Marx as guru

Steven Welzer
2 min readAug 17, 2022

Left, let go.

Murray Bookchin said to the New Left of the sixties: “. . . to infect the movement of our time with ‘workerism’ is reactionary to the core . . . to barge in with the worn recipes of Marxism, to babble about the ‘role of the working class,’ amounts to a subversion of the present and the future by the past.”

Marx is the guru of the left because he became identified as the firstist, fullest, mostest, bestest critic of the capitalist system. He wrote a lot (and he wrote well). He was very bright, very passionate very active, very committed . . . sure, an icon of the early movement.

But an awful lot of what he said was flawed.

He said capitalism is exploitative. Right. He recognized that the bourgeoning statist-industrialist socio-economic paradigm of modernity was transformational. It was. But Marx was positive about it. He thought the capitalist era was initially progressive in the sense of fostering the development of industrialism. This great eventuality would establish the “material basis” for a “next higher” historical stage: socialism.

He said capitalism was a progressive modernizing force from, like, 1500 to 1800, but after that it fetters the further development of the means of production. Socialism would unfetter (!), enable abundance for all, and thus enable the transcending of the class division of society. Such would constitute the beginning of the truly human period of history.

This puts Marx in the same category as all those gurus who delineate a path toward nirvana.

He had plenty of insights about extant exploitation, oppression, power elitism, and social hierarchy — and that makes many leftists feel that he must have been insightful in regard to movement praxis and strategy. But he wasn’t.

It was a mistake when the New Left of the sixties turned back to Marx in the seventies. And it’s distressing to see the New New Left (post-Bernie) again prioritizing Marxist study groups. There are three volumes of Das Kapital plus three volumes of amassed related notes and commentaries (Theories of Surplus Value) altogether totaling over three thousand pages. It’s only of historical interest to slog through them. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Marx was way more wrong than he was right. Leftists, let him go, already.

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).