QOTD (2009-12-10)

From Marx, Capital:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and thereby also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of common wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in tis entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!

I’ve been hearing “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” all my life, but it is one thing to be familiar with the maxim and quite another to read it in context. I’ve got to confess that I haven’t always been the most enthusiastic about the political philosophy class in which I read this—the whole discipline isn’t really my cup of tea—but Marx is just one of those key thinkers I feel like a college student ought to read and care about. He’s a compelling writer, too, and his words come alive for me in a way that, say, Kant’s don’t. I found myself smiling in class, getting excited, wishing it really were possible to build a society along these lines. And when I realized I was doing this, I was proud of myself for not just dismissing this as absurdly foolish, not just letting myself fall into the Ivy-League trap of dismissing utopia as not sufficiently, well, realistic. It’s a long tradition of college students that has read Marx and seen in his theories a way towards a better world, and I do find myself wanting to be part of that tradition. Utopia like Marx’s is a powerful force for optimism, for staying sane, for going to bed and waking up and continuing to work, because he’s laid out a possible future (“From each according to his ability to each according to his needs) that many people believe is worth striving for.

Yes, I must also try to be a historian. I must also look to where and when communism has been woefully unsuccessful, and where and when an ideal has perished in the hands of human nature. And I must acknowledge the reality of my life and my possessions and my bourgeois attitudes and my class privilege and be honest with myself: if I am going to believe in this ideal, I’ve got to walk the walk—but finally reading the primary text certainly makes me want to try.

Anyone want to start a commune?

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