Review: ‘The Value of Radical Theory’ by Wayne Price

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.

—N.S.

0 thoughts on “Review: ‘The Value of Radical Theory’ by Wayne Price

  1. Thanks to N.S. and to News & Letters overall for this very fair and favorable review of my book. I am not at all complaining but I would like to clarify two points:
    (1) The reviewer says, “He correctly sees state capitalism as the final stage of the capitalist mode of production.” It is true that Marx and Engels saw capitalism tending towards a fully statified capitalism (I write). It is not clear that either thought that capitalism would ever actually reach this culmination. If it did, they seem to have regarded the result as very fragile and vulnerable to being overthrown or coming apart. Which is what happened after all. I think that the opinion of Dunayevskaya and James that the epoch of capitalist imperialism and monopoly was over, being replaced by a new epoch of state capitalism, was wrong, and has been shown to be wrong. Of course, monopolization, globalization, and statification are all real and consistent with the continuation of the imperialist-monopolist epoch of decline. (It is not clear to me whether N&L theorists still hold this belief in a new epoch.)
    (2) N.S. writes, “To ascribe the crimes of the Stalinists and their heirs to Marxism is…incorrect….Marx had nothing to do with the Stalinist perversion of the ideals of Marx.” I do not ascribe Stalinism to Marx’s ideas as a whole. I think there are libertarian-democratic, humanistic, and proletarian ideas in Marx, and that aspects of Marx’s ideas (especially his critique of political economy) are highly useful for anarchists and others (why else would I write this book?). But I do think that there are aspects of Marx’s ideas which (under certain objective conditions) have lent themselves to authoritarian results–first to social democratic pro-imperialism and then to Stalinism. You-all agree with me on “the degeneration of post-Marx Marxism in all its varieties.” That is, everyone after Marx degenerated toward the development of “butchers of the working class, the gravediggers of the revolution.” Is it reasonable to argue that Marx had nothing whatever to do with this??? So I try to examine what aspects of his theory might have led to this. I suggest, for example, his political program of a new sort of state which would nationalize and centralize the economy, is one such aspect, as the anarchists argued why back when. This is open to argument but seems to me to be at least discussable.

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