[Marxism] Thanks to Hans Ehrbar!

James Daly james.irldaly at ntlworld.com
Thu Feb 10 13:30:29 MST 2005

Louis wrote:
Comrades can now look at the archives of the old Spoons Marxism list 
going back to 1994........
This was my second post to the original Marxism list back in August, 
LP:  All the postings on this list that invoke the names of Althusser, 
Habermas, Gramsci et al are in the spirit of what Perry Anderson 
called Western Marxism. This is a university-based discipline which 
disunites theory and practice.
JD:  The above refers to specific postings about Habermas et al; Louis 
explains that the list went towards the Democratic Party; and much has 
happened since then -- not least to Anderson and his New Left Review. 
However, the reposting suggests that Louis still sees the original as 
expressing a "spirit" he would still favour.  But I'm sure if he were 
writing a full article on the subject now it would be much more 

For instance the term Western Marxism is sometimes used to include 
incompatibles such as Lukacs and Colletti, or Sartre and Althusser.  A 
history of their interactions would be long and involved.  They were 
not post-modernists, or even post-Marxists, and I think the attitude 
should be only "A plague on some of your houses". Also, academic work 
can and should be related to practice; scholarship can be a form of 
activism.  In this it would be like Marx's own philosophic practice --  
and the interpreting of just what that *was* is a gruelling, necessary 
and practice-oriented work -- we need more of it, not less.  Marx's 
glowing praise of Aristotle and of Hegel are keys to it.
Kolakowski should be commended for beginning and continuing his 
history of Marx and Marxism with the dialectic of Plotinus.  But 
Kolakowski reduces Marx's dialectic to a statement of necessary 
conditions; he interprets Marx as saying to Proudhon that you can't 
have socialism (the good side) without capitalism (the bad side), 
whereas Marx was saying that you can't have the good side -- in 
Proudhon's evaluation, capitalism without tears for everyone --  
without an unruly proletariat (the bad side, for Proudhon).
Kolakowski could and should have begun with Plato's dialectic. 
Traditional Irish Republican education did -- the R. U. C. in 
selective cases used possession of Plato's *The Republic* (a 
subversive word in this part of the United *Kingdom*!) as evidence of 
IRA membership and grounds for internment without trial.   The central 
message of Plato's *Symposium* is that needy desire is only fulfilled 
(and it is dialectically fulfilled, not negated) in the generosity of 
love (of truth, beauty and goodness).  (See R. A. Markus, "The 
Dialectic of Eros in Plato's Symposium" in Gregory Vlastos, editor 
*Plato: A Collection of Critical Essays* Volume 2, London, Macmillan, 
This is the foundation of German idealism, of which Engels said the 
German working class was the inheritor.  Its echo is found in the 
progression from the selfish Benthamite huckstering of the first 
thesis on Feuerbach to the third's "coincidence of the changing of 
circumstances and of human activity...  as *revolutionising 
practice*".  That is an essential (moral and ontological) 
transformation which "gets rid of the muck of ages, and fits the 
working class to found society anew", like the French communist 
workers whose nobility Marx praised.
I recently came across the phrase "When economics gets serious, it 
becomes politics".  As opposed to that Marxian insight, one 
inheritance of the Kautskyism and Plekhanovite Diamat against which 
"Western Marxism" fought is economism.  In Ireland that *theory* led 
in *practice* to the CP taking their orders from the British CP 
(contrary to Marx's example in the IWMA) and their perspective from 
the threatening loyalist Harland and Wolff shipyard workers.  In the 
Sixties they infiltrated and indoctrinated the republican movement as 
the Official Sinn Fein/ Republican Clubs/ Workers Party, and engaged 
in a murderous and community-demoralising "feud" between them as 
"socialists" and the Provisionals as "fascist nationalists".
Another inheritance of Kautsky-Plekhanovism is the Whig interpretation 
of history (or progress). According to that the Provisionals were not 
only fascist nationalists, but catholic nationalists, so that the 
world-historical progress of which Cromwell was such a great figure 
required that they be put down. The Irish historical experiences that 
led to the popular expression "The curse of Crummle" became a laughing 
Many Trotskyist adherents of Diamat did no better.
One corrective for such vicious theory-led practice is the current 
attention to the Aristotelian basis of Marx's thinking.  The 
disorienting effects of the loss of the Aristotelian tradition are 
analysed and vividly described by Alasdair MacIntyre in his *After 
Virtue* (London, Duckworth, 1981). Scott Meikle, who contributed so 
much to the recognition of the Aristotelianism of Marx, for instance 
in *Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx* (London, Duckworth, 
1985), wrote in his edited collection of articles *Marx* (Aldershot, 
Ashgate 2002) -- (among which see especially Patrick Murray, 
"Enlightenment Roots of Habermas' Critique of Marx"):
Meikle: "Marx... can be identified as an Enlightenment thinker only 
with the serious qualification (so serious that it casts doubt on the 
identification itself) that in the analytical foundation of his 
thought he is a very traditional European thinker, and draws for his 
philosophical resources in evaluating enlightenment modernity, 
capitalism, and economics, on the same pre-modern tradition of 
Aristotelianism in philosophy which the Anglophone moderns from Hobbes 
onwards were so passionately committed to ploughing up.  It is a 
paradox that the most revolutionary thing about Marx is what is most 
traditional about him".
One promising line of approach which is being talked about at the 
moment on the Critical Realism (formerly Bhaskar) list, is Marx's 
realist theory of science and its difference from empiricism and 
related mechanism.  I would like to see this addressed from an 
Aristotelian perspective, connecting to ethical naturalism and the 
happiness of *eudaemonia* as communal flourishing, not Benthamite 
private sensation.
Some more references for the Aristotelianism of Marx:
Scott Meikle, "Dialectical Contradiction and Necessity" in *Issues of 
Marxist Philosophy*, Vol 1 *Dialectics and Method* edited J. Mepham 
and DH Ruben (Brighton, Harvester Press, 1979).  -- In the same book 
C. J. Arthur has a brilliant article which foreshadows his work with 
the "New Dialectic" group.
Scott Meikle, "History of Philosophy: The Metaphysics of Substance in 
Marx" in *The Cambridge Companion to Marx*, edited by T Carver (C. U. 
P., 1991).  -- see also a brilliant article by Lawrence Wilde in the 
same Volume, and also his contributions to The Open University's 
*Approaches to Marx* (edited by Wilde and Cowling).
George E. McCarthy, *Marx and the Ancients*
ditto, *Marx and Aristotle* (Maryland, Rowan and Littlefield, 1992).

It is grotesquely ironic that Perry Anderson should castigate "Western 
Marxism" (a "product of defeat") as divorcing theory and practice. 
The New Left Review, published in the heart of the UK whose U. was in 
question, contributed to the Irish defeat by saying not a word about 
the war in the disputed part of the dis-UK for 25 years -- not even 
about internment without trial and other human and civil rights 
abuses.  Before that (No 57?) there was an anti-Irish article I do not 
have to hand at the moment (author Gibbon?) and an article by the 
infamous poseur Conor Cruise O'Brien, saying -- incredibly!  -- that 
Ireland should not have risen in 1916 but should have waited for the 
Russians in 1917. After the 25 years came an article damning the 26 
counties with faint praise for liberalising sexual legislation.
The editors (including Robin Blackburn) fought like mad to refuse to 
publish a letter from Ireland which pointed out the 25 year gap, and 
only gave in ungraciously to unanimous pressure from their editorial 
board -- most or all of whom seem to have resigned for one reason or 
another. In a fairly recent interview the Anglo-Irish Etonian Anderson 
spoke not about that, but in a to-us cliched and very evasive way just 
about his identity -- "The Irish see me as English, and the English 
see me as Irish".  He did not need to publicise the 
ultra-pro-Imperialist two-nation theory -- his fellow editor Tom Nairn 
did that for him.  So I apologise to Anderson -- he did not divorce 
(privately held) two-nation theory and (public) practice. Scholars and 
activists indeed!

James Daly

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