Is Marxism a dead ideology?

Marxism is often thought of as a 'dead ideology', with the fall of the Soviet Union cited as empirical proof that it has been tried, tested and found wanting.

This is a remarkable misreading of what Marxism, and other political philosophies and ideologies, actually are.

Political ideologies and philosophies are best understood as tendencies, often grouped around a distinctive reading of history or central principles that help organise and interpret information about the world around us.

The word "Marxism" itself reflects the human impulse to simplify and personalise complex bodies of thought. Karl Marx was operating within the context of a wider European intellectual movement, loosely labelled Socialism, and had contemporaries, such as Bakunin, who had significant political legacies themselves.

A critical contribution made by Marx was an enduring critique of Capitalism, some aspects of which, especially the theory of forced extraction of surplus labour, remain extremely influential today.

It is important not to see this critique as static, although Marx's was bound in a time-period, his critique birthed an evolving and dynamic corpus of critical study, one which is as relevant and changing as its subject, Capitalism.

Once we separate out "Marxism" from the wider intellectual tendency of "Socialism", we still struggle to identify a discreet ideology as understood as a implementable political program.

Rather than seeing the Soviet Union as "Marxism in practice", it is better seen as a State project inspired by Marx, as interpreted, adapted and implemented by Lenin (an intellectual in his own right) in an economic and social context never anticipated by Marx himself, who was focused on the advanced capitalist societies of Western Europe.

So we are left with Marxism as an internally diverse worldview, an enduring critique of Capitalism and principles for societal analysis. Two central principles can be discerned as particularly central, a materialistic understanding of the progression of history and a dialectic view of social transformation.

These Marxist principles have an influence far beyond the realm of politics, they still affect our readings of history, of culture and cultural criticism, of art and literature and even archaeology. Individuals working in these fields use Marxism as a useful critical perspective divorced from the existence, or non-existence, of a state-sanctioned form of Marxism.

In conclusion, we can see Marxism was not born in isolation as a political programme or 'ideology' in the narrow sense. It was born as a critique of a developing form of capitalism and out of the wider Socialist intellectual movement, evolving alongside both.

It has had an enduring influence on many different fields of human endeavour, its legacy, like all philosophies, is fiercely contested even as it continues to evolve.


No comments:

Post a Comment