Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bits and Pieces: Touching Wood.


Dedicated to tovarisch Bradislav Josipovich Delongiev, Head Political Commissar NKVD/Amerika

Maria Farrell (Irish writer and consultant on Internet policy) took off her British Army helmet and wrote "Post-Democracy" (May 20) for Crooked Timber.

Farrell has been re-reading "Colin Crouch's Post-Democracy on and off for about eighteen months" and agrees with his analysis: liberal democracy has managed to keep the trappings of democracy (elections, "free" press, "free" speech), while abandoning the substance of it.

Farrell: "My experience of reading it is basically ‘yes, this is better researched and thought through than I'd ever manage, and I agree; we're basically fucked'."

Neither Farrell nor Crouch use the term, but I think a paraphrase is useful: liberal democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Farrell, a self-described social-democrat, is quite open about the implications of that:
"I get that I'm experiencing nothing more than the cognitive dissonance of a social democrat who knows capitalism is awful and probably tending towards disaster -- but more the chronic debilitating disease kind of disaster of, say, a slow-boiled lobster, than the explosive, revolutionary and strangely psycho-sexual climax of sudden foment and change -- but who has neither the temperament nor the constitution for either ripping it up or walking away. (Hello Rosa Luxembourg. Like my hero Virginia Woolf, you would despise me, too.) But simply knowing this doesn't help."
I can't speak for Luxembourg, evidently, but I personally don't despise you, Maria. Quite to the contrary.

There is one honest social democrat. Who ever said that was impossible?

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While we are talking about Crooked Timber …

I suspect readers of this blog tend to be quite gung ho about anything going against the Eurozone. Therefore, they are all for the Brexit. It's not a capricious thing, mind you. There are good economic reasons for that and I myself share them, even if I am much less sanguine.

Chris Bertram (Professor of Social and Political Philosophy, University of Bristol), however, feels otherwise:
"I've felt myself getting almost irrationally angry over the past few days with a certain sort of person. The kind of person who advocates Brexit from a ‘left-wing', ‘classical republican' or ‘democratic' perspective. It is bad enough when such people live in the UK or Europe, but at least those people will have to live with the consequences. But it is particularly galling to hear these lectures from across the Atlantic, from people whose sole take on the subject is that the EU is undemocratic, a ‘bosses club', enforces a neoliberal agenda, and would be an obstacle the plans of some future hypothetical fantasy Jeremy Corbyn government."
Writing for Crooked Timber ("Lefty Poseurs and Brexit", May 20) Bertram gives his reasons why he is opposed to the Brexit. It's not a capricious thing, either.

If readers of this blog gain nothing from it, it's at least interesting to have a different perspective.

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People have been commenting on "Kant, Marx, Fichte" (May 7). It's an interview Allen W. Wood (Ruth Norman Halls Professor of Philosophy, Indiana University) gave to Richard Marshall for 3:am Magazine.

As a Kantian scholar, Wood naturally goes to greater lengths on Kant, related topics and philosophers. He does, however, comment on Marx.

The bit that caught most commenters' attention (some controversy, too) was the beginning of  Marx's segment of the interview.

Wood says that contrary to the view prevalent of Marx as an "implacable foe" -- without any further nuances and caveats -- he was quite appreciative of some aspects of capitalism. That earned Marx a bit of an ear-pull from Wood:
"Capitalism has proven to be a far more terrible system than Marx could ever bring himself to imagine. Those who are so deluded as to find something good in it, or even feel loyalty toward it, are its most pitiful victims."
Fair enough (although, I tend to feel less pity for social democrats and lefty poseurs).

What caught my attention, however, was Wood's answer to another question.

Marshall: "Do you think Marxism [sic] is still important as a philosopher of modernity even after the fall of the Soviets , the strange mutation of contemporary China and the Capital of Thomas Picketty?"

Against my habit, I'll quote Wood's fairly long answer in its entirety (emphasis mine):
"The Russian revolution did not occur until a generation after Marx's death. He was not involved with it, or with what came after it. His works do not describe post-capitalist society, and a fortiori they do not recommend any part of what the Soviet Union did. It is absurd for anyone to think that Soviet ‘Marxism' is a correct application of the thought of Karl Marx. No doubt Soviet propaganda represented it this way. But who believes Soviet propaganda? It is remarkable (but maybe not so remarkable after all, when you consider their motives) that apologists for capitalism, who would not accept Soviet propaganda on any other point, are eager to agree with it on this point.
"Marx's own illusion was to think that the working class movement, which he devoted his life to creating and strengthening, would both be socially and politically successful in the industrial nations of Western Europe, and that it would develop an entirely new way of human social life that would retain and even enhance the productive benefits of capitalism while overcoming the inhumanity and exploitation of capitalist social relations. Marx himself had no solutions to these problems. His object of study was capitalism itself. He left it to others to find the way beyond capitalism to a higher form of society. He saw his role as giving them as accurate a theory as he could of how capitalism works, which would also show them the reasons why it needs to be abolished and replaced by a freer and more human form of society. Clearly no working class movement ever came about that was able to do what Marx was hoping for. We totally misunderstand both his aims and his contribution if we try to read into Marx some anticipation of either the modest successes or the disastrous failures of those who later thought they were acting in his name. Marx's writings still have something to teach us about capitalism. They have little or nothing to teach us about any alternatives to it. Anyone who had read them knows that. The problem is that many who reject Marx do not read him, or read him only by bringing prejudices to their reading that prevent them from understanding him.
"Picketty's work is to be commended for attempting to renew, a century and a half later, the critical examination of capitalist society as it has evolved since Marx. I won't try to say more about it than that at present."
The next Q and A was also good: this time go there and read it. It's an interesting interview.

UPDATE:
05-06-2016. Another Very Serious Soviet Propagandist (VSSP) for the USSR.

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