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Marx Liked Bourgeois Modernity Better than Feudal Despotism



(p. 24) In his early writings and well through the 1860s, Marx propounded a theory of history that extolled the heroic achievements of the bourgeoisie as the collective agent of global change. Before the proletariat could develop into a mature class and become truly conscious of its revolutionary task, he reasoned, it was first necessary for capitalism thoroughly to modernize the world. All remnants of feudalism would dissolve; local custom and tradition would be swept aside, and industrial production would surge, condensing the two remaining classes into radically opposed groups in anticipation of capitalism's final crisis.

This theory implied a certain inevitability to the gathering processes of historical change. It also left little room for the possibility of independent revolution in less developed regions around the globe, in the east or in the outer reaches of Europe's empires. Marx's universalism found its classic expression in "The Communist Manifesto," which declared that all nations must submit "on pain of extinction" to the forces of bourgeois modernity. Elsewhere, Marx celebrated the introduction of steam power into India and the consequent dissolution of the archaic "village system." And in the first volume of "Capital," completed in 1867, he still reserved special disdain for what he called "ancient Asiatic" forms of production, condemning them as symptoms of a despotism that must be swept aside on the way to revolution.



For the full review, see:

PETER E. GORDON. "Call Him Karl." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 23, 2016): 24.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 21, 2016, and has the title "A New Biography Focuses on Karl Instead of Marxism.")


The book under review, is:

Jones, Gareth Stedman. Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.






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