Marxism, Enlightenment & Romanticism

Alex Trotter uburoi at panix.com
Sat Nov 12 11:41:05 MST 1994


What's wrong with being "marginal"? Long live the marginal milieu!

It's true that Marx, Reich, and other revolutionaries had the Edenic
vision of primitive communism very much in mind, and therein lies a
romantic strain that stands in contradictory tension with the efforts of
the Enlightenment toward pure rationality. (For me, BTW, romanticism is
not a dirty word, as it seems to be to marxists, who tend to see it in
narrow terms solely as the reactionary expression of a historically
doomed feudal class to the "progress" of early capitalism.) Historical
Romanticism itself was riven by contradictions--it could be either
revolutionary or reactionary. But I think the Romantics were on to
something in their deep distrust of industrialism, positivistic
rationality, and progressivism. They were right to question the French
revolutionaries' absolutist quest to deify Reason (Robespierre even
wanted to make a new religion out of Humanity).
	Although Marx had a lot of the Romantic in him, his followers for
the most part did not. From the start, 2nd International Marx-ism became
a positivistic *ideology* in which the Dialectic was identified with
linear progress and teleological closure--a continuation of Christianity
in a sense, albeit in materialist form. The Russian marxists followed the
German Social Democrats on this. Plekhanov, for example, is a real High
Enlightenment Westernizer, and Lenin was his epigone. To know what I mean
when I refer to marxism's fetishism of Science and Reason, just look at
Lenin's polemical work of 1908, _Materialism and Empirio-Criticism_,
which insists on a 100% objective epistemology based on the natural
sciences and a 'copy-cat,' *tabula rasa* theory of consciousness. No room
for subjective imagination, no zone of unknowability here: everything can
be explained by positive science with its 'objective' standards.
(Interestingly, this work was written to discipline and defeat the
Nietzschean tendency in the Bolshevik party, grouped around Bogdanov,
Lunacharsky, and Gorki. Now, *that* would make an interesting topic for
discussion.) And the fellow Lenin was polemicizing against, Ernst Mach,
was an early associate of Albert Einstein--there's a lot of interesting
stuff going on there.
	Basing a revolutionary doctrine today on science, you would have
to come to grips with chaos theory. You would have to abandon concepts of
linearity and Progress, and you won't be able to dismiss chaos as an
expression of the decadence of the bourgeois intelligentsia, or whatever.
Sure, there's still a dialectic, but not as it was conceived in the 19th
century. It could be defined (perhaps) as order spontaneously emerging
out of chaos, and vice versa. Angels turn into devils and back again in
the fractal blink of an eye, and not necessarily in the direction of the
End of History. See what I mean? Revolution (how about insurrection? I
actually like that term better) is a matter of the heart as well as the
mind, and cannot be embodied in an organization, particularly not the
Labor party that Tom espouses. And especially not if, as I suspect, that
party would be modeled after the Labour parties in Britain and Australia.
See how revolutionary they are....

--Alex Trotter




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