Marxist Dictionary

17. 04. 2022

I will try to answer two questions: what do I mean when I say words from a Marxist dictionary? Why do these words have important value and should we use them (in the right circumstances)?

Meaning of the Marxist Dictionary

Neo-Marxism is a philosophical term, but it is not used that way in everyday language. It's actually used more as a description of the ideas that come out of Marx's, but they're somehow altered in a way that the user just liked. If he has a basic idea, it's generally the belief that social phenomena are generally influenced by social arrangements. (Unlike individualism, which denies the existence of society and explains social phenomena as the actions of individuals.)

Marxism, in the old, more original sense, mostly says some inflammatory things, like there's a group of people in the world with too much power (the ruling class), or a majority group of people who earn their money by working, and their interests go directly against the ruling minority (the proletariat). In fact, these claims may not be true, but they may not be false. The question is, what is the truth in this context, is there really such a thing as a class of rich and poor?

In my opinion, it's productive to look at things by always defining terms when we think, and those terms already determine how we view the world. Because if we use only terms like poor and rich to describe society, then we will see these boxes everywhere (whoever has only a hammer sees nails everywhere). And this is not just a phenomenon found in Marxism, to some extent it is found in every philosophy (we come to what philosophy means in this sense) or in every person's thinking.

Specifically, Marxism is based on dialectics, which means that it looks for opposing tendencies with irreconcilable differences, such as workers who work and factory workers who extract value. By definition, these classes are against each other, the satisfaction of one comes at the expense of the other (workers get a raise, factory workers suffer, and vice versa). This outlook on the world causes us to look for workers and factory workers, and where we find them there is always an inherent conflict. It's the same with every other view of the world.

Mathematically, the fine-tuning process is like the Taylor series: we can do it for all the smooth functions, but sometimes it converts really slowly. So it's useful to know the Fourier line, etc.

There is a second problem: we can adjust and refine every view of the world indefinitely through a fine-tuning process, creating, say, subclasses of rich and poor, etc. We are trying to make the concepts more relevant to reality. However, you can adjust any preview to fit reality arbitrarily well-it will just cost more and more work [1].

So how do we know this? I see views of the world (or sets of concepts, or ideologies...) as tools one can use to analyze the individual situations that arise. But we always have to think about which outlook on the world fits most which situation, and if that doesn't work, change the outlook.

As for adjusting the preview to fit the reality: the more we want to adjust it, the longer it will take. That's why I often make some simplistic claim such as: in some discussion, I can say that the ruling class is withholding information from us. I do not think in this particular case that there is any particular group of conspiratorial billionaires, but I point out that corporations profit from the fact that we cannot produce their products, so they do not show us how to make/repair them. Even this longer claim could be concretized, but in a debate, it's not worth trying to defend all claims in full detail: the explanation can only come when we encounter a misunderstanding (see VSauce channel video The Future of Reasoning).

So the next time you see something you disagree with because it sounds too red, it's best to ask: if I elaborate on that statement a little bit, do I get something I agree with? Does this view of the world work accurately, or omit fundamental things, and better than working it out would be to use a far different view of the world?

Importance of the (Marxist) Dictionary

Many people say that using foreign or new concepts is unproductive in debates, it just discourages people, because foreign concepts are too complex to understand. But this view is too simplistic and overlooks the key advantages of the new concepts.

First, new concepts are very often an emancipation tool, i.e. they give people relief, hope and a sense of self-determination. Various terms describing sexual identities are a very strong example. There are countless people who felt that somehow they didn't fit into society, but they couldn't really describe it. But when they came across the word trans/gay/asexual, etc., they realized it was an appropriate term to describe themselves. They were happy that there was a community of people who used the word and who could help them because they had similar life experiences.

You might think this example is too specific because it's about human identity. But I think it can have a similar effect on a person when they achieve class awareness or learn about patriarchy. And specific concepts are a big part of that awareness. Yes, the concepts may be complicated. But that's because they describe the complicated situations that people experience. Without concepts that sum up these complicated situations nicely, people find it hard to realize the situation they're in and hard to change.

That brings me to my second reason. The meaning of terms changes over time, and some terms get a negative tinge. One example is the notion of socialism, which used to refer to the pursuit of an egalitarian society and now means, approximately, capitalism with a human face. The second and more important example is the notion of communism in a Czech (and slightly American) context. People have associated negative traits with the concept, such as: lack of goods in shops, a small number of very powerful people deciding everything for their profit, or caddying - deciding a person's fitness based on his or her regime's alacrity, not his or her ability.

But all of these three traits can be found in today's capitalism: in shops, sometimes there is a shortage due to a natural disaster like a tornado or a bad bureaucracy (e.g. exit from the EU). Even in today's society, a small group of people have disproportionate power: they are billionaires, except unlike communism, they are not public figures, so we don't see their influence either. There is also the equivalent of castigating: on the one hand, people are often condemned for their leftist ideas, but far more important is the system of credencialism, whereby people with a university degree are given a simpler job, even though the title is unrelated to their work. In the meantime, material background, rather than any ability, is now the determining factor in achieving a degree. I would unashamedly call the proper study of the university and the use of my degree for personal enrichment, regardless of those less materially secured, a royalty to the present regime.

That communism has a touch of the negative and capitalism is positive, free, I would describe as part of the culture wars. Yes, I am glad for the Velvet Revolution and the end of the authoritarian regime. But we should critically study our situation and reflect on where, perhaps in the transformation of society, we could have gone further and eliminated more injustices. By letting the word communism carry a negative tinge, we are getting nowhere, we should view it neutrally, according to the original definition (then perhaps we would realize that there are flaws in labeling the past regime communist).

Yes, it is tempting to abandon the notion of communism and perhaps choose another notion to describe a society free of inequalities, starting with a clean slate. But if we did this, our new concept would surely soon be tainted again by some other influence. That way, we'd be dodging concepts all the time, and it wouldn't really be clear what we were saying. Instead, it seems more productive to stick to established concepts, and to correct meanings that have become distorted over time. Explaining the true meaning of a term can then have a real emancipation effect.

Finally, I would like to say that what language we choose should depend on the conversational context. Surely it's counterproductive to explain dialectical materialism to your grandmother if she's never encountered it in her life. Sometimes the value lies in explaining certain concepts using familiar words. However, I think new concepts are a key emancipation tool for the long term. If we really want to convince someone, they should learn our language, too. Nor should we be paternalistic and say that other people are too stupid to understand the new concepts. (Moreover, knowing specific concepts makes self-study easier, as you can just write them into DuckDuckGoGo and find materials.)

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