Saturday, October 29, 2005

the limitations of marxism

This article is in this weeks scottish socialist voice, the paper of the scottish socialist party, a fuller explanaition of the quetions raised in the article is addressed in the 1970 article The Irrational in Politics By Maurice Brinton which can be found here http://www.uncarved.org/pol/irat.html
THE LIMITATIONS OF MARXISM
Rebel Ink - Kevin Williamson
“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.”With these words, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began The Communist Manifesto, a book whose impact still resonates down the years. It was quite a statement to open any book with.Yet, a century and a half later, Marx’s explanation of society being divided into economic classes still holds it’s own.For example, in the richest country on the planet - the United States of America - there are 374 billionaires at one end of the scale, yet at the bottom of the heap there are 37 million Americans living below the poverty line (according to the latest Census Bureau). Every other country in the advanced industrialised world has similar glaring disparities between rich and poor.Marx’s analysis of history is useful as far as understanding the division of society into economic classes is concerned. But as a methodology this has crucial limitations.When we look back through history we find so much more than class struggle. Human creativity is the most obvious omission from Marx’s proclamation.Throughout history human beings have tried to express themselves through art, music, literature and many other creative endeavours. When we go into any museum, for instance, the progress of history is charted much more through creativity than through class struggle.It is true that some of this creativity depicts class struggle, or the struggle for survival, but much of it goes beyond that, into a realm which is more personal, contemplative and aesthetic.Such creativity seems less concerned with materialism and economics and more with the workings of the human mind.This aspect of the history of society was beyond Karl Marx’s comprehension. But it is no slight on Karl Marx to recognise that his theories on society could go no deeper than economistic determination would allow. During Marx’s lifetime a serious study of human psychology had not even begun.We’re in a much better position today. Since Freud kick-started a revolution in the way human beings understand our own inner workings, we have added a powerful weapon to our understanding of human society.It was Wilhelm Reich, in the 1930s, who first understood the necessity to fuse Marxian economics with Freudian psychology in order to better understand why human beings act the way they do.Reich is little read among the modern left maybe because much of his later work is infused with an esotericism that makes little sense.Yet his visionary idea of merging economics with psychology in order to understand the workings of society was a revolutionary leap forward which should form the foundation of all liberationist thinking.Reich was able to ask, and answer, the fundamentally important question which Marx could never pose, and which many of Marx’s latter day disciples shy away from.Reich didn’t start from a position of explaining why human beings rebelled against injustices, oppression and exploitation. Instead he asked the most important question of his time, a question which still haunts the left today.Reich asked why the majority of human beings, including the majority of working class people, do not rebel against injustice, oppression and exploitation. In other words, he tried to analyse where the psychological roots of the conservatism and passivity of the oppressed came from.Reich had hit the nail on the head. Economics alone cannot explain why millions of working class people took part in two world wars, slaughtering each other in the interests of competing ruling classes. For it was not in the workers’ economic interests to do so.Nor can economics alone explain why working class people keep voting for political parties like the Labour Party and even the Tory Party, when it is clearly not in their economic interests to do so.When political questions are posed in this way it is clear that economic determinism - the central tenet of Marxism - has crucial limitations that the left will have to move on from if it is ever going to be a serious threat to the ruling class.

2 comments:

Snowball said...

Economics alone cannot explain why millions of working class people took part in two world wars, slaughtering each other in the interests of competing ruling classes. For it was not in the workers’ economic interests to do so.

Have any Marxists ever argued Economics alone can explain it? I thought most Marxists put it down to nationalism - an ideology - coupled with the political betrayal of the leadership of Second International in supporting war...

Nor can economics alone explain why working class people keep voting for political parties like the Labour Party and even the Tory Party, when it is clearly not in their economic interests to do so.

Actually it used to be in workers (immediate) economic interests in Britain to vote for Labour. The fact that the Tories did not dismantle the welfare state in the immediate post war era explains partly their political survival in the second half of the 20th c - and part of why many workers voted Tory.

When political questions are posed in this way it is clear that economic determinism - the central tenet of Marxism - has crucial limitations that the left will have to move on from if it is ever going to be a serious threat to the ruling class

The central tenet of Marxism is not 'economic determinism' though -unless by Marxism you mean the distorted vulgar Marxism of Stalinism. The central tenet of Marxism is Marx's statement that 'the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class'. I do not see Marxism therefore as limited in the way you suggest.

I am interested in reading more about Reich and psychology though.

Jeff said...

Good god - a first year undergraduate would be embarrased to write this stuff! Every snot nosed tyke skims over the communist manifesto and thinks themselves a genuis. Run of the mill really but is this really the quality of stuff being printed by the SSP these days? The slow slide to opportunism becomes a downhill slalom all of a sudden.