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How To Change The World – Tales Of Marx And Marxism

By Eric Hobsbawm

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Balford thought it absurd to compare Henry George’s ideas with his (Marx’s) ‘either in respect of [their] intellectual force, [their] consistency, [their] command of reasoning in general, or [their] economic reasoning in particular. 

At about the same time Foxwell of Cambridge developed the now familiar line that Marx was a crank with the gift of the gab, who could only appeal to the immature, notably among intellectuals; a man – in spite of Balford’s warning – to be bracketed with Henry George: ‘Capital was well calculated to appeal to the somewhat dilettante enthusiasm of those who were educated to realise, and to be revolted by the painful condition of the poor, but not patient or hard-headed enough to find out the real causes of this misery, nor, sufficiently trained to perceive the utter hollowness of the quack  remedies so rhetorically and efficiently put forward’.

The history of ‘Darwinism’ cannot be confined to ‘Darwinians’ or even biologists in general. It cannot but consider, even marginally, the use of Darwinian ideas, metaphors or even phrases which have become part of the intellectual universe of people who never gave a thought to the fauna of the Galapagos islands or the precise modifications required in the theory of natural selection by modern genetics.  Similarly the influence of Freud extends far beyond the diverging and conflicting schools of psychoanalysis, and even beyond those who have ever read a line written by its founder. Marx, like Darwin and Freud, belongs to a small class of thinkers whose names and ideas have, in one form or another, entered the general culture of the modern world. 

You might as well say that for Gramsci what is the basis for socialism is not socialisation in the economic sense – i.e. the socially owned and planned economy (thought this of obviously its basis and framework) – but socialisation in the political and sociological sense…

Socialist societies, also for comprehensible historic reasons, have concentrated on the other tasks, notably those of planning the economy, and (with the exception of the crucial question of power, and perhaps in, in multinational countries, of the relation between their components nations) have paid very much less attention to their actual political and legal institutions, and processes. 

In extreme cases, as in China on recent years, the major political decisions affecting the future of the country appear to emerge suddenly from the struggles of a small group of rulers at the top, and their very nature is unclear, since they have never been publically discussed.  In such cases, something is clearly wrong.

In insisting on the crucial importance of politics, Gramsci drew attention to a critical aspect of the construction of socialism as well as the winning of socialism. It is a reminder we should heed.