Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quotes of the Day - February 29, 2012

I just finished To the Finland Station, and there are a number of great lines I want to highlight and review.

The following is noteworthy, considering much of the world is still embroiled in some form of crisis:
"Marx believed that a new rebellion on the part of the petty bourgeoisie would upset the big bourgeoisie in France...and they announced in the last number of the Revue that "a revolution can hope for success only when the modern factors of production and the bourgeois tecnhique are at varience. A new revolution is possible only after a new crisis" (pg. 201).
Thoughout the book, Wilson makes numerous references to Marx's Jewish background. Perhaps I like these passages because I can relate to them, or perhaps it's because they flatter my sense of Jewish tribalism.
"If Marx is contemptuous of his race, it is primarily perhaps with the anger of Moses at finding the children of Israel dancing before the Golden Calf" (pg. 207).
"It was here that Karl Marx as a Jew had his great value for the thought of his age. The characterisic genuis of the Jew has been especially a moral genius. The sacred books of the people of Israel have served as a basis for the religions of three continents; and even in the case of the great men among the jes who do not occupy themselves with religion proper, it is usually a grasp of moral ideas which has given them their peculiar force" (pg. 301).
At certain points, passages like the one above make me uncomfortable with Wilson's philo-semitism.

In the chapter "Karl Marx: Poet of Commodities", Wilson provides a fantastic explanation and simplification of Marxist economic thought:
"The capitalist system was based on private property andso was inevitably competitive. The aim of every manufaturer was always to undersell the rest, sothat there would be a contunyal stimulus to more efficient methods of production. But the more efficient an industry became - the fast the machiens were able to do the work and the fewer people were needed to tend them - the more people would be thrown out of jobs and the more would wages be reduced. That is, the more the commodities produced, the fewer the people who would be able to buy them. In order to get rid of his goods under these continually tightening conditions, the manufacturer would have to undercut his competitors, and that would mean further reduction of wages and still more efficient machinery, consequently again in the long run, fewer people able to buy what he was making. This situation had already produced a jam and a depression about every ten years; and the only way for the manufacturer to get a reprieve from the vicious cycle was to find new foreign markets for his prodcuts - an escape which would not save him in the long run" (pg. 313).
Back to the topic of the Jews. Wilson's comparison between the marginlization of the Jews in Europe and the marginalization of the proletariat is instructive.
"...proletarian children, as Engels had said, were not aware that they were unfortunate or unhappy because they had never known anything else; whereas the Jews, though their outlook had been narrow, had been accustomed to intellectual traning" (pg. 314).
This may actually explain the attractiveness of socialism to European Jewry and the presence of Jews, like Trotsky and Zinoviev, at the forefront of the Marxist struggle. For, of the proletarian Wilson writes:
"The men who employed him had an interest in keeping him ignortant. By vertue of his very position, he was deprived of the things that would enable him to rise to a higher status. The mediaeval dissabilities of the Jew were in the nature of a mere national accident; the disabilities of the proletarian were disabilities indissoluble from his class" (pg. 314).
My favorite part of the book is Wilson's discussion of Lenin. While Wilson certainly glosses over the negative aspects of Lenin's personal life and philosophy, his comments on Lenin's Marxism are definitely worth highlighting.

Lenin's political philsophy, Wilson writes,
"grew out of his intellecutual enmity toward the striving for petty ends, toward out-and-out pragmatism, and toward all that is ideologically without form and theoretically ungeneralized" (pg. 430).
There is also an honest critique of Lenin's authoritarianism.
"[H]e is quite clear about the intellectual inequalities between the intelligentsia and the masses. He quotes in What Is to Be Done? as 'profoundly true and important' a statement by karl Katusky to the effect that the proletariat, left to itself, can never arrive at socialism; socialism must be brought them from above: 'the vehicles of science are not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia.' And 'our very first and most pressing to help turn out worker -  revolutionists on the same level in regard to party activity as intellectual revolutionists" (pg. 387).
" 'All power to the Soviets' had never really meant what it said and that it had soon been exchanged by lenin for 'All power to the Bolshevik Party'"(pg. 431).
Though written over seventy years ago, the following phrase shows Lenin to be more relevant to American politics than ever before:
"In What Is to Be Done?, Lenin characterizes Russia as 'a politically enslaved state, in which nine hundred and ninety-nine of the inhabitants have been corrupted to the marrow of their bones by political subservience and by a complete incomprehsension of party honor and party ties'" (pg. 388).
Just switch out Russia for America, and you definitely have a voice that might add something to contemporary political discourse!

These aren't all the passages I want to highlight, but unfortunately I neglected to note every passage of interest in my copy of the book.

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