Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rise Above

This is a song by the band Black Flag, from their 1981 album Damaged. Below is an adaptation by the current band Dirty Projectors, from their album Rise Above, which is a re-working of Damaged.

"Jealous cowards try to control
they distort what we say
try to stop what we do
when they can't do it themselves

We are tired of your abuse
try to stop us, but it's no use
Society's arms think they're smart
I find satisfaction in what they're lacking, 'cause

We are born with a chance
and I'm gonna have my chance

Rise above"

Now is it just me, or is this anthem of the hardcore movement taken straight out of The German Ideology? Marx and Engels say, "Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc... In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven" (p. 768 in the Norton). The powers that be compounded with popular belief disempower us, but we are able to accomplish alone or in groups what the system can't. In other words, we can rise above.

You can see and hear the original rendering of the song here. You can hear the beautiful Dirty Projectors cover of it here, on their MySpace page.

On the first day of class, Professor Fisher asked us to question why Marx and Engel's ideas are so fashionable among academics today. My proposal: Marx and Engels are popular right now because they're straight-up inspiring, as is the art which draws from their ideas.


  1. Ah . . . Karl Marx and Henry Rollins. Both are so earnest, so committed, so sincere, so humorless.

    I have two thoughts about this post (at the moment). First, I suppose that I should start taking my position as teacher seriously and should suggest some paper topics for all of you. This post, in short, could be the basis of a paper about music as a form of cultural resistance. If you want more detail, you would do well to check out Michael Azerrad's book on American independent music of the 1980s. Black Flag is covered there.

    Second, the question that we might entertain here is about Marx's own predictions about the working class revolution. In short, why hasn't it happened already? Marx was agnostic about religion--opiate of the masses and all--but yet his heartfelt belief that the revolution would just happen, like a kind of revelation, seems a bit shortsighted, if not outright contradictory. If his arguments are so inspiring, why haven't the people risen up yet? What are we waiting for? To put the question in the framework of this post, why are Coldplay outselling Dirty Projectors and Black Flag? Is it because deep down inside, when we're faced with the possibility of revolution, we're really yellow at the core?

  2. Interesting question: Why hasn't there been a revolution? It may be a question of timing. The 19th Century (the time Marx was writing in) and the twentieth century did not produce the crisis of capitalism, but perhaps the crisis of capitalism is still in the future. The pre-conditions Marx calls for...(i.e. a single-world market, the loss of nationality to global markets, a strong bourgeoise class, freedom of commerce, and a more uniform mode of production -- as outlined in the Communist Manifesto) reflect our more globalized world than Marx's own 19th century world or even the 20th Century... (despite the fact Marx argued that the pre-conditions already existed when he was writing). So I ask again, is it a question of Marx being off on the time-scale? For example, there hasn't been a revolution because the pre-conditions like labour alienation haven't become truly unbearable or intolerable yet. Another question is about the role of the "welfare state". Did the creation and growth of the welfare state merely postpone the revolution? Additionally, did the collapse of the Soviet Union only demonstrate the failure of a "forced revolution" rather than the triumph of capitalism!

    That being said...a question of an inaccurate time-scale is a highly unlikely idea in my opinion. Undoubtably, the basic tenets of Marxism maintain relevance today, but a revolution on the horizon seems questionable. Yes -the causes of the socialist revolution, the desperation and alienation of the working class, can still be seen in modern society and should never be discounted, but it looks like capitalism is here to stay for awhile (despite the instability!!). I would even go so far as to say that Marxism can play an important role in study of international relations (i.e. industrial countries vs. developing countries). Ultimately, there is value to be gained from his political theory and ideology critiques!

  3. Carolyn, that's a very creative way of analyzing Marx's writings. In many of his writings Marx criticized the division of social classes by pointing out apparent oppression of lower class (the workers). Thus, Marx was calling for a revolution, a change in social structure in order to provide equal (political and economic) opportunities for all citizens. The desire to "rise above" and stand up to the oppressors, as sang by Dirty Projects, is in the core of Marx's ideas. However, I believe, "The German Ideology" is not exactly a call for revolution. Instead "The German Ideology" is Marx's philosophy on men's behaviour, thinking, and consciousness. Throughout the piece Marx states that our understanding of men's consciousness should be based on real life experiences and observations, and not based on men's imagination or intangible interpretations. Basically, men's existence and consciousness come from the actual (and real) life-processes and material necessities (material behaviour or production has the direct influence on 'mental intercourse, or the way of thinking and living).
    The quotation you used "here we ascend from earth to heaven" was Marx's way of saying that his, let's say, 'philosophy' is more logical- remember somewhere before that Marx compared German philosophy to a reversed image; basically implying that it's an illogical and unreasonable interpretation of men's way of thinking and living.
    So, this particular work was about human beings and their true influence on consciousness and life-process (which is the material behaviour or production). Perhaps this work didn't directly point out the class struggles it did support Marx's argument that economic state is the underlying cause of society and human interaction.

  4. I think your summary of The German Ideology fits very well with what I was trying to say in this post. However, I disagree with you about whether our excerpt from The German Ideology is a revolutionary text. While "Rise Above" is probably better understood in relation to Marx & Engels's whole body of work, just by saying that religious and political frameworks and mindsets are created and not inherent, as in The German Ideology, they imply that we have the power to re-shape them.