Marx for Visual Learners (Katty Perry Remix)

While working on Monday’s Around the Web column I followed a link from Ethnografix to video from this New York Observer piece about David Harvey and I got so excited about the video I couldn’t wait to finish the blog to share it.

As Harvey speaks on the contemporary global economic crisis (if you listen closely you can tell he’s been edited) the animation illustrates his points in a charming, cartoony way reminiscent of the popular UPS whiteboard ads. The animation comes from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA) which has produced a number of similar features including one by Barbarah Ehrenreich.

I watched it twice in quick succession and instantly wanted to send it to every Marxist I know. But why preach to the choir? Send the video to everyone in your address book, and maybe once they’ve read Marx (just to try it) they might find they like it.

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

19 thoughts on “Marx for Visual Learners (Katty Perry Remix)

  1. Have fun with it, Matt. What’s another 94 million dead people in this century?

    You are a child. So old and yet still a child.

  2. Vanderleun,

    Believing in demonstrably ineffective economic doctrines doesn’t make one a child. It’s just makes one idealistic, which is not necessarily bad. Still, it does seem odd that after the catastrophic collapse of every communist/wannabe communist society an educated person would still believe in Marxist doctrine.

    No need to be snooty about it, though.

  3. “economic doctrines” ? In Marx ? Where exactly ? You mean the political-economy he criticizes ?

    BTW, if one recognizes that the only authentic communist society can only be an anarchist one (by definition), then the only “catastrophic collapse” of a communist society I can think about was caused in Spain by the joint assault of fascists and stalinists on the spanish revolution, then not precisely by any “ineffective economic theory”.

    No need to be snooty about it, though.

  4. I believe Vanderleun was referring really to the economic doctrines espoused by Marxist-Leninists and so forth, rather than the specific works of Marx. I’m no enemy of Marx myself, as such.

    Anyway, I think it’s time for a duel of the ideologies. Always fun.

    In other circumstances, the old “communism has never been properly put into effect and when it has it’s been crushed by evil dirty capitalists” schtick is known as “moving the goalposts”.

    A truly communist society may also anarchistic, but the central problem with that is logistics and transportation (regardless of the effects of giving everyone an equal share regardless of labour). In a commune of a few hundred people, all food and products produced may be easily shared amongst the group without any need for extra costs incurred and labour expended in transport. I grow wheat in the fields, I put it in a granary, and anyone can take it out and use it according to their need. Fine. (I don’t think it would work long term, but it might.)

    But let’s take a place the size of the USSR. I’m in Perm, and you’re in Vladivostok. I produce wheat. It gets milled here in Perm. But you, as a fellow citizen of our anarchic communist society, as a fellow comrade, also own the wheat. How do you get it? How do you benefit from it? Only by me and others transporting it to you, which requires an extra investment of labour without any reward for me. What incentive would I have? Oh, you can say that I wouldn’t need one, but… Hmph. Forget about it! And no amount of revolutionary zeal is going to change that in the long term. I could, of course, trade my wheat for a service you could provide for me, but that wouldn’t exactly be communism, to say the least.

    But everyone needs a share – of course they do. That’s the point. Someone then takes charge and distributes wheat fairly throughout the country. That#s good – everyone gets fed. But someone is now a leader, and we end up with a loss of anarchy. We also end up with a system that controls the totality of all food distribution in the country. Quite a powerful position, to put it mildly. But it’s either that or small commune producing only for themselves and benefiting only each other.

    I also find it strange how communism is so easily crushed by capitalists and their evil ways, but capitalism and democracy have survived innumerable assaults by heinous fuckers. Despite all its pomp and aggression (“through off your chains!), communism is a frail flower, it seems.

    tl;dr: Communism doesn’t fit with human nature. Feel free to use that as a strawman since it is, in the end, basically what I’m arguing.

  5. I apologise for the high number of typos and mistakes in that, by the way. I’m typing through a veil of sweat due to heat and exercise. I also apologise if it comes off as a tad snooty.

  6. The genius of Marx is the form of his critique and in this brief talk Harvey shows you how effective it is at explaining historical capitalism as a world-system. Capitalism is so often naturalized and internalized that it’s easy to forget that it too is a social construction that “structures” culture, if not in a cultural materialist sense than at least in a very profound way.

    Communist political parties really aren’t the most interesting part of the history of Marxist literature — do people still read Hardt and Negri or Laclau and Mouffe? Well, I guess I respect their projects and the people who do the heavy lifting of picking up their books, but its not my bag. Certainly nobody is going to champion the rehabilitation of Stalin or Mao, except maybe Zizek and then there’s that lingering sense that maybe he’s joking.

    From an anthropological perspective the really exciting stuff are the questions of economy and society, how changes in modes of production correlate to changes in culture. For that you need German sociology: Weber, Simmel, the Frankfurt School — and all those guys are responding to Marx. So if you care about the relationship between culture and capitalism, you care about Marx.

  7. If you watch the video Harvey is using a Marxist analysis to describe events that have occurred.
    At the end he says “I don’t have the solutions.”

    My question to you: Do you have a better description of the events?

    I’m guessing no.

  8. Taking Marx seriously as a theorist no more implies one must desire communist revolution than taking Nietzsche seriously implies one must hate Russians. Or women. or um, well, everybody, basically.

    But the point stands!

  9. I can’t perceive anything snooty in your response.
    I am not sure I want to engage in a “duel of ideologies”. I commented only in reaction to your first comment, and I only wanted to point out firstly, that Marx’s perspectives on political-economical matters are not to be confused with “marxism-leninism” and its avatars, and secondly, that if one follows basic definitions, a truly communist society is an anarchist one, and not a murderous and authoritarian state (pleonasm!) like USSR for example.
    As for questions of organization and “human nature”, which are, I believe, pretty much open problems, I would suggest looking into “anarchist federalism”, and into the work of Kropotkin amongst many other, but this is not directly related to the post above. 🙂

  10. I have nothing against Marx as a theorist, and he’s… well, there’s no point in saying how influential the old chap was. The only thing I take issue with is the application of Marxist theories to present and future politics, which I think is more than fair.

  11. it’s fair in the sense of being a reasonable starting point for debate, but I don’t think it’s “more than fair” in the sense of being obviously ethical or correct.

    Is state socialism the only imaginable application of Marxist theory to politics? If we pay attention to a Marxist critique of, say, financial practices, and that informs our organizing for a platform within a multi-party democracy, does that not count as “applying Marxist theory to politics”?

  12. my reply is incoming, but has been eaten (I hope temporarily) by the spam filter because I forgot to mispell (or omit the term) “soshalizum”

  13. Lemme go into the works and see if I can pull that out for you Andrew.

    Huh, that was my first time in the spam filter. And look, the comment come up in the order you made it. Very interesting. Well, I learned something new today.

  14. “a truly communist society is an anarchist one”

    Yeah, many years ago when I was an anarchist I used to argue with Marxist about this. It all goes back to the schism between Marx and Bakunin.

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