Sunday, 11 July 2010

Marxism 2010: Does the Far Left have a future?

In short, yes. People will always be attracted to the ideas of revolutionary socialism and Marxism will always provide a useful framework to study history and economics. But beyond academic discourse and the revolutionary zeal of youth, it is difficult to say what influence Marxism will have on politics in the future.

The tyranny and failure of self-professed ‘Marxist’ regimes in the Soviet Union and Mao’s China has done much to damage the ideas of Karl Marx (although few academics would agree that either China or the USSR were Marxist). It matters little that none of the successful ‘Marxist’ revolutions were borne from circumstances prescribed by Marx (i.e. from developed capitalist countries) – the ideology is still dead amongst much of the developed world.

This seems to be reflected in the demographics attending Marxism 2010. From my estimates, 50% of attendees were students, 35% were the ‘generation of 68’ and the other 15% were somewhere in between. Clearly, large numbers of students are being lost when they graduate. This suggests an intrinsic fragility in the movement.

The Socialist Workers’ Party – the most significant party on the far left and organiser of Marxism 2010 – suffers from a number of internal contradictions and a dogmatic refusal to embrace a modernisation of Marxist analysis. In a lecture on Marxist economics, it is claimed that the falling rate of profit limits the capitalist’s ability to accumulate and this threatens capitalist production – but this is based on a completely “free” market and there is no mention of monopolies or protectionism. The SWP subscribe to an orthodox Marxist idea of profit – i.e. all work is based on the idea that the capitalist rate of profit is the value of what is produced minus the cost of labour. But what about the public sector? Nurses do not create profit – they are just a cost to the state. The only value they have is the services they provide. Karl Marx can be forgiven for not foreseeing the creation of the welfare state, but why don’t the SWP update their analysis? And why do they consistently champion the welfare state but never give Labour credit for creating it?

The SWP harp on about the need for proletarian revolution, but there is no indication of what a modern revolution would look like. There is no discussion of issues which affect workers – housing, jobs, education etc – it is all theoretical and hypothetical. In one seminar, a contributor had the audacity to propose a sports section in the Socialist Worker (official newspaper for the SWP) only to be hounded for proposing something that wasn’t ideologically pure. How can the SWP claim to represent workers when they refuse to relate on their level? I would’ve thought a sports section is a good way to attract a new readership that can then be converted to your arguments. Likewise, there is an inherent contradiction between the Marxist interpretation of class and the fact that most workers now consider themselves middle-class. Unless the SWP can resolve this conflict, there is a permanent impasse for their revolution.

The SWP’s lack of objective analysis is also a major hindrance. In a talk entitled ‘Will the working class ever be revolutionary?’ the SWP look back at historical examples to illustrate the revolutionary nature of British workers and cite the English civil war and the overthrow of the monarchy (there is no mention of the monarchy being re-instated a number of years later). Generally, the SWP seem to confuse protest for developed revolutionary consciousness. They finally concluded that British workers “are not enamoured with parliamentary democracy”. Maybe not, but they’re not exactly enamoured with revolution either. The SWP shouldn’t be trying to pretend there is a history of working class revolution – they should be looking at why there isn’t and how they’ve been bought off by capitalism.

Until parties like the SWP can update their ideological analysis and resolve fundamental contradictions, they will remain increasingly marginalised movements. The ideas of Karl Marx are still highly relevant as the advent of globalisation stratifies the world into two classes of countries – the bourgeois countries of the Northern hemisphere and the proletarian producers of the South hemisphere. As long as the SWP clings to its ideological purity, the far left will remain an anachronism. Not because Marxism isn’t relevant anymore, but because they remain trapped in a political time warp. The core constituency of a Marxist-Leninist party is the working class, but the SWP are not only unable to communicate with the working class, they are seemingly unwilling to do so.


Anonymous said...

Your arguments against the classical Marxian theory of economic crisis are willfully ill informed.

- the falling rate of profit limits capital accumulation? No it doesn't.

-The theory espoused relies upon the operation of a 'free market' only, without factoring in the influence from monopolies or protectionism? Wrong, infact the theory you criticise depends upon the operation of these tendencies, especialy monopoly which it seeks to explain.

- The public sector does not generate value? Stupid, of course it does.

Unfortunaetly explaining much of the above to you would be like... Allow me to use a parable. Imagine if you threw a house party and you walked into your bathroom to find a stranger deficating into your bath. You wouldn't tell him to use the toilet instead, you would simply assume that the reasoning was beyond him.

I'm going to assume that Marxism as a system of thought is beyond you.

Please try and learn something about the theories you want to criticise before you do so.

Dan @ Eyes on Power said...

Thank you very much for your comment, Comrade Anon. I wouldn’t like to jump to false conclusions, but I’m guessing from your response that you might be from the SWP? I realise we’ve been quite vocal in our analysis of Marxism 2010 and we would be more than happy to publish a right-to-reply if you’d like to write one? Please email if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to respond to a few of your comments. Firstly, if you re-read my post, you will notice that I’m not arguing “against the classical Marxian theory of economic crisis”. I am in fact commenting on the SWP’s analysis of Marxist theory and trying to highlight weakness in their approach. It is the SWP who omit reference to protectionism and monopoly – at least at the seminar I attended.

Furthermore, perhaps you could explain how the public sector, as a whole, creates value. Obviously there are services which do, but providing free health care to the elderly or sick does not create profit. All you need to do is look at private health providers and insurers who cherry-pick who they cover. They’re more than happy to take money off healthy young people, but they try their hardest to refuse cover to people who might actually need medical help. This is because providing this service would be of cost to them.

Your bathroom defecating analogy is compelling, but I wonder if your disdain for me is matched by your disdain for the working class itself – many of whom have no conception of Marxism at all? I apologise if you’re not a revolutionary Marxist, but this attitude hardly seems conducive to encouraging proletarian revolution. In fact it actually reinforces my points about left-wing sectarianism and intellectual chauvinism. Take a trip to Highgate Cemetery because Karl Marx is turning in his grave...

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