The Early Days of a Better Nation

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Quite spry for a dead white guy

This witty and perceptive 'interview' by Donald Sassoon with the shade of Marx is worth a hundred tedious and tendentious 'introductions'. Of course it's Sassoon speaking, not Marx, but Sassoon is a serious historian and (if I'm not mistaken) former communist. His ventriloquy catches some at least of Marx's authentic timbre.

Here's Karl responding to the same question that every socialist gets asked (usually, in my experience, yelled from a distance of six inches): 'What about Russia?'

[...] What the Bolsheviks were doing was accomplishing the bourgeois revolution that the Russian bourgeoisie was too small and stupid to carry out. The communists used the state to create a modern industrial system. If one must call this the "dictatorship of the proletariat," well, so be it.

DS: But the purges, the crimes, the blood....

KM I did say that capital is born dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.

DS: I mean communism not capitalism.

KM The Russian revolution was not a socialist revolution waged against a capitalist state. It was a revolution against a semi-feudal autocracy. It was about the construction of modern industry, modern society. Industrial revolutions always occur at great cost whether led by communists or pukka bourgeois. Your modern political accountants, as they scavenge through history to make the case for the prosecution, have they totted up the deaths caused by colonialism, and capitalism? Have they added up all the Africans who died in slavery on their way to America? All the American Indians massacred? All the dead of capitalist civil wars? All those killed by the diseases caused by modern industry? All the dead of the two world wars? Of course Stalin and co were criminals. But do you think that Russia would have become a modern industrial power by democratic, peaceful means? Which road to industrialisation has been victimless, and undertaken under a benign system of civil liberties and human rights? Japan? Korea? Taiwan? Germany? Italy? France? Britain and its empire? What were the alternatives to Lenin and Stalin and the red terror? Little Red Riding Hood? The alternative would have been some Cossack-backed antisemitic dictator as cruel and paranoid as Stalin (or Trotsky; frankly I have no preference), far more corrupt and far less efficient.

DS: So was it all inevitable?

KM That I don't know and neither do you. But don't you dare to reproach me with one drop of blood or one writer in jail. May I remind you that I was a political exile because I defended freedom of speech, that I lived all my life in shabby conditions and that I died in 1883 when Lenin was 13 and Stalin four. I could have written a bestselling "Black Book of Capitalism" and listed all the crimes committed in its name. But I did not. I examined its misdeeds dispassionately, in a balanced way as I would examine now those of communism. Much as I like polemic I knew capitalism was better than anything that preceded it and that it could lay the basis for the realm of true freedom, freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from the state, which is what communism is. Take the piece I wrote on the Indian revolt of 1857 in the New York Daily Tribune. English soldiers committed abominations: raping women, roasting whole villages. Did I use this to score some petty points? I did not. Nor did I wax sentimental over the destruction of idyllic native communities. These I denounced as the solid foundations of oriental despotism and tools of superstition. I explained that British imperialism was bringing about a social revolution and celebrated it, but I saw no reason not to lament the devastating effects of English industry on India.

DS: How about your early writings on alienation? The 1844 manuscripts were popular in the 1960s. People saw their relevance to the modern world.

KM Nonsense. The reason I did not publish such stuff is that it was inconsequential claptrap. It is typical that the disaffected petty bourgeois intelligentsia would have lapped this up. I have no time for them.

(Via MaxSpeak)


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