The Point Is To Change It: An Introduction to Marxist Philosophy
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The point of Marxist philosophy
John Molyneux writes on why everyone can and should get to know the ideas of Karl Marx
Whenever you talk to people about trying to change the world you face “common sense” arguments which trip of the tongue, such as “You can’t change human nature”, “You can’t buck the market” or “You must obey the law”.
These didn’t spontaneously pop into people’s heads. They are based on ideas that have been developed over centuries by the rulers of society and the philosophers who represented them.
To counter these arguments working people need their own general outlook on the world. This is what Marxism provides.
I wrote my book The Point is to Change It because, although there are already a lot of books on Marxist philosophy, most are written in obscure academic language.
I wanted to write something straightforward because Marx’s ideas, including his philosophical ideas, are for working people. They can be grasped by working people if they are explained clearly.
Marx was the first philosopher in history to look at the world from the point of view of working people rather than one or other section of the ruling classes.
He was able to do this because he came at a time when the modern working class were first appearing as a force in history. This “proletariat” lived by selling their labour power.
Marx saw the mass Chartist movement in Britain. He met communist workers in Paris in 1843. He watched the Silesian workers who staged an uprising in Germany.
Marx grasped the fact that this class had the potential to change society. This led him to a central insight—that in order to engage in politics, war, religion or philosophy, people first had to produce food, clothing, shelter and the other necessities of life.
Therefore the understanding of history begins from how production is carried out by the mass of people, not the doings of kings, queens and generals.
This was the essence of Marx’s “materialism” developed in opposition to the dominant “idealist” view. Idealism, the philosophical view that ideas are the main driving force in history, is the standpoint of ruling classes and their associated intellectuals.
These people take the production of the necessities of life for granted—it is done for them by other people. So they can flatter themselves that it is their initiative and entrepreneurship make everything happen in society.
But Marx didn’t see people as just passive products of circumstances or material conditions. The fact that he started from a view of people as workers and producers meant that he saw them in an active relation to the world and able to change it.
The “common sense” ideas I quoted above, about human nature and such, are all about convincing us that capitalism is eternal and can’t be challenged.
The basis of Marx’s “dialectics” is that everything is in a process of change, and that this change occurs through the struggle of opposed forces.
Marx’s view has been completely confirmed by modern science—everything from subatomic particles to human society is in a process of coming into being and passing out of being.
Marx’s philosophy of “dialectical materialism” is the philosophy of working class struggle. In the book I have shown how this also applies to such vital issues as racism, sexism, religion, morality, truth and justice.
Across the board, Marxist philosophy offers a coherent alternative to the ideas which defend and justify exploitation, class rule and capitalism.
Even seemingly difficult and abstract ideas such as “dialectics” and “contradiction” are actually of real practical use. This applies at every level of the struggle, from a discussion in the canteen to a full scale revolutionary uprising.
1789 draped itself as the Roman Republic. For another, the relationship between material conditions and the world of ideas can be an inverted one (as in a “camera obscura”, as Marx puts it). Thus the English romantic poets and artists (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Constable, Turner, etc) turned to nature themes at just the moment that, and because, Britain was going through its industrial revolution and massive urbanisation was taking place. Nevertheless, the relationship is real and all historical
smaller, the ownership and control of production becomes concentrated in ever fewer hands, while the actual process of production becomes ever more socialised: Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only
very old and has been taught and disseminated for centuries. Perhaps its original form was the doctrine of “original sin” which can be traced back to the Genesis story in the Bible and to teachings of St Paul and the early Christian Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up as follows: By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all humans. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature
then what about lesbian women as opposed to straight women or gay black men or lesbian black women or indeed Irish lesbian women and so on, more or less ad infinitum. For the purposes of building a career in academia or the media this categorising and tokenism can be useful to some individuals – perhaps the BBC needs to be seen to have a certain number of black or Asian or women newscasters and so on – but for the purposes of social and political struggle it is disastrous. The logic of numbers
possible in this highly compressed exposition for me to follow Althusser through his various “confessions” and reconsiderations which, taken together, effectively dismantled his own system, especially as it is the early Althusser who is the important Althusser. A thorough and conscientious account of the whole process is to be found in Gregory Elliott’s Althusser: The Detour of Theory, which also offers a judiciously balanced assessment of Althusserianism. My own view of Althusser, however, is