The point of Marxist philosophy
John Molyneux in Socialist Worker UK writes on why everyone can and should get to know the ideas of Karl Marx
Whenever you talk to people about trying to change the world you face “common sense” arguments which trip of the tongue, such as “You can’t change human nature”, “You can’t buck the market” or “You must obey the law”.
These didn’t spontaneously pop into people’s heads. They are based on ideas that have been developed over centuries by the rulers of society and the philosophers who represented them.
To counter these arguments working people need their own general outlook on the world. This is what Marxism provides.
I wrote my book The Point is to Change It because, although there are already a lot of books on Marxist philosophy, most are written in obscure academic language.
I wanted to write something straightforward because Marx’s ideas, including his philosophical ideas, are for working people. They can be grasped by working people if they are explained clearly.
Marx was the first philosopher in history to look at the world from the point of view of working people rather than one or other section of the ruling classes.
He was able to do this because he came at a time when the modern working class were first appearing as a force in history. This “proletariat” lived by selling their labour power.
Marx saw the mass Chartist movement in Britain. He met communist workers in Paris in 1843. He watched the Silesian workers who staged an uprising in Germany.
Marx grasped the fact that this class had the potential to change society. This led him to a central insight—that in order to engage in politics, war, religion or philosophy, people first had to produce food, clothing, shelter and the other necessities of life.
Therefore the understanding of history begins from how production is carried out by the mass of people, not the doings of kings, queens and generals.
This was the essence of Marx’s “materialism” developed in opposition to the dominant “idealist” view. Idealism, the philosophical view that ideas are the main driving force in history, is the standpoint of ruling classes and their associated intellectuals.
These people take the production of the necessities of life for granted—it is done for them by other people. So they can flatter themselves that it is their initiative and entrepreneurship make everything happen in society.
But Marx didn’t see people as just passive products of circumstances or material conditions. The fact that he started from a view of people as workers and producers meant that he saw them in an active relation to the world and able to change it.
The “common sense” ideas I quoted above, about human nature and such, are all about convincing us that capitalism is eternal and can’t be challenged.
The basis of Marx’s “dialectics” is that everything is in a process of change, and that this change occurs through the struggle of opposed forces.
Marx’s view has been completely confirmed by modern science—everything from subatomic particles to human society is in a process of coming into being and passing out of being.
Marx’s philosophy of “dialectical materialism” is the philosophy of working class struggle. In the book I have shown how this also applies to such vital issues as racism, sexism, religion, morality, truth and justice.
Across the board, Marxist philosophy offers a coherent alternative to the ideas which defend and justify exploitation, class rule and capitalism.
Even seemingly difficult and abstract ideas such as “dialectics” and “contradiction” are actually of real practical use. This applies at every level of the struggle, from a discussion in the canteen to a full scale revolutionary uprising.
The Point is to Change It—An Introduction to Marxist Philosophy by John Molyneux is available for £7 from Bookmarks. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk