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Can we please bury Marx once and for all?

Tony Wikrent's picture
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I’m on the road again, this time for the big artist-blacksmiths’ conference in Memphis, which is held only once every two years.

But there’s something I noticed on the tubez in the days and weeks just before I left that is really needling me. There are a number of otherwise very smart people, some whom I deeply admire, who have begun promoting the ideas of Karl Marx, and the application of Marxist critique to the current socio-politico-economic situation in the United States.

Now, I understand that there is an increasingly desperate search for a workable socio-politico-economic approach as it becomes increasingly clear that electing an African-American as President of the United States is not leading to the fundamental changes in the polity and the economy many of us were hoping and fighting for. As disappointment with the innate conservatism of Barack Obama grows, there is an increasing radicalization of many progressives that, unfortunately, in too many cases, is leading to a growing support of and interest in Marxism.

To be blunt, Marxism is an unmitigated failure.

First, of course, is the mind-bogglingly brutal and bloody repression Marxists have wreaked on millions when Marxists actually achieved political control.

Isn't that reason enough to write off Marxism as worse than useless?

Moreover, it saddens and startles me that otherwise smart people do not appreciate how a profession of admiration or even simple utility for Marxism is a political gift that the wrong-wing knows how to use with devastating effect.

Second, as Lawrence Goodwyn points out in his Introduction to his 1978 classic, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America, both capitalist and socialist or Marxist societies have ended up with inherently anti-democratic hierarchical socio-political structures when organizing modern industrial economies. This fact suggests that there is something about modern industrial economies that even Marxists do not understand.

And in fact, the central critique Jonathon Larson has made of Marxism is that it simply fails to fully understand modern industrial economies:

ONE: Marx did not understand the revolutionary nature of industrialization. By the time they became rich in Marx’s mind, industrialists were as parasitic as any landowner, priest, or tax farmer. In fact, they were worse because they invented news ways of human exploitation. The fact that industrialists were devout Protestant pacifists (Quakers were heavily involved in early stage industrialization) who were in the business of applying scientific rationalism to the problems of production seemed to have never gained traction in Marx’s mind. To prove that he really didn’t get industrialization, he claimed that the problems of production had been solved in early capitalism. This is a serious error for the simple reason that solving the problems of production is an ongoing and evolutionary process.

This is a feature of industrial production that verges on theology. Perfection as perfection can never be achieved, but it can be approximated. Especially in his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul calls on Christians to strive for perfection. Of course, it is understood that perfection can never be achieved by human beings; it is the Creator alone who achieves perfection. Humans can, however, strive to become less imperfect. Something similar to this theological idea is basically the foundation of industrial statistical process quality control, especially as embodied and achieved in the Japanese concept of kaizen, pioneered by the auto manufacturer Toyota.

By underestimating the importance of industrialists, the Marxist countries became known for shoddy, UGLY, and environmentally insane production. Turns out the problems of production not only had NOT been solved, they are a LOT harder than they look at first glance. Political agendas mix very poorly with industrialization’s tyranny of the facts on the ground. . . .

In 1989, there was a miner’s strike in the Donets region of USSR. One of the key demands was for sufficient soap to clean up with after a day under ground. Imagine a system striving to be a worker’s paradise that cannot provide soap to miners. It is such a perfect example of what happens to those who assume that the problems of production have been solved and all that remains is proper political supervision of distribution.

TWO: Marx was openly scornful of agriculture. His “idiocy of rural life” remark was probably the MOST damaging of his life. It may be possible to get by with industrial junk like Ladas, but it is impossible to get by without food. With Marx ringing in his ears, Stalin thought nothing of destroying his agriculture system. He actually murdered the people who could grow food. The politically-driven replacement of collectivized farming was such a perennial failure that the Ministry of Agriculture was were political careers went to die. Mao’s agricultural experiments produced famines that killed millions.

Is it possible to simply do without modern industrial societies? Only if we are willing to permit a massive die-off of the human population. Are you willing to decide which people, which cities, which countries, will be allowed to live, and which should die? Are you willing to actually name names?

The incontrovertible fact is that the miracles of production created by modern industrial societies are essential to supporting us and all our fellow human beings at what we would consider an adequate standard of living.

Sheldon Wolin has pointed out that the industrial and financial regulations of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created the “least imperfect” manifestation yet accomplished of the ideals of the American Declaration of Independence, and Constitution. The wrong-wing, of course, hates the New Deal, and has been struggling to roll it back ever since the Texas “Big Rich” oilmen began funding the rise of modern American conservatism in the 1930s. (See Bryan Burrough book, The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes.)

So, we know that there are better ways to organize a modern industrial society than ours now is. (We should know that simply from the theological perspective on perfection, without recourse to historical examples.) Those ways did not involve Marxism. There, is, in fact, a rich American tradition of leftist socio-politico-economic analysis, organizing, and accomplishment. The Farmers Alliances of the 1880s and 1890s, the Greenback monetary theorists like Charles Macune, Henry George, Charles Lindbergh Sr., Louis D. Brandeis, the Non-Partisan League, Ignatius Donnelly, Robert M. LaFollette, and Thorstein Veblen are some of the names that anyone could easily spend hours, even weeks, researching and reading the works of, to explore and understand this American tradition that I think would be far better to resurrect than Marxism.

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Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

...and marx did not fail. Engels, Stalin, Mao, Tito, Hoxha - all statists - failed. Because they were totalitarians. Not because they misread some Marx.

This is necessary:

"...Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturer no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.

Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm

And you don't need to sign on to every single thing Marx believed or wrote to understand this.

Montag's picture
Submitted by Montag on

+1 for Jack Crow's comment.

tarring "the ideas of Karl Marx, and the application of Marxist critique" with the horrors of totalitarian "Marxism" is a bit much.

i'd be interested to hear JR Boyd's (http://ladypoverty.blogspot.com/) response to this.

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

I think made a timely reply, today:

"...It was only after I was two-thirds of the way through the above book that I realized that the "Marxism [that] had reduced everything to economics" was the Marxism of the 20th-century, socialist state. But, as Foucault himself would point out, that is not the Marxism of either the 19th or the early 21st centuries. So we have to remember that people in different circumstances interpret things in different ways, and we have to remember this in the first instance -- not only after the professional climate has changed. "

http://ladypoverty.blogspot.com/2010/06/5-aside-about-marx-and-post-modernism.html

Submitted by lambert on

... that Marx did not succeed. The movements that took his name failed horribly. And I think if we're going to be holding the Chicago School (say) accountable for developing the analytical tools on which the Shock Doctrine is based, as I think we should, or "free market" ideologues and mainstream economist's accountable for the current financial debacle, then I think we need to hold Marx exactly as accountable for "Engels, Stalin, Mao, Tito, Hoxha." One might ask why "statists" found nothing repellent about Marx's work, eh?

And there also seems to be an implicit separation here between Marx, the scholar, and the political actors who (as Jack would have it) took his name in vain. It's been a long, long time since I looked at any of this, but my recollection is that Marx himself would have regarded such a separation as false, and indeed did not maintain it in his own life: The political tradition which culminated in the "statists" was in its nascent stages driven by Marx, the political actor.

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

...was Engels. Marx was often ambiguous, and rightly so. Even his seminal work, Capital, avoids the summary conclusions found in Engels and the other heirs of Hegel and the German Idealism.

Marx didn't create "Marxism." Engels did.

And it was from Engels (and the stupidity of the dialectical materialism, which is Hegelian mysticism stripped of Spirit and trussed up as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat) that Lenin, Trotsky, Plekhanov, Dietzgen, Stalin and Mao conjured up their determinism (and the many, many crimes that followed).

Marx isn't off the hook for his assertion that workers could necessarily make a just state, but it should be remembered that no workers actually created soviet, maoist or socialist states* - which is why Liebknecht, Luxemberg, Pannekoek rejected the so-called socialist state and its attendant tyrannies.

The architects of the repressive "marxist" regimes were in fact bourgeois sons of industry and privilege, armed with Engels' determinism and none of the redeeming qualities or perspectives of actual proletarian existence.

* -Stalin, for example, studied for the priesthood, and Mao the librarian son of a wealth landowner.'

Submitted by lambert on

Does "bourgeois sons of industry and privilege" ring a bell in the current age?

And if "Marx isn't off the hook for his assertion that workers could necessarily make a just state," doesn't that strike you as a rather major hook upon which to be impaled?

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

I'm not a Marxist, in any strict or even loose sense of the term - so I don't have a dog in this specific hunt.

Where I disagree with the original diary entry is the idea that Marx can be jettisoned, just because Engelists made a botch of their state capitalist and stalinist bureaucracies.

Marx, though, is unclear about the future. He casts his understanding of futurity in contingency, and therefore keeps it needfully vague.*

* -Jesus is rather vague about all that happens before he climbs down from the heavens to burn the whole world on a plate of suffering and sacrificial nastiness. And yet, their are Christians the world over who do good works and stand against oppression. Shall we put Jesus to rest, once and for all, on account of those who used his words to build up Christendom and the Inquisition. Or can we see that readings of the text - any text - change with the times, and the readers? Are Maximilian Kolbe and Torquemada one and the same? What of George Bush and Barack Obama in comparison to the nameless Christians who resisted fascism in Europe and South America, and paid with their lives?

*

Does "bourgeois son of industry and privilege" still resonate?

Surely.

Just not in 19th century terms. We call them professional liberals now - and they are still mealy mouthed liars who talk a good game about justice, hope, forceful change and the end to oppression, while they build up state structures which are exactly machines of death on a scale a Napoleon, Bismark or Nap III could never have dreamed...

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

Marx has died, Marx is risen, Marx will come again?

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

...I hope not. I just think "putting Marx to rest" is as useful as "putting Larry Bird to rest."

The game and players may have changed, but the present reality is built on the one it superseded. In much the same way that you really cannot understand the sport of basketball w/o understanding how Bird, Johnson, et al changed it, you really cannot understand leftist resistance to capitalism w/o paying a whole lot of attention to who laid the ground for it. And why.

Submitted by lambert on

I agree completely. Love the Larry Bird analogy.

Submitted by lambert on

Marxism needs, or does not need, to be "jettisoned" on the exact same basis that any other analytical tool might be -- say, "the efficient markets hypothesis." And outcomes do matter, no matter that crude cause and effect doesn't apply.

* * *

As far as the career liberals... Well, if in 10 or 20 years (making assumptions about sea levels and so forth) some career liberals went "hard left," history would rhyme yet again, eh?

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

...but, this seems to treat with Marx's work as if it necessarily contains the germinative seeds of determined outcomes.

Which runs counter to Marx, himself.

Again, I don't think Marx ought to be treated as a prophet, or an academic. He was neither.

It's just that his work is still relevant, or it isn't. If it's relevant, as JRB notes, than that fact has to be taken into consideration.

And what makes it relevant is relatively simple to understand: people still find Marx useful. If liberals and progressives cannot challenge the existing order on Christian Democratic terms, for whatever reasons, those who employ Marx provide an alternative.

And Marx's ghost is not the only shade haunting our modern Shakespearean tragedy. The works of Proudhon, Bakunin, Goldman, the syndicalists, the IWW, the libertarian communists and even the agorists have all made a resurgence, especially out beyond the scope of the liberal-conservative political machine which dominates the West.

Submitted by lambert on

... that's what I meant. Had I meant "determined," I would have written that.

Did the mainstream ecomomists play a significant and substantive role in our economic collapse? Of course they did, and they should be held accountable for it, even if it took a generation or so for their ideas to play out. Did they determine the collapse? Of course not. And so with Marx.

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

Marx was right about the problem, but wrong about the solution. Good diagnosis, bad prescription. It's a common failing of academics.

Submitted by lambert on

... that Marx was right about part of the problem ("productive relations") but not all of the problem (the superstructure stuff. Cue cries that vulgar Marxists did all the damage).

I'd really like to get away from the "right all along" perspective. Perspectives from Marx are great to have in our analytical toolkit, but no more (and no less) than that. And, as Tony points out, the brand is pure poison.

Submitted by ohio on

Shorter Tony Wikrent: Marx is dead and buried.

Shorter Jack Crow: If he is, he's buried in a communist plot.

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

That shit was Teh Funnehs.

Seth's picture
Submitted by Seth on

Whatever the merits of his ideas, it isn't altogether a bad thing to have Marx rehabilitated a bit. The past 30 years have been a steady march right-ward in economic policy (really everything except gay rights) and that is in no small part due to the complete abandonment of genuinely assertive 'left' perspectives.

We need 'bad cop' leftists out there pulling the Overton window out of this steady rightward drift. If there are no genuinely scary leftists out there, the Glenn Becks of the media will continue to get away with casting steady, predictable middle-of-the-roaders like Obama as the ideological equivalent of a 30's vintage totalitarian.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

Where's the extremist left in America, which will make normal lefties look like the centrists they really are?

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

are the best hope for an extremist left. They don't need rehabbing and they have true believers.

I would have hoped to see more action from them by now, really, with BO's kill-the-whales and now the oil spill.

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

They aren't equipped to handle the scope of the crisis. Their ideology reduces everything to "population," and their solutions to that "problem" run from the monstrously horrible to the merely morally bankrupt.

techno's picture
Submitted by techno on

The point isn't that Marx didn't make accurate comments about the human condition--he did. The problem is that folks who called themselves Marxists created societies that were notorious failures. Oh sure, they talked a good talk when it came to environmental issues, for example, and then created the most environmental ruin in history. It is not just right-wingers who can blow the Marxists out of the water--any reasonably sentient Progressive should be able to do it as well. Marx is not merely a discredited brand--it is disgraced. Think Ford Pinto times 1,000,000.

There are always the intellectuals who will argue that the real Marxism was never tried. That silly debating point is not nearly enough to polish the tarnished brand of Marx. Two problems:

1) You call yourself a Marxist--Stalin called himself a Marxist--how does a third party evaluate your claims? You claim to be more pure--Stalin points to his office of party intellectuals run by Suslov whose job it was to assure the great leader that his decisions were endorsed by the teachings of Marx. You teach political science in some obscure university. Stalin ran a country that defeated the armies of Hitler. Sorry, but your claim to a better understanding of Marxism doesn't pull much weight.

2) The biggest problems of Marxist societies came from experiments in organized processes (like agriculture) that the typical intellectual does not begin to understand. The Great Leap Forward probably killed 30 million in China and it was based on thinking that Marxists, even today, think is valid.

But fear not, progressives, there is a BUNCH of sound writing on non-Marxist critiques of monopoly and finance capitalism. The American Midwest is awash in the stuff. North Dakota GOT its State Bank. Progressive economics that made the live of millions of people MUCH better was routinely taught in our great state-funded universities. Etc.

So the real question about Marx is: Why bother? Why would you spend an erg of energy polishing that turd?

Seth's picture
Submitted by Seth on

techno:

Why did you just compose six paragraphs attacking efforts to 'polish' Marx? In the spirit of "Don't think of an Elephant": you are just reinforcing his relevance.

What I most appreciated was your reference to better alternatives. I'd have gotten a lot more out of a six paragraph posting citing authors/works you would recommend to our attention. We'll 'bury' Marx by covering him with good tillable soil.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

The Soviet Union, established in a war-devastated, backward empire that was devastated again by foreign invasion 20 years later, lasted about 70 years. Communist China, established in a war-devastated, backward empire that had been picked over by colonial powers, has lasted about 60 years, with significant economic "reforms" over the last, what, 15 years? And they prove how much of a failure Marx was because of how evil they were?

As a citizen of the country that was established in a rich, relatively unspoiled continent based on genocidal killing off of most of the natives, and then maintained chattel slavery for 240 years (1620 - 1865), I know what a success capitalism is, because of how good we are. At 60 or 70 years, we were still killing natives and profiting from the slave trade with its 2 to 4 million deaths through the middle passage. But that didn't prove how evil capitalism was. As for today -- Want to talk about deaths in Iraq? Rejection of habeas corpus? The news about the U.S. government today in fact reminds me of news of the Soviet Union 50 years ago.

I'll agree that Stalin was an evil man. Mao was an evil man. Authoritarianism is very dangerous. I don't get much further along on Marx's thought than that.

"Marxism" can be fetished as a religion, with the results that most religions occasionally produce, like massive witch burnings or bloody Crusades (and of course, nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition). But to the extent that Marx produced some awfully good economic analysis, I don't see why we shouldn't regard him fairly highly, like Adam Smith or Thorstein Veblen.

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

That's putting it nicely. And nicely done.

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

before I disappear for the day.

First, a rejection of Marx and / or does not necessarily mean an acceptance or even approval of capitalism and all its faults, crimes, and shady practices. It is precisely because I want to push the republic out of its present thralldom to economic neo-liberalism that I posted what I did, and what I have in the past (more below).

I have seen this over and over again - I or someone else attacks Marx, and the rejoinder in Marx's defense is a listing of the crimes and faults of capitalism. I honestly believe that if we are going to free America and the rest of the world from economic neo-liberalism, we need to move beyond - far beyond - such platitudinous excuses for a failed ideology. Anyone trying to defend the current "dictatorship of the propertariat" (no, it's not my clever phrase, it's Newberry's) we now squirm under can just as easily come back with a listing of the crimes and failures of Marxism.

Second, what I've been writing about the past few months is precisely an exploration of the home-grown alternatives to Marx and the various isms he spawned. Populist, Progressive, Liberal - and when populist progressives succeeded about Chris Hedges, Charles A. Lindbergh Sr., and the Non-Partisan League and Farmer-Labor Party. How likely is a new "Populist Moment"? about the 1880-90s Farmers' Alliances, Lawrence Goodwyn, Sheldon Wolin, and Thorstein Veblen. Most recently, I showed that I don't need Marx to show me that financiers, MBAs, and business managers are by their very nature, economic predators that usually do far more damage than good: The Obama administration as “managed democracy".

Here, for example, Lindbergh's 1913 Banking and Currency and the Money Trust, available entirely online and well worth at least a day or two poring over.

From my readings this past winter, I conclude that the history of people like Lindbergh has been deliberately "forgotten." Why isn't this material part of any Econ 101 class? Why has the Greenback Party and greenback monetary theory, and the whole fight over the greenbacks after the Civil War been "forgotten"? I think it is because these are ideas that the elites cannot control: once they become known among the general population again, it's just a matter of time before the present elites are forcibly swept into the dustbin of history. In contrast, I believe that the elites love it when critics of the existing order present themselves as Marxists: that they know very well how to control, very easily.

The obvious question arises: well, if these ideas of Lindbergh and the Populists of the late 1800s / early 1900s are so wonderful and revolutionary in their impact, why are we stuck with the horrible system we have today? Ahh, see, you need to read more of this history, just like I did. From what I know so far, my conclusion is that the American Populist movement was pretty much coercively shut down during World War One because most Populists refused to abandon pacifism and neutrality.

And, in point of fact, the Populists achieve quite a lot: creation of the FDA, direct election of U.S. Senators, the reform of Congressional procedures over the opposition of Speaker Joe Cannon, the creation of state-owned institutions in North Dakota, such as the present Bank of North Dakota. There is more than can be added to this list, but the history has been "forgotten."

Submitted by lambert on

... perhaps we should say "has been forgetted." Although that's a passive construct, the word play suggests a question for agency.

I think the work you've been doing is great, Tony. Thanks.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

I guess since my post pointed out that the yardstick applied to the self-described Marxist nations would produce similar results applied to the self-described capitalist nation, I'm the one who thought that listing the crimes and faults of capitalism constituted a defense of Marxism. Although actually, I thought I was pointing out that crimes and faults arise from the authoritarian exercise of power, no matter what label the government gives its process of controlling resources.

But maybe you've got me. I grew up in a time when both foreign and domestic policy were heavily influenced by the struggle between "capitalism" and "Marxism". The economic legacy came from FDR who saved the capitalists from themselves with social programs. The fear that other nations would align themselves with the Godless Commies drove lots of social issues -- Eisenhower went as far with civil rights as he did because American apartheid made us look so bad in the non-European nations. The Commies claimed that capitalism immiserated most workers, so industrialized Western nations shared economic advances with workers. The Nixon-Khrushchev kitchen debates got big press here and on American radio around the world -- U.S. workers, contrary to what you Commies claim, have the latest mod cons, and swimming pools, too!!! When the Soviet Union weakened and subsequently collapsed, western elites were freed from the fear of communism's appeal to the masses. And right on schedule they discovered that workers were too pampered for sustainability. Globalism was inevitable and inevitably dragged down the wages and security of workers (as incidentally, Marx said it would). And neoliberalism began its gallop to ascendancy. I remain, however, somewhat grateful that the Commies scared the elites enough that I have had a more empowered and secure life than capitalism would otherwise have provided.

To some extent you seem concerned the extent to which "Marx" as a brand damages the possibility of liberal effectiveness. The elites are going to tar any liberal action with any negatives they can -- when Commies were an evil plot to enslave the world, the civil rights movement and the unions were Commie front organizations. I'm afraid my reaction to denouncing Marxism is rather like my reaction to denouncing people in the anti-war demonstrations: we were solemnly told that if good, respectable people just denounce the DFHs, the establishment will take them seriously and stop the war. As Atrios would say, Na ga happen.

Homegrown liberalism is good. So is international liberalism. A fight with potential allies with whom we do not agree on all points simply strikes me as counterproductive.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

[W]e were solemnly told that if good, respectable people just denounce the DFHs, the establishment will take them seriously and stop the war.

That is, "if only atheists weren't so militant, religious people might listen to them."

Joseph Cannon's picture
Submitted by Joseph Cannon on

At the end of his life, Uncle Karl was known to shake his head and mutter: "All I know is that I am not a Marxist."

Frankly, for much of my life I've sneered at Marxists, at least at the ones I met on campus back in the day. Polysyllabic buffoons, the lot of 'em.

Lately, though, I wear that sneer less comfortably. Seems that, no matter what we do, the capitalists keep finding ways to make sure we all work for minimum wage or less.

Example: Have you heard of "cloudsourcing"? Here's how it works: Someone who wants a logo design or a website design will offer the gig as the prize in a "contest." Dozens, hundreds of artist do the work -- ON SPEC. The designers communicate with the clients, offering innumerable redos -- ON SPEC. At the end of the day, only one design wins the prize, which may result in a generous $200 payment.

The contests are world-wide. American designers are competing with guys in Pakistan. The client (the capitalist) LOVES this because he gets lots of choice -- in essence, he pays 200 bucks for 50 or 100 man-hours of labor.

The main site offering these contests is 99designs, although there are plenty of competitors. Someone did the numbers, dividing the the total payout by the total number of entries. Each entry equaled a payout of $3.54. I think we can posit that each entry took at least an hour to accomplish, especially when we consider the redos and the back-and-forth communication with the client.

There's a lot of talk about cloudsourcing being the future of American business -- and not just in the field of design. Tech writing. Copy writing. Accounting. Programming. Who knows where it will end?

Any more of this shit, and I'll definitely consider joining the chorus: "Come comrades, come rally, this last fight let us face..."

mass's picture
Submitted by mass on

or not of Marxism. But I have to say, I think he understood modern industrialization quite well. Indeed, Marx predicted that eventual technological gains would be made allowing people to actually be able to work less and enjoy quite a bit more IF the gains were to be shared. He predicted they would not. That instead capitalist would turn to financial capitalism, esentially keeping the gains for the top few and finding out new ways to churn out money, which is indeed what has happened.

Ian Welsh's picture
Submitted by Ian Welsh on

partially in reaction to me.

Marx had some important things to say. Certainly he didn't get it all right. But there's stuff to learn from him.

Personally I'm more of a Weberian, but Marx is part of my toolkit.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

For me there are clear problems with Marxism. 1) It's been a lousy predictor of the future and 2) the idea of "class" just doesn't work very well.

You can't really measure "class" in the marxian sense very well. And since you can't, you can't test hypotheses about how they behave.

Sometimes I use the word "class war" metaphorically, but usually with scare quotes because that's not really what I mean. I mean something more like the war of the "haves" against the "have-nots." The "haves" are not a "class" yet. They're segmented by industry or area of economic activity, and are not homogeneous, but in every area of economic activity they're driving toward economic domination and trying to extract as much wealth as they can from others.

To analyze the development of our new plutocracy, Marxist categories are not very useful. We have to develop our own paradigms and theories.

techno's picture
Submitted by techno on

However, I DO think that if class is defined as a group with similar economic interests, then Class Analysis is useful. A good non-marxian example of class analysis can be found here.

Cassiodorus's picture
Submitted by Cassiodorus on

But to discover that, you'd have to analyze actual Marx and marxist discussion (start maybe with Robert Brenner or John Bellamy Foster or any of the economic and social writers of the many thriving marxist publications in the world today) rather than spending time with straw men.

Submitted by lambert on

LGID argues that you can't measure class, in the Marxist sense, very well. And if you don't have a metric for your fundamental analytical category, that's bad, yes?

So, is he right or wrong? If he's wrong, then lets have some linky goodness on that topic from one of those thriving publications.

(Personally, I think we have a big linguistic problem talking about class, since the behavior of members of a class isn't necessarily predictable, whereas the behavior of the class as a whole ought to be. But our language doesn't really have good ways to express that, so we resort to awkward qualifiers, like "on the whole and on the average."

Cassiodorus's picture
Submitted by Cassiodorus on

Do you:

1) work for a living,

or

2) live off of your investments?

Oh, and by the way, if you live off of your investments, the fact that you may also "work for a living" still puts you in category #2.

The fundamental social dynamic establishing the social classes is that of the appropriation of the surplus as produced by wage labor. Go to any factory, and you can see class (specifically the working class) being produced.

Cassiodorus's picture
Submitted by Cassiodorus on

Tony Wikrent thinks he can dismiss the whole of Marx by cherry-picking a few points and dismissing the rest.

Let's start by blaming Marx after he's dead for the behavior of "Marxists." Then let's blame the "Marxists" for being "anti-democratic" without discussing Lenin's odious philosophy of "democratic centralism." Then let's suggest that Marx was "openly scornful of agriculture" when he was trying to defend it against capitalist debasement, and while at the same time blaming Marx for Stalin's agricultural policies.

Oh, look, a collection of straw men!

When I get the chance to teach argumentation, either in classes in English or in Communication, I teach my students that if they are to argue against something, they need to critique the STRONGEST arguments of the other side, and not simply imagine that they have "won" the debate by finding their opponents' weakest side and pissing on that. Only through a strategy of fairness to one's debating opponents is one to avoid the "straw man" fallacy.

Marx's theory of the long-term decline in the aggregate rate of profit (see vol. 3 of Capital) is something we are living through right now. Marx's theories of surplus labor and of social classes are as applicable today as they were in his time, though not in pure form.

Marx gives us invaluable conceptual tools such as "historical materialism" and the "critique of political economy." Oh, sure, you can also get a lot out of reading Veblen or Henry George or any of those other people mentioned in this essay. But in an era in which minimal literacy is the social norm, I don't see what good is accomplished by dismissing Marx, or for that matter Dickens or Eliot or any of the other marathon writers of the 19th century. Eh?

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

...I think, is a way of establishing credentials. It's like stating, "Hey, I'm not a filthy red, take me seriously when I critique the bosses."

Submitted by lambert on

Anybody serious on the left has to take Marx seriously. That's not the same as agreeing, and it's not the same as advocating.

At least on this thread, I see a serious discussion going on -- or did, until this "credentialling" talking point wandered in the door.

I mean, the concept of anybody establishing their credentials at the blog that everybody hates and nobody reads...