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Hobsbawm on Marx

February 24th, 2011 · No Comments


This review is worth reading (as is the book, no doubt). But I think we should be glad that the hold of Marxism has loosened, since the failure of Marx’s approach (more the failure of the Leninists) needs to open up the way to a new version of the basic theme, that goes back to the French Revolution, and whose relevance is even greater today than it was several decades ago. Marx monopolized the whole subject, and then his formulation failed, leaving a void.
Not a single idea in his formulation was original: so we have the way forward, and we can actually start learning from Marx as we move away from him.

We are in a state of crisis, and a formulation of the issues of socialism/social democracy, then the more distant communism, are crying out for some attention. But noone can get past the dead hand of Marx’s theories, Engels’ theories, and Lenin’s quiet appropriation of that legacy for his Blanqui-ism.
Marxists are masters of confusion. If you mention Blanqui, they foam at the mouth. That Lenin was a Blanqui-ist is never uttered in public. So it goes at all points.
Why not just drop all of it? Marxism is suffering from metal fatigue.

The deck has been reshuffled here: we propose A New American Revolution of the bourgeois type, but recast as bourgeois-socialist and democratic. The point is that socialism is a form of liberalism, and the issues should have been addressed within the context of rights based politics. The old left has made an enemy of social democracy, but some of its achievements (and they are real, almost the only achievements of the far left) need to be built into a new form of social democracy . The left needs to put Marx in a museum, and, starting with an emergency version of democratic socialism (with a few ideas from social democracy) that still accepts the market, but one based in framework of rights, commence the hard work of asking if a movement can lead to this, or whether the American system is too corrupt for orderly change. I think that it is beside the point to call this unrealistic. The phenomenon of global warming is making capitalism unrealistic, and we need to start preparing a failsafe version of socialism revolutioin to be ready when the thugs decide they have to create a brand of socialist non-socialism for the rich eco-survivors.


Terry Eagleton

How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011 by Eric Hobsbawm
Little, Brown, 470 pp, £25.00, January 2011, ISBN 978 1 4087 0287 1

In 1976, a good many people in the West thought that Marxism had a reasonable case to argue. By 1986, most of them no longer felt that way. What had happened in the meanwhile? Were these people now buried under a pile of toddlers? Had Marxism been unmasked as bogus by some world-shaking new research? Had someone stumbled on a lost manuscript by Marx confessing that it was all a joke?

We are speaking, note, about 1986, a few years before the Soviet bloc crumbled. As Eric Hobsbawm points out in this collection of essays, that wasn’t what caused so many erstwhile believers to bin their Guevara posters. Marxism was already in dire straits some years before the Berlin Wall came down. One reason given was that the traditional agent of Marxist revolution, the working class, had been wiped out by changes to the capitalist system – or at least was no longer in a majority. It is true that the industrial proletariat had dwindled, but Marx himself did not think that the working class was confined to this group. In Capital, he ranks commercial workers on the same level as industrial ones. He was also well aware that by far the largest group of wage labourers in his own day was not the industrial working class but domestic servants, most of whom were women. Marx and his disciples didn’t imagine that the working class could go it alone, without forging alliances with other oppressed groups. And though the industrial proletariat would have a leading role, Marx does not seem to have thought that it had to constitute the social majority in order to play it.

Tags: Booknotes · Ultra Far Left

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