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Vision or Mirage: Three Myths of Marx's Post-Capitalist Dream

myths-marxAn Interview with Peter Hudis

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At the 2012 Left Forum in New York City, author and teacher Peter Hudis joined other scholars in a panel entitled ‘Alternatives to Capitalism: Ecological, Economic, Political’ to identify immediate tasks for activists interested in identifying a vision for an alternative to capitalism.

Hudis prefaced his talk by arguing that, “the absence of a viable alternative to existing capitalism has proven to be one of the most powerful weapons in capitalism’s effort to ideologically and practically disarm today’s social movements.”

To help move us towards envisioning such an alternative, he tackles a piece by Phil Gasper to look at three commonly held myths of about socialism that continue to misguide and misshape contemporary revolutionaries’ concept of post-capitalist society:

  • Myth #1: Marx theorized that there is a distinct socialist phase of history in which the working class assumes political power over an essentially Capitalist mode of production, and this phase precedes a communist classless period of history.
  • Myth #2: In a socialist mode of production, individuals are rewarded according to their work output.
  • Myth #3: Capitalist markets for the exchange of some goods will continue into Socialism.

Hudis concludes that for Marx, transforming capitalism into socialism is contingent on eliminating value production. These myths about the nature of socialism don’t accomplish that, and if they continue to dominate our thinking about socialism, we will head towards either Social Democracy or State Capitalism, either of which can characterize nearly all socialist experiments of the 20th Century.

Peter Hudis is an organizer for the Chicago-based News & Letters collective, and co-editor of The Power of Negativity, a collection of Raya Dunayevskaya’s writings on dialectic. He is the author of"Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism" (Brill) and general editor of "The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg" (Verso Books). He teaches philosophy at Loyola University Chicago and Oakton Community College.

Much appreciation to Amy Pickering for her transcription and copy-editing work!

Excerpt from Peter Hudis on the First Myth of Marx's Vision of a Post-Capitalist Future:

“This piece by Phil Gasper notes by saying the following about Marx, and I’m quoting him, “It is impossible for a classless society to emerge immediately after a revolution. A revolution takes state power away from the old ruling classes, but the classes that existed before the day of the revolution will exist on the day after the revolution.” Now, what he means by this is that classes are not going to disappear within a minute or a week after a social revolution, and I don’t think anyone can argue with the claim.

“But Gasper goes a bit further, however, by identifying this post-revolutionary stage in which classes still exist as socialism. He writes “In this sense, socialism coincides with the dictatorship of the proletariat,” that is, with workers power and a radically democratic state. Communism, on the other hand, refers to a fully classless society that will emerge after a potentially lengthy period of development.

“I mention this here because it’s a rather standard narrative which can be found in Stalinist as well as anti-Stalinist summations of what happens after revolution. However, there’s little or no resemblance to anything Marx himself ever said, so I consider this Myth #1.

“Contrary to Gasper’s statement, Marx nowhere in any of his writings distinguishes between a socialist and a communist stage of history. Marx used the word socialism and communism completely interchangeably in his work … In his later work, Critique of the Gotha Program written at the very end of his life, for instance, Marx speaks of a lower and a higher phase of communism, the first, the lower phase, still bearing the birthmarks of the older society, where the higher phase does not bear those birthmarks. But the notion that Socialism and Communism are distinct stages in history, was alien to Marxist thought because he was really saying a lower and higher phase of socialism.

“Marx never identified the dictatorship of the proletariat, a stage in which the working class assumes political control over society with socialism, he just never did. He wrote in Critique of the Gotha Program “between capitalist and communist (or socialist) society there lies the period the revolutionary transformation from one into the other. Corresponding to this is the political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship or the proletariat."

“Now Marx clearly refers to this dictatorship which, I should add, meant to him NOT the dictatorship of the party on behalf of the workers, but rather the rule over society by the working class as a whole democratically. He explicitly says “this lies between capitalism and socialist or communist society.” The failure to distinguish between the political form of transition, between capitalism and socialism, from socialism itself, is extremely widespread in a lot of discussions on Marx and on contemporary issues, but it has no basis in Marx’s writings.”

 

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