d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Thu Feb 7 18:37:52 MST 2013
I have a feeling this is going to be a long answer.
From the mid-1840s onward, there have been several marxisms. Yes,
several marxisms. What is of interest to historians is not only what
Marx and Engels actually wrote but the many debates that ensued fromt eh
1880 to 1940 period, often with major contributors ENTIRELY IGNORANT OF
WHAT MARX ACTUALLY WROTE.
Lenin had no idea of the contents of the Grundrisse and a very hazy idea
of what the 1840s manuscripts contained. The German ideology only came
out in the
Which means that the central question of What is Marxism ? has been
answered from the 2nd international to the Comintern through ideologicla
constructs that included many threads (many of which are not Marxist -
i.e. Jacobinim). And threfore, "Marxism" can mean quite different
things, depending on which side of the debate you choose. However, it
has generaly been recognized that Marx employs a given method in
explorig social relationships, one that strives to be both "scientific"
So as not to burden this post with obscure past references, I will only
deal with three topics that are nowadays in the spotlight so to speak.
1) So called "orientalism" (that MArx was Euro-centirst), the thesis
developed by Said, is quite wrong. Marx wrote in the russian preface to
Das Kapital that it is not necessary for every country to go through the
same process of developemnt as ENgland (Capitalist accumulation). He
madde the same poiint in the Frencfh version of Capital. He also, in his
notes for a "Universal History of Humanity" which was his pet project in
the 1870s-1880s (when he got fed up with Das Kapital and started reading
ethnographic reports instead), strived to show that each society has its
OWN determinism and that, what Stalinism would later term the five
stages theory of human history, was bunk. So the orthodox version of the
historical develooment of mankind from clan to tribe, and from chiefdom
to state, owes more to the prevalent Darwinianism of the late 19th
century than to Marx's own thinking.
2) Participation in Parlementarian elections. "The Critique of the Gotha
program" was written as a personal letter and was not meant to be
published. German socialists united their two tendancies : MArxism and
Lassalien socialism (social-democracy). MArx was outraged as he felt the
Gotha program left out his (MArxist) contribution altogether and that
the new party was adopting a paternalistic view of workers ("Oh those
poor exploited workers !") and relying on reforms (better working
conditions, health care, etc.) instead of creating genuine class
consciousness. This private letter was largely forgotten, until it
resurfaced... in France. The French socialists were having abitter
argument over whether or not to participate in bourgeois elections in
the 1910s and low and behold the Guedist fraction used the "Critique of
the Gotha Program" against... revolutionary unionists who were against
any participation of workers in bourgeois elections. Quite a reversal of
intent. Yes, workers must participate in Bourgeois politics for their
force must be felt, but they must strive for genuine Workers' parties.
REvolutionary unionists (who would later become "Council Communists")
were all for workers flexing their muscles in the bourgeois politicla
arena, but they were deeply suspicious of so-called "Workers parties"
precisey BECAUSE of the German example : they were suscpicious of state
institutions as a way for Capitalism to "tame" workers' demands. So the
"Critique of the Gotha Program" is a text that has had quite an
extraordinary legacy, being used to either criticize parlementarian
strategies or refute them, but all with one unifying strand : the
furthering of workers' emancipation and self-managment.
Once Leninism became the new orthodoxy, the §Critique of the Gotha
Programp was used to serve as a definition of an ideal "Bolshevik"
party. Quite the opposite of what Marx had intended (IMHO), but then
after 1917, Moscow shoved that particular interpretation of Marx's
original personal letter (his "endorsment" of Leninism) into the
official way Marxism was to be undertood all over the world.
3) Statist socialism. "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon" is another
text that has been "officialy" interpreted in many very different ways
within 20th century MArxism. It does contain some of the strongest
condemnations of "bureaucracy" ever voiced : that is the idea that those
in power, in the context of a class-ridden society, can improve the lot
of workers by social engineering, that is getting the working class to
support the state in its expansionist goals. Of course, in the 1930s,
this text became a classic Marxist cautionary tale against the dangers
of fascism. However, in the 1920s, it was used mainly AGAINST the
Bolsheviks, and they did not much care for it.
All the above three examples are just meant to emphasize the complex,
historically-bound nature of each understanding of Marx. This is what
Korsch wanted to emphasize : MArxism is as much a historical construct
(especially its Leninist variety) than the set of ideas put forward by
Karl and Friedrich themselves.
If one is to use Marx's methods, this cannot result in the use of an
ossified "template for building the party".
One has to understand the core of Marx's thought : the concepts of
alienation, fetishism, class, mode of production, exploitation and
emancipation and see that they provide the conceptual tools to
understanding social relationships.
This is not to belittle the achievements of Leninism, which after all
meant that for the first time the peasant masses of Russia and China
were welded into a cohesive force. It does however show that Marx was
onto something when he argued that the "Asiatic mode of production"
would lead any revolutionary attempts in Russia, India and China (or
Africa for that matter), onto an accumulation phase that would be
different from that of Liberal Western Europe. Leninism strongly opposed
any discussion of the concept of "Asiatic mode of production" and this
is understandable as Lenin put forward his view of Imperialism. Again
certain Marxist texts were taboo during the Cold War era.
Since the late 1990s, MArxism is experiencing something of a
resurgence in intellectual circles. Marxism, detached from Leninism, is
seen as a conceptual tool, especially in the sphere of economics.
However, any attempt to change the existing social conditions must both
recognize the historic role of Leninism in the class struggle and of
course go beyond Lenin and emphasize self-management by the workers
In any case the party-form cannot, in the age of the Internet, achieve
total control over the workforce without becoming totalitarian and
censoring horizontal forms of communication in favour of propaganda from
the top. The development of the forces of production also mean that much
can now be produced by very little effort, which is proving a great
strain on profitability within the Capitalist system, but a real
Communist movement cannot hope to maintain full employment without
radically rethinking production and distribution roles.
It is my bet that a lot of anti-Leninist Marxist thinkers will again
become sources of inspiration : Anton Pannenkoek, Rosa Luxemburg, emile
Pouget, Gorter, Karl Korsch, De Leon, Paul Mattick, Sylvia Pankhurst,
Otto Rühle, Guy Debord, Castoriadis, Daniel Guerin, ...
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