Monday, March 03, 2008

Approaching a ten year Marxiversary

Being ten years since I first read Karl Marx. The book I got was "Karl Marx: Selected writings in Sociology and Social Thought", edited by Tom Bottomore. It featured extensive selections from Marx's early years, including the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, The German Ideology, Poverty of Philosophy, and even the Grundrisse. Had a preface by Erich Fromm, a Marxist Humanist psychotherapist who wrote some really, really, good books on Marx in relation to alienation and society, some of which are still in print. It was a revelation. Earlier, I had read "Wage Labor and Capital" online, but it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. Seemed really stilted and unclear. The early writings, on the other hand, were clear as a bell. So I sort of date my first exposure to Marx from them. I've since learned to appreciate the later economic writings in things like Capital, as well as "Wage Labor and Capital", but although they describe the workings of society as a whole in an interesting way they still don't have the same immediate emotional pull as the early writings. You can argue also that the early writings were sort of unsophisticated and naive in certain parts, and this is not a totally off the mark criticism.

Before Marx I had been reading a lot of Nietzsche, and absorbed some of his contempt for people talking about the potentials for benevolent self realization of individuals even though I had never read any of the writings that he was criticizing. Marx changed all that. The basic Nietzschean contempt sort of melted away once the idea of human self realization was really explained in a clear and proper fashion.

Marx was also a reason that it was a long time before I really, seriously, considered Anarchist writings. A few months after reading Marx I read Rudolph Rocker's history of Anarcho-Syndicalism because he had been recommended by Chomsky in an interview with an anarchist publication entitled "Red & Black Revolution" that I read online. I was overwhelmed by this also, and stayed that way for about a week, but decided that the young Marx explained society in a better way than Rocker did so went back to what I was concerning myself with before that.

before Marx I was reading Mother Jones, Utne Reader (really!), books like Alexander Cockburn's "Whiteout" about government sponsored drug smuggling in Southeast Asia and Central America, William S. Burroughs' non-fiction essays like those in "The Job", Wilhelm Reich, Covert Action Quarterly--venerable and sadly demised publication focussing on CIA subversion of governments abroad from a left perspective that started out by publishing all the names of active CIA agents that they could get a hold of, plus Chomksy, Chomksy, Chomsky.

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