Karl Marx IV

In his famous “On the Question of Free Trade,” a speech made before the Democratic Association of Brussels on January 9, 1848, Marx quotes David Ricardo, who had said:

“If instead of growing our own corn . . . we discover a new market from which we can supply ourselves . . . at a cheaper price, wages will fall and profits rise. The fall in the price of agricultural produce reduces the wages, not only of the laborer employed in cultivating the soil, but also of all those employed in commerce or manufacture.”

[Ricardo, Des principes de l’economie politique et de l’impot. Traduit de l’anglais par F. S. Constancio, avec des notes explicatives et critiques par J.-B.- Say. T. I., Paris 1835, p.178-79]

Marx, of course, thought that this slump in wages would hasten the revolution. I disagree with his predictions, but his descriptions are rather good. Here he is on free trade in “Bourgeois and Proletarians” (Communist Manifesto, Chapter 1).

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’, and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’. It has downed out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconsionable freedom – Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”

The famous image of the lost halo is in the very next paragraph:

“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.”

(And not twenty years later, as we know, Baudelaire’s poet, that “imbiber of quintessences,” sought on the pavement of a poor Paris quarter the halo he had lost as he crossed the busy street.)

My general point: much of what goes on now, and which seems so ‘natural’ or at least inevitable to us, was newer in Marx’s time, and could be observed and pointed out. This is why I like the great nineteenth century writers, including but not limited to Marx.


15 thoughts on “Karl Marx IV

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Z. But another thing Marx didn’t foresee was the rise to pre-eminence of the lawyer who, far from being reduced to a paid wage labourer of the bourgeoisie, became instead, by infiltrating and saturating the legislature with his presence and self-interest, a rival in the control of the state which, as we know, has failed to wither away one jot.

  2. Hi Bob – I like the skull on the Barcelona guy’s template, you know my true picture is a skull! 🙂

    Also, he links in his left sidebar to a test I don’t have time to take now, but which sounds entertaining: what sex is your brain (i.e. do you ‘think like a man’ or ‘like a woman’, I guess)? I do not know what the presuppositions of the test are, but it would be amusing to find out.

    Charlie – yes – this is true about lawyers, and it is a far better critique of their current role than the usual one, that they are manipulative and just want to make money off peoples’ misfortunes (that one applies to many professions).

  3. much thanks for the re-educaiton of Marx…

    and indeed early writers like early anarchists show us what’s been in front of our eyes all the time..

  4. didn’t marx agree with colonizing the west? some socialists argue that colonialism was a good thing because it ‘sped up’ societies into capitalism and thus the proletarian revolution–like indigenous people were somehow behind in societal evolution. (!) i don’t believe this. in fact, i find it offensive to act like indigenous peoples ideas of government were behind europes and that free trade would help them….

    marx did not consider the U.S. a slave society when it was founded because he did not think african americans were full people. he only wrote about the U.S as unfree due to wage slavery….

  5. Hi Azgoddess! I need to reread the early anarchists too, I am sure I will be even more entertained than I am upon revisiting Marx.

    Luisa and XP, yes, isn’t it appalling? I have this on the agenda. Actually, there are some amazingly baldfaced comments by Hegel too, and others: I am not very good at philosophy, but I have a crib on this, Enrique Dussell’s book on the world in 1492, and he really nails various supposedly forward looking philosophers with their racist/colonialist/imperialist/etc. statements – all power to the European proletarian male.

    Charlie, the thing is that on a free association test about the word “lawyer,” my own first association would be “civil rights.” Ask me again and I’d say, “capital defense.” Next … immigration … next … human rights … and my own career fantasy as a lawyer would involve trade and commerce. In this fantasy, in my policy making think tank, I would help work to destroy NAFTA, CAFTA, GATT, and the WTO. 😉

  6. Z – my first free association would be ‘sophist’

    Yes but here everyone ‘hates’ lawyers, it’s a stereotyped hatred, so I refuse to do it … also, I have not had any bad experiences with lawyers … where I could, on the other hand, make a series of very bitter, negative associations, would be about PROFESSORS! 😉 –Z

  7. There are several examples (one modern and two historical) that prove Marx and the Marxist ideology are racist.

    If you look back in the early 1900’s there are two figures who provide a good insight into a Marxist ideology when it was on the rise – Eugene Debs and José Carlos Mariátegui.

    Mariátegui who was a big South American Marxist in his day and who was trying to answer the “Indian Problem” never saw it as a race problem. Since he was a self-studying and an orthodox Marxist, I think it is very telling on the views Marx had on race. Mariátegui who was a mestizo himself, rejected the notion that Indigenous peoples were racially inferior and the position that their position could be strengthened through “crossing the indigenous race with ‘superior’ foreign races.” I say this because remember in the 1920, eugenics was also on the rise. In the US, Latinos were thought to be racially inferior to the gringos because we were “half-breeds.”

    Mariátegui believed that white colonization had “only retarding and depressive effects in the life of the indigenous races.” Mariátegui recognized that racism existed, but he argued purely on a class-base, which is what Marx did.

    And as I wrote on Nezua site, even though Eugene Debs made the same arguments as Mariátegui. The Communist Party in the US did not automatically free whites from white supremacist ideas nor Blacks from their distrust of whites. The reason it did not become a success, they could not solve the racism problem within their own party.

    Even today’s EZLN rejects a purely Marxist view because it does not address the “indigenous question.”

  8. Hi XP – EZLN (and other indigenous movements) and CP (and other class-based left parties), yes.

    I still have to actually go through the thread at Nezua’s! I’ve never read anything by Debs, and should.

    I like Mariategui (actually, I like him a lot) and he is on my list to re-study (for actual academic reasons, not only for recreation and musing! 🙂 ) My doubts on the adequacy of his analysis are the emphasis on class and also, as I read him, the assumption that there is a single national culture … anyway I’m going to work on this.

    Mariategui as mestizo, I *think* he would be considered white in Peru and would have identified as such – and then couldn’t pass as such in Europe (like white Puerto Ricans who aren’t white in the U.S.) – returned to Peru more racially conscious than he had been before. I *think* – need to check on this before I say it louder.

    Anyway. Mariategui !presente! & thank you for bringing him up!!!

  9. didn’t marx disown his dauther for getting together with a creole activist.


  10. Oooh, disowned his daughter for getting together with a Creole activist … tell me more! He also generally neglected his kids, I heard, and/or the family was starving while he was writing, something along these lines.

  11. “It may be an uncomfortable fact to some of Marx’s more modern adherents that his doctrines showed no presentiment of what we now call racial equality. Indeed he was typically Victorian in the assumption that his doctrines applied to a ‘civilised’ – that is, the western, industrialised world. His attitude to race is even more evident from his unhappiness when one of his daughters married a Creole political activist. He confided in Engels that his son-in-law suffered ‘…a blemish commonly found in the Negro tribe – no sense of shame … in making a fool of oneself.’ (24)”

    from: http://www.americancivilwar.org.uk/news_marx-engels-on-the-civil-war_11.htm

    i read about this in a book a long time ago but i could remember which one and the details. here is what i could find on the net about it.

    and, again: grrrr….

  12. It’s especially chilling given the year (1848)–during the Irish famine, which was exacerbated by a strict application of those market forces.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s