I should like to make an observation anent the responses to my post titled “I WEEP.” There is something gratifying, but also diminishing, in the relentless condemnation of everyone who does not meet one’s inflexible standards of rectitude. Karl Marx was, to my way of thinking, the greatest student of society who has ever lived. His work is an inspiration to me, as it is to countless others. Again and again I return not only to his texts but also to his themes, his insights, his moral passion. But he was not a particularly admirable man. He cadged money from friends and acolytes even though he was living a more comfortably middle class life than they. He seduced the family servant and got her pregnant. He was a sexist at a time when many were not. When he received a letter from Friedrich Engels telling him that Engels’ great love, Mary Burns, had died, he scarcely acknowledged the news and instead went on about some matter that was concerning him. Long ago, I decided that he was not a person I would have enjoyed knowing. But that is the way of the world.
I am appalled and affronted by Donald Trump. I am not appalled and affronted by Barack Obama. I am utterly opposed to Trump’s policies, such as they seem to be, or at least to what he is actually doing with the power of the presidency. I have supported some of Obama’s policies and actions and strongly opposed others. But it has seemed to me that I could then at least reasonably hope for improvement in Obama’s actions and policies, something I cannot now hope for with regard to Trump.
It is easy enough, and frankly, I think rather cheap, for Chris and others to call me self-deceived, foolish, or blind. Obama’s actions paved the way for my son to have the right to marry. His actions made it possible for millions of people to obtain health insurance that they otherwise would not have. In the face of determined Republican opposition, he took concrete steps to combat global warming, steps that Trump and his administration are now hurrying to reverse. That is not nothing, and I think it is unwise for anyone on the left to think and talk and act as though it is.
Let me quote the great concluding lines of the magisterial tenth chapter of Capital, “The Working Day”:
“It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity “labour-power” face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no “free agent,” that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him “so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.” For “protection” against “the serpent of their agonies,” the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death. In place of the pompous catalogue of the “inalienable rights of man” comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working day, which shall make clear “when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins.”
Notice that in this crucial passage, Marx does not offer up the promise of socialism. He talks instead about the passage of the Ten Hours Bill, which would limit the working day to ten hours [not eight – that came much later, after struggle and organization and repeated defeats.] When I make a distinction between Trump and Obama, I am following in Marx’s footsteps.
As for Noam Chomsky, he is more than able to speak for himself.