The Force of History

20 Oct 2013: Capital (Ch. 32, “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation,” 1867, Karl Marx)

The recapitulation of the dialectic at work in economic development. Marx begins the chapter basically piling praise upon the capital engine for pushing productivity to previously unimagined heights and for finally freeing up man to interchangeably perform different tasks and fully develop his own individual potential by not having to chain himself to a single occupation throughout his days. Then without warning he shifts into strongly restating the horrors and abominations perpetrated by its practitioners thus far upon the employees who drive it forward. The opening line of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind frequently in reading Marx, and certainly describes his approach here. He sees the historical progress from economic stage to economic stage on the course toward human liberation as inexorable, both immanent and imminent, and ends this chapter by quoting from his (and Engels’) own Manifesto to predict the workers’ eventual conquest of the global system. Perhaps he didn’t foresee how long the bourgeois and petty aspirants would hold out, and to what lengths of sophisticated psychological manipulation and misdirection the controllers would go to maintain their positions, for if the revolution is unavoidable its progress has been much slower than expected. Whatever the “realism” of his predictions, it’s undeniably refreshing to read something so unabashedly idealistic and hopeful while intellectually substantiated and clear.

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