Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. (1948). The Communist Manifesto. New York: International Publishers.
Marx, Karl. (1867). Selections from Capital, vol. 1. New York: International Publishers. (pp. 294-329, 336-343, 384-403, 419-438)
Gruneau, Richard. (1988). Modernization or Hegemony. Two Views on Sport and Social Development. In J. Harvey and H. Cantelon (Eds.), Not Just a Game: Essays in Canadian Sport Sociology. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.
This week’s readings on Marxism are thick and I will try to summarize them as clearly and succinctly as possible. In doing so, I will have to brush over some key concepts at times in order to satisfy the length requirements of the blog format. I will start with the oldest publication first, The Communist Manifesto. I love going back to this little book every once in awhile because of the tremendous impact it has had on the world since it was written. Has there been a more influential book published since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? I can’t think of one. Published in 1848, The Communist Manifesto was commissioned by the “Communist League,” because, as Marx and Engels state in the little introduction, it was about time that Communists published their views. The manifesto lays out a very basic view of the capitalist mode of production, the oppression inherent in the system, and how the proletariat will rise up against the bourgeoisie.
Marx and Engels begin by stating that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” and under capitalism the two “great hostile camps” facing each other in the current struggle are the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. Focussing first on the bourgeoisie, the authors show how the capitalist class destroyed remnants of the feudal system by instituting their own system of production. However, in doing so the bourgeoisie-controlled system of capitalism that is based on the exploitation of labour “forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians.” Next, Marx and Engels discuss the nature of a post-capitalist world based on the abolition of private property among other things.
Reading the Communist Manifesto this time around I found myself thinking about the spatial relation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Historical materialism dictates that in order to survive from generation to generation people must reproduce the material requirements for life. To do this they must enter into an existing system of social relations, the relations of production, and within the capitalist relations of production the bourgeoisie exploits the labour power of the proletariat. When talking about social relations, it seems to me like Marx and Engels imagined the bourgeoisie and proletariat in the same space, next door to one another, looking at each within the same national state. However, today’s working classes, the people who manufacture our material goods, are almost entirely in other nations. How can the Chinese working class revolt against American capitalists? Has capitalism changed so much that Marx’s basic theories do not apply anymore? I don’t think we should hold Marx accountable for not accurately predicting the future. But it seems that Marxism is based on such scientific observations of capitalism, so can we use the nature of capitalism today as evidence that he didn’t exactly understand it?
In Capital, Volume One, Marx goes several levels of analysis further into understanding the actual inner workings of the system of capitalism and I will definitely not do his work any justice by summarizing it here. Capital, Volume One is not a political pamphlet like the Communist Manifesto; it’s an in-depth examination into the nature of capitalism, how it functions, and the laws that govern it. I have to admit, it is complicated stuff. He begins with the analysis of a commodity and its two factors: use-value and value (substance of value and magnitude of value). I think the most important thing to understand here is that something becomes a commodity when it is useful and any amount of useful labour has gone into it. There is a correlation between labour and value here and I think it’s that two different commodities have the same value if they have the same labour put into their construction. Every commodity is valued against all other commodities and one particular commodity, gold in our case, has taken the form of the money commodity.
I think section 4 on the fetishism of commodities is very important in understanding the contradictions inherent in capitalism. Under capitalism a commodity’s value is removed from the labour that goes into it, and is valued based on a value given to it in the past. Next, we read up on labour power and the selling of labour power, but also co-operation and how co-operation between workers actually works in favour of the capitalist. Next, he introduces us to accumulation, a very important concept that I’m becoming more familiarized with in my other class and my David Harvey readings. Does Marxist theory make sense when examining the production of non-material products like just about everything on the internet or watching professional sports? For me there’s a big leap that needs to be made between talking about producing a coat, or some linen, and producing a song or a movie.
Gruneau believes that a good analysis of the social development of sport in western societies should go beyond investigating the impact of industrialization and urbanization in order to be more broadly theorized. Taken for granted theories of industrial society have influenced sociological and historical writing on the social development of sport and, according to Gruneau, should be critically examined. And he does just that. According to the general theory of industrial society, an older pre-industrial, agrarian society based on collective ideas of community gave way to a more modern society that championed new individualist philosophies and the free market, and freed up leisure time. This theory of the change from one type of society to the other has gave many sport scholars a way of viewing the social development of western sport as a change from pre-industrial to modern forms of sport. Accordingly, sport is seen as being institutionalized and rationalized in the modern period. But Gruneau warns us that this theory is only an analytic model that “tends to be taken at face value as an essentially ’known’ set of conditions.” This thinking also makes us believe that our modern form of sport is “complete.”
Gruneau switches over to a discussion on Marxism, stating that while a great contribution of the Marxist tradition of writing on sport lies in its emphasis on power and ideology in cultural analysis, Marxist writing on sport has been one-dimensional and limiting. He states that “Marxist writing on sport employs one-sided and overly deterministic understandings of power and cultural practice.” After reading Marx’s work, can we begin to see what Gruneau means when he says that Marxism is deterministic? I really agree with Gruneau, which completely throws my own personal thoughts about Marxism out the window. He illustrates quite effectively those one-dimensional theories that over-determine our experiences are flawed. I think for class on Tuesday morning we should discuss the usefulness of Marxist theories of history and development in general. Do structural theories have a place anymore or have we moved beyond them?