Part One: Introduction
The current global economic crisis which threatens to engulf us all like some natural disaster has sparked a revival of interest in the ideas of the great 19th Century political economist and scientific socialist, Karl Marx. His two most famous works, `The Communist Manifesto’, written jointly with life-long collaborator Friedrich Engels, and the three or four-volumed, depending on your point-of-view, `Das Kapital’ are, apparently, flying off the bookstore shelves at an unprecedented rate of knots. The urge it seems is to rationally understand what on earth is going on.
That people are looking for a scientific explanation for the crisis is surely to be welcomed but there is also a philistine or eclectic tendency amongst some to see Marx as just one possible contributor among many. A tendency to view him as just another theorist competing with many other theorists from whose work one can select the bits one likes and discard the bits one doesn’t. That would be a mistake because Marxism is not just a unified, holistic theory it is a fact.
It is a pleasant co-incidence that the global economic crisis and the renewed interest it has sparked in Marxism are happening at the same time as the 200th anniversary of the birth of the celebrated natural scientist and expounder of natural evolution, Charles Darwin. The anniversary has sparked a spirited defence of his work by a host of renowned modern day scientists against a growing army of fundamentalists, biblical literalists, creationists of all religions and the pseudo scientific intelligent design narrative.
This happy co-incidence has helped strengthen an atmosphere generally sympathetic to enlightened values. One stand-out contribution amongst the many to have appeared this year intent on defending Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is Jerry A Coyne’s ` Why Evolution is True’. In his book Coyne presents a spirited defence of the general scientific method of reason applied to empirical research where practical results act as the yardstick of truth. He develops a contemporary demonstration of the truth of Darwin’s theory and how it has been proved again and again. Evolution by natural selection, he rightly argues, is a proven fact.
The theory, he says, makes testable predictions leading to the discovery of genes and DNA and makes retrodictive sense of facts and data that without its illuminating effect would otherwise not. It becomes ever more rounded, deep, rich and complete as we observe and recreate its principles on a daily basis.
Given the overwhelming success of Darwin’s theory why, asks Coyne, are there still those who attack it? We don’t we have to defend other scientific theories such as the germ theory of disease in this way he muses. He does not answer the question but, after a devastating defence of the theory and a withering assault on its religious opponents, he counsels that to recognise the full import of the theory does not lead to despairing nihilism or rob your life of purpose and meaning. It won’t make you immoral, he insists, and is in fact, as Darwin said, is really quite ennobling. It doesn’t even necessarily make of you an atheist even while it destroys the basis of literalism and particularity in religion.
Marx’s main interest was not the natural evolution of the human species but its social and historical evolution from that point on. Incredibly, his scientific insights into society were made prior to Darwin’s explanation of human kind’s biological origins. Even before Darwin had solved the riddle of human evolution, Marx had already solved the more difficult riddle of history. He had explained and revealed the drivers for historical evolution.
Needless to say Marx immediately embraced Darwin’s theory as soon as it was made public recognising a scientific theory brilliant in its own right but that complemented and reinforced his own. He even sent Darwin a copy of Volume One his own great work `Das Kapital’ for which he received a thank you letter though sadly there is no evidence that the naturalist ever actually read it.
There are, in actual fact, three different elements to Marxism each a piece of brilliance in its own right. They are historical materialism, the analysis of capitalism and dialectical materialism.
Part Two: Historical Materialism (to follow)