Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 9, 2012

British liberals versus Karl Marx; Marx wins by a TKO

Filed under: economics,liberalism,Red Plenty,ussr — louisproyect @ 6:12 pm

Francis Spufford

John Lanchester

The heavyweight champ

For someone deemed so obsolete and irrelevant, Karl Marx has a way of getting under the skin of liberal intellectuals 193 years after his birth. For example, John Lanchester—a British novelist and nonfiction writer born in 1962—spends 6016 words (!) trying to drive a stake through the heart of Marx’s ideas in an essay titled Marx at 193 that appears in the left-leaning London Review of Books:

The most obvious mistake in his version of the world is to do with class. There is something like a classic Marxian proletariat dispersed through the world. But Marx foresaw that this proletariat would be an increasingly centralised and organised force: indeed, this was one of the reasons it would prove so dangerous to capitalism. By creating the conditions in which labour would be sure to organise and assemble collectively capitalism was arranging its own downfall. But there is no organised global conflict between the classes; there is no organised global proletariat.

About a month before this article appeared, Crooked Timber—a group blog hosted by liberal academics also obsessed with burying Karl Marx—advised its readers that Francis Spufford’s new mixture of fact and fiction (faction in more senses than one) titled “Red Plenty” is “a mosaic novel that simultaneously speaks intelligently to the Soviet calculation debate, and has engaging characters.” Like Lanchester, two years his senior, Spufford writes both novels and nonfiction and is British. Since both Lanchester and Spufford were too young to be part of the sixties radicalization when socialist revolution had more of a palpable reality than it does today, one suspects that there might be a generational thing going on. Or Oedipal, if you are into Freud.

Oddly enough, the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the general decline of a revolutionary movement are not enough to assuage them. Could it be possible that if there was only a single human being committed to socialism living on the planet Earth at some point in the distant future, outlets like the London Review of Books and Crooked Timber would still be writing broadsides against this “irrelevant” movement? What the liberal intelligentsia fails to understand is that Marxism will exist as long as there is capitalism. Capitalism generates its negative critique—Marxism—through the creation of class antagonisms born out of the brutal reality this unnatural social system generates. If Karl Marx had never been born, someone else would have come along to develop an analysis of the capitalist system and a program to eliminate it. That’s the dialectic the liberals cannot understand.

I am currently about 40 percent through with “Red Plenty” and will be posting a critique but in the meantime I want to direct you to the introduction of Part Three where Francis Spufford dispenses with his fictional examination of Soviet characters involved with attempts to modernize the economy through automation and lays out “what went wrong” with the USSR. I have scanned the introduction, which can be read here: http://www.marxmail.org/Red_Plenty_Intro.htm. I want to single out a couple of sections to give you a feel for his approach:

Spufford’s take on Lenin comes out of the Cold War Sovietology playbook:

With almost no industrial workers to represent, the Bolshevik (‘majority) faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party was a tiny, freakish cult, under the thumb of a charismatic minor aristocrat, V.I. Lenin, who had developed a doctrine of the party’s, and by extension his own, infallibility. The Bolsheviks had no chance of influencing events, and certainly no chance at getting anywhere near political power, until the First World War turned Russian society upside down. In the chaos and economic collapse following the overthrow of the Tsar by disorganised liberals, they were able to use the discipline of the cult’s membership to mount a coup d’etat — and then to finesse themselves into the leadership of all those in Russia who were resisting the armed return of the old regime. Suddenly, a small collection of fanatics and opportunists found themselves [sic, should be itself, since “a small collection” is singular, not plural] running the country that least resembled Marx’s description of a place ready for socialist revolution.

Robert Service could not have put it better.

After several decades of Stalin’s forced march, the USSR began to catch up to the industrialized West, so much so that it became possible to consider a stepped-up investment in consumer goods. The term ‘Red Plenty’ alludes to the hopes of its various Soviet characters that they would have just as much as the Americans et al. Spufford writes:

Yet somehow this economy had to grow, and go on growing, without a pause. It wasn’t just a question of overtaking the Americans. There were still people in the Soviet Union, at the beginning of the 1960s, who believed in Marx’s original idyll: and one of them was the First Secretary of the Party, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. Somehow, the economy had to carry the citizens of the Bolshevik corporation all the way up the steepening slope of growth to the point where the growing blended into indistinguishable plenty, where the work of capitalism and its surrogate were done at last, where history resumed its rightful course; where the hunting started, and the fishing, and the criticising after dinner, and the technology of abundance would purr in the background like a contented cat.

For Spufford, the USSR of the 1950s and 60s is kind of a funhouse mirror of the United States of the same period—in other words a country aspiring to look like the hit television show “Mad Men”. Socialism becomes more or less equated with a hankering for more, rather than for freedom. Since Spufford is a man of the left, it is not surprising that he is appalled by consumerism, whichever ideology fosters it. He told the Guardian in August 2010:

Our version isn’t costless either. The steel and concrete required to sustain it are created for us elsewhere, out of sight, leaving us free to stroll around our pastel pavilion, on the side of which glimmers the word “Tesco”. Inside are piled, just as Khrushchev hoped, riches to humble the kings of antiquity. But terms and conditions apply.

While I will be on the lookout for any clues that Spufford has entertained the possibility that 21st century socialism will proceed on utterly different foundations than what Henry Miller once called the Air-Conditioned Nightmare, the prognosis seems guarded. The general impression I get from what I have read so far, both in “Red Plenty” and his musings elsewhere, is that of a jaded intellectual who believes that it is better to deal with the devil you know—an understandable stance if you are a college professor in London instead of a Greek pensioner.

Turning now to John Lanchester’s essay, you can at least be grateful to him for providing so many examples of how not to read Marx. It is a kind of clinical study in liberal confusion, mixed with deliberate misrepresentation, starting with the nonsense about the disappearance of the working class as a “centralized” and “organized” force. Perhaps the only thing worth stating at this point is if nobody ever wrote a single word from a Marxist standpoint after Marx’s death, Lanchester’s comments would be valid. However, Marxism continued after Marx’s death—surprise, surprise. While Lanchester refers to David Harvey in his essay (see below), he does not seem to have grasped his key theoretical contribution, namely the ability of capital to decentralize the working class through geographical displacement of its internal contradictions. With respect to it being “organized”, we can only say that this is not Marx’s responsibility—it is ours.

His essay tries for the umpteenth time to refute some of the basic precepts of Capital, especially Marx’s concept of value:

There are obvious difficulties with Marx’s arguments. One of them is that so many of the contemporary world’s goods and commodities are now virtual (in the digital-oriented sense) that it’s not easy to see where the accumulated labour in them is. David Harvey’s lectures on Capital, for instance, the best beginning for anyone studying Marx’s most important book, are of immense value but they’re also available for free on the internet, so if you buy them as a book – you can take in information much more quickly by reading than by listening – the surplus value you’re adding to is mainly your own.

Huh?

There is so much confusion packed into this brief paragraph that it would take a week to draw out and dissect it. To put it briefly (and this is all it deserves), the books, music and videos available for free on the Internet were either created originally through the process of surplus value creation (just ask the NY Times reporter if his work was originally “for free”) or by schnooks like me who want to win friends and influence people on a pro bono basis. If the writers, artists, and film-makers whose stuff gets circulated on Huffington Post never got paid, there never would have been anything to look at (except of course for the bloggers who got conned into writing for free.) How this invalidates Marx’s theory of value is anybody’s guess.

Lanchester also believes that when you carry your own bags at the airport for free, you are proving Marx wrong:

Online check-in is a process which should genuinely increase the efficiency of the airport experience, thereby costing you less time: time you can spend doing other things, some of them economically useful to you. But what the airlines do is employ so few people to supervise the bag drop-off that there’s no time-saving at all for the customer. When you look, you see that because airlines have to employ more people to supervise the non-online-checked-in customers – otherwise the planes wouldn’t leave on time – the non-checked-in queues move far more quickly.

The same thing is true for the CVS pharmacy across the street from me that replaced most of its sales clerks with scanning machines. I ring up my scanned goods and pack them myself. But this is not what CVS is about. Mostly it is about commodities stocked on the shelves that are the products of alienated labor. For example, the paper products Vanity Fair, Angel Soft, and Northern Quilted are all made by Georgia-Pacific, part of Koch Industries. In December 2010, the workers at Georgia-Pacific in Portland, Oregon rallied against their bosses’ greed:

On the cold afternoon of December 4th, fourth generation Georgia- Pacific (G-P) employee Travis McKinney raised his voice above the frigid wind as he stood with close to one hundred of his co-workers, union allies and community supporters in front of the office at the company’s largest distribution center for paper products in Portland, Oregon.

He described to an outraged crowd, management’s cold-blooded refusal to allow him to tend to his daughter’s health: “When I had to take my daughter to the hospital to be diagnosed, the company told me I had to stay and work overtime instead.” Travis was eventually able to get medical help for his daughter – despite G-P’s lack of support – and found that she was autistic.

Doug Stilwell, another G-P employee, spoke at the rally about management’s constant pressure to speed up forklift operations. “There is no safety… ever since they put this computer system in here [to automatically direct workers when to move loads], we’re all taking shortcuts trying to get this stuff down, pushing their paper out. It’s wrong,” said Stilwell.

This is the underlying reality of CVS or American Airlines, another labor-bashing outfit, not me scanning my toilet paper or doing online check-in’s of my suitcases.

Lanchester’s trump card is just as what one might have expected: the welfare state. The fact that we are no longer working 12 hours a day and one step away from the poorhouse makes Marx obsolete:

The contemporary welfare state – housing and educating and feeding and providing healthcare for its citizens, from birth to death – is a development which challenges the basis of Marx’s analysis of what capitalism is: I think he would have looked hard at the welfare state and wondered whether it fundamentally undermined his analysis, just because it is so different from the capitalism Marx saw operating in his day, and from which he extrapolated. Perhaps he would argue that what has happened is that British society in its entirety has become part of a global bourgeoisie, and the proletariat is now in other countries; that’s a possible argument, but not one that’s easy to sustain in the face of the inequalities which exist and are growing in our society. But Scandinavian welfare capitalism is very different from the state-controlled capitalism of China, which is in turn almost wholly different from the free-market, sauve-qui-peut capitalism of the United States, which is again different from the nationalistic and heavily socialised capitalism of France, which again is not at all like the curious hybrid we have in the UK, in which our governments are wholly devoted to the free market and yet we have areas of welfare and provision they haven’t dared address.

How odd to see someone pointing to the welfare states of Europe nowadays when all of them are on a forced march to resemble the United States, with Greece a prime example of the fate that befalls them all—Germany and the Scandinavian countries to follow suit. All of them are under pressure to compete in a global market that is putting immense pressure on the more prosperous countries to drive down the wages of their workers so as to compete with the less prosperous.

It should be understood, however, that the existence of these welfare states is predicated not on the tendency of the bourgeoisie to operate against its own class interests. Historically, they came into being only because they were seen as a way to preempt proletarian revolution. In some ways, German’s Bismarck paved the way for FDR, the Scandinavian and British welfare states and all the rest.

Under Bismarck, the following pieces of legislation were enacted:

  • Health Insurance Bill of 1883
  • Accident Insurance Bill of 1884
  • Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill of 1889

He sponsored such legislation only because the German socialists were building a counter-force to German capitalism that had the potential to eliminate it. Even when he was pushing through welfare-state legislation well ahead of his time, Bismarck made sure to enact anti-socialist laws that resulted in the closing of 45 newspapers.

FDR was not that different. Widely recognized for fighting against the capitalists in order to preserve their own system, he made sure that the only threat to the status quo—the Trotskyists—ended up in prison at the beginning of WWII.

Whatever nostalgia you confront in “Red Plenty” for a fat and happy consumerist America of the 1950s or in Lanchester’s welfare state disappearing before your eyes like a Cheshire cat, the reality we confront is much more like Marx’s 1860s than either liberal is willing to accept. That is their problem, not ours.

20 Comments »

  1. Lanchester failed to spot this MoD report which predicted that the global Middle Class would become Marxist by 2030 (see p. 22)

    http://www.mod.uk/nr/rdonlyres/38651acb-d9a9-4494-98aa-1c86433bb673/0/gst4_update9_feb10.pdf

    Comment by thebiggpicture — April 9, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

  2. For what it is worth, Spufford’s re-telling of the economic life of the Soviet Union is very good indeed, especially his account of the bureaucratic plan and its entropy

    Comment by jamesheartfield — April 9, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

  3. Admittedly, Spufford is very good at describing the USSR’s entropy. He also is a pretty good writer, even capable of writing in a genre long discarded–the philosophical dialog. Diderot’s “Rameau’s Nephew” and Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” are an obvious forerunners. But Spufford is not in their league obviously.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

  4. Excellent analysis that makes a lot of sense to me. I read all of the ‘Red Plenty’ hype on Crooked Timber, bought the book, and abandoned it half way through. Not only were it’s ‘political’ themes tendentious but it was a poor novel. Boring, convoluted, piss poor plot. Likewise with Lanchester’s LRB piece; just couldn’t get through it, eyes started to close after a thousand words and with nearly five thousand more to go….. It was kind of warped and at such a colassal distance from contemporary European realities. I’ve long believed that Europe’s welfare states owe their existence solely to the following binary political choice offered to the bourgeoisie: the bolshevik firing squad or the social democrat negotiating table. The former is long gone and Europe’s bourgeoisie have, quite reasonably in their own terms, concluded that that the latter represents no substantive political threat and, consequently, social democracy, and its crowning achievement the ‘Welfare State’ can be attacked and destroyed easily enough. What is politically ridiculous in Europe today is the belief, deeply held by social democrats, that the welfare state is respected by the elite of finance capital. Mario Draghi’s recent comments as to the utility of the ‘European social mode’ may disabuse some social democrats (unlikely, but stranger things have happened). I fully endorse the point that the welfare states of Germany and Scandanavia will follow the trail blazed by Greece. Life inside most of Europe’s universities is still comfy for academics (which explains the soporific quality of Crooked Timber). Off campus, however, things are starting to stir and questions will soon be asked which won’t answered by John Rawls but will be by Karl Marx.

    Comment by CMK — April 9, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  5. —“Our version isn’t costless either. The steel and concrete required to sustain it are created for us elsewhere, out of sight, leaving us free to stroll around our pastel pavilion”–

    Who is this ‘us’ he is talking about ? Academic liberals imagine that the world of comfort (and hermetic isolation) they live in applies to everyone. They then creative a narrative of collective Western guilt that the working classes of London basically have nothing to do with.

    Anywhere you go in the world, someone else is living worse. That there are degrees of exploitation hardly makes a lesser degree acceptable.When I lived in the Philippines, the people in the squatters areas were thankful they weren’t like those who were living on the garbage dumps. This hardly makes the people living in squatters areas a people of privilege.

    Comment by purple — April 9, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

  6. This is the hammer on the nail’s head: A liberal is someone “who believes that it is better to deal with the devil you know—an understandable stance if you are a college professor in London instead of a Greek pensioner.”

    And as these cases show, these familiars are willing to embrace their own devil even if it means ignoring that liberalism’s deteriorating humanitarian offerings, the welfare state and social citizenship, clearly depended on the whip of a communist alternative; even if it means clearly not having the faintest glimmer of what the f*ck Marx was saying and Marxists have been saying; even if it means demonizing people who tried to wrest a country out of feudalism.

    And this brings up further point about liberals that is more and more in evidence and that should introduce a cold chill in all our hearts: The devil liberals know and list to is an elderly gent; he’s not just capitalism, but also partly feudal serfdom.

    Comment by Iuncta Iuvant — April 9, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

  7. Why do so many purported “intellectuals” get Marx’s value theory so horribly wrong? Either “intellectuals” aren’t as smart as they think, or there is deliberate misrepresentation involved.

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1868/letters/68_07_11.htm

    “The chatter about the need to prove the concept of value arises only from complete ignorance both of the subject under discussion and of the method of science. Every child knows that any nation that stopped working, not for a year, but let us say, just for a few weeks, would perish. And every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society’s aggregate labour. It is self-evident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all. The only thing that can change, under historically differing conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products.

    Where science comes in is to show how the law of value asserts itself. So, if one wanted to ‘explain’ from the outset all phenomena that apparently contradict the law, one would have to provide the science before the science. It is precisely Ricardo’s mistake that in his first chapter, on value, all sorts of categories that still have to be arrived at are assumed as given, in order to prove their harmony with the law of value.

    Comment by negativepotential — April 9, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

  8. Bourgeois liberals have always operated on a “need to know” only basis. What is truly monsterous is that they continue their chatter amist a historic auto da fe of the British economy called “austerity”.

    Clearly it is liberialism that has died, on both sides of the Atlantic, and certainly not Marxism. The Anglo-American capitalists are ensuring in practice that it stay alive and well.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — April 9, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

  9. Liberals (and not only liberals) seem to believe that value is created out of thin air, thanks to the “genius” of the owner. This is what they are told, and what they wish to believe, mounting evidence to the contrary. They may well be comfortable with the devil they know, but the devil is not finished with them.

    Comment by Systemic Disorder — April 9, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

  10. I don’t know what to make about Lanchester’s comment that the global proletariat is decentralized and disorganized, nor in any case am I aware of any statements by Marx to the effect that the reverse was supposed to happen (or when, or if not what).

    My impression is that Lanchester feels forced to acknowledge the existence of a new global proletariat–a great point in Marx’s favor, as I see it–and wishes to do so as dismissively as possible in order to keep people from getting the right idea.

    Does any Marxist more deepy dyed than I am recognize what in Marx, if anything, Lanchester is referring to here?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — April 9, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

  11. It’s interesting to note that while these intellectuals from the academic milieu labor in vain to nullify Marx — their counterparts in the business community don’t take such a narrow view. After the ’08 crash they’ve raised the spectre more than once in various WSJ articles and NY Times Op Eds that maybe Marx was right — their class consciousness being infinitely more antagonistic, developed and sophisticated than the toiling multitudes, never mind liberal academic pontiffs.

    The thing most striking from Proyect’s review is that typical liberal ignorance of the fact that the historical process illustrates conclusively the inexorability of class struggle. More than that Marx never really claimed.

    Amazing how a liberal professor, so isolated in their academic milieu, forget that so long as an employer’s objective interest is to extract the maximum amount of work from an employee for the least amount of wages — it necessarily follows that the employee’s objective interest is to extract the maximum amount of wages for the least amount of work. This simple truism serves as basis for the primary class antagonism at the heart of the modern world economy and the energy of this constant friction provides the fuel for class struggle.

    Liberal critics of Marx in general and these 2 authors in particular tend to revert to a preaching of what amounts to moralistic effluence, particularly when they get into critiquing the Soviet economy.

    As Trotsky in 1938 pointed out in “Their Morals and Ours” — the pitch of these sermons tends to get higher the closer austerity & reaction come:

    “The class basis of this false and pompous sermon is the intellectual petty bourgeoisie. The political basis – their impotence and confusion in the face of approaching reaction. Psychological basis – their effort at overcoming the feeling of their own inferiority through masquerading in the beard of a prophet.”

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/morals/morals.htm

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2012 @ 12:59 am

  12. “With almost no industrial workers to represent, the Bolshevik (‘majority) faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party was a tiny, freakish cult, under the thumb of a charismatic minor aristocrat, V.I. Lenin, who had developed a doctrine of the party’s, and by extension his own, infallibility. The Bolsheviks had no chance of influencing events, and certainly no chance at getting anywhere near political power, until the First World War turned Russian society upside down. In the chaos and economic collapse following the overthrow of the Tsar by disorganised liberals, they were able to use the discipline of the cult’s membership to mount a coup d’etat — and then to finesse themselves into the leadership of all those in Russia who were resisting the armed return of the old regime. Suddenly, a small collection of fanatics and opportunists found themselves [sic, should be itself, since “a small collection” is singular, not plural] running the country that least resembled Marx’s description of a place ready for socialist revolution.”

    The simplemindedness of such an analysis is remarkable. Most movements that take power, good, bad and indifferent, develop a significant base of popular support. But Spufford absolves those in the society at large for any political responsibility for their actions or lack of them. After all, they just got abused by a cult. But people who go through this know better, hence the condemnation of those who collaborated with the Stasi, Franco and Pinochet, to name a few, by those who personally experienced their predations.

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 10, 2012 @ 1:03 am

  13. I’d add that, environmental catastrophe notwithstanding, the fate of human evolution still rests with the outcome of the Titanic struggle between 2 great classes. Thus one more apropo quote from the link above — that one with a keen sense of pre-WWII history can tell was written specifically for British liberals of the sort reviewed here is this one —

    “If an ignorant peasant or shopkeeper, understanding neither the origin nor the sense of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, discovers himself between the two fires, he will consider both belligerent camps with equal hatred. And who are all these democratic moralists? Ideologists of intermediary layers who have fallen, or are in fear of falling between the two fires. The chief traits of the prophets of this type are alienism to great historical movements, a hardened conservative mentality, smug narrowness, and a most primitive political cowardice. More than anything moralists wish that history should leave them in peace with their petty books [and blogs], little magazines, subscribers, common sense, and moral copy books. But history does not leave them in peace. It cuffs them now from the left, now from the right. Clearly – revolution and reaction, Czarism and Bolshevism, communism and fascism, Stalinism and Trotskyism – are all twins. Whoever doubts this may feel the symmetrical skull bumps upon both the right and left sides of these very moralists.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  14. Reblogged this on Bláskógar and commented:
    Worth a read!

    Comment by tlilxochitl — April 10, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  15. Having appreciated John Lanchester’s lucid commentaries on the economic crisis, I was disappointed to find him so confused on basic points of Marxist theory. However I find myself even more disappointed by Louis’ injudicious response to his article, and even more so by the archaeo-marxist comments it has evoked. Louis says that Lanchester is “trying to drive a stake through the heart of Marx’s ideas”. Presumably as in “Marx was extraordinarily prescient . He really did have the the most astonishing insight into the nature and trajectory of and direction of capitalism.” An odd “stake through the heart” that one, don’t you think? He is also accused of being a “bourgeois intellectual / liberal” (no distinction made in this neck of the woods, suggesting that we have been living in benighted times since Joseph Dietzgen left his bench). Idon ‘t know what sort of liberals you are growing on that side of the Atlantic at the moment, but I doubt there are many who would write: “The financial system in its current condition poses an existential threat to Western democracy far exceeding any terrorist threat.”
    Louis is right that what we partly have here is a generational dislocation: Lanchester has not made the long journey that many of us have through the far left and its debates. So there’s confusion in his ideas and quite a bit of reinventing of the wheel (in some cases triangular wheels). But he also puts his finger on a number of key issues that the Left needs to engage with. Try his final sentence: “Marx wrote … ‘man is distiguished from all other animals by the limitless and flexible nature of his needs’ Limitless needs we see all around us and they’ve brough us to where we are, but we’re going have to work on the flexible part.” For me that’s not a bad start on an agenda.

    Comment by Brian. O. — April 10, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

  16. a few years ago the bbc radio program ‘in our times’ ran a series culminating in an audience vote for ‘greatest philosopher.’ old karl won going away, and hearing the host squirm in explaining that one was worth the price of admission.

    you can likely still hear those episodes through the online bbc radio archive (a great resource).

    Comment by jp — April 11, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

  17. Louis gets Lanchester so wrong i’m shocked and disappointed. It isn’t an attempt to do down or bury Marx and Marxism, it’s a very sympathetic attempt to appraise Maxism from a perceptive writer – read ‘Whoops’ on the current crisis. Of course there are a lot of mistakes about Marxism, although a fair number of the mistakes aren’t that far away from the inerpretatinos actually made by people who considered themselves Marxist. Really it should be considered as a well-intentioned gift to Marxism from a sympathetic bourgeois liberal, the response should be to say thankyou, but I think you got this or that wrong – the crusely dogmatic misreading by Louis and some of the commentators above is a worrying deonstration of the hermetic dogmatism that can overtake even strong bodies of thought.

    Comment by Matthew Caygill — April 15, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  18. Matthew, these words by Lanchester are pretty much what I heard from high school and college teachers during my youth who sought to “educate” us about the irrelevancy of Marx:

    “Can it be true that the system is destructive, if people who live under it quite simply live longer? Take the Millennium Development goals, announced at the turn of the new century, and setting targets to reduce infant mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015 from a starting point of 1990 (the books slightly cooked by setting the starting point ten years in the past), halving the number of people who live in absolute poverty, doubling the percentage of children getting at least a primary education. Can an achievement on that scale be ignored? If a system does that, can you say that it produces nothing but immiseration?”

    This sort of argument has been around forever. It is liberal anti-Communism and really quite tedious.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

  19. How is it anti-communism? Is it that what he is saying is absolute bullshit? Or that it is only true within the US and made possible only by the exploitation of other areas of the world? Or is it that it ignores the vast difference in power between the bourgeoisie and the rest of us?

    Comment by Pandora — April 16, 2012 @ 4:37 pm


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