"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Feb 14, 2011

Abandoning the past sometimes allows you to see better the present...

An earlier version of this was posted as a reply at SMBIVA, but what the hell, I think it might merit a stand-alone, here.

So -

Perhaps it's just time to admit that while analysis and polemic which were written in 1848 and 1871 can still have some application to our times, they do not represent or embody them anymore than Lucretius' seminal work properly explains the modern popularization and lay embrace of the rudiments of atomic theory.

This looking back to look forward just sort of ignores what is new, now. It ignores the change it purports to explain.

As a reading of arabawy ought to demonstrate, not everything follows a Hegelian or post-Hegelian or dialectical development (h/t senecal). In fact, nothing does. The Dialectic is a bourgeois imposition upon events, not a revolutionary discovery of a law or process of nature. I know this a crude and unfavorable reading of a theory beloved of Lenin and Trotsky, but the conglomeration of muscles otherwise known as my heart do not contain their exact and equal opposite number, coming always in contention with the original, to later be synthesized as a new whole after a period of strife and struggle. If this ever actually occurs, the first moment I become aware of it will likely be my last, as it is undoubtedly a process which would kill me dead.

And if anything ought to come under the closest possible scrutiny, it's the broad connection between the Dialectic, as a means of explaining history and human choices, and the continued failure of the revolutionary left which embraces it; which Left is left almost always chasing actual events instead of making them (as is the case most recently made, in Egypt); and which is ever trying to push pin those events into a theory which it embraces like religious doctrine and which is as mystical and priestly as the Trismegistian Hermeticism from which Hegel originally - and openly - cribbed it.

It's time to dump the philosophical interpretations of the works of Hegel, Trotsky, Lenin, the Bolsheviks, the Frankfurters, the New Leftists, the Maoists - and the orthodox "Marxist" reading of Marx. Because they have never worked. They only serve the interests of bourgeois interlopers who imagine themselves as the indispensable vanguard to actual, historical revolutionary movements and groups which almost never even know these would-be vanguards exist.

These readings of history and the Dialectic are the correspondences and dispatches of a hundred and fifty year experiment in abject, complete and total failure. They do not accurately or scientifically describe the observable phenomena of our experience. They are priestly in their origin, and priestly in their utterance.

It's time to dump Hegel. To be done with a search for secret keys, overarching Meaning, the Spirit of Things and History, and special knowledge.

The work which faces us doesn't require a vanguard party. It does not need obedience to a doctrine, or the direction of professional revolutionaries who believe themselves armed with the secrets of an embodied and personified History, or the universe, or the mystical unfolding of dialectic processes.

That doesn't mean we should stop organizing.

It's just that we should probably not be - we leftists - so bourgeois, meritocratic, university educated and ruling class about it.

The working class, the colonized, the oppressed, the alienated and the poor don't need theories conjured up in academic discussions, in the coffee houses which line the well paved streets of upper class neighborhoods. They don't need special vocabularies and essays on superstructure, intersectionality and sociocultural meta-meta critique.

They need the bosses done with, the cops stripped of their weapons, the jailhouses broken and soldiers deprived of wars to fight for capital and Capitols.

If you  - if we - aren't willing to do that, it's time to admit what side you're actually on...


Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Excellent, Jack.

Does bear reposting here.

What you've just described is why I make such an annoying point of asking people to disregard Marx. At this point in human history, Marx is now an official Cult Leader From the Grave. More energy is spent on interpreting and arguing over what Marx wanted or would have wanted, than on how to achive what he supposedly wanted, or actually working to achieve those goals.

Whatever Marx said, if it was true, it was true regardless of whomever said it. It was true before Marx was born, it was true during his life, and it remains true thereafter.

I'd prefer to focus on what is true, and not the Cult of Personality.

For instance, something isn't true just because Marx said it but that's often the treatment given by Marxists: infalliability, doctrinal truth.

Jack Crow said...


Going to clean the car for my wife. More later. We don't exactly agree, but it's a small thing.

I still find Marx very useful. As a cartographer. Not as a prophet.

W. Kasper said...

"The working class, the colonized, the oppressed, the alienated and the poor don't need theories conjured up in academic discussions, in the coffee houses which line the well paved streets of upper class neighborhoods. They don't need special vocabularies and essays on superstructure, intersectionality and sociocultural meta-meta critique."

In the spirit of the day,


Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Jack, as always: no objection to using Marx's writing. Objection to treating him as infallible, or rendering the writing as Scripture. Serious objection to Worship, in other words. Why? Someone can reach a similar place, without Karl Marx. Not everyone, but some. As one who has done without, it's always problematic for me to deal with the "Marxists" who try to re-state my thoughts in Marxian dialect. I make no reference to the man, though others may find value in him.

And incidentally, as a surgical strike against the ops and MDs of the world -- the last thing I'd want is Oxtrot-as-sage, or Oxtrotism.

Jack Crow said...


Nicely done. Good listening, too.


The question for me is this: Can ordinary people make an uprising, revolution and/or new beginning without reference to the Dialectic?

If so, whose purposes does it really serve? And toward what end? Cui bono?

Now, Marx is translatable, and he was very much embraced in his own idiom, for his times. His points were well received, and broadly popular among the workingmens' associations which would later coalesce into the Internationals.

His language was not particularly out of the ordinary, so long as a woman or man could read in the first.

I don't think that's the case, when it comes to Lenin-on-Hegel, Trotsky-on-Hegel, or Hegel-His-Damned-Self.

And there is the rub.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Jack, I think we agree on what value Marx has as a general proposition, and merely differ because I never spent a lot of time reading him --mainly because of (1) the godawful writing style; and (2) the ______ists who turned me further away than the prose itself did.

I don't think there's a single human who has observed things nobody else could see. All observable things are there for everyone to see. Whether one chooses to see them, that is the question.

I think I'm talking here about the quality of "discovery" and the historical result of Marx being credited for "discovering" perspectives that could have been held by many, even if the others in the many never bothered to write them, and never bothered to hook up with Fred Angles.

I believe it's much more effective to help people see what they don't presently see by using Socratic methods -- let THEM see what they are missing, by their own mind's turnings. I'm very firmly against helping people see by saying, "well Marx said..." because to me that's more a religious proposition being suggested there, not a factual one.

W. Kasper said...

As an analyst of how history moves, Marx was second to none. But as two centuries followed, he can't necessarily account for a future he was unable to analyze.

This is where the age-old bourgeouis project of cultivating a 'priesthood' comes into it. Industries, institutions, organizations set up with the intention of telling us rubes (and the powers that be) what the old boy 'really meant', splintered in to specialisms, niches and factions; preaching various degrees of 'purity'.

Since ancient times, priesthoods have always existed to mystify, and render safe, the already known. Millions around the world don't need any academy to interpret what Marx proscribed, and more importantly, what they know they need.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

As an analyst of how history moves, Marx was second to none.

That's as hyperbolic as me saying everyone can see everything, when I know there are blind people who don't see things with their eyes.

More accurate to say,

Among his contemporaries who were writing about social theory, Marx is believed by some to have had exemplary descriptive and synthetic prowess.

We don't know what the whole set of his contemporaries thought or did, we can only compare the writings made during his time.

People before him observed and thought about labor power and power disparity. Suddenly, in the wake of Glossy Karl, those folks don't count?

W. Kasper said...

Well excuuuse me!

He was second to none in the depth of his western, translated, widely available, real-world influential contemporaries in interpreting labour relations, ideology, imperialism, commodities, nation states, the role of religion, profit, stratification and humanity's relationship to nature.

I can't account for every other social theorist or philosopher who existed, but then that's a whole other question of canonization and ontology that we couldn't adequately cover in a comments box.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

W. Kasper,

You shouldn't take offense at my intent at being more precise.

My point is so simple:

By observing the disparities of power extant in my lifetime, as they affected me, I drew the same conclusions that Karl Marx drew and wrote about.

Many Marxists I've encountered have tried to tell me that I drew those conclusions because of Marx -- his magical ability to change the whole fucking world in his wake! Never mind that at the time I'd never read word one by Karl Marx. Please, never mind that. It may call into question that assertion of Marx's "essentiality."

His fans, however, seem fairly unanimous in claiming his incomparability.

Had you made the same journey I have, you'd probably understand. You wouldn't feel like I was demanding an apology or self-excuse. You'd realize that I'm talking about Much Ado About Nothing.

But maybe that's what bugs you?

If you ate your first canteloupe at age 16, and found it to taste a certain way, would you revisit your thoughts on its taste because Karl Marx said "canteloupes are _________"??

Jack Crow said...

I think Marx was hands and heads above the rest. Again, as a cartographer. Not as a prophet. Or as someone who needs to be interpreted by a vanguard, an academic institution or a band of initiates.

I also think Nietzsche was, as a writer, superior to almost every writer of his age, whether or not I necessarily agree with him on every subject upon which his pen danced.

Both men deserve the superlatives, as persons, as authors. They have still been ill served by their adherents. And moreso by their believers.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Jack, you're reading my mind, it seems:


I eat Neapolitan, and I prefer the strawberry most of all, then chocolate, then vanilla. Growing up, my mother, brother and I could have divided the box into equal thirds, with brother on the choco and mother on the van.

Does that mean strawberry is an incomparable flavor, far superior to other flavors at describing what ice cream should be?

Does it mean so... for me? Only for me? As a bright-line rule for people like me? For all?


The reason I appreciate the generic value of Marx is because people like you, who post thoughts I admire and thoughts which prompt me to think, have said he was valuable to them.

I can't begrudge anyone finding utility in something.

Jack Crow said...


The insurmountable fact of our history is that Marx does precede us. So too does Caesar.

So that now we understand Caesarism to mean what it could not if Caesar followed us, or had never existed, in the arc of history.

Likewise, with a school of thought and monstery such as fascism, which is now inseparable from the person of Hitler, though Mussolini expressed it earlier and Schmidt better.

It would be nice to appreciate the various uglinesses associated with fascism, and its historic development, independent of German volkish national socialism,* but that ignores the very impact and historical weight, if you will, of Hitler and his party.

* - especially as we exist in the shadow of a corporate fascism which has managed to dispense with racial and nationalist encumbrances, embrace liberal tolerances and so utterly dominate culture that we can forgive ourselves for routinely confusing its distractions for our own crushed existences.

Jack Crow said...


You humble me.

Marx's value to me is different than when I first discovered him - and soon enough abandoned his work - as a teenager growing up under the media reinforced threat of the cold war and the Soviet Union.

Now Marx has as much value for what he could not predict, as for those statements which have never been more true.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Yes, well... Marx's time-stamp duration on the progress of History can't be denied: he lived, then he died. He was here. He thought, he wrote.

To be hyperbolic: I find it a bit excessive, a mote grandiose, to suggest that all events after Marx were affected by Marx. Could that be theoretically true ("butterfly effect")? Maybe. I don't have any truck with theoretical physicists, who play in the realm of that "butterfly effect" to great glee and to the amazement of many scientific ignorami, so I don't know how they appraise the ripples in the human fabric which have emanated outward from the living point of Karl Marx. I'd imagine they could concoct something which shows, "scientifically," how Marx makes me see the world as I do.

It still would not persuade me.

My gig is this: unless a person read Marx, or something attributable to Marx (accurately or somewhat less so), I don't see how Marx affected that person, any more than a primate in New Guinea affected that person.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...


I don't really like post hoc, ergo propter hoc. I think there's a sound reason why it's a logical fallacy -- having to do with a failure of causation evidence.

Jack Crow said...

My apologies, Charles. The error is mine.

I'm not suggesting that Marx directly influences people, especially those unfamiliar with his work.

I'm saying that Marx was the first and best "cartographer" of capitalist production and accumulation, and that the common map still bears his notes, place names and landmarks because he was so good at it.

I don't think anyone needs Marx more than she or he need what he was pointing towards. I just still find his work useful, especially on the road towards where he was pointing.

Hope that helps, and again I apologize for any lack of clarity or misunderstanding.

W. Kasper said...

Charles -

In opposition to the cliche, I'm far more 'Marxist' than I was as a smartass undergraduate many years ago. As with most great literature, I bring my own humble (Zola-esque!) experience to their work and see it articulated artfully, as with Marx. I think many people do this with poetry, fiction or even religious texts.

As for 'journeys' - I'm British. Only Tony Blair had a 'journey'. The rest of us simply are. ;)

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

W. Kasper --

Journeys aren't bad. The trick is to be the pilot/driver, not just a passenger.

Jack --

Yeah, like I said, I appreciate the impact his work had on you. At a still further attempt on reformulating what I'm saying:

I just don't like people telling me that Marx was more valuable, across the board, than I find him.

Subjective value I don't question. Objective value, that's arguable.

W. Kasper said...

'Now Marx has as much value for what he could not predict, as for those statements which have never been more true.'

Couldn't agree more. Few things were as irritating as news commentators in 2009 asking "has capitalism failed?" - like they didn't know about those two fucking world wars, the slave trade, the El Nino famines or the scramble for Africa.

They should have interviewed someone scavenging for scrap at one of those Nigerian mega-dumps: "Has capitalism failed? How has this affected your credit rating? What's your house worth these days?"

W. Kasper said...

Charles -

If I say "Jimi Henrix is the most rad guitarist ever, dude" of course it's an impact based on value judgement - the guy next to me in the supermarket may be more rad, but it's beyond my experience. I don't really get your issue.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Maybe there isn't an issue. Maybe I'm just describing how I feel about Marx. Don't go looking for an issue where I haven't posited one!

On the forecasting ability: well of course. It goes without saying that if you see the disparity of power, the ownership/slavery quality of capitalism, you will see it is a failed system. And you will predict, as I have done without ever encountering Marx, that it will lead to wars designed to reinforce the slavery, and to create "boom" cycles...which bust shortly afterward.

The only thing required to see what Marx saw is a desire to understand power dynamics as they play out over large blocks of human time. And I guarantee you, Marx was not the only human to possess that power.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

On the global utility of "Marxism" circa 2011:

What is learnable is within us already, the understanding part at least.

I have had far more success teaching people new perspectives with Socratic methods, than with religious ones. Your mileage may vary, however.

dah_sab said...

And another excellent example of why the so-called left always fails. You guys spend more time pissing on each other than on the people you purport to oppose.

Everyone else is impure, polluted by ancient, mystical theories, while we know the one true god, who tells us to leave the peasant workers be, their folk wisdom will carry the day.

One side goes overboard with theory, the other romanticizes the workers, who just need us to get out of the way so they can crack some heads.

Jack Crow said...


Any chance you might explain your response further? I don't get your read. It's early, my youngest is nattering over cereal, to the left of me, and I didn't sleep well - so the fault is probably with me, but I'm not sure where you discover a love of "folk wisdom" in anything written in this thread.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Jack, maybe dah sab thinks we dislike each other and are trying to stop movement, rather than encourage it.

Where did dah sab get the idea that we want to organize, or romanticize workers, rather than seeing things move along as they should of their own volition?

It's always easier to build and attack a straw-man than to engage.

Malagodi said...

"Some things that work in one decade
Don't work in the next.
So you mark it down as a noble idea
That failed." ~John Giorno

I like your post.

It is quit clear that the modalities of the 19th century don't work so well in the 21st.

Perhaps you'd find my blog interesting also.


Jack Crow said...


I like Merton. It's a good start.

~ Jack