[Marxism] Marx for me (and hopefully for others too)

MM marxmail00 at gmail.com
Tue Jan 8 17:26:49 MST 2019

> On Jan 7, 2019, at 6:09 PM, Louis Proyect via Marxism <marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:
> by Branko Milanovic
> http://glineq.blogspot.com/2018/12/marx-for-me-and-hopefully-for-others-too.html <http://glineq.blogspot.com/2018/12/marx-for-me-and-hopefully-for-others-too.html>

Branko seems like a nice man, but this from his remarks is just wildly wrong:

"The last among Marx’s contribution that I would like to single out—perhaps the most important and grandiose—is that the succession of socio-economic formations (or more restrictively, of the modes of production) is itself “regulated” by economic forces, including the struggle for the distribution of the economic surplus.”

Of course, the struggle over distribution of the surplus is emphatically *not* an “economic force” that “regulates” the “succession of socio-economic formations.” It is, rather, *political* — precisely why Marx was not an “economist,” but a writer of political economy.

Neal Faulkner’s brilliant Marxist History of the World does a much better job articulating the core engines of history:


Three engines drive the historical process. First, there is the development 
of technique. Progress can be defined as the accumulation of knowledge that 
makes possible better control over nature, increases in labour productivity, 
and a bigger store of economic resources available for the satisfaction of 
human need. 

Progress in this sense is not inevitable. Entire generations of peasants in, 
say, Shang China, Mycenaean Greece, or Norman England might live out their 
entire lives without experiencing a significant innovation in either agricultural 
or domestic equipment. Only in modern capitalist society is the development 
of technique inherent in the mode of production. In making this point, Marx 
explicitly states: 'Conservation of old modes of production in unaltered form 
was ... the first condition of existence of all earlier industrial classes.' 

Progress in pre-capitalist society was haphazard, not intrinsic to the dynamic 
of the socio-economic system. In pre-class society, for example, ecological crisis 
threatening the survival of human groups was probably of critical significance. 

The Neolithic Revolution seems to have been a response to climate change 
and a sharp decline in game. In early class society, on the other hand, the 
development of technique was subject to a wider variety of influences, some 
of them catalysts of innovation, others barriers to progress. To understand 
this, we need to review the other two engines of the historical process. 

The second engine is competition among rulers for wealth and power. This 
takes the form of conflict within ruling classes - among rival aristocratic 
factions, for example - and conflict between ruling classes, as in wars between 
rival states and empires. 

In modern capitalist society, such competition has both economic and 
politico-military dimensions. The two world wars were essentially wars 
between rival national-capitalist blocs. 

In pre-capitalist class societies, by contrast, competition between rulers was 
essentially political and took the form of competitive military accumulation. 
The world was divided into rival factions and polities. Political insecurity 
was a permanent condition. The result was military competition - a relentless 
drive to amass soldiers, fortifications, and armaments faster than one's rivals. 

The third engine of the historical process is the struggle between classes. 
In the ancient world, competitive military accumulation required the ruling 
class to increase the rate of exploitation and extract more surplus from the 
peasantry. But there were two limits to this process. First, the peasantry and 
the economic system had to be able to reproduce themselves: over-taxation 
would - and sometimes did - destroy the material foundations of the social 
order. The second was the peasants' resistance to exploitation. 

We know very little about the class struggle in the Bronze Age. One 
exception is provided by documents of the second millennium bc from Thebes 
(modern Luxor) in Egypt. They concern a community of skilled quarrymen, 
stonemasons, and carpenters who made the temples and tombs of the elite. 
These documents record class tension. Though the craftsmen were relatively 
well paid and worked moderate hours, bullying managers sometimes tried to 
tighten the screws. On one occasion, those deemed 'surplus' to requirements 
were made to undertake forced labour. But the exploited sometimes fought 
back. One of the documents records that, in 1170 bc, backed by their wives, 
the craftsmen went on strike - the first recorded example in history - when 
their rations were delayed and their families faced hunger. 



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