[OPE-L] Does Marx still matter?

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Wed Jun 21 2006 - 15:56:20 EDT


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Politics and principles: Marx: does he still matter?
In a letter to former Labour leader Michael Foot, written in 1982
and published yesterday, Tony Blair reveals that reading Karl
Marx 'irreversibly  altered' his outlook. He even agreed with Tony Benn
that Labour's right-wing was  politically bankrupt. We asked nine
commentators - including Mr Benn - whether  Marxism still has anything to
offer today Published: 16 June 2006





Eric Hobsbawm Historian
I think there has been a substantial revival of interest in Marx in
recent  years, and this has been largely because what he said about the
volatility and  shape of capitalism was correct - even some business
people now seem to  recognise this. Marx is once again somebody that you
can quote, and this in part  is due to the end of the Cold War.
In terms of Marx's legacy, as the Chinese are reported to have said
following  the French Revolution: "It's too early to tell." What we do
know, though, is  that Marx and his disciples were massively responsible
for the shaping of the  20th century, for good or for bad, and Marx was an
extraordinarily important  thinker.
In this era of neo-liberal globalisation, Marxist thinking is still
important  in showing that while capitalism is enormously dynamic, that
dynamism creates  crises. We need to address these crises, not by free
markets, but by controlling  the system or changing it altogether. Whether
or not that is possible in the  short term is a different story.

Matthew d'Ancona Editor, 'THE Spectator'
Marx is certainly relevant. As Francis Wheen's very good biography
shows, he  was on to the idea of globalisation long before right-wing
economists started  writing about it. Beyond that, his way of thinking is
still pervasive. One of the fascinating things about the Labour Party is
that there has been  what you might call a Marx-size hole in it, a quest
for a sense of destiny.
Blair has tried to fill that: his critics would say with religion,
his  apologists would say with Europe. Blair is someone with a pretty
strong sense of  destiny, and he has tried to extend that to the Labour
Party. He is no Marxist  but in a funny way he has that sense of destiny
Marx had. Marx was wrong about lots of things, but he is still somebody
you have to  know about. He is one of a very small number of people -
Marx, Freud and Darwin  are, I suppose, the three big ones - who
completely changed the way we see  mankind.

Jack Straw Leader of The House of Commons
Karl Marx's legacy - not just for the Labour Party but for
intellectual  development - is his development of Hegel's more scientific
approach to  historical analysis and his elevation of the dialectical
process. Both are, I  think, enduring. Much of his analysis is accurate
and his analytical tools are  still respected by many historians.
His prescriptions were often widely off-beam, as we now know, and
played down  non-economic forces to a point where I think he made some
grievous historical  and political errors - for example, ignoring the role
of nationalism and  religion as political forces.
What we saw in 1989, with the collapse of theSoviet system, was that
the  Marxist-Leninist approach to running not only economies but also
societies was  unenduring. The point of Francis Fukuyama's book The End of
History was not
that  history had ended but that we had reached a point of
ideological hegemony
which  I think we probably had. So Marxist Leninism is not relevant
in that
respect but  the analysis is still worth having.
Hilary Wainwright Editor, 'Red Pepper'
For all the abuses of his work, Marx's view of society was far from
being
mechanical and determinist. His notion of people "making history but
not in
conditions of their own choosing" and his idea of "the social
individual" points
to that crucial balance between recognising the capacity of
individuals to
choose to transform rather than reproduce the social relations that
depend on
them and on the other hand the enduring nature of these social
relations.
There is in Marx a powerfully grounded belief in human creativity
combined
with a strong belief in individual fufilment. It's there in his
theory of
alienation: the way in which the capitalist labour market depends on
workers'
alienation from their creative capacity. It's there in his vision of
socialism:
not as a command economy but as the association of free producers.
It is a
cruel  irony his name should have been used to justify
authoritarianism and new,
state,  forms of alienation.
Tony Benn Labour Politician
It's the teachers, including the prophets of ancient times, the
founders of
the great religions, along with Galileo, Darwin, and Karl Marx, who
explain
the  world and our place in it.
I always think of Marx as the last of the Old Testament prophets who
wrote a
brilliant book about capitalism but also condemned it because of the
oppression  by one class of rich and powerful people.
Marx was no more responsible for a Stalinist tyranny than Jesus was
for the
Inquisition or the recent war of aggression waged by a Christian
president and
a  Christian prime minister. Without the Marxist analysis, it is
impossible
to  understand capitalism and globalisation, to reach a moral
judgement, and it
is  even harder to explain the crude use of that power and the need
for it to
be  held to account. There is nothing in the Marxist analysis to
prevent us
from  thinking things out for ourselves and working to build a
genuine
democracy,  where the polling station replaces the marketplace, and
the ballot
replaces the  wallet as a source of political and economic power.
Alexei Sayle Comedian and Writer
I think that the Marxist historical analysis is an accurate account
of how
society has developed. Although perhaps a little wide of the mark,
it is
definitely still relevant. When Marx spoke about the differences in
society  being
based on economic structure he definitely had a point.
Marxism should be seen as a tool and therefore a method of analysing
society
and that can be relevant today. You can certainly be right-wing and
still be
a  Marxist.
It is a historical analysis of the class struggles and a prediction
of the
way our society would be, and it isn't wrong. Yes, it is a complex
set of
ideas,  but it makes sense.
Norman Tebbit Former Conservative Party Chairman
I read bits of Marx, though in a way when I grew up what seemed more
relevant
 was Mein Kampf. I read that because I wanted to know about the
bugger who
was  dropping bombs on me. I don't think Marx is relevant, except to
show up the
 folly of people who believe in what is now shown to be an absolute
failure
of a  political system. Blair is right that it purports to be a
total system.
You can  be a Conservative without being a capitalist, you can be
Labour
without being a  socialist, but if you buy Marx, you have to buy the
lot. It's like
a religion in  that respect, and very harmful. So, for once, Tony's
right.
Anthony Seldon Headmaster, Wellington College
I think that Marx's way of analysing society is of course relevant
today
because you simply cannot understand how societies have formed today
without
seeing the remnants of Marxism. It has been hugely influential
across the  world.
Marx definitely got some things wrong because his theory was, sadly,
overly
idealistic about working-class unity. Nevertheless, you can
certainly still
see  elements of truth in what he said - workers are stronger when
they stand
together.
Marxism hasn't itself been a negative influence. It is often the way
that
followers have chosen to interpret Marxism that has led to things
like police
states and concentration camps. Marx would have been horrified in
the same way
that Jesus would have been by the way people have interpreted him.
I find Marxism a lot less odious as an idea than capitalist
policies. The  i
dea of people living in a just society with no warfare is an
inspiring vision,
although hopelessly na´ve.
Bob Crow General Secretary, RMT
It was entertaining to hear that Tony Blair's youthful outlook was
"irreversibly altered" by reading Marx. Of course, he doesn't say in
which  direction
his outlook was altered, but his actions during the past decade
give  us a
clue. Today it is far easier to win the ear of Downing Street if
you  represent
the class of capitalists, as Marx would have put it, rather than
working
people.
Of course, it may be that Blair has had a memory lapse and just
needs a
refresher. No need to wade through all of Das Kapital - just a quick
read of the
little pamphlet Wages, Price and Profit, which lays bare the
mechanism by
which  bosses extract surplus value from the labour of working
people. It should
be in  the pocket of every trade unionist.
In it, Marx demolishes the idea that wage rises cause inflation and
that it
is futile for workers to fight for higher pay.
Marx's great achievement was understanding capitalism, and in
understanding
it he came to the conclusion that it could and must be replaced with
something
 better.
As long as there are capitalists Marx will remain  relevant.


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