History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

Darwiniana header image 2

Booknotes: Eagleton’s book on Marx

April 1st, 2011 · No Comments

Just got a copy of: Why Marx Was Right Terry Eagleton
I haven’t read this yet but I am already worried. Trying to defend Marx is not hard, but always backfires when undertaken by Marxists, it seems. The issues of political tyranny, economic interpretations of history, historical determinism, etc…, won’t go away, and the effort by a believer to restore Marxism beyond them never succeeds. It has been tried hundreds of times, but the confusion remains, because the confusion started with Marx himself whose theories are all flawed. Marx’s package was brilliant for its time, but it was a package, and never a science. It didn’t need to be science. It needed to be a critique of economic systems, not a scientific treatise, and a set of recipes for action. The theory issue has confused the left, and really confused the capitalists, who are so hooked on Adam Smith, and Darwinism, that they are beyond redemption. The confusion is hopelessly compounded by the mathematical claptrap that surrounds the whole mystification.
Instead of just pointing to this, Marxists have wasted everyone’s time proposing their own crackpot theories. The amount of wasted effort created by the Labor Theory of Value is staggering, grotesque. The theory, before it was a theory, worked OK in Adam Smith because it amounted to the observation, not theory, that labor is a key part of the value of commodities. The later history of this intuitive insight on both sides has been unnverving, close to proof that the current man-ape is too much of an IDIOT to handle either capitalism or socialism.

Why on earth do Marxists waste energy rehashing these issues? And why Marx? Why not the sources Marx cribbed from? Like the French socialists? They were innocent successors to the French Revolution who saw that market economics had stalled that democratic revolution with a new kind of exploitation and a new elite stealing the idea of freedom to legitimate markets unlimited. The solution was a true democracy, requiring some stance of limits on markets. The further issue of the abolition of property arose but was not necessarily crucial to the first stage of creating a true socialist liberalism. They are actually much more practical now because they demand we rethink the whole question and create a new synthesis. Marx is inspirational, but defending all his formulations is a recipe for failure, and springs from his strange way of generating a mystique of science. Eagleton says that Marx was right, but he made what seems a critical error in his critique of right: he subtly trashed the whole perspective of liberal freedoms, thereby confusing the whole subject, an outcome all too visible in the figure of Lenin who took Marx at his word and detested all the achievement of political rights created by the democratic revolution.

The mystique of Marx as science died in the thirties of the last century, but still survives among Marxists. I suspect these convinced believers have never read the dozens of scholarly tomes in libraries picking Marx apart, as to theory, and much else, but never as to the real indictment of capitalism and its ideology/theory, which doesn’t require Marx’s delusive theories. Defenders of Marx are not debating Sarah Palin, but figures like Kolakowski, the author of the non-trivial devastating Main Currents of Marxism, and many others. Kolakowsk was an ex-Marxist who lived through Polish bolshevism and was in no mood for Marx fans peddling uncritical bullshit, unchanged since the nineteenth century. He tried to finish Marx off forever, including his idiot defenders. He almost succeeded. These fans have usually never read a single such critique of Marx and think a few hortatory refutations of the cliche criticisms of Marx are enough.
We don’t need to bow completely to such critics (of which there are many writing at a high level of scholarship), but it is important to start over and reformulate the whole set of issues.
Thus to claim that ‘Marx was right’ is true/false/indeterminate, because the success of Marx and Engels was in the expose of market exploitation and its theory ideologies. They said many things, changed their minds, did something they didn’t talk about much (create a non-revolutionary labor movement) even as they talked revolution, and so on.
try reading:
Marx’s Fate: The Shape of a Life (Paperback) by Jerrold E. Seigel, a critique by a fan, who realized that Marx’s Capital, despite it symbolic brilliance, wasn’t really much of a book, but the mess left behind by fifteen years of writer’s block, and endless reasearch trying to delay the completion. It is a reminder that Marx’s masterpiece is mesmerizing, but not fully coherent. So what? It works fine as an ornament or piece of furniture.
The real issue, faced by the conservative social democrats who coopted socialism, is to create a practical socialism and/or a practical market socialism (social democracy) to expriment with social dynamics at the foothills of any putative ascent to communism. Karl Popper saw the point: theories aren’t going to work, practical navigating toward a goal (piecemeal social engineering) has to be the starting point. Historical Materialism as a theory isn’t relevant.

It is a sad question. The left is frozen, helpless and useless at a period when the market confusons current show that “Marx was right’ about many things. The things he got wrong has made those insights unusable.

In this combative, controversial book, Terry Eagleton takes issue with the prejudice that Marxism is dead and done with. Taking ten of the most common objections to Marxism—that it leads to political tyranny, that it reduces everything to the economic, that it is a form of historical determinism, and so on—he demonstrates in each case what a woeful travesty of Marx’s own thought these assumptions are. In a world in which capitalism has been shaken to its roots by some major crises, Why Marx Was Right is as urgent and timely as it is brave and candid. Written with Eagleton’s familiar wit, humor, and clarity, it will attract an audience far beyond the confines of academia.

Tags: Critique of Evolutionary Economy

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment