Thursday, August 6, 2009

Letters from the Franco-German Yearbooks: Further Thoughts and Comments on Al's and Joao's posts

Al and Joao initiated a very interesting discussion on Letters from the Franco-German Yearbooks. In this post I would like to 1) bring up several points made by Marx in this work, which I found important but which were not mentioned on this blog yet, and 2) comment on some of the many inspiring points by Al and Joao. I will try to be as concise as possible not to make you read long posts I am naturally inclined to write. I should also add (for those of you not familiar with my intellectual stile) that sometimes I play devil’s advocate, so excuse some of the provocative statements meant to stimulate discussion.

I think the last piece from the Letters has the following ideas deserving attention:

1. There is an explicit call by Marx for elaborating a theory of socialism – a challenge which is unfortunately taken only by a few of contemporary Marxists, so that our theoretical understanding of what socialism is not far advanced compared to the one one and a half centuries ago.

2. Communism is not identical with abolition of private property (p. 207).

3. Marx offers an interesting perspective on how to approach the existing particular/practical issues of the current capitalism. The major idea expressed by him is that instead of abandoning the existing struggles due to finding them “entirely beneath their [socialists] dignity” (p. 208) the left should explain why they take place (p. 209). Moreover, I think Marx offers an interesting logic of dealing with these issues: consider a particular question (e.g., political) --> find a solution to it --> but not stop here: 1) raise the solution to the level of generality and 2)demonstrate the true significance underlying the problem --> the particular issue is being transcended [aufgehoben] by a more general one (p. 208).

4. Marx argues that to reform the consciousness is to make “the world aware of its own consciousness” (p. 209). A question arises: How is this identification of transformation with making consciousness aware of itself different from idealism, if at all?

Some thoughts on Al’s and Joao’s points:

1. Al brought up a point by Marx that instead of anticipating the future with our dogmas, we need to “attempt to discover the new world through the critique of the old” (p. 207). Al brought up a very important concern that it is a fine position only for a young person elaborating his world view, but after working on this for decades “can you still say you can’t advocate anything (since that would be “dogmas”)?” (Al’s post). I agree with Al that there is a difference in these two situations, and if we understand advocating for anything to be a dogma, then there is an obvious problem with Marx’s point. But this holds only if we identify dogma with advocating for anything. I personally have a different understanding of this passage and of what dogma is. For me, in this piece Marx’s stress on dogma vs discovery is identical to a difference between utopian vs ‘scientific’ socialism, i.e. imagining the world as we want it to be without studying any foundations/possibilities for this world (hence, dogma) vs looking for real seeds of another world and its elements in the old world. Incidentally, this take on the issue is related to another passage when Marx talks about completion of “the thought of the past” (p. 209). Put differently, I do not think that taking a position or advocating for something is dogmatic as long as this position is a product of discovery Marx talks about. Any process of discovery will inevitably shape a position, hence, make you advocate for something, so discovery without taking positions is hardly possible. This is my understanding – I wouldn’t argue that Marx meant this instead of smth else (I don’t find discussions on “what Marx really meant” that fruitful). Further thoughts?

2. I agree with Al on existence of moral position of Marxism. I will advocate for the more sophisticated version of this claim proposed by Al – Marxism is a unity of a moral and scientific claims.

3. Joao makes a very good point (point ‘i’) on treating the antinomy he formulates in a dialectical way – I completely agree with such a perspective.

4. An authoritarian element immanent in the concept of revolution is a very thought-provoking statement by Joao (his counterargument to his own position in ‘iii’) – I would like to discuss in the actual meeting.

5. To Joao’s point ‘iv’. Joao, I think a possible solution to the problem raised by you can lie in a distinction between an “automatic subject” and an “alienated automatic subject”. I think the antinomy you are formulating – between an attempt to prevent “automatic subjects” and leaving some room for what you call “unintended dynamics” – does not exist, if we understand communism to be not about banishing automatic subjects, but banishing alienated automatic subjects. If we understand it this way, automatic subject does leave room for unintended dynamics, etc. To give an example, process of cultural creation immanent in communism can be viewed as an automatic subject, with man being the real subject of this creation.

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