100 Years of (Mis)Understanding

Wed Nov 29 12:52:12 MST 1995

     I thought that I should clarify my remarks regarding
"blazing hypocritical idiots" who call themselves "Marxists."
Needless to say, this was certainly not a reference to
ANYBODY on this list, who are all "cool sincere geniuses." :-)
     A couple of decades ago I belonged to a self-identified
Marxist group which was collecively teaching a course called
"Critiques of American Capitalism."  I was to give a lecture
on "The Concept of the Surplus."  In my proposed lecture I
was going to suggest that, following Marx's praise of Quesnay's
_Tableau Economique_, that the concept of surplus had applications
beyond social-economic systems into ecological systems as well.
A number of people in the group decided that this excessive
interest in environmental/ecological issues was evidence of a
severe "bourgeois anti-Marxist" tendency on my part and before I
could deliver the lecture there was a major schism in the group and
I was asked to go through a session of "self-criticism" in which
I was to purge myself of my wretched Malthusian and Social Darwinist
tendencies, since this was clearly what any twaddle about the
environment entailed.
     Well, I note that Marxism has evolved since then to reach
what was then my position and still is, that Marx and concern
over the environment are NOT mutually incompatible.  We even
find such self-appointed arbiters of orthodoxy as Uncle Lou
explaining to us all about how we can now be red/greens, etc.
I think that at least this lesson, not known by Lenin, has been
absorbed at least partly in the wake of Chernobyl and 1989-91.
Command socialist economies that ignore the environment will end up
in "the dustbin of history."
     Therefore, I find it ironic that there continues to be such
resistance to absorbing the other obvious lesson out of those
events, namely that declaring democracy to be a "bourgeois" concept
is just as out-of-date, irrelevant, and self-destructive to any
serious Marxist movement.  Uncle Lou still can't figure out what
he thinks, but tells us to read Lenin.  But this just raises more
questions than it answers.  Lenin is the last person anybody should
read on democracy, with the possible exception of old Uncle Joe himself.
Modern Marxism must absorb meaningful democratic notions or it  will
condemn itself to that unpleasant "dustbin," although they may be a
lot of fun for those who are mostly interested in "having sects"
with one another in an isolated location.
     I refuse to put a label on myself, but I think that the world
needs an intelligent and strong Marxist movement that has gotten
over the distortions of Lenin, et al.  I have already said that
what I think a good outcome is, is something like a combination of
Finland and Slovenia.  Take Finland, dispossess the rich capitalists,
turn the remaining private sector over to workers' ownership, have
workers' management in the state-owned sector, and institute at least
some indicative planning.  I do not think that this is inconsistent
with Marx, although many on this list might think so.
     BTW, although I never followed up on it myself, one of my
supporters in that long-ago group did.  See Paul P. Christensen,
"Fire, motion, and productivity: the proto-energetics of nature and
economy in Francois Quesnay," in _Natural Images in Economic Thought:
"Markets Read in Tooth and Claw"_, ed. Philip Mirowski, Cambridge
University Press, 1994, pp. 249-288.
Barkley Rosser
Professor of Economics
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22807 USA
PS:  To Jazz, I don't live in Finland because I don't speak Finnish.

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