[Marxism] Marx, Russia, and India

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 5 08:51:17 MDT 2013

Dear Professor Gordon,

In your New Republic review of Sperber's new bio of Marx, you write:

"The outbreak of Bolshevik revolution a little more than three decades 
after his death would have struck him as a startling violation of his 
own historical principle that bourgeois society and industrialization 
must reach their fullest expression before the proletariat gains the 
class-consciousness that it requires to seize political control."

Despite your Harvard credentials (or perhaps in light of them, given 
Niall Ferguson's foot-in-mouth disease), you show a shocking unawareness 
of Marx's late writings on Russia. In letters to Danielson and Zasulich, 
he warned exactly against the interpretation you proffer to New 
Republic's readers.

In an 1881 letter to Zasulich, he stated:

"Theoretically speaking, then, the Russian 'rural commune' can preserve 
itself by developing its basis, the common ownership of land, and by 
eliminating the principle of private property which it also implies; it 
can become a direct point of departure for the economic system towards 
which modern society tends; it can turn over a new leaf without 
beginning by committing suicide; it can gain possession of the fruits 
with which capitalist production has enriched mankind, WITHOUT PASSING 
THROUGH THE CAPITALIST REGIME, a regime which, considered solely from 
the point of view of its possible duration hardly counts in the life of 
society. But we must descend from pure theory to the Russian reality."

You can find out more about this in Teodor Shanin's "Late Marxism", a 
book you would find most edifying, I'm sure.

You also state: "In one of his many columns for  The New York Tribune, 
he reasoned that British imperialism, however regrettable, was a 
historical necessity: only via modernization could India overcome its 
heritage of 'Oriental despotism'.”

Once again you demonstrate a shocking unfamiliarity with Marx's later 
thinking. I would refer you to the chapter in Aijaz Ahmad's "In Theory: 
Classes, Nations and Literatures" titled "Marx on India: a Clarification."

Even in Marx's earlier writings, he qualified the benefits of capitalist 
modernization by saying in 1853: "The Indian will not reap the fruits of 
the new elements of society scattered among them by the British 
bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the new ruling classes shall 
have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindus 
themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke 

And, more to the point, in an 1881 letter to Danielson that reflects his 
total break with the "stagism" you attribute to him, he noted:

"In India serious complications, if not a general outbreak, are in store 
for the British government. What the British take from them annually in 
the form of rent, dividends for railways useless for the Hindoos, 
pensions for the military and civil servicemen, for Afghanistan and 
other wars, etc. etc., -- what they take from them without any 
equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves 
annually within India, -- speaking only of the commodities that Indians 
have to gratuitously and annually send over to England -- it amounts to 
more than the total sum of the income of the 60 million of agricultural 
and industrial laborers of India. This is a bleeding process with a 

A bleeding process with a vengeance.

This, Professor Gordon, notwithstanding your and Sperber's insistence 
that Marx belongs to the 19th century, is what makes him very much a 
21st century figure since "A bleeding process with a vengeance" is a 
perfect description of the garment factory disaster in Bangladesh and 
the suicide epidemic in India of small farmers who have no future. I 
understand, of course, that a magazine owned by a Facebook billionaire 
rests on the assumption that there is no alternative to capitalism, but 
in the interests of serious Marx scholarship I would urge you to do your 

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect, moderator of the Marxism mailing list

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