[Marxism] Marx as Left of the Marxists

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 7 21:27:08 MST 2004


Jurriaan:
>(1) the transformation of Marx's ideas into a "system" and an ideology (or
>even a cosmology) which claims to have answers to everything in advance of
>practical experience and in advance of systematic inquiry, an approach Marx
>explicitly rejected, and which prevents independent thinking. It creates a
>literature which attracts all the wrong people.

A cosmology? Well, Les Schaffer does do research in astrophysics, but that 
is about as far as I'd go along those lines.

>(2) An ill-considered anti-capitalist stance which does not generate
>constructive alternatives and doesn't generate a positive theory of
>socialism in terms of forms of association and workable social institutions.

Frankly, I think it is best not to come up with "constructive alternatives" 
if by that you mean Albert and Hahnel's PARECON, etc. As Marx once said, 
"What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has 
developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges 
from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, 
morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old 
society from whose womb it emerges." (Critique of the Gotha Programme)

>(3) Inability to understand what Marx really meant and how to develop his
>ideas further through research, theorizing and practical experience, thereby
>transforming his thought into a moralistic religion and culture worse than
>christianity.

I am not sure this is a function of misunderstanding, but rather the 
material forces of history acting in such a fashion as to transform a 
living movement into an oppressive burden on society and a barrier to 
critical thinking. Put simply, this is a problem of the relationship of 
class forces rather than a search for correct thoughts.

>(4) A bad understanding of the human psyche and human psychology, as part of
>an inability to integrate (1) the findings of modern science about human
>development, sexual development and spiritual development, linguistics,
>ecology etc. (2) the insights of other socialist and leftwing tendencies and
>movements.

The only bad understanding about human psychology that I can think of is 
misguided attempts to synthesize Marx and Freud. Thankfully, those days are 
behind us except for certain small-circulation journals still influenced by 
the Frankfurt school.

>(5) As a result of those four trends, Marxism remains trapped in an
>epistemic dilemma of either mechanical materialism or idealism, and
>consequently cannot escape from the dualisms in the ideologies of
>competitive, class-divided societies and oscillations between sectarianism
>and opportunism.

Once again, I attribute opportunism to social forces rather than to 
methodological missteps. Big capital has an enormous ability to act upon 
the political left, especially when the working class is relatively 
quiescent. Sectarianism is an entirely different problem, but one that can 
only be overcome through a combination of a revived mass movement and a 
willingness to transcend old modes of functioning. The fact that this 
mailing list exists as a challenge to the sectarian past should make us 
somewhat hopeful about the future--as does new initiatives by the DSP and 
formations like the various Socialist Alliances, etc.

>(6) The inability to formulate and implement a positive ethics which
>identifies forms of association between people which are desirable, and a
>misunderstanding of religious belief, resulting in an inferior humanism
>which departs from the high road of human thought.

I am not sure that religion and ethics are very useful in figuring out how 
to work through an intelligent strategy and tactics for anticapitalist 
movements. They are useful for coping in the world as a human being, 
however. My own ethical sense was imparted from my mother and reading Mark 
Twain.

>Consequently, though reading the material, I personally rejected Marxism
>long ago, although people still sometimes falsely label me as that, and I
>subsequently rejected contacts with all but a few Marxists who are creative,
>independent thinkers capable of good human relations. But this does not mean
>at all, that I do not think Marx's thought is valuable. I think it is very
>valuable, indispensable even.

You, of course, are entitled to your opinion. I am grateful that you don't 
spend much time here in open conflict with Marxism, however.

>As far as I am concerned though, there is only socialism or communism,
>Marxism does not exist. Socialism and communism are about the achievement of
>a just, egalitarian, ecologically sustainable and free society which
>abolishes social classes and exploitative forms of association. The thought
>of one man is completely insufficient for that purpose, it requires the
>contribution of millions, even billions of living individuals.

This reflects a misunderstanding of how the thought of Karl Marx has been 
transmitted politically since the 1860s or so. In socialist revolutions, it 
is virtually impossible to utilize something like the 18th Brumaire or the 
Critique of the Gotha Programme in an unmediated fashion. Instead you have 
Cuban Marxism that was influenced by Mariategui through Che Guevara's 
association with Hilda Gadea, etc.

>Personally, I am a socialist at present (and a member of the Dutch Socialist
>Party), and I think you can be vastly more effective that way than as a
>Marxist, thinking freely and really change the world, insofar as that is
>within the power of an individual to do, in association with others. I
>discussed this topic briefly with party leader Jan Marijnissen once on an
>anti-war demonstration, and he opined basically "this Marxist language and
>culture is politically confusing".

I think that the Dutch Socialist Party is a very useful organization for 
improving Dutch society. I have to confess, however, that if a 
revolutionary situation ever developed in Holland, an entirely different 
type of organization will be required.


Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 





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