TO VAN GELDER RE MARXISM, 3 HEGELIANISMS, FRANKFURTERS

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sun Oct 8 11:29:12 MDT 1995


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From: Ralph Dumain <rdumain at igc.apc.org>
To: Multiple recipients of list <hegel-l at bucknell.edu>
Subject: ON HEGELIAN MARXISM, THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL, AND VAN GELDER
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Status: R

Though you are convinced I am beneath you, I am going to respond
to your recent enquiry on the three interpretations of Hegel
anyway, especially category no. 3:

>3. *Hegel-Marxism* (or 'Critical Theory') adds an additional
>element to the above in as much as - an act of sacriledge to
>academic philosophers, this - the *activity of doing philoso-
>phy itself* is attacked and criticised, on the grounds that,
>if the crises facing the human race on this planet are not
>solved it is not going to matter a great deal what it is that
>we all did for a living before we became extinct. It takes
>over Hegel's preoccupation with 'Universalgeschichte' while
>stripping the latter of those - 'teleological' - elements
>which could still, surrepticiously or not, proffer a modicum
>of hope and solace for those engaged in its study. (In the
>process demanding a greater degree of stoicism of itself and
>its followers than most of our contemporaries are able or pre-
>pared to muster.)

I am quite disturbed at this characterization, for two general
reasons:

(1)  You are too quick to equate Hegelian Marxism with Critical
Theory, i.e. the Frankfurt School, your own area of expertise.
Yet it is wrong to restrict Hegelian Marxism to the Frankfurters.
Just as one example, there is my area of expertise, the
Trinidadian Hegelian Marxist C.L.R. James, whose work in the 1940s
in collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya (long before she wrote the
stuff she tormented the Hegel Society with) occurred independently
of the Frankfurters and everyone else.  Incidentally, James
despised Adorno and Marcuse, but that is part of the story of
James's contempt for the narcissism of the intellectual class.
The point is, there are many sources of Marxist interest in Hegel
outside the realm of the Frankfurters.

(2)  Your characterization of the (Hegelian) Marxist attitude to
philosophy strikes me as peculiar.  Yes, I do recall some
statement by Engels that before philosophy and religion can exist,
man must eat, but I am not familiar with any Marxist assertion
that philosophy is to be attacked because the human race faces
extinction if we don't act quickly.  I can't believe you really
mean this.  However, I do believe a Marxist approach to philosophy
is a scandal to academics.  I also believe that many of the
Frankfurters were in essence themselves academic, which is why
they have become so beloved of other academics, especially people
who wouldn't be caught dead hobnobbing with Marxism.  I have had a
gut-level suspicion of many members of this school for many years,
because they strike me as typical European intellectual snobs,
especially the worst snob among them, Adorno.  The hatred of the
cultivated European humanistic intellectual for science and
technology (which they reduce to the stereotype of "positivism"),
popular culture, the United States (Adorno's ascetic hatred of
pleasure and his cultural prejudice against jazz, in favor of his
tiresome European avant-garde shit), the self-centered obsession
with the intellectual's own alienation -- all of this makes me
highly suspicious.  To me these people represent the death throes
of a culture that has nothing new to offer.  They reek of death
and decay.

That you were completely bewildered by a previous post of mine in
which I pinpointed the division of labor as the decisive problem,
the consequences of which had ultimately reduced the most
sophisticated of intellectuals to educated fools, is very
revealing of your own guilty academicism.  You were mighty quick
to dismiss me as a madman.  Too bad for you: you've got a lot to
learn, Herr Professor.  And now I'm going to educate you.

In Marxism, the very activity of doing philosophy is criticized
and often attacked, but not on the grounds that it is a
distraction from saving the world.  Rather, "philosophy" is
criticized on the grounds that it is not what it takes itself to
be at face value.  Philosophy thinks it is pure thought thinking
itself, but its real motivating factors lie beneath its posture of
self-containment and its self-presentation.  Philosophy not only
expresses the material social realities that give rise to it, but
in a class-divided society also manifests the alienated
consciousness and the consequences of the divisions of labor.
Nonetheless, up to a point, philosophy is capable of progressing
and developing a more sophisticated true conceptual understanding
of the world along with more sophisticated deceptions,
rationalizations, and distortions of it.  But at some point in the
course of social evolution, there is a limit to what Philosophy as
traditionally conceived can achieve.  Then Philosophy must look
beneath itself to find out what makes it tick and become conscious
of its own foundations and limitations and learn to understand
where it comes from and what functions it has really served.

I think it should be obvious from the foregoing what a quantum
leap Hegel represented historically in contributing to
philosophy's self-consciousness.  No "philosopher" in history was
ever more brilliant.  Hegel represented the limit of what idealism
could achieve.  Now when we talk about Marx as the culmination of
or step beyond Hegel, let's not be deceived by the various myths
of what this means.  It is NOT a question of abandoning theory for
practice or thought for action (that's Bakuninist hooliganism and
right-wing anarchism, which ultimately developed fascistic
leanings), or to put it in Trejo's ignorant, subliterate phrasing,
abandoning brains for brawn.  No, no, no, no, no!  Conceptual
thought does not cease when political action begins, nor is the
sole object of philosophy and theory to be politics and economics.
No, no, no.  Conceptual thought continues with the widest possible
range of concerns, but with a new orientation, a new basis for
reflexivity.  From this point on, philosophy can advance only in
conjunction with the attempt to overcome the consequences for
itself of class society and the division of labor.

Now I leave it up to you to judge the Frankfurt School in light of
the above sketch.  Certainly, as quasi-Marxists, the Frankfurters
were far more sophisticated about linking ideas to the life of
society than any previous traditional intellectuals.  Is it
possible nonetheless that they themselves were partially mystified
by the division of labor, by their own cultural despair and their
alienated position as cultivated European intellectuals whose very
conception of culture was in the position of being smashed by the
development of monopoly capitalism?

You ought to know that there are many more people influenced by
Hegelianism in this world than you even know exist.  I know people
down in the Caribbean who are reading Hegel as well as Marx and
applying Hegelian ideas to an analysis of their own cultural
institutions.  I've got an Arab friend in town who is scouring all
the used bookstores as I am for anything by Feuerbach and Hegel
and other the young Hegelians.  I have discovered doctoral
dissertations and articles applying Hegelian ideas to
Afro-American culture.  This is a big world, and I hope that one
day there will be a crop of intellectuals who will not only apply
these ideas to yet uncharted areas, but who will succeed in
dislodging the vital ideas of Europe from their moribund, dying
and rotting cultural context, and who will topple Europe's
monopoly of theoretical sophistication once and for all.



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