C.L.R. JAMES, KARL MARX, MAX STIRNER

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc2.igc.apc.org
Fri Feb 17 10:22:27 MST 1995


MY FAVORITE MARXIAN: C.L.R. JAMES AND THE MARX-STIRNER STRUGGLE

In my research on the Marx vs. Stirner bout, I discovered two
remarkable things: (1) Marx's greatness is even more awesome than
I had supposed, (2) C.L.R. James was not only a Marx-ist, but
Marx-ian to the marrow.

It was James's critique of intellectuals as a social grouping that
led me to thinking a certain way about the intellectual and
society.  For years, a very casual acquaintance with the
unabridged THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY tipped me off to the notion that
Marx had dispatched a certain social type a century and a half
before I had to deal with the same sort of people.  Then, when
beginning to study the Young Hegelians and the young Marx (which
was partly prompted by James concerns), I also realized the
opportunity to commemorate publicly the sesquicentennial of the
birth of Marxism.

In the past couple of days, I've been given even more to think
about.  I've been boning up on scholarly treatments of the
Marx-Stirner match.  John Carroll's BREAK-OUT FROM THE CRYSTAL
PALACE; THE ANARCHO-PSYCHOLOGICAL CRITIQUE; STIRNER, NIETZSCHE,
DOSTOEVSKY is quite typical of a certain genre of thought on this
topic, one I had found pervasive among Hegel scholars on the net.
Carroll criticizes Stirner for his lack of historical knowledge
and social realism, but defends Stirner's existential concerns
against Marx, whom he deems guilty, as these people do, of
scientism, positivism, a retreat to abstract man, and so on.  The
common wisdom here is that Marx suffered the anxiety of Stirner's
influence, so he beat a retreat from psychological man to
structural, collectivist concerns.  Marx was too shallow, you see,
to plumb the dark depths of the human soul, especially the dark
dank soul of a certain intellectual type, the type that Hegel
scholars would naturally admire.

In my last message I had already put a dent in Carroll, and I
recommended a study of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts (at which time,
incidentally, Marx was still taken with Feuerbach, which was no
longer the case in THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY).  But last night, while
reading the Stirner chapter of Paul Thomas' KARL MARX AND THE
ANARCHISTS, it all came together.  Thomas not only undoes the
entire line of thought embodied in Carroll, he establishes that
THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY (GI) represents the summit of Marx's humanism
by arguing that GI is a defense of the INDIVIDUAL!  I had already
known that Marx was no collectivist and spoke out against any such
hypostatization in this book, but I didn't take it as far as
Thomas.  Stirner claimed to oppose all subordinations of the
concrete, living man to the slavery of abstract moral and systemic
concerns.  Marx turns Stirner upside down, proving that Stirner's
abstract egoistical individualism is a hollow ideological
construct, especially in the age of capitalist production which
has virtually obliterated real human personality and individual
expression, especially in the work process, and that communism is
the real movement that rescues and restores the living human
individual, who can only thrive in common association with others,
and that this communist movement is no abstract utopian ideal or
new tyranny of some outside force over living man, but is rooted
in historical reality and the imperatives of the survival of
humanity.

In other words, Marx heads existentialism off at the pass, nips it
in the very bud by identifying the concrete individual -- not just
the narcissistic intellectual, but the millions and millions who
suffer the crisis of the modern personality --- with the need to
restructure society for his own salvation.  Imagine, for Marx to
have understood the narcissism of an intellectual type so
thoroughly at such an early stage, and then for his critique to
have gone unpublished for a century, and then not fully translated
into English until 30 years ago, and then to have been so
thoroughly ignored (even by the people who published the material
-- especially by them -- Stalinists!) until recently.  Imagine
that!

Now here is an irony.  It is now evident that C.L.R. James was
more thoroughly Marxian than anyone, even he, could have supposed,
and that Marx was thoroughly Jamesian.  We now know that James
indeed read GI in the 1940s, but that was the abridged 1938
edition, in which the bulk of the manuscript -- the critique of
"Saint Max" (Stirner) -- did not appear!  James could not have
read it.  He could have gotten a translation or summary from a
comrade who read German, which Grace Lee Boggs and/or Raya
Dunayevskaya certainly did, to have been able to translate the
1844 Manuscripts which so influenced the group.  James may not
have known much of the critique of Stirner, but he surely would
have appreciated it.

Remember James's concern with the work process.  He is interested
in the heroic qualities workers show in work and in their common
association, while he dismisses the existential anguish of the
brooding intellectual.  Consider James's contempt for
existentialism and psychoanalysis in the 1940s and '50s.  (Only in
the 1960s did he show any sympathy for existentialism, and I'll
bet he read Heidegger only because of Wilson Harris.)  James cares
not a whit for the self-centered despair of the intellectual who
has turned away from society to contemplate the dark depths of his
own soul, which somehow are not hardly so deep as he thinks.

Max Stirner was the progenitor of this type, the
lumpen-intellectual prototype of all the Nietzschean filth that
has plagued the world since.  By 1846 Marx and Engels sent him and
his kind straight to hell.  How magnificent Marx is!

A century later, James comes to the same conclusions, which he
sums up in MARINERS, RENEGADES, AND CASTAWAYS in 1953, as
exemplified in this soul-stirring passage:

"Yet how light in the scales is the contemporary mountain of
self-examination and self-pity against the warmth, the humor, the
sanity, the anonymous but unfailing humanity of the renegades and
castaways and savages of the Pequod, rooted in the whole
historical past of man, doing what they have to do, facing what
they have to face."


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