NK asks for a comment on the ‘erratic marxist’…
This post is a side question: Varoufakis cites Kant and an essay at Counterpunch brings in the marxist critique of Kantian ethics and bourgeois ideology. I am trying to find a way in LFM to embrace both views. A problem with marxism to me is Marx’s dismissal of ethics, not dissimilar to Nietzsche. But Kant, whose ethics is not always the most practical, so to say, contains a perspective on the foundations of ethics that historical materialism has lost. An ethics requires an ethical agent with will and reductionism scientism can’t manage it.
This is an excellent article and I should best leave it to speak for itself. But the view cited resembles my own to a considerable degree: I am a critic of capitalist economics, a close student of Marx, and concerned to extract core marxism from some of Marx’s probable sources of error.
Last and First Men: http://last-and-first-men.com/ is an explicit effort to create a new form of communist discourse, one that can both use Marx’s legacy and critique it, to arrive at a reworking of a classic legacy. We have to face the fact that minds crystallize and become frozen in habit, so the basic task is to create a recursion of the basic marxist development. I have extensively criticized the classic canon, and one way to proceed is to cede the core praxis of Marx/Engels but challenge ‘theory’. Theories are always a problem not least because they hope to match the rigor of physics to be called science. And the result in the human sciences like economics is mostly junk. Neo-classical economics is debatably a pseudo-science. You can’t use calculus to develop theories of economic systems. The approximations always end up in the puzzled muddle of theories exposed. Over and over, and noone sees why. Differential equations have immense prestige, but they don’t really work.
But Marx lived in the era of classical economics, via Adam Smith and Ricardo. That’s a bit out of date now, so my take in LFM is to suggest leaving behind the theories of Marx based on classical economics, and urging a new canon that can take on marginalist economics (neo-classical). I am not a trained economist, but after writing WHEE I am a crackshot at bad theories of history and that includes economic models using calculus. It is possible to bring down this morass with one shot from the elephant gun of a kind of Kantian critique of causal monism. But the mentality of trained economists is hard to penetrate. The mathematics used is advanced, so advanced the outsider is virtually silenced, the reason for my stylized approach to reach the jugular vein. It reminds me of Luke Skywalker’s attack on the space station: inpregnaable, but with one flaw. To suggest that economic systems that use differential equations are not science but imitation is a valid approach, but economists won’t listen. You bring down the whole game in one shot …
In any case there are now a lot of economists who themselves have taken on neo-classical economics, and LFM has a lot of notes on that at the end of Chapter 2. The question of Marx’s theories is just bypassed and the focus remains on his issues of class analysis, ideology, revolution and the general critique of capitalism. I have been critical here of both historical materialism and dialectical materialism. These two are liabilities for a communist project and the marxist left should move on here. But students are almost addicted to the confusion here, and people like Slavoj Zizek have taken this arcana to a level of either ultimate brilliance or total muddle.
I think a practical communist movement should proceed beyond theories, and be lean and mean to take on the theories of capitalist economists. As things stand now Marxists are stopped in their tracks by defenders of capitalism who know they can seize the debate by pointing to Marx’s mistakes. The outrageous character of mathematical economics is never broached: the debate is on defending Marx. This happens over and over again, and most marxists are not trained to be able to comment of neo-classical economics.
My suggestion is to set Marx’s theories to one side, focus on neo-classical models and their crackpot character, adopt a stylized historical chronicle that eschews still another theory: a theory of history in historical materialism that is almost by definition false, like most of the products of scientism.
I show in WHEE a way to use stylized chronicles to replace theory, in a context where ‘system action’ (formerly laws of history, all bogus) and ‘free action’ (free agents in history) are in a tandem relationship that generates historical realization via those agents. The status of economic systems is thus given over to the actions of those free agents. There are no economic laws. The economic systems that men create, might to be sure, develop mechanical properties of many kinds. But they never satisfy the demands of differential equations. It is like what Popper called the ‘law of otherwise’: if anyone proposes an economic law a free agent can simply act so as to refute it. But economists seem satisfied to play ‘let’s pretend’ and the result certainly keeps the plebs from comment.
The point here is that there is no grand law of capitalist inevitability: it is not a stage of history. It can be abrogated at once by free agents who say ‘enough’s enough’. That a culture of capitalists is too mesmerized by economic ideology as a science of mathematical economics to react to the clear falsification visible in climate change is a tragedy of ideology, just what Marx warned of. People are frozen: capitalism is such and such and the market will solve all problems. That view is turning into a menacing malevolence.
I think Marx and Engels were crucial agents at the birth of the communist idea (in France): the idea, without their sustenance could have died by the wayside. Instead they made it into something that can do the job of challenging capitalism. If some parts are out of date, that hardly matters.
Anyway there is a lot to comment on in Varoufakis’ article but I am not so adept at the economic history of the EU and many other things. Best to let people like Varoufakis deal with the detailed scenery and politics of the current neo-liberal Europe.
To be continued…