The Economist considers Karl Marx
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 20 08:01:59 MST 2002
Marx's intellectual legacy
Marx after communism
Dec 19th 2002 From The Economist print edition
As a system of government, communism is dead or dying. As a system of
ideas, its future looks secure.
WHEN Soviet communism fell apart towards the end of the 20th century,
nobody could say that it had failed on a technicality. A more
comprehensive or ignominious collapse—moral, material and
intellectual—would be difficult to imagine. Communism had tyrannised and
impoverished its subjects, and slaughtered them in the tens of millions.
For decades past, in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, any
allusion to the avowed aims of communist doctrine—equality, freedom from
exploitation, true justice—had provoked only bitter laughter. Finally,
when the monuments were torn down, statues of Karl Marx were defaced as
contemptuously as those of Lenin and Stalin. Communism was repudiated as
theory and as practice; its champions were cast aside, intellectual
founders and sociopathic rulers alike.
People in the West, their judgment not impaired by having lived in the
system Marx inspired, mostly came to a more dispassionate view. Marx had
been misunderstood, they tended to feel. The communism of Eastern Europe
and the Soviet Union was a perversion of his thought. What happened in
those benighted lands would have appalled Marx as much as it appals us.
It has no bearing on the validity of his ideas.
This article is interesting not just because it finds Marxism relevant.
It also repeats some classic misunderstandings of what it is about.
It is astonishing, for example, that the Economist can say:
"Class war is the sine qua non of Marx. But the class war, if it ever
existed, is over. In western democracies today, who chooses who rules,
and for how long? Who tells governments how companies will be regulated?
Who in the end owns the companies? Workers for hire--the proletariat."
The notion that the proletariat can dictate to General Electric, Exxon
or IBM is laughable at best. The article seems stuck in the 1950s, when
credulity about shareholder capitalism was at its highest.
It also faults Marx for not being more specific about how communism will
>>He did once say this much: “In communist society, where nobody has
one exclusive sphere of activity...society regulates the general
production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and
another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear
cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have in mind,
without ever becoming hunter, herdsman or critic.” Whether cattle would
be content to be reared only in the evening, or just as people had in
mind, is one of many questions one would wish to see treated at greater
length. But this cartoon is almost all Marx ever said about communism in
practice. The rest has to be deduced, as an absence of things he
deplored about capitalism: inequality, exploitation, alienation, private
property and so forth.<<
In reality Marx was far more interested in how workers could constitute
themselves as a ruling class in a revolutionary society. His sympathy
for and explanations about the Paris Commune are a cornerstone of this
thought. Marx's ideas about the organization of society are rooted in
historical materialism, not crystal-ball gazing so it is not surprising
that he failed to spell out his plans for the far future.
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