Recently I have had some heretical thoughts, particularly in light of my increasing interest in Soviet history. The summary: What if Marx isn’t the unsurpassable horizon of the critique of capitalism? It seems to me that there are a lot of intellectual blind alleys in Marx’s economic theory, most notably the labor theory of value and the idea of use value vs. exchange value. (I can already anticipate people responding that they’re so tired of bourgeois ideologists pointing to those aspects of Marx’s thought — but maybe those things are constantly critiqued because, you know, they’re actually pretty questionable?)
The problem with both of those concepts seems to me to be the quest for some kind of “objective” value underlying the mystifications of capitalism. It also seems to me that the Soviet attempt to build a consciously directed economy based solely on use value was a reasonable way to respond to Marx’s theory — and I don’t think anyone views that system as a model for the future, with good reason.
This is not to say that Marx’s work isn’t incredibly valuable in other respects or that Marx shouldn’t remain an indispensable point of reference on the left. Nor is it to say that we must either take or leave Marx as a whole — obviously there’s a lot that we can make use of that isn’t directly dependent on the reference to an “objective” value that capitalism is screwing up. Perhaps we should just admit that Marx was at his best when he was furthest from his self-image as a hard-headed empiricist asserting the claims of objective reality against bourgeois mystification, strip his work for parts, and take responsibility for our own critique of capitalism without engaging in a kind of scholastic attempt to “save” our authoritative figure.