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What Did Marx "Get Wrong"? September 13, 2004 by RedStar2000


How much of Marx has proven to be worthless? How much is dubious? How much is yet to be confirmed?

And if Marx was wrong about some things and you reject them, does that mean that you should no longer consider yourself a "Marxist"?


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quote:

I hope Redstar2000 comes in here; I want to know what Marx got wrong and why? What has RS2k got against Marx? Clearly he is NOT a Marxist as he rejects too much of Marx's teachings.


Well, first of all, I don't think that whether or not one is a Marxist can be "measured" by how much of the "faith" one is willing to "defend".

It seems to me that one can legitimately claim to be a Marxist provided (1) one actually uses the tools of Marxist analysis and (2) one uses them for the purpose of advancing the cause of proletarian revolution and the achievement of communism.

In other words, it's not a matter of "doctrine" -- Marx said "blah, blah, blah" in 1847 or whenever and if you think that's not true or no longer true "then" you're "not" a Marxist.

Further, even if some of Marx's tools have been discredited ("dialectics") or if some of his concepts have developed serious weaknesses (the labor theory of value) or become obsolete (the "transitional workers' state"), I don't think that setting such things aside means that you are "no longer a Marxist".

If I had to make a "quick & dirty" summary of Marxism, it would be that Marx offers us an analysis of human societies that is both critical (in the scientific sense) and revolutionary.

It's not a "package" that one accepts or rejects (like a religion); it's a paradigm -- a framework within which one can scientifically criticize existing class society and conduct a conscious struggle to overthrow it.

I think it strongly resembles, in many respects, the Darwinian paradigm. No sensible person questions the fact of evolution by natural selection...but the details make for heated controversy and continuing research.

In fact, we're now pretty sure that Darwin's theory did not tell the whole story and evolution is actually more complicated than Darwin thought. But no one working on this "cutting edge" of modern evolutionary research would be labeled "no longer a Darwinist".

But there's also, as noted earlier, the conscious revolutionary purpose of Marxism. Any "Marxist" analysis that suggested that we all just forget about proletarian revolution and communism "because it ain't going to happen" would be equivalent to a "Darwinist" version of creationism.

As you know, such perversions of "Marxism" have enjoyed wide-spread popularity in the "west" at different times. Most, if not almost all, of our hundreds of "Marxist"-Leninist parties have been fundamentally reformist...though costumed in impeccable "Marxist" terminology, complete with a generous measure of "dialectics".

It is as if creationism had been able to successfully appropriate Darwinian terminology and pass itself off as "real Darwinism".

Had Darwin been a Hegelian, that might have happened! You can "prove" anything with "dialectics".

So, in summary...

1. "Dialectics" is crap.

2. The labor theory of value requires fresh empirical evidence of its validity.

3. The "transitional workers' state" is obsolete.

4. Historical materialism is real.

5. Classes exist and struggle for supremacy.

6. We don't really know yet whether communism is possible...but it's worth a try.

Anything else?
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2004
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quote:

How can a social system "not be possible"? Communism isn't an idealistic construct just plucked out the air because it sounds "nice".

It marks the inevitable next stage of human development.


From a scientific standpoint, you can't use the word "inevitable" without empirical justification.

If A is always followed by B, then and only then can you reasonably use the word "inevitable".

Marx's hypothesis is that capitalism will be replaced with communism...but we don't yet have even one successful example of that.

All we have are "fragments" of evidence; brief periods where the working class actually "ran the show"...and even those are marked with ambiguities.

So, even if it "seems" like it "ought" to be "inevitable", it has yet to be proven so.

I think that proof will come...but it hasn't yet.

In a way, the struggle for communism is an effort to demonstrate the correctness of a hypothesis by real world experience.

We are "putting Marx to the test".

quote:

I was trying to find info on "reformist marxism" but it turned out that I had to read many books to find it out. But my English is not too good, so could you please sum it up what is it and how is it different of "simple" marxism?


"Classic" reformist variants date back to the beginning of the last century. The "test" is a simple one: does the "Marxist analysis" claim to "prove" that proletarian revolution is "unnecessary" or even "impossible"? If so, then what you have is a "Marxism" without revolution...a fake "Marxism".

The Leninist reformists are a little more difficult to penetrate...they will talk a lot about revolution in words -- but their practice will be reformist.

One good test is to examine a Leninist party's attitudes towards bourgeois parliamentary elections. If they take that crap seriously (either by running their own candidates or even by supporting bourgeois candidates), then they are really reformists...no matter how much they babble about "revolution".

The role of real Marxists is to encourage resistance to the tyranny of capital. We ought never to "play by the rules" that capitalism has established.

We break the rules as much as we can. We encourage the entire working class to do likewise.

To be a communist revolutionary, one must first rebel. To make a proletarian revolution, one must first have a rebellious working class.

This is so simple and obvious that it takes great heaping piles of "dialectics" to cover it up...which is yet another reason to be deeply suspicious of the so-called "magic key to understanding history".

Do people really use "dialectics" to turn Marxism into its "opposite"?

People do.

And in the last century, they got away with it.

But not now and not here.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2004
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quote:

I've noticed your rejection of dialectics on numerous occasions but I've never really seen you give a full criticism of it.


The remaining defenders of "dialectics" seem to be Trotskyists and Maoists, and I have had lengthy discussions with both.

On "Dialectics" -- The Heresy Posts

Disputing Dialectics

quote:

So what you say is mainly that if there is no revolution then we're not talking about marxism.


Yes.

Certainly there are Marxist academics (historians, sociologists, etc.) who use the tools of Marxism to investigate the past...and that's perfectly legitimate and indeed valuable work.

But watch closely: if they conclude from their investigations that proletarian revolution is "unnecessary" or "impossible", then they are using Marxism to destroy Marxism.

quote:

But in fact I think revolution, today, in the western world, is impossible...Ok, I'm not a real communist: I don't even want capitalism to be banned, I only want the state to keep the working class and the lower classes safe from its negative effect.


Honesty in politics is always appreciated. You are indeed "not a real communist" but one who wishes to reform capitalism into more humane social behavior.

Fine...we can argue about whether or not that's possible or even desirable.

The problem is that there are still too many people who actually agree with you but who nevertheless attempt to pass themselves off as "Marxists" and "revolutionaries".

That's wrong...and I would like to "do my bit" to put a stop to it.

quote:

I would like to remind you that Peter Kropotkin, a respected anarchist, submitted that dialectics is true in natural phenomenon.

Yet you feel qualified to dismiss it off the cuff because some non-anarchists also respect it.


I don't care who endorses "dialectics" -- I am always "qualified" to dismiss self-evident nonsense.

So is everybody!

(And, by the way, why should I "flop on my belly" before the bold-faced Kropotkin? He supported his own ruling class in World War I. I don't know about you, but that doesn't inspire much confidence in his judgment on my part.)

quote:

There's been so much of the capitalist mindset that is ingrown into the working class that many of them, despite feeling the cold shaft of it every day, still believe in it. For this I think you need education and some form of democratic realization to bring about the idea that something different is possible. Without democratic reform and people in power who are supportive of social change the people are misguided and lack any real faith in pure revolutionary means.


That is a good summary of the Leninist version of reformism (even if you don't personally consider yourself a Leninist). It seems to be based on the proposition that people must be led -- "small step by small step" -- to the realization that capitalism must be overthrown.

The Marxist hypothesis is different: it proposes that revolutionary consciousness is "suddenly" generated by crises of capitalism...economic depressions and imperialist wars, for example.

The people who appeared to be "brainwashed" over the decades of normal class struggle and ordinary reformism suddenly "shrug it all off" and adopt an entirely fresh outlook -- which contains important elements of both Marxism and anarchism.

The role that serious communists and serious anarchists play in this is one of preparation -- what we want is the widest possible circulation of revolutionary ideas...so that they will be there when needed.

We are not "nannies" trying to convince people that communism, like broccoli, is "good for them". It's more like planting "seeds" of revolutionary consciousness...that will grow when objective material conditions are favorable.

quote:

RedStar2000 has dug himself a silly hole that rejects dialectics piecemeal on the basis of Leninist dogma concerning it.


I reject "dialectics" because it's a completely nonsensical 19th century notion that is utterly useless in describing the real world.

quote:

Well, that is slightly pedantic.


As you wish. But if we are to speak of Marxism "as a science", then we're not allowed to say things are "true" unless the evidence for that truth is very clear and compelling.

Otherwise, we would find ourselves in the position of asserting that "communism is inevitable because we say it is."

Not good.

quote:

Therefore we can almost certainly assume that "communism" will be the result of the proletarian revolutions.


I do "assume it".

But we must always remember the possibility that we (and Marx) could turn out to be wrong.

Unpleasant as the thought may be, a rational and scientific outlook requires admitting the possibility of error.

quote:

Form workers militias and blow up some capitalist property! Anyone who says otherwise is an effing coward or a middle class enemy!


Perhaps...depending on the objective circumstances.

But I think the most important thing at this point in history is simply to tell people the truth.

The only way the workers have ever gained anything from the capitalists is by raising hell...by some form of active resistance, large or small, non-violent or violent, whatever!

The capitalists are our class enemies who ceaselessly wage class warfare against us.

Until we resist, we will get nowhere.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2004
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quote:

The point is that reformism is not a failed ideology, as reforms have improved the lives of many workers.


So they have...although those improvements are beginning to look rather tenuous lately.

The word "failure" in this context refers to something different.

If you look at the early years of social democracy, Fabianism, etc., you'll discover that the premise of reformism was that revolution was "unnecessary"...we could "reform" our way from capitalism to socialism to communism.

In that sense, reformism has been a failure.

So much so that -- one by one -- the parties that proudly called themselves reformist have simply abandoned all pretense of challenging the class basis of existing society.

And, in fact, they're no longer even very good reformists.

The conceit of our ruling class is that they've "permanently defeated" the revolutionary options of communism and anarchism...thus, their idea of "reform" is forward to the 19th century!

The French "Socialist" Party, the German Social-Democrats, and the British "Labour" Party agree!

That is what is happening.

Some people evidently think that reformism can somehow be "revived" and made "influential" again. I think there are objective material conditions that will not permit that to happen...even if the reformist parties were interested in such a possibility.

It appears as if the capitalist class is "feeling the pinch" of falling profits...and the only solution they see is the reduction of labor costs. Thus they will simply not permit any more pro-working class reforms and apply themselves with real enthusiasm to dismantling the ones that already exist.

See any issue of The Economist for the details.

Of course, it may be counter-argued that reviving communism or anarchism is just as "futile". The reason I disagree with that is that a ruling class that becomes unable to offer even minor concessions to the exploited is one that lays the foundation for total resistance.

The "revolutionary message" is unintelligible to people who still see the existing system as "reformable". But as each passing generation sees things simply getting worse in every respect, the "revolutionary message" starts to make sense.

In the final weeks of the old order, the rulers will offer concessions and lots of them (even though they no longer have the capability to implement any of them).

Too late! That's usually the "final encouragement" to go all the way. Those last-minute "concessions" will be seen as "terms of surrender" by the working class, which will in turn appropriately demand unconditional surrender from the ruling class.

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A note on violence and non-violence: in my opinion, revolutionaries should be as violent as their resources and support permit; but that rhetorical violence should be discouraged.

Making verbal threats of intended violence is often a case of "the mouth writing checks that the muscles can't cash".

Likewise, I would also discourage pacifist rhetoric...it's (correctly) perceived by most people, especially the class enemy, as a sign of weakness.

When the class enemy is physically stronger than we are, we should be peaceful. When we are stronger than the class enemy, we should kick their asses.

But there's no reason for a lot of public yap about this, one way or the other. We're not under any obligation to commit ourselves to either violence or non-violence.

Instead, we should look carefully at each struggle that we're involved in and coolly and rationally decide the appropriate level of violence that fits that situation.

"Big talk" should be avoided until it makes sense to call for a general insurrection.

Right now, what we should be telling people is to resist the tyranny of capital in whatever ways are possible now.

Remember the 11th Commandment and keep it wholly: DON'T GET CAUGHT!
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2004
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Bernstein actually made two interesting observations.

The first was that capitalism at that point (c.1900) was "not developing" the way that Marx thought it would...workers were becoming "better off" instead of "worse off".

"Therefore", he concluded, "we should drop all this revolution crap and simply go on reforming capitalism forever...and eventually socialism and even communism will be the outcome".

But it is Bernstein's second observation, which you quoted, that I find much more interesting. He saw "beneath the surface" of the Marxist rhetoric in the German Social Democratic Party...and said simply "let's talk in accordance with our real understanding".

He thought social democratic reformism was "a good thing" and didn't see why the German SPD shouldn't change its rhetoric to match.

Personally, I think that was very perceptive of him. Kautsky, Luxemburg, and even Lenin, Trotsky, Martov, etc. all thought that the German SPD was a "revolutionary Marxist" party...right up until 1914.

Then, its rottenness became apparent for all to see...but Bernstein saw it all more than a decade earlier!

Marxism is a very powerful way of understanding reality...even in the hands of its enemies.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2004
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quote:

So I do not think that you can call Marx wrong on this one.


I don't...but I think he was very premature.

Up until 1970-80 or so, the general condition of the proletariat did advance, at least in the "west".

Since then it has stagnated or even marginally declined...and there are no signs of improvement. Indeed, all of the "indicators" look pretty grim.

Thus, I think Marx's hypothesis of "the immiseration of the proletariat", so often derided by Marx's critics in the 20th century, is "coming true".

Indeed, I think this century is going to look much more like the 19th century than the 20th in many respects.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2004
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