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Author Topic: Book Thread. What are you reading?  (Read 3551 times)

Robert Neville

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Re: Book Thread. What are you reading?
« Reply #420 on: September 21, 2018, 04:10:14 pm »
Been reading some Marx lately. I find it funny how nostalgic he seems for feudalism at times.

Interestingly, just found a compilation of 45 letters Marx wrote to his family; intentionally or not, it also cost 45 Soviet kopeks. I'll start reading it as soon as I finish a biography of Prokofiev, and will get back to you with that once I have a feel for it. (Along with the other big arguments-in-waiting on this board. I kept thinking there would be new developments in the Alex Jones thing, for instance, but it seems to have quietened down for good. While I find some of what you all wrote on the matter pretty hilarious in hindsight, nothing matches the editorials in the Russian patriotic press trying to whitewash him.)

For my part, I just finished Erasmus' Education of a Christian Prince. Good read.

So, I finished that Marx's letters anthology today, before starting Tolstoy's Resurrection. Of course, it's best read alongside Das Kapital and Communist Manifesto, and is of limited significance on its own. Still, some points of interest:

1) Marx was most definitely the man of the idea, for good and ill. As such, even though his family obviously wasn't poor at first (him stemming from the middle-class, while his wife was actually a noblewoman), they became so once they invested everything into a workers' newspaper, only for it to be closed by the German powers a few months later, and him deported.

Afterwards, while in the London exile, he apparently read more 1500 economic books, articles and the rest, as a preparation to finishing his own works, doing so by night while being one of the key managers of one of the International unions of the time by day. The flipside is that this meant he didn't get a paying job as a journalist (for one of the progressive New York newspapers) until three of his young children died of illnesses. Moreover, his own health was also damaged to the point his letters in the last few years are all about the lung illnesses that ultimately killed him.

2) I didn't really find much in those letters that would suggest the fondness for feudalism. (Then again, USSR agencies might have had simply omitted any letters that did.) Though, one of his pet names for his wife and daughters was to call them by the names of Chinese emperors.

3) Speaking of which, he mentions in passing a report by the French economists outlining the benefits of cheap Chinese labour for Europe - in 1880s. Just shows that some economic trends are less recent than some may think.

4) He had also mentioned the invention of a coal-cutting machine in the USA as a tool that would ease the miners' lives and potentially reduce their number. Interestingly, he praised it, as one of the ways in which USA could diminish the power of UK, which he felt was the heart of capitalism at the time.

5) He also mentioned that UK and us (he used the term "Moscovia" for some reason) are the two pillars of the European capitalist system and expected that revolutions will soon occur in both of them. He was certainly half-right - however, he qualified it with "a revolution appropriate for their (ours) stage of development" (or some variation of this), which seems to suggest he expected little more than the creation of a more Western European republic (i.e. a successful version of the February Revolution), and never thought it would become the vanguard of his principles instead.

This chimes with what I have recently been reading in a Russian opposition-minded outlet "Rosbalt", whose authors mentioned once that not only did the original Bolsheviks expect the revolution to happen in the developed Western countries first (I already knew that Lenin once said "Revolution is still worth fighting for even if only our grandchildren will see it", just a short while before his ascension), but many actively resented the arrival of former peasants to the cities, which they thought diluted their entire revolutionary atmosphere, being more interested in the immediate country than spreading the revolution. (Of course, Stalin understood those former peasants well, and so he allowed thousands of those to join the party right after Lenin's death, and then used them to eliminate the original Bolsheviks and transition to "socialism in a single separate country".)

6) While it's shouldn't be a surprise to pretty much anyone not close to the alt-right, I may as well restate that he clearly never thought of himself as Jewish. His sole reference to it is when he criticises a newspaper review of Kapital for suggesting his "racial origins" made it difficult for him to marry, denying this ever played a role. Earlier letter refers to the "chosen people" with a clear irony, a describes a "typical Jewish face" of a rich elderly woman in pretty unflattering terms.

7) His youngest daughter married Paul Lafarge, a French person with some African ancestry. While early letters often make amused references to it, later on he predictably stopped caring, only once mentioning that "he [Paul] should be pleased by Grant appointing the first "black" diplomatic representative". He also stayed in the French Algiers for a few months late in life (since warm climate was meant to help his lungs), and his views on that colonialism appear ambivalent. One one hand, he ironically mentioned "the "civilised" French and the dumb Englishmen" alongside the native Algierians, both Arab and African. On the other, he also mentioned that many of the black Algerians were slaves of the Arabs before the French arrived.

8) The first included letter of Marx, written to his father when he was 19, is also by far the longest, and full  of some insane purple prose. The first few letters between him and his wife are also like this, but it soon receded to "normal". It reminded me a lot of some excerpts of Hegel I once saw quoted ironically, and he may well have been under his influence at the time. (After all, "Dialectical Materialism" certainly draws from "Hegellian Dialectics".)


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