Communism Misunderstood in America – Part II: Marx, His Personality and Background
To properly visualize Marx’s enormous contribution to humanity and science, it is imperative to learn a bit about his personality and background. Karl Marx (1818-1883) was born in Trier, Germany as the oldest son of a middle-class thriving Jewish family. During his youth, he suffered the sting of German anti-Semitism and witnessed the hypocrisy of his father, a lawyer, in adapting Christianity for commercial reasons. He was disowned by his mother, an orthodox Jew, upon learning that he has become as atheist.
In 1835, Marx entered the University of Bonn Law School, where, instead of studying, he spent much of his time with friends relaxing in beer gardens and writing poetry. In 1838, his father, dissatisfied with his academic performance, transferred him to then more disciplined and strict University of Berlin. The romanticist Marx soon became unprotected to two powerful influences of Hegelianism and the thoughts of Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872).
Feuerbach, a student of George Hegel and the successor to Hegel’s professorial chair at the University of Berlin, consistently criticized Hegel’s idealistic thoughts. Going along with Feuerbach’s criticism of Hegel, Marx rejected the giant philosopher’s conclusion while maintaining the validity of his analytical dialectic method. Marx, however, criticized Feuerbach’s ideas claiming that he did not give enough attention to social and historical elements in formulating his philosophy.
After completing his doctorate in philosophy, because of his drastic ideas, Marx found it nearly impossible to acquire an academic chair. In 1842, he finally secured a position as the editor of a drastic newspaper, Reminisce Zeitung. Soon thereafter, in 1843, mainly because of his articles which were basic of reactionary attitudes of government, the paper was closed down and he went into exile. Again, Marx cannot be fully understood unless we acquaint ourselves with the socio-political conditions of the time.
Marx belonged to the post-Napoleon era. Napoleon’s conquest of Europe had completely dislocated the traditionally established order, by eliminating the Holy Roman Empire, modifying territories, and replacing the hereditary monarchs with shared people. As children of French dramatical change he and his solders spread throughout Europe the principles of that dramatical change: liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Napoleon’s defeat and exile did not resolve the problem for the European leaders. People were openly demanding democratic reforms. The Vienna conference of the European leaders, skillfully led by the Austrian Prince Metternich (1773-1859), decided to establish autocratic monarch systems. The crowned heads of Europe cooperated in suppressing their people. They agreed to use force against any attempt to establish democracy.
Despite this coordinated and often very brutal suppression, the need for democratic reform was not silenced. by repression of each rebellion made the next one unavoidable. These were the conditions under which Marx grew up. Feeling the heavy hand of reactionary repression, he fled from one country to another in search of freedom.
The Scientific ecosystem:
Marx was exposed to a scientific method which had reached its peak at his time. Science had revealed many unimaginable secrets leading to a growing confidence that it soon will show the mysteries of the universe. These scientific discoveries as those of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin led people to assume that since there were laws governing natural elements, there might also be natural laws that govern human beings. Persuaded by this idea, Marx developed his theories of Scientific Socialism and believed that he had found the meaningful to human social development.
The Industrial dramatical change:
The scientific method had crystalized a new frame of thought and had developed a new technology and mechanized production system. People with capital employed the new technologies which tended to make old skills out of use, forcing self-employed artisans to work in huge factories. Depersonalized labor worked 16 hours a day in summer and 13 and a half hours in winter in dark and unventilated factories. Many thousands died from asthma, tuberculosis and other deceases because the air they breathed was polluted by steam, dust, smoke and filth.
The most desirable laborers were women and children because they were paid less and were least likely to resist harsh conditions imposed upon them and cruelties brought on them. Small children were left unattended. Fathers were the first to be fired. They often had to depend on the earnings of their wives and children. Disgraced and humiliated, they often either got drunk or committed suicide.
It will not be difficult to understand Marx’s radicalism under these conditions of political suppression, economic exploitation and accompanying social evils. It seemed that nothing short of drastic reforms could cure the situation.
Despite all these negative conditions, Marx was optimistic about the future of humanity. From a historical viewpoint, Marx believed individuals were destined for freedom and creativity. Prior to the Industrial dramatical change, human productivity had not been sufficient to provide people with their basic needs and free them from forced labor. They had remained the slaves of these basic needs. The arrival of capitalism along with industrialization allowed, for the first time, abundance of goods by mass production. Individuals now had the opportunity to devote more time to development of their own humanity. On this assumption Marx built his theories in order to guide the masses in this venture toward a bright future which he thought was waiting for them.
A knowledge of the ideas of Marx by his original writings in virtually indispensable to an educated person in modern industrial society, because the thoughts of Marx have considerably affected people’s views about history, society, economics, culture, ideology, political science, and the character of social inquiry. No other intellectual influence has so deeply affected and shaped the mind of modern left-wing radicalism in most parts of the world and no other societal thoughts are developed and experimented more than those based on Marx’s ideas. Furthermore, from a purely intellectual viewpoint, classical Marxism expands one’s knowledge by linking it to a greater intellectual tradition extending back into the eighteenth century British Enlightenment, German post-Kantian philosophy, British political economy, and early- nineteenth-century European Socialism.
Simply, in societies where its members are free and able to discuss the vital issues, by not being well grounded in the writings of Marx, one inevitably is insufficiently attuned to modern thought and self-educated to a substantial degree from continuing argue by which current societies live in. As it will be clear by this writing, there are only two basic ideologies in the world: capitalism of which the United States is an example, and left socialism with much greater adherents including Russia, China, most of Latin America, India, Vietnam and more, equivalent to over five times of the U.S. population. No other literature than Marx’s would provide for appropriate comprehension of these two extreme settings and those in between. It would discarded light toward people’s future and its humanistic existence. A profound knowledge of Marx’s thoughts by any member of modern industrialized society is imperative.
In order to place Marx’s ideas in appropriate perspective, they must be looked upon from three different viewpoints: humanistic, scientific-economic, and historical-philosophical.
Humanistic: Marx and the character of Humanity
As a member of a travel group of young scholars known as the “Left-Hagelian,”Marx considered Hegel’s ideas too far away from real life experience. This group’s critique of Hegel’s recondite idealism shaped Marx’s early thinking, and the influence of one of its members, Ludwig Feuerbach, provided them with a definitive form. To Marx humanity was a species-being, meaning that people, as definite from animals, focus their consciousness on the complete species by which social interactions and labor become humanized. Marx rufuses the idea that people are positive beings interested only in seeking happiness, as claimed by utilitarian writers of the nineteenth century. Marx asserts that people are makers and achievers; they realize their humanity by their labor not only by changing the material world but also by changing themselves.
Marx continued to believe in the absolute basic quality of human labor. In fact, it always remained his central concern. It was this commitment of Marx to the creative character of human labor that obliged him to reject capitalism. Under capitalism, human labor is alienated and consequently his or her very existence as a human being is threatened. Labor has no contribution in the creative aspects of production. He or she has no say as to what is to be produced and how it is produced. Labor is simply made an instrument of production. Alienation results from this separation of the idea of what is to be produced from the mechanical course of action of producing it. Under capitalism, according to Marx, this alienation is the basic cause of most social ills. From his viewpoint, the same is true in modern capitalistic societies of today like the United States.
Scientific-Economic: Marx as a Scientist
Like many other scientists of his time in Germany, Marx was strongly influenced by the dialectical philosophy of Hegel which dominated German intellectual thought. Marx, however, was not a loyal follower of Hegel. He accepted the idea that history moved in a dialectical manner with constant change. In order to understand the reality of this ever-present change, one had to understand the time of action of change, the manner by which the change occurred. Marx also accepted the idea that the time of action of change was progressive, not linearly but in a dialectical manner. This idea of progressive dialectical simply meant that nothing was as appeared to be, but all things (thesis) were regularly in the time of action of becoming something different. They were always in the time of action of producing contradiction, consequently, “negating” themselves, tending to change into their opposite (antithesis) and taking new forms (combination). The cycle is then continued endlessly. On this base, the human condition was taken as one of continued unrest, denying what then was and strive to be what was not however.
These recondite Hegelian ideas, central to his philosophy, was adopted by Marx, lifted from the sterile air of academic abstraction and given vitality by relating them to everyday life experiences and societal struggles in historical perspective. In changing Hegelian dialectic, Marx held that it is not ideas as claimed by Hegel, but the material conditions of life that shaped humanity’s destiny in addition as human ideas. It is the material condition of life that determines the character of existence. There is a definite relationship between technology and organization of the material world and the character of the social, political, and spiritual life. In his study of historical materialism, Marx was chiefly interested in the development of a modern mode of production and the relationship between the substructure and superstructure of modern industrial society.
Of particular interest to Marx and the chief of his contribution was the discovery of the way the mode of production, and social relations pertaining to that mode, conditioned and determined the superstructure of the social system. He describes this relationship as follows:
“My investigation led to the consequence that legal relations in addition as forms of state are to be grasped neither from them nor from the so-called general development of human mind, but rather have their roots in the material conditions of life… In the social production of their life men go into into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production consists of the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life processes in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”
Historical and Philosophical: Marx as a Philosopher
From Marx’s viewpoint, philosophy is not to understand history, but to change it. One ought to read his original works if one intends a true understanding of the thoroughness and scope of his comprehension of history. In the evolution of his thoughts, while continuing the inquiry into the idea of alienation, Marx also pursued the understanding of the time of action of change and evolution in history. His writings are reflective of his command of language, thoroughness and originality of ideas, the course and evolution of history, the astonishing sharpness of mind and basic intellectual method of inquiry, unquestionable integrity and compassion.
Marx is the most important single figure in the development of the modern philosophy of communism. His human vision, profound creativity and his intense basic strength enabled him to establish the theoretical base for social dramatical change and societal reforms which have continued to change the world for more than a century.
In 1844, when only twenty-six, he wrote the Economic and philosophical Manuscripts which is considered his finest philosophical work, though he never published it in his lifetime. Applying the Hegelian thought to social needs and circumstances, he points out the philosophical faults of capitalism of his time. With his bitter and vivid criticism of capitalistic system and his vision of a new framework for future society, Marx presents the best account of his genuine humanism. These “manuscripts” are today the most shared source of reference for Marxists.