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Guest post: Why do you Marxists all hate life so much?

January 1, 2012

I admire the courage and wisdom of Socrates in everything he did, said – and did not say. I wish he had remained taciturn also at the last moment of his life; in that case he might belong to a still higher order of spirits [Geister]. Whether it was the poison or piety or malice – something loosened his tongue at that moment and he said: “O Crito, I owe Asclepius a rooster.” This ridiculous and terrible “last word” means for those who have ears: “O Crito, life is a disease.” Is it possible that a man like him, who had lived cheerfully and like a soldier in the sight of everyone, should have been a pessimist? He had merely kept a cheerful mien while concealing all his life long his ultimate judgment, his inmost feeling. Socrates, Socrates suffered life! And then he still revenged himself – with this veiled, gruesome, pious, and blasphemous saying. Did a Socrates need such revenge? Did his overrich virtue lack an ounce of magnanimity? – Alas, my friends, we must overcome even the Greeks! (Nietzsche, The Gay Science: §340)

The above passage sums up Nietzsche’s attitude to all those people who look beyond this world towards another one, existing perhaps in the heavens, or in the afterlife, or most probably in the imagination. This is the worst crime, to ignore this life that we are given in favour of a possible one, a way of coping with the fact that life contains difficulty and suffering. This is Socrates’ ultimate betrayal: to have looked as if he enjoyed life and attended to it in all its coarseness and irreducibility, only to say at the last minute that he had hated it all along, that death would bring joy in oblivion, or perhaps in the reincarnation of his soul into a better life. This is also the crime of Christianity, for Nietzsche, to put all one’s faith in an afterlife in order to cope with this life. And with the death of God, we have the death of coping. A godless world is a world without hope and optimism.

The same goes for Marxism; at least in its utopian form. Marx was a materialist like Nietzsche, and he clearly understood socialism as something very much a part of this world, and within Capitalism itself, in the present even. It was a matter of the working class taking control of the means of production, of life itself, as a social manifestation of the will to power. But this isn’t always the position of the so called radical left in the recent reactions to crisis and neo-conservative, neo-liberalism. “Revolution”‘ is always invoked as an event in the future, sometimes inevitable, sometimes unimaginable. And this is an idealism very much tied to advanced Western capitalist states, such as Britain. Because the revolution you Marxists are imagining is not the democratic revolutions of the Arab Spring, where a totalitarian state is overthrown in favour of an alternative that already exists in the world. The coming socialist revolution, now global and necessarily apocalyptic, will be something qualitatively different, something different to the really existing socialism of the 20th century, which skipped the crucial stage of advanced capitalism and produced horrible tyrannies to match anything in the middle east, or in the case of Stalinism, even comparable to National Socialism.

But you can’t tell us what this new world will look like, can you? Marx couldn’t either, and could only manage scattered remarks and empty comparisons to capitalism. And this is a strange consequence of Marx’s rejection of idealism. The analysis of capitalism revealed irresolvable contradictions which would inevitably lead to its self-overcoming by the revolutionary class it has itself created. We might struggle to accept this now, but perhaps the ecological, global financial apocalypse will prove Marx ultimately right. Yet we must always deny this life in favour of a hypothesised better one, far in the future, or one made impossible by the apparent hegemony of the status quo.

This does sound like religion though doesn’t it? At least Christianity has some pretty good stories and mad prophets to make it popular to the masses. Marxism has Das Kapital, an unreadable tome of dry economic-philosophical analysis. No fire and brimstone, no Jesus anti-hero, no bearded magnificently vengeful God, no visions of the apocalypse with sci fi concepts like the rapture. Marxism is a religion without charm, one that totally fails to appeal to the class it worships, a class that always turns its back on them. The working class prefer capitalism to socialism. Hell, a lot of them prefer church on a Sunday to socialism, and that’s got to be telling you something.

What’s wrong with capitalism? We are competitive individuals, this social system respects this fact about human beings and allows people to flourish. It’s not perfect, mainly due to the interference of other facts about humankind: greed, envy, selfishness, cruelty, nepotism, etc. I don’t mean to use these in a moral sense, if we accept these as descriptions of tendencies within the social interactions of people, we should celebrate them as virtues like any other. This is what it means to be a true materialist. You Marxists always avoid the question of whether the world is like this because we aren’t perfect, and aren’t capable of perfection, because this perfection is an intellectual abstraction in the first place. You say, oh these undesirable tendencies are created by the class system and the relations of production that maintain them, i.e. capitalism. This can sound very convincing, but it is ultimately idealism, and based in the imagination not in the material reality of life.

Why do you Marxists hate individuality? All I ever hear and read about from you is how bourgeois individualism must be overcome in favour of class solidarity. But where is this solidarity? Individualism is an amazing historical achievement. We are freer in thought and action than we have ever been. Our individual creativity is no longer constrained and held back by internalised and eternalised social roles. We can be whomever we want with enough will to power. This doesn’t have to be about money, I’m not just invoking the meaningless ideology of Alan Sugar or Dragon’s Den. We have the freedom to change the world like we have never had before, yet we have discovered that we don’t necessarily want equality and fairness. We, as a race of intelligent animals, like competing and winning. We like being better than other people. We like falling in love with people and owning them, they are our partners, not someone else’s. We like private property. We like life.

Marxism is a bourgeois religion. It is a neurotic symptom of the middle class. You Marxists are all bourgeois intellectuals who hate the fact that you are bourgeois intellectuals. So you talk about a mythical working class who you can constantly blame for not fulfilling their destined role in history. You cannot bring about revolution because you come from the class that betrayed that revolution in the 18th century. You are part of the same class who decided against equality in favour of economic freedom and power, and the intellectual left-wing is this class’s historical neurotic self-hatred. The working class are for Marxists really just another name for what Nietzsche would have referred to as “the herd” (the masses who aren’t clever enough to think for themselves, and if only they could be as educated and critical as the bourgeois intellectual class they would realise that capitalism is rubbish, and would immediately overthrow it in favour of socialism).

You Marxists hate life, and hide from it in abstraction and idealism. Capitalism is life. We are competitive and cruel. We are also creative and brilliant. Capitalism is just a name given to the economic and social reality that up until this point has come closest to human nature. It could be better, and hopefully we will get there. We as individuals are more than capable of coming to terms with life and living the kind of life that we can be proud of. To face life as it is and become who you are will bring about a revolution in human nature on a global scale that no socialist state could ever compete with. Why would we want some life-denying Marxists to create a world based on mediocrity and endless toil (one in which I dare say the intellectuals will still be excluded from manual labour because their talents would go to waste)? Let’s just get on with this life, realise our own potential, accept the world as it is and stop wasting it dreaming of a different one.

Dr. Jane Grant, Coventry University

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2012 10:35 pm

    So is ‘Jane Grant’ the new ‘Luther Blissett’? (Although that name was never used, as far as I know, for pisstakes of aggravated capitalist realism.)

  2. January 2, 2012 12:06 am

    very good article! better accept this.

  3. Emily permalink
    January 2, 2012 1:00 am

    “Human Nature”, “The Herd”, “Human perfection”.

    Yep, it’s the winning hand in reactionary, pseudo-intellectual bingo!

  4. hunter permalink
    January 2, 2012 4:54 pm

    stupidity, perfected.

  5. January 4, 2012 5:09 am

    as far as i can see marxism is capitalism too ..

  6. January 4, 2012 1:20 pm

    “Capitalism is life”? I think that we’ve all heard this one before. The unfortunate thing is that this deliberately provocative and inevitably polarizing essay makes various important and salient criticisms of the dogmatism of the sectarian left and the genuine social contradictions of academic Marxism. Some of these criticisms are points well worth our consideration. It’s just a shame that it has to come in this pitifully reactionary package.

  7. david permalink
    January 16, 2012 12:17 am

    “Marxism has Das Kapital, an unreadable tome of dry economic-philosophical analysis.”

    This just suggests you’ve never read it, or not beyond the first section. Try the chapter on the working day.

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