Could a Marxist claim that interpreting the world is all that a Marxist vanguard can do, but that the working class can still change it? Marx, quite famously, said that

philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Note, I hope that a Marxist "vanguard" could claim that, because I do not think that individuals, even individual parties, make history. Such that, my advice to any genuine Marxist would be to interpret the world: and hope that the working class changes it.

Whether or not Marx felt that he was changing the world, or merely interpreting it, the alternative is substitutionist, as well as I think quite deluded.

  • What is your definition of a Marxist? By that I mean, why would everyone in the working class be exempt from being a Marxist? If a Marxist is someone who believes in Marxism, is the working class by definition unable to believe in Marxism and not be a Marxist? Why are those two ideas exclusive? – Not_Here Jul 25 '17 at 14:12
  • @Not_Here your comment is appreciated. by "marxist" i mean a vanguard who follows marx's critique, is a member of a communist party, etc.. i like your need for clarity, even if i think it is both excessive and unneeded here. – user25714 Jul 25 '17 at 14:14
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    "Could a Marxist claim that interpreting the world is all that a Marxist can do, but that the working class can still change it?" If someone believes that Marxists can't change the world but also believes that a group of working class people can be Marxists and have the ability to change the world then there is some sort of disconnect in their thinking process because those two things are contradictory. – Not_Here Jul 25 '17 at 14:17
  • @Not_Here did i really not clarify that aporia already? i think i did. clearly, i'm in the minority, though. so i can only hold my hands up, i suppose, and say you didn't get me – user25714 Jul 25 '17 at 14:17
  • There is a disconnect and the answer to this question is either "no" or "a Marxist can claim whatever they want" which is a more literal interpretation of the question than you're asking for. If John Doe is a self organizing labor unionist who is an avid Marxist and he single handedly rises up and leads a world wide revolution to socialize and then communize the world's economy, changing the plot of human history forever, would you call that a Marxist who changed the world? – Not_Here Jul 25 '17 at 14:22

To the contrary, the worker has to be almost completely immiserated and desparate before he will revolt on a large scale. Take for example the sailors at Kiel toward the end of WWI, they could go no further, they revolted, and then it spread across Germany very seriously as time progressed, really only the workers in Berlin and Munich knew any theory. Now all intellectuals should read Marx because it does expand the consciousness ...many do not understand how the ideology of the dominant class and their strong desire to preserve the status quo operates behind their backs to influence and stifle their thinking ...to keep them firmly in the box. Capitalism eventually cheapens everything...look how the medical profession has been rationalized today so that doctors become mere workers, for example. So it's just good hygiene to read Marx and the others, but in the age of the security state we live in now, it is very hard to conceive that large scale change will be possible.

  • hmm tend to disagree, you're a substituionist, i suppose. let's hope they don't follow you down that abyss ;) – user25714 Jul 25 '17 at 14:09
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    I don't know what such a thing is. Maybe I am, maybe not. I'm just a person who posted a response. – Gordon Jul 25 '17 at 14:13
  • i'm surprised that you seem to be a marxist but don't know what that term means. maybe only those to the left of trotsky use it, which means how it sounds, a group that tries to substiutute itself for the agency of the working class – user25714 Jul 25 '17 at 14:16
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    No I'm not a Marxist, but as I said I think it's valuable to read him and the others in that field, and to particularly to understand how the ideology of the dominant class gets introjected into our very minds so that we self-police ourselves, we turn into our own policemen. – Gordon Jul 25 '17 at 14:22
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    Yeah, the problem today it seems to me is that we carry the security state along with us in our minds, we self police. So it's hard to break through this. It would take some distressing external happening to begin a change. And even here it would not necessarily be Marx/Marxism that would become the solution. It will be "new" thinking of some type that perhaps we'll stumble into. – Gordon Jul 25 '17 at 15:03

The Marxist vanguard, by virtue of it being the vanguard, will be few in number; thus, even if they tried to change the world, it wouldn't amount to much; for the force they can apply, at least directly, won't amount to much.

What they require is a lever that magnifies their force, and this is where the proletariat (of all kinds come in), and this is how classical Marxism theorised them as an agent of change.

Despite the rhetoric of revolutionary Marxism, I'm not personally convinced that this change is likely to be seen in our lifetime, after all feudalism carried on for centuries before being dismantled piece-meal globally.

Note, popularly the proletariat is identified with the working classes, ie manual labour; but for Marx, they are those who are paid for the labour via a wage, so this also includes the professions and the middle classes.

  • Why is it definitional that a small amount of people cannot change the world? What if two or three people were sitting in their basement and discovered how to create a new super weapon and used it to take charge of the US government for three weeks before they were ultimately killed and the threat was removed? Did those three people not change the world? Gavrilo Princip, one single person, assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, one single person, and that event sparked the flame of world war one. Did that assassination, involving two people, not change the world? Your answer is purely conjecture. – Not_Here Jul 26 '17 at 4:22
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    @not_here: Really? Gavrilo Princep used one gun to assassinate the Archduke, he himself was not involved in all the fighting in World War I, how could he be, he was just one man with just one gun; if you think a little more carefully, you'll see that your example fits the situation I'm describing; think of the vanguard as the 'spark' as you will. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 26 '17 at 4:27
  • You said "thus, even if they tried to change the world, it wouldn't amount to much." There are plenty of examples of one person doing one thing that amounts to a huge change in the course of history. Einstein? Newton? The idea that a small amount of people cannot accomplish a large amount of change is ridiculous – Not_Here Jul 26 '17 at 5:28
  • @Not_here: I don't think you understood what I'd written, perhaps you might want to glance over it again; Newton said "he stood on the shoulders of giants", ie he wasn't working alone, and he knew it, whereas you seem to think that this is 'ridiculous', and similarly with Einstein, for example, consider Lorentz, Hilbert, Clifford, Riemann & Poincare ...; but here, you've changed from political action to science, and the two situations are very different in the way that people work together in concert. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 26 '17 at 12:16
  • Your answer contains this statement "thus, even if they tried to change the world, it wouldn't amount to much; for the force they can apply, at least directly, won't amount to much." That is not a true statement because there is no overarching law of the universe that says that a small amount of people cannot do big things. Again, look at my example of someone taking the US hostage. The change from science to political action is irrelevant because you are not looking at what I'm actually saying. Why are you asserting that small group of people can never do something large? – Not_Here Jul 26 '17 at 12:32

I am sure that a Marxist could claim that, but perhaps the weakness in Marxism from the start is its determinism in reducing the progress of history to the actions and/or consciousness of the "working class" as a historical agent - when the material conditions of the working class are taken as the basis of Marx's model of historical progress, perhaps this obscures the imposed reality of the state itself, which is ideational not material