November 08, 2003

Blasts from the Past

Donald Sassoon interviews Karl Marx: w w w . p r o s p e c t - m a g a z i n e . c o . u k

undefined Posted by DeLong at November 8, 2003 03:41 PM | TrackBack

Comments

I read this wonderful piece a few days ago. The graf 5th from the end was a soothing balm to my turbulent heart:" Wonderful system of government. Fake democracy, fake elections, fake political system surrounded by humbug and greedy lawyers."

It was soothing because it suggested that rather then being a alarming revolution leading to misery, the current oligarchy-in-charge situation is just "business as usual," and the USA has always been so.

"Move along, nothing to see here"

I've thought for a long time that the USSR and PRC were to Communism as the Holy Roman Empire was to Christianity, an appealing excuse for plain old empire. That is, Communism is a great idea, too bad no one has ever tried it.

But it also cleared up a misconception I had about Marx; it seems he really did call for centralized planning. I had always thought his prescription was more of a prediction.

I've never been an advocate of Communism as it actually exists in the real world. Bad stuff.

Posted by: Joey Giiraud on November 8, 2003 04:07 PM

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I read this wonderful piece a few days ago. The graf 5th from the end was a soothing balm to my turbulent heart:" Wonderful system of government. Fake democracy, fake elections, fake political system surrounded by humbug and greedy lawyers."

It was soothing because it suggested that rather then being a alarming revolution leading to misery, the current oligarchy-in-charge situation is just "business as usual," and the USA has always been so.

"Move along, nothing to see here"

I've thought for a long time that the USSR and PRC were to Communism as the Holy Roman Empire was to Christianity, an appealing excuse for plain old empire. That is, Communism is a great idea, too bad no one has ever tried it.

But it also cleared up a misconception I had about Marx; it seems he really did call for centralized planning. I had always thought his prescription was more of a prediction.

I've never been an advocate of Communism as it actually exists in the real world. Bad stuff.

Posted by: Joey Giiraud on November 8, 2003 04:12 PM

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I read this wonderful piece a few days ago. The graf 5th from the end was a soothing balm to my turbulent heart:" Wonderful system of government. Fake democracy, fake elections, fake political system surrounded by humbug and greedy lawyers."

It was soothing because it suggested that rather then being a alarming revolution leading to misery, the current oligarchy-in-charge situation is just "business as usual," and the USA has always been so.

"Move along, nothing to see here"

I've thought for a long time that the USSR and PRC were to Communism as the Holy Roman Empire was to Christianity, an appealing excuse for plain old empire. That is, Communism is a great idea, too bad no one has ever tried it.

But it also cleared up a misconception I had about Marx; it seems he really did call for centralized planning. I had always thought his prescription was more of a prediction.

I've never been an advocate of Communism as it actually exists in the real world. Bad stuff.

Posted by: Joey Giiraud on November 8, 2003 04:17 PM

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Well, Joey Girard, if Communism never "really" existed, what about, say, Democracy? Oligarchy? Capitalism?

Reminds of of a George W. Bush quote: "If affirmative action means what I just described, what I'm for, then I'm for it."

In my opinion, if an ideological program leads to a flawed result in the real world, it's a cop-out excuse to claim that that ideological program was never "really" implemented.

If American democracy is dominated by special interests, perhaps we should turn a critical eye toward Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson, and Madison, rather than claiming that American Democracy doesn't "really exist."

If free-market capitalism leads to a massive inequality, environmental degradation, and socially inefficient pricing by monopolies and oligopolies, perhaps we should recognize that Adam Smith and John Bates Clark were (smart) people like the rest of us, not Gods in human form.

If Marxist communism lead to millions of deaths, inadequate economic development, massive environmental degradation, political persecution of any opponents, then perhaps it is Marxist communism that is flawed. To say "it never happened, really, the right way" is an easy way out.

I suspect Marx would agree were he here today, but then again, I can't pretend to divine his will. Well, I could, as many have, but that's not the point.

Posted by: Julian Elson on November 8, 2003 07:54 PM

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I think it is, if not unfair, then at least philologically inaccurate to equate Marx' thought with the Russian Revolution and the development of the Soviet state. Marx clearly intended his theory of revolution for the most advanced capitalist nations at their point of furthest industrial development, as far as he could see such. The new order was to be born from the ruins of the old order precisely because it had been incubated in the old order in the course of a long, internal "dialectical" struggle with it. To be sure, there is a laying on of Hegelian identities here, whether or not Marx still adheres to a metaphysical teleology of history and whether or not his tendential "laws" of capitalist development are intended to have any precise predictive import. But Marx never intended, nor forsaw the "revolution" taking place in the most backward, atavistic part of Europe. (Also among the things he probably did not remotely forsee was Europe-wide world war.) Still, one of the core weaknesses of Marx' thought is its lack of a full appreciation of the dimension of the political and the role of the state. Marx began his intellectual career with a critique of Hegel's theory of state, as a false, "idealistic" reconciliation of alienation, whose roots, he claimed, were in the socio-economic structure of society, of which the state was just a superstructure, and such alienation would only be truly overcome through a revolutionary transformation of that socio-economic basis. In developing the theory of this supposed practical basis of society, Marx tended to systematically underplay the role of political developments, though in his writings he displayed various different attitudes to these. (A theory of state was one of his many unfinished and, in this case, unbegun scholarly projects, so perhaps Marx realized his unclarity on these matters.) At any rate, this lacuna in Marx' thought gave license for Lenin later, in other devolved circumstances, to append his basically Jacobin theory of the vangard party oriented toward a revolutionary seizure of state power. (Rosa Luxemburg's notion of mass spontaneism was perhaps closer to Marx' intention, though Red Rosa was as much of a mechanistic, economic determinist, if not more so, than her Leninist rivals.) In the light of Marx' rejection of Hegel's state as authoritarian, there is some pregnant irony here. (Among Marx' heirs, only Antonio Gramsci responded to this lacuna in an original fashion, and this in a Hegelian direction.) But also because of the occlusion of this lacuna, Marx failed to anticipate the rise of Fascism- (Marx was to much a child of the Enlightenment to have considered this)- and the possibility of the Keynsian reform of capitalism and the welfare-state compromise. Still for all that Marx failed to appreciate the importance of democratic governance for any genuine prospect of human emancipation, I think, if one were to chance to converse with his ghost upon the now past, then future developments, despite the large capacity for rancor and shadenfreude ingredient in his character, I think he would be for more bitterly disappointed in the development of Stalinism than in the Keynsian compromise.

This fellow mimics Marx' character rather well, by the way. If he could do similarly well Hegel, Kant, Rousseau, Vico, Hobbes, Aristotle, etc., he might have a brilliant future ahead of him as an academic Rich Little.

Posted by: john c. halasz on November 9, 2003 03:56 AM

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Julian, I'm not for taking the easy way out. I've been under the impression that Marxian Communism was to be a natural evolution from capitalism. Since I've not read Marx, I may be wrong. Maybe Marx called for the murder of millions and the forced relocation of city dwellers to the country, I can't say. I would be surprised if so many intelligent people would follow such a program.

Like you, I am "anti-ideology." But it seems possible that the popularity of communism ideology was used by the Leninists to con the serfs into supporting them, meaning the ideology was used to gain power, rather then power used to implement ideology.

The rest of Russia and China's pain could be chalked up to forced industrialization. I mean, Russia was no great place before the revolution.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on November 10, 2003 02:58 PM

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Julian, I'm not for taking the easy way out. I've been under the impression that Marxian Communism was to be a natural evolution from capitalism. Since I've not read Marx, I may be wrong. Maybe Marx called for the murder of millions and the forced relocation of city dwellers to the country, I can't say. I would be surprised if so many intelligent people would follow such a program.

Like you, I am "anti-ideology." But it seems possible that the popularity of communism ideology was used by the Leninists to con the serfs into supporting them, meaning the ideology was used to gain power, rather then power used to implement ideology.

The rest of Russia and China's pain could be chalked up to forced industrialization. I mean, Russia was no great place before the revolution.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on November 10, 2003 03:03 PM

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Imagine "war on terrorism" when the terrorists have the backing of powerful states like USA, UK, Hitler Reich, Japan, and that a significant minority of your own population has a coincidence of interests with these states. In such circumstances the most probable evolution will be that to survive, people will bestow power on the most ruthless government in the belief that this will be the minor sacrifice. Why do you think Bush and his clique are so keen on such kind of a language?

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on November 11, 2003 12:45 PM

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