Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Spectre of Marxism

Karl Marx at 64 years old.  Click on image for full screen picture.
I did a job substitute teaching for a US Government class for two periods. It's sad, first off, that the standard of pay for substitute teachers is so low that the quality of substitute is (mostly) equally low. I think despite the insulting pay, I'm a good sub. I only sign up for classes that I know something about. This is not the case for many of them. But the general quality and knowledge base of substitutes is, on average, so low that teachers are unable to keep their regularly planned lessons. They are forced to show the kids outdated videos, combining the efforts of a substitute teacher and the television into a sort of over-glorified babysitter.

Sadly, today I was forced to show students a horribly outdated anti-marxist propaganda video. (I imagine the outdated nature of the bad documentaries I've been forced to show is due in large part to budget cuts.)

The video today was called "Karl Marx: The Spectre of Marxism." The premise of the documentary was solid but its execution was pure propaganda. I would actually appreciate a documentary that explores the influence that Marx's writings and ideas have had on the world. I would like see its failures and successes. This documentary, shown to these kids as gospel truth, only focus' on the failings of Stalinist (and to a lesser extent Leninist) Communism. It glossed over the military annhialation of communes in that era that were working and it constantly compared the failings of dictatorial Communism and Marxist theory to unrelated and wholly imagined successes of Capitalism. It also contained numerous errors that anyone even mildly familiar with NMarx's writings would know to be patently false. But how familiar are 16 and 17 year old kids with Marx? Not very. In fact, I would guess this video is their first exposure to Marx and, sadly, close to the last.

One of my favourite errors: "Marx was an enemy of democracy." Hogwash. Marx wrote that democracies were perfect staging grounds for the bloodless revolutions and socialist programs for the proletariat. He also admired the ideals of democracy as far as I could tell.

Another more subtle form of propaganda I found particularly distasteful was the ridiculous use of images to sell points. In one scene, the narrator oversimplifies the process of Capitalism over the backdrop of a green felt card table. With each step the narrator outlines, an unseen dealer would deal a card with a simple drawing illustrating the narrators point. When the narrator has finished his points on Capitalism and the dealer plays the last card, a pot of hundreds of poker chips is swept into the Capitalist players purview, somehow signifying that Capitalism was the "winning hand" without saying so out loud.

On top of numerous things like this, the video was 20-25 years old and clearly had a sort of... Communist Homophobia... If that makes sense. It doesn't have an objective compare/contraast of Marxist Philosophy compared to Capitalist Philosophy. It's steeped in illogical, irrational, cold-war warrior mentality.

It just seems disgusting what gets passed off as fact to kids who don't know better. One comment made I did find myself agreeing with was basically this: "Stalinist Communism was a deformed model of Marxism, as Fascism was a deformed model of Capitalism." I would take that one step by saying that Free Market Capitalism is just as deformed, misguided and evil model of Capitalism as Fascism.

At the end of the day, I hope beyond hope that these kids are taught a more balanced view of Marxism or have the good sense to research it themselves. But the way kids seem to be nowadays, I would doubt any self-learning is going to happen except in rare, exceptional cases.

That makes me sad.


Kevin said...

It is strange how people adopt the tools of their enemies to defeat their enemies.

As for this film. My guess is that the bozos who made the film failed to realize that Marx defined both Communism and Capitalism. For that matter, Marx spent more time defining the strawman of Capitalism than he did in defining Communism. The primary idea behind capitalism is that man is ruled by money. This is the reverse of the free market, where money is just a tool used by man.

Marx’s dialectics was that the human race was evolving through a predictable system of thesis/antithesis/catharsis. This dialectics is surprisingly like intelligent design in that it places a discernable intelligence behind the evolution of man.

Marx’s dialectics held that a new corrupt ruling class would emerge from Adam Smith’s free market. This would create a split between the proletariat and bourgeoisie (capitalists).

The intellectual class and elements of the noble class would unite against this corrupt system of the Capitalist and bring forth a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Marx’s cop out for not describing the form of this new Communist order was that a person in the current stage of human evolution would not be able to imagine the next stage of human evolution.

All Marx gave us was a formula for creating a horrible bloody revolution.

The clever trick is that Marx defined both the subject and form of the debate.

People who try to oppose communism invariably end up trying to defend the strawman capitalism and end up accepting Marxist dialectics in the process. They end up supporting artificial imbalances in the economy as good and natural. In this shrill form of debate, you end up developing the means and methods of your enemy.

In my opinion, the real question for the world is how to get out of this ugly, shrill mode of discourse caused by modernism. This, BTW, is why I keep haunting your site as you seem to have some inkling that it is the form of the debate which is causing our problems.

This whole idea of using propaganda and praxis to control public sentiment (ie, the world spirit) is a hallmark of "modern" dialectics.

Bryan said...

Well, it seems as though a lot of these free-market capitalists are unwilling to go to Marx' "Capital" to find out what's going wrong. Or to Venezuela.

Bryan said...

Insofar as Venezuela seems to be a case of regulated socialist capitalism that is going right. I need to look up the number, but compared to all the economies under IMF and World Bank instructions, it's the only country that has shown a significant (or any) increase in GDP and economic stability.

Which pisses off alot of the IMF and World Bank leaders, because there is a country proving that their medicine really is bad.

Kevin said...

Venezeula had an entrenched ruling elite. It was almost impossible for the peasants to establish their own capital base and improve their lives.

Breaking the stranglehold of this ruling elite releases the creative imagination of the people. Collectivization generally leads to a few very good years. The big question is if you can get sustained development for multiple years. Socialization has the effect of changing one ruling elite with another ruling elite.

When you have a massive artificial imbalance in ownership, like you do in Venezeula, then socialization results in an immediate improvement in condition. The difficulties are in sustaining that level of achievement.

Traditional liberalism (that is the free market and democracy) has been shown to lead to sustained years of growth such as South Korea, Japan.

A good comparison to Venezuela is Chile which took a turn toward free market reform and is now has one of the highest per capita distributions of wealth in South America. Chile does not have the resources of Venezuela but has been able to eke out one of the highest per capita incomes through free market reforms.

The Soviet Union, China, Cuba, East Germany, North Korea, etc., all showed a short burst of positive economic activity followed by stagnation.

Venezeula, like Saudi Arabia, has such massive oil reserves that it will be able to afford a corrupt government for a long time. I think it would be better of with a Jefferson who wanted to build the assets of the individuals to a Chavez who wants a country filled of people dependent on his largess.

I agree completely with Marx, that a wide gap between haves and have nots will lead to revolution. The revolution will have a short period of equalization. I do not believe it will lead to long term prosperity.

Back to the post, by controlling the form of the debate, Marx has led the world into believing that it is a choice between socialism and corrupt capitalism (fascism).

I think the real debate is if we should have a free market or a capitalist market. Because we have accepted Marx's dialectics, we have effectively rejected the free market.

Bryan said...

Personally, I think the right answer lies with a mix between Capitalism and Democratic Social programs. Unfortunately, everyone thinks their solution is best, so we've had so many different sorts of politicians take us in so many different directions I think the status quo of the system is just in a confused and precarious balancing act. I think we need definite and strong social safety nets that eliminate poverty and hunger and inequality, but I also think that we need a healthy market system, but we also need vital industries running on not-for-profit or profit-for-the-people models.

Kevin said...

I am fairly close to your opinion. I would modify it to say the ideal combination is a free market and a democratic form of government (i.e., a Republic).

The trap to avoid is that "capitalism" refers to a whole socio-economic model. In capitalism, political influence is a commodity that is bought and sold just like other commodities.

A system of "Capitalism and Democratic Social programs" actually has a contradiction of terms. In capitalism the government is owned by the wealthy and is answerable to its owners. In a democracy government is elected by the people and is answerable to the people.

In a system of free markets with a democratrically elected form of government (a Republic), both the economic and political are manifestations of the people in the society.

An ideal socio-economic model might have a very limited system of government whose primary concern is to keep the free market fair. This differs from socio-economic model of capitalism where an elite has both political and economic dominance.

The "The Specter of Marxism" then is real. When the gap between the haves and the have nots gets so wide, there will be a violent revolution. My guess is that the propaganda film failed to see this. It is likely that the film maker's fear of communism led the film makers to support the inequities of capitalism.

Marxists had taken control of the form of the debate. Those trying to argue against kept stumbling into such pitfalls.

For society to ever really get beyond Marx, we need to break the hold of his dialectical model. It apparently is very hard to do.

Bryan said...

I think the perfect government doesn't have any set definition or name. It is just one that holds the interests and well being of its citizens above those out to make a buck.

Kevin said...

IMHO, the main legacy of Hegel and Marx was that flamuxed our language. Modern liberalism was born with the idea that freedom is slavery and slavery freedom.

With the right combination, you can pretty much turn anything into its opposite. Personally, I like the classical tradition that knew language was flawed. The goal of this tradition was to try and limit the number of contraditions.

Bryan: "I think the perfect government doesn't have any set definition or name."

The idea that we have to eliminate words has been a primary theme for ages. The idea of eliminating definitions is one of the hallmarks of the modern world.

I was thinking that it would be really cool to make a movie where we had affectively eliminated words. The movie could be a paradise where we all wonder around grunting to each other, but being happy.

It would be a cool movie. Then I realized some nimrod named Wells wrote up this story in 1895. Wells' paradise was a bit tainted as there was a group of troglodytes living under the city harvesting people. Wells' fantasy was that this effort at destroying definitions was in fact an effort to undermine society.

The planet of the apes was kind of the same idea. We finally stopped having the annoying words that irk the left ... and apes took over.

It seems like all the methods designed to lead to a perfect society lead to totalitarianism. I have zero expectations of a perfect society. It seems to me that the combination of free market and a democracy do the best to actualize the individual.

Bryan: "It is just one that holds the interests and well being of its citizens above those out to make a buck."

I am sorry, but isn't it the interest of the citizens for them to find ways to improve their lives. That is, to make a buck.

Our modern society seems to have done a hell of a good job in limiting the ability of individuals to make an honest buck. The result of our anti-market intentions seems to be to creat a ruling class of people who have the insider knowledge and connections to manipulate the regulations.

Citizens want to make a buck. They want to live happy fulfilled lives. It seems to me that we want things that enhance people's ability to accomplish their dreams.