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MARXISTS NEED TO OWN THEIR OWN HISTORY AND THEORY

By Keith Preston

It is fashionable for today’s self-proclaimed “Marxists” to deny the accusations of genocide that have been made against historic Marxist regimes. My perspective on this would be somewhat different. If I were trying to proceed as a consistent Marxist in the sense actually applying the concept of historical materialism to its logical conclusion, I would have to argue that much of what is commonly labeled as “genocide” is simply the inevitable outcome of material evolution.

For instance, nowadays a lot of folks who seem to be rather self-styled “neo-Marxists” get worked up about the “injustice” of historic slavery, but from a materialist perspective, I would be inclined to say that slavery was just the natural product of the level of material, economic, technological and, by extension, social, cultural, political, and moral evolution that existed at the time. We can no more hold a grudge against agricultural societies for practicing slavery than we can hold a grudge against them for not having smartphones (see Moses Finley’s work on what he called the “ancient economy”).

Likewise, with “genocide” it seems that Engels’ conception of “historic” versus “non-historic” peoples offers the proper framework for historical analysis from a consistent materialist perspective. Population groups that cannot keep pace with the march of material progress simply die out, just like non-adaptable species in nature become extinct. Revolutions are an inevitable part of the process of transitioning from one mode of production to another, or from rule by one class to another. And, yes, blood purges happen during revolutions as a matter of de facto historical law as, for example, the feudal classes are purged and replaced with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie under liberalism or the dictatorship of the proletariat under socialism.

From a historical materialist perspective, “reactionary” population groups (whether ethnic communities, religions or social classes) that cannot or will not adapt to the process of material progression simply die out, whether individually or collectively. Hence, the supposed “injustice” of colonialism is merely a matter of a more advanced mode of production overtaking a less advanced one, resulting in the extinction of hunter/gatherer or pastoral/horticultural people. “Traditional” population groups that wish to defend their way of life may be imbibed with false consciousness but from a historical materialist perspective, they are still obstructing material progress and must be put down or eliminated as a result.

This is not my actual perspective, as I am not a Marxist or a historical materialist (I probably hold to a viewpoint more like the Weberian view), but it is the perspective I would be inclined to have if I held to that particular model of historical interpretation.

My interpretation of the historic role of both socialism and fascism is somewhat similar to Murray Rothbard’s although I don’t think Rothbard extended his analysis as far as he could. Rothbard argued that socialism was a quasi-conservative reaction against classical liberalism that was heavily influenced by Romantic and Counter-Enlightenment thought. But socialism didn’t want to abolish the legacy of liberalism entirely. The socialists just wanted to tame it a bit. Russell Kirk once argues that socialists and conservatives had more in common than either one had with “libertarians” (radical classical liberals) and I suspect he was correct.

This feeds into the Nietzschean critique of socialism as neo-Christianity. Socialists typically become conservatives once they are in power. For instance, I’ve seen lectures by Parenti where he talks about intellectuals and young people in the former Warsaw Pact countries in about the same way Republicans talk about Western intellectuals and college students.

In fact, my criticism of even the modern “pink and green and rainbow left” is not that they are too anti-conservative but that they are too conservative. They merely replace “God, Family, and Country” with “Race, Gender, and LGBTQ” or “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” They replace the traditional “seven deadly sins” with the laundry of isms, archies, phobias, and denialisms. They replace the Abrahamic concept of “dominion over the earth” with a kind of pantheist or even animistic “environmentalism” that is not really the same thing as older forms of conservationism, and they have developed the idea of the therapeutic state that is the caretaker of everyone’s health in the same way a theocratic state is a caretaker of everyone’s soul.

Rothbard suggested that fascism was a hybrid of socialism and conservatism, or the idea of reestablishing a traditional conservative stratified social order but with a socialist component that was largely about overcoming what the fascists considered to be the culturally unaesthetic aspects of capitalism (e.g crass commercial culture, tacky department stores, and billboards) and political rule by the merchant class, and I suspect this is a good analysis of fascism as well.

But the thing about social evolution is that social evolution is resilient and undergoes perpetual shape-shifting. The classical bourgeois capitalism of Marx’s era eventually gave way to managerial capitalism during the period when mass society was continuing to grow and technological expansion was taking place in ways that transcended ideological differences or different forms of government or specific forms of political economy.

All systems in the 20th century, whether formally capitalist, socialist, or fascist had to adapt to those changes. now managerial capitalism is being fused with digital capitalism and the tech-oligarchs are becoming the new aristocracy and the managerial class is becoming the new clergy. So systems like the US/European corporate welfare states, Eastern socialism, or the fascist model adopted by the Central European countries and some “NICs” (newly industrializing countries) were all reflections of these wider historical trends during their own time and had to adjust to these.

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2 replies »

  1. Not that I have the chops to add anything meaningful, or that has ever stopped me before….

    …but seems to me that the reason a Marxist would choose to ignore his history rather than accept it, is that then the Marxist would disarm his own attacks on other philosophies going forward. They would de-fang the whole idea of fighting for equality through criticisms, and would then force having support their ideas in a positive way, rather than tearing down others.

    • Originally, Marxism was already a social cult, but theoretically they shouldn’t care because Communism is inevitable whether people like it or not. Ethical arguments have little place for a true Marxist. Ethics is logic is reality, if you’re a Hegelian.

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