Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, April 1, 2011

IT HAS TO GET WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER

We are a very long way from the ebullient youthful confidence of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. A large part of the irresistible attraction of Marx's anatomy of capitalism was his claim that the "laws of motion" of capitalist economy would lead inexorably -- and very soon -- to a socialist revolution. As the decades passed without the promised revolution, true believers took to interpreting each bubble or crash as a sign that the end of capitalism was nigh. Like the early Christians who began by believing that Jesus would come again in their own lifetimes, early Marxists fully expected that they themselves would see the Great Crash out of whose ashes a socialist world would rise. Eventually, socialist theorists took to referring optimistically to the development of international corporate capitalism as "late capitalism," in much the way that Evangelicals refer to our present condition as the "End Times." As each promise has gone unfulfilled, it has become harder and harder to keep the faith. We are allotted only a brief portion of time on this earth, and it takes more courage and faith than most of us can manage to sustain a belief in a better future as the months turn into years, the years into decades, and youth becomes old age. The hope for a socialist America that lives only in my fantasies sustained my grandfather a century ago. Must I bequeath that hope, as a relic from the past, to my grandson who is now only five? Desperation tries to breathe a glow into the dying embers of hope with the pathetic thought that perhaps things must get much worse before they can get any better. But this is cold comfort for atheists like me who have not the consolation of another life. These dark thoughts are inspired by the news that in the great state of Maine, a Republican Governor and legislature are proposing to roll back the child labor laws, which for more than one hundred and sixty years have stood as monument to the very earliest victories of American progressive politics. There is, it seems, no depth of iniquity to which Republicans will not sink, no assault on working men and women that shame will not stay their hand from attempting to carry out. Some of you, in your comments on a previous post, have assured me that the American people are far more progressive than their Representatives, who are bought and paid for by the monied interests. How bad does it have to get before the people rise up? We shall see.

8 comments:

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

I'm always struck by the similarity and analogy between Marxism, which seems so right, and Christianity, which seems so wrong. The latter is said to have no future because it is an illusion, and the former seems to have no future because of the myriad of illusions generated by the capitalist marketing machine. Surely, one of the great ironies of history is that a key founder of marketing, Edward Louis Bernays, was Freud's nephew.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Andrew, welcome, old friend. Is that really true about Bernays? Extraordinary! Sometimes I think there are only about sixty five people in the world, and they are all connected somehow.

Chris said...

Enjoyed the post quite a bit, despite the mildly morose reality.

Having just finished Capital, it seems to me to be less certain than the Manifesto. In the Manifesto there's no doubt there's a feeling of imminent destruction of the Capitalist mode of production. However, in Capital, when Marx warns of the capitalist laws of motion, and how they'll lead to immiseration and possible resolution, he offers numerous caveats. Certain variables like rents, and taxation are to be ignored and/or considered constant. In my opinion, from my one reading, it seems as if old Marx was less certain of the immediacy of destruction that he was certain of years before...And there's no doubt liberals, such as Keynes, have done their best to adapt to the variables Marx offered as caveats.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I think that evaluation is right. Remember that the Manifesto was written just before the explosions of 1848. Their failure must surely have powerfully influenced Marx's estimate of the near-term possibility of revolutionary change. Among other things, it led him, I believe, to give up the view that capitalist social relations are transparently exploitative, and instead argue for the deeply mystified character of capitalism -- which is nineteenth century Hegel-speak for the sort of thing Chomsky is saying now [with some deep analysis thrown in by Marx.]

NotHobbes said...

Forgive me if I am wrong Professor, but didn't revolutions take place throughout Europe in the early part of the 20th century?
Hungarian Revolution 1919
German Revolution 1919
British Mutinies of Russian Civil War 1918-22
General Strike UK 1926(almost led to revolution) and then there was the Paris Commune of 1871.
Europe and the world could have been so very very different had they succeeded

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Of course. I was simply talking about the change in the tone between the writing of the Manifesto [1848] and the publication of CAPITAL [1867].

Chris said...

Thought you, RPW, might be interested in this new book:

http://www.amazon.com/Why-Marx-Right-Terry-Eagleton/dp/0300169434/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301684694&sr=8-1

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have to confess,l I have not been impressed with Eagleton's work, but perhaps he has written a good book.