Why Marx was right

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Why Marx was right

Post  eddie on Tue May 24, 2011 11:58 pm

Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton – review

Two challenges to received ideas about communism

Owen Hatherley The Guardian, Saturday 21 May 2011


Women in Paris walk past a giant billboard that reads ‘Karl Marx is not dead’. Photograph: Stringer/FRANCE/Reuters

Marx and Lenin both liked a joke. So they would have appreciated the irony that, since the ongoing financial crisis began, their analyses of unstable, destructive capitalism has been spectacularly confirmed at the same time that the movement they ostensibly inspired (and for a time, involuntarily gave their names to) lies powerless and moribund. All of capitalism's house journals have run some obligatory article since 2008 asking: "Was Marx right?" but the proletarian revolution has singularly failed to rise in response. There have been very exciting, even epochal outbreaks of revolt, but whether democratic pan-Arabism or internet-assisted student autonomism, they don't threaten capitalism itself. These two short books don't explore this irony, but, in the absence of the movement, they offer challenges to our received ideas about communism.


Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton

Of the two, Why Marx Was Right, by prolific academic populariser and scourge of English letters Terry Eagleton, is the less controversial. As he acknowledges, our age of no-strings-attached state handouts to banks and punitive cuts to social services has embraced a form of capitalism so grotesque that it resembles the caricatures of the most leaden Soviet satirists. Eagleton presents his book as the fruit of "a single, striking thought: what if all the objections to Marx's thought are mistaken?" In order to demonstrate this, each of the chapters of this erudite yet breezy (occasionally too breezy) tract begins with a series of assertions about Marx and Marxism, which Eagleton then proceeds to debunk, one by one.

One virtue of this book is how believable, and in a sense how serious, these opening denunciations are. These are not the arguments of straw men, but substantial intellectual and political objections: Marxism imposes limits on human freedom; it is violent and undemocratic; it is obsessed with an obsolete notion of class; it is "totalising" and conceited in its sense of historical inevitability; and, when tested politically, it resulted in one of the greatest tyrannies in history. Eagleton deflects these through excursions into philosophy, political practice and literary analogy.

He owns up to the accusation of Marx's belief in historical inevitability, but points out that few Marxists now subscribe to it. With reference to the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, the idea of Marx as an opponent of liberty is easily dismantled; and an account of his political practice and advocacy of the ultra-democratic Paris Commune makes nonsense of the common misreading of the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat". In the most polemically charged and enjoyable sections of the book, Eagleton points out that the "working class" – both in the sense of those without property, who are forced to sell their labour, and in the sense of those working in factories mass-producing goods – is far larger than it was in Marx's time, and is growing worldwide; he also soundly ridicules the contemporary cliché of class as a sort of ethnicity (as in the pernicious phrase "white working class").

Yet economics is largely absent. Most posers of the question "Was Marx right?" have focused on his claim that capitalism is inherently prone to crisis, and guiltily replied: "Yes." Yet Eagleton largely avoids the critique of political economy, assuming that he already has the reader's agreement.

Most defenders of Marx have a tendency to dismiss curtly objections based on the Soviet experience before moving swiftly on. Eagleton takes this still raw history a little more seriously. The reasoning is convincing: communism, befitting a school of thought that hails capitalism's achievements more than most capitalists do, was envisaged as taking hold in a developed, industrial, international economy. Attempting such a thing in the tsarist empire's war-devastated, desperately impoverished, semi-feudal expanse created a despotic parody of socialism.

So what of the political leader who launched this doomed project? While the odium attached to the name of Marx is beginning to wear off, Lenin is quite another matter. Lars T Lih's short biography (Lenin, 240pp, Reaktion, £10.95) is hardly "Why Lenin was right", although it is no less dramatic for that. Lih advances some seldom-heard historical and political arguments in an unassuming, informative way.

His Lenin is not the secular saint that old-school communists and sentimental Trots take him to be, nor the bloodthirsty monster of the liberal, anarchist and conservative imagination. In fact, Lih gives practically all recent accounts of the man's life and work extremely short shrift. His account denies that Lenin's thought and practice entailed "a worry about workers", encapsulated in his alleged conception of an elite, centralised party raised above the masses. He argues, with an assured command of his sources, that Lenin was an incorrigible optimist about working-class organisation: his overarching aim was to encourage it through education, agitation and exemplary, heroic action, rather than acting on the workers' behalf. So in 1917, the socialist revolution was justified not so much by the teleology of history as by the – fairly indisputable – fact that the workers of St Petersburg and Moscow wanted it. That the Russian workers' "heroic" (a word often used by Lih's Lenin) act didn't inspire a successful Europe-wide revolution left Lenin and the Bolshevik regime looking "like a cartoon character who keeps walking in mid-air even though he has left the cliff behind".

The thinker and politician uncovered here is doctrinaire, to be sure – always justifying his drastic political shifts with recourse to the chapter and verse of Marxist orthodoxy – but also an unusual combination of romantic and pragmatist. The key question that anyone who has absorbed the work of Robert Service, Dmitri Volkogonov, and other historians Lih abhors will ask, is: "Didn't Lenin wilfully create a dictatorship, replacing one tyranny with another?" Lih is not squeamish, and so duly gives excerpts of Lenin's most notorious decrees advocating public execution and terror – then reminds us this was during a savage civil war in which every side was practising comparable or worse brutalities. It's not a justification, but a reassertion of the usually excised historical context. Lih sees Lenin not as some euphoric millennarian, but as a compromiser who tries to make deals with private farming as early as 1919, and who spends his final years raging against the new, composite tsarist-communist bureaucracy. In 1922, we find him fuming: "Departments are shit; decrees are shit."

Yet what really endures here is the sense that, for Lenin, a revolutionary leader has a duty to lead the working class into revolution, and all the theory in the world won't help if the political and economic conditions are missing. Lenin believed that the first world war offered a real chance to destroy capitalism, and when – in 1919, as revolution briefly engulfed Europe – he seemed to be proved right, he felt vindicated, even relieved. He learned his mistake, and died deeply troubled by it. This excellent book advises us not to congratulate ourselves on our hindsight.

Owen Hatherley's A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain is published by O Books.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  eddie on Mon May 30, 2011 3:15 am

Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton – review

Marx is more diminished than enhanced by Terry Eagleton's defence of him

Tristram Hunt The Observer, Sunday 29 May 2011


Busts of Karl Marx created in 2008 to mark 125 years since his death. Photograph: Harald Tittel/Corbis

As the IMF dishes out its medicine in Lisbon, Dublin and Athens, and the limitations of neo-liberalism become more apparent, the moment is surely right for a compelling account of Karl Marx's relevance to the modern world. And in campus conferences, continuing sales of Das Kapital, and even the words of Pope Benedict XVI (moved to praise Marx's "great analytical skill"), there is a growing appreciation for Marx's predictions of globalisation, rampant capitalism, and the instability of international finance. As the Times put in the middle of the 2008 crash: "He's back!"


Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton

But Marx also remains the target of any number of lazy slurs. The easiest way to kill off debate about Marxism is to jump straight to the Stalin show-trials, Soviet gulags, and Khmer Rouge Year Zero. The philosophical beliefs of a mid-19th-century denizen of the British Museum are all too quickly elided with the most terrible atrocities of the 20th century as an all-purpose intellectual get-out card.

So Terry Eagleton – literary critic, liberal-baiter, Marxist man of letters – has set himself the task of explaining why Marx was right. "What if all the most familiar objections to Marx's works are mistaken?" he begins. His plan is to take on "10 of the most standard criticisms of Marx and try to refute them one by one". He does so, he believes, at a time when capitalism is uniquely in crisis: "the system has ceased to be as natural as the air we breathe, and can be seen instead as the historically rather recent phenomenon it is". Or as Friedrich Engels used to put it: "This time there'll be a dies irae such as has never been seen before… all the propertied classes in the soup, complete bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie, war and profligacy to the nth degree."

But for any admirer of Eagleton or Marx, the book is a disappointment. There is none of the logical precision, winning prose or intellectual ambition displayed most recently in Eagleton's Yale lectures on faith. Part of the problem is the structure. This is a work of intellectual rebuttal, as chapter by chapter Eagleton takes on a century of misreading Marx. All of which means he is fighting on an enemy territory of dreary objections. For example, there's a long attempt to justify the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the Leninist aftermath, as well as the East German system of childcare – not something, I imagine, Marx and Engels themselves would have bothered with.

The consequence of such deviations is that there is little sense of the anger, brio and bravado of Marx and Engels; none of the humour, irony and creativity so central to the Marxian heritage. Instead, this book reads like a rapidly crammed set of notes for an American midwest college course. There's an array of lecture-hall style jokes and fairly worthless hyperbole. In no credible sense do one in three children in Britain today "live below the breadline".

Thankfully, amid the banalities, there lurk some wonderful passages. Eagleton is right to stress the centrality of democracy to Marxian communism, as well as explain so successfully the nature of free will within Marx and Engels's account of history. This is all very much the humanist, Paris Marx of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.

Eagleton also stresses the modernity of Marx's thinking and how, for example, he saw the nature of social class shifting with the progress of capitalism. "As long ago as the mid-19th century, he is to be found writing of the 'constantly growing number of the middle-classes' ... men and women 'situated midway between the workers on the one side and the capitalists on the other.'" This is a long way from the hackneyed dichotomy of proletarian and bourgeois.

There is also a touch of the old Eagleton when he deploys Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure to explore the interaction of culture and materialism. When it comes to Jude Fawley, we need to appreciate that "Oxford University is the 'superstructure' to Jericho's 'base'."

However, Eagleton's touch is less sure when it comes to the human condition under communism. In trying to rebut claims of utopianism, he goes too far in suggesting that "Marxism holds out no promise of human perfection" and "envy, aggression, domination, possessiveness and competition would still exist". Engels, though, was clear that the ascent from socialism to communism entailed a metaphysical change. Under the leadership of the proletariat, humanity achieves true freedom liberated from its animal instincts: "It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom."

Here was the quasi-theological endpoint of Marxism and it would have been more rewarding if Eagleton, such an intriguing catholic thinker, had expanded upon the Judaeo-Christian assumptions underpinning much of Marx's heaven on earth. But perhaps that was too close to the bone.

In the end, this is another worthy volume in the rarely scintillating Marx-Engels interpretative canon. Useful for undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame, but not for anyone else interested in the drama, insights, and majesty of Marxism. Marx might well have been right about an awful lot, but sadly Eagleton fails to make you care very much.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  Yakima Canutt on Sun Jun 12, 2011 2:37 pm

Marx dared to dream and made that bitchin first step, but the promise was truly fulfilled by Thongsing Thammavong and Dear Leader.




The Official Ten Features of Kim Jong Il’s View on the People

1. The people: his God
2. The people: his most respected teacher
3. The people: the most powerful being
4. The people: the most gifted creator
5. The people’s single-hearted unity: the most powerful weapon ever
6. His uppermost wish: provision of a land of bliss for the people with their independence fully secured
7. His greatest joy: happiness of the people
8. His greatest anguish: misfortunes of the people
9. His full-blown anger concerns infringement upon the dignity and interests of the people
10. His foremost motto: “Serve the people!”


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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  eddie on Tue Oct 25, 2011 11:27 pm


Grave of Karl Marx, Highgate cemetery, London.

Yep. The bewhiskered old git was right all along: the crisis of capitalism WAS inevitable after all.

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  eddie on Mon Apr 16, 2012 8:39 pm

The Event of Literature by Terry Eagleton – review

Terry Eagleton's theory of literature allows for the 'bad' as well as the good

Stuart Kelly

guardian.co.uk, Friday 6 April 2012 22.45 BST


Terry Eagleton … this book tries to straddle (continental) literary theory and (Anglo-Saxon) philosophy of literature. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

It would be natural to assume from the title of Terry Eagleton's new book that it might, in some way, be applying to literature Alain Badiou's idea of the event – the rupture in the nature of being and seeming that allows, momentarily, the omnipresent, unchanging and therefore invisible truth to become evident. Eagleton's argument for literature may be less revolutionary, but he wishes to retain a degree of radicalism in the inter-related endeavours of creating, reading and criticising literature. He contends that it is possible to define "literature". This may come as a surprise to readers familiar with his 1983 book Literary Theory: An Introduction, where he argued firmly that there was no quality or set of qualities which were evident in all works of literature.


The Event of Literature
by Terry Eagleton

Though not repudiating that argument, he now finesses it, suggesting, via Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblance, a way back to a "common sense" notion. Eagleton has not reneged on scepticism: he is just sceptical about it. That aspect of "common sense" is of key importance: although academics can doubt the existence of a specific thing called literature, or argue for its socially constructed nature, or give up and write cultural studies of Pokémon instead, readers, for the most part, believe in literature. So do the funding bodies that run literature faculties, Arts Councils, librarians, booksellers and even newspaper reviewers.

Eagleton's solution is elegant in that it is inherently fuzzy. "My own sense", he writes, "is that when people at the moment call a piece of writing literary, they generally have one of five things in mind, or some combination of them. They mean by 'literary' a work which is fictional, or which yields significant insight into human experience as opposed to reporting empirical truths, or which uses language in a peculiarly heightened, figurative or self-conscious way, or which is not practical in the sense that shopping lists are, or which is highly valued as a piece of writing." These categories he calls the fictional, moral, linguistic, non-pragmatic and normative. The virtue of this admittedly porous definition is in providing a rationale for why – to take some Penguin Classics at random from my shelf – Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the Molesworth stories, Bataille's Story of the Eye, Cicero's Murder Trials and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard can all be considered literature.

Subsequent chapters give more detail on these categories, with the section on fiction being perhaps the most intellectually sprightly. An avowed aim of this study is to straddle (continental) literary theory and (Anglo-Saxon) philosophy of literature. Assessing the truth-status of fictions – that is, deciding on the truthfulness or not of a statement such as "all unicorns have two horns", with the intellectual battle line being drawn between those who say that unicorns aren't real and therefore have no horns and those who say that the fiction is such that it is necessary for it to have only one horn – is not just a parlour game. Throughout the book, Eagleton writes with his customary felicity (his aphorism, for example, on significant affinities in Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblances, "a tortoise resembles orthopaedic surgery in that neither can ride a bicycle", is a delight). He never writes better than when he is gleefully demolishing rival theorists, and sometimes their theories. His favoured tactic throughout is the counter-example.

There are, however, shortcomings. Eagleton sometimes throws off by-the-way speculations which prove, on reflection, less evident than he appears to think. "It is hard to think of a major work of literary art from Propertius to Pamuk that sings the praises of torture or genocide, or which dismisses mercy, courage and loving-kindness as so much high-sounding cant", he says. The "major" is a get-out-clause, and in terms of dismissal one might cite Celine, Bernhard, or Cioran. As for genocide – well, the Book of Judges might still be considered a work of literature (although it predates Propertius, conveniently enough).

Eagleton's theory – thanks to his "normative" category, which as a set of assumptions might better be termed "inherited" – allows some literature to be bad literature (he rather off-handedly suggests Southey and Beddoes in this respect). But it cannot explain how things become literature. He approvingly refers to Leavis's championing of TS Eliot when other dons were apoplectic with confusion, but this is to fall into the circularity for which he condemns Lamarque and Olsen: that literature is what academic institutions decide is capable of undergoing literary criticism. The value question is suspended by allowing that even though, say, Melville's Pierre is a terrible literary novel it is unquestionably a literary novel. Likewise, Eagleton's linguistic category needs further thought. It is not a question of style – he cites Hemingway's stylish artlessness alongside more baroque varieties. But this occludes the question of subordinated or merely efficient prose; the sort associated with, say, Jeffrey Archer. Again, a value judgment or a theoretical proposition is evaded.

Eagleton's "event" is only part of the story: "One of the paradoxes of the literary work is that it is 'structure' in the sense of being unalterable and self-complete, yet 'event' in the sense that this self-completion is perpetually in motion, realised as it is only in the act of reading. Not a word of the work can be changed, yet in the vicissitudes of its reception not a word stays dutifully in place." This is neatly phrased, but leaves the distinct impression of a spinning wheel that never becomes a gear.

When, as a critic, I call something literature, I mean that it expands the field of what literature can be. David Foster Wallace is literature. Jonathan Franzen just tried to write a literary novel.

• Stuart Kelly's The Book of Lost Books is published by Polygon.

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  Constance on Mon Apr 16, 2012 11:13 pm

The prolific Terry Eagleton - two books, and Eddie you posted a review of another book not long ago, if I remember correctly. I read his The Country and the City years ago. Well worth reading.

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  eddie on Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:14 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByOKZmQ72m4&feature=relmfu
Mark Steel on Karl Marx (1/3)

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  eddie on Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:16 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98z1kfOcur0&feature=relmfu
Mark Steel on Karl Marx (2/3)

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  eddie on Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:17 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8yFmzN0cRQ&feature=relmfu
Mark Steel on Karl Marx (3/3).

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  pinhedz on Thu Apr 26, 2012 2:38 am

Marx was not an opponent of liberty; he just didn't understand power vacuums, or power, for that matter.

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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  Yakima Canutt on Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:55 pm

WHY CARL BARKS WAS MORE RIGHT:


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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  Yakima Canutt on Sat Nov 16, 2013 3:35 pm


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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  Aladdin on Sat Nov 16, 2013 3:40 pm


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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  Yakima Canutt on Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:28 pm

didn't Doctor Zaius say that


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Re: Why Marx was right

Post  Yakima Canutt on Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:29 pm


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