We might try to go over this post with several updates, now some concluding remarks. I started studying Marxism close to fifty years ago in the seventies of the last century. I read hundreds of books on the subject and was enthusiastic but soon encountered the chronic debate over the LTV (along with critiques of other aspects of Marxism). I was never able to resolve the debate and finally realized it was impossible to do that. The simple solution, which is to reject theory and stick with the obvious implications of wage exploitation. But the cadre can’t drop the past and move on. My stance is that if I have to read another defense of the LTV I will scream.
So it might not be clear why someone older would get so upset about reading still another article trying to rescue the LTV, in Jacobin no less. It is truly depressing to endure almost fifty years of rehashed junk theory at the core of the path to socialism. Every time you think the left will move on, we get another attempt. Marxists should have long since ditched their failed legacies and created a post-Marxist neo-socialism. But Marxist theory is easy to package, teach in college courses and seminars and constantly recycles the same old confusions. Critics are not really allowed and are dispatched asap. The result is a kind of cult. The real problem is the poor job Marx did in creating his theories even as he considered himself superintelligent and brow beat a whole generation into strict conformity. The whole package was a great success in the Second International, but the limits of Marxism were soon tested in the Bolshevik era. Marxists can’t seem to see that their subject died in the wake of Stalinism. A simple passage to a review and restart could solve the problem but Marxists can’t face the reality. And the larger picture shows that similar confusions have arisen in general sciences, such as biology where the theory of Darwin, long known to be fallacious statistically became entrenched in an even worse way than the Marxist. Darwinism shows the same problem of bad theory and the illusion of science. There is no social science, science of history, and/or a true theory of evolution, as yet. The inability of Marxists to get past Darwin is another fatal confusion. And yet they dare not question Darwinism. The whole field is a nuthouse of cowards kept in line by cancel culture. The saddest thing is that Marx who smelled a rat at the start changed his story and made Darwinism a key component of his package. To be fair the era of Marx was a confusing period. Science kamikazis in multiple fields tried to storm the gates of theory glory and to extend the mysterious success of Newton in sociology, biology, and finally socialism. Every attempt failed (which doesn’t mean you can’t do lesser stages of research in the foothills of hard science). To make matters worse, Marx and his generation struggled with Hegel. It would have been better to have not expended so much energy attacking idealism even as one embraced the dialectic. This is a mix of subjects that will defeat even a genius. One of the neglected mysteries of the left is that the Kantian line succeeded completely with a developed package of ‘ethical socialism’ based on Kant, a project from the Marburg school that could have resolved the foundational ‘hopeless case’ of Marxist theory at a stroke. And yet no discussion is even possible of this material. Zilch. It would still make a useful lifeboat for a Marxist evacuation of their hopeless position on theory. Instead we get Lenin’s idiotic ’empirio criticism’ and super reductionist scientism. The whole barren wasteland of historical materialism. It is a mystery why the left got so unlucky. To be trying to found a science even as you are dabbling in Hegelian triads would be almost comical slapstick if it weren’t so tragic. That mix is also, to be fair, a heroic battle with theory dragons, with dialectic as a stage prop. Marx was smart enough to see that a new science would encounter dialectic in the dragon’s breath. But, like the three body problem you must realize t theory will fail/succeed and retreat (as do most economists with their models and computers) to empirical computation.
I have suggested going cold turkey on Marxism. Create an historical saga of Marx and Engels, depict the drama/epic of labor, the left and the history of socialist futurism. And then displace that to the background. And then move on as soon as possible to a new formulation. It must be simple, clear, without theory, or dialectics using simple empirical chronologies of world history, with a larger cultural emphasis than the economic which has never been resolved as a science. Respect your audience: no one is smart enough to do Grand Theory, juggling Hegel, Ricardo, etc… Describe what socialism should be, how it is a real version of democracy, deal with capitalism by absorbing it, making ‘markets’ into socialist versions (thus solving the calculation debate), plus the new models of calculation debates.
We should have had a vibrant and successful socialism already by the time of the 1848 period. Or else a set of successful post capitalist start ups in the twentieth century. But the whole project is a bust and a vital challenge to ecological calamity was lost. We still have time. And a new formulation is possible in a jiffy: my The Last Revolution proves it and recreates a path to socialism in less than a hundred pages plus notes. Consider the implication. It is not impossible to start over (and you lose nothing, after a clear passing of withdrawal of Marxist addiction syndrome the historical saga can be taken in a new way).
Third update: Continue reading “Up from Marxism: moving on…”