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87 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Once again, the time has come to take Marx seriously', 13 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (Hardcover)
I think the cover and title of this book are a bit misleading. The book certainly doesn't contain any blueprint for 'changing the world'. What it does contain is a collection of essays written between 1956 and 2009, most never previously published before in English, many considerably extended, that provide a history of both Marx and Marxism.

The book is divided into two sections. Part 1 is entitled 'Marx and Engels' and consists of 'Marx Today', 'Marx, Engels and pre-Marxian Socialism', 'Marx, Engels and Politics', 'On Engels' The Condition of the Working Class', 'On the Communist Manifesto', 'Discovering the Grundrisse', 'Marx on pre-Capitalist Formations' and 'The Fortunes of Marx's and Engels' Writings'.

Part 2 - 'Marxism' - includes 'Dr Marx and the Victorian Critics', 'The Influence of Marxism 1880-1914', 'In the Era of Anti-fascism 1929-45', 'Gramsci', 'The Reception of Gramsci', 'The Influence of Marxism 1945-83', 'Marxism in Recession 1983-2000' and finally 'Marx and Labour: the Long Century'.

I have to admit I found some of the essays pretty hard work. 'The Fortunes of Marx's and Engels' Writings' looks at the publication histories of the works, how they have developed (for example, the MEGA or 'Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe' projects), the changing fates of the works in relation to the rise and fall of communist states and parties. A bit dry.

But, on the other hand, the second essay, 'Marx, Engels and pre-Marxian Socialism', is a fascinating contextualisation of the thoughts of Marx and Engels. Generally, as Hobsbawm points out, 'the origins can be found in French socialism, German philosophy and British political economy' (P34). Looking at these in some detail well illustrates the foundations of Marx's and Engels' thoughts.

The second section I found generally much more interesting. The essay 'In the Era of Anti-fascism 1929-45' considers how the growth of Marxism in the 'Age of Catastrophe' was a response to the Great Depression and the rise of fascism. As Hobsbawm says 'The radicalisation of intellectuals in the 1930s was rooted in a response to the traumatic crisis of capitalism in the early years of this decade' (P266) and '...the threat of fascism was far more than merely political...If fascism stamped out Marx, it equally stamped out Voltaire and John Stuart Mill.' (P268)

The two essays on Gramsci are also fascinating, partly because of the ideas themselves but also as an illustration of the way Marx's ideas can be developed, extended and modified. And, in the same way that Marx's ideas have spread, the developments of those ideas might also be propagated.

In 'The Influence of Marxism 1945-83', Hobsbawm charts the intellectual impact of Marxism. As he says, 'There are not many thinkers whose name alone suggests major transformations of the human intellectual universe. Marx is among them, together with such figures as Newton, Darwin and Freud.' (P347)

This was a period that saw huge increases in secondary and university education, the radical movements of the 1960s, the synthesis of Marxist ideas with structuralism, psychoanalysis, existentialism (think Althusser, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, the Frankfurt School et al). But this explosion of Marxian theory perhaps held within it the seeds of it's own destruction. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of radical neo-liberal economics, post-modern relativism are all considered in 'Marxism in Recession 1983-2000'.

The final section brings things almost right up-to-date. If Marxism has been discredited, so too has capitalism in its latest crisis. Hobsbawm suggests that '[s]ince the 1980s it has been evident that the socialists...were left without their traditional alternative to capitalism...But the believers in the 1973-2008 reductio ad absurdum of market society are also left helpless. A systematic alternative system may not be on the horizon, but the possibility of a disintegration, even a collapse, of the existing system is no longer to be ruled out.' (P418)

Hobsbawm points out that we have not reached 'The End of History'. Marxist-based analyses can still be productive and are still being produced - think of David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital. It is becoming increasingly clear that capitalism as it is currently constituted is not sustainable, in all senses of the word. As such, Hobsbawm's book serves as a timely reminder of the history, the depth and sophistication of Marx's analyses and perhaps provides a pointer to the future of Marxist inspired thought and action.

Interestingly, a young Egyptian protester in Tahrir Square, interviewed by Jeremy Paxman a couple of days ago, claimed she was a 'revolutionary socialist'...
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Feb 2011 22:32:13 GMT
The Wolf says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on 7 Dec 2012 23:46:12 GMT
"[If a successful Soviet Union had actually been created, the loss of 15-20 million people would have been justified]" - Eric Hobsbawm.

No wonder Martin Amis called Hobsbawm a "disgrace".

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Dec 2012 08:16:41 GMT
Diziet says:
While I wouldn't defend that comment by Hobsbawm, I wonder how many people have died to make the world safe for global capitalism.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Dec 2012 19:44:59 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Dec 2012 20:42:47 GMT
Hmmm that's a hard one hard to quantify, since the use of capital is a uniquely Earth-based component of emergence, has been at the heart of value exchanges (quid pro quo) for such a long long time, at least since Homo species (the animal kingdom also use capital in exchanges, though they are not, of course conscious of these drives, unlike us).

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software

Wars are a type of value exchange, bizarrely enough: Homos, then Hom Saps ascribe value to radically different things that other Hom saps find peculiar/distasteful, and yet people do. One man's meat and so on. The greatest capital are perhaps those basic essential types that helps species of all kinds resist entropy and dissolution: Food, shelter, sex (exchange of genome), nurturing (F), protection (M) and so on.

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Penguin Press Science)

The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition

That is not to say that capital is a benign, nor malefic part of the quid pro quo "mechanism" (for want of a better word), it is neither - capital, as a neutral, can be used in exchange for good or ill, morally or imorally, depending of course on what each person ascribes value to, by value I mean not 'scruples' sense but what we as humans ascribe greater or lesser worth or what we move towards & away from. Pleasure/pain, Life/Entropy, Satiety/Hunger being obvious ones. A peculiar ethical example is a partnership of a sadist & masochist - perfect pairing - each to their own. One man's vice is another's virtue as it were.

The Logic Of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything

One might include Love/Hate with that quid pro quo value exchange if not for the realisation that many value Hate more than Love, if only for reasons that perhaps it is more familiar, easier or a comfort zone. Hating and tribalism of socio-political classisms and other 'isms' in particular is easy, being hard-wired into our Reptillian cortex, Love is a harder capital, as it involves a degree of (unconscious) planning and higher cortex empathy, and for want of a better word "humanity". As they say in Swahili "Ubuntu".

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Dec 2012 08:34:41 GMT
Last edited by the author on 9 Dec 2012 08:35:46 GMT
Diziet says:
That all sounds like a depressing re-statement of social Darwinism. Which, to my mind, misses a large part of what it means to be human. We are fundamentally a social species, with everything that that implies.

Additionally, I think you are conflating money with capitalism. Money was a means of exchange. But with the development of capitalism, money became an end in itself - it became both a means of exchange and a commodity. See, for example, The End of Finance. (And, of course, Capital: Critique of Political Economy v. 1).

I was also talking about the rise of global capitalism. As I have written elsewhere, Skidelsky pére et fils suggest that the pre-capitalist values saw usury and avarice as evils, but capitalism was 'founded on a Faustian pact'. (P68) "it was agreed that these sins were acceptable for the time being in order to release the productive powers of capitalism, on the understanding that once having 'lifted humanity out of poverty', the evils would be banished." But the conversion of 'needs' into 'wants' has prevented this.

Global capitalism first came to the fore with the so-called 'Gilded Age', the British Empire and the rise of the US and I doubt anyone would claim that that was a bloodless revolution.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Feb 2013 09:34:44 GMT
D. A. Besser says:
Where does the quote from Hobsbawm come from?

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Feb 2013 10:03:23 GMT
Diziet says:
Hi D.A. B. - all quotes are from the book.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Feb 2013 10:15:06 GMT
D. A. Besser says:
"[If a successful Soviet Union had actually been created, the loss of 15-20 million people would have been justified]" - Eric Hobsbawm.

The above quote is the one I was talking about

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Feb 2013 10:51:27 GMT
Diziet says:
A quick google search comes up with the following:

Specifically, from an interview with Michael Ignatieff:

Ignatieff: In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?

Hobsbawm: ...'Probably not.'

Ignatieff: Why?

Hobsbawm: Because in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing... The sacrifices were enormous; they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I'm looking back at it now and I'm saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I'm not sure.

Ignatieff: What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?

Hobsbawm: Yes.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Sep 2013 14:45:50 BDT
it's also worth putting that comment into a more fixtured context; a successful soviet union was never going to be possible 'as it was' under the perverted system of stalinism and was doomed to fail; ive no doubt hobsbawm in his answer is referring to the soviet union as it has been in 1917 and 'as it should have been' according to pure marx which hobsbawm believed in.

ive also no doubt that 15-20 million deaths would not have occured without stalinism - for me the question is contradictory.
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