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June 09, 2008

Comments

Will Davies

What a ridiculous target for Gove to choose. There are plenty of equally important German philosophers who are genuinely very tough to read, Hegel being the obvious one. There are plenty of Marxists who are so as well, and one thinks of Althusser and occasionally Adorno. But not Marx, and certainly not Capital Vol 1 (the less appealing parts of Vols 2 and 3 of Capital can be excused by the fact that they were published posthumously by Engels). Maybe what Gove is getting at is that Capital is quite long?

Will

Your second extract sums up the way in which older men - some of whom had fought for their country as a first job - bore the cost of Thatcher/Howe/Joseph/Minford's theories for management of the economy in the early 80s.

Has anyone clarified whether the worsening of the rate of unemployment after 1979 was

a. foreseen but kept from the electorate ("Labour isn't working" poster) - dishonesty

b. unforseen but persisted with for the greater good? ("You turn if you want to...") - incompetence, initially at least.


Will Williams

CharlesOJ

Odd to call those passages "true".

Do "all" developments of production really "mutilate" the worker? And turn his work into "hated toil"?

Do workers laid off by machinery really find it impossible to find work elsewhere?

Do labourers really expect a hiding?

Of course not. Just ask Mr C Ronaldo about the last of these - who is "timid" in his employer/worker relationship?

And if Marx is so gripping why did you skim volume 2?!

Marx has many faults - verbosity, exaggeration, repetition, an addiction to generalisations, Mystic Meg style forecasts... I'm baffled why you think he is deserving of praise. His absurd failure to do empirical research is a fatal flaw. If he'd bothered to conduct a poll of the views of the working classes he'd never have misunderstood them so emphatically.

By contrast Adam Smith is every bit as readable and engaging as his followers claim. (I'd bet his works are a hundred times more read too).

Another point: being stupid and ill-read are different things. I haven't read the Book of Mormon, or the complete works of L Ron Hubbard, but I don't feel this is a handicap.

The Indian maths prodigy Ramanujan was very ill-read, but I don't think anyone would call him stupid.

And is there Tory "chuntering class"? Is Gove in the same one as Edward Leigh? As my local MP, Brian Binley? Does it include Shaun Bailey and Shailesh Vara?

As for Gove, he refers to Marxist prose, not Marx's. If he is making this distinction, would you disagree? From Enver Hoxha's 3 hour speeches to Ceausescu's monologues the canon of Marxist literature is riddled with dronathons.

But still, Gove is foolish to include Moby Dick in his list of works. I'd have cited Magna Carta and Newton's Principia alongside the (almost) unread Das Kapital.

And I'll bet you read it in translation.

Deric

"Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers;"

Terribly written and utterly false, where even false.

Bob B

Naturally, not reading Keynes's General Theory and the ensuing (vast) interpretive and critical literature is an impelling reason for proclaiming some such stuff as keynesian economics is "dead" or "rubbish" anyway. But then as Keynes famously put it:

"Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."
http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/k/keynes/john_maynard/k44g/chapter24.html

As Disraeli put it in his illuminating way:

"Read no history; nothing but biography for that is life without theory."
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Disraeli

In places, it seems that not too much has changed since that perennial prescription.

Mike

I actually found Marx to be quite readable as he tends to devote a good deal of time to explaining his ideas properly.

Hegel is a terrible read, there's so much stopping and starting and a really odd flow which makes it really hard to understand and follow his ideas. I still to this day believe he was partaking in illict substances when he wrote his works.

A far more modern example however is Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's "Empire" i find it really impossible to read and only really grasped the ideas in it when i read a commentary on it by John Holloway.

I don't believe you have to have read the main text to understand the ideas of an author. There are so many good commentaries and articles discussing the ideas within a main text that you only really need to read the main text to make sure Mr. Academic isn't taking quotes completely out of context.

Bob B

"I actually found Marx to be quite readable"

How about the transformation problem in Capital Volume III?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformation_problem

dearieme

Marx? As well read Ossian.

Kit

"Marx was a fine writer, especially when compared to his predecessor David Ricardo"

Anyone is a fine writer compared to Ricardo. That's like saying Pot Noddle is fine food compared with shit.

Tim Worstall

"Anyone is a fine writer compared to Ricardo"

That could be used as a sort of in joke, couldn't it?

"Naomi Klein's latest explication of the global economy and the effects of trade glows with all the limpid beauty and exquisite prose style of that earlier writer on the subject, David Ricardo. Her analysis however is less like that of the earlier and perhaps less persuasive."

Jonathan

Keynes? Marx? Come on.. what exactly does one have to do be discredited? We can all wish for certain outcomes but to trawl through Marx to find parts that arent openly risible as a foil to Tories is desperate.
Read http://mises.org/pdf/humanaction/pdf/humanaction.pdf
or for a teaser type in Marx or Keynes in search feature of http://mises.org/quotes.aspx
I quite liked 'Marx and Engels never tried to refute their opponents with argument. They insulted, ridiculed, derided, slandered, and traduced them, and in the use of these methods their followers are not less expert. Their polemic is directed never against the argument of the opponent, but always against his person.' Chuntering classes heh?
Yours libertarianly (real word?) inclined,
Jonathan.

Bob B

Marx: "The labourers, when driven out of the workshop by the machinery, are thrown upon the labour-market, and there add to the number of workmen at the disposal of the capitalists... "

Never mind machinery, look what really happens with offshoring:
http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11506740

But then, as Marx/Engels perceptively wrote in the Communist Manifesto:

"The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature."
http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/26/manifesto/176-1.html

All of which rhetoric looks to me remarkably much like describing the course of globalisation but I'm bound to say I find marxism thoroughly useless for making sense of what is currently happening in the housing market or to the price of oil.

Those who hanker after Marx are commended to read a new biography of him by Francis Wheen.

kinglear

I am a really sad git - I have read all of them - although I do admit to having skipped bits of the Lisbon Treaty when I fell asleep

Katie

Of course, it could just be contempt for voters and adoption of a Bush-like folksiness: "despite my regular appearances on the elitist bit of an elitist programme (newsnight review) I am as stupid as you are Mr. Electorate!"

Peter Risdon

Prose style is a matter of taste, once certain formalities are satisfied. Marx is not to my taste. But to suggest your quotes are true is just bizarre. To take the last one, it suggests that moving someone from a mill to a workstation has degraded them and their families. That's the opposite of the truth.

Calling the party of Fellows of All Souls stupid is, as ever, stupid.

Ken Houghton

I'm not quite with kinglear (not British, never had to read the Lawrence), but at least I know that the title of the Melville is Moby-Dick.

And Ulysses is one of the funniest books ever writtenno wonder a Tory can't read it (even ignoring that it's set on the day Joyce lost his virginity).

Alex

Out of those, I actually *studied* the European Convention, and I've read the General Theory, Moby Dick, and Seven Pillars. Keynes was a damn fine writer.

He is right on Seven Pillars, which is one of the most pompous things in the English language.

Alex

Calling the party of Fellows of All Souls stupid is, as ever, stupid.

The most prominent Fellow in that party is John Redwood. He may have a lot of certificates, but no-one would accuse him of wisdom or judgment. Case closed.

Morgs

"An old whore that's been around for 400 years." Now who said that of the Tory Party?

Meanwhile, I've read the three novels and Das Kapital and it was more fun than Adorno, who according to Marcuse, used to make his prose deliberately difficult so it wouldn't be accessible to the bourgeoise.

Morgs

Ooops, 2 novels. My bad.

lightly

Maybe folks in the U.K. are doing better than we are in the U.S.

Those vivid passages from Marx describing formerly self-sufficient peasants hounded into poverty sound exactly what it feels like to be American these days. The only difference seems to be that American oligarchs now get apoplectic at the very mention of indemnification for those they beggar.

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