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A confusion in Marx?// Book Review: ‘Karl Marx – A Nineteenth-Century Life’ | The Socialist Party of Great Britain

August 5th, 2016 · No Comments

The stance of Marx here is open to question: he considers there must be a bourgeois revolution first before a communist one. But surely this is not quite right: he is perhaps thinking in terms of epochs, that of the bourgeoisie and capitalism being a stage in history followed by communism. But the real issue is to set up a system of government that will actually work in a world of madness. Marx is right about the French Revolution, up to a point, but in the end we need one revolution to produce democracy and this requires a framework of socialism, and this can be a hybrid with markets on the way to a full communism. But we don’t need two revolutions for that. We should have done it right from the start, as the example of Munzer suggests: the first revolutionary movement of the early modern was a proto-communism, and the English Civil War spawned the ‘cambrian’ moment of multiple potentials in parallel. It was the regressive counterrevolution of the period of Locke and the Restoration that produced the mindset of the bourgeois revolution, the model of the American and then the French. At this point we need one framework that deals with the whole set of possibilities in one solution. At any rate the bourgeois factor is almost universal now in any case so the dilemma is idle.

When the unrest spread to Germany Marx hurried back to Cologne where, again with the financial support of the radical section of the local bourgeoisie, he edited a newspaper. It may seem strange that a socialist should be editing a radical-bourgeois paper putting forward their demands, but this was in accordance with the perspective set out in the Manifesto that ‘the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution.’ Marx insisted on a bourgeois revolution first and fell out with other communists in Cologne who wanted the working class to take a hostile attitude toward the bourgeoisie. Marx had already fallen out in 1846 with another German communist, Wilhelm Weitling, over the same issue. Sperber writes of this incident: ‘Weitling, in his letter to Hess, explained their differences: Marx had insisted that ‘at the moment there can be no talk of the realization of communism; the bourgeoisie must first take control’.’ This is one illustration why Marx is not our contemporary as far as his practical political stances are concerned. He may well have been right that communism was not an immediate possibility in the 1840s and that a period of bourgeois rule (in place of authoritarian dynastic rule) was needed first, but this is not the case today and has not been for at least a century. Even so, at the time, Marx still thought that the period of bourgeois rule would be relatively short. According to Sperber, Marx’s conception of two revolutions in a relatively short period of time was coloured by what had happened in the French Revolution: beginning as a bourgeois revolution in 1789 with the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, it developed in a more radical way when in 1793 the Jacobins came to power, proclaimed a republic and executed the king. Sperber’s view is not implausible when you consider that the French revolution had taken place only sixty years previously and that there are still people today who look to the Russian Revolution of over ninety years ago as a model.

Source: Book Review: ‘Karl Marx – A Nineteenth-Century Life’ | The Socialist Party of Great Britain

The thinking in terms of epochs has confused Marx: there is only one epoch now: the modern following epochal antiquity, and there the issue isn’t a progression from one economic epoch to the next, but the creation of a system that can reconcile the contradictions of socialism/capitalism.

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