Comments: That G-Damned Marxist John Adams

...I plan to lead a long, happy life without ever reading anything by either Karl Marx or Jonah Goldberg.

Me too!

Posted by cemmcs at July 28, 2009 06:04 PM

Everyone should read the Communist Manifesto as a matter of world-cultural literacy, but I also appreciate the humorousness of the line. And that the left does have more support in principles from the Founders than is commonly acknowledged.

Posted by Cloud at July 28, 2009 07:16 PM

Too late for me, I've already read lots of Marx. And a little bit of Jonah Goldberg as well.

Posted by Rojo at July 28, 2009 07:25 PM

And it occurs to me that I've now read the teensiest bit more Goldberg thank to you and this post. Harrumph.

Posted by Rojo at July 28, 2009 07:27 PM

“Frank's argument boils down to the old Marxist doctrine of false consciousness, which says that to disagree with the left about the nature of political and economic self-interest is a form of brainwashing...”
For starters Goldberg only cites half of Frank’s argument, then proceeds to shoot the half straw-man out of existence. Frank’s argument regarding economic interests was pretty hard to dispute; he dealt with communities ruined by corporate decisions. Virtual ghost towns where all the young people have fled and yet the old-timers hanging on because they have no where else to go continue to vote for the very people who destroyed their towns. Why? Because the politicians destroying their communities rile the base up over culture war issues – gays, abortion, etc.
Even here, Frank is in no way condescending toward those who vote in such a manner. He readily concedes that the cultural issues are important and worth voting for. Except for what he points out next: the conservative residents time-after-time vote for people who, once in office, make damn certain they force the economic program through but at most pay lip service to the culture wars issues.
On the national level think Reagan. He went to war for his tax cuts, defense build-up, and business handouts. On the culture war front? A lot of speeches about how evil abortion is and how icky the gays are but very little concrete change to show for it.
Now you can still argue the theses and present your own data to show something else, but Frank’s argument was not a condescending “too stupid to know what’s good for them” attack. It was an examination of a bait-n-switch tactic that has gotten a lot of mileage.
Btw – Goldberg isn’t alone. That’s the standard conservative take on the book. Claim he’s another liberal elitist talking down to the Midwesterners. George Will reviewed it in those basic terms upon its release.

Posted by Bob at July 28, 2009 07:35 PM

Everyone should read the Communist Manifesto as a matter of world-cultural literacy

Actually, to be honest I have read that. It's surprisingly well-written, when you consider that reading anything else Karl Marx wrote is like trying to digest wood.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at July 28, 2009 07:35 PM

Probably because Engels wrote it. Marx was just one of the greatest hangers-on of their time

Posted by empty at July 28, 2009 07:58 PM

And Engels is the only one of the pair who ever uses the phrase "false consciousness".

Goldberg also conveniently elides Frank's point that an important reason the Republicans are able to garner votes from economically underprivileged social conservatives is that the Democrats have nothing to offer them on the grounds of economic policy either, such as to encourage them to go against their value-system by voting "left". If both parties are working for the rich, that leaves only the Culture War as a basis for choosing between them. But a partisan hack like Goldberg would hardly like to put it about that the real problem with Democrats is that they're too much like Republicans.

Posted by Rob Weaver at July 28, 2009 08:30 PM

My favorite is when Christians talk about what a corrupt, unworkable and utterly worthless ideology "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" is.

Posted by Christopher at July 28, 2009 09:13 PM

Not sure what the Founders have to offer the left: slavery, sexism, voting rights for white property owners?

Marx? Couldn't write, but still the author of the most penetrating, and current, critique of capitalism. The only deep thinker to put the underdog front and center. Too bad fascists in one third of the world appropriated his name. The influence of his ideas is much more evident in Scandinavia than it's ever been in any so-called Socialist countries. (Certainly not in the Soviet Union, where had he lived long enough to witness the revolution he quite clearly would have opposed to it since it came in total contradiction with this theories.)

I assume the Marx vs Engels comments were meant as a joke.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 28, 2009 09:14 PM

"Probably because Engels wrote it. Marx was just one of the greatest hangers-on of their time."

Posted by empty at July 28, 2009 07:58 PM


---hahahahahahaha! Thanks for the laugh!

Posted by N E at July 28, 2009 09:26 PM

"It's surprisingly well-written, when you consider that reading anything else Karl Marx wrote is like trying to digest wood."


--huh? Here are a few examples of Marx's pen:

"Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks."

"Landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed."

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."


"Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity."

"The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them."

"The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs."


"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."

And there is oh so much more if anyone pokes around just a bit. Mentioning Jonah Goldberg and Marx in the same sentence is hugely funny. Jonah Goldberg is a simpleton and, if I may be blunt, an asswipe, while Marx was a genius of the highest rank and, as the Professor has pointed out, the foremost critic of capitalism in world history. Plus, he married a real Princess! Shit, people barely know who Jonah Goldberg is NOW. In 50 years even his family won't remember him.

Posted by N E at July 28, 2009 09:59 PM

For legal reasons I have not read Marx.

I've read the bible though which is pretty heavily communist. He who has two shirts must give to he who has none, says Saint John the Baptist. The special properties of the "mana" from heaven whereby people who gathered a lot of it found it went bad ("he who gathered much did not have too much and he who gathered little did not have too little"). The Jubilee year when all the means of production were divided back among the people every 25 years regardless of who had purchased it since the last Jubilee. A state administrative class wholly supported by taxes that ran everything in the absence of any king. A total ban on any form of interest (essentially outlawing capitalism). The idea that in some sense everything belong to the state (God) and therefore laws that said "don't harvest everything in your fields - leave some for the poor" made sense. Lots of stuff like that.

I haven't read What's The Matter With Kansas but I've heard that it is often misrepresented to suggest his argument is "red states don't vote their economic interest" when its more along the lines of "neither party represent their economic interests so they vote their cultural interests instead"

In defence of the ban on voting without property you have to recall that until the private Australian ballot was introduced a round 1900 people would vote publicly so a landlord could stand there and watch to make sure his tenants voted as he dictated or else he'd throw them out of their home.

Posted by DavidByron at July 28, 2009 11:02 PM

Not sure what the Founders have to offer the left: slavery, sexism, voting rights for white property owners?

In their actions, not much, of course. As P.J. O'Rourke once said (approvingly), the American Revolution was less a revolution and more a change of management.

In their rhetoric, though, quite a bit. They did say a lot of nice-sounding stuff, including things that would make them (especially Jefferson) completely unelectable today. It could work well in U.S. politics to resurrect some of this language and hide behind their Old White Guy shield. It's not me who wants a highly progressive tax on wealth and the confiscation of estates, it's Thomas Jefferson!

Plus, as the writer Ian Frazier says:

...if the founding words about freedom and justice and equality were traduced the moment they came out of the speakers' mouths, traduced by crimes against people unlike the speakers themselves, still no fact of history tells us we cannot believe the aspiration. The words could not be unsaid; the aspiration, once brought into existence, existed.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at July 28, 2009 11:27 PM

Indeed!

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 29, 2009 12:15 AM

Actually, his stuff for Greeley's Tribune wasn't bad..

Posted by bobbyp at July 29, 2009 01:04 AM

In the good old days of Cold War, wasn't someone arrested for spreading communist propaganda while reading out loud the declaration of independence in front of the US capitol? Or was it FDR's economic bill of rights? Anyway, it wasn't an establishment's sweetheart Harvard professor, so it's all in the memory hole now.

Marx is OK when he does polemics, it's mostly The Capital that's hard to read.

Posted by abb1 at July 29, 2009 03:51 AM

Virtual ghost towns where all the young people have fled and yet the old-timers hanging on because they have no where else to go continue to vote for the very people who destroyed their towns. Why?

Maybe because the other guys would do the same? Give people a real choice between the destroy-your-town party and the won't-destroy-your-town party and see what happens then. But the enormous forces that are destroying small towns in Kansas (globalization, the corporatization of agriculture) are fully supported by both major parties. I haven't read Frank's book, but does he address this point anywhere in it?

A lot of speeches about how evil abortion is and how icky the gays are but very little concrete change to show for it.

Kinda like that new guy, whatsisname? I had a similar thought a week or so ago when I saw that picture of Malia Obama wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign on it in Italy at the G-8. Right-wing bloggers here went apoplectic, peaceniks here took it as a sign that her dad was One Of Us, but it's all really just dog-whistle politics. Both parties know how to hit the right cultural signifiers, while pursuing essentially the same policies.

Posted by SteveB at July 29, 2009 08:56 AM

DavidByron:

"In defense of the ban on voting without property. . ."

I don't think John Adams was in the least concerned about landlords intimidating tenant voters. For a fascinating different look at Washington and Adams, read Richard Rosenfeld's American Aurora, which Rosenfeld wrote because he was curious about the Sedition Act, why John Adams and Washington would have agreed to it, and a quote by Adams stating that he had always known Ben Franklin hated him. The American Aurora was a newspaper printed by Franklin's grandson, Benjamin Bache, and so Rosenfeld studied its writings and wrote his fine book, which is much less boring than most history because of its style. Here's a link to a long Amazon review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R2TIQARB02Z0W5/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R2TIQARB02Z0W5

Bache, Franklin's grandson, thought Adams wanted to be king, and he wasn't just musing:

Note this from the review:

"Adams presented his idea of "titles" to Congress on May 9, 1789. He suggested a verbose title for the president: "His Highness, the President of the United States of America and Protector of the Rights of the Same." Along with this, he proposed that the president and all senators should hold their offices for life."

Posted by N E at July 29, 2009 09:01 AM

Along with this, he proposed that the president and all senators should hold their offices for life

And the senators usually do, don't they.

Posted by abb1 at July 29, 2009 09:23 AM

People seem a little too quick to accept the idea that Marx was a bad writer. Naturally I disagree. Capital is hard to read because the subject is extraordinarily complicated.

Posted by Richard at July 29, 2009 10:40 AM

Richard makes a good point. A fairer test would be to put Capital next to Keynes' The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and see how they compare.

Posted by SteveB at July 29, 2009 11:03 AM

Capital is pretty hard to read, particularly if you haven't read Ricardo's Principles or Smith's Wealth of Nations. Marx assumes a good grounding in the mainstream economics of his time, what is now called classical economics. If that is not understood, all his discussion of exchange value may be misunderstood.

This tries to explain it:
http://anarchism.pageabode.com/blogs/afaq/secCapp.html

And Marx never came up with anything as good as Proudhon's "Property is theft"

Posted by Anarcho at July 29, 2009 11:24 AM

Capital is hard to read because the subject is extraordinarily complicated.

It think it was Capital I tried to read some years ago but I gave up on it after about 5 minutes. It just seemed so boring but it may have been that it was just too much hard work to get through it.

I'll consider giving Marx another chance but I stll refuse to see ET and I have not given up on the idea of the long happy life part either.

Posted by cemmcs at July 29, 2009 12:26 PM

This is getting weird. I think that what Bernard Chazelle writes about music looks great on the page, but i don't understand very much of it, so my opinion of whether it's well written is just slightly better than my opinion of Plato in the original, which needless to say is Greek to me.

Marx could write, but when he was writing as an expert about technical issues, he wasn't often as funny as Jonathan Schwartz. Had he been, I'm sure the whole history of the world would be different. But Marx had a sharp wit and pen. He wrote a rejoinder to a book called The Philosophy of Poverty and tited it The Poverty of Philosophy.

Posted by N E at July 29, 2009 12:26 PM

"I haven't read Frank's book, but does he address this point anywhere in it?"
I don’t see a huge difference between the parties but the “both are the same” argument is simply wrong. Globalization and the corporatization of agriculture are supported by both parties and are highly destructive. However, those same heartland voters are most certainly treated differently by the NLRB under Dems than Repubs, to use just one example. In the last 8 years millions of working class people lost huge sums through changes in OT laws and definitions of supervisory work categories. NLRB appointments matter greatly – for working class people an extra couple thousand dollars a year is a life-changer – and the parties do appoint different types of people. Had Gore taken office in 2001 nothing would be appreciably different in terms of globalization and the corporatization of agriculture but it’s impossible to believe the draconian NLRB rulings would have come down and we most certainly would not be at war in Iraq. There are differences.

Posted by Bob at July 29, 2009 12:45 PM

Jonah seems at some point to have spent three days in the belly of the Whale of Stupidity and, overwhelmed, is spending the rest of his days bragging about it.

But he isn't someone I'd want to meet in a dark alley.

Posted by Oarwell at July 29, 2009 12:47 PM

Oarwell:

Catchy, as usual. Funny though, the idea of meeting Jonah in a dark alley has a certain appeal to me, though i suppose he probably carries pepper spray and/or a taser.

By the way, the daring Oliver Stone recently sang the praises of Douglas's book, for whatever that's worth.

Posted by N E at July 29, 2009 01:07 PM

Bob:

I agree there are differences, but NAFTA and free trade generally and all the financial deregulation have been no help to working people, and Clinton and the Senate Dems pushed them through. So in the eyes of many heartlanders, the economic differences either go unnoticed or are dwarfed by the cultural differences. A couple thousand bucks is important, if you realize it's at stake, but if you don't realize that and you definitely think your identity and values are at stake, the GOP gets the vote.

"and we most certainly would not be at war in Iraq." --I'm not so sure of that

Posted by N E at July 29, 2009 01:16 PM

That's really unfair. Marx wrote much better jokes than Goldberg ever has.

Actually, Marx is very good on the diagnostic end, but many of his prescriptive ideas haven't worked out very well. As with many an ATR poster, he distrusted unaccountable power and didn't like the masses getting screwed over. The Communist Manifesto is short and snappier, while Das Kapital is a harder slog, but as Richard says, the subject is extraordinarily complicated.

I suppose Jonah would call Marx a fascist too, come to think of it…

Posted by Batocchio at July 29, 2009 04:26 PM

Growing up we did a sociology experiment at the mall. We read excerpts from the Declaration of Independence to selected people and then asked them where this came from. Communist propaganda got about twice the votes of the correct answer

Posted by BillCinSD at July 29, 2009 08:01 PM

To make up for my earlier slander on Marx let me recommend Grundrisse to anyone interested in reading Marx but not wishing to face Capital. It is really well written, accessible and very insightful.

Posted by empty at July 29, 2009 08:14 PM

To make up for my earlier slander on Marx let me recommend Grundrisse to anyone interested in reading Marx but not wishing to face Capital. It is really well written, accessible and very insightful.

Posted by empty at July 29, 2009 08:15 PM

We read excerpts from the Declaration of Independence to selected people and then asked them where this came from. Communist propaganda got about twice the votes of the correct answer.

Compare and contrast the Boston University (?) survey Chompers likes to cite, where the majority of respondents thought the phrase "from each according to their ability; to each according to their need" was in the US Constitution.

Posted by Rob Weaver at July 29, 2009 08:53 PM

I think it's asking a bit much of the good people of Kansas that they base their votes on prospective appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

Posted by SteveB at July 29, 2009 11:11 PM

The Communist Manifestoon is one way to introduce Marx to new audiences.

Posted by Bruce F at July 30, 2009 12:00 AM

N.E. that's an interesting looking book; I'd actually heard all of the facts that the review mentions before from other sources and I don't think they are controversial.

Washington was a douchebag who started the French and Indian war trying to steal some new land that the British democratically elected parliament (not "King" of course) had said was off limits to the colonists due to treaties with the Iroquois allies. He was a lousy military leader and got his ass kicked but managed to run away when most of the army died thus securing his reputation. The British then had to pull the colonists nads out of the fire of the war they started and of course that cost a shit load of cash so they raised taxes on the colonists to pay for it -- pretty reasonable really. Even so it might not have happened if the elections hadn't kicked out the generally more colonial sympathetic party (note: not "King"; democratically elected parliament again). Washington wanted to co-opt the popular rebellion in Massachusetts into a baron's revolt so he could seize power and try to kick the Iroquois again (that's why there's the odd "whereas" stuff about beastly Indians in the part of the Declaration of Independence nobody reads because its embarrassingly provincial).

Sounds like a cool book.

Posted by DavidByron at July 30, 2009 12:19 AM

"But Marx had a sharp wit and pen. He wrote a rejoinder to a book called The Philosophy of Poverty and tited it The Poverty of Philosophy."

Which it is doubtful he came up with himself. Here is Proudhon from "The System of Economical Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty":

"Modern philosophers, after collecting and classifying their annals, have been led by the nature of their labours to deal also with history: then it was that they saw, not without surprise, that the history of philosophy was the same thing at bottom as the philosophy of history"

Of course, Marx may have come up with his title before reading that bit of Proudhon's book but, for some reason, I doubt it...

Marx spent a lot of time distorting Proudhon's ideas and ensuring that few would know that he took many of his ideas from the French Anarchist. For example, the theory of surplus value being rooted in production was first expounded by Proudhon, not Marx and it was Proudhon was the first to call for a "scientific socialism"

I'm working on a Proudhon anthology for AK Press just now, so I've been reading a lot of him recently: Proudhon Reader Update

Posted by Anarcho at July 30, 2009 03:49 AM

Yeah, they sure had some fun times back in the 19th century, libertarian and authoritarian socialists fighting each other tooth and nail. Those were the days... And then the 20th century came and fucked it all up.

Posted by abb1 at July 30, 2009 09:11 AM

N E – We’re back where we started. Neither party grants heartland voters what they want culturally, both are generally bad on economic issues, but one most certainly DOES NOT slash taxes on the rich through methods guaranteeing higher taxes on the middle class and below and does not force through routine rulings at the agency level which grant employers more power and money and cripple the unions that once gave workers rights they no longer have. There are legitimate differences. And hell, not even any of Bush’s opponents in the Repuclican primary of 2000 would have taken us to war with Iraq. That was as much one man’s war as this country has ever seen. Go back and read NRO, or the Weekly Standard from 2000 – 20001 and see how little attention was paid to Iraq vs. Iran, North Korea, Syria, etc.
SteveB: You are so right. Can’t expect the rubes to be informed voters. Of course you express no surprise at seeing NLRB decrees discussed here. It’s only the notion of – oh let’s say a night shift nurse in Wichita – caring about it that seems ridiculous to you.
Here’s a list of the largest employers in Kansas:
http://www.acinet.org/oview6.asp?id=1&soccode=&stfips=20&from=State&nodeid=12
Here’s a good recap of the havoc wrought by Bush’s appointees:
http://labor-forgottennews.blogspot.com/2007/11/marchers-hit-nlrb-rulings-by-bush-named.html
http://www.ilwu.org/dispatcher/2006/07/nlrbrallies.cfm
The change to definitions of “supervisor” and other provisions mentioned were especially damaging to nurses, factory workers, and tradesmen. Go back to the list of the states largest employers and see what you notice. Probably a lot of nurses, factory workers, and tradesmen in most of those places. As a day when many such employees were informed they were no longer eligible for OT, or could no longer work to form unions, or could no longer file grievances they previously had a right to file came I’m gonna go out on a limb and say not only does the NLRB matter to such people, but such people are well aware of what’s the matter with the NLRB.

Posted by Bob at July 30, 2009 01:38 PM

And then the 20th century came and fucked it all up.

Machine guns, nerve gas, and aerial bombings do tend to put a damper on utopian aspirations.

Posted by Cloud at July 30, 2009 06:09 PM

Bob:

I don't disagree with you that the GOP really did a number on average Americans in the heartland, and that's partly why John McCain got beat by an African American whose middle name is Hussein, which I suspect he still can't believe sometimes, though he probably just blames it all on that Sara Palin woman. Like you, I see important differences, even if the Dems are a disappointment.

You're right that nobody ran in 2000 on attacking Iraq, butthe war against Iraq wasn't one man's war. It certainly was a "top down" war, but Bush wasn't the real moving force. There was strong sentiment in favor of getting rid of Saddam among the National Security elite, and not just among neocons. Even Scott Ritter wrote a book in the late 90s taking the position that it might be necessary to get rid of Saddam. (That one surprised me when I found and read that. It made me wonder what happened to so inflame and motivate Ritter, in much the same way I have wondered what pissed off Richard Clarke so much. Those are, after all, very conservative, patriotic, militaristic men. But after 9/11 and the Iraq war they haven't at all seemed like it, which really makes me wish I could read their minds.)

By 2000, Saddam had become a problem in the eyes of our rulers, partly because as Wolfowitz said Saddam was sitting on at least 100 billion barrels of oil, most of which is low-cost, easy-extraction oil, and there may be a whole bunch more after that because there hasn't been as much exploration there. So Cheney's energy task force, with all its private representatives, likely was chomping at the bit to bring Iraqi oil on line under Western aegis. If you think the Iraq war was some horrible fiasco, take note of the fact that Iraq oil is now being brought into the world market, and it is effectively controlled (though not without problems of course) by the United States. Too bad for all those GIs, not to mention the million plus Iraqis.

As Lily Tomlin said, no matter how cynical you become it's impossible to keep up.

I don't know what method or justification for getting rid of Saddam would have been applied had not 9/11 come along and whipped everyone into a patriotic fervor and given bush/cheney the "anything goes" thumbs up signal. But I feel sure something else would have come up to get rid of Saddam. After the failure of Operation Desert Fox in 97, the Pentagon was fed up with Saddam's presence and ready for more drastic action. That wouldn't have been allowed to continue another 10 years, whether a Democrat or Republican was President. In our hyperpowerified national security state, it just isn't that difficult, alas, to force a President's hand, unless he is very smart, cunning, and skillful. Obama himself has a long ways to go, and we'll see how he does.

Posted by N E at July 30, 2009 07:58 PM

"Yeah, they sure had some fun times back in the 19th century, libertarian and authoritarian socialists fighting each other tooth and nail. Those were the days... And then the 20th century came and fucked it all up."

well, I would suggest that the 20th century confirmed our critique of Marxism. In the form of social democracy it became as reformist as Bakunin and other anarchists predicted. In the form of Bolshevism (social democracy's off-spring), it became as authoritarian as, again, Bakunin predicted -- it became the dictatorship over the proletariat by the party leadership.

The Revolutionary Ideas of Bakunin

Of course, section H of An Anarchist FAQ discusses this in more detail...

Posted by Anarcho at July 31, 2009 04:04 AM

Well, these days social-democratic parties meticulously avoid mentioning Marx or marxism in any of their statements and publications.

Posted by abb1 at August 1, 2009 02:38 PM

I don't know what method or justification for getting rid of Saddam would have been applied had not 9/11 come along and whipped everyone into a patriotic fervor and given bush/cheney the "anything goes" thumbs up signal. But I feel sure something else would have come up to get rid of Saddam. After the failure of Operation Desert Fox in 97, the Pentagon was fed up with Saddam's presence and ready for more drastic action. That wouldn't have been allowed to continue another 10 years, whether a Democrat or Republican was President. In our hyperpowerified national security state, it just isn't that difficult, alas, to force a President's hand, unless he is very smart, cunning, and skillful. Obama himself has a long ways to go, and we'll see how he does.

oh, the musings of the naive! they're almost a musing.

"Saddam's situation"? do you have the vaguest clue what you're talking about here, NE?

uh, no. you do not.

Saddam Hussein was CREATED by the USA... by the CIA, which recruited him, found him a very compliant and authoritarian militarist, and turned him into the leading force in Iraq. Saddam Hussein would still be an ineffective pseudo-spy if not for the CIA turning him into Our Lackey.

Whatever Hussein did from the point of turning, forward... we always knew what he was doing. "We" here meaning, those who control the powers of foreign and military affairs in the Federal Government. It would never have been a surprise to the US Dept of Defense what Hussein was doing or had become. Never. As in, not ever.

I'm not sure where you get your info, NE, but it's not from reality.

Posted by Juan Seis-Olla at August 3, 2009 08:53 PM