May 01, 12
Read from April 29 to May 01, 2012
This is the first book by Marx that I cannot rank highly. Marx has a notorious reputation for belittling anarchists, and wasting too much time on responding to less worthy opponents, instead of developing his own theories. There are even rumors and notions that had Marx solely done his own work, and stopped wasting time in rhetorical matches to the philosophic death, he may have finished all his intended volumes of Capital. We’ll never know, but this is certainly one of those books that gave Marx this nasty reputation.
The first half of the book is like watching Einstein mock grade schoolers for their poor math performance. Yes, Marx is that much superior to Proudhon, but instead of merely proving him wrong, and revealing the error of his ways, perhaps even offering a helping hand and guidance, Marx proceeds to bury him six feet under, and place a dunce cap on his philosophical grave stone. In a letter to a friend Marx even remarks that this reply/book, ruined their friendship forever. Some friendship…
Economically, there’s little here that is not stated clearer, and with more depth in Capital, EP Manuscripts, and Wage Labor and Profit. Moreover, the chapters dealing with metaphysics and philosophy are very cursory glances into Marx’s clearer theory of historical materialism, as found in The German Ideology.
However the book warrants three stars for two reasons. First it dispels the myth that Marx saw history as a teleological process whereby communism was inevitable and the light at the end of the tunnel. Two, he mirrors a critique anarcho-primitivist have been moving towards (I’m thinking of Derrick Jensen, DGR, and John Zerzan).
Proudhon develops his own dialectic whereby everything in history has a good side and a bad side. Marx quips about the good side to slavery, in typical sarcasm. Proudhon also believes that the tensions between the good and the bad are inevitably leading to equality. All history for Hegel is the realization of the absolute, and for Proudhon, it’s the realization of equality. Marx spends ample time refuting this view. Thus, Marx does not see history as a trajectory towards equality as he has been accused of doing.
The second praise worth point is summed up in a quote, where Marx sees civilization as the falling point of humanity, and not its rise into progress: “The very moment civilization begins, production begins to be founded on the antagonism of orders, estates, classes, and finally on the antagonism of accumulated labor and actual labor. No antagonism, no progress. This is the law that civilization has followed up to our days. Till now the productive forces have been developed by virtue of this system of class antagonisms.”
Overall, read Marx’s other works, this isn’t a very good one. Unless you’re like me, and just want to read everything he wrote, including the lousy stuff…