Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Scientific Socialism for the dull

Roy Hattersley, former UK Labour Party minister, recently reviewed a new biography of Engels, "The Frock-Coated Communist" in The Guardian newspaper. Hattersley freely admits he finds Engels Anti-Duhring/Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, unintelligible, and then quotes from it
"Engels wrote that when the means of production become state property, "the proletariat abolishes itself as a proletariat, abolishes all class distinction and class antagonism, abolishes also the State as a State". I am still not sure how the thought-process that concludes with this fantasy can be called scientific rather than utopian"
Now as former Labour Party minister he should know all about how control of state property can still leave the working class fucked over. And its probably no accident that he leaves out a key part of the Engels quote, that it is the proletariat that turns the means of production into state property after seizing political power. That is to say that the proletariat itself should control the means of production and that the act of revolution should be the act of the working class itself.

The only fantasy at work here is possibly the idea that the Labour Party in government means that the proletariat runs the country. The Tories stopped trumpeting that obvious fallacy quite sometime ago, and I'm positive that the Labour Party itself no longer believes it, if it ever did. What I wanted to take task with however is the idea of scientific socialism that Hattersley feels free to parody without understanding.

For Engels, actually, scientific socialism was based on two principles. Firstly that history changes, and is explained by, material forces and political/economic contradictions rather than ideologies. Secondly that Capitalism was based on exploitation of workers on one hand, and reliance on them as consumers on the other, a contradiction bound to lead periodically into crisis. I would have thought the current economic crisis would be enough to suggest there was something fundamentally correct about Marx and Engel's analysis.

Instead of regurgitating the high ideology of the Cold War, that the Soviet Union proves that socialism will never work, Hattersley ought to look at whether it really was a test of the principles. In fact the idea that socialism can exist in one relatively backward country in the face of aggression from the rest of the world runs diametrically opposed to what Marx and Engels argued would be necessary - that it must be an international system with no military and economic competition and that it must be based on 'advanced' capitalism. It is no surprise that the USSR after being blockaded and invaded on all sides became a place where communism was not possible.

It is welcome however to see the revival of interest in Marx and Engels, a tendency not unrelated to the present round of capitalist war and crisis.

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