Right keep Marxist flame alight

I confess that in younger days I became angry with ‘right wing’ politicians and their backers, not sometimes over specific policies, but for acting in ways seeming calculated to endorse a narrowly Marxist (one could say ‘vulgar Marxist’) class conflict view of the world. Through support for dictatorships in central and Latin America, stamping on trade unions rather than just isolating militant bigots, and in many other ways the very people who claimed to be fighting socialism and Marxist ideology were, so it seemed to me, conferring the mantle of truth on what the proclaimed enemies had to say. In addition, of course, to any moral revulsion one might have to what they were doing.

Latterly, my respect for the German sorcerer who can enlist his antagonists, not merely in support of his traditional case as put in Capital and the critique of political economy generally, but also to update his legacy, has grown further as the so-called ‘neoliberal revolution’ has progressed, in some ways like an infection. To begin with, in apparently solving the inflation and urban decay crises of the 1970s the New Right helped to restore the rate of profit which had been declining, thereby helping to support a Marxist analysis. It is now notorious that income inequality, having declined between the 1920s and the 1970s, has been widening again (especially in the Anglo-Saxon world) despite the more informal nature of most social relationships in the last 50 years. And now that we have instead a debt crisis, with central bankers actually trying to stir up some inflation (!) and no one knowing how to deal with debt in a long term, except shuffle it around (‘austerity’ means squeezing the public sector not the private), it has become more sensible to wonder whether capitalism can survive now than any other time since the 1930s.

It is more than a century since Lenin declared that imperialism was the last stage of capitalism, and 80 years since fascism was accorded the same distinction by communist campaigners. Indeed, those memories still give encouragement to the capitalist apologists who bang on about how adaptive capitalism has proved to be. So it is, but aided by the New Right of Thatcher/Reagan vintage and now by neoliberal marketeers, Marxists can also be adaptive with their critique. Of course, offering a better future after the critique is a different matter, but the one thing ideologists of all colours have in common is being better at pointing out the failings of their opponents than in building a reliable alternative.

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