GUT#5: The Philosophy Refugee

 

‘The English have all the material requisites for the revolution. What they lack is the spirit of generalization and revolutionary ardour.’

 

Marx waged war on classical German philosophy and failed. He failed because he could not claim to be inheritor of the western tradition and its destroyer at the same time. That method of attack; infiltration and then rebellion, had been open to Luther in his assault on the Catholic church, but not open to Marx; Hegel had seen to that through his development of dialectics.

 

German philosophy (civilisation), learned a lesson from the fate of the Catholic church in the German Reformation and was ready and armed for the day when Marx or another like him emerged. Marx, who saw himself as the ultimate anticipator, had been anticipated by Hegel. The newly emergent political economy as practiced by Smith and Ricardo was not so prepared and payed the price accordingly; it was overrun and devastated by Marxism. Failure in the field of philosophy and success in the field of economic theory defines the nature of Marxism and the relationship between Marxism and capitalist society.

 

Marx set political economy a trap from which it could not escape; a running noose that progressively tightened the more the victim struggled.  Hegel did the same with Marx. Should Marx chose to be  revolutionary, he would be forced to accept the arbitrary nature of power undermining the idea of inevitable historical progress he was advocating.  Although he liked to think of himself as Lucifer in the Abrahamic tradition, Marx is more like ‘Thor’ the German ‘god’ of thunder whose power mainly consists of a form of ‘Sturm und Drang’ – sound and fury ultimately signifying nothing. Every moment across the earth’s atmosphere there are countless micro electrical discharges from air to earth, returning the air to equilibrium charge. In the same way every time one of countless choices or accommodations is made by ‘proletarian’ or ‘capitalist’, Marxism is grounded by a force it cannot account for. A charge builds up and is then dissipated. Every so often a major lightning strike does occur, but these are rare and only a danger to anything that gets between charge and earth. Mostly these electrical storms only serve to frighten children.

 

This comparison between Lucifer and Thor is instructive. It was central to Marx’s conception of himself and his project that he would  lead opposition forces – i.e. be Lucifer, with all other socialist variants subordinate to Marxism after the form of ‘Paradise Lost’. This struggle to dominate opposition would characterise much of the explicitly political activity that Marx and Engels undertook  in the years in which they engaged in active organisation of workers movements. But as Thor is merely one of many German ‘gods’, so Marx is one of a pantheon of 19thC revolutionaries, one whose main job was to scare with lightning and thunder while others sought to pursue a quieter course. Marxism fitted into a niche within Germanic socialism as a whole- as the extreme that less radical elements could use to prompt concessions from bosses and governments and with which bosses could scare workers. Again we return to the idea of Marxism itself being  co-opted, and leveraged in a way that Marx was not able to control. The idea that workers, trades union leaders, churchmen and even finally capitalists could choose to pick up or lay down Marxist thought and rhetoric as it suited them, never seemed to seriously occur to Marx.

 

But again, this is not to deny that where Marxism is blocked in the philosophical sphere it rebounds with double the destructive force against political economy.  Despite his philosophical shortcomings, Marx was if anything, a victim of his own intellectual success in the field of economics. Marx saw modern industrial capitalism emerging from the womb, saw the defect on its face at the moment of  birth, and realised that the significance of this inherent deformity was that it presaged the inevitability of capitalism’s death, even if Marx could not predict the time and place. And it was not just capitalism itself but one hundred disciplines born out of capitalism that Marx cursed. Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Criminology, were  all doomed in the crib  by Marx, like the Bad Fairy in Sleeping Beauty.  If this is true , how did this curse have power? What was the nature of that power? Where did this power come from?

 

Marxism is flawed in the sense that it does not belong to mainstream western tradition at all. It is more in the tradition of  Diogenes and Socrates, which like ‘democracy’ are claimed by the western mainstream tradition in name but denied in action.  Marx’s rhetorical devices are Zen like koans whose purpose is to short circuit thought (philosophy), and lead to action.  This shrinking of the philosophical horizon to the impetus for action is fundamental to the revolutionary impulse. In a similar vein, in his ‘Meditations’ Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic philosophy  reduces the essence of man’s conscious perspective to the span of a fraction of a fraction of a second because the Stoicism he advocated  finds no consolation in the past and no hope in the future.  All Stoics have is the moment they are in and the same applied to Marx. His purpose was to maintain balance over the abyss between revolutionary antithesis and post revolutionary synthesis. In the same way a tightrope walker uses a pole, Marx used projection into both past and future as a means of giving himself stability.. For a tightrope walker, the longer the pole the better it works to balance the tightrope walker. Through historical materialism, Marx incrementally balanced both distant past and distant future over time only as a means  to stabilise his existence in the present. Marx had no serious interest in the past or the future outside of how they might serve him from one second to another. This is a fundamental insight into Marx and Marxists. They are happy to burn the doors and window frames to heat the house for the week. They are happy to mortgage the gutted building to buy groceries for the day.

 

Analysis of Marx’s philosophy has brought us to consideration of Marx’s material facts, in particular why Marx decided to spend the bulk of his intellectual career in London. Simply put, in philosophical terms Germany could create a Marx but not sustain him. whereas England could sustain a Marx but not create him. Like a tadpole becoming a frog and moving from water to lilly pad, Marx changed internally according to environment and  changed environment according to the dynamic of his personal transformation.

 

Marx’s defeat at the hands of continental philosophy had brought him to London as a philosophy refugee but  it has never been clear by what means Marx could successfully live in London, not least in freedom from the attentions of the British state. Marx’s physical existence in London was characterised by poverty and insecurity. It was only through the sponsorship of Engels that Marx was able to undertake his research. Living in London was not materially advantageous to Marx and it is also clear that London was no more advantageous in terms of the likelihood of revolution occurring there. Anglo Saxons had already clearly emerged as the people in Europe least likely to revolt against the processes that characterised the development of capitalism and the people most likely to compromise with them . In ‘The Condition Of the Working Class in England’ Engels noted the process by which Saxon capitalism was transforming itself through modifying extreme aspects of its development.

 

Despite the fact that there was no imminent danger of revolution, there would surely have been some desire to remove Marx as a supposedly dangerous revolutionary, and if not that at the very least to neutralise any threat he may come to pose. Or if not even that, then to make him serve the interests of the British state either actively or passively.  Since Marx was allowed to remain  unmolested we can deduce that the British state clearly felt there was no threat in Marx or saw a positive advantage in having Marx in the capital city of England.  We can reasonably draw the conclusion that at some level Marx served the interest of England against the interest of Germany in that England felt it had nothing to fear from Marx’s philosophy whereas it felt Germany had.  Germany was increasingly seen by the English state and elite  as a competing  and potentially dangerous foreign power, but one whose potential weakness for continental radicalism presented both danger and opportunity for England. And here is the kind of irony and humour that Marx would appreciate.

 

Marx came to England precisely because no-one understood philosophy there. Nobody in England even understood the significance of philosophy.  Because no-one understood philosophy in England, no-one understood how Marx had been already been defeated by classic German philosophy by the time he got to London. In as far as they took him at his word, the English elite accepted to a greater or lesser extent the nature and  extent of the threat that Marx could pose to the emerging German power. They were happy to have Marx in London on the basis that he could provide advantage to them  with regard to destabilising Germany and posed no significant threat to the stability of England. But in fact the exact opposite was true. In actual fact Marx posed no threat to the German elite and every threat to the Saxons…

Advertisements

G.U.T. #4

 

 

Marxist Theory Is The Hallmark Of Capitalist Development

 

Marx noted that capitalism is innately unstable  leading to periodic crisis. It is on this prediction of crisis that  his analysis is built; this makes his critique ‘scientific’ in character as opposed to ‘moral’. Marx’s  economic analysis of the development of capitalism is  powerful, accurate and overwhelmingly borne out by observed events. As a consequence it has become the de facto fulcrum that divides modern from  premodern. In line with Marx’s analysis the undeveloped world has the ‘freest’ markets, the developed world the most regulated.. ‘Development’ itself has come to mean the development of regulatory government structures to predict and ameliorate the effects of periodic crisis. Comprehensive global regulation of economy also divides the world in time from pre crisis to post 2008 watershed. The co-ordinated post financial crisis response was the first time all major economies in the world  acted in unison. It was the first example of true globalism- and it was the global triumph of Marxist analysis.

 

For Marx the fact that he was thinking what he was thinking was evidence in itself  that what he was thinking was happening was already happening- as he was thinking it!  A bit like Artificial Intelligence in science fiction  – all at once his conscious analysis of capitalism was aware of itself.

 

‘The entire movement of history, as simply communism’s actual act of genesis — the birth act of its empirical existence — is, therefore, for its thinking consciousness the comprehended and known process of its becoming’.

 

Private Property and Communism (1844)

 

 

But when Marx actually got down to the practical business of how his consciousness might finally manifest outside of Marx in the real world, how it would be made flesh so to speak, he found he was creating a parody of what he increasingly referred to as generic ‘religion’. Even though the specific observations Marx made about crisis were new and the specific conclusions they led to were new, the framework within which he was forced to shape his thought began to look increasingly, disturbingly familiar.

 

 ‘The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property”.  

 

‘The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism’.    

The Communist Manifesto

 

Marx realised he could not  explain the origin of  his intellect and his theory from within the terms of that theory itself. Fundamentally, Marx could not think of a new, original reason to explain why new, original Marxism came to be… At times Marx argued that his thought was the product of the present ‘zeitgeist’. At other times he implied it came from the future i.e. he was the first to express this new form of thought. If his theory was totally new, (and it must be because capitalism was supposed to be new), and socialism was new as was Marxism new, how come the core elements of the conclusions it reached were so similar to what had gone before? Why wasn’t the practical conclusion of Marxism as different from everything else as it should be?

 

The key to understanding Marx’s problem lies in the relationship of Marxism to  Hegelian dialectics. Marx’s critique of Hegelian philosophy is central to the Marxist  project and centres on Hegel’s presentation of Thought as an abstracted absolute – a logical preposition.  Given any specific thought or conception, Hegelian philosophy describes how that particular thought is modified and developed. Marx used Hegelian dialectics as both starting point and justification for Marxism by modifying the Hegelian dialectic to produce Marxist dialectics and historical materialism.

 

Whereas in Hegelian philosophy The Thought is the starting point for describing how intellect is developed and subsequently changes, in Marxism The Thought is the end point for describing WHY people think as they do at any given point. Marxism seeks to invert the question form: How do people change their minds from one particular thought to another  to: Why do they have any particular thought in the first place? In Marxism, Thought is the product of a process, the end not the means. Adapting dialectics in this way served a two fold purpose for Marx. Firstly it allowed him to locate his own intellectual identity within the historical process of capitalist  unconsciousness/false consciousness spontaneously becoming conscious and secondly it allowed him to explain the conscious nature of Marxism as a separate entity.

 

None Dare Call It…

 

Marxism is a revolution against Capitalism, Political Economy, Moral Socialism and ‘unconsciousness because once you become conscious you can never again be unconscious. If Marxism is not against all these things, it is not revolutionary. By definition, it can leave nothing untouched. Revolutionary Marxism is the antithesis to every thesis.. Revolution must annihilate what has gone before and seeks to replace old knowledge with new knowledge. Which  means even replacing the knowledge of how the revolution itself came to be. Revolution must in the end deny it’s own arbitrary character -even though arbitrariness is it’s prime justification!- and proclaim things were always meant to be this way and therefore things have always been this way. The revolution was inevitable – it took the revolution to make us see that.  In order to be successful every revolution must finally, inevitably revolt against revolution itself..

 

The Significance Of Marx’s Authorship

 

‘ …. in the end, one will be found among us who will prove that the sword of enthusiasm is just as good as the sword of genius.’

Engels, Anti-Schelling (1841)

 

Revolutionary Marxist dialectics must annihilate Hegelian dialectics, and Marx sought to use the very essence of Hegelian dialectics as the means with which to achieve this end, which everyone must admit is very clever. So the battle was between Hegelian dialectics; the ‘HOW’ of Thought, and Marxist dialectics; the ‘WHY’ of Thought.  Look again at Marx’s battle against idolatry religion (see parts 1-3), and you can see that Marx is using exactly the same trick in every instance.. Marx sought to use the Judaic injunction on idolatry against Judaism, and in turn sought to use Hegelian dialectics against Hegel. But just as Marx ended up creating a new form of idolatry religion so he reproduced the Hegelian process in a different form..

 

In Hegelian terms (Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis), you cannot abolish the ‘past’ (the starting point), you can only modify it. Add water to whisky as much as you like, you can only dilute the mixture, you cannot remove the whisky that is already there. The prime objective of revolutionaries; abolition of what is gone before, is impossible. This Hegelian problem plagued Marxists way past the death of Marx and even past the initial phase of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky finally devised the idea of continually diluting whisky in the barrel before it even got poured into the glass and claimed that this made the problem of dilution moot. He called his solution (pun intended), ‘The Marxist Theory Of Permanent Revolution’.

 

Revolution is antithesis not synthesis; the midway point in a process, not the end of that process. It is the contradiction of everything that presently is. But this means that Marxism is only a way station in the process of thought, not the outcome of the thought process. In Hegelian terms Marxist revolution as antithesis leads to a final synthesis that is different from the Marxist revolution itself. Revolution is not the final outcome, it is the basis for the outcome. Marx sought to specify the outcome of the Marxist revolution, but could not because in as far as Marx is truly revolutionary he could not know the outcome of the revolution he promoted. In Hegelian terms to be a revolutionary is to oppose yourself to past and future.

 

The Gospel According To Marx

 

‘The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.’

‘He called me a sentimental idealist and he was right; I called him a vain man, perfidious and crafty, and I also was right’

 

Quoted in Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom, 1993, p14

 

 

The issue of authorship is the crucial factor that determines the  significance of everything that Marx wrote. The issue of my authorship is the crucial factor determining the significance of everything I write. And everything you write and so on.. If an author fails to maintain the narrative that supports authorship then that writing must fail. The primary purpose of all writing must be to validate the author of that writing. According to Marx, if Marxism was valid in its own terms then it  was part of the continuum of development that had to be located in the history and development of capitalism. The emergence of socialist consciousness was the inevitable consequence of the development of capitalism. This was the logic of human development. This was the logic of Marx himself. Logic is the formula for inevitability.

 

Two Wrongs..

 

This leads directly to Marx’s  critique of Hegel which ‘flipped’ Hegel on its own internal logic to produce Marxism. This flipping of Hegel produces the revolutionary Marxist antithesis of the Hegelian thesis. So as Marxism stakes its claim to be  revolutionary it must forsake its right to name socialism as a successor to the capitalism and Hegelianism it opposes-. Marxism loses it’s purchase on the outcome of the revolution it instigates.. In theory Marx can double down on revolutionary opposition and argue that Hegelian philosophy is absolutely wrong. But If Hegel is absolutely wrong then Marx’s tactic of flipping it on it’s head, using Hegel against Hegel, must also be totally wrong. If Hegel is error, error is not located in the historical process of development of human thought! (if it is, there is no  rational logical predictable march to consciousness as Marx claims…) Two wrongs, however they are put together,  don’t make a right. The more resolute Marx’s opposition to Hegel, the more firmly Marx embeds himself as revolutionary opposition within the framework of Hegel and the less grasp Marxism has on the outcome of the struggle it began. The only other option is that Marx’s analysis and its authorship does not follow on from Hegel (Error)- it is completely separate from it. Then Marx would stand alone, revealed and naked as in the Garden of Eden…

 

The Gates of Eden

 

Fundamentally Marx’s problem is the same as that of Lucifer. Marx claims to have discovered a principle that precedes the principle he begins from, just as Lucifer does. If God Were not The First, if God Had not prescribed the principles of Heaven and Earth, then Lucifer argues he would be legally, rationally  free to propose a new better framework based on a principle he discovered that precedes God. But God Created Lucifer and everything Lucifer does and could ever think. So nothing Lucifer can ever think can precede God, including the principle he claims to have ‘discovered’.  Just as lightning touches earth and is grounded, so Lucifer whenever and wherever he seeks to set foot on the earth, is grounded by this fact. So it is with Marx and Hegel. Marx claims to have discovered a principle that precedes the principle of Hegel but is forced to admit this principle is created as a consequence of Hegel.

 

Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking.

German Ideology (1845)

 

Welcome To My Nightmare

 

Because Hegel anticipates Marxism and literally accounts for it, Marx must always be antithesis. Marx saw himself as being trapped, prisoner and victim of the order of events in the universe where he was forced to stand forever in an historical  line  behind Hegel when he should be at the head of the queue. And he complained bitterly over and over again about it.

 

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.”

 

There Is No Alternative.. Is There?

 

The only options for Marx were either deny Hegel entirely (including the context in which Hegel existed), or agree to be bound by him. Either to say there is no ‘law’ of historical development, just the ideas and opinions of individuals, or there is a law and Hegel precedes Marx in it.

 

The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.

German Ideology (1845)

 

Of course, if there is no such law then Marx’s claim to be the chosen inheritor of that law would necessarily be wrong. Marx would have to admit that a fundamental part of his analysis was in error. And more importantly, Marx would not be the choice of the contemporary concrete, world to further human progress, he would only be only one random voice of many. In essence, be only another opinion. Not chosen. The inheritor of nothing.

 

How to proceed had become a matter of intellectual courage, rather than intellect per se and Marx simply did not have that courage. Unlike Adam, Marx could only find it in himself to stand at the Gates Of Eden (cause and effect, the dialectic) cursing  God (Hegel) rather than go out naked and alone into the wilderness- to say that he himself was in essence merely a collection of opinions.. Cut off from both past and future,  Marx only could ever be Marx   if he channelled total revolution and antithesis, chaos,  whatever the consequences. From then on the point was to change it- whatever it was..

 

…we see how the resolution of the theoretical antitheses is only possible in a practical way (my emphasis), by virtue of the practical energy of man. Their resolution is therefore by no means merely a problem of understanding, but a real problem of life, which philosophy could not solve precisely because it conceived this problem as merely a theoretical one.’

Marx, Private Property and Communism (1844)

 

Rather than admit that Marx could not solve his problem of philosophy, Marx proclaimed that Marx was a problem philosophy could not solve! As could go neither forward nor back, Marx would devote the rest of his existence to digging a burrow for himself next to the Gates of Eden and here he would remain locked out from the past, unwilling to face his future. Hiding in the space between antithesis and synthesis.  Just as Marx told the moral socialists they would have to sacrifice their moral heaven for a rational one,  so he in turn would have to sacrifice his vision of rational logical, socialist Heaven and give himself over to experimental chaos instead.

 

Marx had been utterly defeated in the realm of rational philosophy. He was now  like defeated Napolean, traipsing across a blasted landscape of his own making, intellectually destitute- a refugee. Where was the only place in the world a man could be guaranteed asylum from the power of rational philosophical enquiry?

 

England.

 

The first part of Marx’s analysis; ‘crisis’ (antithesis) was established. The second part of his analysis, ‘socialism’ (synthesis) could never be. Crisis was the product of reason but subsequent socialism, despite everything Marx said, remained in the realm of choice. Realising that he was powerless to remove choice itself, Marx argued to change the rationale for that choice from morality to reason. Not  choice based on right and wrong but based instead on  heading for the future whether we liked it or not. A  future of two possibilities; Socialism or mutual ruination. Marx came to argue that there is an unwritten contract between capitalists and history and workers and history. ( compare this with England’s unwritten constitution). Workers were signed on to be the gravediggers of capitalism, capitalists the occupants of the box.. If all sides kept to the terms of the agreement there would be a predictable outcome- revolution.

 

 

History is the judge — its executioner, the proletarian.

Speech at Anniversary of The People’s Paper (1856)

 

From this point the mission of Marxists would be to hold capitalism and workers to the contract they had with history. Capitalist would create crisis after crisis of increasing severity until workers rebelled. Marxists would encourage the capitalists with relish. But by late 19thC it was clear that both capitalists and workers had begun to vary the terms of this historical contract. In Germany social provision and welfare emerged under the tutelage of  Bismark ; a process that  spread rapidly over all the Germanic territories of NW Eurasia. The two main holdouts  were England and USA, Anglo Saxon societies and economies.  This state of affairs held until the post World War II capitulation when America and England both adopted welfarism as a consequence of   two World Wars and a  Russian revolution. In a peculiar inversion, here was the first real vindication of Marxism, capitalists themselves conceded that if capitalism was  not managed there was indeed a danger of absolute collapse.

 

Cultural Capitalism

 

The  element of choice Marx failed to destroy returned to centre stage with a vengeance. The twentieth century revealed it was possible to be morally committed to capitalism while rationally accepting it would collapse without intensive and ever increasing management. Through the ideas of Keynes pundits and economists began to modify capitalism to deal with the extremes of its operation with the express purpose of preserving it for its moral and cultural qualities. The economics of capitalism were over. Capitalism revealed itself as pure religion. A moral, cultural choice.

 

Capitalism and those who lived within the system became increasingly characterised by degrees of acceptance instead of absolute acceptance. From this point on Capitalism is characterised by its failure to consistently and comprehensively transform the nature of the societies it operates on. Capitalism begins with an initial phase of rapid and comprehensive restructuring of any given society.. But capitalism is unable to change the nature of societies at a deeper level. It runs out of momentum. We now are at an historical juncture where third world transformation by capitalism  still appears to be relatively rapid and large scale but first world transformation has ground to a  standstill and is moribund. When was the last time capitalism changed anything significant  in a developed nation?

 

Just as the ‘bosses’ choices began to splinter by degrees, so  the workers  increasingly seemed to be captured by ‘momentary diversions’. And the final developed picture of modern economy comes fully into focus.

 

The Marxist concept of crisis is fully universally accepted.

The threat of crisis is to be offset by government intervention.

The extent and depth of this intervention increases year on year.

The only way to limit government intervention is to…use the government to do it!

The Marxist revolution is as complete as it ever could be .

Synthesis.