Does Marxism Even Matter? (2011)

Platypus Affiliated Society New York did an interesting discussion on the Communist Manifesto and does Marxism still matter? The short answer is that as Marxism qua Marxism, no, it doesn’t. You may be going, but “Skepoet you are in the Marxian tradition?” That’s true. Furthermore I think both dialectical and teleological methodologies are philosophically useful, but they don’t put food on the table so to speak.

My debate with Ben David Steele , most outside of the left don’t really understand it. The left has reconciled from massive historical failure by engaging in splinter politics or Utopia. But this has also been a net-lose for left liberals in a way they don’t seem to fully comprehend. The left didn’t need them as much as they needed the left as both as base and a bogeyman. The Democratic socialism-lite of the New Deal was possible only because material conditions on the ground empowered both the SPUSA, the IWW, and the CPUSA as real threats. If you read the literature of the time or watch the films, it is apparent that capitalism was seen as problem and endanger in its short life. The Old regimes of Europe had not completely gone away, and fascism was rearing its head. All of the popular political movements of the time were socialist or syndicalist inflicted in the industrialized world: the Social Democrats, the Communists, the National Socialists, the National Syndicalists, the Fascists, the progressives, and the populists. It was through co-option of left-ideas and the orientational vision that such co-option was possible. In others, the left as a product have tremendous influence on the liberal establishment and other establishments. Indeed it is clear when one considers who the primary liberal candidate was prior to FDR and the real leftist activism of the early parts of the great depression: Herbert Hoover.

Now one can argue that it was left liberals who stopped the excesses of the left, or at least enabled an expression of left-wing thought that was not a complete rupture with the past. Yet this is also the crux of the problem, the reformist agenda was incomplete and absent a true left bogeyman, all the liberal left has had to compromise with IS the right–conservative right or economic right. This is how the IMF was able to steam-roll most of Latin American left particularly in Columbia and Argentina. This was why the DLC and Clinton were able to gut the welfare network in such a way no Reaganite could dream over. While credit-based wealth mixed with the downward drift of the prices of technology have kept most of the lower middle classes relatively a-political, the liberal-left had no need to compromise with the left at all during the 1980s and 1990s. During the same period, the radicalism of the 1970s diminished and de-politicized? It emerges briefly in the left-liberal-libertarian in the anti-globalization movement and the anti-war movement as well as having brief overlaps. This seems to have dissolutioned both the left with any hope of working with the left-liberals, but also the left-liberals themselves who feel betrayed by their establishment.

So when liberals tell me that they are responsible for the positive social movement in recent history, I am confused. Furthermore when liberals tell me that the majority of the left doesn’t want to work them and should essentially shut up and join the problem, I know the real game. Now, admittedly, only Democrats do the later in force.

But Marxism for its own sake does not matter. Marxian thought does matter as it generates real questions for both the liberals and the left: it is the spectre of Marxism that haunts the first world in the center and left. Only the right has truly abandoned it, you know this from the hollowness of their recent red-baiting about Barack Obama. You see I know more people who read Marx in Business schools than in Humanities or in liberal activist groups.

No, a left-wing critique is a critique of everything: it is a look at structure. This did not begin with Marx, but Marx was his most thorough it. Left Marxists (Left communists, Luxemburgists) to Marxist-Leninists (Maoists, Stalinists) to Social Democrats and Labour parties were all have origins in Marxian thought and if you expand that to people in dialogue or co-opting parts of Marx: Social Anarchists, New Dealers, and in some ways even Keynesians, then you have broad spectrum. Marx didn’t invent this: he was not the first communist. He was not even a Marxist. This means, as the Platypus teach in implies, Marxian thinkers must be willing to critique other Marxists, liberals, or the left WHILE working to make the world a better place.

When I critique the left-liberals, it is not say that they do no good. It is hope that they will do more by not compromising the uncompromisable on tactical grounds. One must be reflective.

So Marx’s matters. Marxism while it is stuck in a thousand different parties and tendencies disconnected from the body politic: not so much. Liberals without articulated ideologies and definite limits to compromise and leftists without any willingness or sense of praxis or anything other than radical slogans. They also don’t matter. Ideas have consequences one southerner once said. So does the failure of ideas.


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