Chris Sciabarra's Attempt to Reverse-Engineer Marx

Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Wed Sep 20 06:48:06 MDT 1995

On Wed, 20 Sep 1995, Jamal Hannah wrote:

> Chris M. Sciabarra says:
> > I am deeply impressed with Marxism as an
> > intellectual project, even though I am, yes, a libertarian
> > "capitalist" pig.
> The impressment is the same kind of thing I hear from capitalists
> who say they are impressed by Che Guavera, or Ho Che Mihn, or George
> Orwell... they admire the genius but wish they were not socialists.
> ..  and go to task attempting to skim whatever they can from
> what these people have done or said, and apply it to capitalism.
> That's how capitalism works, after all.. everything is seen
> as a commodity or something profitable, or, if it's a threat
> to capitalism, the threat must be negated or absorbed.  It's
> pretty basic.

	Jamal -- I'm afraid your being ahistorical here; this is not
simply the method of capitalism.  It is the time-honored tradition going
back thousands of years that one enter into a dialogue, yes, that's
DIALOGUE, even with one's opponents, and that it is possible to reach an
understanding of one's opponents, and sometimes, a better understanding
of one's own premises, through that dialogue.  If I've "skimmed" good
stuff from Marx, then I guess Marx is just as guilty of "skimming" good
stuff from Aristotle, Hegel, Feuerbach, the classical economists, the
French socialists, etc.  In a sense, all scholarship is indicative of
AUFEHEBUNG -- for in facing one's opponent, one often DOES seek to negate
various aspects of the other's views, but in the process, one "sublates"
-- absorbs and abolishes simultaneously -- the other's views.  Nothing
wrong with this -- it is the process of knowledge itself.

> The only other reason for saying one is "impressed" by Marx for one
> who is actually opposed to Marx is to "stroke the backs" of those who
> would be put off by your hostile presence.   Sure, you're
> slick.. you know that so long as you smile and act nice,
> you can go on doing what you do, and look innocent:  presistantly
> saying that all socialism is authoritarian, and your version
> of capitalism is not.. presistantly forming arguments to show that
> this nuance or that nuance of Marx or Engle's writing (or anyone elses)
> crypticly reveals the inevitably of some future "tyranny".  But
> again, we wont be permitted to return to libertarianism's roots,
> which were in the left, not the right.  capitalists, like yourself,
> Chris, stole the word "libertarian" from the socialists.

	Jamal, I am not here to "stroke the backs" or anything else of my
fellow Marxists.  If I smile and act nice, it is not because I am slick;
it is because I AM nice.  But I am not neutral, and I do not HIDE my
biases.  You have every right to be here and to parade your biases, but
speaking to the converted does not help you -- or me -- in reaching any
understanding of each other, or of ourselves.

> It is not belonging to a party that I am criticizing, it is the ideological
> position which you espouse.. that private property in the hands of those who
> can get it, is what leads to "liberty" and "freedom". (the "Free market")
> It is the "small l" libertarianism which I am criticizing, and whether
> you are in the Libertarian Party or not is not the point. (the Party is
> simply more visible.)  Who cares if you are in the Libertarian Party?
> The point is, youre politics suck.  The conclusions and reccomendations
> mean that people will suffer. You invoke the "Gulag", (a standard
> "libertarian" capitalist practice) but ignore Indonesia, or Bohpohl,
> or the wage-slaves of the Robber Barrons.  Using the argument that
> you are not responsible for the actions of the Libertarian Party or
> the Republican Party does not free the capitalism of which you cherish
> from it's intimate connection to and responsibility for these crimes.

	You know... I'm perfectly willing to concede that anarchism has a
rich intellectual heritage which includes syndicalists, collectivists,
individualists, etc.  Jamal, it seems that the very notion that somebody
might call themselves a "libertarian" even while disagreeing with your
politics gets you all in a sweat.  Dry off.... because there is now a
very real tradition of thought reaching back to the Enlightenment and
classical liberalism, that seeks to transcend left and right, and that
calls itself "libertarian."  And if your history is correct (though I
have already raised doubts about it), it can be said that the "liber" in
liber-tarian is ultimately the same root as the "liber" in classical
liber-alism.  If you are correct, then it was the socialists who
coopted liberalism in an attempt to soften their growing
authoritarianism.  .....

> The way you place "welfare statists" in the same category as tyrants
> also shows your deep class hatred.  Welfare was intended to help
> people.. and before capitalists strangled it.. railroaded it and sabotaged
> it.. it _did_ work.  It was a noble effort by the social democrats..
> but, as we can see, social democracy is not strong enough to allow such
> things from being destroyed and ground under capitalism's heel.

	Welfare was created to keep the poor in their place because the
social economy of the early 20th century was careening from one statist
crisis to another, smashing up in the Great Depression which was caused
by Federal Reserve monetary manipulation.  Corporations and unions JOINED
FDR in creating the original New Deal corporate state modelled on
Mussolini's Italy.  Welfare was part of this corporativist structure, as
it was for Bismark.  If it helps the poor from starving, it also helps
the rich keep the poor from fully grasping the system that created
poverty.  The social democrats who provided the rich with an ideology of
altruism to help the poor may not have known that that ideology would be
used in such an insidious way, but thems the facts.
> Right, and of course your whole point of studying Marxism is to find
> out how it can be used to strengthen capitalism.  How's it's process,
> it's arguments, and so on might be used to insure greater profits
> for capitalists, and how capitalists might more easily defeat Marxism
> when it finally shakes off it's current coat of dogma and lack of
> flexibility which paralyzes it.

	No... my whole point of studying Marxism is because I seek to
understand how this society works, and how to alter it.  The dialectic is
one key to that understanding.  Marx didn't have a monopoly on its use,
or on truth -- and not even HE would have claimed such nonsense.
> We can expect to see more and more similar things to the capitalist
> "libertarian" individuals.  More aspects of the left used to apply
> to the right.  More promises and illusions and tricks.  More symantec
> and linguistic traps and mazes, built by folks like yourself.  Be
> as smug as you want about it Chris, but some of us know what you're
> doing.

	Bertell Ollman warned me that some on the left would think me
MORE dangerous than usual.  I guess I'm FINALLY seeing what he meant.
But at the very least, I never dreamed that I'd be called "smug" or a
"smartass."  You live and learn...

> Youre "responses" are pretty empty. I notice how in every one of them,
> you do not simply say "sure, I was wrong", but rather "many on the left
> DO feel this way...", but of course offer no evidence, because it's not
> true. It's only true in your imagination. You still characterize the left
> as "religious" while holding yourself and your fellow capitalists
> up as "realists".  It's typical.  The fact that you mention each of
> my points does not mean you are somehow resolving the issues I'm
> bringing up.. it just means you are echoing my quotations of yourself,
> like a parrot.

	I have had dialogue with people on this very list who defend
Stalin, Jamal.  I didn't think it was necessary to list such people, they
know who they are.  And I don't characterize the entire left as
religious, I merely believe that there is still a strong utopian streak
on the left AND I've admitted that this same streak is on the right as
well.  Utopianism is perhaps, unavoidable, in the sense that human beings
will always have a vision of what is right and what is good; we just need
to understand that the potential for change can only emerge immanently,
on the basis of what ACTUALLY exists.  I don't think we have quite
settled the question of what ACTUALLY exists-- that's the purpose for
scientific social study.  To understand what exists, and by extension, to
understand the parameters within which change can proceed.  Or else one's
visions of change are a mere pie in the sky.
> > Ayn Rand at all; he and others should look at my new book,
> > AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL (Penn State Press, 1995), which
> I saw this book, and instantly recognized what it was: An attempt
> to say that Rand was more Marxist than Marx, and to revise history.
> Rand herself knew that even though she could make fun
> of the propagandistic image of the "muscular worker" (she called
> workers "muscular, mindless clods") she had to replace the image with
> a muscular capitalist superman.

	If you someday decide to read the book, rather than flip through
its Table of Contents, you might discover that I take Rand to task for
her profound distortions of Marxism.  She was wrong in her interpretation
of many of Marx's substantive theories.

> To replace Marxism, (because Rand could
> not destroy it) she created "Objectivism", which is, quite frankly,
> a pro-capitalist perversion of "Marxism".  (Objectivism would have
> been more aptly named "Randism", but Rand, full of an arrogant
> belief that since the Bolsheviks were "wrong" she must be the ultimately
> "right") called her philosophy "Objectivism" (synonymous with
> "Truthism").    What else is "Atlas" than in fact the worker oppressed
> by the capitalist?  But Rand altered the picture to make it appear that
> the communist was oppressing "the individual".    Instead of
> Lenin's Question: "What is to be done?"  Rand asks "What can one do?".
> Furthermore,  Rand even formed a core group of capitalist ideologs
> called "The Collective".  Is this all a coincidence?  Somehow, I
> seriously doubt it.

	My book is a dialectical study of a dialectical woman; so I don't
think that it is a coincidence that she shares much with Marx.  She was
EDUCATED by the Soviets, and carries on many dialectical insights in her
own social critique.

> Of course, "the individual" Rand wrote about
> represented only a handful of super-rich people.. but
> romanticism has, intrinsic to it, the act of identifying with the
> "hero" so that one actually believes they represent the fantasy figure,
> rather than themselves.  This is one reason Rand loved Romanticism so
> much: Romanticism allows "everyone" to be "the individual" but obviously
> "the individual" cannot be "everyone": "the individual" is only
> "one" person, and usually not you or me.  But.. Rand had to write
> propaganda which was populist in nature, while still countering
> the populism of Marxist writing, which was far more honest in
> addressing the masses as they were: the masses.  (instead of calling
> the masses "the individual")
> The other reason for Rand's attraction to romanticism was that when one is
> daydreaming romanticly, they forget about the evils of capitalism.
> Romanticism is the pill that puts the would-be middle-class-revolutionary
> to sleep.   (Brecht sought to break through the poisonous passification of
> theater and movies.)  Rand knew she could not win-over the poor.. she had to
> convince the middle class intellectuals who had taken interest in Marx
> that capitalism was more in their interests than communism.  (and
> when using the USSR as an example, of course, it's no contest.. but
> you know that, dont you Chris?)  This is why the first article about
> Rand in the early 60's was called "Ayn Rand: Hipster on the Right?"
> It was neccesary for the ruling class to try to trick the "hip"
> youth into being herded back to capitalism ("hipness" basically meant not
> only not being racist, but also not being a sucker for 50's capitalism's
> cultural mind-fuck.)

	Rand arose to popularity in the 40s and 50s out of the cesspool
of American culture which was stagnant and stale in many ways in the
postwar era.  She saw big business as the architects of American statism,
and was adamantly opposed to racism and the theocratic right.  She
demonizes the right FAR MORE than she demonizes the left, and stated in
print that Marx was a worthy adversary, but that she couldn't and
wouldn't deal with conservatives who were racists and in favor of "fetal"
rights while taking away the liberty of individuals to do what they
wanted with their own bodies.  She saw conservatives as the greatest
threat to liberty in America.

> Rand hated Communists with a passion.  The Bolsheviks of Russia confiscated
> her families property.  She dedicated her life to destroying communism
> and empowering capitalism with her writing.  If one has figured this out,
> then Rand's lifetime behavior, and her writing, is quite lucidly
> understandable.  (Otherwise it just looks like she's another philosopher,
> or, one might even think with some delusionary bent that she actually
> was "objective", and not deep in her own capitalist subjectivity.)
> It's ironic, Chris, that you as a capitalist have chosen to take
> on Marx and strip what you can from it to empower capitalism, much as
> Rand has done.  I can only feel deep disgust for even the best of the
> "Communists" who have shunned Rand's writing, pretending she didnt
> exist, would go away, or was not a concern.  And I say SHAME on the
> Communist Party USA for this, too.  Everyone I spoke to from it had
> this general reaction... "dont face it.. dont read it.. ignore it
> and it will go away."   If the Communists will lose the war of
> ideas, it is their own laziness for which they have to blame.

	Well, Jamal, the communists are not the only ones who shunned
Rand's writings.  She has been shunned by just about everyone.  And if my
book succeeds in compelling people to take a more serious look at her
thought, I think its wonderful.  But you do give me a little too much
credit; somehow, I don't think my book is going to defeat "Communists" in
the war of ideas.  It may make people think a bit more, but the war of
ideas is far more complicated, far less apocalyptic than what you imply.

> I sent a package of information to the CPUSA as soon as I knew they
> would be on the internet.  I know even Gus Hall, chairman of the
> Communist Party probably knew about this info.  Did they read it?
> Did they consider it?  Nope. Evidently not.  They come on the internet
> and didnt even explore the culture and thinking which makes up
> the ruling-class ideological presence here. (capitalist libertarians)
> But you know how the (so-called) "Marxists" tick, dont you Chris?
> You've been on this list for a year.  Well, live it up, smartass.

	Oh... yes.. here's that "smartass" comment I mentioned before.
Jamal, if you continue like this, then you can engage in all the
soliloquy you'd like.  Rand's hero, Howard Roark, when confronted finally
with his arch enemy, Ellsworth Toohey, is asked, "Mr. Roark, what do you
think of me."  Roark replies:  "But Mr. Toohey, I don't think of you."
I'm trying to be a little bit more respectful that Mr. Roark.  I guess a
part of me still believes that you can engage in dialogue.  We'll see....

> The second I saw your book reviewed in the recent issue of "Non-Serviam"
> I knew what it was.. yet another version of "Virtual Marxism". "Virtuality"
> is the ultimate lie: that which is not in fact what it is.  I saw that
> you take great pains to convince the reader that Rand was "dialectical",
> so of course if the modern intellectual wants to think dialecticly,
> one could usher them into thinking in the Randian "dialectical"
> way, and not the Marxist way, which would be distasteful to the
> status quo.   Marx cannot be buried.  Marxism will never vanish from
> human collective memory until well after revolution finally occurs.. or:
> capitalists can manage to clone it and re-engineer it until Marxism
> is no longer Marxism but capitalism.  We can only expect this, in
> our "post-modern" age of illusions, lies and banality.

	I don't usher people into thinking that Rand was dialectical.
Simply put, I believe that she WAS dialectical (and the same goes for
Hayek, as I suggest in Chapter one of MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA).
I don't believe that Marx should be buried, but I have this sneaky
suspicion that you'd like to bury those among us who walk a different
walk and talk a different talk.  I could be wrong, but your tone
suggests that the authoritarianism that has plagued the left still
exists lurking somewhere in the deep recesses of consciousness.  Oh, and
by the way, before you take me to task on this one -- yes, Rand exhibited
the same intolerance in many ways...
... so authoritarianism is definitely not the sole possession of the left.

					- Chris
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at

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