A Defense of Idealism; or, How Marx Screwed Up

1438183959081

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!”

 

 

10 Comments on "A Defense of Idealism; or, How Marx Screwed Up"

  1. • 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
    • That was a point of Marxism, to stop pining for abstractions and to look at the points of real possibility. You can’t critique that it was a failure to achieve what was never aimed. Utopian dreaming offers only despair with no answer but existential rationalizations that tell us to dare the impossible. Fine for individuals, it’s their life, but this doesn’t work for masses precisely because the price of failure is so great. The loss of your time and life is nothing but your own concern, but the loss of the community’s life and time is everyone’s.

    • 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)?
    • Except these periodic injections of idealism never escape the critiques of idealism. The fact that Marxism is in constant revolutionary internal struggle is a testament to its own living status as a tradition still questioning and developing its concepts. To those of us who see Marx as a continuation of Hegel in the philosophy of subjective and objective spirit, this is a welcome state. If you wished to be pedantic one could legitimately say that Marx was an idealist of the same vein as Hegel that simply focused on a limited sphere.

    • 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.
    • From the man himself: “We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” The concept includes its own genesis and development to the end. Communism isn’t simply the desire, it is the activity and struggle to realize it.

    • …are thrown in the wastepaper bin of history in order for Marx to justify the ideal of a better, more equal tomorrow.
    • Moralism is not something a genuine Marxist can stand by. There is no justification for communism, nor for liberalism, nor for anything else. Aside from that, you’re just plain empirically wrong if you think Marx threw the entire history prior to him in philosophy and science to the wastebin. Marx aimed at science just as Hegel did, except that Marx aimed at the aspect Hegel neglected to speak to even though his very philosophy implied its necessity (and he acknowledged it as well), that is the unity of theory and practice. Failure is an integral aspect of science for Hegel and Marx, and the past is never wasted. That the past’s possible contributions are not entirely mobilized at any one time only show what is to us today obvious, and what I said in my own piece: not all ideas are fit for all conditions. Perhaps today theology can be part of the materialist arsenal, but that’s yet to prove itself true.

    • In effect, Marx feels he must suffocate idealism in its crib in order to make communism a valid material possibility.
    • Oh please, the whole attack against idealism is abstraction, not hope or vision (even Marx had vision and hope). Hegel himself lead this with the most powerful charge against abstract thinking.
    • 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.
    • Once again, nobody should care about utopias except for self-deluding hope like religion. You dared to invoke Zizek, so take a page from his book on Christian theology’s position for him, which is a the negation of religion as otherworldly and abstract and returning to this world in concrete soberness.

    • 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.
    • Class society is, surprise, about class conflict. Could you be more off the ball on this? You’re unaware of what the problem of class society is in the realm of human history in total, i.e. you seem to have no awareness that the two main points of focus for Marx, class conflict and alienation. Alienation spans far more of the past and the foreseeable future than class conflict does, and its complete resolution is very much just an ideal for Marx.

    • 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?
    • Marx goes where he always did: look at the situation, analyze, see similarities to the past and differences. Even “tankies” like the CPGB-ML (Stalin Society) isn’t stuck in the past to the extent you imply “Marxists” are. The reason to ‘hang up’ on the past is that you’re an idiot if you think the present has no similar position nor conditions to those that past revolutionaries faced. There is something that can be learned, and if you don’t bother trying to learn, you’re just repeating a farce of the past.

    • 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.

    No, the simplest way out of this nonchoice is to learn what Marx actually wrote about. I know that Marx is a pain to come to understand, just like Hegel, but do yourself a favor and actually look into his works instead of attacking versions of Marx that don’t have much to do with his own works. If you want to critique some later strands of Marxism, go ahead, but that’s no fault of Marx. In Marx’s time utopian visions were many, and even without Marx’s own proclamation of a (false) vision of the future he could not foresee, people themselves injected into socialism their own visions. Today perhaps we need vision given to us again in this dearth of hopelessness in which no alternative seems possible, but again, that’s yet to be seen. I’d be on the side of Benjamin here and say I think we need history more than ever instead of the future. Apathy is the desease today, and we are up to our necks in utopia and dystopia, but few are aware of how much worse the reality of history has been for the toiling masses.

    • Too much butthurt
      >You dared to invoke Zizek
      kek

    • ”In Marx’s time utopian visions were many, and even without Marx’s own proclamation of a (false) vision of the future he could not foresee, people themselves injected into socialism their own visions.”
      Well said!

    • I agree mostly with what A.W. said. His tone is justified too.

      The main problem with Yui’s piece is not that it’s foggy (reminiscent of naive and enthusiastic freshmen papers), but that it’s at points dishonest (BS), which is completely unnecessary. Next time stick to what you know and be humble about it.

      I have no doubt that Yui had good intentions with this (and I kinda see in what direction he’s trying to go with the article, maybe more so than A.W.), but he does have the tendency to overstep his own (current) accomplishments and venture into (unsupported) improvisation, which is in a sense what this article takes up as an ideal.

      The problem on the one hand, Yui, is that improvisation is an overrated genre in every art form, and bold aesthetic experimentation never automatically translate into clever politics, and on the other, that you can’t say you are improvising in a band (with Marx, Deleuze, Zizek…) when in fact you are masturbating alone to their images, thinking that you are in a discourse with their actual notes.

      (Improvisations of all kinds are OK, IMO, on imageboards, and there I suspect I could identify A.W.’s [in that context overly-]butthurt posts in an instance. Bunkermag must serve as a step further in the direction of real life politics and theory, requiring higher standards.)

      To be a bit more constructive, allow me to examine a part that I think exemplifies a lot of problems with the text stylistically.

      > 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)?

      1. Dishonesty enters at punctuation. This long sentence isn’t really a question, mate. At best it’s a pointless or superfluous one since it answers itself in the same breath, leaving the reader with the suspicion that its sole purpose was to obfuscate its own heavy load, never to be acknowledged again in the text.

      2. Fucking unnecessary attributes, man: funny and acerbic; bourgeois_-oriented_ [just bourgeois! Fucking “bourgeois” is already bourgeois-oriented!]; fateful decline, rickety, undead… These words don’t add real content, just dress the text up.

      3. I’m not sure how you call these in English, somewhere between “mixed metaphor” and catachresis. You encounter these when you read a text and something is off, the image drawn doesn’t form a whole and parts of it are doing incompatible things with each other. I’m talking about “sustaining itself like an undead junkie through periodic injections of idealism” of course. I get it (though I don’t agree – see A.W.’s remark) that you are trying to characterize Marxism as this paradoxical entity (undead junkie), but it doesn’t work on an imaginary level, since you are expanding a well established paradox (the undead: death negated) with a paradox on a different level (the figure of the junkie: death drive in life itself). (It’s not just that it gets psychoanalytic concepts wrong unknowingly and it alludes to it in the very same sentence, nor that it does so similarly, one is lead to believe, with Lenin and the Frankfurt School, but that it first and foremost doesn’t work as a literary device.)

      Any parallel drawn is meaning lost. With the double paradox of the “undead junkie” paralleled with Marxism we don’t just lose meaning of Marxism as with a regular simile, but the ability to visualize it and to refer back meaning. “The paradox of Marxism is similar to the paradox of addicted undead” doesn’t translate any more than “This circled square is like an empty full.”

      I’ve got to go.

  2. I’ve never read a bunkermag article before, but this is pretty great. Keep up the great work yuiposter. I’m definitely reading the rest of this site.

  3. This post is literally gibberish. What the hell is this godawful website supposed to even be?

  4. I think the article gets into the ebb and flow of political evolution. There is no “one-size-fits-all.” People evolve and governments evolve and societies evolve. Yuiposter, obviously has a grasp on this concept. The society of the USA created in the late 1700s has, in fact, adopted some facets of Marxism today. I wonder if our government has run computer predictions models on the future of the society. It would almost be absurd to think not. All in all, great article and great depth of concept. Well done.

  5. EnglishmaninChina | November 25, 2015 at 9:30 am | Reply

    Your point sounds awfully like the Maoist communism which devastated China and ultimately was the forefather of the Khmer Rouge, North Korean communism. Living without a goal like Mao’s ‘Continuous revolution’ just allows for unrest, distrust and corruption as ultimately living a life of ideology is to live a life without stability. I feel like this generates even more fear amongst the proletariat than capitalism. At least in capitalism and Marx’s communism people know what to fear. Do you not think your concept of Communism would lead to a fear of the unknown, paralyzing the very people who dare to maintain their ideology?

  6. lol i think I literally literalled

    simply ebin communist, simply ebin

  7. Holy shit, how is garbage like this even allowed to be posted here?
    I mean i didn’t even know idealist “anarchist” scum like you even existed anymore.
    You know pretty much all ancoms accept historical materialism, right?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.