From the March-April 2015 issue of News & Letters
Writing as a former anarchist and present-day Marxist-Humanist, it was a pleasure, albeit with reservations, to read Wayne Price’s book on Marx’s Capital. It was a pleasure because Price is an anarchist who is very knowledgeable about several things: the character and functioning of the capitalist mode of production; how capitalism is rendering the planet unlivable; why capitalism is an obsolescent system; and Marxist economics.
Price presents a clear explanation of what Marx wrote in Capital about the capitalist mode of production. He begins with the basics of Marxism—the labor theory of value and the falling rate of profit as characteristics of the capitalist system—and then discusses the stages in the evolution of the capitalist system, closing with a section on state capitalism. He correctly sees state capitalism as the final stage of the capitalist mode of production, where private capitalist property is replaced by state capitalist ownership of the means of production and distribution.
In the second place, Price is honest enough to state that anarchism is very weak when it comes to understanding the economics of the modern era, weak in explaining the workings of the capitalist system, while being strong in laying out a vision of a future society. But to overthrow what exists now, we have to understand it. This is why he tells his anarchist comrades that they should begin to seriously study Marx’s economics, especially Capital.
In the third place, Price discusses the goals of authentic socialism, the real alternative between socialism and barbarism, to quote Rosa Luxemburg, and he distinguishes the Marxist idea of socialism and communism from the state capitalist totalitarian and terrorist regimes who claimed to be Marxist. However, in several parts of the book, he claims to find in original Marxism the seeds of the later totalitarian perversion of Marxism. He expresses support for the council communists and other Left-wing dissident Marxists of the post-Lenin era.
While Price notes the degeneration of post-Marx Marxism in all its varieties and that anarchism had its historical failures and betrayals also (witness the Spanish anarchist leaders agreeing to join a bourgeois government and sacrifice the ideals of a libertarian revolution), he counterposes Marxism to anarchism by saying that the Marxists have murdered “tens of millions of working people in the name of communism.” But here Price is wrong. The butchers of the working class, the gravediggers of the revolution as Trotsky called them, were not the Marxists or even the Bolsheviks, but the Stalinist counter-revolutionaries who seized power and proceeded to liquidate any and all workers, students, peasants, Party members or intellectuals who posed a potential threat to their seizure of power.
To ascribe the crimes of the Stalinists and their heirs to Marxism is as incorrect as saying that Marx is responsible for the crimes of the Nazis. After all, the Nazis claimed to be socialists and to be a worker’s party. They had a Left wing which was more socialist than nationalist. But just as Marx had nothing to do with the Hitlerian perversion of German socialism, so too Marx had nothing to do with the Stalinist perversion of the ideals of Marx.
Nonetheless, for anarchists and non-anarchists interested in learning the basics of Marxist economics, the development of the capitalist system and the crimes of that system, Price’s book is an excellent place to begin.