The disasters of 2008 were not quite what Marxists had hoped capitalisms internal logic would supply—the particular form the financial crisis assumed took almost everyone by surprise—but they were close enough. In the scramble for explanations that ensued, the handful of Marxists who had been writing thoughtfully about economics for decades (david Harvey, robert Brenner and giovanni Arrighi in particular) gained credibility for having at least declared that a crisis had been brewing. True, they had been issuing these predictions for some time, and many marxists had been announcing capitalisms imminent demise for even longer. Yet when contrasted with the pre-crisis consensus of experts who were supposed to know what they were talking about—economists, politicians and other important people in suits—stubborn pessimism seemed like a bracing corrective. A small but serious Marxist renaissance followed. Capitalism was in question again, and the shock of the emergency had jolted its previously moribund antagonist back to life, if not as a political movement, then at least as an intellectual one. The icons of Marxisms resurgence had more than their fair share of gray whiskers, but in the United States the most enthusiastic followers sprang from the ranks of the young and bookish. Thus was born one of the most curious features of the contemporary intellectual scene: millennial Marxism.
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The collapse of communist governments that began in 1989 revealed that history had readied one last twist of the knife: nothing did more to entrench the acceptance of capitalism than the demise of the movement that had invented the concept. until recently, that was how the story ended. Not that opposition to capitalism ceased after the fall of the german Democratic Republic and the ussr. There were still governments nominally committed to communism, and non-Marxist left-wing and parties continued to win elections. In the United States, the campaign against globalization captured national attention in 1999, when activists clashed with police in seattle during a meeting of the world Trade Organization. But for large swaths of the left and the right, these seemed like shallow eddies running against the overpowering tide of what was increasingly referred to as global capitalism. Marxists had painted an intimidating picture of the enemy: a totalizing system store governed by the iron discipline of free markets, assimilating whatever it could, destroying the rest. When capitalisms overthrow was excised from their master narrative, the only counsel that Marxists could offer was stoic resistance against despair, and the hope that the contradictions of capital would eventually yield the long-anticipated catastrophe. In the words of Perry Anderson, elder statesman of Anglo-American Marxism, the left required uncompromising realism that would never lend credence to illusions that the system is moving in a steadily progressive direction. That meant, above all, maintaining an unwavering focus on capitalism. Only in the evolution of this order, he maintained, could lie the secrets of another one.
In the 1970s, visions of a society beyond capitalism or socialism melted away, along with the robust growth rates that had remote made them plausible. Economic questions returned with a ferocity that made the prophets of postcapitalism appear deluded about the impediments they faced, and the once-imposing schema detailed by social theorists like talcott Parsons came to seem flabby when contrasted with the remorseless clarity offered by an ascendant economics. Capitalism, now stripped of its explicitly socialist connotations, became a staple in the rhetoric of both left and right. By the end of the decade, it was easier to deny the existence of society—as Margaret Thatcher famously would—than to challenge capitalisms pre-eminence as a category of analysis. Socialists might have enjoyed watching the triumph of an idea they had concocted if they had not been busy combating growing dissent within their ranks. These difficulties seemed manageable in the 1970s, when Western governments had many fires of their own to put out. Ten years later, capitalists had regained their footing, while the socialist project continued to decay. Francis fukuyamas advertisement for historys denouement was still on the horizon, but the habits of thinking that would undergird his thesis had already sunk deep roots. Marxism was built upon faith in revolution, but in the west revolution seemed more implausible than ever, and in Eastern Europe the continents only widespread revolution had Marxism in its sights.
This perspective enjoyed its greatest prominence in the aftermath of World War ii, a period viewed today as the golden essay age of capitalism but that at the time was also portrayed as the dawning of postcapitalism. States endowed with new powers by wartime victories seemed like they might be on the verge of uncovering a course beyond capitalism and socialism, where about the good of society would supersede the exigencies of economics. Marxists flirted with speculations along these lines, too, before the onset of the cold War hardened previously fluid divisions. Academics continued the debate in the 1960s when proponents of convergence theory argued that both sides of the Iron Curtain had moved toward a common model where bureaucratic efficiency trumped clashing ideologies. With the riddle of prosperity solved, many on the left assumed that the time had come to address loftier questions: eliminating poverty, expanding civil rights, protecting the environment, and more existential concerns like nurturing individuality in a bureaucratized society. No wonder radicals in the 1960s could insist that capitalism wasnt large enough to capture their critique. Paul Potter, former president of Students for a democratic Society, complained that the word summoned images of an old left mired in archaic battles from the Great Depression. For Potter, the system was larger than capitalism, and rejection of the old terminology was part of the new hope for radical change.
Even then, it was still a rarity compared with the 1930s, when the Great Depression shoved capitalism—frequently assumed to have entered its final days—into the spotlight. By the twentieth century, capitalism often seemed less the name for a specific mode of production than a more general way of describing a modern world perpetually overturning itself. With society gripped by changes that were routinely characterized as unparalleled in history, capitalism appeared about as faithful a designation for the new order as any. Yet Marxists never relinquished their proprietary claim to the label. As one of Marxs translators observed in 1898, It was the marxists who forced the discussion of the question, and it is they who are most active in keeping. The german economist Werner Sombart reiterated the point a few years later when he noted, The concept of capitalism and even more clearly the term itself may be traced primarily to the writings of socialist theoreticians. It has in fact remained one of the key concepts of socialism down to the present time. Doubts about capitalisms analytic utility, however, were not confined to the right. As the historian Howard Brick has demonstrated, throughout much of the twentieth century a substantial contingent of thinkers on the left believed that capitalism was either in the process of giving way to a more advanced mode of economic organization, or that the conversion.
Autobiography of Red - m / miscellany
A remarkable series of transformations—the corporations rise, an unprecedented growth in productive capacity, the knitting together of what a few people had started referring to as a world economy—were redefining social life and what it essay meant to be a socialist. Restraining monopolies, bolstering labor movements, nationalizing land, instituting progressive taxation, establishing a welfare state—these were no longer the province of a radical fringe. By the end of the nineteenth century, laissez-faires obituary had been written so often that William Harcourt, former chancellor of the Exchequer and one of Great Britains most influential politicians, could proclaim that we are all socialists now. Harcourts tok socialism was not Marxs; it was, for example, intended to foil a revolution, not to foment one. At a time when a profusion of competing socialisms vied with each other for prominence, many bore little resemblance to what Marx had sketched (though, with the master dead, what Marx would have preferred also became grounds for dispute).
Yet Marxs successors had at least won an intellectual victory. Talk of a more equitable society had become ubiquitous and, along the way, capitalism slipped into the vocabulary, too. Many, especially on the right, balked at the term. They claimed that capitalism was too precise, or not precise enough, or that it put an exaggerated emphasis on the role of capitalists in a system that was larger than any one group, no matter how powerful. Others accepted the word but gave it new meaning. By 1918, one german estimate tallied more than 100 ways of defining capitalism.
Eventually, though, capitalism would assume the place in Marxist thought that society had occupied for the early socialists. The scientific aspirations of the earlier varieties of socialism carried over, but the object of inquiry had shifted. By marxs death in 1883, the word had become popular enough that Wilhelm liebknecht could eulogize marx as the originator of the social science that kills capitalism. From the beginning, the idea of capitalism was a weapon. Marxists used it to bludgeon their adversaries on the left, whom they could dismiss as utopian dreamers blind to the realities of life under capitals rule. As Marxs son-in-law paul Lafargue would declare, communists were men of science, who do not invent societies but who will rescue them from capitalism.
But the marxist interpretation of capitalism was also the product of a particular way of thinking. Totality and dialectics were the key words of its philosophy, and its politics concentrated on revolution. Together, they promised a complete overhaul of society. Focusing on capitalism helped guide attacks on a bourgeois status quo that might otherwise have seemed impervious to change. Visions of the cohesive socialism to come nurtured the belief that there was a fixed and antithetical entity in the present to oppose. All that socialists needed to seal their victory was a revolution, which capitalisms contradictions would deliver to them. Marxists were not the only ones convinced that revolution was imminent.
A marxist analysis
Though a descendant of golf rabbis, marx never fancied himself the leader of a religion. But the prospect of a social science yoked to a political movement that promised a revolution of the oppressed? That warranted a manifesto of its own. Marx wanted to craft a vision of socialism that responded not just to the French revolution, but also to what historians would later call the Industrial revolution. It took time for capitalism to become the center of his critique. The communist Manifesto doesnt use the word at all, remote instead reserving its ire for bourgeois society. Capital assumed greater importance for Marx as he read deeper in political economy, but he preferred to speak of a capitalist mode of production, his label for a system in which labor power was sold like any other commodity and production for markets.
Socialism, though, was only the latest attempt to grapple with a deeper problem. With the lonely exception of ancient Greece some 2,000 years prior, democracy had been a marginal concept in political debate throughout history. But it returned to life at the close of the eighteenth century, no time more prominently than when Maximilien de robespierre announced that the essence of revolutionary Frances democratic experiment was equality—a leveling spirit that could, in theory, be extended to every sphere of collective. One year later, robespierre was dead, and equalitys proselytizers were in retreat, but they would advance again. Egalitarian impulses took many forms, and some of the most fervent acolytes believed they had altered the original model enough to justify a new title for their utopia: socialism. The details of this evolution were complex, but they were captured in the career of a single pamphlet, scribbled by the radical journalist Sylvain Maréchal in the last days of the French revolution and tucked away in his papers for decades. After finally seeing daylight in 1828, resume the work became one of the key texts in socialisms founding. It was named, appropriately, manifesto of the Equals.
of the formulation—the social and the scientific—mattered equally. For most of the nineteenth century, socialisms chief opponent was individualism, not capitalism. According to socialisms pioneering theorists, society was more than a collection of individuals. It was an organism, and it had a distinctive logic of its own—a singular object that could be understood, and controlled, by a singular science. Socialists claimed to have mastered this science, which entitled them to act in societys name. One of their first tasks would be to replace Christianity, liberating humanity from antiquated prejudices that had undermined revolution in France and could jeopardize future rebellions in Europe.
A secret History of the the workplace. Buy this book, utopia or Bust, a guide to the Present Crisis. Capital in the Twenty-first Century, by Thomas piketty. Translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer. Buy this book, the origins of capitalism could be dated to when someone first traded for profit, though most historians prefer a shorter time line. Even so, scholars tend to agree that something usefully described as capitalism had materialized in parts of the world by 1800, at the latest. But the idea of capitalism took longer to emerge. The word wasnt coined until the middle of the nineteenth century, and it didnt enter general usage until decades later. By that point, socialists had been a familiar force in politics for almost a century.
Episode 128: Turkey talk and Transatlantic ties that
Thomas piketty (Photo: Emmanuelle marchadour socialism and capitalism seem like natural antagonists, but their rivalry is Oedipal. To many, the relationship appears straightforward. Capitalism, they would argue, created the modern industrial working class, which supplied the socialist movement with its staunchest recruits. This story, variations of which reach back essay to Karl Marx, has been repeated so often that it seems intuitive. But it gets the lines of paternity backward. Capitalism did not create socialism; socialists invented capitalism. Jacobin, a magazine of Culture and Polemic.