I noticed a couple of things while waiting in the long line at the Coffee House on Saturday morning. The members of the working class behind the counter were responding to the endless demands of the Lincoln bourgeoisie by deliberately slowing down production (and affecting a somewhat pissy attitude in the process). Whatever works, right? In a gesture of solidarity, I avoided placing an order for a complicated beverage and instead ordered just a cup of coffee. At one point while reading Marx, I realized that “Children of the Revolution” by T. Rex was playing.
We were asked to consider the reading of The German Ideology from the logic of the argument as well as the details of the argument itself. I appreciate this task, as the myriad moves of the argument would take some time grasp as nuance (I’m not quite ready for the final exam). That being said, I am really interested in the first step by which man essentially comes into being: “They [man] begin[s] to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation” (37). So, from here, it’s all about production—the materialist view of history. Interestingly, this seems to be almost a casual sentence for Marx, who drops it in along his way to describing larger operations. But is there any pressure that can be placed on this seminal moment? I actually can’t think of any. What I also find troublesome is the fact that conceding this point to Marx means that—like Hegel—an enclosed system is established. In a materialist view of history, we are inescapably tied to that thing that defines us. Therefore, there is nothing extraneous to the system; there is no transcendence. He returns to this notion time and again. But to turn quickly to his famous vision of a communist society where “it is possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic” (53), doesn’t he offer this vision as a corrective to a system that he at least implies is unequal, and therefore unjust? But isn’t justice a transcendent concept? Maybe not, come to think of it. The material view of history would argue that justice is based on some ideal form of equity in some mode of production or productive output.
I bring up the concept of justice because I have been thinking about Joshua Clover’s presentation last semester. I don’t remember if he used the language of “justice” when arguing that it was time to overturn cars, break windows, and set fire to things in order to wipe capitalism from the face of the Earth. But again, the notion of injustice certainly informed his arguments. In addition to a few people alluding to the possibility that such an approach has been tried before to varying degrees, it is worth asking what this activity means as part of an enclosed system. (And I know that we are not talking specifically about capitalism at this point.) My question relates to the Communist (or the Communist Revolution), which for Marx, is “a question of revolutionising the existing world, of practically coming to grips with and changing the things found in existence” (44). Is his operation here in reality actually a transcendent one because man will consciously separate from and thereby control production? Is man not transcending that which originally defined him? If so, is it not untenable based on Marx’ own materialist construct. (Just to be clear, I am not making that tired Reagan-era proposition that Communism is untenable because it is a utopian fantasy. Marx clearly has no interest in the fantastic.)
For now, I am just going to avoid ordering fancy coffee beverages when there’s a long line.