Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Marx Was Right - and Terry Eagleton was wrong

 Update: It turns out my criticism of Eagleton was too rash - read Joseph Rebello for a vindication of Eagleton's quotes - with the context this time.

Marginal Revolution has a blurb criticizing Eagleton, and his new book, Why Marx Was Right. Cowen quotes a few unfortunate quotes, without condescending to analyze them (that's left to the reader, of course). But the quotes are wrong in their own right, and merely vindicate Marx, if not Eagleton:

"But the so-called socialist system had its achievements, too.  China and the Soviet Union dragged their citizens out of economic backwardness into the modern industrial world, at however horrific a human cost; and the cost was so steep partly because of the hostility of the capitalist West."
"Revolution is generally thought to be the opposite of democracy, as the work of sinister underground minorities out to subvert the will of the majority.  In fact, as a process by which men and women assume power over their own existence through popular councils and assemblies, it is a great deal more democratic than anything on offer at the moment.  The Bolsheviks had an impressive record of open controversy within their ranks, and the idea that they should rule the country as the only political party was no part of their original programme."
Perhaps better context may help Eagleton, but its deplorable inaccuracy stands on its own right.
The working class only briefly attained control over the means of production - the same thing, mind you, that has briefly occurred in upheavals all over the world, even recently - and the Bolsheviks, under the false guise of "Soviet" (worker-collective) control, systematically wrested this very control over production from the working class. Control over the fledgling industries that the USSR built up were not dispersed to the workers. All of this is mundane, available from a cursory investigation into the conditions of the 1917 revolution and the controlling party that emerged.

What then, do the conditions of working-class power tell us about the value of Karl Marx's analysis of capital? Perhaps this vindicates his insistence that agricultural regimes must undergo a full process of capitalization before they can even expect a socialist revolution . Perhaps the sheer lack of collective or popular worker control over the means of production indemnify Marx's position from criticism of the callous, capitalist system that Russia has employed since long before 1917.

Indeed, there is nothing in the quotes that seem to discredit the premise: that 'Marx Was Right.' Rather, the bizarre (though admittedly, narrowly-quoted) historical context can only serve to disassociate the book from any honest debate on Marx's ideas. But it seems to be too much to expect a nuanced, accurate criticism of works pertaining to Marx and the meaning his works had for the October Revolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are appreciated. Offensive comments and spam will be removed.