My Marx: We spoke with seven Berliners on what Marx means to them today. Check out the previous profile here.
When I was in school, I was already pretty politically active, protesting against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and being a part of a left-wing youth newspaper in Prenzlauer Berg. Since then, I have been on the lookout for political answers, and when I started studying at the Freie Universität in Berlin, I found myself questioning and working against the authoritarian structures inside the university.
Almost immediately, maybe even in my first semester, I started going to the Kapitallektüre seminar, which was led by probably the only left-wing professor left at that time. It consisted of going through Marx’s Das Kapital, page for page, and discussing it thoroughly.
I remember sitting at home afterwards and trying to bury myself in the theories and ideas, trying to fully understand them. Deeper and deeper I went until I started noticing that the way my brain thought was really starting to change. I decided to drop out of uni – I disagreed with the academic hierarchical structure – and started to work at a copy shop.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak said about old, dead, white men: “Don’t accuse them. Don’t excuse them. Use them.”
There, for two years, I developed this vision for collaboration in a workspace in which mutual teaching and learning exists without the looming prospect of profit and authority. What is fun about working is seeing how, piece by piece, you can make the world a better place – but then you find yourself ensnared in that hierarchical dynamic and the personal work boundaries between you, your bosses, and the clients somehow cease to exist. So, I quit and decided to write a book – my ‘letter to society’! – and my experience with Marx’s theories started flooding back.
The beautiful thing about Marx is that the moment I say that I am a Marxist, I am placing myself into a tradition. For me “Marx” stands for a collective space, an ongoing project of the labour movement: Marx continued and systemised ideas and experiences, which the labour movement had developed before him. In turn he became a starting point for people, who newly interpreted his work from different perspectives. I am automatically a part of that continuum in adding my own experiences.
I love that quote by post-colonial critical thinker Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak about old, dead, white men: “Don’t accuse them. Don’t excuse them. Use them.” I understand criticisms of Marx as a person, but his ideas and theories are what matter to me and I believe they can truly help us create change. Nowadays, the environmental and even the women’s movements are finding inspiration in Marx’s ideas: In his theories they have found many tiny weapons and methods to criticise our system head on, which the Left often tried to avoid.
MRX Maschine was my attempt not to lecture, but to empower people to develop their own critical thinking; to experiment with language and thought, and step out of old habits – that’s what can ultimately bring us forward. For me there’s no better praise than when someone comes up to me at a reading and says my book inspired them to write and think in their own unique way. That’s what Marxism can do for you.
Bio: Luise Meier is an East Berlin-born philosopher and culture activist, as well as the author of the book MRX Maschine.