Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Best Kept Secret

What you'll find below is a quote from "Economic and Philosophical manuscripts of 1844" by venerable Karl Marx. Why do I think this particular bit was (is?) a best kept secret? Well, I've been raised and, more importantly, educated in a country which swore by Marx and Communism. Even if it was a much better, and happier, place than the Soviet block, it still seemed to have totally disregarded some very important parts of Marx's philosophy. Reading the passage below, it could have only been deliberate. Sad, but true.

[This crude communism] appears in a double form; the domination of material property looms so large that it aims to destroy everything which is incapable of being possessed by everyone as private property. It wishes to eliminate talent, etc., by force. Immediate physical possession seems to it the unique goal of life and existence. The role of worker is not abolished but is extended to all men. The relation of private property remains the relation of the community to the world of things. Finally, this tendency to oppose general private property to private property is expressed in an animal form: marriage (which is incontestably a form of exclusive private property) is contrasted with the community of women,* in which women become communal and common property. One may say that this idea of the community of women is the open secret of this entirely crude and unreflective communism. Just as women are to pass from marriage to universal prostitution, so the whole world of wealth (i.e., the objective being of man) is to pass to the relation of universal prostitution with the community. This communism, which negates the personality of man in every sphere, is the only logical expression of private property which is this negation. Universal envy setting itself up as a power is only a camouflaged form of cupidity which reestablishes itself and satisfies itself in a different way. The thoughts of every individual private property are at least directed against any wealthier private property, in the form of envy and the desire to reduce everything to a common level; so that this envy and levelling in fact constitute the essence of competition. Crude communism is only the culmination of such envy and levelling-down on the basis of a preconcieved minimum. How little the abolition of private property represents a genuine appropriation is shown by the abstract negation of the whole world of culture and civilization, and the regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor and wantless individual who has not only surpassed private property but has not yet even attained to it. The community is only a community of work and of equality of wages paid out by the communal capital, by the community as universal capitalist. The two sides of the relation are raised to a supposed universality; labor as a condition in which everyone is placed, and capital as the acknowledged universality and power of the community.
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, pp. 124-126

* Marx refers here to the speculations among certain eccentric communist thinkers of his time who thought that if everything is common property women should be, too.

So, why is the above quote the best kept secret? It should be obvious, really. What my country (and especially the Soviet bloc ones) was building was "crude communism", as described above. At best. At worst, it was just a sort of "communal" capitalism, where the "capitalists" were the ones in power. And there were much less of them than there were "proper" capitalists in "proper" capitalist countries. And all the while we were told otherwise (a less of a problem, if you had eyes), but also taught the underlying philosophy which was obviously masterfully edited to exclude telling passages as the one above. I'd have to check, but I wouldn't be surprised if the book quoted above (and the one mentioned below) were never translated!

Had we known this would anything be different? I like to think yes. Of course, I cannot know. Nobody can. There's precious little people who could look into the future with such insight as Karl Marx in the passage above, describing what wouldn't come to pass for more than 50 years hence.

So it goes...

PS
I have took this quote from another great book (since I do not have a copy of the original to hand), by another venerable man, Erich Fromm. That book is "Beyond The Chains of Illusion: My Encounter With Marx and Freud". Read it. Carefully. You won't regret it.