Monday, January 18, 2016

marx and the domains of ignorance

The domains of ignorance:
  • Known unknowns: All the things you know you don't know
  • Unknown unknowns: All the things you don't know you don't know
  • Errors: All the things you think you know but don't
  • Unknown knowns: All the things you don't know you know
  • Taboos: Dangerous, polluting or forbidden knowledge
  • Denials: All the things too painful to know, so you don't
The domains of ignorance are relevant to Marx. Some people don't read him because it is taboo. Some people read him and think they understand but they don't. Some people have a superficial knowledge of Marx and think that is good enough. But none of that really explains the extent of the marginalisation of Marx. I think the main issue is that he is difficult to understand. The thing missing from the domains of ignorance is contradictory knowledge.

Isaac Deutscher provides an anecdote about the knowledge of Marx in that era (the 1930s):
"Capital is a tough nut to crack, opined Ignacy Daszyński, one of the best known socialist "people's tribunes" around the turn of the 20th century, but anyhow he had not read it. But, he said, Karl Kautsky had read it, and written a popular summary of the first volume. He hadn't read this either, but Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz, the party theoretician, had read Kautsky's pamphlet and summarised it. He also had not read Kelles-Krauz's text, but the financial expert of the party, Hermann Diamand, had read it and had told him, i.e. Daszynski, everything about it"
Marx's critique of political economy is old knowledge, forbidden or marginalised knowledge and difficult to understand knowledge. Because it was written 150 years ago many think it is no longer relevant. Because communism is believed to have been tried and found wanting many who want change think it could not provide the answers we want. Because Marxism is an insignificant part of mainstream education and in particular often not taught in the economics faculty then it is only going to be accessed by those who think outside of the mainstream. Finally, the many volumes of Capital are difficult to understand for a variety of reasons.

Conceptually the work is very rich and it is difficult to keep the whole of fit in your head. Marx uses a method of investigation (his adaptation of Hegelian dialectics) that is unfamiliar to moderns. Much of the language he uses is unfamiliar and this issue is exacerbated through a variety of translations. The prose is dense. Marx established a precise, strict terminology, eg. use value, exchange value, value, relative and absolute surplus value and then uses it rigorously for hundreds of pages. Therefore you must pay close attention, otherwise you are lost. He frequently uses French and Latin quotations. He also employs fascinating, tangential footnotes, which must be read.

The economic crisis which began in 2007 created an intellectual crisis, which did already exist, but was not so obvious as before the crisis. For much of time following WW2 economic crisis was absent, the capitalists had appeared to work out how to stabilise an unstable system. That assumption has now been shown to be false.

My contention is that to understand the inner workings of capitalism you have to understand Marx. Although this will not provide any magic solution to the current issues of ongoing economic crisis it will provide a deep appreciation of the inner contradictions of capitalism that make it forever an unstable and unpredictable system.

To understand value theory you have to read the original Marx. My goal here is to describe some of the hurdles I encountered along the way and answers I found to those problems. I called these AHA moments. I'm writing it as a series of confusions or sticking points followed by breakthroughs which were then followed by more confusions, etc.

The Value concept is central to Marx's whole argument. To understand capitalism, how it works from the inside, requires an understanding of Value. It is this broad view that has motivated me to persevere in reading Marx, whose writings are difficult, and various interpretations.

(part one, to be continued)

1 comment:

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Bill, to my knowledge the only educational researchers (HE) who are connecting Marxism up with many of the contemporary issues and their intersections with education are Mike Near, Joss Winn and Richard Hall. All in the UK.