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Posts Tagged ‘Marx

“If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist”*…

 

Marx

 

Photographic portraits of Marx don’t suggest a guy who wrote poetry, loved his wife with a passion, doted on his kids, and was once a hellraiser of a student—getting drunk, causing mayhem, and being chased by the police after one too many for the road. He was also scarred in a duel and exiled from Germany, Belgium, and France over his barbed and satiric attacks on these countries often despotic rulers. Marx was a man of action always willing to lead the fight who eventually settled for a life of sedentary toil to produce works that changed the world.

He was also a voracious reader who loved the works of Shakespeare and could quote entire plays by the Bard—just as his children could—and generally took an interest in everything. “Art,” he said, “is always and everywhere the secret confession, and at the same time the immortal movement of its time.” No idea or philosophy or culture was foreign to him, and there was nothing that didn’t keen his interest.

Yet, he could also be bad tempered and foul to those who went against him. And on occasion was anti-semitic and racist—he described one poor frenemy (Ferdinand Lassalle) as a Jewish n-word. No saint, but all human.

Karl also enjoyed playing parlor games like Confessions, which is now probably better known as the set of questions devised by Marcel Proust. In April 1865, Marx was staying with relatives when he as asked by his daughters to answer a set of confessions. Marx’s responses give an interesting (and at times humorous) insight into the great political and economic philosopher, journalist and writer.

Your favourite virtue: Simplicity

Your favourite virtue in man: Strength

Your favourite virtue in woman: Weakness

Your chief characteristic: Singleness of purpose

Your idea of happiness: To fight

Your idea of misery: To submit

The vice you excuse most: Gullibility

The vice you detest most: Servility

Your aversion: Martin Tupper [popular Victorian author]

Your favourite occupation: Glancing at Netchen [“Netchen, or Nannette, was Antoinette Philips, aged 28 at the time, Marx’s cousin and a member of the Dutch section of the International”]

Your favourite poet: Aeschylus, Shakespeare

Your favourite prose-writer: Diderot

Your hero: Spartacus, Kepler

Your heroine: Gretchen

Your favourite flower: Daphne

Your favourite dish: Fish

Your favourite colour: Red

Your maxim: Nihil humani a me alienum puto [Nothing human is alien to me]

Your favourite motto: De omnibus dubitandum [Doubt everything]

A few of his favorite things: “The ‘Confessions’ of Karl Marx.”

* Karl Marx

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As we hum a few bars of “The Internationale,” we might spare a thought for John Bunyan; he died on this date in 1688.  A Puritan preacher and writer, he is best remembered for the Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, though he wrote nearly sixty titles, many of them expanded sermons.

John_Bunyan_by_Thomas_Sadler_1684 source

 

Written by LW

August 31, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined by the GDP”*…

 

GDP

 

Is the world becoming increasingly prosperous? It would be hard to answer “yes” right now, at least so far as the leading high-income economies are concerned. Yet the longstanding bellwether of economic progress – inflation-adjusted GDP – has been growing across most of the OECD since 2010, suggesting that everything is fine.

Some 80 years after GDP was introduced, nearly everyone (apart from the indicator’s stewards) has concluded that it is  of economic progress. But there is no consensus yet on a possible replacement. Reaching agreement on an alternative will require a new concept of prosperity and a new way to measure whether living standards are improving…

Over eight decades after its introduction, there is a widespread consensus that GDP is no longer a useful measure of economic progress.  Its successor will need to be compelling and tell a persuasive story, consistent with experience, of what is happening in our economies.  Diane Coyle offers some leads on possible successors: “What Will Succeed GDP?

* Simon Kuznets

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As we grope for good gauges, we might recall that it was on this date in 1848 that a political pamphlet by the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, was published.  Commissioned by the Communist League and written in German, it appeared as the Revolutions of 1848 began to erupt.  Subsequently, of course, Marx elaborated on his argument (with Engel’s help, after Marx’s death) in Das Kapital.

150px-Communist-manifesto

Cover of the first edition

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Written by LW

February 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

As a partner in a corporate advisory firm and a professor of law and finance, we are true believers in free-market capitalism — hardly natural latter-day communists, let alone successors to Marx and Engels. But we do believe the time is ripe for a rewrite of their Manifesto. Like the inhabitants of mid-19th century Europe, we live, according to Oxford University’s Professor Alan Morrison, “in the wake of a calamitous financial crisis and in the midst of whirlwind social change, a popular distaste of financial capitalists, and widespread revolutionary activity”. We have imagined what Marx and Engels would have written in 2018, naming the new, updated version “The Activist Manifesto”…

So how did the two of us come to take on the renovation of the Manifesto? The answer, improbably perhaps, is our interest in a linchpin of modern free-market capitalism: shareholder activism. We have published academic studies on the phenomenon. We have advised many of the largest hedge funds as they take substantial stakes in hundreds of comp­anies, shaking up complacent boards and advocating for changes in corporate strategy and capital structure. And we have advised companies that themselves have pursued change. These activists may not be what Marx and Engels had in mind, but they are revolutionaries of a kind…

In our redrafting, we have had to go far beyond merely substituting “communism” with “activism”. The “Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies” and others in Marx’s and Engels’ sights have gone. We have introduced their modern counterparts: “the corporate Haves, the elites, the billionaires, the establishment politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties, Conservatives and Labour, the talking heads at Davos, the echo chambers of online media and fake news.” But we have kept much of the rhetoric along with Marx’s and Engels’ relentless focus on economic inequality. Two centuries after Marx’s birth, and however much communism has rightly been discredited, a great deal of the argument is as relevant now as it was then. The Manifesto’s theories about the problems of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production continue to be cited in critiques of unfettered markets, and the document’s historical analysis is cited by modern scholars and taught in universities today. Some historians have cited it as the most influential text of the 19th century. Its reverberations are still felt today…

The original Manifesto’s top 10 “pretty generally applicable” proposals wouldn’t get a passing grade today in any setting. Left and right alike reject its arguments on labour and property. Even leaders of so-called communist states embrace markets and decentralisation. Take North Korea, the country that has most resisted capitalism: since 2012, it has started to encourage entrepreneurship and a formal (if reluctant) acceptance of brand-led marketplaces. However, one aspect of the original still resonates: the document was, fundamentally, an attack on inequality. We think it is obvious that Marx and Engels would be appalled by the present-day distribution of wealth. We imagine they would write something like this. “By the start of our 21st century, we are faced with the extraordinary fact that the top one per cent of the world’s population own the same resources as the remaining 99 per cent. Those at the bottom are less upwardly mobile than in previous generations; entrance to wealthy gated communities is blocked, not only by private security forces, but also by the increasingly prohibitive costs of healthcare, technology and education. There is the dominant force of mass incarceration, with millions of poor, minorities and powerless walled off from the rulers they might threaten. The Haves have never in history held so much advantage over the Have-Nots.”…

Two champions of capitalism, Rupert Younger (co-author of The Reputation Game and director of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation) and Frank Partnoy (a writer and professor of law and finance who is joining the faculty at UC Berkeley this summer) explain their redrafting: “What would Karl Marx write today?

Read their revised manifesto in full (and use the “rollover” function to compare it to the original) at activistmanifesto.org.

* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Chapter One of The Communist Manifesto  (also the title of a wonderful book by Marshall Berman)

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As we reckon with revolution, we might send Hobbesian birthday greetings to Franz Oppenheimer; he was born on this date in 1864.  An economist and sociologist, we wrote prolifically (40 books and 400 essays) and influentially on political organization and the idea of the nation.   His best-known work is probably Der Staat (The State) which reflected his rejection of the concept of the “social contract” and his “conquest theory of the state.”  Like Marx, Oppenheimer considered capitalism a system of exploitation, and capital revenues the gain of that exploitation; he saw the state as the original creator of inequality.  So not surprisingly, his thinking has been influential among libertarians, communitarians, and anarchists.

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Written by LW

March 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Nobody knows what a dollar is, what the word means, what holds the thing up, what it stands in for… what the hell are they? What do they do? How do they do it?”*…

From this website QuiltBank, a “subsidiary” of master quilter Nina Paley’s Pale Gray Labs, money– a $1000 “bill”– that one can actually use

Each individually numbered bill is lovingly stitched by our robot Behemoth, which labors for over eight continuous hours at up to 1500 stitches per minute. Slowed down by the many twists and turns of the design, along with thread breaks, bobbin changes, and mysterious mishaps, each bill takes about two days to stitch. Nonetheless we achieve a pattern far more complex than any commercially available quilt.

BindingThe individual bills are painstakingly bound by Nina Paley, using a hundred-year-old foot-powered treadle sewing machine. This soft and tactile bill contains over 360,000 stitches through 100% cotton fabric, lofted with quality polyester batting – the best type for this purpose, though cotton or wool can be used on request. QuiltMoney can be machine washed like any other quilt; this is known as money laundering. 

The design is based on a 1934-series $1000 bill featuring the portrait of Grover Cleveland, the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms…Each $1000 bill is 40 inches high by 90 inches wide (3’4″ x 7’6″, or 1m x 2.3m) with bound edges. A rare uncut sheet of two is 92″ square, suitable for use on a queen or king size bed. 

More at QuiltMoney.

* Boggs, (“money artist,” quoted in Lawrence Weschler’s wonderful Boggs: A Comedy of Values)

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As we cozy up with our currency, we might send rebellious birthday greetings to Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin; he was born on this date in 1814 (as recorded, O.S., in Russia; it is also rendered, N.S., May 30).  A student of philosophy who immersed himself in Hegel, Bakunin moved to Paris, where he became first a friend, then an antagonist of Marx.  While Bakunin shared Marx’s dedication to justice for peasants and workers, he disagreed that acting through the State was the remedy.  Rather, Bakunin, an anarcho-socialist, argued for the replacement of the state with federations of self-governing workplaces and communes.  Their rivalry came to a climax at the 1872 Hague Congress, at which Marx and his supporters expelled Bakunin and his from the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA).  Bakunin then held a rival conference, and recruited a larger faction of IWA members than Marx.  In the end, of course, while Bakunin was right to predict that Marxist regimes would be one-party dictatorships over the proletariat, not of the proletariat, it was Marx’s approach that enthralled Lenin.

Bakunin argued that, post-collectivization, money should be replaced by labor notes, recompense for work democratically-determined according to time spent and difficulty; still, he would surely have approved of Paley’s hand-crafted currency.

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Written by LW

May 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

That’s why they call it work…

It’s May Day– the occasion for fertility festivals, Soviet pride… and in over 80 countries, International Workers’ Day.  So it’s a nifty moment to revisit the observations of the young Karl Marx.  Living in Paris with his new wife in 1844, Marx first became acquainted with the conditions of the working class. He observed that they were “utterly crude and unintelligent” but also that “the brotherhood of man is no mere phrase with them, but a fact of life.”  This early piece was not published until 1959…

It is true that labor produces for the rich wonderful things—but for the worker it produces privation. It produces palaces—but for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty—but for the worker, deformity. It replaces labor by machines—but some of the workers it throws back to a barbarous type of labor, and the other workers it turns into machines. It produces intelligence—but for the worker idiocy, cretinism.

The direct relationship of labor to its produce is the relationship of the worker to the objects of his production. The relationship of the man of means to the objects of production and to production itself is only a consequence of this first relationship—and confirms it.

When we ask, then, what is the essential relationship of labor, we are asking about the relationship of the worker to production.

Till now we have been considering the estrangement, the alienation of the worker only in one of its aspects, i.e., the worker’s relationship to the products of his labor. But the estrangement is manifested not only in the result but in the act of production—within the producing activity itself. How would the worker come to face the product of his activity as a stranger were it not that in the very act of production he was estranging himself from himself? The product is after all but the summary of the activity of production. If then the product of labor is alienation, production itself must be active alienation, the alienation of activity, the activity of alienation. In the estrangement of the object of labor is merely summarized the estrangement, the alienation, in the activity of labor itself.

What constitutes the alienation of labor?

First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague. External labor, labor in which man alienates himself, is a labor of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labor for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain, and the human heart operates independently of the individual—that is, operates on him as an alien, divine, or diabolical activity—in the same way the worker’s activity is not his spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.

As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions—eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc. And in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.

– from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. 

[Via Lapham’s Quarterly; photo (from Chaplin’s Modern Times) via Dr. Macro]

On a more contemporary note:  economist Gary Shilling and financial journalist Henry Blodgett on the “Marxist” answer to today’s economic conundrum.

And on a lighter note, check out Cosmarxpolitan.

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As we punch in, we might send well-composed birthday greetings to two authors:  Joseph Heller was born on this date in 1923.  His darkly-comic classic Catch-22 is rightly celebrated as an antiwar novel… but might well also be praised for its scathingly satirical look at organizational life.

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 And Terry Southern was born on this date one year later, in 1924.  Best remembered as a novelist and screenwriter–  Dr. StrangeloveThe Loved OneThe Cincinnati KidEasy Rider, Candy, and The Magic Christian, among others– Tom Wolfe credits Southern with inventing New Journalism with the publication of “Twirling at Ole Miss” in Esquire in 1962.

Southern, photographed by Stanley Kubrick

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Written by LW

May 1, 2013 at 1:01 am

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