Jacques Attali: Marx, a closet capitalist

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Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Karl Marx was a closet capitalist.
So writes French author Jacques Attali in ``Karl Marx ou l'esprit du monde'' (Fayard, 504 pages, 23 euros.)
Attali argues that the theoretician widely blamed for the rise and fall of the Soviet Union was actually a free-marketeer who favored capitalism as a stepping stone to his communist ideal and predicted globalization as we know it today.
That, he says, makes Marx the thinker du jour. Sales of his book suggest he may be right, at least in France: ``Karl Marx'' ranks among the country's non-fiction bestsellers.
Like his subject, Attali is something of an overachiever. He graduated from four of France's elite ``grandes ecoles,'' finishing top of his graduating class at the Ecole Polytechnique engineering school.
When the late Francois Mitterrand became president of France in 1981, Attali, then 38, moved into the adjacent office as his special adviser. Some of his ideas later became reality: the Grande Bibliotheque, the giant library in eastern Paris, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, based in London.
Today, Attali is president of PlaNet Finance, a federation of some 10,000 micro-lenders that provide funding to the poorest of the poor. He is also the author of 37 books, including novels, children's stories and a play. The topic of his 38th? Mitterrand, his one-time mentor, who died a decade ago.
Free Marx
On a rainy day last week, Attali settled into a red armchair at Bloomberg's Paris bureau and, between sips of Earl Grey tea, shared his views on Marx, the world and the future.
Nayeri: In your biography, you say Marx has become relevant to the world today. How so?
Attali: Marx was understood as the thinker of Marxism and, more than that, a thinker of Sovietism. Actually, Marxism and Sovietism were built after Marx, and against him. Marx was a thinker of globalization. He was strongly against the idea of taking power for socialism in one country, strongly against the idea that communism could come instead of capitalism. For him, socialism should come after capitalism spreads everywhere in the world, including China and India. Ironically, he explained that the one country where socialism cannot begin is Russia, which is too backward.
For Marx, capitalism was huge progress compared to the previous feudal system. Therefore, he was strongly in favor of capitalism as progress toward liberty for mankind. He was in favor of free markets. He was in favor of free trade, explicitly; against protectionism, explicitly. And he explained that socialism, therefore, should come after.
Beyond Capitalism
Nayeri: Do you think that the world according to Marx will ever see the day?
Attali: I'm sure there will be something beyond capitalism.
It is clear that capitalism will win against the previous regime. It will take a lot of time, there will be some fights against theocracies as well as dictatorships. But I believe capitalism is not here forever, meaning more than one, two, three or five centuries.
What is beyond capitalism is a world of free things and (things of) no value, and what we see on the Internet, in (downloaded) music ... is exactly that: the beginning of a world where some things, or everything, will or may become free.
Nayeri: Do you think the U.S. and the West will lose their political and economic dominance of the planet in 50 years' time?
Attali: In 50 years, no. But there is no empire forever, just as there is no civilization forever, and it's clear that the American empire, like the Roman Empire, will begin to decline, and is beginning to decline. As we saw with the Roman Empire, the decline took more than four centuries to happen and what happened after that was a disaster.
Anarchy or Governance?
The question is how long the decline of the American empire will take, and for me, it will be very long. What will happen after will be global anarchy, such as happened in the early Middle Ages, or the beginning of global governance, if we see a victory of democracy.
Nayeri: Bob Geldof famously said he would like to make poverty history. As the president of PlaNet Finance, do you consider that aim possible?
Attali: It is needed. I don't know if it is possible.
We see that poverty is one of the main sources of violence; terrorism finds its sources in poverty, and poverty finds its sources in violence. But I don't believe that the instruments that Bob is proposing, such as debt relief, are the most efficient ones, because debt relief means debt relief of governments, and the debt of governments is made for buying weapons or whatever. It is more important to help the very poorest to get out of debt. It's what micro-finance is about.
Nayeri: What is your next project in terms of book writing?
Attali: I am finishing my understanding of what Francois Mitterrand was all about.
Nayeri: How come it took you so long to decide to write this book?
Attali: Well, 10 years after his death, I think it's time to say what I think about his action.
To contact the reporter on this story: Farah Nayeri in Paris at at [email protected] .
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Ruane in Brussels at [email protected] .

I've always felt that Marx is better for understanding capitalism rather than socialism. Especially since he was rather vague about the specifics of the latter. But his support for capitalism was not necessarily "pro capitalist" or pro free market. He was following the Hegelian conception of historical development. So socialism (and then communism) were supposed to follow capitalism as he envisioned them as more advanced systems. He wanted to see capitalism develop as best it could because he (erroneously) believed that socialism would come afterwards.


Original link for those who prefer paragraph breaks: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=amki8cR5MF34&refer=culture

It's interesting to see the ostensibly capitalist Bloomberg post a candid interview of someone claiming not only that Marx saw capitalism as a necessary precedent for socialism and therefore welcomed it, but also that modern globalist capitalism is leading to a post-capitalist society in some ways like the one that Marx advocated. One might have expected a Bloomberg article to raise the issue of what this means for the future of the markets, finance, etc. Instead, the article blithely describes the coming quasi-Marxist society as "a world of free things". To the extent that is true, that will be the result of technologically driven strides in productivity, and nothing to do with Marx's theory. What the article glosses over is what the Marxist flavor of post-capitalist society really means: Extreme individualism, alienation, deracination, consumerism, degeneration, depravity, and, inevitably from this, exploitation and dehumanization. The coming post-capitalist world may hearken back to Marx, but it won't be the paradise promised by Marxists. The unwritten subtext of this article is that cultural Marxism and globalist capitalism are not only complementary, mutually reinforcing currents; they are the two sides of the same coin.

Agreed, assuming you meant "not necessarily".
True. Not to mention the technological advancements that have allowed us to get free movies and music over the internet.

I agree wholeheartedly.
The last French intellectuals I agreed with were Derrida and Rabelais. This guy is on the level of an irreligious pacifist who leans in to emphatically say "Think of all the wars religion has caused." The French have been failing at philosophy for too long because they believe anyone can do it if they just hold the right pose and use the correct tone and pace of voice.

I define Communism the way Marx defined it himself, the abolition of private property. If true, then Communism leads to Capitalism, not the other way around.

Nothing but what is stolen or given is free. The only way something will become legally free is if it comes with advertisements for something that is not.