Some words about the attacks upon "Marxism."
For some reason there's this great outcry among "intellectuals" about "Marxism." Jordan Peterson doesn't like "cultural Marxism," people think Black Lives Matter is Marxist, and so on. Since I don't read their stuff, I pick it up through articles in Jacobin which show up on my Facebook feed. People will cling to any sort of fancy word in an era of universal ignorance and distraction. So what if wildfires are devouring the West, hurricanes are about to sock it to the East, and everyone in government is one species or another of climate change denier (because what are they doing about it)? Omigod Marxism y'know.
There is a "Marxism" separate from anything Marx said or did. It's granted some space in Sven-Eric Liedman's biography of Karl Marx titled "A World to Win." After Marx died there was an effort to create a civic religion around Marx. Karl Kautsky and Georgi Plekhanov told us that Karl Marx had all the answers to all our questions about society. Also Lenin (aka Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov) told the world that Marx had all the answers to all our questions about society, and that was important because Lenin arranged a "revolution" (actually a coup d'etat) in Russia. And from Lenin came the Soviet Union, which became cannon fodder for the voices which today attack (for instance) Black Lives Matter as "Marxist."
This idea of Marx as having all the answers wasn't going to work forever, though; people would eventually read Marx and find out that of course Marx did not have all of the answers, and if he had had all of the answers, he wouldn't have died before publishing volumes 2 and 3 of Capital, not to mention a whole lot of the rest of his written work which never saw the light of day until decades later. So relax people. Marx was a thinker. He lived long ago, from the years 1818 to 1883. He had ideas. Whaddaya want? A god? Satan?
The article in Jacobin critiques the Yoram Hazony piece "The Challenge of Marxism," published at a libertarian-leaning Australian online magazine website called Quillette, pretty well. But at least Hazony is willing to say something about what "Marxism" is about. What he says is basically nonsense, as Matt McManus points out, because he can't do anything more than touch upon what Marx was about in a rather tangential way. There are a fair number of authors who can discuss Marx tangentially -- class struggle or something like that. The rest of them appear to think that when we discuss Marx with any degree of seriousness we're all trying to bring the Soviet Union back, and the broader the brush with which we can all be tarred, the better. Or they don't like Marxism because Marx didn't believe in God or something like that. Some of the critics of "Marxism" appear not to have read a word of Marx.
If you really want to know about Marx in larger context, read Kees van der Pijl's introductory text. I personally don't see how I could say anything about what Marx was about that van der Pijl said better in his textbook. What I'd like to suggest, though, is that this case is hard to make because American politics is an intellectual vacuum. That's how all the nonsense about "Russia" was devoured by so many people, and it's how all of Trump's nonsense became so credible in the eyes of many. Most importantly, it's how Americans are continually duped by their politicians. Once again, the bedrock truth of George Carlin:
... Good honest hard working people continue, these are people of modest means, continue to elect these rich cocksuckers who don’t give a fuck about them. They don’t give a fuck about you. They don’t give a fuck about…give a fuck about you! They don’t care about you at all, at all, at all.
"Marxism," for what it's worth, is an intrusion into this intellectual vacuum. It suggests that, once upon a time, there were people who really thought, and thought hard, about the social affairs of their day, rather than wasting their time with the sort of nonsense the mass media put out about such topics. One of those people was Karl Marx, who lived from 1818 to 1883. Marx grew up in Germany, and later moved around a bit, eventually settling in London England. Marx was a voluminous author -- the Marx-Engels Collected Works runs to fifty volumes, all at least an inch thick, some thicker. There were a lot of voluminous authors in the 19th century -- do any of you, dear readers, know anyone who has read all of the novels of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), or of Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Marx's contemporaries? Yeah I didn't think so. People wrote a lot back then.
My own suspicion is that much of this objection to Marx is an objection to the idea that you have to think hard about social affairs before having something of importance to say about them. It's the babbling of the ignorant. Now, there are of course informed critiques of Marx and Marxism out there. Such people do not qualify for my above criticisms. Their voices, though, are not being heard or critiqued (and critique is important, otherwise we'd all be followers of Paul Johnson, and wouldn't that suck?) either.
As a writer, Marx had two key technical flaws:
1) He was a perfectionist -- nothing went out until Marx thought it was ready.
2) He suffered from ailments a fair amount of his life, and so his writings often didn't reach the state of perfection he demanded of them.
Marx's grand plan was laid out in a work, scribbled in notebooks in the years 1857 and 1858 and never released until 1939, called the "Grundrisse." "Grundrisse" means "floorplan" in German, but is often translated in this instance as "foundation." A portion of Marx's floorplan (but by no means the whole thing) was made sharp enough to be fit for publication in volume 1 of Capital. This work has Marx's basic theory of capitalism, and fundamentally it is about why exchanges that the economic thinkers of his time assumed were "equal" were not equal at all. That's what it was about. Do you see that argument discussed at length in any present-day critique of "Marxism"?
People who can't argue the substance of what is in "Capital" don't really deserve your attention when they babble about Marx. (If you're looking for a guide, by the way, there's always David Harvey's guide.)
I want to conclude with some thoughts about the "Communist Manifesto." It was a work of hubris, a long pamphlet, written by Marx with his good friend Friedrich Engels, detailing their hopes for the revolutionaries of 1848. Of course such hopes were not fulfilled. My point is that Marx and Engels were themselves revolutionaries. That's what they did, foment revolution; that's what they were. It was the 19th century. Government was openly undemocratic; people felt they had to do something, especially in places and times like Germany in 1848. Maybe if you'd lived back then you'd think that way too?
My point is that the meat of the discussion about Marx, apart from all of the disingenuousness about "Marxism," starts with volume 1 of Capital -- the one volume of Capital that Marx himself thought wise to publish -- and if you want the greater context, read the van der Pijl textbook.