In the midst of the clash of capitalism, republicanism and socialism, mid-19th century France doesn’t look pretty.
“Vive Napoleon, vive le saucisson!” summarizes the sentiment of chaos in a book by Karl Marx. Long live Napoleon, long live the sausage!
Lounging next to a vintage Cram’s Imperial World Globe in the great room of Boxcar Books, Adam Scouten shuts his worn copy of Marx’s “Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850.”
“We are left with a series that is bound to explode,” he said.
For two years, the Bloomington Marxist Reading Group has discussed the political ideology that has ignited debate since its articulation on the page.
Every Friday at 6 p.m., the group delves into Marxist texts and works of tangential philosophies considered salient to this modern day.
While discussion group size leans on the smaller side — typically a gathering of three or four — the group has found a steady niche at IU, Scouten said.
He is a founding member and IU alumnus. He got a response for the group right away after putting up fliers around campus before the first meeting.
The group has been regularly visited by undergraduates, graduate students and faculty, Scouten said.
He expressed appreciation for when the gamut of University affiliates are in attendance.
“You definitely get more perspective,” Scouten said. “It’s interesting to see the whole spectrum of people come together and talk about these things.”
Additionally, the group noted its mission to make the readings understandable to its members.
“I feel like we strive toward penetrating the academic thickness and making it more accessible,” said Nodet Darka, a longtime member and IU alumna. “It’s dense stuff for sure.”
Darka also emphasized the importance of the group’s conversation element.
Marxism is often misinterpreted as a set of laws or rules, rather than what it actually is — an intellectual practice — she said.
“So, in order to get something out of it, you’ve got to engage with things on levels beyond just reading them,” Darka said. “You can’t just memorize what’s in the book and say, ‘Huh, makes sense,’ and just spout that off later.”
Luke Rylander, a graduate student of Germanic studies at the University, spoke in agreement.
“There’s this coming into being of ideas that aren’t present in just reading them. They take shape as you discuss them,” he said.
The group hopes to soon read “Capital: Critique of Political Economy,” Marx’s fundamental volume set.
Scouten said that while he would classify “Capital” as essential to understanding socialist theory, checking off books in the ideology’s canon isn’t enough to fully comprehend the concepts.
“I think you definitely have to go beyond ‘Capital’ to grasp the whole of the school of thought,” Scouten said. “So I would say that text is essential, but not the only one.”
As with the other readings, the group would get the most out of them during discussion.
“I’d like to tackle ‘Capital’ collectively,” Rylander said. “I suppose you could take that both ways.”
The group draws parallels to contemporary events during discussion every session.
“We’re in a situation now where in France, you have workers revolting against the Socialist Party,” Scouten said.
According to a BBC News article published June 23, such protests were the result of opposition to a labor law reform bill.
The bill would give employers greater ability to boost working hours as well as hire and fire.
“Having the Marxist analysis to understand the difference between what a political party calls itself and what its actual interests are is really important in understanding something like that,” Scouten said.
The group said it thinks Marxism is still prevalent in today’s society, although it never really wasn’t in the first place.
“A core principle of Marxism is that ideas and theory are determined by history and historical conditions,” Darka said.
She said unless contention ceases between ideologies, debate will continue. Scouten agrees.
“I definitely think that the Marxist analysis is as essential now as it ever was and will be the case as long as there is capitalism,” he said.