History and Historiography

If Karl Marx were here today…

Because it is fashionable for right-wing propagandists to describe anything and everything as “Marxist” nowadays, for which there were plenty of past prototypes and as a recent book by Mark Levin indicates, it might be helpful to examine the question of to what degree Marxist philosophy and/or economic theory actually maintains any influence in modern society.
This is something I wrote almost 20 years ago, during the George W. Bush/neocon era:
“All of the modern countries are now under the ideological domination of one or another variation of neo-Marxism, whether the Marcusean cultural Marxist revisionism of the European ruling class and the left-wing of the US ruling class, the Shachtmanite right-wing Trotskyism of the US Republicans or the post-Maoism of the Chinese Communist Party. It stands to reason that the foundations of political struggle in the coming century will essentially be a continuation of the oldest and most historic divide of the traditional Left, that between the Marxists and the Anarchists. This development in turn marks the fulfillment of William Graham Sumner’s prediction from a century ago that one day men would be divided into only two political camps, those of the Anarchists and the Socialists.
The crumbling of the US regime within a global framework of greater leanings towards (partial) decentralization and polycentrism will provide libertarian radicals in North America with unprecedented opportunities. It would be a foolish error of a truly historic magnitude if we were to let these opportunities go to waste. In developing a new North American radicalism, we must first consider the nature of the enemy. The US ruling class has continually drifted leftward over the last century to the point where the “Old Left”, the Marxist/Trotskyist/New Deal intellectual Left of the 1930s, are now the ostensible conservative Republicans while the Marcusean cultural Marxists of the 1960s “New Left” are now the liberal Democrats. If this historical pattern continues, then an ongoing leftward drift will mean that within a couple of decades the ostensible “conservatives” or “right-wing” will be the present-day reactionary liberalism of Dianne Feinstein, Charles Schumer, Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Albert Gore, John Kerry, Michael Moore, and Morris Dees. We can easily envision an ideologically and intellectually decrepit lot such as these presiding over the final days of the crumbling US empire.”
If I were writing the above passage today, I would focus less on “Marxism” (I was heavily influenced by a lot of paleoconservative, right-libertarian, and European New Right analysis back then) and more on the role of the conflict between the digital capitalist revolution vs traditional industrial capitalism (as I explain extensively in this piece from a year ago). I would also focus more on the role of PC/woke/SJWism/totalitarian humanism as the self-legitimating ideology of the digital capitalist/professional-managerial class/ideas industries alliance (as I explain here). I might not classify some of the individuals mentioned in the same way.  For example, Michael Moore and arguably Ted Kennedy were to the left of other figures mentioned (all of whom are neoliberals with “reactionary liberalism” being an overly pedantic term). It’s also extremely important to make a distinction between the New Deal and actual Marxism, and my views on the origins of the New Left would be less focused on figures from the Frankfurt School like Marcuse but would instead recognize the Frankfurt School as one of many rivers of thought that feed into the totalitarian humanist paradigm of which the New Left itself is predecessor. But other than these revisions I would generally stand by these comments.
This short essay on contemporary China sent to me by a reader illustrates some of the problems with labeling everything as “Marxist.” Neither the neocons nor the Woke Left nor China could be considered “Marxist” in the economic sense of favoring a nationalized, centrally planned economy where wage labor, commodification, market relations, and the law of value have been abolished.  If Karl Marx were here today he certainly would not consider anything of these contemporary trends to be “socialist” and certainly not “communist.” However, Marxism is more than just a body of economic theory. It is also a much broader philosophical system with specific views about history, human nature, social evolution, psychology, economic theory beyond that of a purely socialist or communist variety, and a range of other things. Therefore, it is possible to argue that while Marxist economic theory has limited influence today, Marxist philosophy has a great deal of influence.
The relationship between neoconservatives and Marxists is not merely that the founders of neoconservatism were former Marxists of different types. Both Marxism and neoconservatism are within the French revolutionary tradition associated with tendencies like the Jacobins, Girondins, and Montagnards, what Edmund Burke called an “armed doctrine” that seeks to revolutionize the world through military aggression. The neocons’ “global democratic revolution” and “regime change” wars were/are an extension of the efforts of revolutionary France to export its revolution throughout Europe which led to the Napoleonic wars. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels held similar views as members of the Jacobin Club during their youth and as supporters of liberal-imperialism during their careers as socialist theorists (for example, they were strong backers of the US Mexican War and the Union cause in the Civil War). They viewed liberal imperialism as a force for historical progress. Their pro-imperialist views were a prototype for “bomb them out of the Stone Age” modern neocons like Christopher Hitchens. For example, Engels referred to indigenous or other colonized peoples as “non-historic people.”
The misnamed “cultural Marxists” can be understood in a comparable way. It really was the case that post-World War One Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci or the Frankfurt School shifted the focus of Marxist social criticism from economic class analysis to cultural and social analysis, while placing an emphasis on achieving cultural hegemony as a prelude to achieving socialism, and Marcuse’s concept of “repressive tolerance” really is a prototype for modern “political correctness,” along with other influences from the same era like Maoism.  Many right-libertarians and traditional conservatives will point out that some of the “ten points” listed in the Communist Manifesto as goals to be achieved as part of the pathway to socialism have in fact been achieved in most modern societies (for example, progressive income taxes and universal public schooling). But Marx did not believe that the achievement of these ten points would by itself constitute socialism or communism. He merely viewed these as “reforms” to be made before socialism could be possible. And if he were here today he would probably be happy to see the direction in which modern progressive-liberal and social-democratic public administration states have developed (for example, minimum wage laws, bans on child labor, social insurances, and public healthcare systems). That the Woke Left is allied with the tech-oligarchs and professional-managerial class, which represent Western capitalism in its post-digital revolution form, would not be surprising to Marx at all, just as Marx was not surprised that the middle-class suffragettes received support from the industrial bourgeoisie in his own time.
The Chinese Communist Party continues to regard itself as a Marxist-Leninist party. That China uses capitalism as a means of economic self-development is entirely compatible with Marxist theory. Marx believed that a society has to undergo a process of technological evolution, industrialization, and bourgeois property relations before socialism was possible. He thought the first socialist countries would be the countries where capitalism was the most advanced in his own time like England, America, and Holland. He would have laughed at the idea of backward feudal Russia becoming “socialist.” In fact, Lenin seems to have eventually adopted the same position by implementing the New Economic Policy and opening the USSR to Western capital on a controlled basis (even if that policy was later reversed by Stalin). During the Mao era, opposition elements in the CCP wished to follow a similar path. The Cultural Revolution was in part an effort to eliminate such elements. However, what was called the “capitalist road” position (roughly the same position as the NEP) eventually became dominant during the Deng Xiaoping era. If Marx were here today, he would simply say that China is undergoing its period of industrialization and bourgeoisification as part of the economic evolutionary economic process.
Virtually all political scientists recognize that Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Francois Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau were the main influences on the development of modern liberal-democratic-capitalist-republics, even though all of them had ideas that would be considered bizarre, archaic, anachronistic, or unintelligible by today’s standards. Hobbes was a proponent of absolute monarchy. Locke opposed extending religious toleration to Catholics and atheists. Voltaire admired “enlightened despots” like Catherine the Great. Rousseau had views on democracy similar to Hans Hermann Hoppe. Yet no serious political historian denies these guys were the primary influences on modern civilization in the political realm. So, yes, it is possible to recognize that Karl Marx has exercised a similar influence as an intellectual progenitor of present-day societies even if many of his economic theories remain on the margins.  Marxist thought has indeed exercised a powerful influence on many of the world’s most influential contemporary ideologies, though not in the way that cretinous former spooks like Mark Levin would claim.

1 reply »

  1. Hans Hoppe is a renegade postmodernist. He’s DeLeuze of the Right. He’s an opportunistic rightist in some sense. He’s a German leftist into Continental Aristotiloan 20th century philosophy. I like a few Marxists but he’s just objectively wrong about a lot of history and economic and political development. There are about twenty different people I’d recommend for understanding how politics world before him. There is some logic for capitalism with export crony characteristics in Marxism but it’s slightly backfiring. Chinese government policy is rather weak at the level of individual and local practice. People are slightly at odds with what the CPC wants and they are pushing on a string. Nobody resists them they just interpret it tactically and this remains a feature of Chinese politics. I don’t know if China will remain a united country more than nominally through the century. And not because of Taiwan bullshit.

Leave a Reply