Consciousness lags

Howie Chodos howie at
Tue Feb 7 08:34:15 MST 1995

Louis Proyect wrote:

>Since the lag between objective conditions and revolutionary
>consciousness has marked almost the entire twentieth century, does this
>explain the allure of Gramsci, Althusser and the Frankfurt school?  I'm
>not trying to pick a fight with anybody, just asking....

It seems to me that he touches on some absolutely fundamental questions
here. If there is a "lag" between objective conditions and revolutionary
consciousness, can we ever be sure that this lag will be made up? I would
argue that we cannot, that there is not, in other words, any guarantee that
any specific set of objective conditions has to produce any specific
response in a given set of people. If this is right then we need to ask
ourselvers what we mean by revolutionary consciousness. Consciousness of
what? Is there a single body of thought, feeling, political positions, or
whatever that we can refer to as embracing class consciousness, that exists
"out there" somewhere, that is waiting to be discovered?

This is why I find the "lag" metaphor a bit misleading. It implies that
there is such a consciousness, and that the problem is that the agents of
change have yet to become aware of what their consciousness should be. This
is a tough problem, since, at the same time we don't want to lose our
ability to criticise existing social relations on the grounds that "it's all
a matter of opinion". This would seem to suggest that we need to find away
to hold on to two seemingly contradictory propositions at the same time.
First, that it is possible to argue that capitalism is objectively bad.
Second, that this does not mean that there is a single solution, a single
path to socialism, a single party to lead us there, a single set of policy
proposals that needs to be advocated, etc. The question is how to do this.

I think this may also touch on some previous postings on "Marxism and
Philosophy". I am new to this, so if I have covered old ground, forgive (and
enlighten) me.

Howie Chodos


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