Link to interview: Why Marx?

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: March 20, 2001
Latest update: March 21, 2001

Why Marx?

Isn't this just marxism?

On Thursday, March 22, 2001, Kylene Phelan wrote:

Hi Jeanne. I noticed in the article about Eduardo Galeano's book "Open Veins of Latin America" he talks about how Latin America is poor because capitalism has made it poor. He also says capitalism excels at enriching industralized countries at the cost of the rest of the world. Aren't these the same views as Marxism? They sound just like marxism to me. Kylene Phelan

On Saturday, March 24, 2001, jeanne responded:

Good question, Kylene. One that many are thinking, but few asked. Such a question also shows that you are thinking in terms of hypotheticals: Well, yes, but what about . . . Well, yes, but what if . . .

So why do we need to take marxism into account, especially since capitalism seems to have won the cold war?

Let me see if I can explain. Marx did predict revolution over the means of production. He believed that the worker class would rise up against the owners because the owners profited from the workers' labor in the owners' factories. But Marx also sought, as TR Young points out in the excerpt below, greater justice in the sense of fairness. TR Young says: "The goal of any marxist humanism worthy of the name is to affirm the dignity and to support the promise of human beings."

Many marxists today are re-interpreting Marx for the 21st Century. In the instance of many of us who stress peacemaking, we are particularly concerned with this marxist humanism of which TR Young speaks. We want to "affirm the dignity and . . . promise of human beings." (Scroll down to humanism, socialist.)

One who expresses this view of justice is Rawls, who says that justice is fairness. Rawls believes that humans will choose fairly when they set the rules by which they will live without knowing their own position in society, and by making the rules the same for all, so that no group will take an unfair advantage of any other. Rawls' position is considered "liberal."

You will find conmsiderable information on Rawls' position on justice in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. For example,

"The idea of the original position is perhaps the most lasting contribution of John Rawls to our theorizing about social justice. The original position is a hypothetical situation in which rational calculators, acting as agents or trustees for the interests of concrete individuals, are pictured as choosing those principles of social relations under which their principals would do best."
original position Accessed on March 24, 2001.

Need to add difference principle Rawls. Nozick is about 3/5 of the way down the file. And Dworkin is in Resource-based principles about 1/3 of the way down the file. I'll put up notes on these tomorrow. Also want to compare Habermas and Rawls.

Also want to explore these philosophical positions as unstated assumptions that underlie our dominant discourse acceptance of capitalism. Habermas' hope for peaceful survival depends on public justification and legitimacy, on the right of each citizen to have his/her validity claims heard in good faith. If unstated assumptions distort our dominant discourse, then we must listen in good faith to those who make alternative or even opposing validity claims.

Remember that "in good faith" does not mean that you have to agree with what is claimed. Only that you make a good faith effort to hear and understand the alternate validity claims.

Marxism is one alternate validity claim. It's a very important one, since Marx had so much influence on the development of sociology. It's also important because Latin America has taken a strong marxist position. For that reason we need to understand, for the sake of "good faith" and public justification, what the marxist claim is. Eduardo Galeano has written a famous statement of that claim in Open Veins of Latin America.

Last, I want to relate the study of marxism to attitude persuasion theory, one-sided and two-sided arguments, restricted and elaborated language codes, jargon, and sound bites. But I'll have to put the references for these up tomorrow.


Early Marx by TR Young. Speaks of Marx as "humanistic." The early writings of Marx focussed in on the creative role of humans in producing social-life worlds. The concepts of praxis and alienation were central and therefore Marxist writings were decidedly "humanistic."

Praxis "Praxis/Practice: A complex activity by which individuals, in collectivities, create culture, society, and create themselves as "species beings", i.e., as human beings."

Humanism. "The starting point of socialist/marxist humanism is a militant struggle against "those conditions in which mankind is abased, enslaved, abandoned or rendered contemptible."

Alienation "Most American sociologists reduce alienation to psychological states: feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, hopelessness. For socialist sociology, happy and well paid workers can be alienated; they can be fired tomorrow, they can lose their pensions overnight, they can be re-assigned from friends and family . . ."

Public Justification Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.