Thoughts from Cyril Smith : Marx at the Millenium

Richard Harris rhh1 at
Mon Mar 31 18:44:11 MST 2003

I think a re-emphasis on the whole point of the marxist project is not out
of order at the moment, given the debate about 'patriotism', 'support our
troops' and so on, which seem to me to be stuck in the world of the
alienated, civil society.  I know many in the mass movement are - but what
we need to provide is, somehow, a paradigm shift.  In the end, it isn't just
more facts - although a fact might well be what an individual needs to break

Above all, what we need is to encourage the old mole, burrowing beneath us,
to come to the surface.

Do you know how to do that?

>From Cyril Smith, Marx at the Millennium:
"Hegel's project is quite magnificent, and, if you want to make sense of the
world of civil society, it is indeed absolutely necessary. It also happens
to be utterly impossible to achieve. For to complete it would mean to show
how the forms of bourgeois society are compatible with freedom- and they are
not. By 1831, when Hegel died, these social forms could already be seen to
be forms of oppression. ... In 1839, when Karl Marx was beginning work on
his doctoral dissertation, he recognised Hegel as 'our great teacher'.
Thirty-four years later he could still 'avow' himself 'a pupil of that
mighty thinker'. ...
'The essence of the definitions of the state is not that they are
definitions of the state, but that in their most abstract form they can be
regarded as logical metaphysical definitions.' ...

The key category of Marx's theoretical work was the one which 'Marxism'
sought to evade: the idea of 'humanness'. Without it, notions like 'capital'
, 'proletariat' and 'surplus value' have no meaning. His standpoint, that of
'human society or socialised humanity' (Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis 10),
enabled Marx to understand that certain forms of human life were beneath the
dignity of homo sapiens, not 'worthy and appropriate for their human nature'

But hidden inside these very forms was a human content, which science had to
discover. Within the framework of individualism, inside which men and women
had to fight each other to live, they retained, perhaps only in odd corners
of their beings, their potential for self-determination, self-creation,
self-consciousness and social solidarity. Indeed, it was only because there
was a mismatch between this humanity and its inhuman forms, and because
people had to struggle to 'fight out' this discrepancy, that it was possible
to know which way up the world should go.

Any account of any part of Marx's work which does not centre on this
conception - and that includes 90 per cent of the huge volume of writings on
the subject - must be utterly false. It seems to me that the supreme task
today, and not an easy one, is to disinter Marx's fundamental insight, and
to find ways to articulate it in as accessible a form that we can, free of
all academic mystification. Only then can it become the foundation for
practical action. It was his conception of 'humanness' which gave Marx his
criterion for truth. For example:

'The mediating process between men engaged in exchange is not a social or
human process, not human relationship; it is the abstract relationship of
private property to private property.... Since men engaged in exchange do
not relate to each other as men, things lose the significance of human
personal property.' ...

' ... why are appearance and essence opposed? Why can't we live in such a
way that they do coincide?'  His struggle to answer such questions is the
heart and soul of Marx's critique of political economy, of his conception of
history and of his notions of the communist revolution and communist

When 'Marxism' thought that Marx had produced a set of 'economic doctrines',
a 'Marxist political economy', and when it identified 'Marx's dialectic'
with Hegel's dialectic, it was denying Marx's central insight. In presenting
the most developed form of his work on the critique of political economy, in
the 1873 edition of Capital, Marx explained quite clearly that 'my dialectic
is not only different from that of Hegel, but its direct opposite'.
Unfortunately, nobody was listening. Right at the start of his study of
political economy, Marx wrote:

'The community of men, or the manifestation of the nature of men, their
mutual complementing the result of which is species-life, truly human life -
this community is conceived by political economy in the form of exchange and
trade.... It is seen that political economy defines the estranged form of
social intercourse as the essential and original form corresponding to man's

In opposition to this, Marx knew that:

'since human nature is the true community of men, by manifesting their
nature men create, produce, the human community the social entity, which is
no abstract universal power opposed to the single individual, but is the
essential nature of each individual, his own activity, his own life, his own
spirit, his own wealth.'

Isn't the war of capitalist states in the interests of their economies as
alienating as one can get?  Destroying humanity to find it? [the bosses
don't even fool themselves with that kind of talk these days, do they?  The
price to earnings ratio is the bottom line - what we're here for.]


Canterbury, Kent.

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