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Re: the Communist Manifesto: critique
by Trich Ganesh
24 March 2002 02:57 UTC
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Two comments: (1) Marx himself almost never uses the term "capitalism": in volume 1 - the only one of the three (or four) volumes to be published in his lifetime - the term appears almost accidentally, in two (or three) different places; (2) to reject the existence or otherwise of the concept "capitalism" is not to reject as non-existent the effects of processes of capital accumulation that are worldwide and continue to shape and re-shape world history. TKGanesh.

Date sent: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 13:40:10 +0800
To: wsn@csf.colorado.edu
From: kjkhoo@pop.jaring.my
Subject: Re: the Communist Manifesto: critique

At 12:10 PM -0600 16/3/02, Paul Gomberg wrote:
>I would like to echo and reinforce kj khoo's comments.
>When Marx and others denounced capitalism, the denunciation centered on a
>communist vision, a world where human relationships would be unmediated
>by money and markets, where production and human society generally would
>be oriented toward the needs of the working class. Of course, it is
>unfashionable to defend this vision now, but so what?
>I take it that those who reject the word "capitalism" also reject this
>communist vision of how we could live together. What do they propose to
>put in its place?

I do not have any proposals to make, just comforting myself in
ameliorating the life of a person, a family, sometimes even a village
(rarely if ever), here and there, now and again, but just as often
doing more damage than good, because of the very messy facts of
everyday lives and relationships.

But no, I don't think it would be valid to conclude that rejection of
the term "capitalism" necessarily implies rejection of a vision of a
more humane society, of which the communist vision was an instance,
but one which didn't come close to realising its own vision, not even
in its homelands. In comparison, "capitalism", too, might be
considered as another vision of a more humane society which was
thought in contradistinction to what came "before" it, what its
thinkers set their face against, fictional or otherwise, but thought
and experienced to be real enough. In its favour, at the places of
origin of where it was thought, in its homelands, capitalism has had
relatively more success in realising its vision (and as "proof" of
that, one need perhaps go no further than some of the quotes that G
Kohler recently posted from that book on Transnational Terrorism from
a World Systems Perspective), although surely relative success in its
homelands/core/whatever and mostly abject failure elsewhere has
surely had and must have a corrosive effect on it, at least on its
habitues; a sort of barbarians at the gate effect. Not least because
that polarisation is, it would appear, product of a single process;
at least that, as I understand it, is the argument of the various
W(-)S perspectives.

I do think that the idea of all relationships being _completely_
unmediated by money and markets can never have any realisation. At
best, it can serve as a utopian vision, a beacon and a measure of
whether we are going forward or backward (if notions of forward and
backward have some meaning); for that reason alone we need utopias.
But at worst, utopias can have a most pernicious effect, if mistaken
for a goal to be ever realised in actuality. Some relationships are,
even now, at least where I am, unmediated, at least relatively so
(thank goodness); others are not, and have never been. Money and
markets, in one form or another, have been with us for a long, long

But the form we have it in today, and for some time now, does, I
think, seek to swamp all other forms of relationships, at the very
least to colour them severely in its own shades. I guess I have yet
to be convinced, hence am retrograde in that respect, that the form
of the market(s) we have today, while obviously having a history, is
of a piece with the forms we have had previously. Do we have another
term for this form? Don't we need a term to distinguish it? Or should
we just put it all under the same rubric as that night in which all
cats are grey, the only distinguishing criterion being whether one
cat or another catches the mice?

Finally, even if we take it that "capitalism" was a conjuring trick
of the communists and marxists and the soi-disant, having been
conjured into existence, and having triumphed over its conjurors, it
cannot be so easily conjured out of existence. It (yes, a reified
representation, but a shorthand for the fact that it has its
spokespersons, its intellectuals, its carriers and ideologues, and
its denizens) now has a self-image, and a powerful one at that.
Having painstakingly and very successfully built up a whole
infrastructure, particularly in that place where most of you are,
they (another reified notion?) are not about to let the sorcerers, or
would that be the sorceror's apprentices?, snatch victory out of the
jaws of defeat by the "discovery" that there is no such reality as
"capitalism". But, some may already have anticipated such a move when
earlier on, in rejection of the then left's characterisation, they
either suggested it was human nature, or else that it was everywhere
capitalism ever and anon showing how each and every allegedly
distinguishing characteristic is not new, just more sophisticated;
and so it has been with what some contend to be the great innovation
from the 1970s, derivatives, now being discovered in ancient
societies. I suspect that they would be prepared to dispense with the
term, and simply conclude that that's history ever and anon, knowing
full well that for all the storm in the clouds, on this earth, the
conjured up "capitalism" has indeed triumphed, except for the TnT.

The one consolation -- that under their present political and
intellectual leadership, they appear to be about to snatch defeat out
of the jaws of (perhaps temporary) victory in not being able to
resist the spread of the War on Terrorism, and in so doing,
inadvertently declare war on a billion of the world's population.

kj khoo

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