William Gay, “Marxism and Global Values,” Global Studies Encyclopedia, eds. I.I. Mazour, A.N. Chumakov, and W.C. Gay (Moscow:  Raduga, 2003), pp.337-339.



Marxism and Global Values


William Gay



The dissolution of the Soviet Union has initiated important questions concerning the nature and future of Marxism.  This essay will examine the future of Marxism in relation to global values, specifically in relation to what is termed “Western” Marxism (non-Soviet or non-Orthodox Marxism).

Traditionally, Marxism is closely associated with liberation movements for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and developing countries.  With the demise of the Soviet Union, the relevance of Marxism and socialism to these and other political movements is receiving increased attention.  At the same time, capitalism itself has been influenced by Marxism in a variety of ways, including some state involvement in the economy (that is, the rejection of laissez-faire capitalism) to some involvement of workers in the economic enterprises in which they are employed (from allowing workers to participate in making management decisions to allowing workers to own part of their businesses).  Within philosophy, while debates are still occurring over whether to distinguish an early and a late Marx and over the proper relation of Marxism to phenomenology, existentialism, and structuralism, these debates are now abetting.  Instead, especially in geo-political discussions, examinations of the future of Marxism and socialism in Russia and the rest of the world are becoming more focal and germane.  In this regard, the relation of Marxism to global values is especially important.

In the West, among contemporary advocates of a new world order, some seek to advance global values rather than U.S. economic and political hegemony.  One of these groups is the World Policy Institute (formerly Institute for World Order).  Among the institute’s many works, Robert Johansen’s The National Interest and the Human Interest is especially relevant for illustrating global values.  The four key world order or global values are:  l) peace without national military arsenals, 2) economic well being for all inhabitants on the earth, 3) universal human rights and social justice, and 4) ecological balance.  However, as good as these global values may sound, now is a particularly difficult time for obtaining serious discussion of such a global orientation.  Some thought the end of the bipolar global system would foster moving from East-West conflict to North-South cooperation.  Instead, the post-Cold War Era ushered in a uni-polar world of U.S. economic, political, and military hegemony.

Given the present geo-political reality, there is a need within global studies to address the ways in which philosophical Marxism, in contrast to orthodox or state Marxism, may prove relevant.  Of course, even if an interpretation of Marxism can be articulated that helps the global community address the problems of scarcity and exploitation, it remains open as to whether it is sufficient for the vast array of global problems that will have to be faced well into the next century.  Still, for advancing global values neither current state capitalism nor prior state socialism is adequate.  State capitalism, which is another name for the partially governmentally regulated economic system of the United States, has focused on the production of great wealth and has supported, to a lesser extent, the advancement of human rights.  However, state capitalism is also associated with a high frequency of war and with significant levels of environmental damage.  By contrast, the state socialism of the former Soviet Union focused on economic growth, sometimes at the cost of environmental damage and low priority to human rights.  In the West, the impact of government has been primarily internal in relation to regulation, and the state has functioned poorly in controlling external markets, with the important exception of those instances, mostly but not entirely in the past, of colonial aggression.

With respect to philosophical Marxism it is possible and desirable to return to Marx as a “thinker” of emancipation.  Marx developed a penetrating and still relevant critique of domination.  It is this Marx, rather than the re-defined one that others used to buttress state socialism, that needs to be revived.  To be blunt, Marxism needs to return to Marx without Stalin or Lenin.  Nevertheless, at least within Russia, to even refer to Marx per se is currently problematic.  To some people, the name is everything.  For them, if you changed the name of Karl Marx to Adam Smith or Bill Gates, no objection would be raised!  Obviously, we have to look more deeply than at the name and, especially, the positive or negative associations we have with it.

The importance of the re-appropriation of Marxism is significant. This version of Marxism can detail and criticize:  1) the degree of devastation that state capitalism has wrought on the environment (at least in the developing world, where the United States, in particular, has aggravated these problems in developing countries), 2) the implications of stressing economic growth over human growth (the dysfunctional consequences of pursuing ever more profit), 3) the ways in which the forms of bureaucracy in the United States continue to interfere with advancing social justice, and 4) the manner in which the current uni-polar system of U.S. hegemony makes the unchecked use of military force more likely.  In other words, philosophical Marxism can expose how uni-polar globalization is undercutting the pursuit of humanitarian global values.

Beyond the critique it can offer, on the constructive level philosophical Marxism can foster global values that facilitate pursuing policymaking from a global, rather than a narrowly national, perspective.  The German Ideology and Capital, in particular, show how Marx’s concept of history pretty closely articulates most of the needed global values.  (Since texts from both the “young” and the “mature” Marx support these global values, there is no need to divide Marx himself into two separate and opposing theorists, supposedly a philosophical humanist in his youth and a scientific economist in his maturity.)

In the first place, from a global perspective “the human race is the constituency to consider in policymaking”  (Johansen, p. 21).  An orientation to the human race should include not only horizontal (trans-national) but also vertical (trans-class) considerations.  In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx’s concept of Gattungswesen (species-being) is quite compatible with such an inclusive concept of the human race.  Even more, Marx’s concept is, from the outset, not only descriptive but also prescriptive.  Marx uses the potentiality of any member of the species as a critical index against which to measure the actuality of any member or class of the species.  This concern continues throughout Marx’s subsequent writings.  In Capital, for example, he notes the human interest in the labor-time (and its distribution) to attain subsistence.  In this regard, Marx also states the obvious fundamental importance of “species preservation” in his first premise of history.  He states this initial premise in The German Ideology, namely, persons “must be in a position to live in order to be able to ‘make’ history.”  As Marx states in Capital, conditions of necessity (Reich der Notwendigkeit) must be met before the possibility of freedom (Reich der Freiheit) can begin.

In addition, at both the economic and political levels, the focus should be on service to “human needs.”  Marx noted in his second premise of history the centrality of satisfying human needs.  Throughout his subsequent writings Marx forcibly argues that socio-economic development should bring satisfaction to all people and not depravation to any specific class.  In this regard, advocates of global values can learn from Marxism that consideration of human needs should be disengaged from elitist theories and, instead, should affirm a “politics of liberation” that operates not only at a national level but also at an individual level.

Finally, consideration of the planetary eco-system as a whole needs to be included.  “The entire planet, the atmosphere around it, and the high seas are of prime concern” (Johansen, p. 21).  Marx too was aware, even by the mid-nineteenth century, of the global ecological effects of human productive activity.  Criticizing the Romantic dichotomy between persons and nature, Marx observes in The German Ideology that pure nature no longer exists “except perhaps on a few Australian coral islands of recent origin.”  Oil spills have even eradicated that possibility and, as far as the atmosphere is concerned, past above ground nuclear tests took care of any pure air not already contaminated by industry using the skies as a garbage can.  This global, ecological concern should serve to check socio-economic development and to insure planetary habitability.

To be avoided, however, is a tradeoff in which political exploitation is exchanged for economic exploitation.  Again, in Russia and elsewhere there is a need to return to Marxism for a critique of exploitation.  In this regard, advocates of global values can profit from a return to philosophical Marxism for a critique of exploitation.  Neither Russia nor the United States (or any other country for that matter) has yet made the “true discovery” regarding market and state, but in looking for the proper relation of market and state we should avoid both the past stagnation associated with the Brezhnev era and the current social injustice ranging from Reaganomics to Bush’s war on terrorism in the United States.

On the one hand, there is a need to return to key texts of philosophical Marxism.  Especially relevant in this regard are works by Paulo Freire, Roger Gottlieb, Dick Howard, Martin Jay, Douglas Kellner, Herbert Marcuse, Mark Poster, and Erica Sherover-Marcuse.  On the other hand, there is a need to move forward to the application of Marxism to the pursuit of global values.  Marxism cannot only continue to provide a critique o the problems of capitalism (especially in a uni-polar world), but also Marxism can begin to champion global values of ecological balance, economic justice, human rights, and world peace.




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Freire, Paulo.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos.  New York:  Herder and Herder, 1972.

Gay, William and T.A. Alekseeva, eds.  On the Eve of the 21st Century: Perspectives of Russian and American Philosophers   Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994.

Gay, William and T.A. Alekseeva.  Capitalism with a Human Face:  The Quest for a Middle Road in Russian Politics Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield, 1996.

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Howard, Dick and Karl E. Klare, eds.  The Unknown Dimension:  European Marxism Since Lenin.  New York:  Basic Books, Inc., 1972.

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Marx, Karl.  Marx Engels Werke, Band 23, Das Kapital:  Kritik der politischen Okonomie, Buch I (Berlin:  Dietz Verlag, l972).  For English translation, see Capital, Volume One, in Tucker’s The Marx-Engels Reader.

Marx, Karl.  Marx Engels Werke, Band 25, Das Kapital:  Kritik der politischen Okonomie, Buch III (Berlin:  Dietz Verlag, l972).  For English translation, see Capital, Volume Three, in Tucker’s The Marx-Engels Reader.

Marx, Karl.  Marx Engels Werke, Band 3, “Die deutsche Ideologie,” (Berlin:  Dietz Verlag, l973).  For English translation, see “The German Ideology,” in Tucker’s The Marx-Engels Reader.

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Poster, Marx.  Existential Marxism in Postwar France:  From Sartre to Althusser.  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1975.

Sherover-Marcuse, Erica.  Emancipation and Consciousness:  Dogmatic and Dialectical Perspectives in the Early Marx.  Oxford:  Basil Blackwell, 1986.

Tucker, Robert C., ed.  The Marx-Engels Reader.  New York:  W.W. Norton, 1978.  2nd ed.


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