Monday, March 04, 2013

Why Marxism is not sufficient, in my opinion

I think Marxism is necessary, but is not the whole story, and that any society or doctrine that solely bases itself on it, whether directly or indirectly like Anarchism does, will lack some very important features. For me, the crux of the matter has to do with the relationship of culture to the material and economic structure of society. Traditional Marxism recognizes a causal relationship between the material structure of society and culture, split between elite culture and workers' culture. Culture is supposed to be a derivative factor, to surely be correlated to economics, and therefore not important. It's either the oppressive superstructure, corresponding to the elite beliefs of society, or its the culture of resistance of the working class.

But things are not so simple. Take two small towns, one in the Northwest, say in Washington State, the other in the Northeast, say in New Hampshire. Both of them are based on either extracting natural resources or processing them, say either logging or processing logs into finished products. Same general class structure in the towns, same sorts of positions both for workers and for owners and managers, same kind of arrangement of power. Despite this, because of many factors, the culture of the towns is likely to be very different, and trying to impose the culture of the Northwest on the Northeastern town, or vice-versa, would lead to resistance. The cultural element still exists as something that, while influenced by the economic structure, has a semi-autonomous existence, and not only that but one that the people who live with it like and think is valuable.

While culture and cultural politics have gotten a bad rap because of cultural exclusivity, as well as xenophobia, there's a sense of how people do and think about things produced by the circumstances that they find themselves in over time that has value independent of these issues. Questions about things such as national identity can be examined both in an open and cosmopolitan way and, unfortunately, in a closed way, yet national identity, and regional identity, are actual, real, and potent forces that can't totally be reduced to economic history.

Neither can they be reduced to ethnicity. Ethnicity, in the sense of common descent, flawed ideas of race, or similar material concepts, does not produce anything. Culture is built up by people living together over time, and isn't discriminatory about whether those people are genetically related to each other or not. Environment in other senses than economics shapes culture as well, whether a place is forest or plains, deserts or mountainous. Beliefs held in common influence culture as well, and all of this interacts throughout the flow of history on each other.

While it's possible to make distinctions between cultural attitudes and cultures, no culture itself is pure, because all cultures are synthetic of many elements, and are promiscuously open to new influences. Additionally, a multi-cultural society is possible, where various cultures co-exist without leading to any diminution of identity.

All of this stated, the aspects of politics that flow from the cultural element, the problems and issues that flow from it, will cause conflicts to break out again and again that the traditional Marxist and leftist positions are unable to deal with unless they are addressed.

National identity, although a slippery issue, and in the United States largely subordinated to regional identity, despite the massive flag waving of people on the Right since 9/11, is still a potent force, and not only that, but one that people get great satisfaction from, and one that is likely not to go away with the forward progress of history--nor should it, because it's the outcome of common ways of life and attitudes built up by individuals living in community over time.

None of this is necessarily reactionary, in fact, the cultural element provides a unique experience that enriches life, not detracts from it.


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