Ralph Dumain on "The Unknown Marx" - from his web site (http://home.thirdage.com/Education/ralphdavid/)

James Farmelant farmelantj at SPAMjuno.com
Fri May 5 20:48:32 MDT 2000


                               by Ralph Dumain

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818. 182 years on, on the threshold of the
21st century, we
think we know all we need to know about him. Could any topic of
discussion be more boring?
Well, here our purpose is not to promote Marxism as a political doctrine,
but rather to delineate
his specific relevance to the autodidact project.

While intensively studying the work of C.L.R. James in the early 1990s, I
discovered that one of
James's major yet still largely unappreciated themes involves the
relations connecting individual
development and social environment, intellectuals and the division of
labor. This gave me a
new orientation towards the works of the young Marx. After doing some
reading, I put together a
conference program (aborted at the last minute) in 1995 to commemmorate
the 150th
anniversary of The German Ideology. What particularly motivated me was
not the usual
understanding of this work as the birth of historical materialism, but
aspects of the argument
with Max Stirner glossed over, inter alia in the process of abridgment
(until recently, only the
Soviet English-language edition carried the complete text), and
implications (not generally
recognized) for the issues raised above.

What could possibly be new after all this time? Not only has Marx been
done to death, but also
the re-readings and re-interpretations, and a generation or two of the
Young Marx industry.
There were numerous schools of dissident Marxism in Eastern Europe and
the West that
returned to the Young Marx as well as the Hegelian heritage to combat
Stalinism. What else is
there to say?

Rather than to claim any absolute originality, it is much more important
to emphasize themes
which may be found in the texts but not generally appreciated. There is
no need to recapitulate
the whole history of humanistic Marxism, but rather to summarize key
issues which perhaps
even that tradition has not always kept in the limelight.

People need to read these texts closely and not read backwards into them
presuppositions that
come from a century and more of other people's political sins. One must
recognize that the young
Marx was already an opponent of we now think of as collectivism. There is
no subordination of
the individual to the collective in Marx's thinking. Furthermore, Marx's
positive attitude towards
individual development, including the positive aspects of individualism
unleashed but also
thwarted by capitalism, needs to be emphasized after a whole century's
experience of
regimentation and mass manipulation.

Though Marx's theme of the division of mental and manual labor is widely
recognized, the very
personal, everyday as well as intellectual implications of the division
of labor and alienated
social existence have not been thought out as thoroughly as they need to
be, not from the
instrumental perspective of political organizing but above all from the
perspective of the
development of human beings frustrated by the limitations of environment.
If all of society
stagnates, why should not intellectuals be thrown into the same cul de
sac as everyone else? If
the division of labor means that social division also divides what people
know, what are the
implications of living in a world where some people have too much
information with no means
of putting it to productive use and others who become more backward and
ignorant every day,
totally oblivious to the sum total of the accumulated knowledge and
understanding that could be
set into motion to understanding their world and their personal
circumstances? The autodidact's
location of self in the universe of knowledge has gone unstudied while
everything else under the
sun is subject to unprecedented analysis. It is this perspective from
which I introduce Karl Marx
into this web site, not an instrumental political agenda.

Another concept much misunderstood and much abused is the unity of theory
and practice. A
contemporary twist on this theme is the obsession with the concept of
organic intellectuals
inspired by Antonio Gramsci. (See my commentary on Gramsci and
intellectuals.) The issue of
the relation of intellectual work to the totality of social development
is too often reduced to the
cliche of Marx's oft-quoted but universally misunderstood eleventh thesis
on Feuerbach, that
philosophers have only interpreted the world, but the point is to change
it. This whole issue has
to be fundamentally re-thought.

Along with the question of individualism, misunderstandings of Marx based
upon notions of
reactionary communitarianism and organicism have to be dispelled in no
uncertain terms. Marx
does not look backwards toward an "organic" past but ahead, through the
discipline and
educational process of the experience of capitalism, to the future of the
freely associated
producers who have learned to manage their communal associations as
conscious individuals,
free of the repressive ideology of a pre-given, divinely ordained organic
spiritual essence that
determines their social identity and participation. In the modern world,
this pernicious
organicism begins with Herder and German Romanticism, reaches its apex
with Hitler, and now
continues on in other incarnations such as Afrocentrism. Not only is it
not known by the general
public, but not even scholars have called attention to something I
concluded in the past year: that
it was Marx and his nascent historical materialism that dealt a
philosophical death blow to
Herderian organicism, perpetuated though in rationalized form even by
Hegel. This knowledge
is needed now more than ever, this time not to oppose Stalinism, but to
oppose a resurgent
fascism and reactionary nationalism around the world, as well as to face
at last the inescapable
need of conscious individualism in a world where "culture" as we once
knew it has either been
destroyed by advanced capitalism or badly needs to be jettisoned for
being outmoded and
deleterious in the conditions we now face. Culture is dead; long live
human beings!

(5 May 2000)

(c) 2000

                     Ralph Dumain
                             RDUMAIN at IGC.ORG

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