Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I am not your average MBA.

But then you all knew that. In fact I have an undergraduate degree in American Studies and German. An odd combo, I know, I know. While I would do it differently, if I had known then, what I know now, I do think a liberal arts education has value. I do. I think it is important to actually read history, to dive into it. To firmly understand that which you are embracing or rejecting.

The other night I was having a discussion with someone very close to me and he, I think was shocked when I said Marx was actually part of a group of or at least very much influenced by Utopians. Also, while Marx gets all the credit and as such all the vitriol disdain, he did not come up with much of those political and philosophical theories on his own. His buddy Friedrich Engels was very much a part of this process and many regard Friedrich as the superior philosopher.

Furthermore, these men were philosophers, not politicians. They were educated men, who wrote and discussed their ideas. They were often employed as tutors or journalists. As with most intellectuals,  writers and philosophers, it is about theoretical world building. Neither Marx, nor Engels or any of the many Utopian theorists from the French Revolution until the early 20th century actually thought about the practicality of their ideas. They were not offering a tested blueprint. It was theory. It was reactionary to the society around them. It was intellectual discourse.

In fact, much of what Marx and Engels were writing, up to and including the Communist Manifesto was reactionary, not only to the society they saw around themselves but in direct response to and as a critic of what other socialists were writing. Think of it as the Wimbledon of intellectual tennis.

What is exceedingly interesting to me, is that they were not alone in this thinking. Socialism as means of social organization can trace its roots back to early Greek philosophers. What is interesting is why does it suddenly become the hot bed of intellectualism in the early 1800s in France and Germany? (Prussia, more specifically.) Also why do these French, German other Continental philosophers keep getting themselves exiled?

They got themselves exiled because they were challenging the established power structure. This is post the successful American revolution and the less successful French one. Remember this anti aristocracy movement, this socialist movement started with thinkers and philosophers who were writing in the 1700s. The same writers and thinkers who influenced the framers of our Constitution. The ideas of democracy and republic and socialism all spring from the same well. These ideas are in direct challenge to the idea that certain people, based upon their divine right/accident of birth, get to rule and control all the resources. All the resources.

In Europe, you had a system of men, who through the ages held power (Ruled) based solely on their birth order and a series of fairly violent power grabs. (some people might call that war.) They hold power through marriage alliances, intimidation and through alliances of equals. (I argued in college, the first cartels were the European aristocracy and their many alliances.) Entry to this game is fixed in such a way that only those with the correct pedigree, ability to curry favor, and so forth can play. The price of entry is exceedingly high.

The percentage of the Europeans who can play in the game is exceedingly small.

This wonderful world is made possible at the total expense of the have nots. The farmers, the artisans, the working class. The taxation was amazing, up to and including payment with your life. These people had no voice. None. In fact they did not count.

I would say that by the 1800s, things were changing. We were seeing the rise of manufacturing, which in some ways was opening the political (power structure) somewhat. The have nots were finding ways to make more money. Money was the ticket into, albeit begrudgingly, the game.

The Socialists however saw the emerging capitalist model by the late 1800s as an exchange of one beast for another. From one system of exploitation for another. They did not see the average working person's life improved by the Industrial Capitalist system taking hold in large European cities in the 1850s.

My point. My point you say?

My point is we still haven't resolved any of these questions. My point is we still have a political system which is controlled largely by a group of people, who limit the ability of those they rule over to have any real participation. Corporations, run by the best educated and very wealthy, now own every single member of Congress. They likely on a smaller scale own those in the State legislatures. The rules of the game still favor those with the consolidation of power. (Politicians and Corporate leaders.) Many enter this game based (in the US) on their family name (dynasty-- Kennedy, Bush, to name a few) or through patronage (Obama???)

I am not saying Marx was right. He was no more right or wrong than Saint-Simon or Charles Fourier or even Thomas Jefferson. 

What I am saying is before people spout anti-Marxist rhetoric or point the finger at the evils of Karl Marx, they have to understand what he was actually writing about and why. Taking his work out of context and not understanding the intellectual climate of when that work was created does no one any good. That his work was read by others and they created a movement is another matter entirely. Marx dealt in theory, not practice. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, they were the practitioners, inspired by what they had read.

Marx's Manifesto was never designed to be a how to manual. I think every Marxist Utopian colony and likely government has/is going to fail because Marx fails to take into account a basic human motivator-- envy and its evil cousin, greed.

In fact many Utopian theorist and socialists, Marx and Engels included, looked down on those Utopian thinkers, who actually tried to test out these ideas in practice. Socialist scientists (a term Marx and Engels coined) were not welcome in the intellectual exchange or discourse. Marx and Engels did not see themselves as architects of evil or as practitioners of social change, they were philosophers and theorists. They were intellectuals, philosophers, writers.

I wonder, how many members of Congress have actually read Marx. I have. In German and English, thank you very much. I spent a summer reading a good chunk of what Marx and Engels wrote. I think before people can reject something, they have to first seek to understand it and its social context.

Before you call someone a Marxist, it would be helpful if you actually understand what Marx was saying and more importantly-- why.

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