubious endeavor. To summarize them curtly, imagine an ancient Athenian trying to envision wall street, it’s very dubious they could. The material and social conditions they are in limit and structure the thoughts they can have, ipso facto to envision a blue print for socialism is rather futile. Within those 5 pages though, none of them say anything about death camps, non-democratic institutions, cults of personality, or STATE based economies as the ultimate goal of society. They consistently advocate for the full development and realization of the best aspect of our capacities and nature (e.g., ‘the freedom and development of each is contingent upon the freedom and development of all’). Now one could ask what about the famous quote "dictatorship of the proletariat." It is important to note that in the mid 19th century context dictatorship did not mean exactly what it means today. It meant who has power in the state. So Marx would say we presently live in the dictatorship of the capitalist class (even if the state is prima facie democratic, that class has monopoly power of the state – I don’t think this point is contested by anyone that follows campaign donations and its connection to voting patterns by representatives). Marx wanted the workers to have power over the state, but in a democratic fashion (hence his praise of the paris commune). When asked what does dictatorship of the proletariat mean, Marx and Engels responded, look at the Paris commune, that is what we mean (Marx later went to affirm that it also meant equal voting rights for all races and genders). I say all this to indicate that Marx is a critical philosopher of capitalism; he is not a philosopher of socialism. And the few things he did write on socialism are anathema to anything tantamount to the USSR, Pol Pot, Mao's China, etc.

Second: Socialism is NOT - according to Marx - state based regulation and social programs. This is a common misconception. People argue that social security and Medicare are SOCIALIST (or that the USSR was socialist), they are in fact SOCIAL programs in a CAPITALIST society. Their existence is predicated upon revenues and taxes of people employed in a capitalist social relation. Socialism, according to Marx (and many other 19th century and early 20th century theorists) is workers ownership of the means of production. That means the same people that work in the workplace, own it democratically. So, McDonalds for instance would not be run by a board of directors that is divorced from the day to day management and running of the store. Instead the same people that work there, democratically run the workplace (read Richard Wolff’s Democracy at Work for a good defense of why this system is both viable and just – there are hundreds of successful institutions like this, Wikipedia Mondragon if you’re interested). Democracy prevents monopoly ownership of the means of production. Part of the reason Marx does not thing welfare liberalism (e.g., a capitalist society with strong social programs) is viable in the long-term is due to various contradictions and negative tendencies in capitalism. If value is created in production, and surplus value must be created and reproduced in the capitalist system to fuel its growth and development, then it follows that taxes and welfare programs are a leech on that value. What is good for capitalism in the long term (i.e., maximum surplus value) is bad for the working class, what is good for the working class (share of surplus value going back to them in higher wages or better social programs) is bad for capitalism in the long term. This seems rather obvious now; the system is prone for local and large scale crises. It's also important to note that this definition of socialism, that Marx used, is antithetical to the state-capitalist (socialist in name only) regimes of Stalin, Mao, etc. Those were non-democratic, authoritarian regimes, where the workplace was run by bureaucrats and non-democratically elected state officials. Thus not socialist, and not indicative of the possible failure/success of socialism.

Third, and finally: the comments on human behavior are rather confused. If one looked at a slave society we could make all kinds of ‘natural human behavior claims’ (notice the author says its human behavior to watch TV – tell that to a hunter gatherer) that are now obviously false. E.g., it’s just human behavior to shackle people; it’s just human behavior/nature that X race is illiterate, dumb, feckless, etc. It’s just human behavior for one race/class/gender to be subservient, and for one race/class/gender to be dominant and hold leadership traits. What needs to be pointed out is that certain institutions and social relations bring out the good and bad in human behavior. They stunt, inhibit, or foster, our capacities. Some institutions and relations make us better, some make us worse. So it’s foolish to read off from a particular society with all its unique and historical nuance, timeless truths about human behavior. Are twenty-first century Americans addicted to their property and possessive? Yes. Were ancient Greeks polytheistic believing the gods were tantamount to humans?Yes. Were X race of people in a position of servitude by Y oppressors? Yes. Does that mean these are timeless traits of all humans at all times? That's a rather impossible claim to be certain of. And in many instances demonstrably false (e.g., basically every race based claim in human history by oppressors is later shown to be false). According to Marx and Engels, we should foster and develop institutions and relations that express what's best in us, but if we maintain the mindset that we already know everything there is to know about human behavior and nature, and all future projects at amending and improving such things are futile, we are supporting an impossible to defend position (as philosophers and rational thinkers that's no good). Marx knew this very well. Hence why he ends Volume III of capital with the claim:

“In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labor which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilized man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature”

Overall this is a rather bad article. If one wants to understand Marx, just read Marx. Even if you don’t agree with him, and don’t want to support his ideas, the only way to be sure of what he said is to read him yourself. It’s only fair – and actually quite liberal and open minded – if one is going to live in a capitalist society to read its best proponents, and also its best critics. Marx is the latter.


"His works highlight a number of structural problems."

But that's not very valuable. "Identifying problems" is easy. Step outside and point at something; you're probably pointing at a problem of some sort.

And we humans seem to be very susceptible to the argument

    1. I see a problem over there.
    2. I propose this solution.
    3. My solution must be correct because I identified the problem.
(If you have a hard time believing that, because it is so obviously fallacious when spelled out, start looking for it in political discussions. It is unbelievably rampant, so much so that it is almost invisible because it is simply everywhere. As a bonus #4, "If you don't agree with my solution, you must not care about the problem and you are therefore a bad person." Also unbelievably rampant.)

We are not so hard pressed for the identification of problems that we need to go looking at the writings of someone from over a hundred years ago with a terrible track record of his ideas being implemented. We just need to use our eyes for a minute or two.

Solutions, now, those are hard. Based on how history has gone I do not see Marx having much to offer us there.

"instead of embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for equality and justice,"

Well, of course they did. The reason why Marxism always decays into tyranny is that it intrinsically requires liberal applications of force to even appear to work, because it does not match how people function naturally. Free societies don't look Marxist. Rational societies won't look Marxist. (Rational societies would probably be incomprehensibly strange to us, honestly, and won't fit into any of our preconceived notions. By no means should this be interpreted as even remotely a claim that our current society is rational.... ha! No. Also I appreciate the distinction between "free" and "rational".) Even if they solve the "problems" that Marx identified, it won't be with his answers.


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