Saturday, August 13, 2005

Karl Hess on Marxism

[To complement my ongoing summary of SEK3’s unfinished Agorism Contra Marxism, here are some words on Marxism by the late Karl Hess, one of the granddaddies of Libertarian Leftism. Hess, of course, was the speechwriter for Barry Goldwater who joined the New Left in the late 1960s and had a tremendous influence on the modern libertarian movement. This excerpt comes from Dear America, Hess’ 1975 philosophical autobiography.]

“[A]s a guide to the future, I would absolutely reject Marxism. As a tool to grasp the dimensions of the past and some of the possibilities of the future, I would no more reject the work of Karl Marx than I would that of Aristotle, Tom Paine, John Dewey, Peter Kropotkin, or anyone else who has thought long and hard on the condition of being human. Or the Bible, with its many extraordinarily commonsensical perceptions. One need not be a Marxist to appreciate Marx or a Christian to appreciate the Bible. I would not follow either. Nor would I ignore either. ...

"No matter the use Marx has been put to by regimes which rule by police power and which treat people as mere cogs in the state machine, what Marx himself wrote about is strikingly different from what most Americans seem to think he wrote about.

“At a time when many historians were persisting in seeing the human story as just a chronicle of kings and queens, Marx dug deep enough to find the people generally and to see their role in history as shaped in the long run not so much by the capers of kings as by the relationship of people generally to productive life, to ways of working (from gatherers and hunters to farmers to feudal peasants to factory workers). He saw, also, that the great sickness of society was the increasing separation, alienation, of people from their work; separation in fact, by more and more people doing smaller and smaller and usually inexplicable parts of a process, becoming mere extensions of machines, and separation economically by working in a system in which the full value of their labor could never be realized by workers themselves due to the demands of owners to skim so much off the top.

“Above all, he saw that human beings were vitally and essentially social in nature, deeply desirous of living in communities, with other people, and capable of open cooperation among themselves if not alienated from their human roles by intervening institutions such as capitalism or the state which, in Marx’s eyes, was the executive committee of the economic ruling elite. ...

“This is a defense of the value of what Marx did write and not at all a defense of Marxism. Marxism has come to denote, for me, a mind-set in which reality must be hammered into the shape demanded by this or that official version of Marxist literature, a mind-set in which a correct line is far more important than correct, or decent, actions. It has become cant and cabala, political theology. It has become, more than that, distinctly anti-Marxist, in the sense that Marx wrote so often of seeing the world fresh and fully and without the distortions of past orthodoxy. For the writings of Marx, which raged against the hold that official histories had fastened on people, to now become an official and orthodox history and analysis is supremely ironic.

“... The point is just this: Distortions of Marx, both by the right and by the left, have been used for terribly bad purposes — to justify police repressions on both sides of the fence, for instance. To avoid falling prey to such distortions it would be wise to read Marx’s writing for yourself or, if you prefer not to, not to let what others say about it become a determining factor in your actions.”
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3 Comments:

At 5:57 AM, Anonymous Waumpuscat said...

Marxism is a mental crutch for the ethically crippled expounder of power relationships in a complex society. Since most people in republics governed by universal suffrage are unhappy with their statuses, whether attained by previous choices or mere fortune, the Marxist shamans will always find followers among the so-called alienated "masses". But TRUTH is not a product of the processes of Malice, Envy, and Spite, and only the TRUTH shall set us free. The Ruling Class in the USSR were true believers, and the experiment foundered in an ethical cess-pit. You could look it up.

 
At 8:23 AM, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for posting this. I've read Mostly on the Edge, but I've *got* to get a copy of Dear America.

Re Marx, anyone who repeatedly used the phrase "associated producers" and wrote "The Civil War in France" couldn't have been completely gone over to the side of state socialism.

 
At 3:37 PM, Blogger eugene plawiuk said...

Communism is the free association of producers.
Thats it thats the dictum of Marx, and of course it would lead to a free society of associated producers, hence Karl hit on the head when he said;
“Above all, he saw that human beings were vitally and essentially social in nature, deeply desirous of living in communities, with other people, and capable of open cooperation among themselves if not alienated from their human roles by intervening institutions such as capitalism or the state which, in Marx’s eyes, was the executive committee of the economic ruling elite. ..."
Which is why I am a Libertarian Communist and the truth has set me free from the illusion that Russia Nazi Germany, FDR's USA, post war Japan, China, or social democratic Europe are anything but a historic stage of captialist development known as state capitalism.
This evolution of capitalism was required in the early 20th century to avoid revolution.

 

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