tirsdag den 16. september 2008

Marx: a critical view

Although Karl Marx lived and died in the nineteenth century, he probably ranks as the most influential political thinker of the twentieth. To me his influence has been almost entirely evil, and I find it hard to think of any redeeming features. I regard him, with Sigmund Freud (whose work does not concern us here) as a philosophical scourge of the twentieth century.

As a prophet, Marx was false, and his predictions have gone unfulfilled. This would not matter very much if the failure of life and history to fulfil his predictions had deprived him of his actual or potential following; but it is one of the curious features of Marxism that its most abysmal prophetic record tends to be blamed upon the failings of individuals or the vagaries of circumstances instead of being attributed to the author of the prophecies.

Above all, however, the fact that Marxism lies at the root of some of the worst totalist tyrannies of our times — from the Soviet autocracy to the genocidal Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea — strengthens the indictment. It is not a defence to assert that Marx himself would not have approved of such horrors, if only because the assertion is by its nature unprovable. The point is that the seeds of totalism are inherent in the Marxian philosophy. with its millenarian assumptions and its confident assertion of absolute truth.

Determinism and Praxis

As with all absolutist philosophies. Marxism abounds in contradictions. There is, for instance, an inherent contradiction between Marx's determinist view of history as the product of contending economic relationships in which men are involved in a manner "independent of their will" (Critique of Political Economy, 1859), on the one hand; and on the other hand, the notion of "Praxis", which calls upon the philosophers to cease contenting themselves with merely interpreting the world, the point being "to change it" (eleventh of the Theses on Feuerbach, 1845).

The contradiction emerges with still greater clarity in respect of Marx's uncompromising forecast that capitalism will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, to be succeeded by socialism.

For if socialism is inevitable, because determined by scientific laws independent of men's will, then there is no need for the expectant to do anything but await its coming. Marx, however, expected his followers to do everything they could to make the prophecies come true, to hasten the breakdown of capitalism and the advent of revolution.

This expectation, in line with the idea of "Praxis", has been responsible for more revolutionary violence and avoidable suffering than any other idea of Karl Marx's. In fact, capitalism has nowhere collapsed spontaneously, even when subjected to great strains and stresses. Even in Russia, it was not "capitalism" (which had been flourishing under the Tsars) that collapsed, but the Tsarist system. Lenin abolished capitalism by decree after his little gang of followers had ousted the liberal/democratic Provisional government of Alexander Kerensky.

Since 1917, the story has been repeated dozens of times: never a spontaneous collapse, always the outcome of force. This is as true of Stalin's East European empire, as of Mao Tse-tung's victory in China, or the conquest of South Vietnam in 1975. or the imposition of communism in South Yemen. Ethiopia and Afghanistan. It was Lenin who developed effective techniques for violent revolution: but the violence, and all that ensued, was inherent in Marx's Praxis.

False Prophecies

One of the most demonstrably untrue of Marx's predictions was the coming "absolute pauperisation of the workers". I shall not attempt here to refute Karl Marx's strictly economic theories, which others better qualified than I have done repeatedly. However. Marx fell into the trap of extrapolating from the present and drawing conclusions which later events proved to have been quite unfounded. He argued in Capital that competition would drive capitalists to accumulate capital, which would become concentrated in monopolistic cartels and trusts. Labour-saving devices and machines would create unemployment by reducing the need for hired hands. But this also would reduce capitalist profits, obliging the capitalists to intensify their exploitation of the workers, whom unemployment forced to work on progressively more disadvantageous terms. Faced with "pauperisation", the masses, in their misery, would be forced to unite and overthrow the system.

The best short answer to this prophecy of workers' doom is the visual one made available to Khrushchev on his visit to the United States in 1959, when he was shown the parked cars of the car workers in Detroit, which, it is said, came as a shock to him.

By whatever measuring rod, it is a fact that not only has there been no inexorable pauperisation of the workers under capitalism, but on the contrary that their living standards have risen consistently. Moreover, the living standards of the workers in the United States and in any West European country are far higher than they are in the Soviet Union after 65 years of Marxist-based socialism. Something has gone wrong somewhere.

Another expectation — an expectation, perhaps, rather than a prophecy — that went awry was the belief that the revolution would start in an advanced capitalist State. Marx had Britain in mind. In fact, it took place in Russia, one of the more backward countries in Europe, in industrial terms.

The Class Struggle

Perhaps the most pernicious of Marx's doctrines is the class struggle. Starkly expressed in The Communist Manifesto of 1848, of which Friedrich Engels was the co-author, it trades upon envy and is a permanent incitement to violence and conflict.

Ultimately the doctrine sanctifies the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat", in other words the autocracy of the single ruling party in the name of the working class. Translated into international terms, it becomes "the international class struggle"; in other words, what the Soviet rulers call "peaceful co-existence" and those at the receiving end term "the cold war". As the final Resolution of the Conference of 81 Communist Parties of November 1960 put it, peaceful co-existence "implies the intensification of the international class struggle".

The duty to support "national liberation movements", as sanctified by the doctrine of the class struggle is enshrined in the current (1977) Constitution of the USSR.

The Dialectic

In theory, Marxism is a materialistic set of doctrines and dogmas, denying the existence of a God and seeking materialist solutions to the world's problems by the correct application of the "scientific" laws of history, as discovered by Karl Marx. Yet, the Hegelian dialectic of "thesis, antithesis and synthesis", upon which the Marxist hypothesis rests is pure mysticism.

Borrowing from Hegel (who in turn had borrowed from Plato) Marx arbitrarily decided that feudalism was the thesis, changing by degrees until it was replaced by capitalism, its antithesis. Capitalism was in turn destined to develop increasing contradictions until in the end it yielded to the "synthesis" of socialism. Once socialism has been reached, contradictions are eliminated, this being the Marxian version of Hegel's Absolute.

This, however, is a totally unscientific approach to the study of history. Why, for instance, start with feudalism? Why not with imperial Rome, or Chinese despotism, or the Egyptian theocratic State? Capitalism, moreover, did not spring whole into the world as the "antithesis" or "negation" of feudalism, but as the outcome of a complex process that included the violent disproof of the divine right of kings, the decadence of Rome and the emergence of the Puritan ethic, new inventions, the spirit of inquiry of the Renaissance, and so forth.

Nor has "socialism", in practice, proved in any sense a synthesis or an Absolute. While socialism was being imposed upon the Soviet peoples at the cost of millions of lives and total loss of liberty, capitalism was weathering the great crisis of the Depression, finding its self-correcting mechanisms and raising living standards in contradiction of all Marx's expectations.

Life itself, to borrow Khrushchev's favourite phrase, is the disproof of Karl Marx's philosophy.
Why then, do tens of thousands still flock to the banner of a discredited prophet? The answer, I believe, must lie in the continued need for religion, in the widest sense, in an age of scientific scepticism. Marx, to the uncritical, offers certainty. It matters little, to the millenarian mind, that his prophecies lie in ruins or that his doctrine has produced monstrous tyrannies wherever it has been applied. It is not the doctrine that is wrong: the fault lies with the character defects of the tyrants that have followed Lenin's example: with Stalin, with Mao. There is a search for other Gods: although Fidel Castro's failure is as complete as that of any other Marxist-Leninist, attempts are made to cling to the myth of his relative purity.

Just give us a chance, say the Marxist fundamentalists, and we shall succeed where others have failed. For the sake of humanity, it is devoutly to be hoped that they will be denied the opportunity to try.
Brian Crozier

Reply: Marxism Defended
The statement that Marx "probably ranks as the most influential political thinker of the twentieth century" and that this has been "almost entirely evil" is based on an alleged impact of Marxism on aspects of the present world which is asserted, but in no way substantiated. That "Marxism lies at the root of some of the worst totalist tyrannies of our time" is an oft-repeated attack on the ideas of Marx, but one which Brian Crozier makes not the slightest effort to prove. Indeed, there are many tyrannous regimes in the world; not all of them make any claim to be "Marxist", and it is notable that anti-Marxists are usually conspicuously silent about the tyrannous dictatorships in Chile, El Salvador, Paraguay. Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey. But what of the totalitarian dictatorships in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Albania and Cuba? The dictators in these countries pay lip service to some perverse notion called Marxist-Leninism — just as other tyrants pay lip service to Christianity or Islam — but it is not because of this ideological lip service that "the Soviet autocracy and the genocidal Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea" behave tyrannously. These countries are state capitalist and the oppression which characterises them is not the result of Karl Marx's analysis of capitalism, but of their need to exploit their workers in accordance with the needs of the very capitalist system which Marxism opposes. Far from being examples of something other than capitalism, the state capitalist dictatorships are extra stains on the social system which its supporters, like Brian Crozier, aim to whitewash. Mr. Crozier is right that Marx would not have approved of the horrors of the regimes which pay lip service to him — but it would be with more than hindsight that Marx and Engels could now state that state capitalism is not socialism. As Engels wrote in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific:

The modern State, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it pro¬ceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head. (Our emphasis.)

On the basis of that — and other similar statements by Marx and Engels — how can anyone claim that Marxism supports centralised, state ownership and control of capital? It would be true to accuse Leninism of such an aim, but Mr. Crozier mistakenly states that Marxism, as opposed to Leninism, "lies at the root" of the state capitalist regimes.

Marxism, unlike the Idealist philosophies which speak of absolute truths, is notable for its historical relativism. Marx was not a socialist because socialism is an absolutist Utopia to be striven for, but because the next stage in social history is a necessary solution to the contradictions of the present. Far from basing his thinking on absolute certainty, Marx's very wise motto was "Doubt Everything".

Determinism and Praxis

"Marxism", we are informed, "abounds in contradictions". Incorrect — Marxism explains social contradictions, between social existence and material, historical potentiality. To examine and solve contradictions is not be contradictory; in other words, contradiction is the object of the Marxist study. Brian Crozier's suggestion that there is an "inherent contradiction" between determinism and consciousness does not show that Marx was illogical, but that Marx's dialectical materialist understanding enabled him to see that history cannot be explained either entirely in terms of fixed determinism or entirely in terms of human will. Would Mr. Crozier not agree that certain social relations involve humans "independent of their will" (those imposed by the social environment into which we are born and conditioned) and others can be brought about by human beings consciously creating them? All that Marx was saying is that there is a massive contradiction between what is and what could be; only conscious human action can resolve that contradiction.

But let us get down to the crux of our critic's confused attack. Would it be fair of us to suggest that he has attacked the social analyses made by Marx without reading them? He tells us that he will not refute "Marx's strictly economic theories, which others better qualified than I have done repeatedly". We are entitled to expect Mr. Crozier to tell us who these great experts are who have refuted Marxist political economy — where are their detailed refutations of Capital to be found; in what way have they demonstrated that Marx was wrong about value and profits and wages and inflation and unemployment and trade cycles? If they have managed to "refute" the economic thinker whom Mr. Crozier regards as the most influential of this century, where are they hiding with their words of capitalist wisdom? According to Brian Crozier, Marx predicted that "capitalism will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, to be succeeded by socialism". We have searched the collected volumes of Marx for this alleged prediction, but like the critics who have refuted Marxist economics, it is nowhere to be found. Marx did not forecast the collapse of capitalism. A Socialist Party pamphlet published in February 1932 pointed out that

Workers who have accepted the wrong and lazy idea of collapse have neglected many activities that are absolutely essential. They have taken up the fatalistic attitude of waiting tor the system to end itself. But the system is not so obliging!

The collapse theory, when advanced by people calling themselves Marxists, is based on the illusion that there are no counter-tendencies to the falling rate of profit. In dealing with the nature of crises Marx points out that these will not cause the collapse of capitalism. In his Theories of Surplus Value Marx categorically states that "Permanent crises do not exist" (p. 497). If. as Mr. Crozier mistakenly states, Marxists believed that capitalism will collapse and socialism is inevitable, "there would be no need for the expectant to do anything but await its coming". But unlike those who are waiting for the Messiah to come down to earth (and presumably be crucified by the Daily Telegraph readers who applaud Mr. Crozier's articles about the need to preserve the status quo) Marxists are not in the business of waiting for the revolution to make itself.

Brian Crozier talks about the "revolutionary violence and avoidable suffering" of recent history as if it somehow demonstrates that Marx was mistaken about something. But the violent changes to which Mr. Crozier refers were consequences of the rise of capitalism in backward countries. For 1917 in Russia read 1798 in France; Engels predicted that a Russian Revolution would be a repeat of 1798. The Bolshevik revolution did not see the destruction of capitalism in Russia, but the beginning of state capitalism.

False Prophecies

We are told that "one of the most demonstrably untrue of Marx's predictions was the coming 'absolute pauperisation' of the workers". Let us put Marx's theory into context; in Wage Labour and Capital he wrote that

A house may be large or small, as long as the surrounding houses are equally small it satisfies all the demands for a dwelling. But let a palace arise beside the little house, and it shrinks from a little house to a hut. The little house shows now that its owner has only very slight or no demands to make; and however high it may shoot up in the course of civilisation, if the neighbouring palace grows an equal or even greater extent, the occupant of the relatively small house will feel more and more uncomfortable. dissatisfied and cramped within its four walls.

In the same pamphlet Marx pointed out that improvement in the worker's material existence "does not remove the antagonism between his interests and . . . the interests of the capitalists". Higher wages do not alter this: "In proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse" (Capital Vol. I, Chap. XXV, p. 645). The fact is that, compared with the potential which now exists for meeting human needs, we are living in a society which faces not only the same social problems as existed fifty and a hundred years ago (starvation, bad housing, poor hospital facilities, unemployment, deprivation), but new, more awful ones: chemical pollution, racism, the nuclear threat, state secrecy using computers, numerous conventional wars using new weapons of mass killing, widespread street crime. The lot of the workers has grown worse. Similarly, Marx's prediction that capital would become increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands has come true.

Poverty has led to widespread working class discontent, but not yet to a working class which is conscious of the need for socialism. The tinny motor cars which Mr. Crozier cites as evidence of working class affluence, like the mortgages and mock-Tudor front doore w hich some workers acquire, may have shocked Khrushchev, but they do not hide the essential poverty of the class which produces all the wealth of society but who, in general, can only afford to consume the second-rate trash. Poverty is not the absence of a Ford Fiesta or a Sony Hi Fi, but is the social alienation of the wealth producing class from the means of wealth production and distribution. If Mr. Crozier is sure that such poverty is "demonstrably untrue" he could tell us how the 80 per cent of the British population who own between them less of the accumulated wealth than the richest 1 per cent are "demonstrably" affluent?

Incidentally, Brian Crozier is quite incorrect when he states that Marx has been proved wrong in his "belief that the revolution would start in an advanced capitalist state". There has yet to be a socialist revolution, so Marx can hardly have been proved right or wrong.

The Class Struggle

"Perhaps the most pernicious of Marx's doctrines", we are told, "is the class struggle." We are informed that the theory of the class struggle is based on envy and incites violence and conflict. Anyone would think that violence and conflict would be absent from capitalist society unless wicked Marxists invented class division! The opposite is the case: it is the existence of a society in which there are classes which produce social antagonism, often violent. It is impossible to have a society in which the privileged minority monoplises the means of living and the wealth producers are reduced to wage slavery without serious and ceaseless conflict. The Murder Squad do not commit the murders they investigate; Marxists do not invent the class struggle which we experience. Envy will be eradicated by abolishing poverty. If Brian Crozier is as opposed to class conflict as he claims — and as Marxists are — why does he oppose the only political movement in existence which aims to establish a classless society?

It is absurd to suggest that Marxism "sanctifies" the autocracy "of a single ruling party in the name of the working class". Marx's whole political outlook was a reflection of his view that "the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class themselves". The Socialist Party of Great Britain, which shares the view of Marx, has never once condoned or ceased to expose parties which rule in the name of the workers. Marxists stand for worldwide democracy — the ownership and control of the earth and everything in it and on it by its inhabitants. That has nothing to do with dictatorship, either of the party or the board room.

Brian Crozier's reference to Russian foreign policy has nothing to do with Marx or Marxism. The rivalry between NATO — representing western capitalism — and the Warsaw Pact — representing eastern capitalism — is a product of the market system which Marx opposed and Crozier accepts.

The Dialectic

Like most critics of Marxism, Brian Crozier is baffled by the theory of historical materialism. It is anything but a dogma. Materialists do deny the existence of god, just as we deny the existence of fairies, pink elephants and other invisible and supernatural creations of human fantasy.

Marx's philosophical writings, far from being based on Hegel's "pure mysticism", rejected Hegelian metaphysics. Again, it is utterly mistaken of Mr. Crozier to suggest that Marx's analysis of historical development started with feudalism. In his Preface to the Critique of Political Economy Marx refers to "Asiatic, Ancient, feudal and modern capitalist modes of production".
Engels' great work, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, can hardly be said to consider history to start with feudalism. "Capitalism . . . did not spring whole into the world" writes Brian Crozier. Of course not; neither did feudalism or the ideas of Marx or even Brian Crozier himself— all things evolve. Capitalism, as a network of social relationships, did replace feudalism as a social order; one does not have to take the word of Marx or the Socialist Party on this — virtually all reputable historians will verify it. In saying that socialism will replace capitalism Marxists are not predicting an absolute synthesis — whatever that would be — but a movement in social evolution. Socialism will not be a static, absolute society; it will develop in line with material needs and possibilities.


Why do workers become Marxists? Brian Crozier suggests that tens of thousands flock to the banner of Marxism because it is a new, secular religion offering dogmatic certainty about the world. Perhaps some workers do seek dogmatic certainty in Marxism, but in so doing they are not Marxists. Many workers claim to be flocking to Marxism, but are, in fact, rushing enthusiastically towards ideological platforms which, knowingly or otherwise, perpetuate the capitalist social order. Similarly, many so-called critics of Marx and modern Marxists are not criticising anything but a bogus caricature of the socialist case. The failure of millions of workers to become Marxists has much to do with the fact that it does not provide dogmatic certainty and god-like leadership. The strong conditioning towards working class passivity has made the politics of revolutionary conscious action seem unattractive and frightening for many workers. At the moment the majority of workers are willing to leave the historical driving seat to those, like Brian Crozier and his fellow apologists for capitalism, whom they foolishly think will know what is best for society. For the sake of the working class, let us hope that many workers will study Mr. Crozier's manifestation of his political wisdom and draw from it the obvious lesson that the case against Marxism is unproven — and probably unprovable.

Socialist Standard March 1983

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