Monday, May 03, 2010

Some Reflections on Marxism's Paradoxes
Oizerman's "Paradoxes in the Communist Theory of Marxism"

I read this recent article by Theordor Oizerman today, and found it terrifically interesting. Oizerman identifies numerous paradoxical statements in the works of Marx and Engels, and provides analysis that demonstrates that the paradoxes are central to Marx's theory of communism. Normally, I'm not very interested in this sort of topic, but a few points really grabbed my attention. The first is that the paradoxes that one encounters in Marx's work are deliberate. The author explains that the paradoxes are in fact dialectic tools intended to foster the understanding of the theory. Marx did not just use Hegel's concept of dialectic to explain world history and class relations: it is pivotal to his theory of knowledge as well. So, for Marx, true understanding of his theory can only emerge from an appreciation of its dialectic, and seemingly contradictory, elements. Very cool and a little zen, non?

The next thing that grabbed my attention concerns Marx's "globalization/internationalization". Marx, back in the mid-nineteenth century, described a process he refers to as "the internationalization of production and capitalist transformation of society." This is particularly fascinating, because Oizerman suggests that Marx's theory of communism depends on what we, only recently, have called "globalization." So it seems that Marx could have "envisaged" the modern developments that we are only just beginning to understand. However, I am not so sure that our understanding of the globalization phenomenon and Marx's "internationalization" are completely connected.

The two concepts can be used to describe the creation of supply chains that span the globe. Products created in China, for instance, are created with materials from all over the world and sold in the United States. Thus, "international capitalism." Just as importantly, globally connected supply chains include the exchange of culture and ideas. Since Marx's theories rely on a strict materialism, cultural can be produced and traded in the same manner as machine parts. As Oizerman explains, the global exchange of cultural artifacts and ideas (what Marx calls "intercourses") eventually creates a homogeneous culture. And, since Marx also relies on Hegel's dialectic principle, this means that there should be two global populations: the bourgeoisie and the workers. Therefore, human existence is pointed to the inevitable emergence of global communism.

This is where I think that Oizerman's observation about the connection between globalization and "internationalization" starts to fall apart. Based my own understanding of the topic, globalization is about the "interactions" between nations, peoples, and cultures. No, the better word is "intersections". Globalization describes all of the new ways in which people interact with other people around the globe, and the platforms used to do so. In my opinion, it does not describe a movement towards homogeneous identity, but an awareness of how so many different "things" are connected. Of course, one could argue that globalization fosters development and that, in turn, encourages Western-style consumption habits. However, it could also be argued that as societies become more developed and people attain more disposable income (middle class), they also have the means to "want" more out of life. Although this seems a bit circular, I think that our understanding of globalization as a process of development and exchange of materials and ideas is more concerned with the increased interactions of a heterogeneous solution, rather than the transformation of heterogeneous elements into homogeneous ones.

When did this become a discussion of chemistry?... Moving back to the discussion:

The next thing that really grabbed my attention is that Oizerman explains why Marx and Engels were proponents of a radical movement. This may need some room to explain. Earlier I mention that Marx's notion of societal evolution puts global communism at the apex of human development. Well, if we put this another way: why would Marx and Engels become proponents of violent revolution if society will inevitably become communist? Again, a paradox in the theory of Marxism.

Oizerman is very effective in his explanation. In the article, he argues that Marx and Engels contradict their assertion of an inevitable evolution of global communism because of the gravity of the plight of the working class. In other words, this paradox arises from Marx's sense of social justice, and his belief that the workers should preemptively establish global communism to escape their horribly misery.

I found this point very compelling. First, because the paradox had never occurred to me. Second, because the depth of Marx's philosophy leads a reader to understand by appreciating these paradoxes - back to my original description of the "fullness" of the dialectic philosophy. Oizerman pointedly explains that everywhere Marx saw the working class in Europe, he saw men and women whose earnings were pitiful and beneath the minimums needed to achieve basic necessities: food, shelter, and clothing.

Overall, the article is a fascinating read and is, IMHO, the most interesting in this issue of the journal.

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