Work in Progress

From CAPITAL DAYS (forthcoming):

Somehow, the experience of Marx in the museum began to strike me as more vital than ever. I’m not just talking here about Marx the revolutionary; I’m talking about Marx the dedicated scholar, Marx the dedicated reader of texts, Marx the restless yet patient analyst of reports and documents; Marx the inquirer of truth, I mean, the Dickensian sleuth searching for answers, the solver of mysteries, the man who wants to cut through the fog. Indeed, so much of what he presents in Capital involves the lies and misinformation of others, the bourgeois propaganda that lurked behind the apparent seal of knowledge—that dense, intentionally-created fog, which enveloped everything then, and still envelops everything now. Marx wanted to expose these kinds of made-up ideas, these ideological smokescreens. He wanted to prise them open, to cut through them with his razor mind. He wanted to demonstrate a certain truthfulness.

I say that we need this more than ever now because, in recent years, we’ve had assorted demagogues who’ve persuaded masses of people that they have nothing in common anymore. These demagogues have been rather frivolous with the truth; in fact, they’ve profited from a plurality of truths, many of which aren’t truthful at all but are misinformation and falsities; and not a few are peddled on social media. It’s especially hard now to pass rational critical judgement. Telling the truth requires courage and great skill, and often considerable energy to sift through the lies ringing out morning, noon and night and much of the time in between. Truth seems to hobble along lamely compared to the lies that fly in the face of the public. What seems most disturbing of all, perhaps, is people’s willingness to believe these political falsehoods, even when they know they aren’t true.

Marx had no illusions about the struggle around knowledge production and its dissemination. He knew that we can never prevent our politicians and business people from lying. They have the means and the media to do so. But Marx hoped that, maybe one day, we could create the social conditions whereby people’s need to believe in the miraculous lie might dissipate, might somehow whither away. To call on people to give up foggy illusions about our condition is, he thought, to make a call to give up a condition that requires illusions.

We live in foggy times. The Nassau W. Seniors, Andrew Ures and E.F. Sandersons are still amongst us, those characters we hear in Capital, those moneybags and ideologues and mill-lords accumulating capital at other people’s expense. Their names are different, they look different, but what they do isn’t so different: it was, always will be, simply a pretext for profit-making, for extracting surplus value. Marx conceived this in a museum that is no longer accessible. The museum has effectively gone. The need for Marx has apparently gone. He has no seat amongst us anymore. But his vision of what is wrong and what might be right with our society gathers no dust. It is far from antiquated.

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