A Menshevik's Revenge
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 24 07:01:10 MDT 2002
The Telegraph, Apr. 24, 2002
Marx in the marketplace
Michael Prowse reviews Marx's Revenge by Meghnad Desai.
SOME books are more than the sum of their parts; others are less.
Unhappily, Marx's Revenge, falls into the latter category. Many of the
chapters are entertaining and instructive. Meghnad Desai, the Labour peer
and LSE economist, is good at explaining complex ideas, and many readers
will learn much from his analysis of two centuries of economic history. But
the coherence of the book's central argument is more doubtful.
The root problem is one that afflicts many nominally Left-wing
intellectuals. Late in their careers they have come to appreciate the
strength of the case for markets. Yet they also want to remain loyal to the
ideals of their youth. In Desai's case, the problem is extreme: he once
admired Marx sufficiently to devote years to the writing of textbooks on
Marxian economics. He is now trying to show that one can revere both Marx
and some of his sternest critics, such as Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian
economist. The task is, let us say, challenging.
When Desai refers to Marx's "revenge", he has two different ideas in mind,
neither of which will perturb investment bankers. He argues, first, that
Marx has already had his revenge with respect to the likes of Lenin and
Mao. They deserved to fail, he argues, because they ignored the master's
warning that one type of social organisation can succeed another only when
the former has exhausted its capacity for development. Capitalism had not
exhausted its potential when the Bolsheviks seized power, and their project
was thus always doomed.
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