Because the MARP has been getting a lot of questions about Karl Marx, we are starting a new feature section called MARP ON MARX
in this first edition, we will give two nearly contextless quotes from secondary-sources.
First, from a question period on the tail end of a lecture series with Noam Chomsky on LANGUAGE and LINGUISTICS
Question to Noam Chomsky After Lecture 4 in the Series on Language: Prof. Chomsky, you said in one of your lectures that Marxism and materialism have blocked research on language. Could you comment further on this?
Chomsky: “Now let me say that personally I don’t like to use terms like ‘Marxisim.’ In my own view, terms like ‘Marxism’ belong in the history of organized religion. So for example, in science you don’t have concepts like Marxism. Every modern physicist thinks that Einstein was more or less correct, but you don’t have a theory of Einsteinism. The reason is that Einstein was not a god. He was a human being who had extremely brilliant and important ideas, some of which were wrong, some of which were improved by later work using his ideas. So, if Einstein were born today, he would not agree with things that he had produced in 1930.
Now, personally, I think Marx was a human being, not a god. He happened to be a human being with very important ideas and a human being who made many mistakes, which is why he kept changing hi views through his life. And in the past one hundred eyars we have found a lot more about many other mistakes. In fact, he was a human being like many other human beings with very serious personality defects. For example, he destroyed the First International because it was being taken over by working class groups that he did not like. Well, these are all reasons why we should object to Marx: both for some of his personal actions and some of his intellectual errors. but that’s simply to say that Marx was a human being and not a god.
Well, if we want to appreciate the intellectual contributions of the human being called Marx (as opposed to Marxism), then we will not be Marxists, just as if we want to appreciate the intellectual contributions of Albert Einstein we will not be believers in Einsteinism. In fact, to believe in Einsteinism would be not to take Einstein seriously as a human being.
Now part of the problem of contemporary political thought in my view is that it turned Marx into a figure of organized religion, and in fact such concepts as Marxism reflect that unfortunate fact.
The same is true when we talk about concepts like materialism. There are many form of materialism. it’s a doctrine that has taken different forms through the centuries as people have understood more about the topic. So in the sixteenth century, materialism meant what happens when things bump into each other. A century after Issac Newton, materialism included forces relating objects that were not touching [via action at a distance via gravity]. Today, materialism includes particles that have no mass, and who knows what materialism will be fifty years from now. In fact, I want to come back to this topic tomorrow, so I won’t persue it now. But the point I want to make is that it is possible to answer the question only if we treat the work of Karl Marx and ideas like materialism as intellectual contributions and not as divine inspiration. Then we will ask what aspects of Marx’s work are useful and what must be changed. And we will ask what form of materialism makes sense and what form doesn’t make sense. Very often questions are formulated which prevent any sensible answer to them. That’s very common in propaganda, ideology, politics, and one of the things that we have to learn is not to fall into that trap.
If we return now to the question, insofar as Marxism and materialism are treated as religious doctrines, there is no doubt that this hampers research into language or anything else, much as other irrational commitments do. On the other hand, if we try to extract ideas from Marx’s thought that are valuable for our inquiries today, we will find very little, I think, that has any bearing at all on the study of language, so in this sense his ideas neither hamper nor facilitate this study. As for materialism, it is not a well-defined set of principles, so therefore the question cannot be answered. I will return to some of these and other problems later.
Noam Chomsky, 1988 Language and Problems of Knowledge — the Managua lectures p. 176-179
The second quote is from CRITICAL THEORIST and NEO-STOICIST Michel Foucault
“I often quote concepts, texts and phrases from Marx, but without feeling obliged to add the authenticating label of a footnote with a laudatory phrase to accompany the quotation. As long as one does that, one is regarded as someone who knows and reveres Marx, and will be suitably honoured in the so-called Marxist journals.
But I quote Marx without saying so, without quotation marks, and because people are incapable of recognising Marx’s texts, I am thought to be someone who doesn’t quote Marx.
When a physicist writes a work of physics, does he feel it necessary to quote Newton and Einstein?”
Michel Foucault Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977 p. 52
Report filed by: Karlos Marx