The common assertion of Marxists against their theoretical rivals, from phenomenologists to Deleuzian anarchists, is one most of us know by heart via sheer repetition: Marxism stands for the real, valid materialist understanding of the world, whether dialectical or empirical, and any defense of philosophies and theories even slightly questioning of the holy name of Marx are tantamount to the highest reactionary treason, or worse, liberalism. Marx supposedly ‘unlocked’ the secret materialist core of Hegel and opposes the constant speculations of non-materialist philosophy, instead hoisting up the red flags of science and economics to provide an exceedingly practical (but no less obtuse) toolbox for the working class and their assigned revolutionary aims…
Are there any critiques that can stand up to the onslaught of defensive (dare we say reactionary?) Marxists? We are, of course, not talking about the standard liberal critique, that Marxism is in fact excessively idealist, trying to apply abstract historical movements and totalizing notions of class identification to capitalist social conditions and always resulting in economic and political catastrophe, if not mass murder. When it comes to discarding this vulgar moralism, we only require one point of reasoning: the failure of Marx’s theory relies not upon its attachment to impossible utopias, but rather that it inherently undermines the very utopic vision it seeks to propagate.
This heretical statement seems to run entirely against the popular logic we’ve outlined above: how can Marx be a self-saboteur when he so ardently places emphasis on the ‘dialectical’ movement of real material conditions as opposed to what Marx considered the inverted historical model of Hegel and previous philosophers who thought they could approach the ultimate vision of God through the use of Reason? Marxist ‘putting Hegel’s system on his head’ is a funny and acerbic point made against what Marx deemed bourgeois-oriented thought, but what exactly happened at this point, this very point at which Marxist theory began communism’s fateful decline from a utopia demanded to a utopia abandoned, the rickety theory of Marxists sustaining itself like an undead junkie through periodic injections of idealism (Frankfurt School, Lenin) or entirely non-Marxist traditions (Existentialists, psychoanalysis)?
The so-called utopia of communism rightly deserves to be called an impossible desire, in the sense that the desire itself rather than the goal is what fuels the movement of communists forward unto the dawn of history. The utopic socialists of previous epochs who held fast to this desire, who Marx so eagerly disregarded in favor of ‘scientific’ socialism, are placed in the similar situation of Christ towards the wave of ‘New Atheists’ such as Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.: an all too eager, all too inhuman reflex to discard the truly revolutionary core of previous thought in favor of a rigid model that is easier to place, easier to mystify, easier to sell to people who subsist on tearing bygone dreams and partaking in cold baths of ‘realism’, the exact type of subject produced by capitalist alienation. Christ the revolutionary, the bringer of swords and war, not peace, the fulfillment of the liberating aspects of Greek and Roman subjectivity is tossed out with all the successive religious backwash by modern atheist dogma; the idealist results of the Enlightenment, Kant, Hegel, and the Young Hegelians, the formulators of modernity whose radical thought still defines our contemporary civilization, are thrown in the wastepaper bin of history in order for Marx to justify the ideal of a better, more equal tomorrow. In effect, Marx feels he must suffocate idealism in its crib in order to make communism a valid material possibility. For so called dialectical materialists, Marx’s move here must be considered the most anti-dialectical stance in all of leftist thought: instead of seriously taking hold of the horizon of communism as a historical process created through the sublation of all previous utopias, Marx destroys the idealist tools he needs and then proceeds as if he can now finally allow a communist future to be considered seriously. Marxism allows no peace for the restless ghosts of revolutions past: it instead stubbornly insists upon reviving the same tired corpse, continuing on, heedless of how history has already abandoned it. In the vein of a Zizekian twist: Marx wants idealism without idealism.
It’s not difficult to see why Marx chooses this path: when faced with the growing ideology of scientism and the discourses brought about by modern economics via Smith and Ricardo, Marx opts to atomize all historical efforts to simply serve a quasi-sentimental battle of the classes, the result of which is a semi-‘return’ to the primitive communism of histories long-past. Is this not the same dilemma faced by the modern Left: a nostalgia for some authentic revolutionary moment in the past (pre-Stalinist Soviet Union, Catalonia, Paris Commune) that is now rendered a current impossibility by the increasing atomization and seemingly indestructible hold that capitalism possesses over social and economic life, entrenching itself further and further as time progresses? We must consider this attitude a serious hang-up not just for philosophy or economics, but for the Left as a whole. Where does Marxism go when it has already shot itself in the foot upon beginning the race?
The simplest way out of this must be the most difficult and radical choice for most of us: the abandonment of Marxism, and diving head-first into our idealist communism. We face accusations by our opponents constantly that the Left wants to achieve the impossible regardless of reality. Instead of falling back into the old blood-soaked Marxist trenches and attempting to justify our demands for a society based on freedom, equality and fraternity with halfhearted platitudes towards an attempt at ‘scientific’ materialism and incessant appeals to the doxa of empiricism, let us be open and frank towards those who would deny the future in favor of the past: We will dream and act dangerously! Capitalism has everything to lose from our dreams, while we communists have everything to gain from our struggle: the past, present, and future. Communism is impossible under capitalism… so what are we to do? Our demand is resolute, idealist and appropriately dialectical: Ditch capitalism, and make the impossible, possible. The most terrifying statement for reactionaries to encounter is thus:
“We reject your reality! Let us make our own!”