Review: On Marx

5 Star, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

EDIT: I have placed in bold the paragraph everyone is missing.

Alan Ryan

5.0 out of 5 stars Gem of a Book, Author’s Synthesis is Priceless, March 6, 2015

I picked this up at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland (10 times bigger than Tattered Cover in Denver, both worth going out of your way to visit) and it is a GEM of a book in two ways: the author provides a summary overview of Marxism that is hugely beneficial to anyone looking for a sound critique of capitalism as we know it today; and the author has selected a few pieces by Marx to be read in the original.

Peter Linebaugh’s Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance (Spectre) is what forced me to reconsider Marx’s critique of capitalism and I recommend that 2014 publication to anyone who wishes to think critically about capitalism today, with this book as a very fine follow-on.

QUOTE (64): “The modern republic attempts to impose political equality upon an economic inequality it has no way of alleviating.

This is the heart of the matter and I salute the author (Alan Ryan for the clarity of his essay, which is the real value in the book. This informed opinion of his is helpful in evaluating the many excellent works of Richard Wolff, himself an emeritus student of Marxism, I particularly recommend as relevant today his 2012 Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism (City Lights Open Media).

I cannot say enough good things about how ably the author presents the essence of Marxist thinking as it is relevant to our challenges today. He opens with:

QUOTE (13): “The history of political thoughts is in large part a series of answers to the question whether human beings are capable of self government, and if so, under what conditions.”

I confess to only now, at the age of 63, understanding what Charles Bednar was trying to teach us in the 1970’s when he drew contrasts between Plato (no) and Aristotle (yes). In modern times the question has been answered – and the answer awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics, by Elinor Ostrom with her Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions).

My copy of the book is loaded with marginal notations. As a former Libertarian, I have to stand up and take notice of this Libertarian fallacy:

QUOTE (26): “Thus, capitalism was committed to the thought that every individual could own his or her own property, but unless the laborer was propertyless, and separated from the means of production, he or she could not be compelled to work for a capitalist employer.”

As I contemplate the claims and now increasingly evident shortfalls in Austrian economics, it becomes clear that Libertarians have become confused between an ideological fantasy focused on keeping government out of their lives, and the harsh reality that 42 billionaires own the government and the country — including all its lands.

I treasure the author’s gentle discussion of how Marx was great at dissecting capitalism and the Weberian (German fascist top down because I said so) model of government, but he was terrible to the point of being an empty shell, when it came to proposing how things ought to be. The purpose of the state is to maintain order, nurture the economy, and advance society. On this, R. M. McIver’s The Modern State, annoyingly not carried by Amazon, remains “Ref A.” Put most clearly by the author, Marx failed to address the possibilities or process of informed self-governance.

So to be clear, especially since there will surely be those who accuse me now of being a Marxist, Marx’s value is in his brilliant detailed critique of capitalsim (basing the economy on finance and empowering the few over the money), not (NOT) in his errant and somewhat accidental metamorphosis into communism as an alternative means of governance.

Another fascinating observation that the author brings forward — this is also in Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform or Revolution and Other Writings (Dover Books on History, Political and Social Science) that I bought at the same time — is that the welfare state has been a capitalist tool, a means of keeping the masses quiet. Today, as we observe the collapse of the welfare state and the collapse of financial capitalism, I have to conclude that the 1% blew it — had they been willing to continue their disproportionate sharing, they might have lasted forever. It is our good fortune that they became stupid (incest and inherited wealth does that, see Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and greedy).

I am much taken by the author’s concluding thoughts that center on whether the masses can be roused from their inattentiveness and contrived ignorance, and on the possibilities of what my friends Mitch Ratcliff and Jon Lebkowsky call in their book by this title, Extreme Democracy.

This small volume is a treat to read, and absolutely most heartily recommended.

Other books that comes to mind — but see my many lists of lists of book review at Phi Beta Iota’s Reviews Page (and especially my essay and reviews on Democracy Lost) — include:

Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History
SAVAGE CAPITALISM AND THE MYTH OF DEMOCRACY: Latin America in the Third Millennium
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

In short, the rest of us have caught up with Marx. Predatory Capitalism is toxic and unsustainable. While Communism (along with Socialism and Facism) have proven to be just as bad as predatory or plutocratic capitalism, Marx, as an intellect and economists, and others such as the author of this book Rosa Luxemburg, are now recognized by a growing body as having been over a century ahead of their time.

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