Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Interview with István Mészáros

Since this blog has a quote from the great Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács as a header, I thought I really should link to an interview with one of Lukács's students, István Mészáros, who won the 1971 Deutscher Prize for his book Marx's Theory of Alienation, in this month's Socialist Review. Mészáros's most recent book, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time, was reviewed by Paul Blackledge in a past issue of SR. When asked in this recent interview, 'What do you think the possibilities for change are at the moment?', this was Mészáros's reply:

Socialists are the last to minimise the difficulties of the solution. Capital apologists, whether they are neo-Keynesian or whatever else, can produce all kinds of simplistic solutions. I don't think that we can consider the present crisis simply in the way we have in the past. The present crisis is profound. The deputy governor of the Bank of England has admitted that this is the greatest economic crisis in human history. I would only add that it is not the greatest economic crisis in human history but the greatest crisis in all senses. Economic crises cannot be separated from the rest of the system.

The fraudulence and domination of capital and the exploitation of the working class cannot go on forever. The producers cannot be kept constantly and forever under control. Marx argued that capitalists are simply the personifications of capital. They are not free agents; they are executing the imperatives of this system. So the problem for humanity is not simply to sweep away one bunch of capitalists. To simply put one type of personification of capital in the place of another would lead to the same disaster and sooner or later we'd end up with the restoration of capitalism.

The problems society faces have not simply arisen in the past few years. Sooner or later these have to be resolved and not, as the Nobel Prize winning economists might fantasise, within the framework of the system. The only possible solution is to found social reproduction on the basis of the producers being in control. That has always been the idea of socialism.

We have reached the historical limits of capital's ability to control society. I don't mean just banks and building societies, even though they cannot control those, but the rest. When things go wrong nobody's responsible. From time to time politicians say, "I accept full responsibility," and what happens? They are glorified. The only feasible alternative is the working class which is the producer of everything which is necessary in our life. Why should they not be in control of what they produce? I always stress in every book that saying no is relatively easy, but we have to find the positive dimension.

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