Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Why Marx Was Right

I'm currently reading Terry Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right, a little book that came out in 2011. And, I have to say, it is possibly the best short introductory work to Marx and Marxism I've read. And I've read a lot. Taking a set of common charges made against Marx (Marx was a determinist, Marx hated individualism, Marx is outdated, Marx foreshadowed Stalin, etc.) Eagleton patiently but clearly explains why those objections are mistaken and in so doing sets out Marx's stall for him. The Marx that springs from the page is a profoundly positive thinker and comrade sceptical of grand theoretical claims, and who hated oppression and tyranny wherever it raised its ugly head. Althusser fans will be disappointed it's the Marx of the Paris Manuscripts who gets bandied about here but it doesn't matter. Getting across the view that Marx is exciting and relevant is more important, and Eagleton does that in spades.

As I'm in a lazy mood tonight, here are a few bits and bobs from the book.

On revolutionary identity:
Marxism is meant to be a strictly provisional affair, which is why anyone who invests the whole of their identity in it has missed the point. That there is life after Marxism is the whole point of Marxism. (p.2)
On the USSR
The Soviet Union played a heroic role in combating the evil of fascism, as well as in helping to topple the colonialist powers. It also featured the kind of solidarity among its citizens that Western nations seem able to muster only when they are killing the natives of other lands. All this, to be sure, is no substitute for freedom, democracy and vegetables in the shop, but neither is it to be ignored. (p.14)
On socialism building on preceding modes of production
The Marxist narrative is not tragic in the sense of ending badly. But a narrative does not have to end badly for it to be tragic. Even if men and women find some fulfillment in the end, it is tragic that their ancestors had to be hauled through hell in order for them to do so. And there will be many who fall by the wayside, unfulfilled and unremembered. Short of some literal resurrection, we can never make recompense to these vanquished millions (p.61)
On Marxism and equality
Genuine equality means not treating everyone the same, but attending equally to everyone's different needs. (p.104)
On economic determinism
The most compelling confirmation of Marx's theory of history is late capitalist society. There is a sense in which his case is becoming truer as time passes. It is capitalism, not Marxism, which is economically reductionist. (pp.115-6)


Steve said...

Marx was right, but humans are not scientific. However I think Marxism is the only realistic option moving forward.

howard fuller said...

Marx was wrong.

Marxism should be left behind as a very bloody failed experiment.

Phil said...

Howie fella, this book is for you.

Speedy said...

Doesn't Marxism work as analysis but fail as solution?

Post-industrial society is too fragmented to support a coherent workers movement (or identification)?

Doesn't everyone strive to be bourgeois now?

This is why it seems so hopeless.

I don't want to sound like a religious nut, but it seems to me that only something like Christianity, which separates the person from the (human) process and therefore shapes their behaviour within society, has a hope for creating a fairer world.

Communists of course had "faith" too - they were utopians just like Christians, and Marx provides them with a system to impose on this world.

Perhaps this is also why some on the hard-left have affection for Islamism - they see the faith they have "lost" and an alternative hegemony.

But I see Christianity, for all its many faults (and indeed Catholicism - Liberation Theology) as intrinsically more progressive and ultimately more flexible. And I'm no Catholic.

Yes - to atheists the problem is the necessity of "belief" in certain concepts they find absurd, but an acceptance, if only in terms of symbolism, is necessary a-priori in order for the approach to be effective, otherwise (as you infer) why sacrifice oneself for utopia? I once read a priest said: "we must act in a way that if there was no truth to our belief would be absurd".

I realise this may be an unbridgeable gap, but my point is - being pragmatic with capitalism and having no utopian goal will not work. The monster will just gobble you up - you have to have a belief system that, for example, takes pride in poverty in order to challenge it.

Dialectician1 said...

Yes, I agree, Tel's book is very good. He gets scolded occasionally for being evasive and flippant http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/27/culture-death-god-review-terry-eagleton but his honest Marxism has been consistent throughout those barren years of post modernism. Unlike Speedy, above, but like Marx, I do not think there is a pragmatic solution to capitalism. There is only one choice: barbarism or communism. I guess most of us agency junkies are fatally attracted to crash and burn barbarism. Marx was an Enlightenment thinker who put faith in humans to work out better ways to do things. The problem is trying to fix something that irredeemably bust. Marx was right!

howard fuller said...

Phil I was going to respond in a little more depth but got carried away so blogged it instead.


You are cordially invited to reply!

Robert said...

Unlearning the history of capitalism


Speedy said...

"Unlike Speedy, above, but like Marx, I do not think there is a pragmatic solution to capitalism"

That's what i said.

Dialectician1 said...

My apologies Speedy, I must have got you mixed up with howie. It would appear that I agree with both you and Karl. There so many more people who have an opinion on Marx but have rarely read ANY of his stuff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUaVeixiVLc#t=30