18 August, 2022

Blog

Let’s Play Party-Games With Marx

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Everybody is fed up with news of impending catastrophe; Covid that will not go away even in 2022, climate change that threatens to engulf both nature and Homo sapiens by mid-century, broken supply chains, inexorable price inflation and coups by military Gorillas on the left and the right. In Lanka endless bickering, racial hatred and after three failed constitutions the pending fourth will be the nastiest on many counts. So my dear countrymen of all nationalities and faiths gird up your loins the worst is still to come. Our regime, licking its putrefying financial sores and the international lacerations it has suffered, is in no position to do anything for the people. So what the hell, let’s relax and take time off from this dismal reality to have fun. Let’s work through some of things Marx said or didn’t say to see what the old codger really meant. This is a lightweight piece, if you are the ponderous polysyllabic intellectual type, turn the page.

Religion

Most controversial and interesting is religion; Marx is much misunderstood. You do not need to be an atheist to be a Marxist; the old boy was not concerned with the spiritual messages of Gautama, Jesus or the Prophet, nor did he scrutinise the economic system in heaven. The famous “Religion is the opium of the people”, as the extracts below shows, says that religion is a tranquiliser which sedates man to accept this oppressive world instead of rising up against it, by promising carnal joys in paradise or exalted awareness after enlightenment.

Here are extracts from the famous text to emphasise this point – strung together with deletions in between.

“Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against a world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

“The abolition of religion as illusory happiness is the demand for their real happiness. To call on people to give up illusions about this condition is a call to end a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is in embryo criticism of the vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Base and Superstructure

In early Marx (before the Communist Manifesto) there are references to the material groundings of society (geography, resources and the production-economic systems) as the Base, and to culture, institutions and the state as the Superstructure. It was granted that influences could flow in both directions but in this structural metaphor the Base was presented as dominant. How these bidirectional influences flow cannot be theorised in the abstract but only by concrete and specific analysis. E.g. Eric Hobswam’s Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848 and Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day, or Kumari Jayawardena’s History of the Labour Movement in Ceylon and in many other studies. There you will find concrete explorations of how ‘Base’ and ‘Superstructure’ influence one another.

The Base-Superstructure imagery is oversimplified except in political polemics and Marx never returned to it in his major historical pamphlets of later life. A great weakness of this imagery today is uncertainty about where ethnicity, which by the late Twentieth Century has come to centre stage in many places, stands.

Materialism

Central to Marx’s philosophy are (a) Historical Materialism and (b) like all great post-Enlightenment scientists (Faraday, Darwin, JJ Thompson, Einstein, modern geneticists) Epistemological Materialism. A para on each.

Historical Materialism views the great movements of human history as impelled more by material interests than idealist beliefs. For example colonialism and imperialism transformed the world for raw materials, gold and silver, the slave trade and the export of capital for plantations, railways and mines. The Bible, bringing the heathen to god and spreading European civilisation among the savages followed in the wake of these material benefits. Another example is that big pharmaceutical companies do indeed invent and produce lifesaving drugs, but their raison d’etre is returns to shareholder capital. Unlike a mother’s ideal selfless love for her child, material interests, not idealism, drives class society and history. This I believe is now universally accepted. Historical materialism has come out with a score of 90 out of 100. The ten percent in doubt is because of the enigma of the spread of Islam. One cannot explain it like colonialism, imperialism, the settling of the Americas, South Africa and Australia-NZ, by pointing to material interests as the primary driver. When Islam surged out of Arabia and transformed the Middle East and large chunks of Central Asia the motive seems to have been entirely faith. I don’t know enough, so I keep 10% in reserve.

Epistemological materialism is pretty much the same as science; the solo nigger in the woodpile is an aspect of quantum physics but no more on that. Modern science, broadly speaking, contends that the material world really exists out there independently of our minds and our job is to examine it, experiment with it and find out how it works. The causality of material events is not a thing of our will (Newtonian gravitation, General Relativity, chromosomes, black-holes and mathematics are true or not for all, not just Christians or males). Epistemological materialists though firmly of this view of course grant we don’t know everything now. But as science moves we will find more and turn up ever more questions – otherwise science and the pursuit of knowledge will halt. The domain of epistemological materialism does not intrude into spiritual territory; that is faith, enlightenment, heaven and hell (except man-made hell on earth). It is not concerned with the questions like “Does God exist?” or “Should you be a believer?” The philosophical domains of science and religion are separate. Richard Dawkins was silly to transgress the line though his critique of intelligent design is justified because the religious lot first transgressed the boundary and intervened in scientific evolution theory.

The Transformation Problem

This is a bit technical but I bet I can make it intelligible to most of you. If you held out this far please don’t switch off now. This is a difficulty in Marxist economics but first contrast modern quantitative economics with Marx. The former is philosophically arid. It’s about things like ‘if China raises tariffs how much will EU’s exports rise or fall’ or ‘if India changes FDC rules this way or that what will be the impact on local industry, exports or farmers”. Mechanics, calculations, that’s all; fine, leave it to PhD students and sham algorithmic Nobel Prize winners, some later convicted as crooks. A PhD now is a reward for moderate intelligence and moderate effort, it’s a training ground in research-methodology, no longer much to do with an original contribution.

The transformation problem belongs to different category from quantitative economics. It is located in the triangulated border between political practice, philosophy and economics. Kapital I is 100% grounded in the labour theory of value whose premise is that only human activity (labour) creates value. Hence the value of a commodity is inputs (raw materials and machinery) plus the average socially necessary labour newly added in its production. Of this added-value a part is used to pay wages (the average socially necessary subsistence and reproduction costs of the worker). The portion left after this Marx called surplus value. The more familiar word in economics is profit, including interest, tax and rent. This surplus appropriated by the capitalist may be ploughed back into reproduction (another production cycle) or used to expand the economy in new directions. This is how capitalism works, morality apart.

Marx recognised that value (the socio-philosophical concept) and price (market price at which commodities trade) are not the same. There is dislocation between value and price and between surplus value and profit. For example a commodity made in a plant employing lots of labour should generate lots of surplus value, but commodities produced in high-tech plants with little labour apparently generate only a small surplus. The former should then be generating high profits, the latter only a small profit! Not only is this counterintuitive but also screws up reality. Volume III of Kapital, inter alia, is Marx’s struggle to resolve this contradiction.

He recognises that capitalism is a social system hence a plant by plant analysis is bollocks, it can only help introduce concepts. Taking society overall the rate of profit will be uniform (capital will migrate if there is a difference in profitability). But the total surplus-value of the whole production system equals the total profits of the whole economy. Then whether some activities (mines, healthcare) intrinsically needed more labour and others (robot-controlled industry) intrinsically needed less does not matter, the natural rate of profit across the economy will be the same. An average plant in each category would yield the same as the economy wide average rate of profit. So Marx first conceded that value and price need not be the same, second he postulated that the total surplus value created in production equals the total profit in the whole economy, and third he saw a tendency for the rate of profit across the economy to equalise. Nevertheless contradictions, too complex to explain here, remained. In my view this effort was pointless since the labour theory of value and market economics belong to separate though parallel philosophical domains. To attempt to map them point-by-point is as absurd as attempting to map personal psychology point-by-point to aggregated social behaviour.

Marx was a bugger-and-a-half; he thundered like the prophets from Isiah to Mohamed; his damnations and exaggerations would make a second-hand car salesman blush. But my god, how many thinkers in the last two centuries produced ideas of comparable depth? Yes, Darwin – of Einstein and Freud I am not so sure. And none revealed such kaleidoscopic range – philosophy/dialectics, history, economics and revolutionary politics.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 3
    2

    Materialistic explanations following Marx where the State and power are placed in the superstructure cannot provide good explanations of whats happening in the former colonies like Sri Lanka? Power dynamics-though closely linked to marerialistic interests-seem to have its own dynamics through ideology and manipulation of collective minds. Therefore better theoreitical approqch is needed. It is being provided by the Decolonial theory. So long as we are stuck in the mindset of classical Marxism, those who advocate it will be in the minority in the elections. Furthermore, it diverts the attention of emerging scholars/intellectuals away from the Decolonial approach which is being advocated by a range of credible scholars including Walter Mignolo,Catherine Walsh, and many others.

  • 7
    0

    Yes, Marx’s ideas were indeed revolutionary. But Marxism, like the other religions, wrecked itself on the rock of immutable human nature.
    All systems need administrators. Human administrators are prone to self-aggrandisement. Lenin died early, so we don’t know how he would have turned out. Stalin wasn’t known to be corrupt, but he wasn’t averse to using a limo unlike the supposedly equal plebs. His thing was power, which he clung onto till the end. Succeeding Soviet leaders were no less human. Some supposed Marxist leaders set up family dynasties indistinguishable from any other royal family. China still has a red flag but little Marxism.
    Perhaps, if the administrators and workers were robots (technically possible nowadays) a Marxist paradise in our lifetimes could be possible.

    • 0
      1

      Old Codger, Marx was just another human struggling to find answers in a social revolution when what was required were clean hands and pure heart. personally and institutionally. Marx kept hiding and running through countries and found peace and solace in London in the heart of capitalism he hated so much. In some poverty there we do not know whether he found out the truth of God in a country which acknowledges the God of the bible but long after Marx was buried, his followers shifted his tomb to make it prominent. No technical robots can create a paradise to match the one that already exists.

  • 4
    1

    All the mentioned, – the religion, the base and superstructure, the materialism, the transformation problems, – all boil down to (are directly related to/are the creations of) workers getting (or not getting) honorable wages over executive/elitist profits. Anything deviant from that and the aforementioned concepts become complex, twisted, intellectually deranged, and immoral.

    • 4
      0

      The problem is that the workers who are supposed to unite and lcunch a revolution against the capitalist system -including the state-lack the necessary consciousness? I did my Phd thesis on this very issue based on a study in a riural area -Kandy in 1989. I was surprised to see how other ideologies including religion, established politics, aspirational ideology to be successful within the system, caste, elitism, were at play. Atr a theretical level,Marxism may be appealing to the old guard in SL left politics but it has lost its explanatory power in societies(former colonies) like Sri Lanka. It canot provide the answer to political domination by a few. Only grassrootw networking,educating,cooperating and developing an anto-hegemonic agenda can produce results(without being caught up in religious,ethnic, elitist narrowcastes). As the media is owned and dominated by the very rich, suchn a fgrassroots network is all the more important before and after the elections. It should be built on ‘community power’ and local issues. Not on issues that the average person cannot understand.

      • 2
        0

        Siri,

        Well analyzed. The rural people’s lifestyle and aspirations are going to erode very soon, the way this current government operates. We need a grassroots agenda to propel their thoughts forward and show them that their aspirations will not last their generation, that their hard-worked for money is being taken away from them, and that they are not being paid for what the country is worth (money being concentrated at the top). It has to be continuously pounded into their psyche via the alt-media.

  • 2
    2

    “Onre Kulam Oruvane Thevan” (One Race, One God)- Thirumular.
    This is the philosophy of most of isms whether it is Marxism or Hinduism or Buddhism. Simply Equality, Equal distribution of wealth, Equal opportunities, Unbiased Rule of Law and Justice.

  • 3
    3

    Many seem to assume that Marxists are dogmatic and confine their thinking to what Marx had or was supposed to have had in his mind.
    I do not want to pile examples. Africa produced Marxist thinkers who were capable of applying Marxism to contexts that did not even have a significant proletarian class.
    The ‘postcolonial’ theorists seem barely aware of Nkrumah’s work on neocolonialism way back in the 1960s– far ahead of any theorist elsewhere. Cabral’s creativity escapes the attention of those claiming to be improving on Marx.
    I think that the Monthly Review is a good (but not only) source of information on creative development of Marxist thinking.
    I will pause here, as this is not quite the space for serious comment on Marxist theory or practice.

    • 2
      1

      Postcolonial and Decolonial Theory have advanced a lot from the 1960s. For more see the following site:

      https://www.facebook.com/groups/634295333788710

    • 1
      0

      S.J,
      “Cabral’s creativity escapes the attention of those claiming to be improving on Marx.”
      Even our own Cabral is quite creative now and then!

      • 1
        0

        old codger

        “Even our own Cabral is quite creative now and then!”

        You mean Cabral is good at creative accounting?
        Because he is an accountant.

    • 3
      0

      SJ, lets here the SERIOUS ?? comment. from the person who helped Marx in writing his theory. ( we take this, as KD is not serious enough in writing about now dead Marxism). As usual SJ, discussing Marx , jumped way back to 1960 Nkrumah post colonial theory. But Siri says, theory has advanced since then. Mallai, being here in CT long understood what SJ is up to. This seems to be the usual pattern of self claimed Marxist. No wonder Marxism is dead.

  • 3
    1

    “I will pause here, as this is not quite the space for serious comment on Marxist theory or practice. “ Here are the said and not said: Some imbeciles want to saw what they read of 1960s, not read to understand that are in the 2020s. China inserts a forceful clause in the loans to poor nations that when the loan is defaulted, the property would be forfeited. How has the Nkrumah called these BRI contracts in his book? May I know the Seaports and Airports and villages spread of lands swindled by the neocolonialist countries, after freedom? What do you call Russia skinning the former USSR countries? Why Belarus is reduced to Aewal Pai (Sorcerer’s Ghost) of Russia. Entire UN organizations’ fees are paid by past colonial countries; all human rights and fair international laws are proposed and created by these countries. Even the world’s richest country, China, doesn’t pay as much as those countries are paying. All Chinese excess balance of trade payments is invested in loans to buy lands in Africa, South Asia. Neocolonialism? A brain washed talk. Ranil, who, during Yahapalanaya time taught neocolonialism in Oxford, is now asking Royals to go for IMF. If it were in 2015, loans could have been paid off. Three major democratic examples followed in the world are Britain, US and France; never was anybody followed Marx’s Germany or Lenin’s USSR.

    • 0
      2

      Thank you for affirming my concerns.

      • 2
        0

        So read my line
        “Here are the said and not said: Some imbeciles want to saw what they read of 1960s, not read to understand that are in the 2020s “.

  • 3
    0

    The problem is that the workers who are supposed to unite and lcunch a revolution against the capitalist system -including the state-lack the necessary consciousness? I did my Phd thesis on this very issue based on a study in a riural area -Kandy in 1989. I was surprised to see how other ideologies including religion, established politics, aspirational ideology to be successful within the system, caste, elitism, were at play. Atr a theretical level,Marxism may be appealing to the old guard in SL left politics but it has lost its explanatory power in societies(former colonies) like Sri Lanka. It canot provide the answer to political domination by a few. Only grassrootw networking,educating,cooperating and developing an anto-hegemonic agenda can produce results(without being caught up in religious,ethnic, elitist narrowcastes). As the media is owned and dominated by the very rich, suchn a fgrassroots network is all the more important before and after the elections. It should be built on ‘community power’ and local issues. Not on issues that the average person cannot understand.

    • 1
      2

      S
      You are basing arguments on a dogmatic model.
      Every socialist revolution including the October Revolution was based on an alliance of forces.
      Except for dogmatists, all Marxists accept the need for a broad front of forces to fight imperialism and its local allies.

      • 2
        0

        Siri, did you say “average person cannot understand”, (must be not just rambling but tangential too ) thank you so much for affirming my concerns.

      • 2
        0

        ” Except for dogmatists, all Marxists accept the need for a broad front of forces to fight imperialism and its local allies”

        Please please please…….. don’t be such a nincompoop. Then they are Reformist of Marxism (like the reformists of MMDA who doesn’t like MMDA).

      • 0
        0

        SJ
        Are their servants at Maxit leaders’ homes?

        Soma

      • 2
        0

        SJ

        “Every socialist revolution including the October Revolution was based on an alliance of forces”

        Until they consolidate and centralise their power, then purge their allies if necessary travel all the way to Mexico to assassinate former allies, or exile them to Siberia as reactionaries.

        Instigate a cultural revolution and purge all those perceived enemies of the Communist Party.

    • 1
      1

      Siri,
      The essay is a pretty dull talk of the Tamil Left who is only left in Tamils. The Old Electrician is mixing up Tamils’ freedom fight with Sinhala Buddhism’s economic destruction and confusing himself. He is trying to fool Tamils that there is a solution for them within Leninism. It is not Tamils’ job, just because Tamils have to have released them from Sinhala Buddhist slavery, to bring back the $18B Royals deposited in foreign banks, stolen from Lankawe. We have our job. We cannot spend time teaching a monkey how to build a nest as in the story of “money and the weaver bird”. Before Prof. Kumar proposes any “Lenin’s Dhammika Paani” solution to Tamils’ problem, he should read Laksiri Fernando’s essay which talks about human rights & UN. The UN recognizes nations- countries. Countries are the construction elements of the UN. UN is a members’ club. So, the UN recognizes countries’ sovereignty. Countries become into existence by sovereign people grouping together and deciding them to be ruled together. When they constitute this, it becomes binding on them. The UN doesn’t bind on countries its resolution, but constitutions bind the people consented to it. And this consent of the citizens is recognized by the UN as “Consented to be governed” by one of its member countries.

    • 0
      0

      People living inside a UN member country have procedures to remove this consent. Then only the revocation will be recognized by the UN. Lenin has nothing in that. Tamils launched their war on Sinhala Oppression. They need not to go for another revolution. Remember, Prof. Kumar in his last essay said that if Tamils do not listen to his advice, they will go for another fight with Appe Aanduwa and be cursed for another hard hit? So, what Tamils have to follow is what is UN procedures; nothing of Lenin or certainly & absolutely none of Professor Kumar’s.
      It was Peasants who removed the Russian Royals. Lenin did fight against peasant-ism, but not against imperialism. Lenin set up the Communist Royalty in October following the peasants’ revolution, which took place earlier. Communist Imperialism or Lenin-Stalin’s tyranny was million times more oppressive than olden days Western Imperialism. Marx’s world is no longer here. It is the time of the German industrial revolution when a worker was sucked in by the owner of the mill – factory. Practically now all factories are in advanced nations. In those countries all labor protections are there including for Child labor, other than in China. Europe’s Industrial Revolution is the mild form of oppression of American Slavery farming.

    • 0
      0

      That time the world thought that the slave has every duty to summit for owner’s wish. Now, there is no practical imperialism in the world other than in a few countries including the Middle East & Africa. The definition of worker of Marx time needed to be defined again now a day. That “Worker” is perceived as a hard toiling insect, sucked by bosses (entrepreneurs). There are many office jobs in the US with minimum payments, but the factories cannot dream of those luxuries with labor union actions. “Economic Class” is only defined by wealth, not by work toiled for. Lankawe’s current economic problem is created by peasants or the Sinhala Modayas. Where are factories and their owners in Lankawe, for workers to be united against the bosses and to rebel and change the government?

      There is no worker, in the classical sense, in the developed countries, where these Leninist writers like to apply Neo-colonialism and imperialism. Lankawe adopted all labor laws Britain had by 1948. Sampanthan Aiyya has said to British envoys met him that they had given Ceylon the same constitution Britain has; Britain has gone far away but Lankawe had sunk in a deep pit. That is what it counts.

    • 0
      1

      When the JVP’s High school and college graduates fell in sextual fantasies in the Ceylon wilderness, how do you teach the 6.9 M Modayas to rebel and change the government? It is because the peasants are the ones creating problems in Lankawe, I asked in CT, the educated elites, and the middle-class office employees to bring the change for Lankawe. That is why I support teachers’ Union, but not because I have the full knowledge of their salary deprivation. All Lankawe past elections were certified by EU election monitors. Then why do you want a revolution to let the blood run? What kind of government that blood-let is going to bring? Will that have an election at which Modayas will be voting? A correct election system for Lankawe would be only “educated can vote” and thus deprive the 6.9 M voting again. These Modayas are celebrating the Hitler King as the Maharajane, but Lankawe royals are by caste, South Indian seashore dwelled, low caste, fishermen family. When the country is civilized enough to bring the universal franchise, then 6.9 m million can vote.

    • 0
      0

      A classical worker is ruled by his factory owner; his police and justice are the factory chargehand. A worker is one who is placed on adoption by his government to the boss, because of his economic conditions. He doesn’t have access to (his own) government. Wild lions are no innocent workers. Wild lions were easily trained by their masters to carry out pogroms against Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1971, 1977, & 1983. They never rebelled against their government (the boss). Their deficiency, unlike a factory worker, i.e. no access to a government, but over pampering of the government on the detriment of minority genocide. They cannot rebel against government without politicians’ Biryani Parcel and Arrack sip.

    • 1
      1

      1. I don’t call me a Marxist. One reason is I don’t agree with the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ among other things. But many of the Marxist analyses are still useful and valid in understanding the world today, including Sri Lanka, colonialism, and imperialism.

      2. Siri says, “The problem is that the workers who are supposed to unite and lcunch a revolution against the capitalist system -including the state-lack the necessary consciousness? I did my Phd thesis on this very issue based on a study in a riural area -Kandy in 1989.”

      3. I don’t think a limited study on Kandyan peasantry (1989) is a good way of refuting some Marxist propositions or theories. Marxists have not said that the workers would ‘unite themselves and launch a revolution spontaneously.’ They emphasized on ideology, consciousness, organization, campaigns, and a party. Kandyan peasantry is different to workers that Marxism emphasized. Obviously, consciousness is different. Nevertheless, they themselves are an important force as revealed today on the fertilizer protests and other issues. A progressive social change is what is necessary of many forces.

  • 3
    0

    OMG. KD says ” Mechanics , calculations, that’s all, leave it to PhD students and sham algorithmic Noble Prize winners, some later convicted as crooks. A PhD now (is it just now ??) is a reward for moderate intelligence, and moderate effort, it’s a training ground in research- methodology, no longer much to do with an original contribution. I guess KD may be right, few seems to severely lack abstract thinking, their research – methodology is based on social media, Wikipedia and Dr. Google , to the extent few still believe there is no such Pandemic or Covid is same as TB and flu Virus. They challenge others contribution when they have none of their own to offer.

  • 2
    1

    KD is compare and contrast is what now called as research methodology. How convenient is that. Repulsive, obnoxious, nauseating, irrational herd mentality / behaviors are easily normalized or minimized by our PhD. referring to past or random acts elsewhere, found on social media and wikipedia.

  • 0
    0

    “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (German: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen) is a slogan popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme. – Wikipedia

    200 something years before Marx was born this system was tried out in the Plymouth colony – a new migrant colony that migrated to the US from the town of Plymouth in England.

    After trying this system for nearly a decade they lost nearly half their people due to starvation and cold. Men were unwilling to work when they would not see the fruits of their labour. Women were unwilling to do things for other men. Excuses of illness were common and laziness the norm.

    Matters turned around when the leadership decided to divide up the land and give each family their own plot to farm and grow, and to keep what profits they could make from it. They engaged in the radical experiment that was Capitalism. Soon there was abundance in production and food was plentiful, and they began to trade with the native Americans. Thus began the tradition of Thanksgiving.

  • 0
    0

    I wish Marxists would just call themselves Communists and be honest in describing themselves. But I guess all the hundreds of millions who have died at the hands of that philosophy would be bad marketing.

    So be it that Marx’s lunacy continues to find support in Sri Lanka’s intellectual class. Let the young at least read Karl Menher, Ludvig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, or more current economists like Jorg Guido Hulsmann. Anyone but Marx!

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.