CJay Engelcomment 0 Commentsaccess_time 8 min read
Recently, I decided to subscribe to Jacobin Magazine— perhaps one of the foremost magazines on the Marxist Left. By way of reminder, I do not think most on the left are actually socialist in the traditional sense. One can certainly make the valid argument that all state-driven systems are “socialistic,” but there is another, more historically interesting distinction between socialism as it was traditionally marketed and left-interventionism which grew on the back of a failed socialist world movement. See my articles here and here.
I am very curious and fascinated by the impetus behind the intellectual socialists, and I think I became so by deepening my understanding of the intellectual background of Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
A decent number of libertarians are probably aware that Hoppe’s background is actually Marxist— he started out that way and it was only after studying the Austrian School that he recanted, and moved to the United States to study with Rothbard.
In most ways, at least in regards to the interpretation and application of the ethics and economics of property ownership theory, the Marxist Socialists are the polar opposites— the reciprocal— of the Austro-libertarian. The end goal of each is the consequence of pushing first principles to their logical conclusion and both the Marxist and the Austro-Libertarian is willing to push the logic of their respective position to their necessary conclusions.
In this way, therefore, despite the fact that they are polar opposite, they also happen to have some things in common. For one thing, most other schools of thought, from the mainstream left and right Progressivist Neocons (the Wilsonians) to the populist right (the Jacksonians) and the populist left to the Chamber of Commerce pro-business right and Union Democrats (Hamiltonians), and even somewhat to the decentralist quasi-Jeffersonians— in all these there is a hesitancy to follow one’s train of thought all the way through in search of a consistent ideology.
But the Marxists and the Austro-Libertarians both are system-builders in a world where specialists consider themselves as creating mini-sciences in hundreds of different fields. And not only are they system builders, but they have also reflected on the proper means, in light of current problems, of attaining a more just world. See my article Our Path Forward for more on this theme, with reference to the Marxists vs. Austro-Libertarians.
There are many kinds of socialists— some are movement socialists (socialism as a means toward power— such as many politicians), others are doltish and dumb pop-socialists (socialism is trendy and fashionable— such as Alexandria Occasio Cortez), others are angst-socialists (they hate the rich and privileged because they aren’t among them— your local librarian), and still others are academic/university socialists (those who pontificate from the coziness of their state-funded Professorships).
What I have in mind particularly per my interests are likely a subset of the latter group which actually has taken the time to develop an intellectual framework around their socialistic positions. I say a subset because most Professors are dumb as nails and are Marxists because it is attractive to tell people that, after deep study and reflection, that they are being oppressed. But there actually are intellectual marxists out there who have the ability to make very deeply considered arguments. One can see this immediately in David Gordon’s rebuttal to the Analytical Marxists.
Anyone who knows Hoppe and his lifelong search for a meta-system of holistic interpretive tools will immediately understand his interest, at least early on, in a Marxism that sought to interpret the world; the Marxists have a grand narrative of history, they have a interpretation of social dynamics, of the struggle between groups of people (Hoppe has investigated this extensively), of the role of capital in the creation of society as it exists, of the state, of the Power of the Establishment and the groups it seeks dominion over.
The Marxists, at least the philosophical ones, are provoking to the Austro-Libertarian because they, unlike so many other political commentators, intellectuals, and other social authorities, have a framework which they seek to develop and leverage in their quest for understanding the world.
Jacobin Magazine, it seems to me, has positioned itself pretty well as a socialist outlet. They speak relatively favorably about the efforts of US politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but (much to the surprise of those on the right or even general libertarians), they also criticize them for not being consistent in their socialistic principles. This is more than just a criticism for “not going far enough.” Because in the end, Sanders and Warren are Leftist-interventionist who want to direct and massage the US system onto a better, more humane (in their eyes) path.
But socialists aren’t supposed to be mere leftist interventionists. They properly understand that the corporatist crony system in the west cannot simply be tinkered with, it must be overhauled completely (the Reformist Socialist position) or completely done away with and subsumed in an international socialist order (the Orthodox Socialist position). In this way, Jacobin Mag has acted as a sort of ecumenical outlet for the Reformists and the Orthodox, likely annoying the truly purist Orthodox like that obnoxious Socialist Twitter account associated with the World Socialist Movement.
And so, like their their Austro Libertarian opposites, they have a framework by which they seek to interpret the world and they must work to determine the best Path Forward. They blame capitalism for the major problems and conflicts in the world and conceive as a post-capitalist world as being a prerequisite to peace and justice. The state for them is merely the enforcement entity of the capitalist order and as long as the the democratic will of the people is prevented from being the major decision making influence over governing policy, capitalism will rule the day— much to the struggle and despair of the 99% who are not capitalists. Government therefore, must be taken over by the people and the state-capitalist construct must be done away with.
Of course, this is the opposite of the Austrio-Libertarian framework, in which the state itself— the institution of theft and plunder— is the great enemy that the crony corporations, the ideologue politicians, and the democratically-oriented populace all seek to control, in one way or another, on behalf of their own desires. The state is the not the protector of evil capitalism but is instead its great and institutionalized deviation- wherever the state is, there capitalism is not, for capitalism lives wherever there is a lack of a state entity. The state exists only to the extent that it can take what does not properly belong to it. The purely private property order is the ideal toward which the austro-libertarian fights.
For instance, in their most recent issue, there is an article of deep insight into the mysterious and difficult world of “shadow banking,” which likely played a role in the unfolding of the previous financial crisis. The editor summarizes:
In this essay, Daniela Gabor shows how the shadow banking revolution has been fostered and sustained by the visible hand of the state, which is now angling to extend it to every corner of the developing world. With its vast potential for instability and profiteering, shadow banking is an obstacle to any progressive economic policy, yet it has entrenched itself deeply in the day-to-day workings of the economy — a dilemma that the Left must face up to if it wants to chart a path beyond neoliberalism.
What is fascinating is that the socialist interprets it as this: as is devastatingly typical in a capitalist order, the state is working on behalf of the titans of finance to enrich the wealthy class and fleece the poor chumps that make up the working class. Solution: end capitalism and make government work for the people.
The capitalist would interpret the problems related to global finance as this: the state has leveraged its power to monopolize money and banking, over against the requisites of a free market capitalist order, and in the process benefitted the well-connected at the expense of the few. Solution: end state-sponsored monetary power and let the market system in money and banking work in accordance with the strictures of private property.
It’s interesting, therefore to understand the way the Marxist Socialist interprets the world and to use that as the great challenge to improve our own abilities to argue with the general masses, who are most often anti-intellectual whole cloth.