Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Readings for Week 1

The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx, by Michael Löwy
Introduction (21 pp) and Chapter 1, The Transition to Communism (1842 – 44)(39 pp)


David Fields said...
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Noah H. Enelow said...

Although this comment comes after the official period for reading this text is over, I wonder if there are also those of you who, like me, are somewhat behind and may benefit from this. So, here goes.

I find Lowy's treatment of the development of Marx's revolutionary theory to be totally fascinating and enlightening. It occurs to me that my reading of Marx has been up to this point profoundly divorced from its historical context, both in terms of the history of events and the history of ideas! Some of the ideas Lowy reviews that I found most fascinating:

- The distinction between private and public interest. The idea that only those who are devoid of private interest can truly embody the public interest: the proletariat, "those who own nothing (and) 'have nothing to lose." (27) This is an interesting idea to me, since it is so different from the dominant U.S. conception of political life, which effectively sees the public interest as nothing more than an aggregation of private interests!

- The identification of private property as the "main obstacle in the way of identification of the particular with the universal." (42) Philosophically, this is fascinating and presents a host of questions. The dominant political economic theory of today presupposes that humans are by nature myopic creatures who have only the capability to take care of their own, to mind their own business: effectively, to take care of their households. There is no "universal" in this theory as such, beyond self-interest, with perhaps some modifications of the utility function to take care of interdependent preferences, some measure of cooperation and altruism, et cetera. Yet I also have some trouble with the notion that abolition of private property will somehow endow people with the capacity to absolutely harmonize their own individual actions with the universal (or the Good). It makes philosophical sense to me within the paradigm, but is not consistent with my observation of the world. Perhaps this theory needs a practical applicator, such as Gandhi, in order to work: the capacity to harmonize particular with universal may be a latent potential in human nature that must be cultivated systematically and rigorously, rather than emerging spontaneously from the removal of impediments. No coincidence that Gandhi owned no property himself.

- The re-conceiving of the suffering of the poor as a phenomenon belonging to the public, active sphere of Spirit rather than as a part of the private, passive "system of needs" or sphere of Matter. (29-30) This idea, of course, is necessary in making class struggle an essential part of politics.

There is always more to say, but in the interest of keeping this comment brief, I'll conclude just by saying that I would be very interested to read your comments on this text as well!