How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011

And yet, something has changed for the better. We have rediscovered that capitalism is not the answer, but the question.

Finally, it was now widely recognised that Marx’s own theory, insofar as he formulated it in a systematic manner, lacked homogeneity in at least one important respect. Thus, it might be held that it consisted both of an analysis of capitalism and its tendencies, and simultaneously of a historic hope, expressed with enormous prophetic passion and in terms of a philosophy derived from Hegel, of the perennial human desire for a perfect society, which is to be achieved through the proletariat. In Marx’s own intellectual development, the second of these preceded the first, and cannot be intellectually derived from it. In other words there is a qualitative difference between e.g. the proposition that capitalism by its nature generates insuperable contradictions which must inevitably produce the conditions of its supersession as soon as ‘centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with capitalist development’, and the proposition that the post-capitalist society will lead to the end of human alienation and the full development of all individuals’ human faculties. They belong to different forms of discourse, though both may eventually prove to be true.

It is a melancholy illusion of those who write books and articles that the printed word survives. Alas, it rarely does.

It is a melancholy illusion of those who write books and articles that the printed word survives. Alas, it rarely does. The vast majority of printed works enter a state of suspended animation within a few weeks or years of publication, from which they are occasionally awakened, for equally short periods, by research students.

It is an irony of history that the first and greatest success of scientists in persuading governments of the indispensability of modern scientific theory to society was in the war against fascism. It is an even greater and more tragic irony that it was anti-fascist scientists who convinced the American government of the feasibility and necessity of manufacturing nuclear arms, which were then constructed by an international team of largely anti-fascist scientists.

It rests on the attempt since the 1970s to translate a pathological degeneration of the principle of laissez-faire into economic reality by the systematic retreat of states from any regulation or control of the activities of profit-making enterprise. This attempt to hand over human society to the (allegedly) self-controlling and wealth- or even welfare-maximising market, populated (allegedly) by actors in rational pursuit of their interests, had no precedent in any earlier phase of capitalist development in any developed economy, not even the USA. It was a reductio ad absurdum of what its ideologists read into Adam Smith, as the correspondingly extremist 100% state-planned command economy of the USSR was of what the Bolsheviks read into Marx.

Once again it is evident that even between major crises, ‘the market’ has no answer to the major problem confronting the twenty-first century: that unlimited and increasingly high-tech economic growth in the pursuit of unsustainable profit produces global wealth, but at the cost of an increasingly dispensable factor of production, human labour, and, one might add, of the globe’s natural resources. Economic and political liberalism, singly or in combination, cannot provide the solution to the problems of the twenty-first century. Once again the time has come to take Marx seriously.

Seventy years after Marx’s death, one third of the human race lived under regimes ruled by communist parties which claimed to represent his ideas and realise his aspirations.

The Communist Manifesto as political rhetoric has an almost biblical force.

There is a patent conflict between the need to reverse or at least to control the impact of our economy on the biosphere and the imperatives of a capitalist market: maximum continuing growth in the search for profit.