Sunday, August 27, 2006

On Your Marx...

Now that Marxists are as threatening to the social order as members of the Bull Moose Party, can we possibly read Das Kapital in an objective way? Michael Fitzpatrick thinks so, and argues that there's nothing remotely like Capital.

One way of looking at the book is that the empirical social analysis in Capital works and the theory doesn't. So, Capital works as an analysis of Capitalism and its limitations, even if we reject the dialectic, which I reject simply as a sort of quasi mysticism. I think Marx pretty much nails industrial capitalism, although he didn't see the ways in which it could reform itself. But, Fitzpatrick says that I'm wrong there- the dialectic is not as Hegelian and mechanistic as people like me think it is.

"Marx shows how the process of capital accumulation tends towards falling profitability expressed in periodic crises. However, contrary to the interpretations of many admirers as well as critics, Marx does not advance a mechanistic thesis of collapse or predict the inevitable downfall of capitalism. He recognises that crises are both an expression of declining profitability and a mechanism for restoring it. He identifies a series of counteracting tendencies to the dominant disintegrative dynamic of capitalism. His analysis supports neither fatalists eagerly anticipating the fall of capital nor those who believe that revolutionary will is in itself sufficient to bring the system to an end. The key factor in the fate of capitalism was the role of class struggle, as the subjective bearer of change in the objective conditions given by the tendency towards breakdown."

And, for the most part, that was defeated before it got started. Point taken. Fitzpatrick is probably right that Capital is sociological analysis, and not mechanistic theory. It's worth remembering Marx's famous comment that he was not a Marxist. Also, he notes that Capital might be remembered best as literature, an area in which its value is most easily demonstrated. I'm not a Marxist either, but I understand why people return time and again to Capital to explain those aspects of our post-industrial world that are most bewildering and confusing.

4 comments:

sock puppet said...

“I'm not a Marxist either, but I understand why people return time and again to Capital to explain those aspects of our post-industrial world that are most bewildering and confusing.”

I was certainly conditioned to Marxism. Only my opinion, but this was typical of Sociology departments in the 90s. In my fourth year I was introduced to post-modernism, courtesy of one of the PhD candidates exploring the realm. We examined the history of critical thought, and subsequently moved into Foucault, Butler and the like.

Out of curiosity, I checked the university website to see if he is still affiliated with the department. He is (still) teaching the course. The description reads “We have not, after all, escaped the ‘problematic of society’ associated with the classical analyses of capitalism, the will to power, rationalization, normalization, or technology.”

This said, the course is clearly a departure from Marxism; instead a study of the emergent. Foucault, Caputo, Baudrillard and Virno are among the theorists to be examined.

While I can hardly assert that this one example is demonstrative of current sociological teaching in Canada, it is an indication of the tendency to cling to Marxism.

Rufus said...

Yeah, we have people in our department who attempt to reconcile theory, with its distrust of 'grand narratives' with Marxism, and all of its grand narratives. It always strikes me as an odd brew.

The Pagan Temple said...

Don't forget, according to true marxist theory (unless I've been lied to) is that under socialism, the state will eventually "wither away". Everyone will be recognized as being of equal importance in the grand scheme of things, and a kind of evolutionary advancement will take place, making any kind of state not only unnecessary, but useless.

If that is what he really believed, that's enough to show you he was smoking something real strong.

First, in order for it to begin to work, the entire world would have to become firmly entrenched in Marxism. Upon that occurring, it wouldn't wither away, it would eventually collapse in an agonizing upheaval. For a brief period, chaos would reign supreme, and eventually the world would once again revert to it's tribal roots, beginning the process all over again.

This would probably be true of any type governemnt that became totally predominate over the world, marxist or any other. It would eventually just collapse and/or be thrown into worldwide anarchy.

Rufus said...

That's the strange thing about the dialectic. The withering away of the state is just assumed as the last stage in history. History is teleological. Why exactly something as random as human behavior can be predicted, much less seen as operating according to historical laws is never exactly explained.

In most Marxist countries, it was assumed that the withering away of the state would follow after a brief dictatorship of the proletariat to get everything organized. This is why even people like Castro promised that they would only be in power a short time. Of course, it still hasn't happened. If anything, the state grew stronger in Marxist countries. This is one of the reasons that I don't trust people who claim to have discovered the 'direction' of history.