The allegedly less and less power of nation-states is a great exaggeration, voiced by governments in the interest of justifying their failure to introduce even some of their thoroughly limited and once solemnly promised social reforms.… The overwhelming historical failure of capital was—and remains—its inability to constitute the state of the capital system as a whole, while irresistibly asserting the imperatives of its system as the material structural determination of societal reproduction on a global scale. This is a massive contradiction. Inter-state antagonisms on a potentially all-destructive scale—as presaged last century by two world wars still without the now fully developed weapons of total self-destruction—are the necessary consequence of that contradiction. Accordingly, the state that we must conquer in the interest of humanity’s survival is the state as we know it, namely the state in general in its existing reality, as articulated in the course of history, and capable of asserting itself.
István Mészáros is one of the greatest philosophers that the historical materialist tradition has yet produced. His work stands practically alone today in the depth of its analysis of Marx's theory of alienation, the structural crisis of capital, the demise of Soviet-style post-revolutionary societies, and the necessary conditions of the transition to socialism. The Necessity of Social Control grew out of the need for an easily accessible work that would provide a way into his thinking for the uninitiated. Mészáros took this challenge seriously, and produced this book as an introduction to, and summation of, the central ideas governing his analysis.
The need for the establishment and successful operation of The New International is painfully obvious and urgent today. The enemies of a historically sustainable societal reproductive order, who occupy at the present time still the dominant position in our increasingly endangered world, do not hesitate for a moment to exploit in the interest of their destructive design, with utmost cynicism and hypocrisy, the existing decision-making and opinion-forming organs of the international community, from the Security Council of the United Nations to the great multiplicity of the national and international press and to the other mass media under their direct material stranglehold.… At the same time the adherents of the much needed socialist alternative are fragmented and divided among themselves, instead of internationally combining their strength for the cause of a successful confrontation with their adversaries.
When stressing the need for a radical structural change it must be made clear right from the beginning that this is not a call for an unrealizable utopia. On the contrary, the primary defining characteristic of modern utopian theories was precisely the projection that their intended improvement in the conditions of the workers’ life could be achieved well within the existing structural framework of the criticized societies…. As we also know, the high-sounding “utilitarian” moral principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” came to nothing since its Benthamite advocacy. The problem for us is that without a proper assessment of the nature of the economic and social crisis of our time—which by now cannot be denied by the defenders of the capitalist order even if they reject the need for a major change—the likelihood of success in this respect is negligible.
The investigation of the dialectical relationship between structure and history is essential for a proper understanding of the nature and the defining characteristics of any social formation in which sustainable solutions are being sought to the encountered problems. This is particularly important in the case of capital’s social formation, with its inexorable tendency toward an all-embracing, structurally embedded determination of all aspects of societal reproduction and the—feasible for the first time ever—global domination implicit in that form of development. It is therefore by no means accidental that, in the interest of the required structural change, Marx had to focus critical attention on the concept of social structure, in the historical period of crises and revolutionary explosions of the 1840s when he articulated his own—radically new—conception of history.
This landmark book, first published in 1979, met acclaim as a doubly important work of radical philosophy. Its subject, Jean-Paul Sartre, was among the twentieth century’s most controversial and influential philosophers; its author, István Mészáros, was himself establishing a reputation for profound contributions to the Marxian tradition, which would continue into the next century. In this completely updated and expanded volume, Mészáros examines the manifold aspects of Sartre’s legacy—as novelist, playwright, philosopher, and political actor—and in so doing casts light upon the entire oeuvre, situating it within the historical and social context of Sartre’s time.
The collapse by century’s end of most of the post-revolutionary social experiments of the twentieth century put socialists nearly everywhere on the defensive. Today’s call for a “socialism for the twenty-first century” is an attempt to transcend this defensive posture and to engage fully with the most urgent problem of our time: the creation of a sustainable socialist order. In this respect, “István Mészáros,” in the words of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, “is someone who lights up the road. He points to the core of the argument we must make in order to go beyond the defensive attitude in which the world’s peoples and revolutionary movements find themselves, and to take the offensive, throughout the world, in moving toward socialism” (quoted from back cover of Mészáros, O desafio e o fardo do tempo histórico [Sáo Paulo: Boitempo Editorial, 2007]; English edition, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time [forthcoming from Monthly Review Press, 2008]).
In the summer of 2005 Venezuela commemorated the bicentenary of Simón Bolívar’s oath, made in the presence of his great teacher, Simón Rodríguez—a man who later in Paris, well before Marx, frequented socialist secret societies and returned to South America only in 1823. Bolívar’s oath took place on August 15, 1805, on the outskirts of Rome. Already the place itself—the hill of Monte Sacro—which they had chosen together for this solemn occasion, was indicative of the nature of the young Bolívar’s historical pledge. For precisely on the hill of Monte Sacro, twenty-three centuries earlier, the rebellious protest of the plebeians against the patricians in Ancient Rome, under the leadership of Sicinio, was supposed to have taken place. At that time the rebellion of the Roman populace is said to have been brought to an end by the rhetoric of that notorious pillar of the established order, Senator Menenius Agrippa, who was preaching the forever familiar wisdom of the ruling classes according to which the people “not destined to rule” should willingly accept “their place in the natural order of society.”
Once upon a time the capitalist mode of production represented a great advance over all of the preceding ones, however problematical and indeed destructive this historical advance in the end turned out-and had to turn out-to be. By breaking the long prevailing but constraining direct link between human use and production, and replacing it with the commodity relation, capital opened up the dynamically unfolding possibilities of apparently irresistible expansion to which — from the standpoint of the capital system and of its willing personifications — there could be no conceivable limits. For the paradoxical and ultimately quite untenable inner determination of capital’s productive system is that its commodified products “are non-use-values for their owners and use-values for their non-owners. Consequently they must all change hands. . . . Hence commodities must be realised as values before they can be realised as use-values.”
In The Dialectic of Structure and History, Volume Two of Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness, István Mészáros brings the comprehension of our condition and the possibility of emancipatory social action beyond the highest point reached to date. Building on the indicatory flashes of conceptual lightning in the Grundrisse and other works of Karl Marx, Mészáros sets out the relations of structure and agency, individual and society, base and superstructure, nature and history, in a dialectical totality open to the future.
I wrote some time ago that “Harry Magdoff is a great teacher and an indomitable combatant. His contributions to socialist theory-on imperialism and monopolistic developments, as well as on the vital role of planning for any viable society of the future—are of a truly lasting importance.”
would like to begin with a brief survey of the very disquieting—indeed, I should say, of worldwide threatening—developments in the field of politics and the law. In this respect I wish to underline that it was no less than twenty-three years ago that I became personally acquainted in Paraiba, Brazil with the painful circumstances of explosive food riots. Twenty years later, at the time of President Lula’s electoral campaign, I read that he had announced that the most important part of his future strategy was his determination to put an end in the country to the grave social evil of famine. The two intervening decades from the time of those dramatic food riots in Paraiba were obviously not sufficient to solve this chronic problem. And even today, I am told, the improvements are still very modest in Brazil. Moreover, the somber statistics of the United Nations constantly underline that the same problem persists, with devastating consequences, in many parts of the world. This is so despite the fact that the productive powers at the disposal of humankind today could relegate forever to the past the now totally unforgivable social failure of famine and malnutrition
In this collection of trenchant essays and interviews, István Mészáros, the world’s preeminent Marxist philosopher and winner of the Libertador Award for Critical Thought (the Bolivar Prize) for 2008, lays bare the exploitative structure of modern capitalism. He argues with great power that the world’s economies are on a social and ecological precipice, and unless decisive radical action is taken soon to totally transform our economic system—from one based upon the blind pursuit of profit to one controlled by the workers themselves to not just satisfy our basic needs but to help each of us to develop our full potential as human beings—we will find ourselves thrust headfirst into barbarism and environmental catastrophe.
This new work by the leading Marxian philosopher of our day is a milestone in human self-understanding. It focuses on the location where action emerges from freedom and necessity, the foundation of all social science.…Today, as never before, the investigation of the close relationship between social structure — defined by Marx as “arising from the life-process of definite individuals” — and the various forms of consciousness is particularly important. We can only perceive what is possible by first identifying the historical process that constrains consciousness itself, and therefore social action.
A breakthrough in the development of socialist thought, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time is both a companion volume to Mészáros’s seminal Beyond Capital and a major theoretical contribution in its own right. Mészáros, one of the foremost Marxist thinkers of our age, focuses on the tyranny of capital’s time imperative and the necessity of a new socialist time accountancy, and provides a strong refutation of the popular view that there is no alternative to the current neoliberal order.