[OPE-L:3139] Re: "orthodox" Marxism

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 26 Sep 1996 05:43:19 -0700 (PDT)

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Fred wrote in [OPE-L:3131]:

> No doubt "orthodox" does carry this connotation in some contexts, but in my
> response to Laibman (that I "kind of liked it"), I was identifying with
> people like Rubin, Grossman, Mattick, and Rosdolsky, who are often called
> "orthodox Marxists". To me, the term applies to someone who: tries to
> understand Marx's theory as thoroughly and rigorously as possible, is of
> the general opinion that Marx's theory contains no serious logical flaws and
> also has significant explanatory power, and tries to develop Marx's theory
> further as a means of understanding contemporary capitalism. <snip>
> In any case, I would hope that you could tell the difference between these
> two connotations of "orthodox" in my own case.

(1) I think that historically those who are referred to as "orthodox
Marxists" generally have that designation *imposed on them* either by
opponents or ardent followers.

(2) Who is "orthodox"? Well, I guess that depends on what historical
period you are talking about. After Marx's death, Engels was held to be
the representative of "orthodoxy" (irrespective of the theoretical
differences re political economy and "Marxism" between Marx and Engels).
On that last point, see "The 'Marx legend, or Engels, founder of Marxism"
in Joseph O'Malley and Keith Algozin ed. _Rubel on Karl Marx_ (Cambridge
University Press, 1981, pp. 15-25) for a controversial perspective. After
Engels's death, Kautsky (and the left wing of the German Social
Democrats) became the representative of "Orthodox Marxism". Later still,
Plekhanov and then Lenin were held to be the standard bearers for
"orthodox Marxism". After Lenin's death, Trotsky and Stalin (!) were held
to be the "orthodox Marxists" by some of their followers. So, what is
viewed as "orthodox" is very much subject to change and dispute

(3) I don't recall Rubin, Grossmann, Mattick, or Rosdolsky ever referring
to *themselves* as "orthodox Marxists" (but I may be wrong).

(4) How are we to judge relative claims to orthodoxy? Or should we? I
suppose that Uno might claim that he represented a certain orthodoxy (but
I'm not sure about that: Makoto, Mariko, and/or Iwao should correct me if
this is not accurate). Yet, the relation between "orthodoxy" and Marx has
been subject to change historically, in part, reflecting different
understandings that followed the publication of works following Marx's
death (e.g. Volumes 2 & 3 of _Capital_, the _Paris Manuscripts_, the
_Grundrisse_, etc). I suppose each generation has had to discover and
re-discover Marx as other works are published (this was certainly the case
for Rosdolsky who was influenced by his reading of the _Grundrisse_). In
part, the reason why it is difficult to access relative claims to
"orthodox" here is because the work of Marx is not some undifferentiated
whole and, therefore, different *interpretations* develop by reading and
highlighting different writings by Marx.

(5) The connotations associated with different designations change over
time and depend on who is using the term. For example, when Rubel refers
to "Marxology" it means something very different than when some others
(who oppose "Marxology") use that expression. Similarly, when some
Marxists referred to themselves as "fundamentalists" in the 1970's and
1980's, they understood that expression very differently than those who
opposed the "fundamentalists" theoretically.

(6) I intensely dislike the expressions "orthodox" and "fundamentalist."
While anyone has the *right* to refer to themselves with designations of
their choosing, they should be aware of the heavy connotations that some
words have. Unfortunately, the designations *themselves* can then be an
obstacle to understanding since positions (sadly) can be rejected because
of the negative connotations that certain designations have. If for no
other reason, this itself should be *sufficient* reason to not describe
oneself as "orthodox."

(7) Also, the expression "orthodox Marxism" could be said to be an example
of loaded terminology. If you are "orthodox", what does that make those
who don't share your perspective? Revisionist? Reformist? Heretic? This is
yet another reason why I would encourage people to drop this expression.

In OPE-L Solidarity,