Friday, August 20, 2004

Still Waiting for those Marxist Insights

Brad DeLong gives his question about the supposedly "fundamental (valid) insights of Marxism" the prominence it deserves, and the answers he obtains are, shall we say, interesting. Perhaps most interesting of all is the following comment left by a chap called Dogberry:

There was an excellent article a while back by ex-Marxist Leszek Kolakowski on this very question, What is still valid in Marxism?

Turns out, there ain't much: none of the predictions specific to Marx have come true, among them the disappearance of the middle class, the absolute impoverishment of the working class, the inevitability of the proletarian revolution, and that capitalism would stall technological progress (now where did this computer come from?).

As for the so-called economic or materialist interpretation of history, Marx himself acknowledges that he wasn't the first to advance this, other than give it an upside-down Hegelian spin. From his letter to Joseph Weydmeyer, March 5, 1852:

"And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic anatomy of classes. What I did that was new was to prove:

(1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with the particular, historical phases in the development of production [See: Historical Materialism]
(2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society."

So Marx is that rare combination of a Johnny-come-lately and a false prophet. As Kolakowski puts it: "It seems that contemporary economics —- as distinct from economical ideologies —- would not differ much from what it is today if Marx had never been born."

Also, IMHO, Marx's vision of the classless society, as laid out in The German Ideology, is nauseating. It is a world devoid of inspiration, of passion, of all the things that make human existence, for all its iniquities, worth living. Equality is a fine thing, but human beings, I hate to say, are just in much in love with lording it over others; and that for natural, not merely historical, reasons. Any just society must figure out a way to balance the desire for equality and the desire for excellence (i.e. inequality); at such a project as this, Marxism fails.
I really do think that about sums it up. Anyone who thinks Marxism has much to offer at this point is indulging a religious fetish, rather than engaging in rational thought.

PS: This page of reviews of Hans O. Melberg's Making Sense of Marx should also make for interesting reading.