Marxism, philosophy, and more

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sun Jan 29 10:52:59 MST 1995

I am somewhat mystified by Proyect's apparent belief that Marx, maybe as
amended by Lenin, was right about everything and all we have to do, as
Marxists, is to popularize their insights and apply their method to
concrete problems. TThere are several grounds for puzzlement:

1. Marx himself insisted on scientific criticism (see the preface to
Capital, vol. 1) of his own ideas, which indeed he never completed
developing. If he was right about this, and he was, then amendment and
improvent is part of Marxism.

2. But if it isn't, Marxism is a religous ideology, not a scientific
tradition. Some Marxists--too many--have so taken it, thus the old
emphasis on "orthodoxy." This is a very unfortunate strain in Marxism,
leading to false beliefs from a scientific point of view and political
totalitarianism from a political one.

3. Application of Marxist "methods"--asking questions about class and
exploitation, using Marxist concepts to develop answers to such
questions--to new problems such as the de-industrialization of America
(Proyects' example) or the collapse (or for that matter, the rise) of the
USSR is likely to lead to changes in Marxist theory, to generate questions
that old hypothesis cannot answer, to demand improvements and
modifications. Otherwise we just get an a priori cookie cutter kind of
analysis, stamping out old answers of decresaing pertinance, plausibility,
and relevance.

4. Many tarditional Marxist views have been subjected to careful scrutiny
and historical test and been found wanting. The Labor Theory of Value is
widely rejected even by Marxist economists. Marx's anti-moralism and his
histortical determinism and teleology (closely connected doctrines) are
unacceptable. The precise content and interpretation of historical
materialism is unclear. Marx's advocacy of a wholly planned economy is, if
not discredited, then rendered deeply problematic by the planning failures
of the Stalinist model and the Mises-Hayek critique of planning. Marxism
as a theory has handled nationalism and racial oppression as well as
gender oppression prettu poorly. A Marxist account of the ecology and an
alternative to Marx's own views about the exploitation and domination of
nature seems desperately in order. Marx's poloitical theory is desperately
sketchy, both in its account of the capitalist state and in its socialist

I could go on. But the point should be clear: Marx didn't have all the
answers, lerast of all for us, who have another century and a half of
history under our belts. I think he had enough of the answers, or at least
the questions and tools, to justify our still calling ourselves Marxists.
But we do not deserve to call ourselves Marxists if we content ourselves
wityh repeating and popularizing old answers in an uncritical way.

Popularlization has its place. So does further research and analysis.

BTW, the authors Proyect mentions, Deutscher and E.P. Thompson, the latter
particularly, were, after Marx, the people from whom I learned Marxism. It
was Thompson's open-minded, critical Marxism, his careful and often highly
technical scholarly research, and his intolerance for orthodoxy, as well
as his activism, which inspired the ideal of Marxism I'm advocating. As an
antidotew to Proyect's apparent views, I recommend Thompson's Open Letter
to Leszsek Kolakowski, Socialist Register 1973(?), collected in The
Poverty of Theory, with a brilliant discussion of different conceptions of
Marxism. I think T may not be right about some of the details, but he's
right about the way to proceed. (I will summarize T's account in a later

What's called for is, as the young Marx wrote his father, a ruthless
criticism of everything that exists. Including Marxism.

--Justin Schwartz


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