[OPE-L] "Marxism"

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat May 27 2006 - 09:03:46 EDT

I think I would go along with most of what you say about the publishing
situation, Jerry. Of course, theoretical political economy is mostly
remote of the real problems of business practice.

As regards the intellectual origins of Marxism, authors such as Z.A. Jordan
(The evolution of dialectical materialism) and J.D. White (Karl Marx and the
Intellectual Origins of Dialectical Materialism) have shown in fine detail
the process by which the interpretations of Marx & Engels were welded by
intellectuals into a "world view", a "doctrine", a "philosophy of history"
and indeed a "cosmology" with a pseudo-religious status. This set the scene
for problems of "orthodoxy", "tradition", "dogmatism" and "intellectual
security", because then we had a closed theoretical system which only the
high priests of Marxism were allowed to modify or render consistent.
In reality of course, Marx & Engels did not propose any fixed theoretical
systems - their views continued to evolve and progress - and if anything
they challenged intellectuals to do some real research that would validate
their interpretations. If we study Marx's real interactions with the labour
movement (e.g. in the context of the First International), it is remarkable
how cautious he really was in introducing his own views. Yet he also mooted
many ideas the implications of which he did not think through to the end, or
which remained unpublished.

As I briefly indicated in my contribution to a wiki article on historical
materialism, I think at least from the 1870s the pressure towards the
doctrinalisation of Marx's views became increasingly
strong, because:

(1) Marx & Engels did aim to increase their own political influence in the
labor movement and socialist movement, and for this they needed a popular
ideology or doctrine which people could easily understand and act upon. Both
men were quite capable of splendid political rhetoric and, occasionally, of
making sweeping generalisations.

(2) Attacks by critics, academics and competitors in the socialist movement
also forced them to systematise their ideas; generalisations from experience
and research demanded a more explicit coherent theoretical framework.

(3) Christian religious and moral doctrine was still very influential among
the working classes, who mostly lacked access to a scientific education, and
this created the political need or pressure to articulate a complete
"alternative belief system" or "scientific world outlook". Thus, Engels
already sought to distinguish explicitly between a religious-utopian and
a practical-scientific socialism.

In addition, if we study Lenin, we see a clear propagandistic preference to
distill a Marxism as an easy-to-understand, popular doctrine which could be
communicated even among ordinary workers and peasants with a limited reading
ability. As revolutionist and modernizer in the early 20th century, Lenin
was very aware that the role of theoretical ideas was different for the
intellectuals and for workers, and that to pursue a political policy you
needed definite ideas and simple slogans - but in addition, he aimed also to
prove that all his own ideas were completely grounded in what Marx & Engels
said. That of course was impossible, because the situation of the Russian
Empire was rather unique, and required major political innovations, and
anyway a large part of Marx & Engels's (unpublished) writings remained
unknown. Lenin's approach continued in the writings of Stalin, Bukharin,
Trotsky and Mao.

Probably the best statement of the status of Marxism from a
positive Marxist point of view was given by Lenin:

"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with
perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling "sectarianism" in Marxism,
in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which
arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On
the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished
answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His
doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings
of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and
socialism. The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is
comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world
outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence
of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man
produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German   philosophy,
English political economy and French socialism."

This interpretation however suggests at least five problems:

1) "the high road of the development of world civilisation" is an open,
unfinished and unending road from which people might stray, or return to.
2) "the best that people produced" includes more than German philosophy,
English political economy and French socialism, and extends to all countries
of the world.
3) the world changes, and therefore the requirements of an "integral world
outlook" (insofar as it is at all possible) also change.
4) the alleged "omnipotence" concerns an apriori belief, not a proof - it is
not unlike a catholic canon of faith, which precisely, is conducive to
5) if Marxism is the "legitimate successor" (rather than, say, an
illegitimate child) a closure/schism has already been effected to what came
before it and what exists beside it.

The fact is that Marx & Engels, beyond indicating their own preferences and
making specific political interventions, never finally resolved -
theoretically - the problems of:

- the relation between science, theory and ideology
- the relation between the intellectuals and the workers
- the psychological and spiritual effects of upholding a secular belief
"system" like Marxism
- the relation between ethical theory, politics and lived morality.

Quite likely they could not do so, since these problems would present
themselves in a different way in different historical situations. And indeed
they have been resolved by different Marxist currents in different
ways, for good or for ill.

The young Gyorgy Lukacs pronounced in 1910 that "It would seem that
socialism lacks that religious force capable of taking possession of man's
entire soul, as was the case with primitive Christianity" (cited by Meszaros
in Georg Lukacs: Festschrift zum 80e Geburtstag, p. 193). An interesting
question is, why would that be?

George Lichtheim writes in his critique of Lukacs's doctrinairism that "If
rationalism is conceived as the standpoint of whatever class happens to be
revolutionary or at least in opposition to the status quo (the bourgeoisie
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the proletariat in the
nineteenth) then the distinction between theory and ideology goes by the
board. For why must it be supposed that only a 'rising class' is able to
sustain a realistic view of the world? The fact that a social order has been
thrown on the defensive does not preclude the possibility of a disillusioned
insight into the nature of the historical process. In point of fact, Marx
and Engels consistently praised Balzac - a Catholic, a Royalist and thus a
reactionary - for his accurate portrayal of bourgeois society, and Lukacs
(in The Historical Novel and elsewhere) fully subscribes to this judgement.
He never tires of impressing upon the reader the profundity of Balzac's
insight into what he himself calls 'the necessity of the historical
process': a formulation that would not have made much of an appeal to
Balzac, who was no philosopher and for good measure an opponent of
Saint-Simonian socialists who did have such notions. It appears, then, that
being on the 'wrong' side politically does not necessarily cloud one's
vision (Lukacs's other hero in "The Historical Novel" is the Tory Walter
Scott)." (G. Lichtheim, Lukacs. Fontana, 1970, p. 114).


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