Re: [OPE] free competition

From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
Date: Wed Apr 13 2011 - 18:02:27 EDT


In answer to your question, I suppose a good place to start is with Marcel van der Linden's survey in his book Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (which I translated for the English reader; I had personally been interested in the topic since 1979). He discusses how different strands of dissident Marxists developed an alternative analysis of the social stratification of the Soviet Union (and by implication similar other societies) - some refer to the ruling polity as a "bureaucratic class" or "political caste", others to a "new ruling class".

The polemical concept of a New Marxist Exploiting Class I mooted (originally a bit humorously), is in substance not very different from those sorts of analyses, except (mainly) on two counts: (1) it is argued that 20th century Marxism contained within itself (intrinsically) the germs of new forms of oppression and domination, (2) it is argued that the orthodox Marxist account of class formation is deficient (with its schematic concepts, it fails to explain the formation of new classes out of the disintegration of the old society).

As regards (1), the Marxists argue simply that, if oppression and exploitation occur in the name of Marxism, then that Marxism isn't really Marxism. Thus, Marxism is "sugar and spice and all things nice". If heinous crimes are committed in the name of Marxism, then it is argued this has nothing to do with Marxism, simply because the criminals strayed from the true doctrine, and that is how they became criminal. Had they stayed with the true doctrine, then no crimes would have occurred. This sort of approach by Marxists is similar to that applied by many theologians to church history. It enables Marxists to save the doctrine, irrespective of what really happens in history.

As regards (2) Marxists define class simply in terms of ownership or non-ownership of the means of production (the relationship to the means of production), but, it is argued that this idea about class definition is too simplistic. It ignores that human beings are connected to each other, structurally, in far more ways than relationship to the means of production and thus that class structuration/stratification/differentiation processes resulting in socio-economic inequality have many more dimensions.

So the concept of the New Marxist Exploiting Class, however crazy or paradoxical it may sound, enables us to focus on many self-critical questions which Marxists studiously avoid, or cover up with apologetics. It acknowledges that Marxism, like other political ideologies such as liberalism, greenism, social democracy and conservatism, is a fairly ingenious, long-lasting mixture of truths and falsehoods.

The book by Marcel van der Linden I mentioned, though very useful and challenging as a survey of a large literature, remains of course rather superficial and ambivalent. Van der Linden - "sympatheticaly critical" in his stance - wants to be "inside" and "outside" of Marxism at the same time - he detects serious analytical/theoretical problems in the Marxist intellectual apparatus, but he is also supremely cautious, and innovates no real solutions to those problems. He raises fundamental problems about political power, but he doesn't really solve them theoreticaly. Personally, I am more interested in what kinds of solutions there are, to the problems he describes.

The concept of the new Marxist Exploiting Class does not at all deny, that all sorts of Marxist movements can be or have been very progressive. It is merely that the Marxist "label" or "brand" is no guarantee of the product, and that Marxism contains the potential, like any other political ideology, of inspiring very oppressive practices.

There have been a few attempts (not so many) of Marxists to apply historical materialism to the history of the Marxist movement itself. But my experience is that ultimately Marxists do not regard Marxism in a historical-materialist way but in an idealist way - thus, beyond a certain point, Marxism cannot be self-reflective. I suppose the biggest problem there is a concern with orthodoxy and doctrinal fidelity, the desire to prove that one is merely the contemporary executor of a long tradition; and the need for a fixed political ideology that can serve organizing purposes.



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Received on Wed Apr 13 18:03:26 2011

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