I first encountered Marxism years ago when I was a teenager. I had never been all that interested in politics until that moment, but learning about a theory which brought together history, philosophy, economics and sociology into a cohesive system inspired me a great deal. The school system tends to isolate subjects into separate categories, and I found the holistic vision of Marxism to be an appealing alternative to what I had been taught. So I read lots and lots of books: Marx, Engles, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and so on. There was a lot in these books I did not fully understand, but the things which I did understand have influenced me a great deal.
For a variety of reasons, my keen interest in Marxism did not last for more than a few years. One of the big influences in this shift in my thinking was studying at university. I very soon learned that Marx was just one of many philosophers, who also had their own distinctive systems of thought. Again, I was fascinated by the kaleidescope of different perspectives and read more and more books: Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger. The most influential stream of thought was French postmodernism: Foucault, Lacan, Delueze and so on. I don't want to even try to explain the appeal of these thinkers, or talk about the rights and wrongs of their views here. Enough to say that they explored areas of human experience and reality which Marx did not, and I was a curious student.
Now, fifteen or so years later, I find myself once again going back to the old Marxist ideas and reconsidering them anew. I think my motivations for this are partly to do with life experience (the various miseries and frustrations of work and money), and partly to do with my general observations of what is happening in the world: the global financial crisis, global warming, the massacre in Gaza, etc etc. Closer to home there is the awesome power of John Key and the seemingly inpenetrable fortress of neoliberalism. More than ever, I feel angry, outraged and sad about the state of the world. Marx's famous eleventh thesis is still as provocative and relevant as it ever was: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is how to change it”.
Interpreting the world is still an activity which fascinates me however, and the ideas and methods of Marxism are living and developing forces.
I've been planning on posting my thoughts about Marxism for some time, but I have held off mainly because I still have a lot of unresolved questions about Marxist theory. Last night I attended an “introduction to Marxism” talk put on by the ISO here in Dunedin. I was really impressed by the discussion after the talk. There were many perspectives on Marxism, questions about revolution, questions about self determination for indigenous people, and also questions about the barriers of jargon and “isms” which prevent many ordinary people from engaging in politics. My own questions and concerns about Marxism – and there are many of them – were put into a different light because of the discussion. So instead of posting links to academic articles here in this first Marxism post, I am going to start the ball rolling with a couple of RSA animate links about Marxism. There is a small amount of jargon, but the pictures tell the story very well and I think that they are fairly accessible. Both of these are good examples of the power and sophistication of contemporary Marxism, and demonstrate why it is still a relevant system of thought today.
First, David Harvey offers his thoughts on the global financial crisis:
Second, Slavoj Zizek's analysis of charity and 'cultural capitalism'
I'm also going to give a link to a really good Marxist blog. If you go to his youtube links, there are some fantastic and accessible clips which explain basic Marxist ideas about economics. If you go through his links section, you will find a series of really heavyweight modern Marxists doing their thing.