ON HEGELIAN MARXISM, THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL, AND VAN GELDER

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Tue Oct 10 18:43:54 MDT 1995


I had intended to write a fuller reply, but as it was taking so
much time, I sent what I had already written.  Now Mr. Peck makes
the following astute observation:

> I'm not convinced that all philosophers have all been equally
>mystified in being rationalist-idealists; for the modern period,
>representing the early "bourgeois revolution", I would instance
>the rise of British empiricism.  And more generally: skepticism,
>ancient and modern.  Empiricism represents, I take it, an
>attempt at democracy in philosophy, cognitive democracy, against
>the pretensions of priests and kings...

This is indeed an important turning point in bringing philosophy
down to earth, in destroying the old aristocratic world view and
the type of philosopher it produced.  One could also throw in
American pragmatism which developed a bit later as another example
of this development.  However, the question remains: how complete
was the bourgeois revolution in revolutionizing the role of the
intellectual and his conception of society and himself?

The development of the free bourgeois individual, of science and
technology, necessitated a revolution in the orientation of the
intellectual to reality.  However, that revolution was
revolutionary only to the extent that it supported demystification
of the world insofar as was required for the mastery of physical
nature.  But what about the intellectual in relation to the
comprehension and mastery of social relations?  The essence of
capitalist industrial production lies in the division of those who
plan and think and those enslaved by the process of production who
are relegated to carrying out the plans, ideas, and orders of
others.  Hence the posture of rationalism was maintained: there is
one segment of humanity that stands above the rest of society,
functioning as the executive of reason in the world, and the rest
of humanity below, the world of brute unreason, a force to
analyzed, directed, and managed by others.  That fundamental
division lies at the root of all bourgeois social science, of all
of bourgeois intellectual life: the division between intellectuals
as the supposed embodiment of reason and the brute mindless mass.

Empiricism, pragmatism, no bourgeois intellectual development,
least of all postmodernism, has ever succeeded in surmounting that
fundamental orientation.  Marxism is the only intellectual
development that has made that possible, but let me add that
"Marxism " alone is no guarantee.  Stalinism is the apotheosis of
capitalist rationalism taken to an extreme, and it represented the
most extreme alienation of the modern worker.

I plan to develop these ideas in relation to philosophy and its
history in an original direction, but you might wonder how I
learned to think this way.  It wasn't the Frankfurt School or any
of the other people you have heard of.  It is based squarely on
the underground, virtually anonymous work that was done in the
1940s under the direction of C.L.R. James, along with Raya
Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee Boggs mainly.  These people studied
Hegel in an obscure circle within the American Trotskyist movement
in the 1940s.  There is a story -- I don't know if it is fact or
legend -- that these people had factory workers carrying around
copies of Hegel's _Phenomenology_ in the 1940s!  Fact or fiction,
it indicates how amazing their achievement was, given the time,
place, and circumstances under which they labored.  One place you
can read about the theoretical perspective they developed is their
summum of their position, STATE CAPITALISM AND WORLD REVOLUTION
(1950, republished 1986 by Charles H. Kerr).  The most
understudied aspect of their work, which was really only fully
grasped by James, is their indictment of intellectuals.  Not
surprisingly, having been studied only by intellectuals, and
worse, American leftist sectarians, this aspect of James's thought
has never been seriously assimilated or comprehended.  To
understand it is to understand how James transcended all the
philosophers and even philosopher-activists, be they such esteemed
entities as Bertrand Russell, the Frankfurters, or the New York
Intellectuals, in grasping the significance of the division of
labor for the diminishing intellectual returns of the intellectual
class.

I suggest you take a look at how well the inheritors of empiricism
have applied their ideas to the understanding of society.  What
have logicians and natural scientists had to contribute?  Nothing.
Logical empiricism?  Nada.  Pragmatism?  Zip.  Bourgeois
rationalists are utterly mystified by the irrationalism that
pervades their society.  Just take a look at the secular humanist
movement in the USA, which I tried to involve myself in for
awhile.  These people preach against astrology and the paranormal
and superstition (i.e. anti-natural-scientific rather than social
superstition), but they are utterly mystified by the pervasive
irrationality of an advanced industrial society.  Why?  Because
they constitute a technocratic-administrative elite that considers
itself to be the embodiment of reason, and that can't see that the
grotesque unreason that pervades society is a product of the very
same system whose elite they fancy themselves as constituting.
They have reached the end of their rope.

There are very few intellectuals, and that includes Marxists from
what I have seen, who have fully grasped the implications of what
you are reading here.  The gap between those who think and those
who toil is worse than ever, and both groups become increasingly
stupid as the gap widens.  Here is the one intellectual revolution
that remains to be accomplished, even to be conceived.  Marx saw
this in the 1840s and he has yet to be fully appreciated or even
recognized for seeing it.  THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY was not some silly
"epistemological break"; it was the breaking point with a whole
social stratum.  150 years later, we must deal with its
implications before it is too late.


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