2019-01-22

Bob Price — Did you really read Marx?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I like Robert M. Price’s academic works on themes related to Christian origins but after that we have little to discuss, sadly. I have had a long term interest in various aspects of the topic of “alienation”, and continue to harbour vivid memories of my post-graduate student days reading and discussing writings by Marx and others heavily indebted to Marx. I also enjoyed reading another work Bob Price references, Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality. So I got carried away and read a non-biblical post of his, Alienated (21/01/2019). Until I came to this howler …..

The alienation here is quite similar to that at stake in the crisis of sacrifice. In both, what the individual offers/produces is no longer really his own. A hidden, vital link has been severed. And because of it, the individual’s efforts are empty. But is Socialism any better? In the Socialist Iron Curtain countries, the work ethic was vitiated by the realization that one’s work, done well or badly, would not increase one’s wealth but would only vanish down the bottomless toilet of the “collective good.” Is this alienation really any different from or better than that produced by industrial Capitalism?

Oh Bob, oh Bob! Why do you, you who intimate libertarian sentiments elsewhere, fall hook, line and sinker for the propaganda line your government backed by Big Business has fed you ever since, well, probably since 1917.

Marxist Socialism 101: the workers have control of the means of production. Their labour is directly related to outputs. Communes. Soviets. Today we see them in worker-run-and-controlled factories or other businesses. That’s socialism. When Marx spoke of alienation he was not proposing an alternative alienating structure that emerged in the Soviet Union. We know that one of the first things Lenin did was to suppress local soviets or communes — he suppressed the efforts towards true socialism. Lenin stripped worker control away from the means of production and (I assume) falsely called it “socialism”.

Oh, and one more thing. My university education was paid for by national taxes. I invested a lot of time and energy into acquiring what was paid for by others. I have always been grateful for the privilege I was given by society. I feel I owe something to society in return. This blog, perhaps, is one small back-payment. Bob, not everyone who gets something “for free” or without personal “cost” (though I did pay a cost in late nights, sweat and hard work) tosses it aside as nothing to be appreciated.

Damn right wing politics!

 

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36 Comments

  • proudfootz
    2019-01-22 11:08:26 GMT+0000 - 11:08 | Permalink

    It’s troubling that this one aspect of ‘self interest’ has become elevated to the end-all and be-all of life among so many people. They seem to forget how much of civilized life depends on cooperation with others to achieve common ends.

    • James Barlow
      2019-01-23 07:53:26 GMT+0000 - 07:53 | Permalink

      “The compassionate Christian.– The reverse side of Christian compassion for the suffering of one’s neighbor is a profound suspicion of all the joy of one’s neighbor, of his joy in all that he wants to do and can.”

      from Nietzsche’s Daybreak,s. 80, R.J. Hollingdale transl.

  • mcduff
    2019-01-22 12:34:42 GMT+0000 - 12:34 | Permalink

    In my state, South Australia, until recently, a decade or so ago, the State government owned and operated the following state wide enterprises – water [reservoirs, pipelines, domestic urban services, sewage], banking, insurance, schools, roads, electricity generation and distribution, timber [forests and processing and distribution], gas/LPG [partly], public housing … and probably a few other enterprises I’ve overlooked.
    All gone, privatised [except for schools].
    The revenue these public corporations generated, yep they all ran at a [minimal] profit, was returned to the state via general revenue and invested in the future and also used for funding other spheres [sports and arts for example].
    Meanwhile I do my banking with a credit union, have done so for 50 plus years, and shop at a cooperatively owned complex, appropriately named ‘The Co-Op’] in my nearby regional centre [super market, hardware, general department store, electrical appliances, petrol/gas station].

    I outlined this on a discussion forum recently, described it as ‘the good ole days’, and was promptly labelled a communist by some strange person..
    Fortunately another poster pointed out that this was ‘normal’ for millions of Australians [other states having similar] and was until recently, until the barbarians got through the gates and privatised everything that wasn’t nailed down or remotely profitable, not considered extraordinary in any way.

    Some people have very limited world experiences and believe what Rupert and his mates tell them.

  • Kelly D Wellington
    2019-01-22 14:30:30 GMT+0000 - 14:30 | Permalink

    Heh…Yeah, I know. I am a big fan of Price’s high criticism of things religious, but his politics are somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan. He is an ardent and outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and actually joined the Republican Party when Trump rose to prominence. Bob has no stinking idea what ‘libertarianism’ is and would most likely not be very civil about it if anybody brought up the ACLU.

  • db
    2019-01-22 14:32:23 GMT+0000 - 14:32 | Permalink

    “Soviet (council)”. Wikipedia.

    Lenin wrote that the Soviets were originally politically open and inclusive entities, writing in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918) that, “the disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie is not a necessary and indispensable feature of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” And in Russia, the Bolsheviks, who long before October put forward the slogan of proletarian dictatorship, did not say anything in advance about disenfranchising the exploiters.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-22 23:43:17 GMT+0000 - 23:43 | Permalink

      Lenin hijacked the revolution. Someone else has said what happened in Russia in October 1917 should more aptly be called a coup rather than a revolution. Much of the state control apparatus of secret police etc were maintained and used for the new “tsars”. It was not communism. My memory tells me that one of the first things Lenin did was to crush the local communes.

      • JBeeers
        2019-01-23 11:15:22 GMT+0000 - 11:15 | Permalink

        Yes, that’s right, according to my memory of readings decades ago.

        Also, as one author from ~1970s liked to write, ‘Read Marx, not the Marxists.’ (I would add Engels too. Not that the two of them didn’t start going off on various wrong paths at various times. One picks and chooses critically what to use and what to discard.)

        About a week ago was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Marxist ‘Social Democrats’ Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in Berlin by agents of the ‘Social Democrat’ government. They were at least as hostile to the world order as the Bolsheviks but unlike the Bolsheviks seemed to want actual rule by the local councils, ie, direct democracy. Luxemburg got into a fight with Lenin and Trotsky over freedom of speech and of the press. She criticized the way the Bolsheviks suppressed it as being all wrong.

        • JBeers
          2019-01-23 11:18:17 GMT+0000 - 11:18 | Permalink

          embarrassing trouble spelling(!): Beeers>Beers

        • db
          2019-01-23 13:20:55 GMT+0000 - 13:20 | Permalink

          “Spartacist uprising”. Wikipedia.

          “The Weimar Republic | The Spartakist Uprising and Kapp Putsch (1918-1923)”. YouTube. House of History. 19 October 2018. “The Spartakist Uprising: time 4:18–5:51”

          • JBeers
            2019-01-23 14:32:05 GMT+0000 - 14:32 | Permalink

            I read that tens of thousands gathered to honor Liebknecht and Luxemburg in Berlin ~1 wk ago. I hope that there was not too much distortion of them the way there has been distorted appropriation of Marx. They have been typically presented by the leninists as being something in the order of heroic but naive and a bit silly. Having dialog of the people enforce itself in public life — well, the Party knows better than that, as well as all the leftish academics, and so many others.

            On another topic, but a related one, is the frequent employment of the term ‘cultural Marxism’ by various rightists. It actually refers to something that from my perspective is something at odds with Marx’s writings. It is Marxist about as much as ignorance is strength, war is peace etc. Some of these people might actually like some of Marx’s writings, as Neil implies.

        • Matt Cavanaugh
          2019-02-02 23:52:37 GMT+0000 - 23:52 | Permalink

          Luxemburg and Liebknecht of course broke with the SPD to form successively the USPD – Spartakusbund – KPD. They were arrested for fomenting & participating in armed revolt against the duly-elected, SPD-led government (no scare-quotes needed). They should not have been summarily executed, but had committed sedition and should’ve stood trial.

          Their pal, Wilhelm Pieck, escaped that night and went on to be a collaborator with the Soviets, then the DDR’s first puppet president.

          Luxemburg and Liebknecht have benefitted from decades of hagiography, but their attempted coup was just as illegal and undemocratic as another that took place four years later a bit to the South.

  • db
    2019-01-22 14:53:31 GMT+0000 - 14:53 | Permalink

    • Hmm… it seems that Price is opining that perhaps some sort of socioreligious construct is needed to keep the “slobs” in check.

    Cf. “Confucius (551—479 B.C.E.) § The Confucius of the State” by Jeff Richey. iep.utm.edu

    The “Five Classics” – five ancient texts associated with Confucius – were established as the basis for the imperial civil service examinations in 136 BCE, making memorization of these texts and their orthodox Confucian interpretations mandatory for all who wished to obtain official positions in the Han government.

  • Roger Pearse
    2019-01-22 15:16:33 GMT+0000 - 15:16 | Permalink

    I think perhaps the original ideals of socialism were thoroughly corrupted by the communists, who wanted power. Their version of it has held sway ever since. It is useless to say “this is not socialism” when any vote for “socialism” will invariably mean that corrupted form will come to power once more.

    Socialists really need to have the drains up, and go back to the 19th century and rediscover why socialism arose in the first place, and think about answers to those problems in the light of what happened last time.

    One of the early socialists was a chap called Mark Guy Pearse, who I suspect to be a distant relative of my own somewhere. He was a Methodist preacher in Cornwall in that period. He used to go round doing charity sermons, to raise money, in order to fund bits of relief work among the poor. On the verge of retirement he moved to London to help with the West London mission, mainly doing charitable work.

    What he saw was terrible instances of individual deprivation, being met piece-meal by whatever ad-hoc help could be scrounged up. His thought was that surely we could do this better? Surely we could all spare a small amount of money to help the lame-dogs, to pay for the necessary doctors’ visits, to employ a travelling nurse or whatever. Couldn’t we?

    That question, it seems to me, is still a very valid one.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-23 00:05:16 GMT+0000 - 00:05 | Permalink

      [Comment relocated]

      • A Buddhist
        2019-01-23 00:16:02 GMT+0000 - 00:16 | Permalink

        Although I agree with your sentiments, Neil, you are replying to the wrong comment by Roger Pearse.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-01-23 00:36:27 GMT+0000 - 00:36 | Permalink

          Thanks. I got tangled up by replying through my admin dashboard interface instead of coming out here in public to be sure I speak to the write comment.

  • Leigh Sutherland
    2019-01-22 15:34:19 GMT+0000 - 15:34 | Permalink

    I think there is a lot of confusion out there that those of us who believe in a Market based Socialism are some kind of Communist conspiracy who wish to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Market Socialism is still a work in progress where workers can enjoy the fruits of there Labour, Entrepreneurs can enjoy their success but not at the detriment of the Poor, Weak, Elderly and sick. There has to be another way to combat the inequalities of the Market Capital Model.
    https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/the-forgotten-vision-of-market-socialism

  • john dauria
    2019-01-22 16:45:31 GMT+0000 - 16:45 | Permalink

    I bet the good Robert is not so keen now on the Trump admin since it withdrew funding for a part time teaching tenure that he had.

  • 2019-01-22 16:57:11 GMT+0000 - 16:57 | Permalink

    Yeah, my website started primarily with articles on economics, and politics, of which my views are certainly to the left. But I like RMP. I think he’s a nice guy, but eccentric. That eccentricity has helped him in his assessment of Christianity, and leads to views I don’t share on society/politics, etc. But that’s okay, I’m not one of those that feels the need to agree with everyone or to share ideologies to be friends with people. I’ve got Christian friends, right-wing friends, etc.

    I’ve called myself a neo-Marxist in the past, but I’m not sure such labels are really helpful or even meaningful. I’d just say that I’ve studied Marxism on my own, as well as classical and neo-classical economics and find that Marx’s ideas and those of other other early “Marxists” are really the logical extension of classical economics. Neo-classical economics is largely nonsense designed to justify capitalism. I find many of the same types of logical flaws in neo-classical economics as I do in mainstream biblical scholarship. Lot’s a circular reasoning.

    I guess this is the last big economic article O wrote,whcih pretty much sums up my take on the issue: http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/capitalism_evolution.htm

    As for RMP, as long as he’s not actively engaged in white nationalism I’m fine 🙂

  • Aaron
    2019-01-22 18:25:47 GMT+0000 - 18:25 | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of his Bible Geek podcast but he used to occasionally drop in some political commentary (he pretty much avoids it anymore) but it was interesting to see a critical mind for biblical scholarship fall away and just uncritically repeat Fox News mantras when it came to politics.

  • Yam
    2019-01-23 06:54:10 GMT+0000 - 06:54 | Permalink

    I am not well informed on Marxism but I want to ask a question.
    Isn’t the alienation an obvious outcome when you consider that “nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.”?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-01-23 08:16:06 GMT+0000 - 08:16 | Permalink

      For Mark alienation or depersonalization is overcome in the following scenario that I have copied from page 62 of Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (italics are original):

      Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return – that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent – a misfortune.

      And when can that happen for everyone? When extremes of wealth and poverty are abolished, when shortages are no longer the slave drivers.

      • Yam
        2019-01-23 09:24:05 GMT+0000 - 09:24 | Permalink

        Thanks for the response Neil, but I am still puzzled with this one quote I posted (It is the end of Chapter 1 section 1 of Marx’s Capital 1).
        It seems that the whole power falls to the one who judges what is utility.
        And that it excludes pleasure, I consider pleasure as a vital property for human happiness.
        For example, I do not like modern art, by reading about it or getting informed about the culture behind it, I become informed for the reason other people like this art, but my taste does not change. I do not get pleasure by looking at the art but by analyzing the art.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-01-23 10:08:50 GMT+0000 - 10:08 | Permalink

          I’m not sure what you think the problem is.

          • Yam
            2019-01-23 10:26:46 GMT+0000 - 10:26 | Permalink

            The problem is, that if “nothing can have value, without being an object of utility.” Then there are no objects of pleasure unless those objects are and a utility. No video games for example and only propagandistic entertainment (if we must turn entertainment to a utility) etc.
            This whole thing will alienate all people, cause there will be no pleasure other from the physical one.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2019-01-23 10:59:57 GMT+0000 - 10:59 | Permalink

              I thought my initial reply would help you see that what you regard as “utility” and “value” is not so restrictive in Marx’s thinking.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2019-01-23 11:25:49 GMT+0000 - 11:25 | Permalink

              That’s not what the chapter is saying at all. Read the chapter that concludes with your sentence that you find problematic. A video game indeed has a utility. It is something you find you can use and enjoy.

              “Only propagandistic entertainment” … I don’t know where you get that from. Is your question prompted by an anti-communist site or work that cherry picks phrases and gives a misleading impression of what they mean by ripping them from context? Read the first few paragraphs of that chapter. It is very clear that your video game is no exception to the rule at all.

              The quotation I gave in my first reply alone should tell you that Marx did not think the only things worth having are material objects that satisfy some physical sense like hunger or comfort. In his first paragraph that ultimately leads to your sentence he speaks of the satisfaction of wants that spring from “fancy” as well as from the “the stomach”. That includes books, decorative art, etc. even video games.

              • Yam
                2019-01-23 14:23:22 GMT+0000 - 14:23 | Permalink

                Thanks for the response Neil, but I do not thing that I am out of context, neither I am prompting a question by an anti-communist site.
                I “cherry” pick the text cause otherwise I have to quote everything. He concludes to this.

                But I really respect your opinion so I will go on.

                Fancy in the text is something with those properties too.
                “The utility of a thing makes it a use value.4But this utility is not a thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the commodity, it has no existence apart from that commodity.“

                I really cannot understand how it is possible to create new objects of pleasure when
                “To discover the various uses of things is the work of history. 3 So also is the establishment of socially-recognized standards of measure for the quantities of these useful objects. The diversity of these measures has its origin partly in the diverse nature of the objects to be measured, partly in convention.“

                I used video games cause it is an example of something (new from the time of Marx) we are creating just for pleasure.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-01-23 15:12:48 GMT+0000 - 15:12 | Permalink

                Video games are new to us but they are not the first commodity that is created for pleasure alone. I mentioned other examples from Marx’s time. Just take books, a novel or book of poetry, for example. Or toys for children and fun objects for adults, like a music box or a dart board or playing cards.

                You are working with a very narrow definition of utility that forces a meaning into the sentence that is not supported by the preceding paragraphs or anything else Marx wrote.

                The words you quote simply don’t support the meanings you are imputing to them. Marx did know about the sale of recreational books and games of chess and children’s toys and golf clubs. Being created for pleasure does not deny that it has a utility or use value.

                The pleasure is its utility or use value. Marx is talking about the way societies place monetary or trading values on things. You have to decide if a video game is charged too much so that it is not “worth” the use value you think you will derive from it, so you don’t buy it, unless the seller reduces the price.

                You seem to have very narrow view of what Marx meant by “use value”.

              • Yam
                2019-01-23 17:46:26 GMT+0000 - 17:46 | Permalink

                Thanks, looks like I have to read more, cause at least for me the way “use value” and “utility” are used in the text seems to exclude pleasure.

                If you have bibliography that you can suggest it will be more than welcome.
                Thanks.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-01-23 21:59:16 GMT+0000 - 21:59 | Permalink

                Yes, it can be misleading given the meanings we generally associate with the words today. But Marx was undertaking a technical discussion and he used terms to have a technical meaning, in this case in the discussion on how societies assign money values to commodities. To keep the concept simple as he takes us through each step he singles out an example like some tool or loaf of bread, but he has already explained that his discussion applies to all things that people make value or price judgments about in their trade or exchanges.

                Commodities covers everything from what people “fancy” to what they are literally “hungry” for: anything that we pay for, set price tags on, work to earn money to buy — and that’s everything available in the market, garden gnomes, gaming dice, soccer balls, loaf of bread, hammer and nails, clothes, video games… People decide on a price that accords especially with the amount of labour that has gone into producing it, or costs of materials to make it, etc.

                The only books I have kept for ready reference from my student days are

                Fischer, E. 1977. Marx in His Own Words. New Ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

                Marx, Karl, and T. B. Bottomore. 1964. Karl Marx Selected Writings In Sociology and Social Philosophy. McGraw-Hill

              • Yam
                2019-01-24 06:32:06 GMT+0000 - 06:32 | Permalink

                Thank Neil, I will try to find those books.

        • 2019-01-23 19:53:50 GMT+0000 - 19:53 | Permalink

          “It seems that the whole power falls to the one who judges what is utility.”

          This isn’t the intent of what Marx was talking about.

          The heart of the matter is that Marx was taking issue with the idea that a worker’s labor could be evaluated to have X value, and what the worker produced had Y value and that these two things were divorced from one another.

          Ultimately Marx was getting at the view that the value of a worker’s labor is defined by the value of what they produce. If raw material has a value of $10 and after a worker have transformed it by his work it now has a value of $50, then by definition the value of the worker’s labor is $40. If you pay the worker $10 for his labor, thus keeping a profit of $30 from the sale of the good, then that is a theft of value created by the worker.

          That of course is a very simplistic view of it, because we have the matter of overhead costs and the value contributed by capital, etc. but that’s the general point.

          Now the point of the “first steps of communism” in theory was to make capital a public good, so that essentially “all profits” could go directly to workers because there would be no private capital owners to lay claim to the profits. The “final stage of communism” was for the profits of labor to be equally shared because there would be so much excess value that it would easily be able to provide abundant value to everyone. Obviously that part gets tricky, but the idea of “all profits going to workers” is a bit easier to comprehend.

          • Yam
            2019-01-24 07:37:50 GMT+0000 - 07:37 | Permalink

            Thanks for the response Price.
            I am not saying that this was Marx’s intention, but by reading the Capital 1.1 seems to me that the power falls to the one who judges what is utility and in extend what have value or use-value.

            The problem as I see it, is that value and use-value (or the utility) are presented in a way that can be exploited. We know that history it is a subject of constant debate and reform especially when new data comes into play. Also that culture (“socially-recognized standards”?) is not something monolithic, but in constant change and reform and open to exploitation by the political powers.

            So the one (or many) who may be able to “control” history (or the interpretation of historical data) and culture, is the one who can judge what have value, use-value and utility.

            My interpretation is that this will lead to function. Value, use-value and utility will be judged by their functionality and this will exclude pleasure as nonfunctional against the functional.

            Alienation is the obvious outcome.

  • Steven Watson
    2019-02-09 01:48:34 GMT+0000 - 01:48 | Permalink

    No True Scotsman… Nevermind sitting down and reasoning together in charity, let’s have a war! Take it down, twist it, use it against one another.

    Culture wars nonsense sealions far too many spaces on the internet.

    Das Kapital was never finished; two thirds of it never got done. The corpse count of the twentieth century should have seen the noxious “philosophy” born of it in the dustbin of history. D’ya want to give a go at salvaging Mein Kampf or Idee Fondamentali while your at it? Because that is just how despicable defending Communism/Marxism is and should be. Some socialisms and some socialist values might be salvagable, but probably only because they are shared liberal or social democratic values already. Most of them are beyond the pale, however; and I think you’ll find the “benign” forms are already corrupted by entryists and it would be “Venezuala here we come!” if you tried to implement any of them.

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