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A “dazzlingly cocky” black hole

I am not quite as vexed by the writings of former Living Marxism (a bit of an oxymoron, Ed) writers such as Brendan O’Neill, Mick Hume or Claire Fox as Stephen Pollard is – life is too short for such intellectual eye-gouging – but I kind of get Stephen’s general point. Those of us who have toiled away exposing the idiocies of Big Government for decades and plugging the case for free markets, etc, find it a bit hard to take for a bunch of Marxists to claim to be such libertarian souls, when in fact they are just as hostile to the market economy as they ever were. No-one has ever proved to me that you can have a liberal, open society without property rights. O’Neill, writing in this week’s edition of The Spectator, rather confirms Pollard’s suspicions in what was quite good rant against modern “anti-capitalists”:

Of course, Marx wanted to destroy capitalism because he thought it didn’t go far enough in remaking the world in man’s image and organising society according to man’s needs and desire. Today’s sorry excuses for Marxists and anti-capitalists think capitalism has gone too far in its development of the forces of production and encouragement of consumerism. I’m with Marx. Let’s replace capitalism with something even more dazzlingly cocky and human-centric. But let’s first deal with the luddites, locavores and eco-feudalists who have given anti-capitalism a bad name.

The problem, of course, is that the “dazzlingly cocky and human-centric” shiny sort of Marxist future is never spelled out. What would it look like? Does it come with a tester? Are there examples on eBay? Seriously, given the manifold failures of state central planning, and the various incoherent attempts by some thinkers to fashion “market socialism” (another oxymoron), it is not really quite good enough for a chap like O’Neill to pose as some sort of hip and clever critic of anti-capitalists, then to claim that he is still a Marxist, but then to leave a bloody great black hole of explanation of what his sort of society would look like. Consider, the various theories associated with Marx have been more or less destroyed, both by practical experience and logical argument: the labour theory of value (which ignores the value of ideas in wealth creation); the theory of the inevitable clash between the “workers” and the “bosses”; the historical “inevitability” of the collapse of capitalism, the immiseration of the proletariat, etc. While some of Marx’s arguments about class had some interesting points, pretty much all of the central tenets of the Bearded One’s ideas are plain wrong. I mean, as intellectual defeats go, this is the equivalent of a village pub football team being annihilated 10-nil by Manchester Utd. There’s no way back.

16 comments to A “dazzlingly cocky” black hole

  • Jon B

    The spiked / LM / RCP lot never did have a vision of any “dazzlingly cocky and human-centric” future. To do so would be the utopianism of Robert Owen and Saint Simon – this (Link)is what Engels said about it. Utopianism’s a sin in trotskyite circles. Their output is almost always negative – yes they are good at pointing out what is wrong but you’ll rarely if ever see a constructive proposal.

    The ex far left do now demonstrate some individualist instincts on social issues, but they cannot draw a distinction between corporatism and laissez faire, and so remain wedded to a simplistic “capitalism is bad” outlook.

  • Paul Marks

    Most likely the “new” thing that the Living Marxism are on about is “scientific planning” – with lots of shining bits of technolgy and clever people (themselves) leading us in to a bright new future.

    As in Francis Bacon’s “The New Atlantis” (1610 I seem to remember).

    This is not just a confusion between the physical sciences and economics (a point that Ludwig Von Mises was very good on – so much for these “Living Marxism” folk being interested in “human” matters), but also a misunderstanding of the physical sciences themselves – as F.A. Hayek was fond of pointing out, for example in “The Counter Revolution of Science” (although the work of Karl Popper and Michael Polanyi should not be forgotten).

    It is “scientistic” stuff not science, and it Progressivism – not progress.

    Even Francis Bacon himself had no interest in real science (rather than dreams of wise men of science building super cities or whatever) – hence his view that the idea that the Earth went round the Sun be banned.

    I do not deny that there have been good physical scientists who were also Marxists (many of them) – but Karl Marx contributed nothing to physical science and not understand its principles (contrary to the propaganda he did NOT agree with the principles of thought that Darwin followed).

    Nor did Karl Marx contribute anything that was new and true to philosophy, economics or history.

    His ideas are a series of errors.

  • knirirr

    “scientific planning” – with lots of shining bits of technolgy and clever people (themselves) leading us in to a bright new future.

    Which sounds, as you might expect, rather like fascism.

  • I thought this article very interesting because it illustrates the great seismic shift that occurred in Leftism during the 60’s.

    O’Neil writes from the perspective of a pre-60’s Leftist: pro-western, pro-technology, pro-progress. Leftist of that era argued that industrialization, technology and the society it created were great but that only Leftist could really manage society and the economy in order to get the maximum good possible. For nearly a century, they justified their pursuit of power on just that basis.

    By the 60’s, the dream that Leftist could better manage modern society proved untrue. Unable to acquire power by hijacking the means of production, they instead turned to acquiring power by claiming to protect people from the myriad threats they claimed that modern production poised. They turned on western culture, seeking to tear it down and replace it with something they controlled. They rejected progress and instead sought a static world they dominated.

    The pre-60’s Left presented to the world a bold, optimistic sweeping vision of a grand, egalitarian future. Contemporary Leftist, speak of nothing but fear and shame while emphasizing everything negative about history and modern life.

    The pre-60 Left succeeded in acquiring power (and doing damage) because at a fundamental level they had balls and a powerful optimistic vision. Fortunately, the contemporary Left lacks both.

  • Christian Rice

    Well, I only know Claire Fox from her appearances on The Moral Maze (BBC R4), and, speaking as an instinctive libertarian, I’ve always thought she speaks a lot of sense.

    Perhaps she did used to be a marxist, but is not written, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance”?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Christian, I know Claire and she is a nice, smart woman. But if Brendan, a colleague, is still a “Marxist,” I do wonder what exactly it is that they want.

  • As far as I understand them (admittedly not that far) they are actually more Marxist than most other so-called Marxists.

    They believe in the historical inevitability of the collapse of capitalism and the social revolution, but unlike the Communists or Social Democrats they believe, more like Marx himself, that you cannot force this through planning, you only mitigate the effects. So they push for full laissez-faire capitalism to hasten its decline and the utopian, anarchistic, classless society will emerge ‘naturally’ through the ‘inevitable’ social revolution.

    Its a slightly more intelligent reading of Marx, however its still based upon the central flaw of historicism in Marxism (and the fact that he was plain wrong in much of his analysis).

    They do sometimes come out with some good stuff though, and they’re not that far from other utopian libertarians…

  • “And in conclusion, comrades, when the Revolution comes, it’ll be strawberries and cream for everyone! Yes, question in the back?”

    “But, but, I don’t like strawberries and cream.”

    “When the Revolution comes, you’ll eat strawberries and cream and like it!”

  • countingcats

    Most likely the “new” thing that the Living Marxism are on about is “scientific planning”

    Nope, straw man. Don’t guess and then criticise on that basis.

    The LM lot were fascinating in my opinion. I would read LM monthly, and any shred of modern leftism and state planning was remarkable by its absence.

    I actually miss LM and its freedom advocating iconoclasm, and listen to Claire Fox with interest.

  • veryretired

    Marxism fails, and will always fail, regardless of which variation is attempted, or which leadership group is in charge, because its basic definition of what humans are and how they develop is fundamentally and fatally flawed.

    It is no accident that Lysenkoism led a generation of marxist biologists astray—that fallacy is a specific example of the general flaw.

    It is no accident that collectivist systems, marxist or not, result in the wholesale slaughter of those they assert they are “serving”. No other result is possible.

    It is no accident that the leadership of collectivist systems, whether marxist or not, inevitably devolves onto the most vicious and bloodthirsty of the contending candidates. The total abrogation of individual rights and liberties makes any other result impossible.

    Marxism specifically, and collectivism generally, operates on the “7th day adventist” principle—predict the imminent arrival of utopia based on secret and complex knowledge known only to the select. When it doesn’t happen, simply recalculate and try again.

    If you lose some believers, there are always more desparate souls looking for a messiah, willing to believe, and believe, and believe, no matter how many corpses pile up.

    Is there something inevitable about marxism?

    Yes. Death. Moral, spiritual, and physical death on a scale that Tamerlane or Ghengis Khan would envy.

    In its own sinister way, it truly is the complete package. Contents by Pandora.

  • spidly

    I don’t think market socialism is an oxymoron, I think it’s otherwise known as Fascism

  • guy herbert

    What makes you think they LM-ings, collectively, want anything in particular? Why any more than libertarians, who have approached similar conclusions via classical liberalism, assume they want to force people in a particular way?

    A Marxist might just mean someone who accepts a Marxian analysis of historical and social development – it need not imply accepting Marx’s own (wrong, revised, wrong again) conclusions from his original murky analysis, let alone those of any particular successor school. I’m not an advocate of any sort of economism: I like free markets because they are free, and I think value is subjective. But I can’t see why believing in economic structures as drivers of social change necessarily makes one a collectivist.

    Brendan’s article doesn’t seem to place him quite there, but with Marx portrayed as a futurist, an optimist about progress. My image of Marx is a grumpy, faction-fighting, selfish character, who looked on the world and prononounced it headed for destruction by impoverishment – quite the model of a modern anti-capitalist. Perhaps Brendan’s is the Whig interpretation of historicism.

  • Paul Marks

    A libertarian (“utopian” or otherwise) does not believe in violating private property – Marxists do, althought they may also believe in waiting for some special time to do so.

    Shannon Love:

    Many of the modern left may well have become anti technology and anti progress – but they have kept their passionate desire for power, so they are still dangerious (just as dangerious as they ever were).

    And even the most anti progress collectivist can still use new bits of kit if they are useful. For example, in “The Laws” one of the reasons that Plato allows people to leave the state he describes (people are normally forbidden to leave the Hell hole) is so that they can spy on other places – to see if anyone has invented any useful new thing. The other main reason is to compete in various games – so that people can see what wonderful people the new state produces.


    Quite so – and a good article.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    What makes you think they LM-ings, collectively, want anything in particular?

    If a person calls himself or herself a Marxist, it usually does mean that said person wants certain things to occur; for sure, it does not mean they all agree about the fine details – Marxist and socialists of various hues are often distinguished by the violence shown towards one another – but it does mean a broad set of outcomes are regarded as desirable. To say that Marxism does not imply any particular set of goals is obtuse.

    A Marxist might just mean someone who accepts a Marxian analysis of historical and social development – it need not imply accepting Marx’s own (wrong, revised, wrong again) conclusions from his original murky analysis, let alone those of any particular successor school. I’m not an advocate of any sort of economism: I like free markets because they are free, and I think value is subjective.

    No, I think you are wrong. To be a Marxist in any coherent sense means accepting a, that the Bearded One’s diagnosis of how society was developing was broadly correct and b, that his moral condemnation of the society he was diagnosing was correct. To say, “I agree with Marx that society was heading from X to Y but I think capitalism is the best system is again, obtuse. One might as well say that a person is a Catholic but does not believe in God. There comes a point where if a person uses labels but disagrees with vast chunks of the views associated with a school of thought, that such a person is either hiding something, is an intellectual coward – they cannot admit their belief system is rubbish – or some combination of both.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so Johnathan.

    Indeed Karl Marx had his money source Fred Engels write reviews, under false names, of his various works claiming to “support the analysis” but “oppose the conculsions” they both laughed about it – because once you have got people to except the basic principles, the collectivist power grab conclusions follow.

  • Paul Marks


    One error in that article by David R.S. (at least one error that caught my eye).

    Whilst it is true that the Italian Fascists mostly used control rather than ownership – they were not shy about formal state ownership.

    Indeed by the late 1930’s Fascist Italy had more openly state owned companies than any nation in Europe – bar Soviet Russia.