[Marxism] ZCommunications » Avoiding the Capitalist Apocalypse

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Apr 12 11:05:26 MDT 2014

The French economist Thomas Piketty’s magisterial, marvelously 
cross-disciplinary, and audaciously titled volume Capital in the 
Twenty-First Century (New York: Harvard University Press, 2014) contains 
an interesting statement on its very first page. “Modern economic growth 
and the diffusion of knowledge,” Piketty writes, “have made it possible 
to avoid the Marxist apocalypse but have not modified the deep 
structures of capital and inequality – or in any case not as much as one 
might have imagined in the optimistic decades following World War II.” 
(Capital in the Twenty-First Century, p.1).

Who is Piketty’s (or his translator’s) “one” here? Certainly not a 
Marxist who was familiar with his or her hero’s (Karl Marx’s) analysis, 
according to which capitalism naturally tends towards the concentration 
of wealth and income.

“The Marxist Apocalypse” That Wasn’t

And what is “the Marxist apocalypse” that hasn’t happened, exactly? 
Piketty means the growing division of Western industrial society between 
a wealthy bourgeoisie on one hand and a vast property-less proletariat, 
leading (in Marx’s vision) to international working class and 
socialist/communist revolution – what Piketty calls “Marx’s dark 
prophecy.” (Capital in the Twenty-First Century, p.9)

He is of course correct that the European and North American socialist 
revolution Marx dreamed of didn’t happen in the late 19th or 20th 
centuries. Neither did proletarian immiseration on the scale that Marx 
predicted [1] – at least not in the core Western countries at the center 
of capitalist development.

But why call Marx’s dialectical divination “apocalyptic” and “dark”? “In 
the place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class 
antagonisms,” Marx proclaimed in 1848, “we shall have an association, in 
which the free development of each is the conditions for the free 
development of all.” For Marx and many socialist, communist, and left 
anarchist fellow revolutionaries of the mid and late-19th century, 
workers’ revolution – the overthrow of private capital and its savage, 
amoral profits system and the replacement of the capitalist ruling class 
by the popular reign of the associated producers and citizens in service 
to the common good was hardly a catastrophe. To the contrary, it was for 
them the dawning of the end of the long human pre-history of class rule, 
ushering in the possibility of a world beyond exploitation and the de 
facto dictatorship of privileged owners – a “true realm of freedom” 
beyond endless toil and necessity, “worthy of [homo sapiens’] “human 
nature.” [2]

full: http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/avoiding-the-capitalist-apocalypse/

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