I was originally planning on doing one blog post for the two Communist Manifesto meetings, but, as you can see, have decided to change my mind. The main reason for the change of heart is that, of all the meetings of the Occupy Reading Group that I have participated in, this one on Part 1 of the Communist Manifesto may have been the most illuminating for me, and I wanted to be sure to transcribe what was said, since the second meeting on parts 2-4 will certainly be very different.
The main topic we discussed on Tuesday, 1/3/12, was an exegesis of Marx’s view of the effect of capitalism on human relations and society. This exact topic has been debated by Marx scholars for over 100 years, so our group of course was not able to resolve the “answer” to what Marx truly believed; we were however able to crystallize the issue in our conversation into two general possibilities, with each one necessitating radically different versions of what Marxism is.
The passages we focused on the most were in the section in which Marx is describing how Capitalist society has removed the illusions upon which pre-bourgeoisie society rested, including Marx’s statement that the “bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation”. The group thus asked — is Marx saying that capitalism has created a situation in which the family is “mere money relation” and a tool of bourgeoisie oppression, or is Marx stating that the family was always oppression and money relation, and that Capitalism has only made this fact apparent by removing the idealistic fantasies on which pre-bourgeoisie society rested (i.e. religion, diving hierarchies)? This question of course extends beyond the family to society and human affairs in general. Is Marx saying that Man was always inherently oppressive of his fellow Man and that all human interactions have monetary gain as their primary motive, or is he saying that Capitalism has turned people into such creatures?
I believe how one interprets Marx on this issue holds a key into determining how one views Marxism in general. For, if Marx sees Capitalism as having reduced people to this slavish and Hobbesian state, then his goal of creating a communist society not based on Capital would be a society in which the natural brotherhood of the family and of humanity would become the basis for all human interaction, instead of exploitation and accumulation. On the other hand, if Marx sees the family and all human relations as inherently oppressive and as mere avarice, then his communistic society will seek to root out familial and traditional cultural relationships as exploitative and regressive elements.
As tempting as it is for me, I am not going to weigh in here on which of these two interpretations I see as more likely given Marx’s other writing, nor will I analyze the conclusions of either conception of Marxism. Nope…I’m not going to do it. Alright, pushing the enter key to force myself to move on….now
So, a couple other interesting points came up which I will mention in passing. One was the question of whether or not a Marxist view of history, society and human action was deterministic. Another topic that popped up briefly, but which is of utmost interest to me, is the question of whether or not Marx is a statist. This topic, I think, comes up more in parts 2-4, so I am guessing it will likely be discussed more tomorrow night, and I’ll leave any blogging about it for then.
Overall though, I took a lot from our conversation on whether or not Marxism sees Capitalism as the cause of the pervasive greed and oppression of human relations, or as merely the illuminator of this as a natural fact. In the past I have always focused on the statism of Marx, but highly related to this, and, perhaps even more important in understanding his philosophy, is this question as to how Marx viewed the dialectic between human nature and the Capitalist system.