I had a debate on Facebook with several different people over Marx, Marxism and its legacy and one of people on the thread posted this video by the renowned Marxist scholar, David Harvey.
The following was my response.
Thanks for posting the video.
It was actually very interesting and he certainly did a good job setting up a useful framework from which to approach a work which, let’s be perfectly honest here, is an excruciating chore.
The thing that’s so remarkably ironic, and it’s really pretty hilarious that he manages to achieve this in an introductory lecture, is that Mr. Harvey essentially lays bare the hollow pretense at the core of Capital and the glaring flaws in Capital that anyone who values freedom and individualism and possesses a rudimentary grasp of common sense economics would have to suspend in order to even engage the work.
There are several serious problems revealed:
1. You don’t REALLY understand Marx until you’ve read Capital, man!
The most egregious problem is this absurd myth that both Mr. Harvey and Joe are perpetuating is this outrageous and insanely elitist notion that you cannot really know or truly criticize Marx until you’ve taken a college class, read Capital in its entirety or have certain academic credentials.
What a crock of shit!
One should read his work in order to understand his arguments, but no one needs to go to college in order to understand Marx’ thought, and no one needs to read Capital in its entirety to acquire this understanding.
Aside from his theory of exploitation and alienation, Marx offers nothing to economics, morality or ethics. It’s essentially a long winded whine by an angry, embittered parasite who craved power. Marxism splits the world into two groups, exploiters and the exploited. It’s correct, except that he has it backwards. The state are the exploiter class and everyone else are the exploited.
David Harvey spends all this time lavishing praise over the book and fawns endlessly over how profound it is. He implores us to read it in its entirety because, after all, you can only grasp its alleged profundity if you go the full distance, but have you actually taken his advice? Have you actually read Capital in its entirety? Or are you just hypnotized by its complexity and assume that it is intrinsically meritorious because it’s a “challenging” work? And besides, Marx was “Down with the People”, right?
You can be against the capitalist running dogs AND engage in pretentious and masturbatory dialectic inquiry and “deconstruct” the bourgeois veil of reality all at once, right? We need to figure out the superstructure because it’s all an a priori construction, right?
I propose that this entire pretense of intellectual depth in Marxist thought is exactly one of the reasons this stuff persists. I mean, wow, he takes the Ricardian models of value and INTRODUCES the idea of “socially useful” labor time.
How does engaging with Capital leave you feeling anything other than victimized by capitalism?
Is Marxism the only lens through which we can address mass problems of collective action? Marxism offers nothing but a recipe for totalitarianism and misery.
Marx is “essential” because he presumably uncovers large scale moral questions? Marx offered nothing except a false bifurcation of the world into capitalist predators and oppressed proles.
2. The Marxist Cult of Personality
Marxism centers around a narcissistic cult of personality and insists on deference to some self appointed “authority”.
Over and over again, David Harvey stresses the importance of really understanding what Marx was saying.
Joe argues that it’s “debatable” that the Communist revolutions in China and the USSR were what Marx “intended” and that the words of the Manifesto have been analyzed for YEARS by academics and therefore, he should be granted an exemption because we need to THINK REALLY HARD about what all of it REALLY MEANS.
And besides, I’m going to be subjected to the vicious taunts and giggles of some unnamed group of historians and economists because I’m such an ill informed luddite. Mercy! I’m shaking in my boots!
Joe goes even further by engaging in what amounts to little more than an obnoxious and authoritarian Thought Police routine. By “deconstructing” my words and proclaiming them “dangerous” and “deceptive”, he is simultaneously setting himself up as an authority figure to whom deference should be accorded and the act of engaging in “deconstruction” somehow obviates the need for supplying actual evidence which supports his argument that Marx is exempt from the totalitarian horrors of socialism.
This is pure bullshit.
Let’s consider this idea of what Marx “intended” for a minute.
Should we check in with him?
How about we send him a text?
Should we have a vote over what we believe was Marx’ “True Intention”?
Should we ensure that all of our “Revolutionaries” are properly vetted by the ghost of Marx and get his approval?
How about some “likes” on Facebook?
What do you think we should do to TRULY figure out what Marx “intended” beyond this pointless and slavish regurgitation of ideas which have long since been discredited?
The written record is explicit.
Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing, but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.—Critique of the Gotha Program (1875)
Based on an ideology as explicit as this, the rise of Stalin and Mao are nothing short of predictable outcomes.
Peter said it best. Marxism is fine for a nation of sheep, but utterly inappropriate for anyone with self respect.
3. Marx the Phony Prophet
Since Marx created what is arguably history’s most durable “critique” of capitalism, his work has a seemingly built-in eternal life for validating and explaining away the any of capitalism’s alleged failures and/or shortcomings.
Take the 2008 market collapse. Marx foresaw that, man!
The credit system appears as the main lever of over-production and over-speculation in commerce solely because the reproduction process, which is elastic by nature, is here forced to its extreme limits, and is so forced because a large part of the social capital is employed by people who do not own it and who consequently tackle things quite differently than the owner, who anxiously weighs the limitations of his private capital in so far as he handles it himself. This simply demonstrates the fact that the self-expansion of capital based on the contradictory nature of capitalist production permits an actual free development only up to a certain point, so that in fact it constitutes an immanent fetter and barrier to production, which are continually broken through by the credit system. Hence, the credit system accelerates the material development of the productive forces and the establishment of the world-market. It is the historical mission of the capitalist system of production to raise these material foundations of the new mode of production to a certain degree of perfection. At the same time credit accelerates the violent eruptions of this contradiction — crises — and thereby the elements of disintegration of the old mode of production. ~ Capital, Vol. 3
He NAILED it, man!
So Marx makes a reasonable observation central banking credit expansion and the business cycles they induce without proffering a theory of money, interest, production, property or exchange and we’re supposed to bow down in deference to this observation and accord validity to the idea of a proletarian revolution and an expansion of state power?
What a joke.
4. The Neoclassical Assumption of Equilibrium in Supply and Demand and the Illusion of the Labor Theory of Value
David Harvey spends a lot of time setting up Marx’ theory of capitalist production and invoking all these bullshit notions of a priori constructions. Because somehow we’re going to shed this bourgeois delusion that commerce is NOT the continuous and spontaneous process of millions of individuals making independent choices and businesses making independent plans in response to this continuous motion and are all subordinate to his absurd emphasis on the labor theory of value.
The determination of price by cost of production is tantamount to the determination of price by the labor-time requisite to the production of a commodity, for the cost of production consists, first of raw materials and wear and tear of tools, etc., i.e., of industrial products whose production has cost a certain number of work-days, which therefore represent a certain amount of labor-time, and, secondly, of direct labor, which is also measured by its duration.
Right. Of course.
So how do you ensure that consumption goods reflect labor time while ignoring subjective preferences and subsequent theories of marginal utility without resorting to totalitarianism?
Oh yeah. That’s right. YOU CAN’T.
5. Marx the Phony Economist and the Delusion of Socialist Utopianism
I’m going to expose the central fraud at the center of both Marxism and Capital right now.
Are you ready?
Here it is.
The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan. ~ Capital, Vol. 1
At last, we arrive at Marx’ grand reveal. All productive forces in society are to be subordinated to a SETTLED PLAN.
Well, what is this “settled plan”?
Oh yeah. That’s right. IT DOESN’T EXIST.
But that didn’t stop anyone from attempting a Communist revolution and trying to figure it out. And we all know how well that worked out.
Well, shouldn’t we figure out this “settled plan”? I mean, REALLY THINK ABOUT IT.
Like maybe even take a college course with David or Joe and get into really, deep dialectic inquiries and deconstruct the bourgeois veil of reality and maybe, just maybe, FINALLY figure out what the great Karl Marx intended.
You can if you want. No one is stopping you. Knock yourself out. Let me know where it gets you.
And who is to carry out this “settled plan”?
Why, the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat!
But only as long as they are the Right People.
And Joe believes that it’s “debatable” that the horrors of Stalin and Mao are attributable to Marx.
Debatable my ass.