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Land and Labour: Marxism, Ecology and Human History by Martin Empson

From its beginnings in the s, Marxism has been subject to fits of premature speculation. Marx and Engels repeatedly persuaded themselves and some others that the end of bourgeois society was nigh, and since Marx's death there have been regular announcements of the "crisis of capitalism". But each time the patient has somehow recovered and may even have grown stronger.

Perhaps even Hobsbawm, coolest and most judicious of analysts, is not wholly immune to this fever when he speculates that the financial collapse of may signal the beginning of the end of capitalism as we have known it. He certainly believes it marks the end of that year period since the centenary of Marx's death during which Marx appeared to lose his relevance and, for many of the younger generation, his interest.

Even during neo-liberalism's most triumphalist years, there were those who continued to take Marx very seriously indeed as a source of concepts and frameworks with which to analyse the working of societies in which capital is owned by the few and labour power is sold by the many.

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But, beyond this, does Hobsbawm think that we should now be taking Marx seriously as a guide to changing the world? Here he strikes a cautious, at times even equivocal, note. He reflects, in a fine phrase, that with the fall of the Soviet Union, "capitalism had lost its memento mori". But at the same time, "those who still held to the original socialist hope of a society built in the name of cooperation instead of competition had to retreat again into speculation and theory". Now, globalisation and the retreat of the state have, he observes, deprived both social-democratic parties and labour movements of their natural arena: these latter entities "have so far not been very successful at operating transnationally".

In another writer one might suspect sarcasm in this deliberate understatement, but "so far" and "not very" may just signal the workings of Hobsbawm's habitual literary prudence. Still, what kind of opportunity does the current financial turbulence represent? Some have compared the situation to the s, but it is hard to know whether, for those of radical inclinations, that should be viewed as an encouraging parallel.

Marxist philosophy - Wikipedia

Hobsbawm confines himself to the judicious observation that, unlike in the s, "the socialists" from whom he sounds oddly distant at this point "can point to no examples of communist or social-democratic regimes immune to the crisis, nor have they realistic proposals for socialist change".

Perhaps the truth is that Marxism has, despite its founder's famous proclamation, always contributed more to understanding the world than to changing it. Certainly, Eric Hobsbawm has done more than most to further that understanding. Underlabouring entails clarifying and explicating what it is the sciences do and how they do it, as well as, on occasion, criticizing existing scientific practices for failing to meet the standards of scientificity they set for themselves. Philosophical underlabouring the proposed title for a planned further collection of essays; see rr , p.

But why should the sciences need a philosophy at all? Email required. While we might not notice the change in temperature of the water from one degree to the next, when it reaches the boiling point, then the kettle will whistle. Thus, a gradual build-up leads to a very rapid change in the nature of water from a liquid to a gas. In this case, one would have to have at his disposal a sum of values sufficient to enable one to provide two labourers with raw materials, instruments of labour and wages, in order to pocket enough surplus-value every day to live on as well as one of his labourers.

And as the aim of capitalist production is not mere subsistence but the increase of wealth, our man with his two labourers would still not be a capitalist. Now in order that he may live twice as well as an ordinary labourer, and turn half of the surplus-value produced again into capital, he would have to be able to employ eight labourers, that is, he would have to possess four times the sum of values assumed above. These contradictions move and change:. In a certain sense both are correct as the recognition discovery of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in a phenomena and processes of nature including mind and society.

However, what are the possible dialectical conceptions of transition that exist in reality? The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness. Yet contradiction is not a simple magic talisman that can be used to explain anything. To understand a contradiction means undertaking an analysis of the available facts and their relationships in each situation. As Lenin said, "The living soul, of Marxism - a concrete analysis of a concrete situation. The fundamental contradiction of capitalism is that production is increasingly socialized - every part is interconnected as part of a wider totality.

The division of labor has become so general and advanced, that people no longer produce independently of each other with only rudimentary links with each other, as they did in pre-capitalist societies, but now the labor of all workers throughout the world is indispensable to the survival of all. The socialization of production under capitalism brings about a tremendous expansion and development of the productive forces that can potentially provide a decent life for all.

Although capitalist socialization transforms human labor into objectively co-operative labor, it is not regulated, managed or consciously planned. The relations of production remain those of private property, ownership and appropriation by a few capitalists as opposed to the vast majority who don't share in the wealth they produce. Production develops by leaps, but unevenly, not where human needs are the greatest, but where the highest profit can be obtained.

Due to its unplanned nature, crisis and disequilibrium between the different branches of production are the unavoidable results of capitalism. As time passes and the contradiction develops, the private interests of the bourgeoisie find themselves in growing conflict to the interests of workers. The class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie that can result in a revolution that establishes socialism — thereby, negating capitalism.

According to this law: in the struggle between opposites, one opposite part negates the other, which is in turn, negated, resulting in a higher level of development. However, communism as the negation of the negation is not a simple return to the low productive levels of primitive communism since thousands of years of history and developments passed in the interval.

Rather, communism preserves the achievements of class society advances in production, art, architecture, etc , but abolishes both exploitation and oppression, while transcending both class society and primitive communism in creating a new egalitarian society. The negation of the negation is associated with Hegel and his teleological system where the consciousness of freedom is realized through progressive stages until finally being realized in the modern [Prussian] state.

Affirmation, negation, affirmation, negation. However, without the negation of the negation, the dialectic is less focused on lawful notion and triumphalism, and more open to accident and contingency. While the negation of the negation can be used to justify determinism, merger, gradualism and synthesis in the cases of social democrats and Moscow-line communists, this is not necessarily a correct reading of Marx and Engels on the concept.

According to Engels, the negation of the negation is not a simple merger, but is the creation of something new. In regards to communism, Engels says the process of the negation of the negation is where. The state of things brought about by the expropriation of the expropriators is therefore characterised as the re-establishment of individual property, but on the basis of the social ownership of the land and of the means of production produced by labour itself.

To anyone who understands plain talk this means that social ownership extends to the land and the other means of production, and individual ownership to the products, that is, the articles of consumption. It is not that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but that the parts acquire new properties.

Empiricism versus dialectics

Parts and wholes evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves. The whole, thus, is not simply the object of interaction of the parts but is the subject of action on the parts.

The dialectical emphasis on wholes is shared by other schools of thought that rebel against the fragmentation of life under capitalism, the narrowness of specialization, the reductionism of medical and agricultural theory. The dialectical movement of ideas that is found in Hegel, and that reflects real movement in idealist form, contains elements that are highly valuable. These are the ideas of universal relationship, of movement, of change, and the forms of this movement; here the division, or self-differentiation, of the whole, the revealing of opposites and their interpenetration, serve as the motivating principle.

This is the great revolutionary side of Hegel that is restricted and smothered by the elements of idealism and by the idealist conception of the world. The great contribution made by Hegel lies in this fearlessness of thought that encompasses the objective dialectic of being, nature, and history.

The basic dialectical contradiction of Hegel's own system, a contradiction noted by Engels, led to the system's collapse, and gave rise to a new historical unity, at a new stage of historical development, in the dialectical materialism of Marx.


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The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i. The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life.

Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc.

'Kill All the Gentlemen': Class Struggle & Change in the English Countryside

Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If this struggle modifies and improves the organs of animals, and if in given circumstances and methods it produces and develops new organs, it still does not produce that continuous, perfected and traditional movement which is the human processus. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part.

As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself.

The Point is to Change it: An Introduction to Marxist Philosophy

And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life. A spider conducts operations which resemble those of the weaver, and a bee would put many a human architect to shame by the construction of its honeycomb cells.

But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax. At the end of every labour process, a result emerges which had already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence already existed ideally.

Man not only effects a change of form in the materials of nature; he also realizes his own purpose in those materials. And this is a purpose he is conscious of, it determines the mode of his activity with the rigidity of a law, and he must subordinate his will to it.