Dialectical Materialism Sounds Boring but Explains the World

From: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/radicalchristianmillennial/2017/08/heck-dialectical-materialism/

There are many influences in this blog. Recently, after reading this post about the Kavanaugh confirmation, a friend asked for links about my philosophical influences. I wrote the below response, figuring I’d add it to the blog.

So I went to college feeling the world was mysterious, what I was told about things often didn’t reflect what I saw, and I needed to understand the world. Eventually (and it took a very long time) I felt like the framework which could best explain what I saw AND predict what was coming is something called “dialectical materialism” or “historical materialism.” Unfortunately there are poor introductory resources for this. Here’s something I kinda like https://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1986/xx/base-super.html

I’ve heard dialectical and historical materialism described as, we don’t take it for granted that history and institutions operate the way we are told, instead we look at what they actually do and what actually happened. It is deceptively simple. Here is a great example of a historical materialist analysis that looks at the role of the police https://worxintheory.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/origins-of-the-police/

Dialectial materialism is also sometimes what people mean when they use the word “Marxist,” but I’d make a distinction between dialectical materialism, as an analytical approach, and “Marxist Leninism” as a political philosophy. Basically there is a pretty wide political diversity among dialectical materialists (though we’re all basically “leftists.”)

In my experience, a lot of people study Marxism but you almost have to learn it from a Marxist… it’s a real problem. I watched this video awhile ago. I don’t remember it well. But this guy, Richard Wolff, is a professor who’s pretty good at a Marxist intro (but it is an intro, and he’s not necessarily great with the nuances) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P97r9Ci5Kg

Marx’s own analysis of capitalist society is in the notoriously difficult book Das Kapital https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf

I’d summarize the main point as
workers produce x but get paid y
worker pay(y)=worker production(x)-exploitation

This is also sometimes summarized as profit equals theft. If you connect this with the history of colonialism/imperialism, that statement is deeper.

Profit is the prime directive of capitalist business. Thus business’ “bottom line,” according to Marx’s logic, is the maximization of exploitation. Here’s a series of graphics I like to pull out that generally show how capitalism today does conform to Marx’s predictions https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph/ If you look at capitalism globally, it’s even more stark. Part of the problem is the need to increase the profit of investors (not doing that leads to debt and failure of the system/collapse), who are generally very rich people who have no real connection to the communities and industries they rule over (not super democratic, is it?). Also, continually increasing production does tremendous ecological damage and leads to the destruction of indigenous cultures (as everyone must be brought into the global market, capitalism uses a cancerous logic).

The Communist Manifesto https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ turns Marx’s analysis into the beginning of a political movement, and names private property as the primary root cause of exploitation (and he means like owning a mine or a factory or a river; it’s not about your toothbrush).

I’m also highly influenced by anti-colonial and feminist thought which I think helps add more context to the nature of exploitation/oppression.

Anti-colonial writers
I like Kwame Nkrumah Here’s a work I’ve read (I think) https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/nkrumah/neo-colonialism/index.htm
Also the economics of Immanuel Wallerstein and Samir Amin
Also Franz Fannon, who was a psychologist, Here’s a book of his http://abahlali.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Frantz-Fanon-The-Wretched-of-the-Earth-1965.pdf
Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, also interesting to look into Liberation Theology
Relatedly, as there’s a big overlap with anti-colonialism and anti-racism, WEB Dubois https://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/WEBDuBois-Souls_of_Black_Folk-1-14.pdf

I have to admit a huge shortcoming of mine is I’ve not read a ton of Marxist feminism, but I believe our exploitative society is partially based in the shift from matrilineal to patrilineal descent, which was an overtly violent overthrow that also entailed a shift from collective property to private property. (Men killed and took ownership of things and then made laws to protect their ownership). The Chalice and the Blade is not at all a Marxist text, but it describes this ancient history https://webruhan.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/eisler-the-chalice-and-the-blade.pdf

Also here are some radical women writers,
Assata Shakur
Angela Davis
Emma Goldman
Helen Keller
Audre Lorde

There are also interesting anthropological texts that describe peaceful and egalitarian societies. It’s been a long time since I’ve read these though and I can’t conjure it (read about the Ju Hoansi, or a number of indigenous societies). But Hunter-Gatherers tend to be very peaceful and egalitarian and there’s a lot of evidence that human on human violence is actually a fairly recent phenomenon that is connected to property ownership. (there is a myth that society has become less violent and more “civilized” over time. It’s wrong.)

Unfortunately, a lot of anthropology is pretty racist and colonial itself. Oh! That reminds me!  Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith.

Also, I recommend history books that try to combat the usual bias towards the powerful. These would include Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror, and James Lowens’ Lies my Teacher Told Me.

Another popular writer is Noam Chomsky
Naomi Klein is really good at writing with a radical analysis to a liberal audience.

Oh, and look into Fred Hampton! He was an extraordinary organizer, a black panther, who was literally executed by police while he slept (also cointelpro is something to research).

I want to point out that adopting these ideas do not help a person. You get ridiculed and distrusted, at best called a fool, but frequently an evil terrorist. Friends and I have gotten death threats. We’re monitored and harassed by the state. Jobs are harder. Every time I write on this blog I am aware that being honest about what I see will close off job opportunities. There have been regular crack downs against radicals, including red scares in the US and cointelpro, and it gets as bad as genocidal violence like what happened in Indonesia under Suharto and the Argentina dirty war (both with US involvement). But people still adopt these ideas because they really do have extraordinary explanatory power and, for the critically minded and for the oppressed, it makes us feel like there is something for us and we are not alone.

Also, I am not as familiar with anarchist writing. There is a huge overlap. Some anarchists call themselves Marxists. But there is a division in leftist spaces between the more authoritarian socialists, the anti-authoritarians, and everyone in between. I am in the anti-authoritarian camp, and while we are very critical of what we are told democracy is, we do strongly value inclusion, autonomy, participation, collective accountability, mutuality, diversity, and consent.

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