christmas, eating, reading

Usual fine orgy of eating and drinking and playing games with words. Two good big fat books came as presents: Osssie gave me Hobsbawm’s How to Change the World: tales of Marx and Marxism and Gavin gave me David Graeber’s Debt: the first 5,000 years. I have started on Hobsbawm, though I struggled with the first chapter—on the pre- and post-Marx history of socialism—because I just don’t know enough history to follow it all. But then there is a wonderful essay about, and summary of, Engels’ Condition of the Working Class… from which I learned a lot. [Gavin, you would enjoy it because it expands upon the whole publication/translation history which we corresponded about à propos Dickens.]

Now I just read an essay on the Communist Manifesto. I’d read it before as the preface to the recent 150th anniversary edition, but it’s very salutory just now. He writes

“…there was plainly no adequate ground for the Manifesto‘s belief that the moment for the overthrow of capitalism was approaching (‘the bourgeouis revolution in Germany can only be the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution’). On the contrary…” (p111)

and on the same page

“…due to be superseded by another kind of society (unless—the Manifesto‘s phrase has not been much noted—it founders ‘in the common ruin of the contending classes’).

The book goes on to survey the changes in Marxism, and its influence, in subsequent periods, coming almost up to date in a chapter called “Marxism in recession 1983-2000”, vastly scholarly and global in scope. Illuminates all sorts of areas I am ignorant about, especially on the early 20th Century and inter-war periods where he extends to the immense influence of Marx in the arts, music, architecture, the physical sciences and so on (and nice to find JBS Haldane and Karl Pearson of UCL figuring in here). Sometimes hilarious too: writing about what appeared to be a great flowering of Marxism in Italian universities around 1900 he says “…Italian academic intellectuals were so strongly attracted to Marxism that much of Italian Marxism was was little more than a dressing poured over the basic positivist, evolutionist and anticlerical salad of Italian middle-class male culture.” (231)

At the very end, after some painfully morose reflections on what has become of parties, he writes

“But the believers in the 1973-2008 reductio ad absurdum of market society are also left helpless. A systematic alternative system may not be on the horizon, but the possibility of a disintegration even a collapse, of the existing system is no longer to be ruled out. Neither side knows what would or could happen in that case.

…Once again it is evident that even between major crises, ‘the market’ has no answer to the major problem confronting the twenty-first century: that unlimited and increasingly high-tech economic growth in the pursuit of unsustainable profit produces global wealth, but at the cost of an increasingly dispensable factor of production, human labour, and, one might add, of the globe’s natural resources.. Economic and political liberalism, singly or in combination, cannot provide the solution… Once again the time has come to take Marx seriously.”

This sounds so like David Harvey: odd that he’s not an author H even mentions. Curious.

Author: Editors


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