Marx 'n Hegel 'n non-metaphysics

Ralph Dumain rdumain at
Wed Aug 23 15:10:25 MDT 1995

Thanks for your thoughtful post, Mr. Duquette, but you lose me in

>One of the upshots of Marx's approach is the radical
deconstruction of all
>forms of symbolic action and communication  as "religious" and as
>the mytification of real relations.

Where does this come from?

>he understood all human relationships to be a function of
relations of
>production, which is quite clear in the GRUNDRISSE where he
defines the
>variety of economic relations in terms of production as
constituting the
>totality of such relations.

Since you are not in the least bit clear, please point me to this
passage so I can see what is going on here.

>It was part of Marx's "scientific socialism" to construct the
theory and
>practice of a programme that overcome all such forms of
>where humans are brought back to face to face relations of
immediacy where
>everything is clear, literal, and upfront and nothing is masked

Where do you get this in Marx exactly?  This claim reminds me very
much of an article in THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO HEGEL, I think
the one by Allen Wood comparing Marx and Hegel.  For him the
difference between the two came down to the possibility of the
total "transparency" which you describe here.  His article was
awful on many grounds, not least of all his claim about
transparency.  I brought up this matter with several people some
time ago.  I don't know anyone who has believed that this level of
transparency in human relations to be possible in the conceivable
future or believed that Marx thought so himself.  Such a level of
transparency in human relations, if even thinkable, could require
centuries to achieve following the abolition of class society, and
I doubt Marx would have made such radical claims about the
foreseeable future.  I'd like to know where you get all this from,
because I just don't see it.

>While I am not willing to go along with those who argue that
>state socialism followed from Marx's theorizing, the "socialist
>promoted in these societies does have an affinity with Marx's
>reductionist conception of human relations.

I can't see any affinity at all.  One could establish the
dissimilarity on many fronts, given first of all that "socialist
realism" refers to a doctrine concerning literature and the arts,
and hence of the possible issues involved in the arts as
representative of and related to the rest of society.  Leaving
this aside for the moment, it seems you are really concerned with
the representation of human relations to be found in "socialist
realist" works of art, and whether that has an affinity to Marx's
conception of human beings.  I think even this comparison is
pretty far-fetched.  It has been many many years since I forced
myself to endure any of those dreadful revolutionary operas from
Maoist China, but as I recall this kind of stuff is obviously an
abstraction -- to put it as charitably as I can -- from real life.
These depictions are an idealized model of human character and
human relationships glorifying the proletariat and peasantry yet
believable only to star-struck upper middle class audiences.  The
bushy-eyebrowed peasants are always co-operative, acting in
instinctive, perfectly choreographed solidarity against the
outrages perpetrated by bloated beady-eyed landlords, and so on.
It is a particularly pernicious idealization of human beings given
the dehumanization and barbarism that underwrote the Cultural
Revolution and appealed to people's highest moral conscience in
the process.  You are going to have a mighty uphill battle
convincing me this Platonic scenario has anything to do with
Marx's understanding of human relationships.

As an aside, but still to the point, this question of Marx's
alleged class reductionism has been dealt with by a huge body of
literature which focuses, as it must, on the nature of abstraction
and its relation to concrete reality.

And by the way, this matter of deducing the fine details of human
events or of a thinker's application of his own ideas from broad,
ill-conceived metaphysical categories is precisely the problem I
was complaining about here.  It's a problem Marx himself had to
combat in working his way through the Young Hegelians and many
misfits that followed, and it is a problem with the tawdry and
shoddy explanations of Marx's development which plague not only
the history of bourgeois Marxology but this discussion group in
particular.  If I had the time, I would love to go back and
dissect all the dumb remarks made about Marx in this forum and
then the literature they cite to back it up -- Carroll, Lobkowitz,

And the hatchet jobs on Marx even in the popular press have not
abated with the end of the Cold War.  Accounts of Marx in the
press -- I just read one in a _local_ newspaper a few days ago --
are about as believable as trying to explain fascism by Hitler's
missing testicle -- Marx as self-hating Jew, transsubstantiated
Hebrew prophet, blah blah blah -- all abstracted, subjective and
metaphysical explanations not rooted in the objective social
world.  It is embarrassing to still have to read this subliterate
shit, but one wonders why it is still necessary to stomp on Marx's
memory if everyone is so happy with the New World Order.

Now as for tolerance or conflict among scholars of Hegel and Marx,
I would never assume that people interested in either one always
and everywhere would have to fight over the common project of
scholarship.  Nor would I assume that the standpoint of their
scholarship emanates from their class position in an obvious
fashion like the liver secretes bile.  Nor would I assume that
scholastic Marxists are inherently more trustworthy on matters
that interest me than their scholastic non-Marxist counterparts.
In fact, the close embrace in which individuals like Habermas or
Adorno are held by people whose relationship to culture is quite
similar to theirs and who don't seem to comprehend some of the
elementary attitudes that a Marxist thinker might have towards the
nature and meaning of intellectual work -- make me pause and say
.... hmmmmmmmmmmm.  Can one seriously believe that bringing up the
division of labor into conversation about theory and practice or
the socialization of intellectuals is just some thoughtless
political cliche or a call to the barricades?  There are certain
habits of _mind_ at stake here, and the mind is our beat, is it

What are some of these habits of mind in question?  One can take
any set of abstracted concepts and concoct schemes for the world
or categorize and interpret concrete affairs through mythological
rewriting.  As a librarian one of my hobbies was researching
various systems of classification.  At one point I came across a
particularly reprehensible book classifying all of modern
knowledge -- science, sociology, and the rest -- according to an
Islamic world-view.  Such monstrosities are not hard to conceive.
Anyone can play with abstract concepts to do it.  That's how such
impossible entities as feminist Judaism or Zen physics get
smuggled into existence.  And now what do we find?  Contemporary
scholars are ransacking the entire conceptual heritage of western
and sometimes other civilizations to achieve similar results.  Now
we have a postmodern Schelling, isn't that grand?  And not only do
I have to suffer David MacGregor's retrogressive social democratic
drivel, but he's on to liberation theology, too.  The cat is out
of the bag -- theology indeed.  In the age of idealist
abstractions -- "Contract on America", "the politics of meaning",
"Afrocentrism" -- reason is being turned to an insane
irrationalism comparable only to the final days of Weimar.

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