Marxism and Literature in the 21st Century: Renzo Llorente

Renzo Llorente
COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

RENZO LLORENTE was born and raised in Brunswick, Maine; his father was Cuban, and his mother is American. He spent most of his college years in New York. After finishing a Ph.D. in philosophy, he began teaching on Saint Louis University’s Madrid Campus, where he is currently a professor.

Llorente’s interests in philosophy fall mainly in four areas: ethics — as it is approached in ethical theories (what philosophers call “normative ethics”) and as it is developed in “applied ethics,” Marxism, Latin American philosophy (including Latin American Marxist thought), and certain themes or concerns associated with existentialist thought such as the nature of the absurd, nihilism, and the problem of death. He is the author of numerous essays, as well as a book-length collection of aphorisms. Selections from this manuscript have appeared in Left Curve, VOX, Political Affairs, Secular Nation, and Orphan Leaf Review.

A longer version of this interview first appeared in Complete with Missing Parts: Interviews with the Avant-garde (VOX Press, 2008) in a limited edition of seventy-five copies.

Let’s begin with a rather blatant question: how relevant is a study of Marx in a post-cold war 21st century world? Did the collapse of communist Russia create a greater (or less) need for Marxist studies in the post-cold war era?

I think Marx and Marxism are still very relevant today — and so very much still worth studying — for the simple reason that capitalism is still with us, and this is the economic system and social arrangement that Marxists have analyzed, and criticized, so insightfully. There is a remark by Paul Baran, a brilliant Marxist economist who was very influential in the 1960s, that captures this idea very nicely: “For Marxism is nothing if not a powerful magnifying glass under which the irrationality of the capitalist system protrudes in all of its monstrous forms.” When I think of problems like alienation, exploitation, class conflict, the ways in which the state invariably defends capitalists’ interests, the oppression of the working class, or the pervasiveness of domination based on economic hierarchies, it seems quite clear to me that the magnifying glass of Marxism remains as indispensable as ever.

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Karl Marx, 1875
FROM THE Marx Engels Image Library

But unlike some who are sympathetic to Marx, I don’t believe that the value of Marxism today is merely negative; that is, I don’t think it’s valuable merely as a critique of capitalism. There are also many positive elements of Marxism that are still valuable and relevant. The ideal and goal of a classless society, free of economic exploitation and social domination, seems to me to have lost none of its appeal. Likewise, I think Marxists are right to stress the strategic importance of the working class for any radical social transformation. Much of Marx’s method of social analysis, which links political, social and cultural phenomena to economic and technological developments, remains very useful.

None of what I’ve said should be taken to mean that we can find solutions to all of our contemporary problems in Marx’s writings. Marx got many things wrong, and in any event, it would be silly to think that someone who died 125 years ago could have answers for all of today’s problems. Yet those who are fighting against the scourge of neo-liberalism and capitalist “globalization,” and certainly everyone committed to the defense of workers’ interests, can gain from reading Marxist literature. If anything, the collapse of Soviet communism, and the eclipse of the “Marxism-Leninism” that it proclaimed as its official doctrine, makes it easier to appreciate Marx’s real value and enduring significance, as well as the lessons we might learn from reading him today.


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