Friday, December 21, 2007

Just for Troutsky

If you think being in the middle of four books would stop be from reading my newly arrived copy of Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, you don't know me at all. Dissecting Karl Marx, he writes:

If the [capitalist] system had not been in the process of reforming itself, which by Marx's reasoning was impossible, Capital could not have been written. As he was unwilling to do any on-the-spot investigation himself, he was forced to rely precisely on the evidence of those, whom he designated 'the governing class', who were trying to put things right and to an increasing extent succeeding. Thus Marx had to distort his main source of evidence, or abandon his thesis. The book was, and is, structurally dishonest. - p. 69

I don't tear down idols because I'm a jerk; I do it because most idols, Marx included, do not deserve to be worshiped--or even revered. There are many, many flaws inherent in the capitalist system, but its ability to self-correct destroys Marxist thought. Hence all attacks on capitalism which are based on Marxist premises are untenable.


troutsky said...

My turn to bite. First,hearing a self professed libertarian tout the proposition that "the governing class" was putting things "right,and to an increasing extent,succeeding" is unnerving.Assuming that Marx's inability to foresee capitalisms adaptibility "destroys Marxist thought"is hyperbole of the radio talk show variety. Capital is three huge volumes, along with Engles he wrote eleven other books and numerous essays so "Marxist thought" is a great,great deal more than just his theory of historical development.It is like saying Darwins inability to account for altruism destroys the entire theory of natural selection.
Like all great thinkers he is measured by the legacy and his work in both economics and philosophy is carried on through Lukacs, Korsch, Gramsci,Debray to Marcuse,Habermas,Sartre,Adorno, Althusser,Anderson,,Blackburn,...on and on and on in some of the most influential "intellectuals" of our time, once you break out of Johnsons box."Thought" is a continuim and 'Marxist premises" are far from exhausted. Is this assertion proof of my "reverence" or "worship" of the man?I don't think so but name another five men (besides Jesus) who have had more influence on the course of world events.
As for capitalisms "success", that too might depend on who you talk to and when.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

The point isn't that there wasn't anything good in Marx; even Lucifer was a beautiful angel before he fell.
Umberto Eco discusses the quality of the political rhetoric in the Communist Manifesto; Johnson agrees.

The point is that in compiling Capital, Marx was faced with evidence that the capitalist system was reforming itself. The very records he used demonstrated this. His refusal to accurately report what was happening marks him as either an imbecile--which he was not--or a fundamentally dishonest man. His ability to cherry-pick evidence was perhaps greater than the neo-cons in their run up to the Iraq War.

And history proved Marx wrong! If capitalism was unable to self-correct--which he knew to be false--if the proletariats were actually becoming worse and worse off in countries like the U.S. and Britain, it was to those countries that revolution would come. Instead, the least capitalistic countries, those that had not even abolished serfdom, that had revolutions forced upon them by elites.

It as an amusing anecdote that when Capital reached the Russian censors, they allowed it though because they thought it too incoherent to be dangerous. Only Lenin's extraordinary personality prevented Marx from being but a footnote to history. And, as Johnson muses, had the Nazis defeated the Soviet Union and been the enemy of the U.S. in a cold war of sorts, it is very possible that leftists would have turned, not to Capital, but to Mein Kampf, and studying it extensively in institution of higher thought.

No one denies that Marx has been influential. A number of us question why anyone finds a third-rate philosopher, the implementation of whose ideas led to more deaths than anyone else in human history.

I suggest that there are much better critiques of capitalism, and continued assertions that we need to abolish the system and replace it--with what?--will, thankfully, fall on deaf ears.

Like it or not, capitalism is here to stay. It can, and should be, reformed, but any system which promises utopia and attempts to abolish property will end the slavery and hell of the Soviet Union.

But perhaps I have been unfair. What parts of Marxist thought are worth saving?

troutsky said...

He shows that it is not some immutable natural law or metaphysical order that imposes a hierachical structure on society.He demonstrates that it is raw, often violent power which enforces this structure of exploitation and the degree to which mans better instincts, qualities,aptitude, etc could be utilized.Think 1870s England.