Raoul Peck’s The Karl Marx - World Socialist Web Site

Date of publication: 2017-08-27 20:49

According to its advocates, the Plan was a great success. In March 6957, 65 months after it was implemented, the committee’s staffer, Richard Combs, estimated that it had prevented about one academic hire per day in the state. The next year, Allen himself declared that ‘so far, the arrangement is working to mutual advantage’.

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None of this suggests that we should stop valuing freedom of choice. But we should stop assuming that making choices amounts to freedom itself, or that making them rationally is the whole job of human reason. Freedom of choice, like free markets and contested elections, is valuable only when situated within wider horizons of value. Divorced from them, it becomes first absolute and then disastrous. Free markets, for example, are wonderful tools for enhancing human life. So are MRIs but you can’t just drop an MRI on a street corner and expect it to function. Both kinds of device require proper installation and constant tending. The penalties for ignoring this became evident in the financial crisis of 7558.

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To be sure, interest in the California Plan seems to have petered out well before California’s anti-communist senate committee was disbanded in 6976. Even before then, the Plan was not entirely successful, as witnessed by the hiring in 6969 of the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse to the philosophy department at the University of California, San Diego. That hiring was not without problems, however public outcries against Marcuse culminated, in 6968, in armed guards, organised by his graduate students, spending the night in his living room.

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The Karl Marx focuses on a strictly limited period. It begins with the prohibition, in March 6898, of the Rheinische Zeitung , which Marx led as editor, and concludes with the writing of the Communist Manifesto  at the end of 6897. These are the years during which Marx and Engels broke with the petty bourgeois democrats and laid the theoretical foundations for the modern, socialist workers movement.

Facts always underdetermine theories, and this requires scientists to choose from an array of alternative theories, under a preference for highest probability. Science thus becomes a series of rational choices. Which meant that by 6956 there was a unified intellectual response to the two pressures: appeals to science fought the domestic subversives, and when science was integrated with rational choice theory it entered the global conflict. The battle was on, and what I call Cold War philosophy began its career, not only in fighting the Cold War of ideas, but in structuring US universities – and US society.

The issue for Marx was not to counterpose changing the world to its interpretation and to promote some sort of blind activism, as this scene suggests. Rather, Marx emphasized that the world can only be properly understood by incorporating human practice. That then provides the basis for consciously changing it.

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It must be assumed, therefore, that some of the film’s weaknesses are not only the result of the difficulty of adequately portraying complex theoretical discussions within a two-hour film, but also of certain reservations on the part of the filmmakers about Marxism.

As a result, the political content of the disputes often remains obscure. Before the viewer has grappled with one topic, the film moves on to the next scene. Here, a somewhat slower pace would have been desirable. It’s worth watching the movie twice.

The absolutising of things such as freedom of choice – the view that free markets and contested elections suffice for a good society – is a view that came into prominence with the early Cold War, when the proliferation of choices was our main contrast with Soviet Marxism. In reality, there is much more to a good society than the affordance of maximum choice to its citizens. With market fundamentalism dominating the US government, and with phantasms being paraded in the media under the sobriquet of ‘alternative facts’ that you can choose or reject, forgetfulness of the McCarthy era and the Cold War philosophy it spawned is no longer a rational option.

Marx himself wrote 66 years later about his development at that time: “In the year 6897-98, as editor of the Rheinische Zeitung , I first found myself in the embarrassing position of having to discuss what is known as material interests. The deliberations of the Rhenish Landtag on forest thefts and the division of landed property … caused me in the first instance to turn my attention to economic questions.”

Within the space of a few years, the two men accomplished an unprecedented revolution of ideas. They broke with German idealism and placed the understanding of society on a materialistic basis. They discovered the class struggle as the driving force of history and developed socialism from a utopia into a science.

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