HCJ TWO: Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883) is generally considered as the man who claimed to have made Socialism scientific.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE PERIOD (‘Age of Revolutions’)

Marx wrote at a time of political and economic change. The Revolutions of 1848 (also known as the Spring of Nations) saw a wide spread explosion of revolutions in Europe, in countries such as France, Italy, Austria and Germany.

There was a massive blossoming of intellectual life in Germany between 1848 and 1933 with the rise of great names such as Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Einstein, Wagner and many more.

However, despite the massive scale of the revolutions most failed and this had profound effects. The aristocracy remained in control of power in Germany and the middle class (excluded from political power) went back to education and culture. Freedom began to be viewed as within the individual rather and Hegel’s view of Prussia (creation of the German state) became ever more important.

In 1843, Marx went to France to study Socialism and met Friedrich Engels in Paris in 1844. Engels was the manager of a factory in Manchester and at the time Manchester was the technological hub of the world.  It was through Engels that Marx came to know English labour conditions and English economics.

Marx took part in both the French and the German revolutions of 1848, but he was then forced to seek refuge in England in 1849. He spent most of the rest of his life in London troubled by poverty, illness, and the deaths of children and Bertrand Russell describes in his History of Western Philosophy, that the stimulus to his work was always ‘the hope of the social revolution’, if not in his lifetime, then in some not very distant future.

Marx called himself a materialist (but not of the eighteenth-century sort).  Under Hegelian influence he considered himself dialectical. (Notes on Hegel: https://brackenstockley.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/hcj-hegel-and-schopenhauer/).

Russell describes Marx as an outcome ‘of the Philosophical Radicals’, continuing their rationalism and their opposition to the Romantics. On the other hand he is described as ‘a revivifier of materialism’, giving it a new interpretation and a new connection with human history. Finally he is considered ‘the last of the great system-builders’ and ‘successor of Hegel’ due to his belief in a rational formula summing up the evolution of mankind.

ECONOMICS

Marx believed that you could explain everything about a society by analysing the way economic forces shape social, religious, legal and political processes.

In our lecture it was summarised as such:

For Aristotle man is the rational animal, for Plato the political animal, for Kant the moral animal, for Hegel the historic animal. For Marx man is the productive animal. Mankind creates the environment it inhabits – ‘not a figure in the landscape, but the shaper of the landscape’. Why had man come to dominate the world? Because of his ability to make tools and co-operate. Technological determinism – teleological approach to history (Hegel).

Marx achieved (according to Engels) a fusion of:

1. Hegelian philosophy (especially the philosophy of history and dialectics)

2. British empiricism (especially the economics of Smith)

3. French revolutionary politics, especially socialist politics (Man is born free but everywhere is in chains)

One of the reasons Marx is considered as the man who made Socialism scientific is his method. He researched every aspect of society in order to understand it and worked for years in the reading room of the British Museum using a vast amount of material to pull his conclusions from. Marx believed that a commodity is worth the amount of time it takes for someone to make it and factory owners take most of the profits because they own the means of production and can exploit the workers.

It was in this way that Marx thought that the cycle of boom and bust inherent in the chaotic capitalist system, combined with the drudgery of doing the same repetitive work would ensure a revolution.

INFLUENCE OF HEGEL

In Marx’s view, all sensation or perception is an interaction between subject and object; the bare object, apart from the activity of the percipient, is a mere raw material, which is transformed in the process of becoming known.

Marx’s philosophy of history is described by Russell as ‘a blend of Hegel and British economics’. Like Hegel, he thinks that the world develops according to a dialectical formula:

  • Thesis (Proposition), Antithesis (counter-propositions – contradictions – negation) and Synthesis (combination or refuting of one proposition).

Hegel believed in a mystical entity called Spirit, which causes human history to develop according to the stages of the dialectic as set forth in Hegel’s Logic but for Marx, matter, not spirit, is the driving force.

Although Marx fitted his philosophy of history into a mould suggested by Hegelian dialectic, there was only one triad that concerned him:

  • Feudalism, represented by the landowner; Capitalism, represented by the industrial employer; and Socialism, represented by the wage-earner.

However, despite Hegel’s influence, Marx believed the real dialectic was rooted in the real world, in money and Class Struggle as opposed to Hegel’s Geist’s battle between good and evil.

ALIENATION

Marx believed that Capitalism alienates men from themselves and from each other because people begin to value things over each other and this encourages avarice, competition and inequality (the cash nexus becomes the criterion of all value).

“I am not myself at work…”- Marx.

COMMUNISM

Marx’s views on Communism were revolutionary and his Communist Manifesto published in 1848 is still regarded as one of the founding documents of Communism. In this manifesto he declares that: “the theory of communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.”  This is in stark contrast to Locke “life, liberty and property” and Rousseau.

Marx’s solution to the problem of Capitalism is as follows:

THESIS: The bourgeoisie (free market capitalism, liberal state, individual rights)

ANTITHESIS: The Proletariat

SYNTHESIS: Socialism

He believed that Capitalism would try to survive by investing in better technology, exporting the products (competition & Imperialism) and that the state would then use the surplus on its own expenditure such as education or the military.

However, Marx is historically a determinist and he believed that the fall of capitalism and the rise of the proletariat were equally inevitable.

Marx’s Das Kapital (Capital) was published in 1867 and existed as a critique of political economy. At one point he describes Capital as “dead labour, which vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour.”

For Marx Communism would be a garden of Eden but he denied that it was Utopian as he said he had worked it our scientifically.

CONCLUSION

Russell describes Marx like other philosophers in the way in which he ‘believes in the truth of his own doctrines’. He explains that Greek philosophy down to Aristotle expresses the mentality appropriate to the City State; that Stoicism is appropriate to a cosmopolitan despotism; that scholastic philosophy is an intellectual expression of the Church as an organization; that philosophy since Descartes, or at any rate since Locke, tends to embody the prejudices of the commercial middle class; and that Marxism and Fascism are philosophies appropriate to the modern industrial State. He thinks, however, that Marx is ‘wrong in two respects’:

(1)  the social circumstances of which account must be taken are quite as much political as economic; they have to do with power, of which wealth is only one form

(2)  the social causation largely ceases to apply as soon as a problem becomes detailed and technical

Until Rousseau, the philosophical world had a certain unity. This has disappeared for the time being, but Russell describes how it can be recovered by a rationalistic recon quest of men’s minds, but not in any other way, since claims to mastery ‘can only breed strife’.

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About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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