For the last quarter of a century we have been witnessing an understandable, although unsavoury, spectacle that can be called "poisoning the wells." Wells are poisoned in war so that no one should drink from them, and the victorious turbo-capitalism fears that Marxism might nonetheless raise one of its nine hydra heads again and obstruct the profitable democide and ecocide. That is why, to the reasonable contradictions that can (and must) be articulated within Marxism, tons of garbage are added in order to poison it. This article is, therefore, a minor act of hygiene.
Our primary concern must be the fact that Marx's historical expectations, sometimes even prophecies, not only failed to come true in 125 years since he died, but also seem to be farther away from being fulfilled in these last decades than ever before. We could answer, with Badiou, that no scientific hypothesis can be definitely rejected until such a successor appears who would encompass and surpass it (like Einstein did with Newton ). This hasn't happened with Marxism, so it remains, as Sartre already put it back in the 1950s, the farthest horizon of every liberatory thought on social justice. I agree with both Badiou and Sartre, but here I would like to touch upon those characteristics of either Marx's system or Marxism (or Marxisms!) that have so far been proven wrong.
The first is the excessive optimism that a combination of scientific-cum-critical philosophy and proletarian revolt would relatively quickly succeed in demolishing the production relations based on exploiting living labour - nowadays we could say: not only of the industrial proletariat, but of all who live from their work or work to live, as opposed to those living on capital invested or on salaries earned from serving capital (for instance, politicians and other supervising personnel). Apart from some glorious but relatively short-lived exceptions, the proletariat (and especially the peasantry, the main protagonist of all the communist revolutions in the 20th century in terms of numbers) has mostly worried about secure and well-paid city work. Critical science and philosophy, on the other hand, were founded on the "unhappy consciousness" in the only class that massively produced them, namely in the classical citoyen intellectuals defecting to the proletariat-such as not only Marx and Engels, but also Lenin, Trotsky or Luxemburg. This includes all the testimonies of that consciousness in art (say, in prose literature from Balzac and Stendhal, via the great 19 th -century Russians from Tolstoy to Chekhov, and all the way to Proust, Dos Passos, Kafka, Joyce, and Brecht). It is precisely art in which this kind of consciousness still survives to some extent, whereas the bourgeois has declined from the citoyen into pure positivism and economism of victorious capitalism. The new global ruling class no longer acknowledges any kind of value beside success measured in terms of profit. Its nihilism is governed only by the law of the infinite accumulation of capital, it is deaf and blind to the raging human and ecological costs it brings.
The second failure, not in Marx but in various Marxist movements, is a decisive shift in the main historical emphasis from his humanism, aiming at the liberation of labour, to the tendency toward a maximum of maximally cheap production - thus, toward "productivism" and "economism." This was greatly influenced by the fact that Marxist ideas came to power in the countries in which industrialization was just beginning, from the USSR and Eastern Europe (including Yugoslavia ) to China and Vietnam , where it was certainly a precondition of any further development. But this shift was also exclusive, and coupled with the lack of deeper working class roots made for a privatization of everyday life as the last haven, including frantic consumerism. Its historical perspective was a faith in ongoing and inevitable social progress. These three factors, namely productivism with economism, privatization with consumerism, and faith in automatic progress (that only needed the rule of the communist party), were all of bourgeois origin, and opened the door to the capitalist way of life.
A brief critical approach to the history of Marxism is therefore in order, one which would, as Karl Korsch and his German colleagues Brecht and Benjamin first realized it, apply Marx's slogan of "the ruthless critique of everything existing" to Marxism itself.
Marxism can be understood as a field of theoretical and practical forces that follow some variant of what they consider to be the main conceptions of Karl Marx's. Marx died in 1883 and left to future generations the only categorical apparatus for interpreting human society and its history that can seriously be taken into consideration. Which among Marx's categories are of central importance is still an unresolved question, but I dare say they can be divided into horizons and notions. His constant horizons are primarily the absolute immanence (this-worldliness) of human duration as history and the absolute necessity of the liberation of every individual, which in turn depends on the collective freedom of all people. The later notions, developed bit by bit, are: the alienation of the creative possibilities of the genus Homo present in the individual, the mode of production centered on the dialectics of the production forces with the production relations, and capitalism as a mode of production based on the exploitation of the surplus labour of the workers. A structuralist before structuralism, Marx dealt with the deep structure of human community in general and of capitalism in particular. His system was left unfinished, but it possessed two features of modern epistemological systems - open-endedness and contradictory, dialectical "thickness." Marx's opus demands a completion in the eye of a critical reader because every key process in it both is and is not the way it appears to be at first sight. Instead of being a monumental building, his great insights look more like a big and busy construction site - very promising if a reader-Marxist is willing to work on it himself.
Therefore, any ONE AND ONLY, DEFINITE AND FINAL MARXISM IS A MYTH: there are as many forms of Marxism as there are (for instance) forms of Christianity and Buddhism. Or, if we speak about science, there are as many Marxisms as theories of physics and animal evolution. Nevertheless, all the Marxisms are more or less successful members of a family that evolved from his open system (as is the case in the families of Christ, Gautama Buddha, Newton or Darwin ). Thus, every phase of the Marxist movements found in the rich original epistemological (cognitive) model what the central interest and expectation, the "social mandate," of those classes--and eventually States--that adopted or could adopt Marxism, was looking for. On the other hand, Marx's model was, in my opinion, essentially straightforward (although quite elaborate) and consistent: its core discusses the alienation of human possibilities, of the needs that had, after the Industrial Revolution, all become quite realisable , but were in capitalism blocked by its exploitation of living labour and by commodity fetishism. Therefore, Marx's core could act as an inspiration in the long duration and in different historical periods.
On this basis, and following in the footsteps of some other philosophers, I shall roughly divide Marxism into three spatiotemporal phases:
Early Marxism, approximately from 1878 to 1917: its site is Europe; the main force or leading institution is the German Social Democratic Party; the main events are the depression from 1873 to 1896, the rise of imperialism and party bureaucracy, World War 1.
Middle Marxism, from 1917 to 1956 or 1968: site: the whole world; main force or leading institution: Leninism and the Communist Party of the USSR; main events: the October Revolution and the inception of the USSR, the Great Depression of 1929, the rise of Stalinist counter-revolution and fascism, World War 2, the Chinese Revolution, the rise of the US empire.
Late Marxism, approximately from 1956 or 1968 to 1991: site: the whole world; main force: lacking; main events: the Cold War, the degeneration of the ruling communist parties, dissident attempts to reform it, the return of an utterly shameless form of capitalism and imperialism.
This period begins with the first partial systematization of Marx's system, by his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels in Anti-Dühring, published in 1878. Soon afterwards, in 1882, the first "Marxist" journal appeared, Neue Zeit, with Kautsky as its editor. In that phase was born "Marxism," namely a codification of Marx's opus in the form of a canonized "-ism" - which had great successes of mass penetration, but later on petrified in the USSR and in most of the communist parties of the second phase, and was questioned in the third (as is well-known, Marx himself stated that he was not a Marxist).
If we are to look for the basic characteristic of the incipient social democracy, we might find it in its social model of reductive economism and the positivist philosophy of progress. This was in line with "the social mandate" (a very mediated one, of course) of a politically organized working class and dissident bourgeois intellectuals at the time of the second Industrial Revolution, which historians also call "the nationalization of the masses." That historical block found in the Social Democratic Party the right machinery for the integration and identification of each member as well as for their collective and active membership. Its pillar was the type of "conscious worker," that is, an educated member of the political party and trade union that went along with it, and a disciplined follower of the newly-created party and trade union bureaucracy. The production forces therefore became "the basis" of society and of actions aiming at its change, and the production relations a sort of tethered balloon that moved along with the shifts in the basis. The project of emancipation largely lost Marx's anthropological horizons, founded in the nature of human possibilities, and turned into a mixture of economic and political factors predestined to lead to "socialism": the activists needed an economy and faith in victory, not a philosophy. Marx however had claimed the opposite, that " history does nothing; . . . it is the result of human praxis" -for example of revolutionary praxis. By the way, except for half a dozen historical and militant writings and Capital I, Marx's works began to be reprinted only toward the end of this phase, after half a century of the "rodent critique of rats" (Marx's quip taken from Juvenal).
The intellectuals nevertheless needed a philosophy, and they got it in Engels's stark opposition between materialism, which was scientific and revolutionary, and idealism, which was neither; Plekhanov then simplified this opposition into "monism" (drawing on popular Darwinism). It should be noted that Engels, although he realistically and respectfully considered himself just a co-fighter of the great Marx, was an authentic genius, and - unlike Marx - he wrote clearly and comprehensibly. Thus, much the greater part of the "Marxism" in that first, as well as in the second, phase actually was "Engelsism." However, this type of doctrine lent itself to closed and over-simplified systematization, soon afterwards named "historical materialism" and "dialectical materialism."
Engels died in 1895, one year before the economic depression of that whole generation ended and capitalism rapidly expanded, supported by, among other things, the great technological inventions at the beginning of 20th century: automobile, airplane, electrification. It is important to note that this whole first phase (and prior to it Marx himself) confined itself to Europe, with only marginal influence on the U.S.A., whereas the colonies were considered, until Marx's studies of Ireland and Russia and the works of Rosa Luxemburg, perhaps a dirty but necessary "civilizing job" of the bourgeoisie. The bureaucratized social democracy and its Second International got quite big crumbs from the table of that expansion, which they perceived as being much safer than the revolutionary adventures they still kept talking about. Therefore, in 1914 they did not oppose the outbreak of the World War, which would turn into a horrible slaughter (primarily of the proletariat). The marginal exceptions were extremely interesting, for they opened up the second era of Marxism: they were the Bolsheviks of V. I. Lenin, the Serbian socialists, and Luxemburg . . .
It has been correctly observed that Lenin's seminal organizational work What Is To Be Done? was published in 1903 and Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, and that this comparison may appear odd only to the staunch followers and staunch enemies of vulgar Marxism. Lenin's relationship to Marx was very similar to the one between Einstein and Newton (and Badiou also adds the one between Saul of Tarsus and Rabbi Yehoshua, or St. Paul and Jesus, if you like). Einstein, of course, didn't abolish Newton , but his theory (to which he added General Theory of Relativity in 1916, just as Lenin added Imperialism and State and Revolution in 1916-1917) put into radical doubt some basic tenets of Newton 's physics. Lenin's spacetime was no longer merely capitalism but the super-destructive imperialism, an epoch in which industrial progress brings at least as much mutilation as advancement of life (and this proportion has since World War 2, after a dip into the Welfare State brought about by fear of communism, gotten much worse in today's Permanent Holy War). In Leninism, the colonized peoples were a kind of global proletariat, at least as important for a victorious revolution as the metropolitan (Euro-American) workers, who themselves drew some small profit from colonialism.
Furthermore, Lenin's realistic thesis that the industrial workers of Russia could at best arrive at the trade-union consciousness of a fight for wages unless socialist ideas were implanted into them from the outside, by an activist party, radically changed Marx's and Engels's optimism about the predestination of the proletariat for the "universal," that is, the emancipatory class. Lenin posed the question of the relationship between an organized avant-garde and the proletariat (in a broad sense), which runs through all the subsequent forms of Marxism until the present day and has in my opinion remained quite unsolved; he himself changed his views in periods of revolutionary upsurge, in 1905 and 1917. Lenin's Marxism is "Fordist," that is constructivist, on the model of a huge factory or construction site in which only the supervisory engineer can run the show. However, his "democratic centralism" does add a plan, brought about by means of an open debate from below and changeable through that debate, to the capitalistic self-will of a monarchic genius entrepreneur. As for the epistemological aspect, having gone through an early phase of rigid positivism, Lenin revisited Hegel's and Marx's dialectics during World War 1 and came to the conclusion that "an intelligent idealist critic is closer to an intelligent materialist one than a stupid materialist." This deviating disclaimer was accompanied by heretical theories on the possibility and necessity of a proletarian revolution in Russia , and thus with a praxis that dissociated itself from the social-democratic positivism of early Marxism.
Soon after the renamed "communist party" came to power in Russia and weathered the terrible civil war, Lenin died, and the construction turned into "the building of socialism," which characterized that phase from then onwards (and is nowhere to be found in Marx's works). The excommunicated theologian Loisy once observed that "Jesus was prophesying the coming of Heavenly Kingdom , and what came was the Church": Marx and Lenin were prophesying the liberation of labour, and what came was the dictatorship of the Party... I certainly don't mean to say that the result was black and white; on the contrary, in my opinion, the October Revolution was a necessary and, if you will, sacred liberating break, just as was the revolutionary war in Yugoslavia and in China . In the USSR from 1917 to 1929, and in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia up to sometime in the 1970s, as well as in key periods of other revolutions, the Party was a two-headed Janus, who performed some important acts of emancipation and some significant acts of enslavement. 1 In brief, "middle Marxism" can best be understood as oscillating between the deeply democratic impulses of original plebeian Leninism and the harsh realities of keeping power which culminated in the Stalinist politocratic oppression of the people, resulted in arrested development, and eventually in an either controlled or uncontrolled return to capitalism.
The black face of Janus is mostly represented by Stalin, whose absolute power can be traced back to 1928/29. Under his rule, "histmat" and "diamat" led straight to his question in 1944, "How many divisions has the Pope?" which - when the production relations took their vengeance on the production forces - found its answer in the Solidarity movement: "more >divisions< than you." It was a pseudo-scientific positivism (therefore materialism) that wanted to leave some free space for a momentous change at the top (therefore history and dialectics). Contrary to this, Marx's epistemologically much more fruitful position was that "theory [or an idea, D.S.] becomes a material force when it grips the consciousness of the masses"... Stalin's theory of history was an orgy of complete predetermination, supported by harsh tactical maneuvers devoid of any principle (what Marx called begriffslos) except keeping power. Essentially, this was a phase of a pseudo-scientific, atheistic faith, in the neutral sense of a belief in something that didn't exist but still led to enormous practical consequences (for example, enthusiastic sacrifice). By the way, some of Marx's main works (as the 1844 MS. and Grundrisse) were only now rescued from the dusty critique of antiquarian bookshelves.
However, it should be stressed that Tsar Koba the Terrible managed to build, if not socialism, then at least a collectivist industrialism within the confines of one huge country, owing to which the West and the USSR succeeded in defeating Hitler-no small accomplishment. What kind of social system was actually formed under his rule isn't yet clear, although it is quite clear it was based on a violent primitive accumulation of capital at the expense of the working population and especially of the peasantry. Suffice it to say that those rigid forms of production relations could not compete with the development of the production forces in capitalism, especially after the 1950s, and that they perished in that duel. "The social mandate" was (just as in SFRY and China ) the guarantee of a secure working place and overall social services (including education as the main road to social progress), regardless of how primitive they may have been in some countries, provided for the masses of peasants who swarmed into the cities.
On the whole, "middle Marxism" played the leading role in the greatest social advancement of the lower classes in the history of humanity. At the top, however, a new ruling class, a politocracy, got firmly established, and it eventually came to the conclusion (except in Asia and Cuba) it would be much safer as a capitalist bourgeoisie - even as a comprador one, that is, a servant to metropolitan countries and corporations, as in Eastern Europe.
Late Marxism, and a Retrospective as a Perspective
It is still not clear whether the end of the "Leninist" phase should be situated in the year 1956 or 1968. Historical periods don't end on a particular day, so we could compromise by saying that in different countries this phase ended at different times. However, in a rather united world, where Khrushchev's abjuration of Stalin in 1956 didn't break the stasis in USSR society, perhaps a more suitable turning point are the years around 1966 to 1968: the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, of the student rebellions in 1968 (the first world-wide, at least apparently anti-capitalist movement after anarchism opposed to the communist parties and to the official Marxism of the first two phases), the suppression of Dubcek's reform in Czechoslovakia and the stall of Yugoslav self-management as an expansive system, and so on. The final nail in the coffin of this rich and contradictory interregnum was the Oil Crisis in 1973, and then the victory of the politocracy in P.R. China.
The basic question of Late Marxism was how to unblock the frozen and hateful model of Stalin's counter-revolution, which had nullified Lenin's glorious beginnings. The search for a new "subject of revolution" that would stand in place of, or at least next to, the unsuccessful industrial proletariat was frantic: the proletariat in the sense of all the working and/or poor people; technicians and intellectuals; Mao's "planetary village;" women (in the variant provided by socialist feminism); the "coloured" peoples or ethnic groups; even Marcuse's students or sexual minorities (which was a bit desperate). Since all that failed, it turns out that the problem might have been deeper, and perhaps didn't lie in the Subject but in the Manner. Perhaps the bottleneck determining the mode of social production - or the production of society - is no longer the Production Forces, which in a developed capitalism already potentially surpass the needs of humanity, but its co-equal, the Production Relations, namely the relationships among people that are specific of a particular phase of the production possibilities?
Taking production in the broadest sense of "the production of human life," that Marx and Engels were fond of, I understand it in two different ways. The first, narrower and direct, type of production relations central to Marx's thought is collective self-governing from bottom up and all the way up to the pinnacle of power, which he enthusiastically hailed in the Paris Commune, and Lenin fully accepted (until he sank into the mire and blood of the struggle for survival). This idea soon became a taboo in the USSR and further, except in the dissident little group of "council communists" (Pannekoek, Gorter, Mattick). Since Kidric 2 - and later on Kardelj - reinstated it in 1950, supported by Tito, I shall from here on take the example of SFR Yugoslavia as the most illustrative for all the "socialist" countries (although the Chinese Cultural Revolution deserves a meticulous analysis too). In the SFRY, enormous resistances within the politocracy froze self-government mostly on the factory level, where it couldn't have a decisive influence. This, in my opinion, points to the second, indirect and neglected, field of the production relations, that is, to a plain deficit within "socialism" of plebeian democracy from bottom up, in the necessarily conflictual decision-making of society as a whole: in the commune, in the mass media, in the political organizations, in the parliament, and on all the mediating levels, crucially including its leading institution of the allegedly avant-garde and actually ruling communist party. Liberating relationships within industrial and other direct production cannot properly develop without such societal discussion, which would be at least as free as in parliamentary capitalism (or in USSR 1921-26, or in Cuba 1961-64).
By the way, Marx's other main works managed only in this phase to slip through the meshes of hatred and obscurantism and to be published.
Why did the freezing of integral self-government succeed in Yugoslavia ? Because the forces in the League of Communists that were in favour of it (a group of people often identified as close to Kardelj and Bakaric) couldn't manage, or so they claimed, to break a stubborn resistance from the greater part of the leadership right below the Executive Committee of the LCY. How could they have broken it? Well, as in any effective strategy, by finding allies. Who could have been those allies, besides the advanced workers, already committed and neutralized? Obviously only two: the working peasants and the intelligentsia. How could they have been activated? By granting them freedom of active participation in policy-making within the boundaries of the SFRY Constitution (which, as in any other country, should be safeguarded and defended). This meant not only the freedom of expressing opinion, which did exist in the SFRY to a fair extent - certainly to a greater extent than in any other "socialism" (although the offensive legal paragraph on thought crime should have been abolished). It meant further the formulation of rules for organizing lobbies, small groups capable of exerting pressure on the government to implement certain measures, together with rules governing their access to the mass media. Such lively democratization could have overcome the historical difficulty that has always dogged factory workers, their inability to move alone, without a strong ally, from strikes in factories to power in the State. The development of each "socialist" State, from the USSR to China and Cuba, can be seen as a race between the two poles of an integral self-government with efficient planning (in production and civil society) and the spontaneous tendencies toward capitalism inherent in rightly repudiating Stalinist terror in favour of a consumers' market on a capitalist globe.
Yet within a Party State , all would have eventually come to nothing if such discussions couldn't have been transferred into the Party (LCY). It would have been necessary to repristinate the freedom of organizing factions and wide debates that was the norm in the Marxist movement, not only during the lives of Marx and Engels, but also throughout its history until the year 1921, for example before each (frequent!) party congress. In that year, faced with huge economic chaos and the decision to allow capitalist trade and economy below the "commanding heights" of State power, Lenin believed the Party should deny itself the luxury of factions for ONE YEAR, and had a one-year ban voted by the congress of the Russian Communist Party. Stalin surreptitiously grinned and made sure it would never be removed: this became his watchword of "monolithism." Unfortunately, Tito was a staunch proponent of this principle, understandable and useful in Yugoslavia until 1945, and perhaps as late as 1950, but utterly counterproductive afterwards.
Therefore, the breakdown around 1990 - and here I go back to the whole of late Marxism - was twofold, and thus very deep. First, it was a politico-economical breakdown, fairly obvious in the enthusiasm of people from the relatively successful GDR when the Berlin wall was dismantled. In addition, it was an ideologico-philosophical breakdown: the entire "scientific paradigm" of Marxism from all its three phases crumbled, I think forever.
If I may get somewhat autobiographical: when I learned in 1989, as a Canadian visiting professor in Germany, that Tudjman had won the elections in the then federal unit of Croatia, I wrote the poem "Apparitions" (it can be found at the end of my book of verse Armirana Arkadija, Zagreb 1989). As its epigraph, I put a quotation from the Croatian 19 th -century poet Kranjcevic, in which the Lord says to Moses:
Perish you shall once you begin
Yourself in your ideals to disbelieve.
Let me translate this into prose: Marx and Lenin experienced a number of bitter political and economical defeats, for instance, in the years 1848, 1871 and 1905; so did the communist party of Yugoslavia from 1921 to the mid-1930s. However, the horizon for further efforts remained untouched, only some paths leading to it were in need of reformulation. Now the horizon too needs reformulation.
This can be done under two conditions. First, we must relinquish neither Marx nor the lessons - for better or worse - from the history of Marxism, especially the one concerning the role and profile of the avant-garde party.
Example: What were Marx's most important sources? According to Engels, those were German philosophy, French political thought, and English political economy (as if at a Congress of the Second International); Lenin repeated this in one of his famous articles that served in "middle Marxism" as an introduction to every Marx anthology. Yet many scholars have shown, in my opinion convincingly, that the deepest politico-philosophical influences on young Marx, the ones that stuck with him throughout his life and that can be detected in his early studies and writings (only recently published in their entirety) are the following: Aristotle, especially his category of Possibility (dynamei on); Epicurus, especially his cosmological explanation of freedom as a deviation or deflection from a straight line (Lucretius translated it as clinamen, an inclination or swerve); Spinoza, especially his emphatic negation of the religious justification for social contract; and, of course, his principal Great Ancestor Hegel, especially his dialectical method as an inextricable synthesis of logic, ontology, and axiology (in which no meaningful discussion on Being is possible without a discussion on Value). No doubt, Marx upgraded all that through his studies of the French revolutionary tradition, from Rousseau to Babeuf, and of the "utopian socialists"; and when he devoted himself to the study of capitalism, he turned to Ricardo and Smith. Judging by all these sources, the worst of all the possible worlds for Marx would be one in which there would be no possibility of liberation from the corruption of Value caused by Alienation; therefore, he devoted all his adult life to studying the mysteries of capitalism! We must follow him in that endeavour - and complement him. Let us rephrase his famous (perhaps somewhat too famous) 11th Thesis on Feuerbach as "the Marxists have interpreted Marx; the point is to change him" - while preserving his constant emancipatory and epistemological horizon. For what Freud so elegantly called Trauerarbeit-- a psychological working-through and working-out of the mourning after the death of a person important and dear to us, so that we could bear the loss--the time is over.
Second, we must complement our epistemology (philosophy of cognition) with insights that are not only adequate to the age of the theory of relativity and cybernetics, internet and genetic manipulation, but also adequate to the dying, and extremely dangerous, beast of financial capitalism, of its global terrorism and warfare. Marx's constitutive epistemological rule may be phrased as: the object of knowledge is judged by looking backward from the future possibilities, which in feedback with the object provide the normative criteria for judgment.
Politically, this means insisting on a full and mainly direct organized democracy--not at all forgetting class interests, but integrating them with all the other (gender, ethnic, etc.) interests of individual self-determination and living labour. As Kouvelakis concludes his book: "communism [is] the never-ending, self-critical return of the democratic revolution."
However, this requires a separate study. A remark: probably not much time is left.
Yet should we succeed, we could verify two of the best classical insights into true Marxism. The first is from Labriola: "Marx's writings are fragments of a science and a politics which is in constant becoming; and which others-and not the first best-should and could continue" (On Socialism and Philosophy). The second is Sartre's optimistic view in Critique of Dialectical Reason: "far from being exhausted, Marxism is still very young, almost in its infancy; it has scarcely begun to develop."
By the way, of the new and finally (one hopes) properly edited Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (Complete Works) being published by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, foreseen for 114 volumes, 58 have been published so far.