El Marx nuestro de cada día / Oswaldo Barreto

Our Daily Marx

I, who spent my entire youth reading Karl Marx, the young Marx, the adult one and the one who barely reached old age; who learned one or another language so I could read his texts that still hadn’t been translated into Spanish; who performed work for academic ascent and wrote journeying essays about one of the theses he sustained, with the same vehemence and surety that characterized him; well, I have never been moved to think again about such an august character by a love of the evocations that Hugo Chávez tends to bring up about him – something that now happens on a daily basis, for which each one of us can provide testimony. In effect, none of the curious ties the loquacious president tends to establish between Karl Marx and socialism, religion or poverty have brought back to my memory the controversial and prolific texts of that brilliant thinker.

On the other hand, each time the President declares his will (always firm and irrevocable) to take a measure, whatever the affected field might be – economy, politics, education or international relations – I feel myself inevitably dragged towards that man who spent his life “devouring the books of others from all eras in order to transform them into new ideas.”

And because of how much the transforming will of Hugo Chávez manifests itself at each instant, I speak here of our daily Marx. And this happens to me, not by chance nor because of any personal whim or reason, but simply and clearly because Marx’s thought, what in philosophy, in economy, in anthropology or in politics tends to be designated as Marxism, is nothing other than a rigorous and profound diatribe against the centrality of the will, against the claim that man (individual man or the human species) can do whatever he wants, whenever or however he wants.

By the time he was twenty-five years old, Marx sustained that it was in fact man who made his own history. So when he wanted to explain to himself in a concrete situation how human beings managed to make their own history, he wrote the following: “My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel (…) embraces within the term "civil society"; that the anatomy of this civil society, however, has to be sought in political economy. The general conclusion at which I arrived and which, once reached, became the guiding principle of my studies can be summarized as follows. In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. (…) It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Prologue to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859)

Unprecedented words, in the philosophical world as much as in the political one, but which I believe can be understood when translated into everyday language: Marx sustains that it is not systems of laws and forms of governing (democracies, dictatorships, separation of powers, popular participation, etc.) that establish the conditions of the lives of men (ownership of goods, means of producing and negotiating those goods, means of distributing and commercializing them), but that on the contrary, it is the conditions of people’s lives that allow certain political regimes, certain forms of government, along with the characteristics of the laws and constitutions that can be applied healthily and peacefully in those societies.

Words that contain an original thesis on the relations between the way men think, their will, and the material conditions in which they live.

A thesis which has not been refuted to this day and which, had it been heeded by those who tried to create revolutions where the material conditions for changing things did not exist, would not have led to the failures we all know.

Warnings, finally, that reveal to us the grave mistake of those who believe that from one day to the next they can fix the economic, political and cultural relations a nation can have with other nations, or that they can decree the means of producing meat, sugar and poultry, what prices should be charged for these products and who the owners and administrators of the establishments that sell them should be.

{ Oswaldo Barreto, TalCual, 16 February 2007 }

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