[Marxism] re: Fanon

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 16 08:43:18 MST 2005

>As far as that goes, so is denouncing the Enlightenment.  The essence of
>the Enlightenment is the sense of a knowable reality that transcends the
>differences among people.  It is not the racist statements of any of its
>premier thinkers or their intellectual descendants.  In fact, the
>greatest racists in the western world have always had nothing but
>absolute contempt for the Enlightenment.
>And it's a contempt the academic postmodernists share.
>I'd sincerely urge M. Junaid Alam in the friendliest manner possible to
>give these issues some further thought.
>Mark L.

But it is important to understand that Marxism is not a continuation of 
Enlightenment philosophy. Here's something I wrote a while back:

Marxism and the Enlightenment

A couple of months ago I attended a talk at NYC's Brecht Forum on 
"Philosophy and Marxism" which is relevant to this discussion. The speaker 
was Guy Robinson, who taught philosophy in British universities for 25 
years. He retired in 1982 and moved to Nicaragua where he worked with 
construction brigades. He now lived in Dublin and his new book "Philosophy 
and Mystification" had just been published by Routledge.

Robinson's main point was that modern philosophy evolved in order to meet 
the needs of the rising bourgeoisie. It aspires to be universal but 
conceals the very particular and historical needs of the class which was 
coming to power in the age of Descartes. One of the purposes of Marxism is 
to make this connection and expose the class bias of bourgeois philosophy.

One of the schools of thought that Marxism vies with in this project is 
post-structuralism or postmodernism. The pomos are also interested in 
showing that the claims of universality are specious. Robinson described 
the pomos in pithy terms, as "hunters of zeitgeists," who try to capture 
historical trends as if they were animal specimens to pin on the wall like 
trophies. In the process of debunking "universality," the pomos also trash 
history. This is where Marxists and pomos part company, as well as on the 
issue of class.

Marxism has an entirely different agenda. Robinson says that a plain way of 
describing its mission is to clarify things that we already know. Marx's 
description of this project is found in the preface to the German Ideology:

"Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions 
about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have 
arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal 
man, etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, 
the creators, have bowed down before their creations. Let us liberate them 
from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of 
which they are pining away. Let us revolt against the rule of thoughts. Let 
us teach men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which 
correspond to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical 
attitude to them; says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and - 
existing reality will collapse."

Robinson gave an example of the clarifying function of Marxism. He said 
that the term "Artificial Intelligence" is a bourgeois mystification. It 
presumes that there is some sort of distinction between machines and 
intelligence, when in reality all machines exhibit some sort of 
intelligence. The source of it is the human labor which invests 
intelligence in the artifact to begin with. Positing some sort of duality 
between machine and intelligence is only possible in a society where a deep 
state of alienation exists between labor and the products of our labor.

Robinson then proceeded to knock bourgeois philosophy off its pedestal. Its 
whole purpose was to sanctify private property and the pursuit of profit. 
In order to do this, it was necessary to conduct ideological warfare 
against the feudal world view. John Locke's philosophy revolved around this 
project, especially in its promotion of the idea of the "social contract." 
Against the arbitrary rules of a Church-run society, the bourgeoisie needed 
rationality and individual rights. Without rationality and individual 
rights, capitalist property relations could not be safeguarded.

In order to diminish the role of the Church and the feudal aristocracy, a 
totally new view of the universe had to be constructed. Instrumental to 
this was a new view of nature, which was seen as transcendent and outside 
of humanity, but not sacred. Scientists would replace priests in this new 
world-view, since they alone had the ability to explain the natural order. 
Newton becomes a key figure in the general assault on the old order.

If nature is conscripted on behalf of the rising bourgeoisie, the natural 
tendency is toward what Robinson calls bourgeois materialism. Against this 
generally progressive philosophical current, he posits historical 
materialism. The difference between bourgeois and historical materialism is 
that the latter mode of thought does not see nature as transcendent but as 
something that society interacts with dialectically. Nature is always being 
transformed through labor. Furthermore, science in bourgeois society is 
always qualified by its social role, as Thomas Kuhn argues. The purpose of 
socialism is to liberate science from its class ties and make it available 
for the transformation of society.



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