Marx in disguise

July 5, 2002

In his review of Meghnad Desai's Marx's Revenge (Books, THES , June 28), John Driffill writes: "Desai reminds us that contrary to the belief that became firmly established in the 1880s and 1890s after his death, Marx had not predicted the imminent demise of capitalism."

What both writers appear to be unaware of is that Marx (who died in 1883) had already been prepared wholly to set aside his historical prophecy: "In a famous letter to a Russian revolutionary he [Marx] indicated that Russia still had a chance to skip the capitalist phase. The peasant commune, Marx wrote... offered Russia the unique chance to jump from the pre-capitalist phase into socialist" ( The Bolsheviks , Ulam, Harvard, 1998).

The fulfilment of this "prophecy" after 1917 in a backward (by European standards) country with little capital development and no bourgeoisie indicated how much Marx was a disguised politician rather than a thinker and how absurdly elastic his key terms "bourgeois", "proletarian" and "capitalist" are.

Nigel Probert

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