Marxism, Enlightenment & Romanticism

tgs at tgs at
Sat Nov 12 14:56:14 MST 1994


<You wrote,>

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

<There's nothing wrong with it in the moral sense.  Revolution always springs
from the marginalized--even within the working class.  But what I have a
problem with is permanent marginality.  This is a big deal today with post-
structuralism--I don't see it.  If you accept permanent marginality, then
the most you can get away with politically is to try to make the mainstream
feel that they are or should be marginal too--a sisyphean task>

(There was a review of the Madonna movie, Desperately Seeking Susan, a few
years ago, in Telos, where the reviewer was sort of making moral celebrations
about how wonderful it was to be amoral and marginal, forever, and that the mov
ie was saying this.  I didn't see this either--especially the wonderful ending,
when the moviehouse becomes kind of quiet refuge from the storm, and both
couples, both of whome look
as if they're pretty serious about each other now
 are getting it on--one in the projection room, the other down in the
seats.  How modernist can you get?  But I guess I'm hopelessly ROMANTIC--it comes
from having Marshall Berman as my advisor>

<There's a romanticism of liberation, and then there's a prurient romaniticism
of permanent marginality, I guess is what I'm saying.  I'm definitely for
the former, not the latter>

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).

<As I said before, I just think that you're ignoring the radical side of the
Enlightenment "rationality" itself.  And again, which Romantics?  There was
Schelling--who was a proto-Nazi, as far as I'm concerned.  And then there were
far more rational romantics--Goethe, Schiller, etc.
Again, is it exactly Romanticism vs. Enlightenment, or Rational and liberatory
romaniticism vs. irrationalism?  I'm certainly not saying that the former
always had right on its side.  You're right to reject an automatic, linear
Progress.  But even there, that was certain Enlightenmnet thinkers, not others.>

Can you seriously say even that pre-French Revolutionary Positivism believed
in automatic Progress?  Hardly.  Thinkers like Tom Paine wanted to turn the
world upside down to live by right reason; they were hardly interested in
waiting for "Progress" to take care of them. This kind of smug fatalism set
in later, after the French Revolution, when positivism became conservative
and anti-Revolutionary>

	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_,

<OK, hold it right there.  The diamat of the 2nd and 3rd internationals was
really stupid, and was a capitulation to both 2nd wave positivism and social
darwinism (vis. the peasants.  See my article in ATC #32)  But that is
certainly not the only form of Marxism available.  You seem to be aware of
that: the problem is that you turn it into a personal eccentricity of Marx
himself.  Like that theatre house in "Desperately Seeking Susan," there are
whole rooms to explore, nay to grope, of Marxism which are anti-positivistic
and romantic.  If you blatant neo-Schelllingites, you've got the Frankfurt

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

<It certainly would. Since I know next to nothing and am fascinated, why not
say on. I certainly won't stop you!>

	Basing a revolutionary doctrine today on science, you would have
to come to grips with chaos theory.

<Aw, why?  Even if there is chaos at the molecular level, how does that
effect society and sociology?  Is all chaos at this level?  Pretty
2nd wave postivistic, to think that our social science has to goose-step
to what the latest trend in the physical sciences has to say!>

 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.

<sounds like a shibboleth.  Certainly it needs heart: but why can't we have
a hearty party?  I'm all for making all the comrades do Reichian work and
tai chi, if that's what it takes!>

 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....

<This is a party with a social-democratic leadership.  the quest is to give
it a revolutionary leadership.  Why is that impossible?>

--Alex Trotter



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