“Every transformation is” […] “to some extent the overture to a great new poem.”
Thus wrote the nineteen-year-old Karl Marx to his father in 1837, over a hundred and seventy-five years ago. I find this ancient quote from a non-ancient and thoughtful young man appropriate for today’s entry, an entry on REVOLUTION.
By the time Young Marx comes to writing his article, Defense Of The Moselle Correspondent (when Marx is about twenty-five), he is applying a Newtonian outlook to the socio-political sphere, positing that one can determine “with almost the same certainty as a chemist” whether the conditions are ripe for a revolution, much as a scientist “determines under which external circumstances some substances will form a compound.”
Writing with Engels in The German Ideology, Young Marx states that, “in our view all collisions in history have their origin in the contradiction between the productive forces and the form of interaction.” He elsewhere calls this form of interaction the “form of commerce” or “existing social relations.” The contradiction between production forces and forms of interaction could also be formulated as the disalignment of economic power with political power. When this disalignment occurs, a readjustment is inevitable, usually meaning that the political order will be forced to accommodate itself to the new economic order… perhaps slowly and peacefully, or perhaps suddenly and forcefully. We call the latter method Revolution.
For Young Marx, “all collisions in history” basically means the emergence of the middle-class as an economic power and its resultant struggle to wrest power from the upper-class, usually meaning the King and Aristocracy.
Personally, all this talk of society running to catch-up with economic changes reminds me of the plight of the early 21st-century music industry. Here, the “productive forces” of the record companies (formed in the 20th century economy) are struggling to cling to power even as the “form of commerce” (internet sharing) swiftly advances. I contend that the forced changes in the music industry could be called a “revolution” in the Marxist sense.
A revolution is complete– or at least a pause between revolutions is accomplished– when the political or legal power-sharing arrangement successfully mirrors, at least approximately, the real world forms of commerce and social relations. That the aristocratic power (or record company) will end up less well-off than before the revolution is pretty much a given. All oligarchs in an era of rising people-power must cede ground. As Marx might say, it is “inevitable.”
Sometimes a revolution will result in a new government administration or –more rarely– a fundamentally different form of government. Marx, believing that a government administration should serve the people, and not t’other way round, states that an ill-fitting administration will be cast aside by the Society.
Marx at age twenty-five has already decided that governments do not really make the laws. That is, they do not conjure them from the air and then impose them downward– at least not any laws that will stick, that will have meaning and respect. No, says Young Marx, the lawmakers follow the society– and more specifically, the power center of the society, and the competent legislator of any time and State “must consider himself a naturalist. He does not MAKE the laws… he does not invent them… he only formulates them.”
Young Marx appears not to have considered World History as quite the personified World Spirit seemingly believed in by Hegel– nevertheless, Marx frequently slips into the language of a true believer, as when he says that “World History will decide whether a State is so much at odds with the Idea of the State that it no longer deserves to continue.” Basically, if Mr. World History decides an administration is behind the times, he fires them.
Of course, the birth of Revolution comes only after a long and difficult pregnancy. Young Marx points-out that the members of a Society become so acclimated to the conditions of their socio-economic environment that they hardly even SEE such conditions anymore. To use my own example, it is similar to how we walk around on the surface of the planet beneath an immense tonnage of air without even noticing it– so accustomed to the weight are we.
Similarly in Society, when problems arise, the idea of questioning true fundamentals is exterior to most noggins. Instead, the blame-game ensues… the Rich will blame the Poor, the out-of-power party will blame the in-power party, and the current office-holders will blame their predecessors. Most people will never think to point a finger at the (rotting) pillars holding up Society at its base.
Young Marx compares a faultering State to an unsuccessful individual– neither wants to face the cold hard truth that their failures might be due less to external circumstances and more to their own ineptitude. For this reason, as the age-old metaphor goes, most people will tend to hack away at the branches of a corrupt Society instead of digging it up by the roots.
Oh, but young master Marx wants us to get at the roots. More on that to come…
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