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Colin Barker

The Contemporary Marx

(March 1975)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.76, March 1975, p.38.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Contemporary Marx
Mihailo Markovic
Spokesman Books, £4.00.

AT the end of January 1975, the author of this work, together with seven other philosophy teachers, was suspended from his post at Belgrade University’s Philosophy Department by the Serbian parliament This book must be judged in the light of that fact

‘... private property,’ writes Markovic, ‘is not the cause but the effect of alienated labour. Abolition of the private ownership of the means of production is only abolition of one possible specific form of the rule of dead labour over living labour. The general structure remains if there is any other social group such as, for example, bureaucracy, which retains a monopoly of decision-making concerning the disposal of accumulated and objectified labour. Therefore, only such criticism might be considered radical and truly revolutionary which puts a definitive end to exploitation and which aims at creating conditions in which associated producers themselves will dispose of the products of their labour.’

That ‘radical and truly revolutionary criticism’ is what Markovic and his colleagues (including Svetozar Stojanovic, whose Between Ideals and Reality was reviewed in IS 67) have consistently attempted to develop. Their work, through the journal Praxis, has for more than a decade been a sustained effort to live by Marx’s famous injunction – ‘The philosophers hitherto have merely interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it.’

The world they have sought to change has been, above all, the world of Stalinism, in its peculiar Yugoslav form. They have argued for the right of workers to form different socialist parties, for the fullest right of criticism within the Communist Party, above all for the extension of workers’ control from the factory to the state. This last demand, in Yugoslavia, is revolutionary: it means the smashing of the existing state, the destruction of the ‘bureaucracy, which retains a monopoly of decision-making ...’

The majority of their published work has been devoted to relatively abstract, philosophical questions. But those questions have always been directly related to the urgent political and economic questions facing the working class.

The fact that the Yugoslav ruling class has chosen, after a long battle, to use methods of exceptionally dubious legality (even in the Yugoslav context) to suppress these eight philosophers’ voices, to prevent them from teaching, is witness to the crisis in Yugoslav state capitalism. It is witness to the fact that Marxist criticism cannot be borne, at any price, by the ruling bureaucracy. Those who fear Marxist philosophy fear what it represents, the workers they exploit.

Socialists everywhere should add their voices to those who have already protested to the Yugoslav government at the suppression of a group of important, independently minded revolutionary thinkers. And they should read Markovic’s book for its clarity, its single-minded devotion to the cause of the working class, its relevance.

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Last updated: 20 February 2020