The Marx Question

Above is a picture I keep on the wall of Marx in the room I teach in.

I get questions from a few it would seem every academic year. I thought my academic reputation as well as my leftist views would have been well established on campus by now, but I guess I am wrong — again. I have joined a group of Obama supporters that have elected to insert Hussein into our middle name as a show of solidarity for him. But it is always the questions I get about Karl Marx that drive me crazy. So, as the normal drill goes, here is my annual “you know nothing” blog on academic Marxism.

People who do not study history tend to always show their ignorance when it comes to Karl Marx and Marxism. I have come across a number of Christians who state “how can you teach Marxism — it subscribes to atheism.” At this point I stop then list the number of books, people, and views taught in schools that are from or about atheists; of course, I am never asked about them….I am only asked about Marx — the person everyone seems to know but don’t. I suspect that people cannot ask about other works and people if they “really” do not know. Better yet, I have found that people only equate Marxism to the former USSR, not realizing that Marx died in 1883 — long before V.I. Lenin transformed Marx’s Utopian concept of equality into an oligarchical dictatorship known as Marxist-Leninism. Moreover, there are many similar errors that distort the meaning of Marx and contemporary communism. The most common view is the encapsulated perspective that Marx and contemporary communism are monolithic. Academic Marxists contend that “contemporary-authoritarian communism lost sight of the human concerns that motivated Marx. Furthermore, academic Marxists believe that a non-authoritarian communism is not only possible in the world, but is manageable with compassion for those who are constantly exploited.” I like to think of the welfare state found in the U.S. and in a number of European states here. The goal is to help those in need via government help. Tax payers have an obligation to end hunger and poverty, regardless of a person’s motives. This is one of the first things I learned in Bible class on Sunday; if we take care of the poor, Christ will take care of us — on earth and in heaven.

Here is the societal problem: According to Marx, “an individual has to work a certain number of hours or days to produce enough to provide a living.” Marx assumed that capitalists would pay workers only enough to keep them alive. His argument matches that of economist David Ricard, (Adam Smith school of thought — Classical Economist) who stated in his “iron law of wages” thesis that people would make just enough to survive since there is always a surplus of workers who will work for less due to the desire to have work. Marx does not support this very conservative economic view, but admits that this is the proletarian plight; unless workers organize to change their social condition, others will always exploit them.

Karl Marx describes as ideological “any set of political illusions produced by the social experience of a class (i.e., a social group defined by its economic role; for example owners or workers).” For Marx a person’s membership in a particular class produced a picture of the world shaped by the experiences of that class. Thus, Marx states that: “it would be almost impossible for an individual class member to form an accurate conception of the world. Marx argued that the socialization process (i.e., the process by which people are shaped by the values of their group) is strongly shaped by one’s place in the class system of that society.” In essence, people of different classes are both directly and indirectly taught to think and behave in ways appropriate for that class. It is this point that historians, political scientists, and other social scientist have addressed the most in writing history from what we call a Marxist’s point of view. Those who “study” analytical history (watching the History Channel does not count nor dose reading Stephen Ambrose) are constantly teaching and writing about class conflict, the premise of classical Marxism.


21 thoughts on “The Marx Question

  1. O boy do I enjoy reading this blog. I only ingest Marxist theory as it pertains to literature so it’s nice to read how it works in the mind of a historian. Really, it’s not too different. So much literary analysis (particularly modern/postmodern theory) is based around class struggles and it’s nice to know that historians wrestle with the same problems.

    Unfortunately, my impression of historians are people who are obsessed with war. That seems to be all that is on the History Channel (which you’ve already discounted so I’ll move on) and in the last academic year, our English Grad. Student Association sponsored an inter-disciplinary grad. academic conference and all the history students talked about WWII. It was probably unfair for me to lump all historians together, and I thank you for showing me that you’re not all the same.

  2. Ian — thanks for reading and commenting. There was an interesting article in one of the more recent issues of the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing how Marxism is found more in literature and the study of Queer theory than in history courses.

    True, I think a number of historians are focused on the concept of war; however, I think a number of us like to look at topics such as religion and class and how Weberism contrast to the modern concept of wealth, class, and gender. A great example here would be MLK Jr., who addressed Marxist ideals in a reflective way in some of his writings.

    I will see if I can find that article then link it to this thread.

  3. Ian’s point is a good one. We often think only about the political and not about social matters like welfare, health care, and entitlements to all groups regardless of sexual identity. Is this an almost dead topic?

  4. Carson, no one denies that Marx is an important historical figure, but you have to admit, his ideas are a proven failure. Utterly. You cant compare his workers revolution to first century Christianity. Does the term “dustbin of history” hold any meaning for you? Workers have been able to make advances without resorting to the dictatorship of the proletariate. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that everywhere his policies have been tried have become brutal dictatorships. Communist have killed more people in the name Communism than any other group. Nevermind when Marx died, his ideas should have died with him. No one chooses to live under communism long by choice.
    If you are interested in studying the effects of class, try reading Ruby Payne. She much more relevent than Marx’s outdated industrial model.

  5. Business Owners today are not going to pay higher taxes and create new jobs. They are going to make as much money as they want and it doesn’t matter how many people they will have to fire to meet that agenda. The Democratic Party entices people of the lower class with the idea that they will stop all of the tax cuts to the big businesses which will help more money flow back into the economy when in reality; each of those tax cuts will mean the termination of hundreds of jobs for WORKING-CLASS Americans because not a single business owner will ever take a salary cut over the termination of a job. Obama also stated that he will not increase taxes for lower class America but did anyone stop to question what qualifies as “lower class?” NO! The bottom 33.3% of the country makes a median salary $31,700 per year. Heck, a Starbucks coffee server makes more than that at an opening rate.

    In the words of President Thomas Jefferson, “A country big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.” I for one don’t want the government telling me what kind of car I can drive, what kind of gas I put into it, or what pressure I have to fill my tires up to (Mike Huckabee). I for one want to know when it became illegal in America to live the American Dream and make a good profit for yourself. So many liberals are quick to label John McCain as an elitist because he went to the NAVAL academy and then married someone who runs a legitimate business and has done very well for herself. Obama on the other hand is living in a 1.68 million dollar mansion in Chicago AND was a graduate from two different TRUE ivy-league schools. I wish you all would take all facts about both candidates into consideration before you begin to label people.

  6. Ah yes. Trickle-down economics. Conservatives never seen to get enough of it:)
    A “lower class” household is typically defined as making under 25,000 a year, while the “upper class” is usually defined as over 250,000. What Obama wants to do is raise taxes for that upper bracket BACK to what they were in 1990, 36%. All other brackets are the same. Obama will also raise the capital gains tax back up to 20%, what it was under Clinton. Hey hey hey, guess what?! Under your poster boy and hero Reagan the capital gains tax was 28%!
    You conservative nay sayers said the same thing about Clinton’s fiscal policy, and look how that turned out? Budget surplus. Since when is that bad thing?
    Oh, and wake up my fellow student. McCain doesn’t even KNOW how many houses he owns.

  7. The Karl Marx philosophy was so good that it has worked incredibly well every time it’s tried. I mean, look at the USSR…oops! Well, China and Cuba are great examples…except for those pesky human rights issues, lack of freedom, forced abortions…well, I am sure if we look hard enough, we can find some country that made Marxism work. I mean, I am sure we would still have had the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ford, Edison and others in a Marxist world. Sure we would. Free time? Sports? Vacations? Yeah, you bet. We would have all those as well in a Marxist world. Freedom of speech and being able to have a blog like this…oh yeah, all day every day in a Marxist world.

  8. …but what about its impact on group dynamics: gay & lesbian theory, blacks and women, as well as the economic elements of the exploited? We cannot forget about the value such a philosophy has had here. It is still very significant.

  9. Did they still have Senior Seminar at HU when you were there Edward? Ours was on Revolution and I did my portion on Marx. It’s been so long since I have looked at that but I do know that many of the things that Marx didn’t account for was lesiure time, sports, TV and the such. He also didn’t account for freedom. I agree that the USSR and others did take his theory beyond what it was originally intended however I still feel that it is a failed theory. The Liberals of this country seem bent on taking that same theory and perveting it as well.

  10. Group dynamics isn’t as big of an issue now as it was back in the 40s or even the 80s. If it were, there would not be a black man on the ballot for Democratic Presidency, and there wouldn’t be a woman as his runner up for office, and there wouldn’t be a woman on the ballot for Republican Vice-Presidency. The fact is, Race and Sex are now only problems if you want them to be. The issue would be completely over and done with by now if it weren’t for every liberal man and liberal woman in America still thinking that the country still owed them something. America is a country in which you can still make it without the tiniest ounce of skill. There is just one thing that is left out of the equation today and that is Work Ethic. If more people were willing to put in a good days work and stop thinking that the American Dream is to be given all of your wealth for free, then we wouldn’t have problems like welfare fraud and embezzlement (or even gambling for that matter). On the Homosexuality issue, I’m a bit old fashioned, I believe that marriage should be between a MAN and WOMAN. I know, I know “No one can choose who they will fall in love with.” Spare me, I don’t really care if you feel obliged to forsake your salvation all because you think that you are saved through “no one sin being greater than another.” If that was true, why would the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy be full of what punishments are to be given for what crimes. Also, why would Jesus have said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11) if all sins were the same; clearly there are degrees of sin and you should take a gander at your bible before you start quoting it for your own excuses.

    Oh, and a response to Magiera too, The Capital Gains Tax is a tax on, guess what, Capital Gains on non-inventory items that gained more money than they were bought for. You have to look at it in comparison to time as well. Capital Gains Tax is always supposed to be lower than that on general income to encourage Capital investors to invest rather than take up a traditional job. HOWEVER, the reason that the Capital Tax was so high when Reagan took office was because of the crappy condition that Carter left our country in when he left office. Our military was suffering so drastically that we wouldn’t have even been able to occupy Paris. Reagan fixed all of those problems so that when Bush took office, the US economy was at an all time high that CONTINUED through Clinton’s failed presidency. Oh, and a budget surplus is a bad thing when that money doesn’t get redistributed back to the people that money was taken from.

    And finally Jon, you got your quote wrong. While he does own 8 properties in the United States, they are all owned by Cindy McCain, her dependent children, and the trusts and companies that they manage. In reality, the real question was of his carpetbagger history. His response, “As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, the place that I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.” Do a little research before you come trying to put me in my place. (you’ll sound smarter)

  11. Actually, come to think of it, i would like to pose a question to all the liberals who visit this blog page. Name three things that qualify Obama to be President of the United States. Oh, And don’t repose a question about Palin because you will be soundly defeated.

  12. Dear An Anonymous Conservative Student of Mr. Carson,

    “Jesus was a community organizer, Pontius Pilate was a governor.”

    Sorry… just had to.

    Oh and 3 things?
    – Born in the United State of America
    – Is over 35 years of age
    – Has been a resident for at least 14 years

    I think that just about qualifies him wouldn’t you say?

  13. One more point.

    We are not a Christian nation, we were not founded on Christianity, and we have a little thing called separation of church and state.

    So would you please kindly pack up your sermon pamphlet and take it with you.

    Might I also add that it has been proven scientifically (if you believe in that stuff) that the brain of a homosexual is closer to those found in heterosexuals of the opposite sex. So I don’t care if it is your dogma that is telling you how to treat people, it still makes you a bigot.

  14. Pingback: What Do YOU Know About Karl Marx? « Good Tithings

  15. Pingback: Repost of the Marx Question II (Academic Marxism) « The Proletarian

  16. Are you kidding me? Is this dribble whats going on in the academic world now? Boy a lot has changed since I left 14 years ago. So this is the tender under belly of liberalism in America. Thank the founders of this nation for “the right of free speech.” This is, despite the MARXIST views expressed here, the greatest country in the world as well as the greatest experiment in government in the last 250 or so years. All that can possibly come from the debate on this website is a further degradation of the country in which we live, the ultimate demise of a government which despite the comments and complaints, just requires a few doses of reform, NOT a change in fundamental philosophy. Just exactly how many places on this planet would you even have the opportunity let alone the right, to express these extreme leftist views. Answer, only America! While complaining about social inequality from philosophical ideological points of view, why not take a brief moment and THANK WHATEVER HIGHER POWER YOU BELIEVE IN THAT YOU ARE AN AMERICAN AND THAT YOU HAVE NOT ONLY THE RIGHT BUT THE CAPABILITY TO FREELY, OPENLY DISCUSS THIS B.S. IN A FORUM THAT IS UNREGULATED AND UNCENSORED!

  17. well thank you for pointing me to this but the genie from aladin had a great phrase for “teacher woman”. “if great minds thought alike what would make them great”. ponder that one, its ok it took Aladdin a while too.

  18. Pingback: Communist Obama Display « The Professor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s