[OPE] Marx and Marxism

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Jun 08 2009 - 15:24:43 EDT


In reply to your queries:

I don't support a Marxist concept of class, because (1) I think this has
much to do with Marx's idea anyway (2) I think it is a schema, a rulebook, a
classification, (3) its application is a form of prejudice, since
people are discriminated on the basis of their class background or class
position (this was extremely clear in Russia and China during the
Marxist-Leninist era, and imitated in the West). OF COURSE the New Marxist
Exploiting Class or its apologists are going to deny that they are a class,
and that they exploit. Their story is, that they are liberating humanity
from the exploitation of capitalist class society. But, we have to
distinguish, as Marx himself recommends if you please, between what people
say, and what they do. They could say they are the milk of human kindness
for all I know, but that doesn't mean that they really are. In the same way,
you just assert, they are a "caste" but not a "class", you just say that,
there is no proof, and probably you haven't got the experience of Russian
society and history to judge this accurately. What you have is a bunch of
and an interpretation. I am not denying your right to have that
interpretation, I am giving you my point of view which may be no better,
but I am simply disagreeing with your story. Once you understand
more about the real history of class formation, you realise the traditional
Marxist idea about it cannot be correct and that social rankings very
depend on the dominant form of the social organization of production,
distribution and consumption. Class hierarchies need not be defined
only by the relations of production, and I don't think Marx ever
claimed that.

Marxism IS necessarily ideological, it is an ideological doctrine, because
it is a cohesive system of beliefs, assumptions and values deemed
authorative, which orient behaviour ("a guide to action"). It is an
ideology, a world view, indeed a cosmology. Nobody except you really denies
that status, the debate is only just about whether that is a good thing or a
bad thing, and in what ways, and what positive or negative influence it
might have on scientific inquiry. I don't say that Marxists are necessarily
a class, or that they will be one, but only that they "can" form a cohesive
exploiting class, a bureaucratic class, once they are able to extract state
funds, or expropriate the other social classes, in other words, when they
are able to extract a surplus from others to fund their privileges. Hence,
when somebody claims to be a Marxist, I have to ask: whose side are they
on, and I don't simply assume that I know this from the fact that they
are Marxist. I have my experience. I do not claim either that Marx's
concept of ideology is completely adequate or complete coherent, I don't
think it is - on the one hand, Marx wanted a form of scientific thought
freed from ideology, but on the other hand he also wanted political
influence for which he really needed a popular ideology; it was a
contradiction of terms which Engels tried to mediate with books such as
Anti-Duehring stating Marx and Engels's views on "everything".

Marxists, once they are able to extract a surplus, often try to transform
world after their own image. That "image" may differ in different countries.
For example, Ceaucescu built a big palace and monuments for himself and his
family and entourage, Chavez builds a cable car connection between the
centre and the outskirts of Caracas, and so on. In Russia, particular
architectural and design styles prevailed such as "socialist realism", and
other kinds of designs were forbidden as anti-socialist. For example, I own
a book of pictures by Pavel Filonov which was censored art in the Stalinist
era. Same thing in China. I am not even judging here, whether this is good
or bad, probably it is some good and some bad - I am merely noting a simple
fact. I am not even making any claim that people should or should not be
Marxist or Marxian, I am merely identifying what the label can mean and
imply. Hal Draper talked about the two souls of socialism but I feel
we could also talk about the two souls of Marxism, as an ideology
which aims to reconcile or mediate certain contradictions. I am really
far more interested in the contradictions themselves, because they
actually frame what some of the central problems in human life are
really about.

I realize there is nothing really new in what I am saying - a Dutch
leftwing historian, Ger Harmsen, for example wrote a book "Marx contra the
Marxist Ideologists". Also, there is an incessant debate among the Marxist
sects about who has the true doctrine about Marx. I am not really interested
in that so much, I am interested in what Marx and Engels discovered about
social reality and their contributions to understanding the world we live
in, and their ideas about freeing people from oppressive conditions. And
for that purpose, I am not really helped by academics who misrepresent
what Marx and Engels actually thought. I prefer the way in which Marx
makes sense to all kinds of Marxist nonsense talked about it.

I think Marx would have no problem with the idea that people called
themselves socialists and communists, but I think he would have laughed his
head off about "Marxists". And I think that if he knew about all the things
perpetrated in the name of Marxism, he might well have turned in his grave.
Quite simply, Marx's theory about the role of ideas in history was limited,
because in reality he was unable to really fathom or explain the impact
of his own ideas on the world, and their use by various cults. As far as
I can see, there can be only one valid sort of Marxian "orthodoxy" and
that is sharing Marx's main "goals" or "aspirations". But that is not
really an orthodoxy in the proper sense, because there is no authorative
"doctrine", only the authority of experience and what you are able to
realize yourself in life. Lukacs comes close to this, but his faith that
"the dialectical method is the road to truth" is problematic, not only
because it is controversial what the dialectical method is, but also
because there exists no method which always guarantees results -
this would be the philosopher's stone -and if it doesn't have good
results, we ought to change the method. Alas, as Marx says, there
is "no royal road to science" and if you want to reach the summit
view you have to do much work to get there, without any prior
guarantee of success.

And so, when I teach Marx, I teach people about his aspirations, which are
perfectly honorable, and then about how he pursued this, which may be much
more problematic or imperfect, not in the least because of his caustic style
and biting sarcasms which often failed to succeed as an exercise in
communication. We might share Marx's goals, but adopt very different methods
or approaches since we now know that some things are much more conducive or
less conducive to achieving them. But actually I don't teach Marx much
because I am usually too preoccupied with learning.

Marxism could be "embodied" in many different kinds of people from all
social classes, with different effects, and different generations develop a
different kind of Marxist ideology. From 1917 until the 1980s or
thereabouts, Marxism was influenced overwhelmingly by the experience of the
USSR and China, the polarities of the Cold War and so on. It is possible
that a different kind of Marxism could become popular but in fact this is
doubtful if the world has changed meantime, introducing new themes
completely foreign to the Marxist tradition, and if the "silences" in
Marxist ideology are fatal. Nor is this really necessary, since as I said
the primary thing is Marx's goals. If we were to insist on a Marxist
tradition as a value in its own right, then we might in fact be terribly
conservative rather than progressive. A tradition is useful if it is a
source of inspiration to better things, but not if it is a constraint or
limit on the ability of people to imagine a much better future. You just
cannot keep repeating endlessly the same stock phrases and formula's, people
just get bored, they want a way of being which provides a space for their
own creativity and insight, in which there is room for their own free


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