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ROCKMORE, Tom. Marx's Dream: From Capitalism to Communism.

ROCKMORE, Tom. Marx's Dream: From Capitalism to Communism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018. viii + 285 pp. Cloth, $45.00--In the cases of a few influential philosophers, it is their own reception that remains the greatest stumbling block to understanding them. Habent sua fata libelli. The problem is in no case more acute than it is in Marx's: "Marxism is a series of misunderstandings about Marx," as Tom Rockmore puts it. As some of the political dust has settled over the past thirty years, a number of fine studies have appeared to recover Marx's thinking in its original context. Rockmore's new book continues this ongoing work of clarification. He has the aim both of putting the central positions of Marx's thinking in conversation with those of other early nineteenth century figures and of continuing the work of distinguishing the man from the "-ism" created by his successors. The Marx that convincingly emerges from the jetsam of misreadings is less a wishful zealot than a pragmatist whose insistence on the "concrete" and historical aspects of human life is much more proximate to the idealism of Fichte and Hegel than the standard thumbnails allow.

Rockmore's study is divided into three parts, each of which is addressed to a family of themes. The first establishes Marx's central concern in continuity with other answers (Plato's, Rousseau's, Hegel's) to the question of the relationship between human flourishing and its social context. Rockmore sets the stage here by presenting the indissoluble nexus that exists between Marx's view of the subject (as "always already in a social context"), his view of modern industrial society (as fundamentally alienating to that subject), his view of communism in contrast to capitalism (as the resolution of that alienation), and his view of real social freedom that will be found in communism ("the development of the richness of human nature as an end in itself," in Marx's words). While Marx was by no means the first to notice the connection between economics and ethics, Rockmore shows how it accounts for what is most interesting about his position: the fundamental connection between what we make and what we make of ourselves, along with the permanent temptation (within capitalism) to view all making in terms of wealth, while transforming wealth into an end in itself. Capital, in other words, is not (just) a thing, but a system of things and therefore a social relation and a kind of human being.

The second part is devoted to the question of Marx's materialism. Rockmore bucks the Marxist notion that by "materialism"--set in polemical contrast to "idealism"--Marx meant the reduction of human conduct to empirically verifiable, mono-causal claims about matter in motion. Neither "dialectical materialism" nor "historical materialism" are doctrines found in Marx's writings; they are simplifications first introduced by Engels--whom Rockmore names as the culprit of many or most subsequent Marxist distortions of Marx--and then by Lenin and others in the context of Soviet ideology. Rockmore argues that "materialism" is rather Marx's version of philosophical anthropology: the rejection of the abstruse, crypto-theological view of philosophy that Marx attributes to Hegel, along with "the conception of the basically active social and historical subject, which is arguably the deepest idea in his [Marx's] overall position." Hegel's approach to modern industrial society through a theory of right and Marx's own approach through a theory of political economy are in fact "compatible as complementary approaches from different perspectives."

Rockmore's final part pursues the question of the transition from capitalism to communism. He takes up in detail four widespread views of how this is supposed to take place in practice--the emergence of a revolutionary proletariat, a shattering economic crisis, a political dictatorship, and a transition through Critical Social theory--each of which, he concludes, is "problematic" or implausible. The book concludes with a very interesting comparison between Marx's position and the Marxism of the Chinese Communist Party, arguing that "on even a charitable interpretation" the latter is not "a recognizable version of Marx's vision." Rockmore's bottom line here is that "Marx's theory of the unity and theory and practice is not itself practical"; his merit lies, rather, in his unsurpassed critique of the ills of industrial society.

Rockmore's discussion is not easy going; at times the prose reads like desultory lecture notes, and at times it labors under its own erudition. Nor is it always easy to keep track of where his remarks are meant to be introductory and where he takes himself to strike out on his own: the general thesis that Marx was not a Marxist is not of itself a novel one. The book is nonetheless very helpful in flagging and removing the stumbling blocks that Marx's reception has put between us and his philosophical thought, even as it provides us with an unflinching look at the problem of squaring that philosophy with its own politics.--Anton Barba-Kay, The Catholic University of America
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Author:Barba-Kay, Anton
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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