[OPE] Ideological contradictions, doublethink and social theory - Gramscian musings

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Tue Aug 25 2009 - 16:29:47 EDT

Hi Jerry,

I think especially the Gramsci of the Prison Notebooks, to which I was
mainly referring, moved away from the reified dogmatization of Marx's
thought in the doctrine of Marxism, and began to do his own creative and
independent thinking, on the basis of his own experience (mainly of Italy).
So he was no longer regurgitating a Marxist doctrine and a catechism,
obediently following dead authorities and seeking to nuance their thought,
dotting the "i's" as it were.

Already in his 1917 essay "The revolution against 'Capital'" he had realised
that the Russian revolution could not really be intellectually squared with
Marxism or Marx at all. Subsequently he was still strongly influenced by
Marx's approach, but he gradually went far beyond it. In reality, if he had
not been in prison, he would most likely have been expelled from the PCI,
because the further evolution of his thought was flatly incompatible with
PCI ideology and the Marxist ideology of the time.

So I tend to regard Gramsi as a communist, or more precisely a leftwing or
radical communist, more than a Marxist. One after the other, he abandoned
all the main tenets characterizing Marxism as taught by its leading
exponents: productive force determinism and economic determinism, scientism,
the positivist theory of truth, the determination of history by inevitable
laws, metaphysical materialism, the rejection and destruction of human
spirituality, the principle of intellectuals imposing Marx's ideas on the
workers, the downgrading of the role of ideas, etc. Another aspect is that
he was strongly influenced in forming his mature ideas by many other
thinkers such as Benedetto Croce, Machiavelli, George Sorel etc., who could
by no stretch of the imagination be called Marxists. So even if Gramsci is
still called a "Marxist" and placed within Marxist intellectual territory,
he was at the very least a "heterodox" Marxist.

Essentially I think Gramsci aimed for the restoration of the centrality of
the active, creative human Subject in history-making, lost by Marxist
inevitabilism, theologization and bureaucratism, in other words, he was
saying that what is important and authorative is "what we do, and what we
think", rather than whether what we do and think is ideologically consistent
with the dead authorities of Marxism, and the reified language of Marxism.
So he demolished the whole concern with "orthodoxy" that is central to
Marxism and distinctive of it, in that he demolished both the "ortho"
(authorativeness) and the "doxa" (doctrine). He evidently no longer believed
that you have to carry the Marxist Talmud - however conceived - on you back,
protecting and defending it, until such time as the workers come rushing in
to appropriate its teachings, which is what Marxists typically do.

I suppose one can always save the argument that Gramsci was a Marxist, by
creating a more inclusive definition and typology of Marxism, for example by
saying that Marxism refers to all those thinkers who refer to Marx and adopt
some of his ideas, but this runs into the difficulty, that many of those
people (including myself) for one reason or another do not accept the label
of "Marxist". Or, one could say that Gramsci no longer referred to Marxism,
because he happened to be in prison, and because his writings were subject
to censorship. But I think this ignores the content of Gramsci's substantive
theoretical demolition of Marxist doctrine.

In the end, of course, Marxism is just what you believe it to be, or what
authority or flavour you would like to follow, you can cook up all kinds of
concoctions depending on the fashions of the time, and thus this dispute
will never be definitely resolved, at least not until such time as history
has fully moved beyond Marxism, and the last embers of sentimental
attachment to the past have burnt out, permitting us to frame and assess
Marxism in a fully objective way. In Hegel's words, "Minerva's owl flies at

I think incidentally there is a difference between "Marxian" and
Marxist" - "Marxian" refers to a concern with Marx's own thought and one's
own appreciation of it, whereas "Marxist" refers to the acceptance of some
or other interpretation of a political tradition and intellectual lineage of
self-proclaimed Marxists, who added to Marx's thought and reinterpreted it,
which means a doctrinalization. Thus, Marxism refers to an interpretation of
Marx "as mediated by Marxist authorities". But here again different sorts of
distinctions could be drawn, depending on your purpose and intellectual
commitments. In this sense, the controversy is analogous to religious
authorities debating whether this or that theologian should be included or
excluded from the church tradition: various interpretations are possible,
but in the end the dead authorities are judged by the living ones, and not
the other way around, even if Marxist ideologists pretend the reverse is


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Received on Tue Aug 25 16:31:51 2009

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