Overweening Generalist

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Some Origins of Marxism and Instrumental Rationality as a Revolutionary Tool

I see that the NY Times has found out that the FBI has had counterterrorism agents investigating Occupy. Gosh. I knew the FBI infiltrated, undermined, bugged, harassed, planted evidence...on anyone they deemed "left wing" since...their inception. But gosh darn it, I thought they would have quit by now. I thought COINTELPRO was all over, and the FBI now suddenly cared about a person or group's Constitutional rights to think and say whatever they wanted, no matter how unpopular (or wildly popular?) or seemingly non-violently threatening of the existing order of wealth and privilege. Yea. Golly.

How did Marxism start? In secret societies. The right-wing conspiracy theorists who see Illuminati everywhere are/were right: these revolutionary movements do get going in secret Masonic-based societies, with initiations, etc. But this still doesn't mean Nesta Webster was "right," although I confess I do find her a wonderful paranoid read.

                                             Someone drew this pic of Marx, the 
                                             Young Hegelian. We can see why some
                                             of his friends called him The Moor

Who were The League of Outlaws? Oh, they gave birth to The League of the Just. Who were they? Oh, they gave birth to the League of Communists. When Marx and Engels wrote that the Communists had nothing to hide, in the Communist Manifesto, they were addressing this very issue: time to come out from hiding!

The League of Outlaws were German emigrants in Paris who blindfolded initiates in secret ceremonies and used secret handshakes, recognition signs, and passwords. (If you dropped the term "civic virtue" in conversation you were indicating where you stood.) They had a pyramidical structure. A strict distinction was made between upper and lower members. They were bound by oath, says the late great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, in his terrific Primitive Rebels, pp.169-170. All of these ritualistic secret society gimmicks were taken from the Carbonari. This was around 1834. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 - carried off by extremely well-educated professional revolutionaries who led peasants - we see that Marx was wrong about educated proles in a vanguard party leading other proles in taking over the means of production. Marx was wrong about pretty much every "Communist" revolution of the 20th century. It was educated professional revolutionaries leading barely-literate peasants. But I digress...

So lemme back-up: what was the beef of the guys in The League of Outlaws? They were smart enough to see the Rich were dealing from the bottom of the deck, and they wanted things more...democratic. More fundamental fairness. What horrible people. But don't worry, the version of the FBI they had to deal with was even more brutal. And the FBI has many thousands of buckets of blood on their hands. I hope you know about, say, Fred Hampton?

On Marx himself: There's a fascinating discussion on radicalism and intellectuals being prevented from rising higher on the status ladder in Marxist sociologist Alvin Gouldner's The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class. (Get from the local public library?) At one point, in a long footnote discussing Lewis Coser's ideas about "blocked" intellectuals - as Coser writes in his Men of Ideas - Gouldner writes, "Coser develops the argument that the Jacobin leadership was composed largely of those whose careers had manifested upward mobility, but whose future ascendence was blocked. The study of diverse career blockages - e.g, of educated clerkly revolutionaries, of the sons of those killed during nationalist struggles, of displaced elites - is crucial to an understanding of the radicalization of intellectuals. A basic and familiar source of such blockage is, of course, having the 'wrong' gender, ethnic, national, racial, linguistic or religious identity. Thus early communist leadership in Czarist Russia had a 'relatively high proportion of men of non-Russian extraction,' according to W.E. Mosse, Slavonic and East European Review (1968), p.151. Radicalized Jews are thus simply a special case of this more general problem of blocked ascendence. But we need to be careful not to overestimate the role of injured material interests in producing radicalization nor underestimate radical interests (in *CCD), which, when offended, can also radicalize. And it is not only career blockages which may sharpen radicalization (e.g, Marx), but prior radicalization may elicit repressive career blockages which only then further intensify the pre-blockage radicalization (again Marx)." - Gouldner, p.114

[*CCD = Culture of Critical Discourse, a basic orientation in language and mind of the contemporary intellectual.]

Marx was radical, hounded all over Europe, ending up in London, subsidized by his wealthy friend Engels. But what Gouldner's talking about is Marx's anger.

                                            a semi-witty reversal on Groucho

Two scholars of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), Bergin and Fisch, document Vico's influence on Marx in The Autobiography of Giambattista Vico, pp.104-107. In a footnote to Marx's Das Capital, Marx wrote:

"A critical history of technology would show how little any of the inventions of the eighteenth century was the work of a single individual. No such book has yet been published. Darwin has aroused our interest in the history of natural technology, that is in the development of the organs of plants and animals as productive instruments sustaining the life of these creatures. Does not the history of the productive organs of man in society, the organs which are the material basis of every kind of social organization, deserve equal attention? Since, as Vico says, the essence of the distinction between human history and natural history is that the former is made by man and the latter is not, would not the history of human technology be easier to write than the history of natural technology? By disclosing man's dealings with nature, the productive activities by which his life is sustained, technology lays bare his social relations and the mental conceptions that flow from them."

Too bad Marx did not foresee the advent of electronic communications (radio/TV/Internet/phones) and how this affected relations in capital so profoundly. But then what do we expect from him? Certainly not to be a Prophet, as so many Marxist ideologues have...However, another antecedent of Marx seems surely and ironically Matthew25:15; Acts 2:45; Acts 4:32-35...

Another - O! I could cherry pick influences on Marx all day! - interesting influence on Marx, one frequently omitted in discussions, is Bachofen, who thought human society was originally based on motherhood, female ideas, the rights of mothers. I throw him in here for the truly committed. If the machines of war that threaten to annihilate the human race seem "male" to you, then maybe Bachofen and Marx weren't whistling up the wrong tree?

Instrumental Rationality: Only recently are a few Economists understanding that they must think of the natural environment as part of their system. Need I say more about this 240 year old Mass Hypnosis? It has us near the brink. Will we be able to survive and recover from this "rationality"? It remains to be seen. There will be more and more technology-caused unemployment. Spend a month Googling "robots" and see if we can think about money and human values in a new way quickly enough, because our idea that "I bought the machine, therefore I rule: you're fired!" is killing a lot of us. Go back to what Marx said about the history of technology, by way of Vico: how the eighteenth century inventions were not the work of a single individual. This has been evermore true as time has passed. We missed a Golden Opportunity at some point to claim all productive machines on behalf of the collective mind of Humanity. Which brings us back to Occupy.

I've spent a lot of time hanging with Occupiers. They're young, well-educated, not part of a secret society or revolutionary vanguard. They do know the score: they have incurred large debts for their educations and the "free trade" agreements and banksters and automation have made those jobs they were trained for go away. Another term for what banksters and automated, ultra-fast computerized  trading with "derivatives" and other "instruments," and automation and free trade agreements, blah blah blah: that term is instrumental rationality. And where are the human values there? And in this day and age, instrumental rationality for what?

There is more of a disparity of wealth in Unistat since 1928, which should make even an FBI agent care about that generation. I said should. Somehow I doubt the FBI is as worried about armed right wing lumpenproles who get all their ideas about "reality" from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh; naw, you never know: the Occupy kid with his Anthropology degree might be a real threat! Best keep an eye on her.

Here's a 2 1/2 minute video essay on this famous picture of Marx, by Marshall Poe.


Anonymous said...

Ahh, a truely discordian topic full
of lots of interesting linkages. Working backwards, we find the Swiss
progenitor of T. McKenna's Orgiastic
monkey tribal "humping in a writhing
heap" prehistorical vision.

Next it's Nesta who had to be wrong.

Snipped this as evidence from the
wikipedia article.
Crowded Hours: Part Two of her Autobiography; manuscript "disappeared from her publisher's office". It remains unpublished.

It just wouldn't be a conspiracy if
there were no mysterious items to
puzzle over.

I'm always interested in the views
on societal circulation since I
went through Vilfredo Pareto and
read all the footnotes. He like the
villain Skinner (BF) was unkind
enough to suggest we should study
human behaviors as they actually
occur and use the information to
have a basis for theory. This has
incurred the righteous wrath of the
academics who consider such a curb
to their fantasies unbearable limit
on the intellects.

Now for a diversion from topic,on
archive.org there is a CC film of
note called Infest Wisely by the
next generation of Science Fiction
filmmakers. This one has the genre
nailed perfectly in a hundred small
details. It is also humourous.

Thanks for your efforts here in 2012.

michael said...

Thanks for your informative and kind comments. I will watch Infest Wisely soon.

Ahh...someone who knows Bachofen!

Nesta seems wrong on everything, but as a C-Theorist she's one of the greats. Just look at her influence. What's fascinating to me is how fertile her imagination was, combined with her ability to research and come up with a Grand Theory that looks plausible...until you keep looking at it closer and closer. Where wd the Birchers be w/o Nesta? And Nesta's work bolstered the backbones of a bevy of theories and paranoias that are featured in the Evil, Dangerous, Demonic Illuminatus! Trilogy.

Interesting take on Pareto and Skinner. Leary and RAW and a few others seemed to agree, but academics were much happier in the Cartesian "common sense" of Chomsky, who slayed the dragon of Skinner...according to many an academic. (However, it learning about us by studying the other animals never went away...)