[OPE-L:3182] Re: Orthodoxy

JERRY LEVY (jlevy@sescva.esc.edu)
Mon, 30 Sep 1996 06:02:55 -0700 (PDT)

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Alan wrote in [OPE-L:3181]:

> The notion of 'orthodoxy' implies that there should be some other
> intermediary, between the reader and Marx, who decides on the readers
> behalf what Marx actually said. But that's what the problem has been
> in the past.

(1) The question is seldom what Marx actually said. More frequently,
disputes concern how we *interpret* what Marx said.

(2) Had Marx just written a short unambiguous pamphlet in the course
of his life, it would be much easier for us to just "Let Marx
speak for himself." As it is, though, we have inherited a great
wealth of writings -- many of which were not published in Marx's
lifetime. Under these circumstances, it is necessary for all
readers, including interpretors, to *interpret* what Marx said.

(3) Unlike Okishio or Roemer, Marx is dead. He can not, therefore,
tell us what he meant. It is for us to "piece together the
puzzle." As there are many complex ideas in Marx and as Marx said
different things in different writings and periods of his life, this
is no simple task.

(4) Although we can begin by reading Marx, all of our readings are affected
by interpretations. For instance, if we take a class on reading
_Capital_, we are affected (even if we don't accept) the interpretation
of the instructor. If we study Marx as part of a collective effort,
e.g. in a study group, we are affected by the interpretations advanced
by others in that group effort. Moreover, -- and I think others
would agree -- that it is *better* to read Marx as part of a study
group than in isolation. In any case, the idea that readers examine
Marx free from interpretation is a fallacy.

(5) Do we consistently apply the dictum that we should let (----) speak
for (----)? Do we, for example, read Hegel free from the prism of
what interpretors, including Marx, have written about his writings?
Do we read Ricardo free from what Marx has written about Ricardo?
In practice, we don't (since we have been affected, most probably,
by those interpretations *before* we read the original sources.

(6) Should we let Shakespeare speak for Shakespeare? Should we let
Goethe speak for Goethe? Should we let Melville speak for Melville?
If that is the case, then shouldn't we object to the whole project
of literary criticism and interpretation?

(7) Should we let Churchill speak for Churchill? Should we let Napoleon
speak for Napoleon? Should we let Pinochet speak for Pinochet?
Or should we instead *evaluate* what they said and critically examine
their writings and lives? Would we say that Stalin should be
evaluated entirely on what he said? Aren't there problems with
such a method of investigation?

(8) I don't think the problem _per se_ is with some Marxists calling
themselves "orthodox." I think the problem is more frequently
observed when Marxists treat what Marx said (or what other Marxists
said) as if his writings were akin to the _Holy Grail_. We can
find "answers" in Marx, but we can not assume _a priora_ that either
Marx's answers are "correct" or that the "answers" lie latent within
his writings -- like some long-lost buried treasure.

In solidarity,