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July 13, 2005

Comments

marc w.

Johannes Cassianus/Dinah/cinderalla - it's good to see you're alive and well.

As much as I agree with your arguments, I think the real issue is how the popular impression of Marx has evolved. Marx won this poll due to the support of the Guardianista faction, I'd say, and for the exact reason you mention: they think he's a nice liberal like them; he's remembered first and foremost as a man who cared about the plight of the downtrodden. When no one else gave a toss about the masses of laborers in the industrial revolution (leave aside the veracity of that claim), here was a genial, deeply empathetic man who envisaged their salvation and reaffirmed their basic humanity. All of that is nice, but it strikes me as equivalent to saying that Robespierre was motivated by his passion for efficient government or that the emperor Commodus was a man who cared deeply about entertainment. That may be a cheap shot, but I think this hollowing out of Marx's work is the only thing that allowed him to win - as a 'scientist,' his predictive power is on a par with paul ehrlich, so that doesn't work. As a political philosopher, he's been an even bigger failure.
Does any of this absolve those who voted for him? I say it does - the voters need not pledge any allegiance to any of Marx's demented followers. People are quite capable of rejecting totalitarianism of any stripe and believing Marx was a good guy. I probably agree that there's a certain dissonance, an essential contradiction there - but it's true.
People take what they need from philosophy/philosophers and leave the rest. People can quote a few of Nietzche's aphorisms, but that doesn't mean they condone Nazi germany.

Now, of course, there are undoubtedly a few thousand people who voted for Marx who actually do/did support Marxist dictatorships and many who continue to do so. To them, you've been far too kind.

J.Cassian

Yeah, you're probably right, Marc. I doubt this was the most deeply informed vote ever held. Marx is the Greatest Thinker like Robbie Williams is the Greatest Artist of the Millennium. Remember the words of Bros' "When Will I be Famous?": "You've read Karl Marx and you've learnt how to dance". Greatest bit of rhyming ever.

eric

I say this as a fan of Karl Popper - who had his fair share of comments about Marx's views.

But, isn't this a bit like blaming Gregor Mendel for the 20th century's eugenics movement?

And didn't Marx once say "I am not a Marxist" or is that an old wives tale.

Mick H

Might as well drag this one out: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." I don't think Mendel said anything about how, now he'd discovered genetic inheritance, we should start using it to improve our genetic stock.

marc w.

J,
As I'm not British, I was spared the horrors of Bros. We also managed to completely avoid Take That, which also strikes Britons as some sort of physical impossibility.
E,
Agreed on all accounts - I'm a fan of Popper, but it's slightly unseemly to blame people who may only know of Marx as The Guy Who Gave a Damn and/or the guy who gets all the right peoples' knickers in a twist for the horrors of Pol Pot. I don't think that's what Mick was doing; I think he's just pointing out the... disconnect at work here.
M,
Mendel didn't, but I don't think Nietzche ever summed up his arguments about the order of society with something like, 'Of course, I'm just kinda brainstorming here - don't, you know, ACT on any of this'

Mick H

Breeders of the world, unite!

Eric

Hang on Mick, all politicians seek change. You seek change! Seeking change is not in itself a negative attribute.

Just because Marx wanted to seek change does not imply support for any of the atrocities committed under the banner of so-called Marxist regimes.

Mendel is arguably responsible for massive changes how we view and interact with the world. Again, like Marx, he had little control of that either.

J.Cassian

Yes, but Marx sought the "violent overthrow of the existing order" and preached "the dictatorship of the proletariat". In the context of the nineteenth century, "dictatorship" would inevitably lead readers to think of the Jacobin regime during the French Revolution. Or as one Hungarian communist interrogator put it to his victim: "You intellectuals are so naive. What do you think 'dictatorship' means? It means terror." There's a good reason for Marxism's appeal to butchers from Lenin to Mengistu.

Mendel made a genuine contribution to scientific knowledge, Marx's contributions are confined to the history of pseudo-science. The only question in 2005 is why he's still so "fetishised" (to use the academic jargon). After all, you don't see many Comteans around any more*.

(*And all this concentration on Marx is deeply unfair to Charles Fourier, correctly identified by Théophile Gautier as the only truly original mind in 19th century radical leftist thought: "a madman, a great genius, an imbecile, a divine poet vastly superior to Lamartine, Hugo and Byron." In Marx's future utopia, we'll be able to get a bit of fishing done in the afternoon; in Fourier's, the seas will turn to lemonade and we'll have 37 million Mozarts. Forget scientific socialism, bring on socialist surrealism!)

marc w.

You're right about that, J:
" An antibeaver will see to the fishing; an antiwhale will move sailing ships in a calm; an antihippopotamus will tow the river boats. Instead of the lion there will be an antilion, a steed of wonderful swiftness, upon whose back the rider will sit as comfortably as in a well-sprung carriage. It will be a pleasure to live in a world with such servants."
When cooperative living proceeds to a sufficiently harmonious state, new animals develop to do our work for us? How was this guy not shortlisted for the 'Greatest Philosopher' prize?

J.Cassian

Yeah, Gautier went on to say that Fourier had discovered "as many species of animal as Georges Cuvier, the great naturalist."

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