Jacobin, January Issue
There are many ways to interpret Marx. Many of them legitimate. But many others seek to dismiss Marx by invoking anticommunist echo chamber rhetoric. They deride him as a sterile economic determinist or lambast his analysis and predictions as horribly wrongheaded.
Marx was not always correct (who is?). But he was either correct or made defensible claims more often than many people realize. And he remains worth heeding.
So with an eye toward rebutting some of the more wild-eyed portrayals of the great socialist thinker, here are eight claims that any credible interpretation of Marx or Marxism should include.
Marx did not simply dismiss capitalism. He was impressed by it. He argued that it has been the most productive system that the world has seen.
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
Marx accurately predicted that capitalism would foster what is today referred to as globalization. He saw capitalism creating a world market in which countries would become increasingly interdependent.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. . . . In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.
Unlike earlier societies, which tended to conserve traditions and ways of life, capitalism thrives on inventing new and alternative ways of producing that affect how we live. Technologies change our lives at an ever more rapid pace. Old products must make way for new ones (and those who make them).
Although capitalists typically portray this as an unalloyed good, it can be deeply unsettling, even if particular changes are positive. It can lead people to feel that their values and ways of life no longer have a place in the world — that they are living deadwood. Also, employing new technologies and methods of production in the pursuit of profit for the few can lead to unanticipated consequences. (In our own times, no doubt Marx would point to climate change as a consequence of unregulated capitalism.)
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . . Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. ...
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