Eagleton, Terry. Why Marx Was Right. New Haven: Yale. University Press, The world is divided into two parts—the one that hears Marxism with discord. poverty and income inequality, and hence prove that Karl Marx was right in calling Taking cue from Terry Eagleton's eloquent defense of Marxism, this article asserts that DATASTATISTICS/Resources/WDI08supplementpdf. ———. PDF | On Jan 1, , Paramjit Singh and others published Book Review: Why Marx was Right.
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In this combative, controversial book, Terry Eagleton takes issue with the prejudice that Marxism is dead and done with. Taking ten of the most common. Printed in the United States of America. Library of Congress Cataloging-in- Publication Data. Eagleton, Terry, –. Why Marx was right / Terry Eagleton. p. cm. Don Milligan, Review of Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was. Right, posted at erry Eagleton ends Why Marx Was Right with this rhetorical question: “Was ever a anesi.info&NOTES_files/anesi.info
Western liberals in one vital respect: There are, of course, limits to thislatitude. This is because we knew it all along. He cannot have thoughtthat history evolves as a thunderstorm does. Plenty of anarchists, libertarian socialists and others wouldendorse this social vision but vehemently reject Marxism. Even Trotsky, so some of his disciples may be surprised tohear, supported the market, though only in the period oftransition to socialism and in combination with economicplanning. Their claim, rather, is that the system has altered almostunrecognizably since the days of Marx, and that this is whyhis ideas are no longer relevant.
It is only socialism which for some mysterious reason is out of reach.
Each chapter has a series of useful points and the beauty of this book is it can be used as a source to dip in and out of since each chapter can be read alone. Let us take a look at one more point he makes about whether revolutionary action advocated by Marxists inevitably leads to violence and then despotic repression.
Eagleton turns the argument neatly back onto his opponents by showing how these deniers of the efficacy of revolutionary crisis and action do not recognise how existing capitalist society emerged from revolutionary crisis and revolutionary actions:.
Perhaps I missed the announcement in the newspapers, but France does not seem to have re-instated the feudal aristocracy.. If you wanted to quibble about any weaknesses in the book you could argue that a chapter taking up the challenges on a more economic level to Marxism would have been interesting — for example on the falling rate of profit debate. If readers are interested there is an interesting collection of articles about just such issues written around the th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto in that has been published on the Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres website.
However this book is not only helpful for everyday debates with people at meetings, in the street or in the workplace but also for responding to the teachers or lecturers who give an academic critique of Marxism. It was difficult to quickly go back to the chapter about human nature or about changes in the working class. On the other hand accessible footnotes to other books are particularly useful.
Unlike some of the NLR writers Eagleton keeps his prose understandable without dumbing down. For a period Eagleton was politically involved with revolutionary Marxist groups and although no longer aligned in this way he has maintained a radical political critique of capitalist society and reformism, unlike many erstwhile academic Marxists of the post 60s generation.
His main professional work has been in the field of literary theory where he has developed a flexible Marxist-inspired framework for understanding literature and culture. Particularly useful has been his relentless attack on post-modernism. The latter has achieved some influence in academia and in a simplified way in everyday ideology. Post-modernism embraces relativism and rejects any basic absolutes or coherent historical narrative.
Its political impact is to deny the utility of political action itself. This book represents a continuing attempt to engage with important contemporary issues.
In many ways it has the advantage of not being written by somebody from a single political tendency since it does not mix the arguments up with intermittent calls to join the one true revolutionary party. This is particularly important today as the crisis is producing a wider interest in critiques of capitalism especially among young people.
Dave Kellaway , Terry Eagleton. Posted on March 10, As Eagleton states: Eagleton provides us with nine other chapters dealing with the following points: Marxism is irrelevant because our society has fundamentally changed, it is increasingly classless, socially mobile and post-industrial, quite different to the world when Marx was writing. It has never worked in practice — look at what has happened in the Soviet Union or China.
The ideas of Marx are crudely determinist, men and women are the tools of history and they are stripped of freedom and individuality. Human nature just does not fit with Marxist theory, we are naturally selfish, acquisitive, aggressive and competitive creatures Marx is an economic determinist, art, religion, war, politics morality are seen as just reflection of the economy or of class struggle.
His materialism means spirituality or religion is dismissed and consciousness is just a reflex of the material world. Morality is about the ends justifying the means. Class as understood by Marx is no more, the industrial working class has disappeared and the revolutionary worker is a figment of the Marxist imagination Marxists are advocates of violent minority action, running roughshod over democracy and causing chaotic situations The most interesting radical movements of the past four decades such as feminism, environmentalism, gay and ethnic politics have sprung up from outside Marxism and have now taken over from antiquated forms of class struggle.
It is unlikely that men and womenwill freely submit to the hardships it involves. So unless thisproject is executed gradually, under democratic control andin accordance with socialist values, an authoritarian state maystep in and force its citizens to do what they are reluctant toundertake voluntarily. The militarization of labour in Bol-shevik Russia is a case in point. The result, in a grisly irony,will be to undermine the political superstructure of socialism popular democracy, genuine self-government in the veryattempt to build up its economic base.
Why Marx Was Right 17 Ideally, socialism requires a skilled, educated, politicallysophisticated populace, thriving civic institutions, a well-evolved technology, enlightened liberal traditions and thehabit of democracy.
None of this is likely to be on hand if youcannot even afford to mend the dismally few highways youhave, or have no insurance policy against sickness or starva-tion beyond a pig in the back shed.
You can-not do this if people have no shoes; and to distribute shoesamong millions of citizens is likely to require a centralisedbureaucratic state. If your nation is under invasion from anarray of hostile capitalist powers, as Russia was in the wake ofthe Bolshevik revolution, an autocratic state will seem all themore inevitable.
Britain during the Second World War wasfar from an autocracy; but it was by no means a free country,and one would not have expected it to be.
To go socialist, then, you need to be reasonably well-heeled, in both the literal and metaphorical senses of the term. In the case of theBolsheviks, this would have meant such neighbours Ger-many in particular having their own revolutions, too. This was not as im-probable a proposal as it might sound.
Once these insurrec-tions were defeated, Lenin and Trotsky knew that their ownrevolution was in dire straits. It is not that the building of socialism cannot be begunin deprived conditions. It is rather that without material re-sources it will tend to twist into the monstrous caricature ofsocialism known as Stalinism. The Bolshevik revolution soonfound itself besieged by imperial Western armies, as well asthreatened by counterrevolution, urban famine and a bloodycivil war.
It was marooned in an ocean of largely hostilepeasants reluctant to hand over their hard-earned surplus atgunpoint to the starving towns. With a narrow capitalist base,disastrously low levels of material production, scant tracesof civil institutions, a decimated, exhausted working class, Why Marx Was Right 19 Inthe end, the Bolsheviks were to march their starving, despon-dent, war-weary people into modernity at the point of a gun.
Many of the most politically militant workers had perished inthe Western-backed civil war, leaving the Bolshevik partywith a dwindling social base.
It suppressed political dissent andoppositional parties, manipulated elections and militarizedlabour. This ruthlessly antisocialist programme came aboutagainst a background of civil war, widespread starvation andforeign invasion.
In a tragic irony that was to markthe twentieth century as a whole, socialism proved least pos-sible where it was most necessary. The historian Isaac Deutscher depicts the situation withhis usual matchless eloquence. Marxism to claim that none of this is relevant since Marxismis an authoritarian creed in any case. If it took over the HomeCounties tomorrow, so the case goes, there would be labourcamps in Dorking before the week was out.
Marx himself, as we shall see, was a critic of rigid dogma,military terror, political suppression and arbitrary state power. He believed that political representatives should be account-able to their electors, and castigated the German Social Demo-crats of his day for their statist politics.
Yet asone who recognized that socialism cannot thrive in poverty-stricken conditions, he would have understood perfectly howthe Russian revolution came to be lost.
If you want a compelling account of how Stalinismcomes about, you have to go to Marxism. Mere moral denun-ciations of the beast are simply not good enough. We needto know in what material conditions it arises, how it func-tions and how it might fail, and this knowledge has beenbest provided by certain mainstream currents of Marxism.
Western liberals in one vital respect: They have not contented themselves with wistful pleas formore democracy or civil rights. Instead, they have called forthe overthrow of the entire repressive system, and called forthis precisely as socialists. Moreover, they have been issuingsuch calls almost since the day that Stalin took power.
At thesame time, they have warned that if the communist systemwere to collapse, it might well be into the arms of a predatorycapitalism waiting hungrily to pick among the ruins. LeonTrotsky foresaw precisely such an end to the Soviet Union,and was proved right some twenty years ago.
Does the fact that the experiment would al-most certainly prove less than dramatically successful consti-tute a fair condemnation of capitalism? Surely not. To thinkso would be as absurd as claiming that the Girl Guides shouldbe disbanded because they cannot solve certain tricky prob-lems in quantum physics. Marxists do not believe that themighty liberal lineage from Thomas Jefferson to John StuartMill is annulled by the existence of secret CIA-run prisons fortorturing Muslims, even though such prisons are part of the terry eagleton 22 Yet the critics of Marxismare rarely willing to concede that show trials and mass terrorare no refutation of it.
There is, however, another sense in which socialism isthought by some to be unworkable. The answer fora growing number of Marxists is that you do not need to. Markets in their view would remain an integral part of asocialist economy. So-called market socialism envisages a fu-ture in which the means of production would be sociallyowned, but where self-governing cooperatives would com-pete with one another in the marketplace.
At the level of the econ-omy as a whole, competition ensures that the informational,allocation and incentive problems associated with the tradi-tional Stalinist model of central planning do not arise. Some Marxists claim that Marx himself was a marketsocialist, at least in the sense that he believed that the mar-ket would linger on during the transitional period followinga socialist revolution.
He also considered that markets hadbeen emancipatory as well as exploitative, helping to free men Why Marx Was Right 23 Markets strip the aura of mystery from social rela-tions, laying bare their bleak reality.
Even Trotsky, so some of his disciples may be surprised tohear, supported the market, though only in the period oftransition to socialism and in combination with economicplanning. Market socialism does away with private property, socialclasses and exploitation. It also places economic power into thehands of the actual producers. In all of these ways, it is awelcome advance on a capitalist economy. For some Marxists,however, it retains too many features of that economy to bepalatable.
Under market socialism there would still be com-modity production, inequality, unemployment and the swayof market forces beyond human control. How would one avoid the chronic short-termism ofmarkets, their habit of ignoring the overall social picture andthe long-term antisocial effects of their own fragmented deci-sions? Education and state monitoring might diminish thesedangers, but some Marxists look instead to an economy whichwould be neither centrally planned nor market-governed.
The broad parameters of the econ-omy, including decisions on the overall allocation of resources,rates of growth and investment, energy, transport and eco-logical policies and the like, would be set by representativeassemblies at local, regional and national level. These generaldecisions about, say, allocation would then be devolved down-wards to regional and local levels, where more detailed plan-ning would be progressively worked out. At every stage, pub-lic debate over alternative economic plans and policies wouldbe essential.
Undercapitalism, we are deprived of the power to decide whetherwe want to produce more hospitals or more breakfast cereals. Under socialism, this freedom would be regularly exercised. Power in such assemblies would pass by democraticelection from the bottom up rather than from the top down.
Democratically elected bodies representing each branch of Why Marx Was Right 25 Prices would be determined not centrally, but byproduction units on the basis of input from consumers, users,interest groups and so on. Some champions of such so-calledparticipatory economics accept a kind of mixed socialist econ-omy: Less sociallyindispensable goods, however consumer items, luxury prod-ucts , could be left to the operations of the market.
As Oscar Wilde once remarked, the trouble withsocialism is that it takes up too many evenings. Yet one needsat least to take account of the role of modern informationtechnology in oiling the wheels of such a system. Some advocates of the participatory model hold that terry eagleton 26 Much of this dirty and dangerous work could perhaps becarried out by former members of the royal family. We need toreverse our priorities. Since I have just mentioned the media as ripe for publicownership, let us take this as an exemplary case.
These would in- Why Marx Was Right 27 These men and women could then pro-duce work free of both state regulation and the distortingpressures of the market. Among other things, we would befree of the situation in which a bunch of power-crazed, ava-ricious bullies dictate through their privately owned mediaoutlets what the public should believe—which is to say, theirown self-interested opinions and the system they support.
Wewill know that socialism has established itself when we areable to look back with utter incredulity on the idea that ahandful of commercial thugs were given free rein to corruptthe minds of the public with Neanderthal political viewsconvenient for their own bank balances but for little else. Instead, they settle for banality, sensationalism and gut preju-dice. There would be popular theatre, TV andnewspapers galore. Plenty ofordinary people read highly specialist journals littered withjargon unintelligible to outsiders.
It is just that these journalstend to be about angling, farm equipment or dog breedingrather than aesthetics or endocrinology. The popular becomesjunk and kitsch when the media feel the need to hijack aslarge a slice of the market as quickly and painlessly as pos-sible. And this need is for the most part commercially driven.
Socialists will no doubt continue to argue about thedetail of a postcapitalist economy. One can contrast this imperfection withthe capitalist economy, which is in impeccable working orderand which has never been responsible for the mildest touch ofpoverty, waste or slump. In the United States today, over a million morepeople would be seeking work if they were not in prison. Why Marx Was Right 29 It sees men and women simply as the tools of history, and thus strips them of their freedom and individuality.
Marx believed in certain iron laws of history, which work themselves out with inexorable force and which no human action can resist. Feudalism was fated to give birth to capitalism, and capitalism will inevi- tably give way to socialism.
It is offen- sive to human freedom and dignity, just as Marxist states are. W e may begin by asking what is distinctive about Marx-ism. What does Marxism have that no other political theorydoes?
Nor is it the notion of communism, whichis of ancient provenance. Marx did not invent socialism orcommunism. The working-class movement in Europe hadalready arrived at socialist ideas while Marx himself was still aliberal. In fact, it is hard to think of any single political featurethat is unique to his thought.
It is certainly not the idea of therevolutionary party, which comes to us from the French Revo-lution. Marx has precious little to say about it in any case. What about the concept of social class? Nor did he think up the ideaof the proletariat, which was familiar to a number ofnineteenth-century thinkers.
His idea of alienation was de-rived mostly from Hegel. It was also anticipated by the greatIrish socialist and feminist, William Thompson.
We shall alsosee later that Marx is not alone in giving such high priorityto the economic in social life. He believes in a cooperative soci-ety free of exploitation run by the producers themselves,and holds that this could come about only by revolutionarymeans. But so did the great twentieth-century socialist Ray-mond Williams, who did not consider himself a Marxist. Plenty of anarchists, libertarian socialists and others wouldendorse this social vision but vehemently reject Marxism.
One of them is the primary role played by the economic insocial life; the other is the idea of a succession of modes ofproduction throughout history. Iswhat is peculiar to Marxism, then, the concept not of class butof class struggle?
Why Marx Was Right 31 The symmetry and economy of the lines themselves, withtheir neatly balanced antithesis, contrast with the waste andimbalance of the economy they describe. The couplet is clearlyabout class struggle. What robes the landlord robs his tenants. Much the same sentiment is expressed by King Lear. Infact, Milton has quietly stolen this idea from Shakespeare.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as we shall see, argued much thesame. The idea of class struggle is by no means peculiar toMarx, as he himself was well aware.
Even so, it is mightily central to him. So central, in fact,that he sees it as nothing less than the force that drives humanhistory. It is the very motor or dynamic of human develop-ment, which is not an idea that would have occurred to JohnMilton.
Whereas many social thinkers have seen human so- terry eagleton 32 It is made up of mutually incompatible interests. For example, it isin the interest of the capitalist class to keep wages low, and inthe interests of wage earners to push them higher.
Ifbrushing my teeth last Wednesday counts as part of history,then it is hard to see that this is a matter of class struggle. Bowling a leg break in cricket or being pathologically ob-sessed with penguins is not burningly relevant to class strug-gle. But that brawl in the bar last nightwas public enough. Anyway, how was theGreat Fire of London a product of class struggle? It mightcount as an instance of class struggle if Che Guevara had beenrun over by a truck, but only if a CIA agent was at the wheel.
Otherwise it would have just been an accident. The same goes for the po-etry of Wordsworth or Seamus Heaney. Maybe Marx did not take his own claim literally. Even so, there is an important question about howmuch Marxist thought does in fact include. Some Marxistsseem to have treated it as a Theory of Everything, but this issurely not so. The fact that Marxism has nothing very inter-esting to say about malt whiskies or the nature of the uncon-scious, the haunting fragrance of a rose or why there is some-thing rather than nothing, is not to its discredit.
It is notintended to be a total philosophy. It does not give us accountsof beauty or the erotic, or of how the poet Yeats achieves thecurious resonance of his verse. It has been mostly silent onquestions of love, death and the meaning of life.
It has, to besure, a very grand narrative to deliver, which stretches all theway from the dawning of civilisation to the present and fu-ture. But there are other grand narratives besides Marxism,such as the history of science or religion or sexuality, whichinteract with the story of class struggle but cannot be reducedto it. Postmodernists tend to assume that there is either onegrand narrative or just a lot of mini-narratives.
But this is notthe case. It means, rather, that class struggle iswhat is most fundamental to human history. Fundamental in what sense, though? How, for ex-ample, is it more fundamental than the history of religion, terry eagleton 34 Class is not necessarily fun-damental in the sense of providing the strongest motivefor political action. Think of the role of ethnic identity inthat respect, to which Marxism has paid too little regard. Ofequal moral and political importance, or equally importantfor the achievement of socialism?
It does notseem true that if we kicked this foundation away, Buddhism,astrophysics and the Miss World contest would come tum-bling down. They have relatively independent histories oftheir own. So what is class struggle fundamental to? Why Marx Was Right 35 Not quite. We have seenthat this notion is not original to him, any more than theconcept of a mode of production is. What is unique about histhought is that he locks these two ideas—class struggle andmode of production—together, to provide a historical sce-nario which is indeed genuinely new.
Quite how the twoideas go together has been a subject of debate among Marx-ists, and Marx himself hardly waxes eloquent on the point. But if we are in search of what is peculiar to his work, wecould do worse than call a halt here. In essence, Marxism is atheory and practice of long-term historical change.
The trou-ble, as we shall see, is that what is most peculiar to Marxism isalso what is most problematic. Broadly speaking, a mode of production for Marx means thecombination of certain forces of production with certain rela-tions of production. A force of production means any instru-ment by which we go to work on the world in order toreproduce our material life. The idea covers everything thatpromotes human mastery or control over Nature for produc-tive purposes.
Computers are a productive force if they play apart in material production as a whole, rather than just beingused for chatting to serial killers disguised as friendly strang-ers. Donkeys in nineteenth-century Ireland were a produc-tive force.
Human labour power is a productive force. But terry eagleton 36 They are always bound upwith certain social relations, by which Marx means relationsbetween social classes. Marx believes that the productive forces have a ten-dency to develop as history unfolds. This is not to claim thatthey progress all the time, since he also seems to hold that theycan lapse into long periods of stagnation.
The agent of thisdevelopment is whatever social class is in command of mate-rial production. There comes a point, however, when the prevailingsocial relations, far from promoting the growth of the pro-ductive forces, begin to act as an obstacle to them. The tworun headlong into contradiction, and the stage is set for politi-cal revolution. The class struggle sharpens, and a social classcapable of taking the forces of production forward assumespower from its erstwhile masters.
Capitalism, for example,staggers from crisis to crisis, slump to slump, by virtue ofthe social relations it involves; and at a certain point in itsdecline, the working class is on hand to take over the owner-ship and control of production.
At one point in his work,Marx even claims that no new social class takes over until theproductive forces have been developed as far as possible bythe previous one. Why Marx Was Right 37 The case is put most succinctly in the following well-known passage: At a certain stage of their development, the mate- rial productive forces of society enter into con- tradiction with the existing relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression of the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto.
From forms of development of the productive forces, these rela- tions turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. For onething, why does Marx assume that by and large the produc-tive forces keep evolving? This is because as a species we aresomewhat rational but also mildly indolent, and thus inclinedto be labour-saving.
It is these factors which determine thatsupermarket checkout queues are always roughly the samelength. Having invented e-mail, we are unlikely to revert toscratching on rocks. We also have the ability to transmit suchadvances to future generations.
Technological knowledge israrely lost, even if the technology itself is destroyed. But this isso broad a truth that it does not serve to illuminate very terry eagleton 38 It does not explain, for example, why the forces ofproduction evolve very rapidly at certain times but may stag-nate for centuries at others.
Whether or not there is majortechnological development depends on the prevailing socialrelations, not on some built-in drive. They take issue with the assumption that every modeof production must be followed by a more productive one. Whether these Marxists include Marx himself is a contestablepoint. Those forces, after all, are not someghostly personage able to survey the social scene and summona particular candidate to their aid. Ruling classes do not ofcourse promote the productive forces out of altruism, anymore than they seize power for the express purpose of feedingthe hungry and clothing the naked.
Instead, they tend topursue their own material interests, reaping a surplus fromthe labour of others. The idea, however, is that in doing sothey unwittingly advance the productive forces as a whole,and along with them at least in the long run the spiritual aswell as material wealth of humanity. They foster resourcesfrom which the majority in class-society are shut out, but in Why Marx Was Right 39 Marx clearly thinks that material wealth can damageour moral health.
Even so, he does not see a gulf betweenthe moral and the material, as some idealist thinkers do. Inhis view, the unfurling of the productive forces involves theunfolding of creative human powers and capacities.
In onesense, history is not at all a tale of progress. Instead, we lurchfrom one form of class-society, one kind of oppression andexploitation, to another. Human beings as a whole will come into this inheri-tance in the communist future; but the process of building itup is inseparable from violence and exploitation.
But the process of ac-cumulation itself involves excluding the great majority ofmen and women from enjoying its fruits. The endis at odds with the means: You cannot have a decent relationship ifyou are starving. Every extension of human communicationbrings with it new forms of community and fresh kinds ofdivision. New technologies may thwart human potential, butthey can also enhance it. Modernity is not to be mindlesslycelebrated, but neither is it to be disdainfully dismissed.
Itspositive and negative qualities are for the most part aspectsof the same process. This is why only a dialectical approach,one which grasps how contradiction is of its essence, can doit justice.
What accounts for this odd consistency over vast stretches ofhistorical time? Anyway, is it not possible to overthrow adominant class while it is still in its prime, if the politicalopposition is powerful enough? Do we really have to waituntil the productive forces falter?
And might not the growth Why Marx Was Right 41 It is true that with the growth of the productiveforces, workers tend to become more skilled, well-organised,educated and perhaps politically self-assured and sophisti-cated; but for the same reason there may also be more tanks,surveillance cameras, right-wing newspapers and modes ofoutsourcing labour around.
New technologies may forcemore people into unemployment, and thus into political in-ertia. In any case, whether a social class is ripe to make arevolution is shaped by a lot more than whether it has thepower to promote the forces of production. Class capacitiesare moulded by a whole range of factors.
A change of social relations cannot simply be explainedby an expansion of the productive forces. Nor do pathbreak-ing changes in the productive forces necessarily result in newsocial relations, as the Industrial Revolution might illustrate. The same productive forces can coexist with different sets ofsocial relations. Stalinism and industrial capitalism, for exam-ple. When it comes to peasant agriculture from ancient timesto the modern age, a wide range of social relations and formsof property has proved possible.
Or the same set of socialrelations might foster different kinds of productive forces. Think of capitalist industry and capitalist agriculture. Pro- terry eagleton 42 The truth is thateach stage of development of the productive forces opens upa whole range of possible social relations, and there is noguarantee that any one set of them will actually come about.
Neither is there any guarantee that a potential revolution-ary agent will be conveniently on hand when the historicalcrunch comes. Sometimes there is simply no class around thatcould take the productive forces further, as happened in thecase of classical China.
Even so, the connection between forces and relations isan illuminating one. Among other things, it allows us torecognize that you can only have certain social relations if theproductive forces have evolved to a certain extent. If somepeople are to live a lot more comfortably than others, youneed to produce a sizeable economic surplus; and this is pos-sible only at a certain point of productive development.
Youcannot sustain an immense royal court complete with min-strels, pages, jesters and chamberlains if everyone has to herdgoats or grub for plants all the time just to survive. Class comes about whenever materialproduction is so organised as to compel some individuals totransfer their surplus labour to others in order to survive.
When there is little or no surplus, as in so-called primitive Why Marx Was Right 43 Later, there is enoughof a surplus to fund classes like feudal lords, who live by thelabour of their underlings. Only with capitalism can enoughsurplus be generated for the abolition of scarcity, and thus ofsocial classes, to become possible. But only socialism can putthis into practice. It is not clear, however, why the productive forces shouldalways triumph over the social relations—why the latter seemso humbly deferential to the former.
Besides, the theory doesnot seem to accord with the way that Marx actually portraysthe transition from feudalism to capitalism, or in some respectsfrom slavery to feudalism. It is also true that the same socialclasses have often persisted in power for centuries despite theirinability to promote productive growth.
Nothing seems able to resist the onward march of theproductive forces. History works itself out by an inevitableinternal logic. This is a metaphysical vision with a vengeance. Yet it isnot a simpleminded scenario of Progress. But theprice we pay for this is a horrifying one. Every advance of the terry eagleton 44 If it brings in its wake new possibilities of emanci-pation, it also arrives coated in blood.
He was well aware of the terrible cost ofcommunism. It is true there is also class struggle, which would seemto suggest that men and women are free. It is hard to seethat strikes, lockouts and occupations are dictated by someprovidential force. But what if this very freedom was, soto speak, preprogrammed, already factored into the unstop-pable march of history? There is an analogy here with theChristian interplay between divine providence and humanfree will.
For the Christian, I act freely when I strangle thelocal police chief; but God has foreseen this action from alleternity, and included it all along in his plan for humanity.
Hedid not force me to dress up as a parlour maid last Friday andcall myself Milly; but being omniscient, he knew that I would,and could thus shape his cosmic schemes with the Milly busi-ness well in mind. When I pray to him for a smarter-lookingteddy bear than the dog-eared, beer-stained one who sleepson my pillow at present, it is not that God never had theslightest intention of bestowing such a favour on me but then,on hearing my prayer, changed his mind.
God cannot changehis mind. It is rather that he decides from all eternity to giveme a new teddy bear because of my prayer, which he has alsoforeseen from all eternity. In one sense, the coming of the Why Marx Was Right 45 There is a similar interplay between freedom and in-evitability in Marx. He sometimes seems to think that classstruggle, though in one sense free, is bound to intensify undercertain historical conditions, and that at times its outcome canbe predicted with certainty.
Take, for example, the questionof socialism. Marx appears to regard the advent of socialismas inevitable. He says so more than once. If this were so, why shouldhe urge the need for political struggle? If socialism really isinevitable, one might think that we need do no more thanwait for it to arrive, perhaps ordering curries or collectingtattoos in the meanwhile.
Historical determinism is a recipefor political quietism. In the twentieth century, it played a keyrole in the failure of the communist movement to combatfascism, assured as it was for a time that fascism was no morethan the death rattle of a capitalist system on the point ofextinction. One might claim that whereas for the nineteenthcentury the inevitable was sometimes eagerly expected, this is terry eagleton 46 Marx does not think that the inevitability of socialismmeans we can all stay in bed.
Theywill recognize that it is in their interests to change the system,and that, being a majority, they also have the power to do so. So they will act as the rational animals they are and establishan alternative.
Why on earth would you drag out a wretchedexistence under a regime you are capable of changing to youradvantage? Why would you let your foot itch intolerablywhen you are able to scratch it?
Just as for the Christianhuman action is free yet part of a preordained plan, so forMarx the disintegration of capitalism will unavoidably leadmen and women to sweep it away of their own free will.
He is talking, then, about what free men and womenare bound to do under certain circumstances. But this issurely a contradiction, since freedom means that there isnothing that you are bound to do.
You are not bound todevour a succulent pork chop if your guts are being wrenchedby agonizing hunger pains. As a devout Muslim, you mightprefer to die. If there is only one course of action I can pos-sibly take, and if it is impossible for me not to take it, then inthat situation I am not free.
Capitalism may be teetering onthe verge of ruin, but it may not be socialism that replaces it. Why Marx Was Right 47 It may be fascism, or barbarism. Perhaps the working classwill be too enfeebled and demoralized by the crumbling ofthe system to act constructively.
Or—a possibility that he could not fully anticipate—thesystem might fend off political insurrection by reform. Socialdemocracy is one bulwark between itself and disaster. He seems to have believed thatcapitalist prosperity can only be temporary; that the systemwill eventually founder; and that the working class will theninevitably rise up and take it over.
Marx did nothave Fox News and the Daily Mail to reckon with. There is, of course, another future one can envisage,namely no future at all. Marx could not foresee the possibilityof nuclear holocaust or ecological catastrophe. Or perhaps theruling class will be brought low by being hit by an asteroid, afate that some of them might regard as preferable to socialistrevolution.