The Break with Marxism

Submitted by libcom on July 25, 2005

The Break with Marxism

Could we, while saving the substance of these analyses and positions, continue to clothe them in the vestments of Marxism and claim that they constituted its continuation and were preserving its true spirit? In a sense, modesty aside, they did so, they are the only ones to have done so. But it had come to the point where continuation had required destruction, the survival of the spirit required that the body be put to death. It was not simply the traditional working-class movements that was irrevocably dead-as a program, on its organisational forms and methods of struggle, as a vocabulary, as a system of more or less mythical representations; beyond its distinctive concepts, the very body of Marx's theory, an immense enbalmed cadever profaned by means of this very act of embalming had become the principal obstacle on the road to a new reflection concerning the problem of revolution. It no longer was a matter of the coherence,of the applicibility,or the correction of this or that economic theory or sociogical idea of Marx's; it was the total system of thought that was proving untenable, and at the centre of this totality was his philosophy of history and quite simply his philosophy. What purpose then would it serve to have recourse to Marx? Almost nothing of what had become essential for us had been so for Marx; Almost nothing of what had become essential for Marx was so any longer for us-apart from the word "revolution" which today is common parlance, and his passionate search for truth and, whatever he said about it, justice, which did not begin with him and will not end with us.

Outlined in the "Note sur la pholosophie marxiste de l'histoire" which accompanied the first version of""Modern Capitalism and Revolution"(1964-65) distributed amongst the group (Socialism or Barbarism),and clearly formulated in "Recommencing the Revolution"(1964), this break was explicated in the first part of "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory"(1964-65). Profiting from material gathered in the field of ethnology as well as from the evolution of ex-colonial countries since theit emancipation ,and especially from an internal critique of concepts, our discussion of the Marxist theory of history made us see in this theory an arbitrary though fecund annexation of the whole of humanity's history to the Schemata and categories of the capitalist West; the critique of the Marxist pholosophy of history,and of Marxist pholosophy, brought out behind the "materialist" vocabulary a rationalist philosophy, just an inverted Hegelianism, therefore Hegelianism itself, involving as many mysteries and procrustian beds as the latter.

Twenty years of effort to develop Marx's concepts and to illuminate them by making them illuminate world history in its most turbulent phases perhaps provides suffient evidence that this not some kind of "external" or "superficial" critique. But the Critique of Marxism had to face up to - and this is why it is so difficult to get people to understand this critique - to a series of difficulties that come not from the particular character of Marx's work - that would be a tuatology - but from its absolutely unique character.

The first of these difficulties is that in Marx what we encounter are not "contradictions" - he is teeming with them - nor even an opposition between an initial intention and the "system" in its finished form (this is also the case for Hegel), but a central antinomy between what is called the two elements of Marxism. Although the first element, which actually produced a radical torsion into Western history, was expressed particularly in his youthful (rightly considered "pre-scientific" by vulgar rationalists such as Althusser and associates) and re-emerged periodically but more and more infrequenly in the history of Marxism, it never really was developed; there remain in essence only a few striking sentences, some signposts and indications of research much more than complete reflections, and a few exemplary and incomparable sociohistorical descriptions.

The second element, which which manifested itself and was elaborated more or less only in the "mature" and "systematic" Marx and which has prevailed amongst Marx's theoretical and practical descendants, represents the profoundly persistent hold of Marx's contemporary capitalist world on his thought (and still more so of course on his epigones). Marx had wanted to do a critique of political economy; instead he created his own political economics(a false one at that, but had he made a"true" one nothing would have changed; it is important nonetheless to see that it is false because its axioms are those of capitalism, the theoretical form it aims at is the form of a positive science and the same holds true for its method. Briefly speaking, this form is abstraction susceptible to quantification). For the living inerpretation of a history that is always creating something new there was substituted a so-called theory of history that had classified previous periods of history and had assigned to history the stage to come; history as the history of man producing himself became the product of an omnipotent technological evolution (which one must postulate as autonomous, otherwise everything would become a mere tautology affirming that the elements of social life are in reciprocal interaction), inexplicably progressive and miraculously assuring a communist future fo humanity. The transendence of philosophy had produced merely a "materialist" metaphysics whose only novelty was its monstrous ability for interspecies copulation with a "dialectic" transformed into a law of nature - a copulation capable of producing only sterile offspring, of which Althusserian mules are only the most recent specimens. The question of the relation between the interpretation and the transformation of the world was resolved by dissociating speculative theory of the traditional kind from a bureaucratic politics that itself, it is true, was profoundly innovative in its methods of terror, deceit and oppression. The enigma of praxis had in the end given birth to a vulgar technical method (pratique-technique) for manipulating both militants and the masses.

Certainly it was always wrong to reduce the work of agreat writer to a few theses; but what can one do when the writer is wrapped up in them? Just as certainly it would be stupid to think that the two aninomic elements that we are now sifting out are rigorously and clearly seperated in Marx's writings; expressions of the first kind can still be found in the much later texts, as a naturalism of the most insipid sort can be found in many passages of "The German Ideology". But it is history itself that is charged with resolving that difficulty: What very quickly prevailed was not the first element, but rather the second one. If Marxism is true then according to its own critiques its actual historical truth is found in the actual historical practise it has encouraged - that is to say ultimately in the Russian and Chines bureaucracies. Wetgeschichte ist weltgericht. And if this conclusion is not granted, then the premise must be rejected and Marxism must be accepted as only one system of ideas among others. To appeal against the actual judgement of history in the view of Marx the thinker is first of all to treat Marx as pure thinker, i.e. precisely as he did not want to be, and to rank him alongside such other great thinkers as Plato or Aristotle, Spinoza or Hegel, which he certainly merits, but which takes away from him every privilege except merely contingent ones. And, upon closer inspection, is it not truly unbounded arrogance to claim to be saving Marx in spite of himself as well as, ultimately, pure and simple stupidity to try to maintain someone as infallible bt asserting that he did not really know what he was saying when he wrote the preface to the Critique of Political Economy?

Now, this presence results not from the complexity and the subtelty philosophy tries to reproduce when reconsidering but rather from that which in Marx's work actually is a thesis and is presented as such. Marx is present in contemporary history, not as a great thinker prompting one to think further, but as the founder of a great secular-"rationalist" religion, as the father of a political myth in scientific clothing. (Here indeed is one of the essential reasons for the ubelivable theoretical sterility of the Marxist movement since the death of its founder, and those today who want to "rethink" Marx" glance over this without even wondering about it - another strange way of showing its faithfulness to Marx.) In order to rediscover Plato, Aristotle or Kant, if this is possible,one must break through the conglomeration of interpretations under which the centuries have simultaneously buried them and kept them alive. In order to rediscover Marx, it is Marx himself who must be broken through. Such is the paradoxical historical situation of this man who wanted to be neither Newton nor Mohammed, but is no stranger to the fact that he became both at once; such is the price paid for his unequalled destiny as the scientific prophet.

There are no limits - this is true and this is one of the most astonishing things in history - to the transformation, to the transsubstantiation that subsequent generations inflict upon a great work. Uncultured scientists (this is not neccesarily a pleonasm) today go on repeating that the dogmatism of Aristotle had to be shattered for modern science to develop. Yet, for those who know how to read of all the great philosophers Aristotle is one of the least "dogmatic"; his writings teem with aporias abandoned midstream, with interrogations left open, and with "but concerning this we must take up this subject again...". Over the centuries, the middle ages suceeded in making this author the source of truth and of every truth: ipse dixit. The middle ages did it, not Aristotle. The contemporary age perhaps would have suceeded in making Marx's work this bible that no one really reads and can be considered all the more easily as the guarantee of revolutionary truth. But the fact that cannot be conjured away is that this work lends itself to easily to such an interpretation.

Why does it lend itself so? Because in it is incarnated the last great avatar of the West's rationalist myth, of its religon of progress, of its historically unique combination of revolution and conservation. On the practical plane as well as the theoretical plane, Marxism prolongs and continues the lineage of of the revolution of the western world since the 16th century by leading it explicitly to its apparent limit; but under its perfected, systematic and realised form, it preserves what is essential to the bourgois-rationalist universe at the deepest level. Whence comes it essential "progressivism", the absolute confidence in a historical reason that would have everything arranged in secret for our future happiness and in its own capacity to decipher its workings; whence comes the pseudo-scientific form of this decoding process; whence comes the complete dominance of concepts like work or production the accent being put exclusively upon the development of the forces of production. Analogous in this respect to all religons, it necessarily contains the simple and strong assurances, it needs for the faithful and humble and subtle ambiguities for the Doctors' endless disputes and for their mutual excommunictions.

To the vulgar scientism provided for the consumption of the average militant there is counterposed on a sophisticated level, and according to the taste, the Hegelian filiation, the enigma of surplus-value realisation or the falling rate of profit,the dazzling acuity of some of the historical analyses, the grand theory itself; but this theory remains speculation, precisely in the sense that Marx himself, but above all Lukacs (the Lukacs of 1923) gave to this term; a theory that is contemplation, sight. Practice follows merely as an application. There is a truth to be possessed and theory alone possesses it - here is the ultimate postulate that Marx,whatever he may have said at certain moments, shares with the culture of his age, and beyond it, with the whole of Greco-Western thought. Being is to be seen, just as it is -a nd when it has been seen the essential thing, if not every thing, has been said. For an instant Marx had the brilliant intuition that he must get off this path streching fron Parmenides to Heidegger, along which the sights seen and speculated upon quite obviously have always been changing while the speculative relation between between being and its theros had not. But he quickly came back to this path. Thus for one it was covered over that being is essentially a having-to-be, that vision delude itself about itself when it takes itself for a vision, since it is essentially a making/doing, that every eidos is an eidos of a pragma, and that the pragma is never maintained in having-to-being except by the prakton.