“If This Is Marxism Then I Am Not A Marxist” – What Would Karl Think Of The PRC Claiming His 200th Birthday?

By   /   May 13, 2018  /   5 Comments

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It kinda amuses me, kinda infuriates me how much of a big deal the People’s Republic of China’s been making in relation to Marx’s birthday over the weekend.

It kinda amuses me, kinda infuriates me how much of a big deal the People’s Republic of China‘s been making in relation to Marx’s birthday over the weekend.

I mean, even leaving aside Marx’s own thoughts about how the “Asiatic Mode of Production” didn’t really fit into his model of historical-economic-political progression … and therefore was *extra* inapplicable for dialectical materialism leading to communism therein ….

the plain fact of the matter is that the PRC *consciously and deliberately* jettisoned Marxist dogma and Marx’s own thought at a number of points in its relatively short history.

I forget the precise date, but at some point in the iirc mid-1950s, Marxism [admitedy in Soviet-esque inflection for official purposes] was pointedly replaced by “Mao-Thought” … which, some might argue, bore about as much resemblance to the Marxist theory it claimed to be derived from as Nu Metal does to Black Sabbath.

The reasons for this movement are multifaceted, and do include “political” considerations related to the escalating Sino-Soviet Split … but at their core, boil down to a combination of it being blatantly obvious just how inapplicable Marx’s own thinking was to the ongoing “progress” of the Maoist “revolution” and presumably a certain helping of Mao’s own overblown ego-ism.

Some decades later, it happened again as a part of the Deng-ist shift towards the entirely oxymoronical “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” – which, while it might very well have been Chinese, had and has precious little to do with “Socialism” .. and even *less* to do with Marx.

This all results in a modern state of affairs wherein the Chinese state somewhat breathlessly claiming in gifts of statuary etc. to be Marx’s ideological heirs … is instead operating its system as pretty much the *opposite* of what Marx would have approved of – a paradigm of pretty seriously repressive capitalism buttressed by constant outbursts of jingoism and militant imperialism that keeps inexorably arching towards #FullNeoliberalism #InOurTime.

I mean seriously. If you want to do the intellectual contortionisms required to try and say that the modern PRC is Marxist … then you’re basically left concluding that anything which intentionally presides over economic growth and development is “Marxist”.

And, to be fair, that’s kinda how *some* of the thinking behind the Great Leap Forward supposedly went. When it wasn’t a shoddy-steel dick-measuring contest with Great Britain or carrying out mass-purges of Mao’s despised natural enemy .. the sparrow.

But the trouble is that while you *can* argue that advancing economic conditions from feudalism through to capitalism [or, if we’re disregarding the whole “Asiatic Mode of Production” thing … from whatever to Capitalism], and from thence to *higher* capitalism, according to Marx’s own schema *might* make the “inevitable” revolution more plausible coz advancing internal contradictions and suchlike driving the whole thing to breaking point …

… the slight issue here is that if the authority [I hesitate to call it a “revolutionary body”] propelling the economic shifts is *also* brutally repressing any actual attempt to turn the popular harm and discontent of these economic “advancements” into an actual political movement to overturn them and seize the means of production etc. (which are handily now often in a number of wealthy groups and individuals’ hands rather than being even “nationalized” much less “socialized” over there), then it is pretty difficult ot meaningfully claim that what you’re doing is somehow “Marxist” rather than “Get-Rich-Quick-Ist” – or simply “Capitalism with Marxist MSG-ing” or something.

This is particularly the case given a) the huge over-emphasis upon Cults of Personality (and one in particular) that have characterized the Chinese political experience for a pretty big swathe of the past century; b) the aforementioned uber-strong emphasis upon regime security and political repression – things anathema to Marx’s own life, as it happens, even notwithstanding the vital necessity of either an open space for dissension or an escalating ineffectiveness of repression for a Revolution to actually forment and occur; and c) the fact that the overarching ‘outcome’ of all of this appears very much to *not* be a universal uprising of Proletariat – but instead, a resurrection of the old Confucian concept of the “Mandate of Heaven”, and the gradual expansion of this sphere (possibly a “co-prosperity” one) to encompass a pretty broad swathe of the globe under either direct Chinese suzerainty (c.f their territorial claims on India, for instance), or indirect economic neo-colonialism (c.f their relations with a number of less-well-off and less-independent countries including to a certain extent our own New Zealand). Something that is part and parcel bound up with d) a strenuous effort to manufacture what an older generation of Marxists would have rightfully termed “false class consciousness” in order to stave *off* any deposing of the capitalist-coercive regime in power in Beijing or elsewhere; which is e) itself not a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, still less even a Lenninist “Vanguard Party” – but rather an establishment network of technocratic managerialist damn well mandarins … that represent the *actual* salient force and engine in Chinese politics and political economy rather than the vague and impersonal “class struggle” – and that’s without even getting into how f) the “class” dimension has moved from “let’s build an industrial proletariat or something” through to “let’s get a middle class and some seriously well off people happening” instead [there’s another discursion somewhere about Marx’s failure to properly predict “The Middle Class” as a thing .. but THAT IS ANOTHER STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME]

Now don’t get me wrong – there’s much to look at in China’s last few decades of history and self-authored economic development which is … pretty impressive. Particularly if you don’t really care about any human costs that might have been borne in the process.

And from a certain perspective, it would be perhaps difficult to fault the PRC from acting in its own self-interest and managing to take China from the decaying post-Qing quasi-colonized ruins of the early half of the 20th century … through to an emergent Great Power fully capable of carrying out many of the same antics which the (predominantly) European metropoles wrought upon the world at large (and China in particular, funnily enough) over the previous three hundred years or so.

Ironic, arguably, but that’s the nature of history and international relations. A bitter joke from the perspective of the less-powerful and a richly rewarding punch-line for the Ascendent among the assembled chorus of states.

But whatever its relative merits or shortcomings as a system and a project, I do not believe that it is in any meaningful way “Marxist” – so much as almost the opposite, a “mirror image” say (hence why everything is *exactly the wrong way round* while still possessing similar shape to the passive observer).

In fact, it seems rather hard to escape the supposition that we know very well how Marx himself would have reacted and responded to the PRC attempting to claim his legacy as their own.

In 1883, not long before his death, Karl Marx penned a missive to two French socialists who claimed to be acting in his ideology’s name … first calling them out for “revolutionary phrase-mongering” in lieu of actual, meaningful pro-Worker activity (a charge which seems peculiarly relevant to the People’s Republic of China whenever it chooses to LARP as a “revolutionary front” or whatever – although this aptness of a phrase is perhaps somewhat ironic given what Marx was actually critiquing Guesde and Lafargue on at the time was their opposition to “reformism” within a capitalist context), and then bluntly stating that if what these guys were doing was Marxism, then “what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist”.

Good thing, too.

Because i’m *pretty sure* that being a dissident journalist slash philosopher publishing frequent and passionate exhortations to building a better and more just society … is the sort of thing that gets you placed under indefinite house-arrest or in several peoples’ bodies one organ at a time over in the PRC these days.

And it would be *quite* a shame to lose him!

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  1. Castro says:

    Hmm… he’s dead, who knows? What do No Zealanders think and feel about the PRC claiming their whole country? Hmmm…

  2. LOLBAGZ says:

    LARPing false reflections better than the other guy seems to be the game these days unfortunately

  3. Cemetery Jones says:

    Marx wouldn’t have lived long in any society which attempted to implement his theories.

    • Strypey says:

      True, but that’s because despite his brilliance as a political economist, Marx’s grasp on the political strategy required to act effective on his political-economic insights was … well … naive, bordering on magical thinking. Marx and Bakunin (among others) argued bitterly over whether Marx’s proposal for vanguard parties seizing the state would lead to communism (via state socialism) or new forms of anti-worker repression. History shows quite clearly that Marx was wrong about this, and the PRC is as good an example as any.

      Not that Bakunin’s equally wingnut theories about “propaganda by the deed” (convincing people to fight for a communist future by robbing banks, assassinating capitalists, and blowing stuff up) were any better. The Weather Underground, the Baader-Meinhof Red Army Fraction, and the Shining Path all illustrate the elitism and futility of trying to fight a violently repressive, extractive political-economy with tools of violent repression and economic extraction.

      I think folks like Jeremy Rifkin, Silke Helfrich, Yochai Benkler, Marjorie Kelly, and Charles Eisenstein have a better grasp on how real communism (voluntary cooperation around commons) is growing organically out of the composting heap of surveillance capitalism and corporate stalinism.