The greatest tragedy in human history

  • #151
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Informal Logic said:
Which brings me back to McCarthyism. Why do you suppose there was a desire to suppress this growing movement in the US then, and now?
And now? Whatever anti-communist sentiments are floating around now, are nothing compared to the McCarthy era.
Could it be suppression by our government to preserve the status quo?
That, certainly, but it was all mixed up with enormous suspicion of the Soviet Union, which was fueled by the fact they'd gotten their hands on the bomb.
 
  • #152
alexandra
zoobyshoe said:
Your posts are all quite surprising simply because I haven't run into anyone espousing Marxism since I was in college 30 years ago. Anyway, thanks for your comprehensive, articulate answer to my question.
Hello zoobyshoe

First, my apologies for being a bit brusque in my response - I am very defensive sometimes, with good reason (experiences) and (as others will testify) I sometimes don't control my emotional responses as well as I should :blushing: I know that Marxism is 'out of fashion' and it is rare to come across marxist arguments nowadays - especially in official places of learning such as universities, so it is understandable that I surprised you. Sorry about that.

While Marxism is no longer fashionable it is, nevertheless, a key feature in many social science courses, though in much watered-down form since the 1960s/70s when it comprised a much larger part of official course work. In academia now, although marxism cannot totally be ignored (it is far too powerful an analytical tool for that to happen), it is generally not studied seriously and/or in depth. Instead, key aspects of Marxism have been incorporated into what marxists would call 'revisionist' theories - these theories borrow key marxist concepts but generally insist on omiting the core of Marxist analysis: the concept of class. So yes, my arguments must have come as a bit of a surprise:-)
 
  • #153
alexandra
russ_watters said:
Well, I'd say we see them all the time - what's rare is a Marxist who has actually studied political science formally - a "real" Marxist.
russ, I think this may be because of where I studied and the content of the courses I studied. I am aware that very few universities devote much time to studying original Marxist texts - although I looked at some of the MIT OpenCourseware political science courses, and at least one of these, "Political Economy I: Theories of the State and the Economy", (probably others as well) includes readings of some of Marx's original works.
 
  • #154
alexandra
russ_watters said:
Admittedly, some of these people may be more anti-capitalisms than pro-marxism. It can be tough to know the difference.
You're right it's difficult to differentiate between these two sorts of arguments. The key thing about marxist arguments is that they analyse whatever event is under scrutiny using 'class' as the fundamental concept of analysis. So, for example, instead of blaming individuals for specific policies or actions, marxists analyse in terms of the 'big picture'. To take a more specific (but simple) example, a marxist would not blame the current US administration or any individual in it (eg. the US President) for not signing the Kyoto Agreement. Marxists see mainstream politicians as acting on behalf of the class interests of the 'big capitalists' (I don't want to use jargon people may not understand here), and as having no option but to act in this class' interests (whether the politicians are Republican or Democrat).
 
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  • #155
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I think some of the most influental lines of thought today that build upon Marx theories at least partly is the 'Frankfurther school'. It started in germany in the 1920, but didn't funktion long before it had to escape the Nazis. After the war many of its scholars focused on the reasons underlaying the Holocaust, among them Henry Tajfel, who's Social Identity Theory is a central part of today's social psychology research. Just to give an example of Marx's influence on today's theories.
 
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  • #156
alexandra
Joel said:
Personally, I can't understand why the capitalism & socialism discussion comes up so frequently (not just here). Or well, I can understand why, but I think it is one of the most dead horses I've seen.
Ah, you're a brave man, Joel; are you running yet? :bugeye: Only kidding - but I think the horse is at least limping :smile:

Joel said:
...I like to listen, ask questions and weed out real arguments from rhetorics. Then I can later decide for myself what to make of it all.
I like your attitude of listening, considering and making up your mind afterwards. That is so important, I think, and one of the things I worry about a lot is that many people seem to not be doing this nowadays. Instead of giving others' arguments serious consideration, a lot of 'discussions' just degenerate into shouting matches. But these are complex times we're living in, and it is very difficult to discuss some current world events without getting emotional...
 
  • #157
arildno
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My main complaint about Marxism as an analytical tool is that it over-emphasizes the concept of "class struggle" and the importance of "material" causes.

In essence, I regard it is as a failed attempt of making sense of Hegel's political writings through over-simplification.

Hegel does show, on occasion, brilliant insight in social dynamics, and some of his better analyses (for example in Philosophy of Right) are much subtler and, IMO, more credible, than simplistic materialist explanations.
Unfortunately, though, Hegel was a severe crackpot and muddlehead with far too much ambition than ability; if he had been less ambitious, he might have managed to create a coherent and valuable social science. He certainly had a knack for that; it is too bad that he fancied himself capable to explain the rest of the universe as well.
 
  • #158
alexandra
Joel said:
I think some of the most influental lines of thought today that build upon Marx theories at least partly is the 'Frankfurther school'. It started in germany in the 1920, but didn't funktion long before it had to escape the Nazis. After the war many of its scholars focused on the reasons underlaying the Holocaust, among them Henry Tajfel, who's Social Identity Theory is a central part of today's social psychology research. Just to give an example of Marx's influence on today's theories.
That's an excellent example, Joel. Another example of a theory that borrowed from Marxism is Jurgen Habermas' 'critical theory', whose work spans many discipline areas including literary criticism, philosophy, history and politics.
 
  • #159
alexandra
arildno said:
My main complaint about Marxism as an analytical tool is that it over-emphasizes the concept of "class struggle" and the importance of "material" causes.
It is true that marxism emphasises class struggle as being the 'motor' of history; however, this seems to make sense to me. But so-called marxist analyses that only focus on class and material conditions, and do not take the interplay between class, material conditions, and ideology into account, are simplistic and should be criticised for being so.

arildno said:
In essence, I regard it is as a failed attempt of making sense of Hegel's political writings through over-simplification.
Hmm, I don't really agree with this, arildno. Marx was a 'Young Hegelian', and his early works were written in response to Hegel's writing. But Marx then drew from many other disciplines (notably economic theory) as well in formulating his mature theory,

arildno said:
Hegel does show, on occasion, brilliant insight in social dynamics, and some of his better analyses (for example in Philosophy of Right) are much subtler and, IMO, more credible, than simplistic materialist explanations.
Unfortunately, though, Hegel was a severe crackpot and muddlehead with far too much ambition than ability; if he had been less ambitious, he might have managed to create a coherent and valuable social science. He certainly had a knack for that; it is too bad that he fancied himself capable to explain the rest of the universe as well.
LOL. I remember many painful hours dissecting Hegel's 'Philosophy of Right' paragraph by paragraph, to try to understand it. It was a very challenging experience, but I gained much from the exercise (though this was years ago and, although I have the book nearby, I shudder at the thought of having to open it again and relive the experience).
 
  • #160
alexandra
Joel said:
Oh, and I'm also betting seeing Alex is a bit like seeing Big Foot and the rest of the intelligent girls here at PF - simply stunning for us nerdies. :biggrin:
/insert 'Big Foot' smiley here/ :biggrin:
 
  • #161
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alexandra said:
Ah, you're a brave man, Joel; are you running yet? :bugeye: Only kidding - but I think the horse is at least limping :smile:
Well, all the greater cruelty if it's still alive, concidering how it has been beaten. :tongue: Kidding - I'm just saying the discussions have usually been more ideology driven than academic. And to directly applay either Smith or Marx litterally, without adjustments, on today's much complexer world doesn't seam meaningfull. Using theories based on both, on the other hand, seems very meaningfull, as I pointed out in my post about the Frankfurt school.

And I actually thought more about running, combined with mines and a new identity - why? :confused:

I like your attitude of listening, considering and making up your mind afterwards. That is so important, I think, and one of the things I worry about a lot is that many people seem to not be doing this nowadays. Instead of giving others' arguments serious consideration, a lot of 'discussions' just degenerate into shouting matches. But these are complex times we're living in, and it is very difficult to discuss some current world events without getting emotional...
Thank you. And I like your apparently endless patience. :smile:
 
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  • #162
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alexandra said:
That's an excellent example, Joel. Another example of a theory that borrowed from Marxism is Jurgen Habermas' 'critical theory', whose work spans many discipline areas including literary criticism, philosophy, history and politics.
Another good example, altough Habermas is also concidered to belong to the Frankfurther school. (I think).
 
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  • #163
alexandra
Joel said:
Isn't 'critical theory' and Frankfurther school at least partly the same thing? Jurgen Habermas has at least been concidered to belong to the Frankfruter school.
That's correct, Joel. One of my books divides the critical theorists into two 'generations', both having their intellectual roots in the Frankfurt school. The 'first generation' included theorists like Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and Walter Benjamin, and the 'second wave' of critical theorists include Habermas, Offe, Wellmer and Ulrich Beck.
 
  • #164
alexandra
Joel said:
And to directly applay either Smith or Marx litterally, without adjustments, on today's much complexer world doesn't seam meaningfull.
Absolutely. Marx would have been horrified at the thought of anyone trying to apply the theory he developed over a hundred years ago literally, without modification, today. To do that would be to go against one of marxism's principle tenets in any case, ie. that one can only properly understand a situation if one knows its historical context and all the complexities of the current situation - the analysis must be dynamic enough to take into account the dynamics of life. Nevertheless, one cannot modify marxist theory to the extent where the importance of class is not acknowledged; once the analysis ignores classes, it is no longer marxist; I'm pretty sure Marx would agree with me on that one.
 
  • #165
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alexandra said:
That's correct, Joel. One of my books divides the critical theorists into two 'generations', both having their intellectual roots in the Frankfurt school. The 'first generation' included theorists like Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and Walter Benjamin, and the 'second wave' of critical theorists include Habermas, Offe, Wellmer and Ulrich Beck.
Ahh, yess - and Tajfell also built on Fromm's, The escape from freedom (at least) and Habermas built on Michael Focault, and Focault inspired the emergance of 'Elite theoriests' like Robert Michels, who was critical to democracy, and on that Robert Dahl - one of US great political scientists - built his theory of competing power elites, 'poliarchys' - and ... You get the picture?
 
  • #166
russ_watters
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alexandra said:
russ, I think this may be because of where I studied and the content of the courses I studied. I am aware that very few universities devote much time to studying original Marxist texts - although I looked at some of the MIT OpenCourseware political science courses, and at least one of these, "Political Economy I: Theories of the State and the Economy", (probably others as well) includes readings of some of Marx's original works.
The only formal study of Marx I had was in the context of history, not political science.... I suspect that's what most people get. We did, however, read some of his work and discuss his theory, but altogether it was probably less than a week, total treatment.
Absolutely. Marx would have been horrified at the thought of anyone trying to apply the theory he developed over a hundred years ago literally, without modification, today.
But that confuses me - the first counter argument to "Marxism doesn't work...." is always that Marxism hasn't been tried (as seen in the thread in the politics forum). It seems like Marxists always argue that since there has never been a "pure" Marxist government, it hasn't been tried in various similar forms. I've gotten the impression that some people think of a "Marxist utopia" that must exist in utterly pure form if it can exist at all, rather than the idea that any government can contain certian Marxist principles.
You're right it's difficult to differentiate between these two sorts of arguments. The key thing about marxist arguments is that they analyse whatever event is under scrutiny using 'class' as the fundamental concept of analysis.
I doubt that really helps me any - whether its called "class" or just "inequality" the argument is the same when discussing it as a flaw in capitalism and its probably the biggest criticism of capitalism either way.
 
  • #167
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1
Joel said:
Ahh, yess - and Tajfell also built on Fromm's, The escape from freedom (at least) and Habermas built on Michael Focault, and Focault inspired the emergance of 'Elite theoriests' like Robert Michels, who was critical to democracy, and on that Robert Dahl - one of US great political scientists - built his theory of competing power elites, 'poliarchys' - and ... You get the picture?
No, I don't get the picture - you are making no sense, what so ever. Please stop rambling.

I think the following paragraphs illustrate the connection between Marx, The Frankfurter School and more modern Democracy Theories:

Reacting to Marxism and its stress on class were various theorists emphasizing the importance of elites. Elite theories maintain that elites, not economic and social class forces, determine what happens in society. (For a summary of the various elite theories see Parry 1969.) Writers such as the Italian Vilfredo Pareto criticized Marxists for ignoring the power of elites. Elite theorists criticized communism as actually practiced in the real world, pointing out that the communist countries themselves are dominated by various privileged elites and their progress stultified by inflexible bureaucracies (see Michels 1949).

American leftists responded to elite theory by uniting Marxism with the theory of elites to produce new theories focusing on the dominant role played by unfair coalitions of powerful elites. C. Wright Mills (1956) in The Power Elite discussed how a coalition between the military, business executives, and top politicians created an elite (but not actually a ruling class) that dominated the country in undemocratic ways. (For another theory in this vein, see Miliband 1974.)

Political scientists responded by saying that although elites dominate, there is a balance among them that still is democratic and fair. One of the outstanding spokesmen for this viewpoint was Robert Dahl in Who Governs? (1961). (For a critique of the power elite thesis on the national level, see Rose 1967). The problem with this perspective of balancing elites is that it ignores that these elites are largely reflective of the middle and upper classes only and that the elites cooperate to block progressive legislation. In fact, a serious flaw in the entire elite approach is the overemphasis on the power of elites. All too often, elites are absolutely powerless before the havoc created by class, race, ethnic, gender, and other social divisions.
- http://www.vernonjohns.org/vernjohns/sthcrit.html

Another site about elit theories: http://www.politicalscience.utoledo.edu/faculty/davis/IGelite.htm [Broken]

Russ Waters said:
I doubt that really helps me any - whether its called "class" or just "inequality" the argument is the same when discussing it as a flaw in capitalism and its probably the biggest criticism of capitalism either way.
My question is (for everyone): is for example Robert Dahl and other Democracy Theoriests Marxist? They appear to be influenced by Marx; they cite Marx or someone citing Marx, they use social classes as analytic tools (altough not like Marx saw them) and they discuss inequality, influence, power and governance (just like Marx). On the other hand, they recognice the importance of a government, free elections, a free market and press, and other essentialities for modern democracy, not necessary seen as positive by Marx.
 
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  • #168
alexandra
Joel said:
Joel said:
No, I don't get the picture - you are making no sense, what so ever. Please stop rambling.
Joel, are you talking to yourself now? :eek: :rofl: Sorry for not responding earlier. I was sort of worrying about having sabotaged this thread completely - but I guess people who were going to respond to the original question have already done so now, so maybe it's ok to keep talking about this new topic here..?
Joel said:
My question is (for everyone): is for example Robert Dahl and other Democracy Theoriests Marxist? They appear to be influenced by Marx; they cite Marx or someone citing Marx, they use social classes as analytic tools (altough not like Marx saw them) and they discuss inequality, influence, power and governance (just like Marx). On the other hand, they recognice the importance of a government, free elections, a free market and press, and other essentialities for modern democracy, not necessary seen as positive by Marx.
Mills, Dahl and the other elite theorists are not Marxist - well, not according to my understanding of Marxism, or according to any of the critiques I have read of elite theory. Elite theory essentially separates economic domination from political rule, while Marxist theories see economic power as an integral part of the political process. There are various criticisms of elite theory, one of which you have included in your quote (this criticism applies to Dahl’s idea that:
… although elites dominate, there is a balance among them that still is democratic and fair.
You quoted one of the criticisms of such a theory:
The problem with this perspective of balancing elites is that it ignores that these elites are largely reflective of the middle and upper classes only and that the elites cooperate to block progressive legislation.
A general Marxist criticism of elite theories is that they cannot identify the underlying basis of political power; they tend to obscure reality rather than revealing it.

Hmm, I see that one of the URLs you provided - http://www.politicalscience.utoledo.edu/faculty/davis/IGelite.htm [Broken] - describes Marx as an elite theorist; very odd – I’ve never come across such a classification before (and it doesn’t make sense to me).

PS: If you’re interested, here’s a website with information about some key sociological theorists/theories: http://www2.pfeiffer.edu/%7Elridener/DSS/INDEX.HTML [Broken] . Unfortunately, neither Mills nor Dahl are listed there (but Marx and Pareto are). A google search also brought up this interesting page that briefly outlines Mills’ and Dahl’s theories (scroll down the page to the section entitled ‘The State’): http://thunder1.cudenver.edu/sociology/introsoc/CUOnlineRevise/UnitNotes/Week10.html [Broken]
 
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  • #169
alexandra
russ_watters said:
The only formal study of Marx I had was in the context of history, not political science.... I suspect that's what most people get. We did, however, read some of his work and discuss his theory, but altogether it was probably less than a week, total treatment.
:surprised Yikes! A week! But I suppose if it is was in history then it makes sense.
 
  • #170
alexandra
russ_watters said:
I doubt that really helps me any - whether its called "class" or just "inequality" the argument is the same when discussing it as a flaw in capitalism and its probably the biggest criticism of capitalism either way.
Sorry, russ - I should have explained in more detail. Marxists have a very specific definition of class. In the Marxist sense, 'class' is defined in terms of 'ownership of the means of production' - ie. to belong to the capitalist class it is not enough just to be relatively wealthy (ie, to own a home, one or more cars, a yacht, etc). To belong to the capitalist class, one must own the means of making more wealth. So classes are very specifically defined - it's not just a matter of inequality; it's a matter of a few having the means to create more (great) wealth for themselves while most rely on working (selling their labour power - be this manual labour or intellectual) to get by. Perhaps this helps? :confused:
 
  • #171
loseyourname
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I'm beginning to notice one thing, Alex. You note that you subscribe to Marxist theory because it helps you to understand developments in human affairs. It's a paradigm by which you can place into a certain context the events of history, both in the recent past and as it is being made today. However, depending on who you are, any number of paradigms might help you to personally better understand history and current events, or at least make sense of them within whatever given paradigm you have subscribed to. Heck, I can think of many political paradigms, from the egoism of Hobbes to the civilizational conflicts of Huntington, that make sense of certain aspects of current events. I can point to incidents and say "look, that government was acting in its own rational self-interest to gain power by the right of nature" or "look, that nation supported another nation that was part of its civilization against a nation of another civilization." Each statement can be true. What paradigm becomes accepted academically, however, largely depends on predictive power.

Perhaps you can lay out for us novices all, or at least most, of the testable predictions that Marx made, and then we can determine whether or not they have come true. The only ones I know of myself are the much discussed proletariat revolution and the increase of worldwide poverty and consolidation of wealth. The thing is, compared to Marx' own lifetime, there is less consolidation of wealth, less poverty in the world, fewer worker's revolutions, and very few Marxist states (Cuba is the only one I can even think of).

It might be that the key question we can ask here is how people align themselves in the contemporary world. Do we align ourselves with others of the same culture? The same ethnicity? The same nation? The same civilization? The same religion? Or do we mostly align ourselves by economic class? It seems to me that for Marx to be right, alignment by economic class must be the prevailing alignment in the world. It doesn't seem to me that reality conforms.
 
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  • #172
alexandra
loseyourname said:
I'm beginning to notice one thing, Alex. You note that you subscribe to Marxist theory because it helps you to understand developments in human affairs. It's a paradigm by which you can place into a certain context the events of history, both in the recent past and as it is being made today....
Hi loseyourname - this post raises another very interesting point, but I feel this is the wrong section of the forums to continue this discussion. To discuss this matter properly, we're going to have to discuss it at length and get into some pretty heavy political theory. So, I'll start a new thread in the 'Politics and World Affairs' section of the PF General Discussion area and will copy and paste your post and we can continue talking there (an appropriate thread title may be 'Political Perspectives'?).

I'm feeling really bad about having gotten so serious in PF's 'play and relaxation' area; sorry folks :redface:
 
  • #173
russ_watters
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alexandra said:
Sorry, russ - I should have explained in more detail. Marxists have a very specific definition of class. In the Marxist sense, 'class' is defined in terms of 'ownership of the means of production' - ie. to belong to the capitalist class it is not enough just to be relatively wealthy (ie, to own a home, one or more cars, a yacht, etc). To belong to the capitalist class, one must own the means of making more wealth. So classes are very specifically defined - it's not just a matter of inequality; it's a matter of a few having the means to create more (great) wealth for themselves while most rely on working (selling their labour power - be this manual labour or intellectual) to get by. Perhaps this helps? :confused:
So you can own a yacht and not be part of the "capitalist class" - and conversely by owning a business (regardless of how successful) you are? In that case, it doesn't appear to me that the term "capitalis class" has any relevance to the US or the condition of her citizens. Why a yacht owning, self-made, new rich person (and there are millions of those guys) would want to join a Marxist revolution is beyond me.
 
  • #174
Moonbear
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alexandra said:
Hi loseyourname - this post raises another very interesting point, but I feel this is the wrong section of the forums to continue this discussion. To discuss this matter properly, we're going to have to discuss it at length and get into some pretty heavy political theory. So, I'll start a new thread in the 'Politics and World Affairs' section of the PF General Discussion area and will copy and paste your post and we can continue talking there (an appropriate thread title may be 'Political Perspectives'?).
Sounds like a great idea! I've just been reading along on this thread because my own formal education on Marxism is probably less than that week Russ had; we might have spent a day on it in a history class in high school. The rest of my knowledge of politics is mostly self-taught, and I have a hard time sorting out what Marxism really is vs what are bad interpretations of Marx's writings. Your posts have been really helpful in sorting out some of the fuzzier aspects of my understanding on that topic.

I'm feeling really bad about having gotten so serious in PF's 'play and relaxation' area; sorry folks :redface:
No need to worry about that. This isn't just a play area, though that's what we do a lot of here. It's really a place for anything that doesn't fit well in the other topics and is of interest to members. The GD forum is just a bit more relaxed in terms of demands for evidence to support statements, etc.
 
  • #175
Danger
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Moonbear said:
The GD forum is just a bit more relaxed in terms of demands for evidence to support statements, etc.
Can you prove that? Provide your references.
 

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