The Marxist economists I am familiar with, by and large, are at the same time “political Marxists” (and there are economists who are not afraid to learn and cite from Marx who are not avowedly ‘Marxist’ or ‘Marxian,’ like Amartya Sen), and those same (at once economic and political) Marxists do not believe the various “Communist Party-State regimes” of the twentieth-century that were nakedly authoritarian and thus in many respects anti-democratic (hence, for instance, the need to label your regime ‘the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea,’) could lay claim to being “Marxist” (the regimes themselves frequently preferred the epithet, ‘Marxist-Leninist’) in any meaningful sense (yes, it is true, that there were some self-described Marxists who came, for example, to a distressingly belated recognition of the horrors of Stalinism, or acknowledgement of the Chinese famine of 1959-1962, or the cruelties associated with the Cultural Revolution), as messianic historical determinism and authoritarian politics cannot accurately or charitably be ascribed to any halfway credible interpretation of Marx’s work in toto. These Marxists are often political in the wider sense that they identify, say, with the critique of capitalism and the ideals of socialism and communism, or cherish Marx’s writings on alienation and exploitation, or, like Jon Elster, hold views that are “true and important” that “can [be] trace[d] back to Marx,” including “methodology, substantive theories, and, above all, values.” In other words, Marx’s views (and sometimes his political work as well) has a significant and conspicuous effect on their own political views and actions related to same. The distinction between “Marxist” and “Marxian” is rather intended as follows: “a Marxian belief is one that can safely be attributed to Marx himself. A Marxist belief may also be a Marxian one, but not necessarily. A Marxist belief is one held by anyone, academician or political stalwart, who thinks or can persuade others that the belief in question is in accordance with Marx’s intellectual or political legacy.” As Paul Thomas also notes, “We have today a galaxy of different Marxisms, within which the place of Marx’s own thought is ambiguous.”
In short, I do not think the distinction between “Marxian” and “Marxist” is correctly characterized or canalized as arising out of “the need to distance oneself from real-world political communism.” To be sure, and especially in this country, the need to rhetorically distance oneself from being associated with or held retroactively responsible for (?!) “real-world political communism,” finds many of us on the Left (which may have liberal components but is not synonymous with ‘Liberalism’) refusing to speak in public fora of socialism simpliciter, compelled to add—what should be—the redundant adjective “democratic.” And yet around the globe, Marxists and Marxians alike well appreciate, with such luminaries on the Left as G.A. Cohen, Michael Harrington and Eric Hobsbawm that, in the words of the latter, more than “150 years after Marx and Engels’ manifesto [socialism] … is still on the agenda.” As to the probable or possible implications for Michael Dorf’s “admittedly imperfect analogy” (i.e., those different from the reasons he listed for why the analogy is ‘imperfect’), I’ll leave that to our esteemed professor and his devoted reader
Finally, I think the proposition that “the influence of Marxian economists on the real world is negligible,” is also not true (it may be partially or largely true of the Anglo-American world, but it is eminently arguable outside that provincial domain), especially (but not only) if one is able to assess this influence in “indirect” or second-order terms, and thus the willingness of economists and policy makers to be seduced by the appeal of Keynesian and neo-Keynesian ideas and the peculiar form of “New Deal” or “social security” capitalism (the golden years of which were from 1946 to 1973); and their demise suggesting the limits of Keynes’ legacy and the value of a Marxist approach (see, for example, the respective works of Meghnad Desai and Anwar Shaikh), or the singular historical and comparative achievements of social democratic welfare regimes. (None of this is to deny or ignore the impressive economic achievements of capitalism, achievements which Marx himself well understood before they came to full fruition.) Marxist economists and Marxists generally remind us that,
“by subordinating humanity to economics, capitalism undermines and rots away the relations between human beings which constitute societies, and creates a moral vacuum, in which nothing counts except what the individual wants, here and now. At the top, men sacrifice entire cities to profitability, as in the film Roger and Me, which shows what happened to the town of Flint when General Motors shut down its works. At the bottom, teenage boys kill others for their sheepskin jackets or fashionable trainers, as happens every day in New York. [….] Socialists are there to remind the world that people and not production come first.”
Indeed, socialists today are here to make imperative the ideal if not idea that people are capable of living lives worthy of (self-realizing in the Marxist sense) human beings: “not just in comfort, but together, and in dignity” (Eric Hobsbawm)
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