Marx's Revenge
March 27, 2013 11:48 AM   Subscribe

How Class Struggle Is Shaping The World

The Next Left - An Interview with Bhaskar Sunkara
However, socialism’s reputation is making a comeback, at least among the young. If Millennials need any pointers, the avowedly socialist editorial board of Jacobin (previously) is happy to oblige.
via the man himself. Previously on MetaFilter
posted by the man of twists and turns (38 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

(MORE: Viewpoint: Why Capping Bankers’ Pay Is a Bad Idea)

Is it a worse idea than knee-capping bankers? Because people are getting desperate, and desperate people do desperate things.

Yeah, Marx is relevant. The idea that Marx was sinking quaintly into the background is a pious hope of the upper class. However, I think they are beginning to find that the policy of "creating reality" by lying and lying and lying only gets you so far, and we are getting to that point. How many revolutions does it take before the upper classes realize that taking everything is unsustainable for everyone and always ends in tears for them or their children or grandchildren?
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

They never learn, not long term. We've done all this before and will do all this again.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

They never learn, not long term. We've done all this before and will do all this again.

So "those who do not read Marx are doomed to repeat him," then?
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:46 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

via the man himself.

Huh? I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am not, nor do I have an affiliation with, Zombie Karl Marx. Those rumors are completely false.

posted by homunculus at 12:48 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

"The Weeklies", Monica Potts, The American Prospect, 26 March 2013
In the Denver suburbs, as in much of the U.S., the Great Recession turned formerly stable families into the new homeless—and left many living in budget hotels.
via The Class War Comes to the Suburbs by Charles P. Pierce
posted by ob1quixote at 12:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pretty much, yeah. If reading This Time It's Different taught me anything, it's that the moneyed and upper classes will always convince themselves the rules have changed and this time their schemes will work and they can be rich forever and keep on taking and taking.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

The advent of socialism requires that proletarians transcend themselves, leave behind their personal economic concerns and devote themselves to self-enlightenment. The current regime is designed to keep people in a state of economic anxiety, so that they do not emancipate themselves.
posted by No Robots at 12:52 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

Hollande planned to hike the income tax rate to as high as 75%. Though that idea got shot down by the country’s Constitutional Council, Hollande is scheming ways to introduce a similar measure.

Why, the dirty rat!
posted by acb at 12:56 PM on March 27, 2013

This is an interesting article, albeit one that has a major flaw which jumps out at you straight away if you know anything about Marx's work: it has a tendency to confuse Marx's analysis of society (which is still powerful and relevant) with those societies that have called themselves "communist" (which were totalitarian or oligarchical societies and certainly didn't put the workers in charge of the means of production for very long, if at all).

That said, one good thing the article does is to quote Richard Wolff. I have mentioned him before on Metafilter, and I would suggest that anyone who hasn't looked at his work do so. He is both a Marxist and an economics professor, and puts out a regular radio show, looking at modern economics and politics in the light of Marxian theories, in a very clear and approachable way. He is also an advocate of worker's self-directed enterprises (i.e. firms where workers decide what to do with the profit the firm makes) as an alternative

I for one would be delighted if people started looking at Marx without either worship or knee-jerk fear and contempt. He is a profound thinker with a lot of important things to say about the way human society works and how to achieve real justice within it - and he remains one of the relatively few philosophers who can completely change the way that you look at and think about a huge range of issues.
posted by lucien_reeve at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2013 [21 favorites]

it has a tendency to confuse Marx's analysis of society (which is still powerful and relevant) with those societies that have called themselves "communist" (which were totalitarian or oligarchical societies and certainly didn't put the workers in charge of the means of production for very long, if at all).

This. Thank you for putting it so succinctly. I would suggest that we could substitute "regimes" for societies there and get even closer to the truth.
posted by clockzero at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2013

Ugh, that David Brin post. His obsession with equating the right and the left is out in full force:

The reflex of folks on the right is to avert the gaze from problems to be solved and to resent nagging to solve them. The reflex of the far-left is hypersensitivity to perceived problems. To rail for solutions - but to deny that any past attempts at improvement ever worked! The right is suspicious toward the whole notion of "improvability" of either humans or society. The left wants improvability, passionately, but insists it has never happened yet.

And then again down further in the comments:

I am all in favor of communities like LGBT indulging some indignant political pressure to push things forward. My suggestion about tactics was not to use 'baby steps' but to find the red flags that keep your opponents united and eliminate the ones you don't need, so that you can break up your enemies' alliance and have victory.

This could have been done if the LGBT community compromised on the least important aspect of gay marriage... the word "marriage" itself.

Had they consented to call gay maggiage "garriage" along with gusband and gife, it could have been a wink/nod/titter inside joke, knowing that the pretense would fall away in a few years. Meanwhile, HALF of the conservative americans in the opposing side would have then shrugged and dropped out and let every legal and other aspect of marriage become contractully available.

The response that 'WE SHOULDN'T HAVE TO COMPROMISE!!!" IS the clearest example of sanctimony poisoning affecting the left, as fully as the right. Progress matters. Tiny temporary verbiage nuances do not.

So privileged and so blind to it.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:28 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

If reading This Time It's Different taught me anything, it's that the moneyed and upper classes will always convince themselves the rules have changed and this time their schemes will work and they can be rich forever and keep on taking and taking.

Yes, exactly. The history of capitalism is the history of trying to patching a cracked, leaking dam with chewing gum. And then when it collapses and wipes a bunch of people out in a flood, re-building the dam the same way as before, but adorning it with a fresh coat of paint and re-naming it like, the Billy Squire Memorial Dam or something, using most of the old materials and some mud daub. But what a ribbon-cutting ceremony!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:56 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

The goal is always free, expendable labor.
posted by The Whelk at 3:09 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

The Whelk: The goal is always free, expendable labor.
When workers die: “And nobody called 911″, Jim Morris and Chip Mitchell, Salon, 26 March 2013
posted by ob1quixote at 3:35 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

is it bad that i can't look on this with anything like optimism and am convinced it's going to lead to a mass movement getting together and doing a lot of crazy shit
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:37 PM on March 27, 2013

The idea that Marx could fade out of influence seems totally laughable to me; it would require a tremendous intellectual discontinuity on the level of the Dark Ages in Europe. It doesn't take being a Marxist or even agreeing at all with Marx to recognize the portability of his work's power and appeal. This is one genie that really can't go back in the bottle.
posted by threeants at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm as cynical as they come but jesus fuck, this is in Time magazine, the most milquetoast, "both sides do it," of publications?

That's a good thing.
posted by bardic at 8:41 PM on March 27, 2013

My view of Marx is that he provided a powerful, detailed criticism of capitalism which is enduringly relevant.

What's missing though is any detailed study of a replacement for capitalism. He was due to provide detail in the later volumes of Capital, but died before he could get around to it.

It's correct to point out that the Actually Existing Communisms of the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba and Maoist China don't look anything like Marx's conception of Communism. His famous description was this:
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
This vision doesn't look anything like the Soviet Union.

However, Marx never got around to explaining the detailed mechanisms by which "society regulates the general production". If you have a certain cast of mind and read this passage, you tend to start thinking things like this: "What if it's pissing down with rain, nobody feels like rearing cattle for a couple of days, and the cows die of mastitis because nobody's milked them?"

The Marx-Leninism of the Soviet Union solved this problem by having a state bureaucracy regulate production, and force people to milk the cows when it's raining.

Capitalism solves this problem by letting people make a profit by selling milk, and having the cows be private property. The cows are a valuable asset to whoever owns them, and he doesn't want the cows to die of mastitis just because it's raining.

But while the "true Communism has never been tried" people have a point about how the Marx-Leninism was more Lenin than Marx, I haven't seen much convincing detail on the mechanisms of how, under True Marxist Communism, the cows get milked when it's raining.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:30 AM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Or, in other words, Marxism asks the question of cui bono? (“who benefits?”) about capitalism, but has yet to provide a satisfactory answer to cui merda tollenda erit? (“who will shovel the shit?”)
posted by acb at 5:23 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

cui merda tollenda erit?

This actually dovetails nicely with a few posts that have popped up.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:33 AM on March 28, 2013

Actually, there are a few alternative answers to the question of who will shovel the shit. One of them is Richard Wolff's idea of workers' self-directed enterprises: you still have a market, you just have one in which more people have an ownership stake in the business that employs them and a much bigger role in deciding how that business is managed.

Whether or not that solution would work in practice is, of course, open to debate. But it seems like one possible solution.

The basic idea is that whoever is going to the trouble of milking the cows, whatever the weather, should own the milk. Most political divisions in the twentieth century boiled down to property vs. labour, depending on which you thought was the most important thing to use the law and the apparatus of state violence to protect. There are other ideologies that purport to cut across this divide - anarchism rejects state power, while fascism exalts it as an end in itself, liberalism tries to balance both sides, neoliberalism/libertarianism tries to persuade labour that property is the best way for labour to be truly free and dignified and so forth.

But I think that a) most of those projects for cutting across the divide are showing their weaknesses at the moment; and b) they were always vulnerable to being used as a mouthpiece for the supporters of property, who, after all, are the ones with the resources to support viewpoints they don't agree with just to play divide and rule.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:08 AM on March 28, 2013

Once proletarians internalize the principles of self-organization and self-management, they will be ready, willing and able to organize and manage themselves.
posted by No Robots at 6:22 AM on March 28, 2013

Sure, workers co-ops are great. Everyone's in favour of them. Here in the UK it's official Conservative Party policy to promote them, David Cameron's very keen. But they're not exactly a radical concept, the idea of employees owning shares in the business fits neatly and unthreateningly within capitalist ideology.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:33 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Socialism Without A Map
If I aspire to a political tradition, it’s Wright’s tradition of an interest in radical change, combined with a strong respect for empirically guided analysis.

Of course, I have critical things to say, or it wouldn’t be worth my writing this or people reading it. The book’s explicit intention is to provide a kind of socialist compass. As Wright makes clear, we don’t have any grand master plans which would allow us to see the road ahead. We know that one such plan – the one of the people who built the USSR and its cognates and satellites – worked horribly badly. So Wright’s implicit recommendation is that we build a better society through careful exploration, guided by a general set of principles rather than a strong belief that we know the answers already. I think Diane Coyle is wrong when she sees this as an effective accommodationism – the injection of homeopathic doses of socialism into a fundamentally capitalist system. Instead, it’s a process of careful, iterated search.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:24 AM on March 28, 2013

Social Democracy For Centrists
The magazine praises Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway for accomplishments often touted by social democrats—low poverty rates, egalitarian distribution, and efficient public services. But the magazine argues that these are now “centrist” societies because they balance their budgets, allow for consumer “choice” within their public services, and nurture risk-taking entrepreneurs. The Economist sheepishly admits that these countries funnel over 50 percent of their GDP through the public sector (versus a meager 30 percent in the United States and 36 percent in Great Britain). But Adrian Woolridge’s “special report” places inordinate emphasis on how the Nordic nations’ have trimmed their (still) generous paid leave, sick day, and disability benefits, while touting Sweden’s switch from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution public pension plan.

The Economist never once mentions that the Nordic economic model of growth-with-equity derives from the continued existence of a powerful labor movement (union density is above 70 percent in each country, versus 11.3 percent in the United States and 17 percent in Great Britain). Nor does it tell us that the historical dominance of social democracy means that Nordic conservative parties resemble Obama-style Democrats. Even as social democratic parties move in and out of government, the “Nordic model” draws heavily upon the egalitarian values of its labor movement and social democratic parties.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:45 AM on March 28, 2013

It is important to remember that economic emancipation is merely a necessary pre-condition for complete social, intellectual and spiritual emancipation.
posted by No Robots at 7:53 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't tell if you're being facetious, or channeling Glen Beck. Carry on.
posted by sneebler at 8:10 AM on March 28, 2013

I'm channelling the great unknown Russo-American-Jewish Spinozist Marxist, Harry Waton, who concludes The Philosophy of Marx with the following:
The socialists, therefore, must direct all their efforts to help the proletariat to rise ever higher and higher, mentally and morally, so that it may come nearer and ever nearer to the apex of the pyramid of creation, partake ever more of the natura naturans, and make ever more consciously and effectively their own history. "Nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven." The Son of Man, the proletariat, who, unlike the foxes that have holes and the birds that have nests, has nowhere to lay his head, will, spite of all opposition and difficulty, attain to the right hand of power and will rise to the clouds of heaven and enjoy economic security and supreme happiness....
And happy is he, who, having seen the light, at once casts his lot with the proletariat; for only by identifying one-self with the proletariat can one save himself in this world of sin, corruption and destruction.
Socialism and Christianity march together in unbeatable union.
posted by No Robots at 8:29 AM on March 28, 2013

@longdaysjourney - Brin's campaign strategy is perhaps good on paper but in actuality, it only works if the social debate is a static one. In theory, I might add.

There is so much more to social policy than to simply give in to the oppressors talking point of the day or week or month. There is little to no way that the only point of debate would rest on the word itself, we see that in the different facets of the struggle for equality. Under Brin's control, the debate would allegedly be shifted to the actual things people really want, need or otherwise desire from the campaign. The irony is that this is basically the same campaign but by asking for less, it is essentially this thought process summed up: "gosh darn it, we'll win the battle because it is just so reasonable..." Gah!

His strategic guidance is clearly wrong in the case of gay marriage with a long view; we will eventually, perhaps very soon, win by specifically avoiding such privilege burdened advice. If however the "battle" was "won" without every last inch of possible gain, we'd see it pulled back, inch by inch until it becomes meaningless. This is going to happen in any case with an issue that evokes such strong division and hatred. This is what we see in the area of a woman's right to have an abortion in North Dakota this very week, is it not?
posted by ioerror at 1:11 AM on March 29, 2013

Marxists In The State Department
The consequences of such worldviews are profound. In Marxist materialism and one of its latter-day intellectual heirs, liberal internationalism, things such as ethnicity, culture, and religion become mere epiphenomena of what are “really” economic problems, problems we can solve given enough money. Thus, centuries-old loyalties and identities can, according to this school of thought, be erased with IMF loans, increasing incomes and international donor conferences. And if the locals don't see the folly of their ways, a few cruise missiles or a quick military intervention should do the trick.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Man of His Time - ‘Karl Marx,’ by Jonathan Sperber
The express purpose of “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-­Century Life” is to dispel the dominant notion of a timeless Marx — less man, more ideological canon — and relocate him where he lived and belonged, in his own time, not ours. Standing firm against the avalanche of studies claiming Marx as forever “our contemporary,” Sperber sets out to depict instead “a figure of the past,” not “a prophet of the present.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:44 AM on April 1, 2013

Richard Wolff: Capitalism Is Not Working, video.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:44 PM on April 2, 2013

Kitchen Sink Socialism - "We Don't Need Gay Marriage To Ruin One Man, One Woman, One Mortgage Relationships; Austerity Is Doing Just Fine"
But we 21st century socialists should be less interested in “intentional communities”- – those Fourierist bastions dotting the fringes of our Greenpoints and Petworths – and more interested in the unintentional ones.

A dozen ultraleft voluntarists arguing about shower schedules is a noise complaint; 120,000 downwardly mobile yuppies doing it out of necessity is a substratum. The material realities of declining wages, ballooning debt, and skyrocketing rents at the core of the neoliberal city have conspired to herd young people into unprecedentedly dense, poor, and precarious kinds of living arrangements
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:31 AM on April 8, 2013

NYRB: The Real Karl Marx
Sperber’s aim is to present Marx as he actually was—a nineteenth-century thinker engaged with the ideas and events of his time. If you see Marx in this way, many of the disputes that raged around his legacy in the past century will seem unprofitable, even irrelevant. Claiming that Marx was in some way “intellectually responsible” for twentieth-century communism will appear thoroughly misguided; but so will the defense of Marx as a radical democrat, since both views “project back onto the nineteenth century controversies of later times.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2013

The Many Faces Of Neo-Marxism
This is not, strictly speaking, a book review but rather an exploration of how history has viewed Karl Marx through various epochs and vogues of thought since he dropped his momentous theories into the Western consciousness a century and a half ago. What can be said about Sperber’s effort, though, is that he tells his story well and should be commended for his competence and reliability. Besides, the publication of a new Marx biography should be welcomed. If people today lack the time or inclination to read Marx—and he isn’t read much these days—one should at least read about him.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:48 AM on April 23, 2013

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