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.