MARXISM - TO BE A DINOSAUR
be a dinosaur
lasted 26 million years. They came in every size and shape and all the
colours of Joseph’s coat. So, when Imre Salusinszky in 1997, and A. C.
Grayling a decade later, dismissed me as a “Marxist dinosaur”, I
sighed “If only…” My accusers also reveal their ignorance of
dinosaurs which are far from extinct. Only the terrestrial ones went
extinct. The avian ones are all about us, brilliantly coloured,
rhapsodically musical and dazzling in their aerial acrobatics. Who
wouldn’t be a dinosaur?
the fall of the Berlin Wall, the toadies chorused: “Marx is
discredited”. To which Marxists replied: when, and for what, did your
crew ever give him credit? Das Capital had been “discredited” in 1896 by Eugen von Bohn-Bawerk’s
Karl Marx and the close of his
system. Since then, thousands of books have reasserted the close of
Marxism, without understanding either Marx, or this early critic.
relentlessness of their onslaught has not been aimed at Marx but at
depriving proletarians of our keenest intellectual armoury. From nowhere
else can we learn the three keys to capitalism: one, class struggle is
waged every second of every day - at work, asleep and at play - to
maximise the exploitation from capital’s purchase of labour power in
units of labour time; two, this exploitation means there is no such
thing as a fair day’s pay; thirdly, the state enforces this
keeps Marxism creditable. For as long as capitalism is around, Marxism
is in no danger of extinction. Meanwhile, media blather about a swerve
back to “socialism” by bank nationalisations and welfare spending is
as ill-informed as was its “discrediting” of Marx. Hence, those of
us who need Marxism in current battles spurn both versions to remain
clear about what Marxism can and cannot offer.
Marxism is a sub-set of historical materialism, the one which explains
capitalism. Historical materialism, in turn, is a sub-branch of
materialist dialectics. The Neo-Darwinian synthesis is another. Because
both inquire into aspects of our species, some of their concepts and
evidence overlap, but they are neither substitutes for each other, nor
can one suborn the other. Marxism has nothing to say about the
extinction of dinosaurs and Darwinism is silent on the law of the
tendency of the rate of profit to fall.
Marx’s analysis of capitalism is specific to that mode of production,
and not cannot be extrapolated onto pre-class societies, or even to
slavery or feudalism. Yes, what Marx and Engels revealed about the
structured dynamics of capitalism is rich with insights about how one
might investigate other systems of class exploitation, but those clues
are side benefits, not a matrix.
Marx provided only the starting place for understanding capitalism. His
insights are essential but never sufficient. We must continue their
investigations, as Lenin did in the late 1890s to determine whether a
proletariat was emerging in Russia. To do so, we must remain critical
about what Marx, Engels and Lenin uncovered. What matters is not what
they “really” said. The
point is whether their analyses were true at the time, and, more
importantly, do those elements relate to capitalism now.
feature of Capital are the
passages which splotlight every twist in the current unraveling of
capital. Those quotable quotes are valuable not as evidence for his
prescience but only as indications of how Marx integrated such
behaviours into his account of the il-logic in the expansion of capital.
can Capital still be crucial
140 years after its publication? The answer is not that Marx was smarter
than Adam Smith. His advantage was that he lived through the
establishment of modern capitalism whereas Smith had died before the
Smith, Marx did not write “political economy”: he critiqued it - as
he did aesthetics, anthropology, history, philosophy and theology.
Unless Marxism remains critical it becomes a nullity. One performance
enhancer would be for Gillard to ban it from the education system.
However, for as long as Marxists cleave to “class struggle”,
“exploitation” and the class bias of the state, we won’t need
bourgeois agents like her to keep us subversive.
can remain socialists without being any kind of Marxist. Few socialists
have ever been Marxists and most never will be. But you can’t stay a
Marxist without being a socialist.