Developed capitalism and the prospects for socialism
Interview with Moshé Machover
Hannu Reime: The spreading of capitalism all over the planet seems to have been a major - if not the major - theme of the century that is now coming to an end. Thinking about it in historical terms, do you regard it as surprising?
Moshé Machover: Well, it was certainly surprising to socialists. Socialists at the beginning of this century believed that this century was going to be the epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism. It was not a silly idea, because capitalism at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of this century was in very great crisis politically and economically. There are certain things that you can only know in retrospect. It was quite easy to believe, first of all, that capitalism had reached the utmost limit of its potential, not everywhere but in the most developed countries.
Therefore at least in the most developed countries, it was now "ripe" for demise. Without this belief Lenin would never have been able to justify making the revolution in Russia. Even he didn't believe that Russia had reached the limit of capitalist development. Capitalist development in Russia was only beginning more or less at the end of the 19th century, but he believed that the Russian revolution would work as a detonator. That is how he justified it.
He didn't for a moment believe that you could found a socialist society in Russia in isolation but he believed that the Russian revolution would work as a detonator or catalyst to trigger off revolution in the developed capitalist countries, which he regarded as having reached the limit of their development. You can see this in one of his most influential writings, On Imperialism, Highest Stage of Capitalism, where he reaches the conclusion that capitalism is moribund, not specifically in Russia but in the West. This was his justification. Of course he was proved wrong.
The Russian revolution did not trigger off socialist revolutions in the West, although it seemed so for a while. I mean there were some moves in Germany, some abortive revolutions in Germany and some instability and crises in the Western countries. But in retrospect you can see that these crises were not the crises of old age, they were not kind of terminal epoch as Lenin thought, but on the contrary capitalism developed very vigorously as a trend. Punctuated of course with crises, because capitalism is an unregulated system, sort of self-regulating. But that means that it has its ups and downs; is has cycles; it has severe crises from time to time.
But overall the century has not been the century of "transition" from capitalism to socialism but on the contrary of the spread of capitalism to the whole world. If there is a theme to this century in my view, it is the theme of the various attempts to grapple with the problem of modernisation and industrialisation in those parts of the world where capitalism, for one reason or another, had not developed when it developed in the classical capitalist countries. This is an interesting phenomenon by the way.
If you go back to the 16th century -- but I think even in the 17th -- big areas of what was then the civilised world were more or less on the same level. If anything, some of the parts that are now as it were underdeveloped, were on a higher level of civilisation and on the higher level of productivity of labour than the West. If you look at China or India or Japan or Persia just to take parts of Eurasia, they were as highly developed, if not more developed in some ways than England, France, Germany (certainly Germany) or Italy.
But for reasons that are not entirely clear -- historians can quarrel about it -- capitalism developed in some countries but not in others and created industrialisation and what we call modernisation, which create modern society and raised the productivity of labour to unprecedented level at an unprecedented rate. Since the Neolithic revolution there was not a period when the productivity of labour, the productive forces of humanity, developed at such a rate as in the capitalist world. This created a gap.
One of the first people to notice this gap was Peter the Great. And it worried him, because it meant that Russia, an empire, which was quite newly created as an empire, a big power, was being left behind, and was becoming weak. So he, I think, was one of the first to institute a program of forced modernisation. And you can see if you go to St. Petersburg (which was Leningrad before, which was Petrograd before, which was before that St. Petersburg, again) the remarkable signs of this.
Of course, no pun intended, this attempt "petered out": it did not succeed in the long run. There are signs of it, but it did not succeed. So this left countries like Japan, Turkey, China, India, Iran in the 20th century in the position where having been in the past quite powerful empires, in which the level of civilisation was very high, they found themselves far, far behind the West. And all these countries faced the problem of modernisation and industrialisation. Each solved it in its own way.
You can say that if the 20th century was about anything, this is at least one of the main themes, as we can see now in retrospect. Indeed the revolution that Lenin created, history played a cruel joke on his aspirations. I mean he turned out in retrospect to have been a blind tool of history, because the revolution that he made with the intention of assisting the transition from capitalism to socialism actually, since it was unable to do it, since the period was not ripe for it, created a state which was used by his successors as a platform for forced modernisation and industrialisation.
You can think of the Stalinist project to the extent that it was a project, not just a blind craving for power for its own sake. I don't think that it was; I think that Stalin represented (it's not just a question of an individual) Stalin was leading a whole elite --- that [it] used the revolution for another purpose than the one which the makers of the revolution intended.
HR: But there were rival programs for Stalin's program, like Bukharin's, for
MM: Oh yes, yes. But these were versions of the same thing. I mean some of them, of course. Bukharin or for that matter Trotsky, I believe, would not have done it in such a brutal way. There were various shades, various variants of this program, but if you look at the large picture, there were two different methods for forced industrialisation and modernisation. One kind or one species is represented by countries like Japan and Turkey and more recently Iran under the Shah, which was also one of these regimes of modernisation.
Their project was to create modernisation under some kind of state-guided capitalism, to leave market-forces in operation but under very strict statist supervision. Of course, within this family also there are shades. Turkey is not the same as Japan. The most successful was, of course, Japan. Perhaps we can also count India as part of this family, because India to the extent that it developed --- and it wasn't really such a quick forcing of modernisation --- but to the extent that modernisation and industrialisation took place, it was under state-guided capitalism.
The other variety was the one that was represented first of all by the Soviet Union. In reality it was not at all a project of socialism, although they called themselves socialists for propagandist reasons, and also it was convenient for the West to accept this definition. This is another matter, but if you look at the reality, this has nothing to do with socialism as socialists understood it, you know, historically. But it was a project of industrialisation and modernisation but not in the conditions of a capitalist market. It was under conditions of state-planning, bureaucratic state-planning.
Also in this there were variants. There is the Soviet Union. Cuba is another case of this, a small country where this kind of society still remains. There was China. Of course, China is now getting out of this, returning to more traditional capitalist form but still has not done so completely. So there are variants. Some were worse than others. There were in Europe also some countries under Soviet political domination, but also there was Yugoslavia, which was not under Soviet domination, which also represented a version of this forced industrialisation and modernisation.
HR: What you call state-collectivism .
MM: State-collectivism, bureaucratic collectivism it has been called. But I think it was not an aberration. A lot of left-wing socialists think of the Soviet Union as a kind of aberration. Of course, compared to the intentions of the people who created the revolution it is an aberration, but historically it is not an aberration. It answered a real question that was posed by history at the time, where the intentions of those who made the revolution, people like Lenin and Trotsky were premature as we can now see in retrospect. I think they were premature.
I don't accept that the Russian revolution degenerated -- as the Trotskyists put it -- for accidental reasons because of betrayals, because of anything. I think it was simply historically premature: that not only was socialism impossible in Russia at the time, which Lenin, Trotsky and others would have freely admitted, but it was not globally -- even in the most developed countries, it was not on the historical agenda. So their project was premature. It was not an accident that the revolution [failed]; their project was, if you like, hijacked for a completely different purpose, which did answer a real historical task that was posed by history.
HR: I mentioned the name of Bukharin because in the 20s they still had the politics of NEP in the Soviet Union. I've sometimes thought it in this way that it might have been possible that had some other faction like Bukharins' won the power-struggle, perhaps it might have developed like a state-capitalist system like Mexico where there had also been a revolution.
MM: Perhaps, perhaps. It's very difficult to know. I'm sure that if Bukharin or any other faction in the Bolshevik party at the time had had the upper hand, then it would most probably not have developed in this brutal way. But whether it would have been very different in essence, that is to say, in the actual socio-economic nature of the regime, is difficult to tell. And certainly I don't think that anyone would have been able even with the best intentions to really develop socialism in Russia. I don't think this would have been at all possible.
And I don't think that the failure of socialist revolution in the West was also some kind of result of betrayals or accidents or anything like that. I think it was simply premature. And this is a Marxist judgement. It was Marx who said that no social order ever dies or expires without all the productive forces, which can be developed within it, having been developed. As Marx saw it, there is a logic in history, as it were. The collapse of a social order is not arbitrary, unless of course it is destroyed from outside by external forces, which here is not the case.
Social orders, socio-economic orders decline and collapse after having reached a certain saturation, after having exhausted the possibility for developing the productive forces. In the beginning of the century it was precisely this that led Lenin to believe that capitalism is at an end, because his analysis apparently showed him that, and you can read it in this pamphlet, which I think is deeply mistaken. But he was not alone in this.
He and other left-wing socialists believed, based on the evidence that they had, that that is it: capitalism had reached sort of impasse, if you like, of developing the productive forces. It can compensate for this by spreading to colonies, and it has done so. This is the origin of the title: Imperialism. But yes, the territory of the world is limited, and what is happening now is that they simply grab pieces of colonies from each other, and there is nowhere else to spread and to save the capitalist system in the metropolitan centres. So capitalism is moribund, as Lenin says. This in retrospect is not the case.
Capitalism showed that it was able to develop the productive forces to a prodigious extent. Lenin wrote this pamphlet in 1916 based mostly on data that go back to 1913. In 1913 if you went to the centre of London, Oxford Street, you crossed Oxford Street, you'd be up to your ankles in horse-shit, because the main means of transport at that time was horse-drawn carriages. That is the world that we are talking about. Since then we have had several -- two or three -- industrial revolutions, mini-revolutions, big advances in technology and productivity of labour. Of course all this was punctuated by enormous crises. We should not forget the two world wars that punctuated it. But this is what capitalism is.
HR: You refer to Marx' famous dictum that no social order will perish until it has exhausted all of its productive potential. On the other hand if I understand correctly your and Farjoun's analysis, you show that there are no internal restrictions in the capitalist system, only the physical limits of the planet. Does that mean that capitalism will exist forever until the whole planet will be uninhabitable?
MM: Last week when I was in the meeting of a discussion group, I said look: Marx said this, that and that, and they were all very embarrassed by it. They said that this dictum of Marx' we should not stress too much. We should sort of put it in the shelf. They were embarrassed by it. Of course you can do it. No-one has to be a Marxist, and I don't personally believe -- as you shall see in a moment-- that everything that Marx wrote is true.
A lot of what he predicted has really happened in the most broad outlines, and I think his general views are vindicated, but a lot of the specific contributions to the science of economics, for example, are sort of superseded, either proved wrong or can be improved. It is true that Marx not only said that generally about modes of productions, about socio-economic formations that they will not perish until they exhaust their ability to develop the productive forces. But he also had a specific mechanism which he expounded in Das Kapital as to how capitalism would draw to an exhaustion, get to an exhausted stage.
And that was something which was partly based on the theses of previous economists, the great classical economists like mainly Ricardo who believed that there is a secular tendency for the rate of profit to decline. Marx writes a lot about it, especially in the third volume of Das Kapital. Basically, in outline, to put it very crudely the idea was that over time the organic composition of capital goes up. Roughly speaking the organic composition is what is now called capital intensity, that is, the amount of invested capital per worker, if you like. The ratio between the capital invested in inanimate capital and the capital invested in labour grows in favour of the inanimate capital. If he were right about the inexorable growth of the organic composition of capital, then it would follow that the rate of profit would over time, in the long run, decline. This has not happened. And the reasoning that he gives for the growth of the organic composition is fallacious. It is simply wrong. So you see, I'm not an orthodox Marxist.
I think that to be orthodox and Marxist is a contradiction in terms. He was certainly wrong on this. And if there were no other constraints -- as shown by experience --, capitalism has no internal barrier for endless expansion. This is precisely the problem. It is not -- as Marx thought -- that capitalism would put shackles on the productive forces but it is the sorcerer's apprentice. It is unable to follow a controlled, planned and rational development of human productive forces. This is very easy to see.
The unit in capitalist production is a firm that has to make a profit in order to stay in business. This is what capitalism is all about. It is a profit-making enterprise. This means that each firm needs to create a surplus. It means that it needs to produce more than is consumed in the course of its production. If you generalise, globalise it to the whole economy, it means that the economy produces a surplus. What happens to this surplus? Because it is a competitive system, each firm needs not only to produce a surplus, but needs to grow in order to compete with other firms. Otherwise it will be annihilated. Marx himself was one of the thinkers who actually stressed this and explained how this happens. But if you again globalise this, you integrate this over the whole economy, you take the macro-consequences of what this means, the economy has to expand.
And indeed we know from experience that if the capitalist economy does not grow by at least something around two percent per annum -- I think this is about the limit --, then there is serious trouble. There is big unemployment, there is dislocation, there is social dislocation. To be in a healthy state it has to expand. And because of the nature of capitalism it expands in an unplanned way, because the motive is not a rational growth of the productive forces. The growth of the productive forces is a sort of corollary, a consequence. But this is not the aim. The aim is not to expand the productive forces in a humanly useful way but to make a profit.
And the question is: is such an unplanned, unregulated, irrational expansion sustainable? I think now, in our generation, the critique that was started by, or at least highlighted, by the Green movement makes us see that it is not sustainable. Look, China is now developing in a capitalist direction. In the developed capitalist countries it is normal for each family to have a car. How many cars does it mean in China? In the order of, let's say, many hundreds of millions of cars. These cars will have to be parked somewhere. Just think of the parking space that these cars will take before they even start going anywhere. Think of the roads that, you know, are clogged by these cars. Think of the fuel that will have to burnt by these cars. Think of the pollution.
This only gives you a glimpse, but of course we are not only talking about cars. The point is, I think, that capitalism will exhaust its ability to develop the productive forces precisely because it is not able to do it in a sufficiently slow, gradual, and most importantly, planned, rational and regulated way. It is a completely wild, anarchic, unregulated growth. And I think we can see now that this coming against, if you like, external barrier. But I mean the barriers are really not just posed by nature. They are posed by, as it were, the contradictions also within human society. It is in my view not going to be possible to sustain this growth.
I think the mistake of most Green movements is that they stress only the aspect of the contradiction between human society and nature, as if it is a conflict between humanity and nature. But this is not really the only aspect. It is also a matter of the conflict within human society.
If you take the recent Monsanto business, it is very clear. An interesting episode of this was the almost spontaneous rebellion of ordinary people against genetic modification, which compelled this huge giant -- it is one of the most dynamic and biggest firms in the agrochemical business -- to retreat. It started possibly in England, It's spread now to America as well. In America the genetic modification went just along without any public opposition. But now the opposition is spreading. Monsanto has to withdraw.
But you see most of the Green critics, environmentalist critics of genetic modification stressed the environmental danger. But part of the purpose of this genetic modification is also for the agrochemical giants to control agriculture and the agricultural producers so that they will not be able to do what human beings have done since the Neolithic revolution, that is to say, to plant food-plants and then to use part of the seeds or part of the fruit of the plants to sow for the next harvest. You know that one of their aims in this genetic modification is to create either terminator seeds that will create infertile plants so that the farmer will have to buy seeds from Monsanto each year, not from the crops, reserving part of the crops as traditionally has been done since, you know, for many millennia.
Or he will be compelled to do it, because the genetic engineering is going to create plants that are going to be immune to the pesticides. But if you didn't use their seeds, then the pesticides and other chemicals -- that they also sell -- will destroy your plants. You are not able to use the traditional seeds anymore. This is, if you like, a devilish project that they have, to really put their hands to control the whole of agriculture, even in the under-developed countries, especially the under-developed countries. So this is not sufficiently stressed.
But I think the two things go together, the environmental danger and the social danger, and this is the way capitalism is going. So long as capitalism continues we'll have more and more of these conflicts. And in the end, I think, either humanity will destroy the conditions for civilised life on this planet, if not completely exterminate life, its own life on this planet, and it has happened before. We will not be the first species to come to an end, to become extinct. It is possible that perhaps human beings will become extinct, or at least destroy the conditions for civilised life. Or else the development of the productive forces will have to be controlled, will have to be regulated, will have to be planned.
And this cannot be done -- ultimately it cannot be done --in a capitalist system. Capitalist system means an unplanned development of the productive forces, based on a kind of anarchy. The rate of development, the rate of expansion, cannot go below a certain threshold. But there is no inherent need. On the contrary it is in the long run dangerous to allow too rapid a development of the productive forces without any thought, without any planning, without any care about the possible consequences. This cannot be done under a capitalist system. So I think this will actually bring it to an end.
I think Marx in his general statement that not only capitalism but socio-economic systems in general do not perish before they exhaust the possibilities for developing the productive forces -- I think in this he was right. But he was wrong in the specific mechanism that he had in mind whereby capitalism would for internal reasons become unproductive. I think it's just the opposite: capitalism will become untenable, unsustainable. In this way, maybe in a quite different way than Marx anticipated, it will no longer be able to develop the productive forces in a sustainable way.
HR: Do you think that there is a risk that the realisation of these dangers would bring forth, right-wing totalitarian and reactionary movements?
MM: The danger of right-wing regimes always exist. I think that specifically fascism, or what can scientifically, correctly be called fascism, goes together with a rather young stage of capitalist development. That is to say, it was typical of countries where capitalism developed relatively late but rapidly. Because it came late, it developed rapidly.
I think if you look now, the most ominous, the most threatening danger of fascist-type regimes is in the former Soviet Union, places like this, where capitalism is developing in a very wild and rapid but also as a kind of bandit-capitalism, not in a gradual way as it did, more or less, in more traditional countries, although there was a lot of banditry there as well in the earliest stage of development -- we shouldn't idealise it.
The history of the earliest stage of this century shows that fascism developed in such countries, Italy, Spain, Germany also. Socialists at that time were mistaken in attributing the rise of fascism to the decline of capitalism, to the senescence of capitalism. There are a lot of writings by Trotsky where he attributes the rise of Nazism in Germany to the fact -- as he saw it -- that Germany had come to the limit in developing the productive forces. This, in retrospect, is ridiculous, because since the times he was writing, if you look at Germany now, the productive forces have developed enormously.
No, it was the consequence of the rapid development of capitalism with all its contradictions, with all its social stresses in a society which was used to less individualistic norms, more traditional, community-based way of life. Capitalism is very traumatic, the development of capitalism always. We see it nowadays in the former Soviet Union. It's a very traumatic development. And this trauma is dealt with by the ruling classes by using draconic, fascist, regime. But of course this doesn't mean that if capitalism comes to a crisis of senescence, real senescence, that some right-wing option will not be tried. And indeed, from the beginning of the socialist movement the fight for socialism is at the same time fight for democracy.
You can even define the socialist project as the extension of democracy and democratic control to all spheres of social life. Under capitalism there is a sort of artificial division between the political sphere, where people can vote and there is freedom of speech and you elect your representatives and decision-making is done in a sort of democratic way; and the economic sphere, where there is no democracy, where everything is decided in an anarchic way by owners of capital, where there is no democratic control by the people involved.
The socialist project is to extend the sphere of democracy to the whole of social life, including what is now the separate economic sphere. Of course the other side wants to move always the frontier between the political and the economic in the other direction, now even further to the sphere where democracy can act, that is, the political. This is called privatisation. The idea of privatisation is not only to enrich the people who benefit from it directly, which of course happens, but also there is a deep ideological purpose to show that, to narrow further and further the public sphere that is under the rule of democracy.
In reality, as Marx said, there is a correlation between the economic structures of society and the political. Developed capitalism goes together with liberal democracy. You cannot have, for long, capitalism without liberal democracy. There is no place in the world, as far as I know, where you have really functioning liberal democracy with a parliament and so on, not just fictitious but actually in working order, where the economy is not capitalistic. This is, if you like, an achievement of capitalism, but we shouldn't be blind to the fact that the domain of affairs that are controlled democratically is very narrow.
Many of the things that concern people most closely, namely their livelihood, the way they make their living and so on, is outside democratic control. This is where you have a combination of tyranny and anarchy, tyranny in each unit, where the boss is the tyrant -- I mean you have to do what your boss tells you -- this is the case for most people; and anarchy, because of the market, because the economy is composed of many competing tyrants without any co-ordination.
In the Soviet Union you had a centralised tyranny in the economic sphere and in the political sphere. It was total tyranny. In capitalism you have freedom in a very limited political sphere, and you have a combination of anarchy and tyranny in the much larger and growing private economic sphere, and it is growing because of the process of privatisation that is happening now. There are more and more things, you know prisons, for example -- who would have thought that in a civilised country prisons would become part of private enterprise but this is what is happening. Everything that used to be part of the political sphere, the social services, if you like, under democratic control is now hived off to private enterprise.
HR: Would you say that the fact that the absolute majority of the population still identifies the Soviet Union with socialism was one of the big if not the biggest victory of propaganda in this century?
MM: Yes, yes. I mean the propaganda victory, symbolised by the Berlin Wall coming down, was a victory of capitalism It is a victory of capitalism and a defeat of something that both sides agree, and most people believe, was socialism. During the Cold War the opposing propagandas on both sides agreed on very little, but on one thing they agreed, namely that these regimes, state-collectivist regimes, were socialism, and that socialism really amounts to tyranny in both the political and the economic sphere. That is a tremendous coup.
But OK, I mean that is a propaganda coup but what will in the end determine how history will progress will be the realities of what is now one capitalist world with China also coming into line instituting capitalism. I mean China is moving very fast from a model of bureaucratic collectivism to a model of state-controlled capitalism. I think it's much more the latter now than the former.
And we have one world, and then the problems will be the problems posed by capitalism, and as I said before in my view -- and I'm not original in this -- capitalism is a sorcerer's apprentice and it necessitates and can only exist in conditions of uncontrolled, unplanned and irrational development of the productive forces, not for any planned, rational needs of humanity.
I'm not saying that socialism will mean stopping the development of the productive forces, but the productive forces will have to be developed gradually and in controlled and planned way, in a rational way, in a way which is discussed, democratically agreed and democratically planned by the people involved, and in some cases it will involve the whole human race. We have already now in place the means of communication for world-wide interaction, for world-wide exchange of information and views. This is also a confirmation of what Marx said in the passage that I quoted before. I'm quoting from memory, so you have to correct me.
He says that a new social order doesn't arise before the conditions required for it have matured within the womb of the old society. I think that what is now beginning to develop, the revolution in information technology creates the conditions also for a world-wide kind of democratic participation, planning and so on, exchange of information, decision-making that would be able to direct the development in the productive forces so that it happens in a sustainable way and in a useful way, that is, not for the sake of private profit but for the sake of the good of human beings.
HR: As a scientist how do you see Marx' work in the intellectual tradition? You can't compare it with, say, explanatory theories in physics or something like that.
MM: No, I mean, in the Marxist tradition there are scientific theories. For example, Marx' economic writings are a contribution to economics -- amongst other things. There is a critique of political economy, but at the same time there are also critical developments. The subtitle of Das Kapital is A Critique of Political Economy, but in the German tradition "critique" means not rejecting it but critically developing it like the Critique of Pure Reason of Kant. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant does not reject pure reason. He tries to analyse it. Anyway, a part of the Marxist tradition consists of scientific contributions. It is precisely these that tend to be dated more quickly, because science has to progress all the time.
You can't repeat Das Kapital today. Part of it is still very important but it's not a modern book on present-day economics, at least the parts of Das Kapital that really are devoted to the science of economics. There are many other things in it that are of much longer lasting value. It's precisely the general view, I think, a certain view of history, a certain view of what human beings are all about. It is a philosophy, a political and social philosophy, and in this it's not, of course, a science. This is much broader than science.
In the writings of Marx the longest lasting and the most far-seeing, the most stable are precisely these insights of social and political philosophy. It's a philosophy but it is also coupled with some contributions to specific sciences, especially economics. But again, this is the most easily dated. Science dates very quickly.
In a way, it's comparable to the almost exactly contemporary book The Origin of Species. The Origin of Species, you still read it today. There are fantastic ideas in it, and very important. You can see that present-day evolutionary theory starts from there but there are many outdated things in it, especially the lack of any reference to any hereditary mechanisms, any mechanisms for inheriting traits. It's completely absent. It's still of great value but it is not a contemporary book. If you want learn evolutionary theory, you are not satisfied by reading Darwin.
If you want to understand the dynamics of present-day capitalism it's not sufficient to read what Marx has said, and as I suggested, there are actually many things that are simply wrong there that need to be corrected. So it is both. But to call Marxism a science is, of course, ridiculous. In the Marxist tradition there are scientific elements, which have not been developed sufficiently because most Marxists regarded the whole corpus of what Marx and to some extent Engels wrote as holy writ. They were afraid to criticise anything. Marx was the first to ridicule such an approach.
HR: Would you say that the most developed present-day capitalism is very much just vindicating some parts of Marx' writings?
MM: Oh yes. Yes, he had some insights that are completely vindicated. I mean starting from globalisation, which he predicted a long time ago. He saw this happening. Now it's a commonplace. What he called centralisation of capital, that is to say, the growing domination of huge capitalist concerns. He refers to centralisation, this domination of the market by oligopolies. But there is a lot of other things. For example, he pointed out, not the first philosopher in history to say this but one of the thinkers who stressed this, that there is a correspondence between the economic structure of a society and what he called the political superstructure. Now we can see very clearly. Who can deny that there is some correlation between capitalist economy and liberal, parliamentary democracy. Empirically it is evident that they go together. Which do you think is most fundamental? Of course, they help each other, one requires the other, but which is the most fundamental? I think there can hardly be any dispute about it that it is the requirements of the capitalist economy that actually create the conditions and the necessity of bourgeois political, parliamentary democracy.
Take the sphere of education. If you ask what is education for, twenty, thirty, forty years ago you could hear all sorts of answers. But now the most common answer that you get is that the aim of education is to serve the needs of economy. Does this remind you of anything? Sometimes it is even put more crudely that the purpose of education is to satisfy the needs of employers. This is, if you like, a rather crude version but now accepted as sort of normal part of discourse, something that when Marx pointed it out hundred and thirty years ago, was regarded as very controversial. Who can deny it today? I hear it everywhere not only by ministers and politicians but even by people in charge of education. You hear it in universities. Of course, they don't like to admit it.
There are still some traditionalists who want to believe that the purpose of education is to enrich the soul of the student, and of course they try to do it. It's not that it happens without any resistance, and of course this is very fertile, very productive about the social process that it can always be subverted, that education and the political mechanism that goes together with capitalism can always be used in order to subvert the system. That is inevitable. It's part of the dialectic of human life.
But officially now the purpose of education, the purpose of what Marx regarded as part of the superstructure is precisely to serve the needs of the economic structure. Of course, they don't say: in order to enrich the people who make a profit out of it, but they almost say this. A lot of things that are now taken more or less for granted were if not originally pointed out by Marx, at least elaborated and stressed by him. He was probably not he first; there is an old tradition; I can mention Ibn Khaldun who had some of these ideas in the 14th century, some ideas that are reminiscent of historical materialism.
But in a modern way, as part of modern discourse it was Marx who is responsible for all these ideas, some of which precisely those people who declare that Marx has been defeated and Marxism been disproved, actually repeat, without realising that it was Marx who was famous for saying it. This is an irony.
London, November 1999
The interview was abridged by deleting six questions. Question 8 is an amalgam of two questions.