[OPE-L:3206] Re: Orthodoxy

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Tue, 1 Oct 1996 12:21:06 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

A response to Ted's ope-l 3194.

I think Ted made some very important points in that post. Some of us have
been accused of being "orthodox" (in the pejorative religious sense, not
Fred's), of thinking we have a "direct line to Marx," and of thinking that
"the answers" will reveal themselves once we understand "Him." This critique
assumes that there is an unbridgeable opposition between objective and
subjective, specifically, between what Marx wrote and what we think and want.
We must thus either subjugate ourselves to a "higher authority" or assert our
own wants and thoughts against authority.

Ted argues that this dichotomy is false: "What seems significant to me in
assessing Marx's Marxism is not the objective pole or subjective pole in
isolation: Marx as objective or living thinkers as subjective. What is NOT
noticed in the issue of 'orthodoxy' is the truth/untruth of the categories
themselves which are under discussion. It is critical appropriation of Marx's
categories 'in and for themselves' that would mean the self-development of
Marx's Marxism. That doesn't mean Marx can solve our problems, because only
living people can reconstruct the dialectic, but it does mean to me beginning
with the historic objectivity of Marx's body of ideas, not as fixed point of
origin a la Descartes but seriously as a totality, and because its attitude is
thoroughly revolutionary, --as new begin[n]ing."

Unfortunately the profundity of these comments is easy to miss, because of the
condensed and very "technical" philosophical language Ted used. And even
though I have been studying Marxist-Humanist dialectics for over a decade, I'm
not sure I comprehend everything that is involved here. So I want to ask some
questions, both those which I think I could answer and those which I can't.

What is the connection of the "truth/untruth of the categories themselves" to
both (a) the objective/subjective dichotomy and (b) the charges of

What is meant by "critical appropriation" of Marx's categories? How does this
differ from either accepting them on faith or asserting one's subjectivity in
opposition to them?

Also, do you really mean, Ted, that it is the truth of Marx's *categories*
that is at issue? You were also discussing a more encompassing matter, not
just the *categories*, but Marx's *body of ideas*. Is this why you referred
to the categories not just "in themselves," but "in and for themselves"? What
then is the import of the "and for"? Does "in and for themselves" mean that
the categories can't be taken as givens (Cartesian fixed points of origin),
either as givens to be accepted or as givens to be rejected, but in their
immanent development and in the totality that emerges from that? If so,
doesn't that just displace the question to a higher level? That is, aren't we
then faced with a dichotomy between accepting the categories in their full
development, and as a full development (a totality), on the one hand, and
asserting our subjectivity in opposition to that on the other?

In other words, what would make their immanent development something not
external to us, not an objectivity that excludes or subjugates subjectivity,
but a unity of objective and subjective? And if this is possible, what
distinguishes it from eclecticism? The eclectic also thinks s/he is being
critical, critically appropriating, uniting the objectivity of what is outside
him/her with what s/he thinks and wants.

To answer this, doesn't one need to have a way of distinguishing between what
is a critical "appropriation" of Marx's Marxism that develops it and one that
truncates it and turns it into something else, or subsumes it under something
else? That is, doesn't one have to refer to the "idea of the whole," as Kant
put it, so that to be a development of Marx's Marxism, something can be
discontinuous with *particular aspects* of Marx's-Marxism-to-date if it
nevertheless constitutes a development of the *idea* of Marx's Marxism? And
conversely, if it does not constitute a development of the *idea*, the
animating principle that guides the whole, then it is not a development of
Marx's Marxism?

This, however, immediately raises two further questions. First, *is* there a
whole to Marx's Marxism? Our work against "20th-century Marxist" value theory
is of course a partial answer to this, but then there's Althusser and almost
everyone else with their claims of an epistemological break, etc. So the 2nd
question is, how do we decide among rival answers to whether Marx's Marxism is
a totality and rival answers concerning what this totality is?

It seems to me that here is where we confront the crucial breakdown of
critical thinking. Here is where Hegel's category of the "third attitude of
thought to the objective world," which you mentioned earlier in your post,
comes into play in a big way. We face the attitude that claims concerning
what "Marxism" is do not need to be tested. What one "finds" immediately in
one's own consciousness in this regard is taken on faith as "truth" itself.
I.e., one asserts as an axiom that this, that, or the other constitutes the
"foundation concepts" of "Marxism" (to use David Laibman's expression), and
sees no need to TEST this assertion. Indeed, resentment and hostility emerge
precisely at the point when the content of the assertion is challenged or even
this lack of method is challenged.

What explains this resentment and hostility? May it perhaps be that when
asserting what "Marxism" is, these folks do not claim that their assertion is
the objective truth for *all*, but their own "personal" truth? (That caveat
doesn't make this attitude any less of a breakdown of critical thinking, of
course). Thus, one person has one way of discriminating among "Marxists" and
"non-Marxists," another has a different way, etc., and they *agree to
disagree*. So that when this peaceful coexistence is challenged, they think
we are asserting *our* own "personal" truth against theirs, and not only
refusing to coexist peacefully but claiming that our "personal" truth is the
one objective truth?

What goes unrecognized, of course, is, first, that we are not arguing on the
ground of the "Marxist"/"non-Marxist" dichotomy at all, but on the ground of
Marx's Marxism versus all others. Second, that we are challenging the faith
that knowledge on this matter (or any other) can be immediate, not subject to
method. Thus, because Laibman, for instance, makes assertions about what the
"foundation concepts" of "Marxism" are which he fails to test and seems to
think don't need to be tested, he thinks we are doing the same thing, only
being nasty and "authoritarian" about it. That we are *testing* both his
assertions and ours seems not to be understood.

Or am I being too philosophical about all this? Maybe the problem is the
simple one I used to think it was, that these folks want to do their own thing
but simultaneously want to attribute it to Marx, or call it a development of
"Marxism," but don't want to have to defend this claim. But that brings us
back to the attitude of faith again, no? And it brings us back to the
misconception that our challenge is a hostile assertion of our own untested
claims against theirs and an authoritarian demand that ours be accepted on
faith, no?

But there's another thing that I still don't understand, and that none of the
above explains. Most of these folks do not care about Marx's Marxism and
aren't concerned with developing it. They have a different idea they are
developing. A lot of the "anti-religious" rhetoric evinces a gut-level
antipathy towards developing Marx's Marxism. What explains this? Partly a
"scientific" and "materialist" attitude that the external world is what is
important, not ideas. Partly the petty-bourgeoise need for independence and
fear of being caught up in something bigger than one's isolated self. Partly
the desire of the less-than-great to cut the great down to their own size that
Dunayevskaya referred to. In any case --- and here is my question --- if they
have this attitude, why do they nonetheless react with such hostility to the
idea that "their own thing" is not Marx's "own thing"? That is, why do they
not simply claim their ideas as their own without attributing them to Marx or
claiming them as a development of Marx's? It seems extremely contradictory to
me. Does the answer lie in the political advantage to be gained from linking
it to Marx? Is their any advantage left? Does the answer lie in the fact
that decoupling themselves from Marx would challenge their self-conception? I
am not satisfied with these "answers." They're too sociological and
psychological, when what we are discussing is attitudes of thought to
objectivity. What, then, is the *philosophical* answer to this?

Finally, although it seems to be implicated in all the above, how does one
begin from the historic objectivity of Marx's body of ideas as a "new
beginning" and not as a "fixed point of origin"? What is the difference?
(Also, isn't Descartes' "cogito ergo sum" really the high point and the
collapse of the 1st attitude to objectivity? It's pre-empirical and
pre-critical philosophy, no? In contrasting fixed point of origin to new
beginning, you seem to bypass them (the 2nd attitude). Are you suggesting
that the collapse of the 2nd attitude, giving way to the 3rd, returns not only
to the first attitude "in general," but specifically to the "fixed point,"
only this time not as objective truth but as "personal" truth? In other
words, something like the "axiomatic" attitude to what "Marxism" is that I
alluded to above?)

I realize all these are difficult questions. *Any* light you (Ted) or anyone
else can shed on them would be very welcome.

Good post!

Andrew Kliman