Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Marx, Brother

The opening of Terry Eagleton's stimulating essay "In Praise of Marx":

Praising Karl Marx might seem as perverse as putting in a good word for the Boston Strangler. Were not Marx's ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labor camps, economic catastrophe, and the loss of liberty for millions of men and women? Was not one of his devoted disciples a paranoid Georgian peasant by the name of Stalin, and another a brutal Chinese dictator who may well have had the blood of some 30 million of his people on his hands?

The truth is that Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus was responsible for the Inquisition. For one thing, Marx would have scorned the idea that socialism could take root in desperately impoverished, chronically backward societies like Russia and China. If it did, then the result would simply be what he called "generalized scarcity," by which he means that everyone would now be deprived, not just the poor. It would mean a recycling of "the old filthy business"—or, in less tasteful translation, "the same old crap." Marxism is a theory of how well-heeled capitalist nations might use their immense resources to achieve justice and prosperity for their people. It is not a program by which nations bereft of material resources, a flourishing civic culture, a democratic heritage, a well-evolved technology, enlightened liberal traditions, and a skilled, educated work force might catapult themselves into the modern age.


aintstudyingyou said...

I am glad this article is making the rounds. I just finished it myself. Eagleton is always good for a defense of the old guy! The comparison of Marx's responsibility for Stalin and Mao with Jesus' for the Inquisition was an apt and provocative statement, I thought.

Now one simply hopes that the 'return' to Marx does not play out as a 'return' to imagining an economic system that works in the absence of, say, policing and incarceration, regulation of the family, and the like. I could live without attempts to relegate the social force of gender, race, and sexuality to the merely 'cultural.'

I'm just riffing on Lisa Duggan, by the way. Have you read her _Twilight of Equality_? I think it's a new classic... Even better, it's concise and fun to read.

aintstudyingyou said...

I should also say that after Eagleton's late defense of Marx (and Marxists) as pretty good on race, gender, and the environment I had to wonder... What are these "hundreds" of weaknesses that Eagleton finds in Marx's work? If he defends Marx from the only flaws he names, what's left to criticize?

framiko said...

I came across the article via Arts & Letters Daily this morning over breakfast. I haven't read Duggan. Nor heard of her till now.

However, I'm delighted to find that, in the case of this article, our reading lives are corresponding. :-)

Btw, I've also been working my way through the Winter 2011 issue of Daedalus—the one edited by Gerald Early. I'm really enjoying it. I was telling Steve about it, and he mentioned that you'd mentioned it to him.

Have you read any of it? I'd be curious to hear what your faves were. I've tagged a couple pieces to use in my Af Am Voices class this fall—Tommie Shelby's reflection on Justice and Racial Conciliation, and Farah Jasmine Griffin's essay on Michelle Obama and Beyonce.