We need Marx!


Arise, you independent artists!
Arise, fair users great and small!

Those evil cartels and their jurists
Have, through their exploits, chained you all!
(To the tune of “The Internationale”)

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The following, written by Bill Kerr, originally appeared in 2005 at LastSuperpower. The context was a challenge at a blog called Harry’s Place to discuss whether Marx and Engels are still relevant in the C21st.

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We need Marx and Engels because they understood things and said some things better than anyone else has since. It’s important to read the original because people who call themselves Marxists have always been in violent disagreement with what it means. If you don’t read the original then you have no chance of working it out for yourself.

Communism has had bad press following the failures of the Soviet Union, China etc. It’s seen as a dull grey world, with no variety in the shops, controlled by faceless, heartless apparatchiks- freedom of thought and expression is not allowed. At one time (the 1930s- WW1, The Great Depression, fascism in Spain destroyed faith in capitalism) it was fashionable to be communist or fellow traveller, but nowadays it is definitely not fashionable.

Personally, I draw these insights from the Manifesto, which help me understand the world today:

  • Capitalism is progressive relative to feudalism/ religious fundamentalism

It’s far better to live in our bourgeois democracy than to live under the rule of fascist Saddam or the religious fundamentalism of the Taliban.

Marx was very clear about the historical progressiveness of capitalism, a point also made by Marcus [who was one of the contributors at Harry’s Place blog] with this quote:

The bourgeoisie historically has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations, It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man his “natural superiors:, and has left no other nexus between the people than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade.

  • The melting, dynamic vision of capitalism and progress

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all the earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All this is solid melts into air, all that is holy of profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his, real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.


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We live in a world where things change, everything changes due to the continual development of productive forces and scientific progress. This provides the material basis for the elimination of poverty and a feeling of optimism and excitement about the future.

‘All that is solid melts into air’ is also the title of a great book about modernity and modern interpretation of Marx and others, by Marshall Berman, which I would highly recommend. Here’s a quote from Berman:

To be modern is to live a life of paradox and contradictions. It is to be overpowered by the immense bureaucratic organizations that have the power to control and often destroy all communities, values, lives; and yet to be undeterred in our determination to face these forces, to fight to change their world and make it our own. It is to be revolutionary and conservative; alive to new possibilities for experience and adventure, frightened by the nihilistic depths to which so many modern adventures lead, longing to create and to hold on to something real even as everything melts. We might even say that to be fully modern is to be anti-modern: from Marx’s and Dostoevsky’s time to our own, it has been impossible to grasp and embrace the modern worlds potentialities without loathing and fighting against some of its palpable realities. No wonder then that, as the great modernist and anti-modernist Kierkegaard said, the deepest modern seriousness must express itself through irony. Modern irony animates so many great works of art and thought over the past century; at the same time, it infuses millions of ordinary peoples lives. This book aims to bring these works and these lives together, to restore the spiritual wealth of modernist culture to the modern man and woman in the street, to show how, for all of us, modernism is realism. (pp 13- 14)

  • Productive forces are held back by capitalist productive relations

After praising capitalism for developing the productive, Marx and Engels then tear it down because the property relations of capitalism periodically (boom and bust) produces slow down and crisis:

                 The productive forces of the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of the bourgeois society; endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of the bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.

The dominant productive relations today in western society are boss/worker. No thinking person much likes working for a boss but it’s what we have to do to survive.

The point about boss/worker relations is that they are anachronistic, they hold back the further rapid development of the productive forces. Workers hold back and do not work at their full capacity, initiative and creativity. In a society where the workplace nexus between people (is) naked self-interest (and) callous “cash payments” it makes no sense to give it your best shot.

The real communist critique of capitalism is that capitalism social relations – boss/worker relations – holds back in the rapid development of productive forces.

For example, the dominance of Microsoft holds back the rapid development of  either superior or potentially superior software development such as the Linux operating system, which has been developed out of gift culture. We seem to have very significant groups of the open source software developers today who practise communist principles from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs- without even realising or connecting to the source.

This surfaced in a recent exchange between Bill Gates and his open source critics after Gates said:

               There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises.

This led to a flurry of design activity in the open source/creative commons community, who renamed themselves “creative communists” and developed a series of red flags and logos in response to the gibe:

 One Gates critic has even adapted the words of ‘The Internationale’ as an anthem for the freedom of information movement.

‘The Free Culture Internationale’

(Lyrics by Andrew Mike (2005) To the tune of “The Internationale” by Pierre Degaytre, 1888)

Arise, you independent artists!

Arise, fair users great and small!

Those evil cartels and their jurists
Have, through their exploits, chained you all!

But we have thought up a new system,

To make the fairer through and through;

Right now, they say, “We’ll never miss them,”

But one day soon, they’ll say “We do!”

So Bill Gates calls us commies,

But he can’t stand the sight

Of information freedom,

Reform of copyright!

So we go on creating,

Joyous and full of mirth,

For our great newborn copyleft

Shall shine upon the earth!

The spirit of communism as envisaged by Marx is alive and well in the open source community but perhaps because communism has such a bad name and Marx is little read by software developers they have not made the connection.

4) Atheism, materialism, facing reality abandoning the hopeful, sentimental approach

The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.

Before capitalism the rulers of society were the religious rulers.

With the development of science our Universe became far more interesting and beautiful place than anything envisioned by religion.

Atheism is strong in the Manifesto through its exposure of religious hypocrisy, as the transition was made into a society dominated by money. The Manifesto is an invitation to think for ourselves and to reject artificial soothings of religion.

Once again the most articulate exposures of these sorts of views comes from people like Richard Dawkins, who don’t personally identify with communism but who nevertheless show the relevance of the views expressed by Marx in 1848.


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Beware of dogmatic claims (alarmists, deniers), be sensitive to the uncertainty and complexity of the climate science issue – Judith Curry’s STATEMENT TO THE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE, SPACE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES




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Hearing on Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method
29 March 2017

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Here is Judith Curry’s statement.

Judith A. Curry is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research interests include hurricanes, remote sensing, atmospheric modeling, polar climates, air-sea interactions, and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for atmospheric research. She is a member of the National Research Council’s Climate Research Committee.

She earned her PhD degree in Geophysical Sciences from the University of Chicago in 1982.

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This is from Bill Kerr’s blog.

Science is an iterative process of multi hypothesis formation, collecting data and testing that data against the variety of hypotheses

Beware of dogmatic claims (alarmists, deniers), be sensitive to the uncertainty and complexity of the climate science issue

Explanation of the how and why we have got to a bad place in climate science (page 11, extract below)

There is a war on science – not from Trump but from within the science establishment itself (page 12, extract below):

How and why did we land between a rock and a hard place on the issue of climate science?

There are probably many contributing reasons, but the most fundamental and profound reason is arguably that both the problem and solution were vastly oversimplified back in the early 1990’s by the UNFCCC, who framed both the problem and the solution as irreducibly global in terms of human-caused global warming. This framing was locked in by a self-reinforcing consensus-seeking approach to the science and a ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach for decision making that pointed to a single course of policy action – radical emissions reductions.

The climate community has worked for more than two decades to establish a scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, prematurely elevating a hypothesis to a ruling theory. The IPCC’s consensus-seeking process and its links to the UNFCCC emissions reduction policies have had the unintended consequence of hyper-politicizing the science and introducing bias into both the science and related decision making processes. The result of this simplified framing of a wicked problem is that we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate variability and societal vulnerabilities. The politicization of climate science has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research, so that individual scientists and institutions have become activists and advocates for emissions reductions policies. Scientists with a perspective that is not consistent with the consensus are at best marginalized (difficult to obtain funding and get papers published by ‘gatekeeping’ journal editors) or at worst ostracized by labels of ‘denier’ or ‘heretic.’

Policymakers bear the responsibility of the mandate that they give to panels of scientific experts. In the case of climate change, the UNFCCC demanded of the IPCC too much precision where complexity, chaos, disagreement and the level current understanding resists such precision. Asking scientists to provide simple policy-ready answers for complex matters results in an impossible situation for scientists and misleading outcomes for policy makers. Unless policy makers want experts to confirm their preconceived bias, then expert panels should handle controversies and uncertainties by assessing what we know, what we don’t know, and where the major uncertainties lie….

War on Science
With the advent of the Trump administration, concerns about ‘war on science’ have become elevated, with a planned March for Science on 22 April 2017. Why are scientists marching? The scientists’ big concern is ‘silencing of facts’. This concern apparently derives from their desire to have their negotiated ‘facts’ – such as the IPCC consensus on climate change – dictate public policy. These scientists also fear funding cuts and challenges to the academic scientific community and the elite institutions that support it.

The ‘war on science’ that I am most concerned about is the war from within science – scientists and the organizations that support science who are playing power politics with their expertise and passing off their naïve notions of risk and political opinions as science. When the IPCC consensus is challenged or the authority of climate science in determining energy policy is questioned, these activist scientists and organizations call the questioners ‘deniers’ and claim ‘war on science.’ These activist scientists seem less concerned with the integrity of the scientific process than they are about their privileged position and influence in the public debate about climate and energy policy. They do not argue or debate the science – rather, they denigrate scientists who disagree with them. These activist scientists and organizations are perverting the political process and attempting to inoculate climate science from scrutiny – this is the real war on science.

Iceland: a different vision (Bill Kerr)

In a world where the internet and governments are becoming less free the Icelandic visionaries see an opportunity to promote freedom as a nation building exercise

Never waste a good crisis (advice to those in other countries)

countries need to update their outdated constitutions

be clear about what you need to do and how to do it

catch the spirit of the nation by listening to the people

radical change only happens during crisis, at other times people become too complacent

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Thanks to Bill Kerr for permission to republish this post:

Iceland: a different vision

After hearing that the Pirate Party has become the most popular political party in Iceland (one source) I’ve been searching for information which explains how this happened.

What accounts for the difference in the way Iceland is developing politically?

The video at the top of this page, “From the Hell of the Crisis to the Paradise of Journalism” (1 hour 13 minutes) provides a dramatic and informative introduction to what has been happening in Iceland since the economic crisis of 2008 to the near present.

Alternatively, the paper on this page, Beyond WikiLeaks: The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the Creation of Free Speech Havens (pdf 24 pp), provides a written down version of similar information.


“We were not separated from the majority of men by a boundary, but simply by another mode of vision. Our task was to represent an island in the world, a prototype perhaps, or at least a prospect of a different way of life”
– Herman Hesse. “Demian”

A particularly severe Banking crisis in 2008

Icelandic citizens in response held a weekly kitchen revolution outside parliament with clear demands (the Government, the Bankers and Monetary authorities should resign). These goals were achieved. Unlike other countries those responsible were punished.

A new government constitution was developed initially through crowd sourcing of 1000 citizens randomly (direct democracy) to develop it

The media was held complicit in not spotting the weakness of the Banks

Wikileaks helped by publishing information about corruption in those same Banks at that time

The Bank involved took legal steps to suppress that information – but this resulted in making things worse for them

In response the opportunity was taken by visionary leadership to launch a freedom of information revolution

One aim is transparent government, to move from secrecy by default to transparency by default

A large section of the video goes into detail of the FOI legislation, under nine subheadings. Also see Progress Report for detail

In a world where the internet and governments are becoming less free the Icelandic visionaries see an opportunity to promote freedom as a nation building exercise

Never waste a good crisis (advice to those in other countries)

countries need to update their outdated constitutions

be clear about what you need to do and how to do it

catch the spirit of the nation by listening to the people

radical change only happens during crisis, at other times people become too complacent