Distinguishing Marxism from Conservatism

At first I thought JB Foster was rebuking Davos. But then I realized he was only aiming at social democracy and social citizenship, which he/MR conceives as the barrier to the world simply recognizing that MR’s monopoly capitalism framework is correct and from that collectively deducing the revolution.

Let’s focus on this bit, which is not true:

Many of the symptoms of the failure of capitalism described above are well-known. Nevertheless, they are often attributed not to capitalism as a system, but simply to neoliberalism, viewed as a particular paradigm of capitalist development that can be replaced by another, better one. For many people on the left, the answer to neoliberalism or disaster capitalism is a return to welfare-state liberalism, market regulation, or some form of limited social democracy, and thus to a more rational capitalism. It is not the failure of capitalism itself that is perceived as the problem, but rather the failure of neoliberal capitalism.

In contrast, the Marxian tradition understands neoliberalism as an inherent outgrowth of late capitalism, associated with the domination of monopoly-finance capital. A critical-historical analysis of neoliberalism is therefore crucial both to grounding our understanding of capitalism today and uncovering the reason why all alternatives to neoliberalism and its capitalist absolutism are closed within the system itself.” –John Bellamy Foster 2019

That is just MR branding and sales.

The difference is about the strategy for dealing with an entitled, sovereign, fortified global ruling class, and its differential capacity to colonize, direct, or regulate state managers and police/militaries. That is what different kinds of Marxists are really arguing about.

That sets Marxists apart from conservatives and conservative liberals, who are instead arguing that centering the justice of the exception will structurally, logically inscribe all the liberating discursive and institutional change that is possible.

The threat posed to others by capitalist-organized nations is real. What can be done? The conservative-liberal answer is to follow the US’s or France’s (Marshall Plan-funded) elitist paths of top-down orchestrated industrialization, winnowing out the capitalist mega-winners while supplying co-optative trickle-down supports for a smallholding guard class, launching those megacapitalists into the global capitalist class, and turning the state into an international protector of capitalist property and negative rights (See Howell, Chris. 2018. The French Road to Neoliberalism. Catalyst 2(3)).

Social democrats are focused on the importance of organizing workers first, to colonize the state second. Social citizenship is the effort, via positive rights, to institute state accountability to the working class. Neither strategies are incompatible with revolutionary strategies, given the global ruling class will not fade away politely once everyone adopts the monopoly capital framework. No one imagines we can just have social democracy or social liberalism back without revolutionary organization and some (probably spectacular) levels of violence (violence that happens and will happens anyway). JBF’s enemy is a projected chimera, a symptom of a theoretical framework thats broadness (global monopoly capitalism) makes some things visible (finance-driven inequality, economic crisis, ecological destruction), and hides others (the boundary between Marxism and the justice of the elite, the diversity of Marxist organizational and institutional strategies for dispositional democratic development, the primary need for organizing sororite/fraternite–egaliberte dispositions, expanding (democratizing) human capacities). JBF has long been a symbolic patron of the anarchist hippie trust-fund psychological cases, Dixie & California emigres to Oregon. How is that a more noble alliance than recognizing the socialist-founded materialists who fought and built egalitarian and internationalist institutions in actually-existing social democracies? It is not. Plus, patronage is no fraternal recognition. JBF either lacks insight into his own theory’s limitations, or he excessively prioritizes marketing his brand.

MR’s own strategy is doubtful: It’s certainly not about organization. It’s definitely not about coalition. It is simply to insist that the condition of overthrowing capitalism is ideological fealty to the research agenda forwarded by Paul Sweezy and carried forward by John Bellamy Foster, analyzing capitalism as monopoly capitalism. That’s a fine hypothesis for spurring theorization at MR as a small, funded organization requiring more funding. But, given the vast real (in critical realist terms), it cannot substitute for the range of Marxist approaches and strategic hypotheses and experiments, and the need to be able to distinguish, for organization’s sake, historical-materialist contributions from antithetical, conservative contributions, perhaps to create a path back to Enlightenment egaliberte justice for moralists currently caught up in a justice of the exception approach compatible with augmenting inegalitarianism and inequality.

Foster himself shows what is at stake, in terms of coalition, in his overview of the history of the neoliberal ideal:

“Neoliberalism, as it first emerged from Mises’s pen, was thus viewed by Marxian critics in the 1920s (and even by some figures on the right) as an attempt to rationalize a monopoly or finance capital far removed from the precepts of classical liberalism. It was designed to provide the intellectual basis for capitalist class warfare against not only socialism, but all attempts at social regulation and social democracy: a no-quarter-given attack on the working class.”


Internationalism is not a sacred affect, boundless pity and self-abnegating service for the Infinite Less Fortunate. It is sorority/fraternity. It is strategic. It involves organizing. It is not people dissolving positive rights in order to bind displaced people to excessive, disorganizing competition in shit jobs and shit convenience store businesses. It is organizing across borders to help people build homes and society in places they know on Earth. Under capitalist conditions of disruption and primitive accumulation expropriation, Internationalists are pro-immigrant, not pro-migration.

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