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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: M@rxist Humanism or “Full-Spectrum Liberalism” – Holy Family, Batman!

“He who glorifies theory and genius but fails to recognize the limits of a theoretical work, fails likewise to recognize the indispensability of the theoretician. All of history is the history of the struggle for freedom. If, as a theoretician, one’s ears are attuned to the new impulse from the workers, new “categories” will be created, a new way of thinking, a new step forward in philosophic cognition.” – Raya Dunayevskaya

Others say that the reason Sanders has ignited the left in the same way that Warren has is that Sanders is something of a full-spectrum liberal — climate change, campaign-finance reform, inequality, infrastructure spending, worker-run cooperatives, surveillance, genetically modified foods, a humbler foreign policy. Warren is more of a single-note singer — inequality, and the way the economic system is rigged to produce more of it — and it’s a note she sings over and over again. And it is also one that happens to hit the cultural moment exactly, a moment that includes Occupy Wall Street and a best-seller devoted to the subject by a previously obscure French economist.

The ensemble of social relations is far more intense and more connected than ever before in history. Terms like “networked individual” and “transindividual” have entered the language as social being becomes ever more complex and more connected through mobile information technology, and social networking. Alongside the “loss” (or rather negation) of old identities, there is the possibility of a greater and deeper ensemble of relations than before. This has changed what we understand by the self, the world of social being and our relationship to it. – See more at:

Alfred Sohn-Rethel located the origin of philosophical abstraction in the “false conciousness” brought about by the new money economy of Greek Antiquity. In the Enlightenment the conceptual barrier Kant put between phenomenal reality and the “thing-in-itself” expressed, in Sohn-Rethel’s view, the reified consciousness stemming from commodity-exchange and the division of mental and manual labor.

Sohn-Rethel’s lifelong project was the combination of the epistemology of Kant with Marx’s critique of political economy. When people exchange commodities they abstract from the specific goods. Only the value of these goods is important. This abstraction is called ‘real abstraction’ because it takes place without conscious effort; whether or not anyone is aware of it is of no importance. Sohn-Rethel believed this type of abstraction to be the real basis of formal and abstract thinking. All of Kant’s categories such as space, time, quality, substance, accident, movement and so forth are implicit in the act of exchange. Readers of Marx will not be entirely surprised by such a genealogy, since Marx himself suggested that the ideas of freedom and equality, at least as we know them so far, are rooted in the exchange of commodities. Sohn-Rethel’s work on the nature of ‘real abstraction’ has been amplified and extended by the writers of Arena (Australian publishing co-operative), especially the notion that a post-marxist social and historical analysis can be founded on the ‘real abstraction’ principle. An example of using Sohn-Rethel’s idea of commodity occurs in Slavoj Zizek’s work The Sublime Object of Ideology.

It may be that marxist humanism is an oxymoron, given the variety of determinisms (mis-)attributed to it: party discipline, dictatorship of the proletariat, economic in the last instance, barbarism with a human face, etc. The goal here is not to solve that potential contradiction but to show that there are some moments albeit fleeting that make ideological discovery and development useful in developing a reasonable revolutionary anticapitalist discourse. And of course with respect to those who should write their own diaries defending other ideological paths to defining species-being, this will describe a few possibilities and of course not ignoring that history made so many of them go wrong.

This diary discusses some conventional areas in the theory of Marxist humanism that show not unlike the history of Geography in Soviet Russia and the overall failure of pre-Stalinist Marxist humanism exhibited in the decline of abstract official art and the controversies of Russian literary formalism, that ecological thinking in the world of state capitalisms can enrich the larger ecological discourse necessary to combat global warming and degradation.

The first step is to look at (assuming the usual warnings about indulging an inerrant postwar Marxology no less virulent than all those who memorize the King James Bible) whether there is or isn’t a difference between the writings of the “immature” and the mature Marx, often characterized as a difference between humanism and scientism. One example is in the formative pre-stalinist academic period where official art was abstract and disciplines like language and literature as well as social science like geography were not rendered schematic by arbitrary constructions of base and superstructure. A marxist subject was more easily worth the discourse whether it was the Tartu School or its progenitor, the “Bakhtin Circle”(including Valentin Voloshinov) or the psychology of Vygotsky. Early human geography in Russia never truly emerged because of the ultimate triumph of soviet social engineering thought where soviet geography would remain largely physical and of course facilitated the erasure of whole regions for security reasons. This left its development to be influenced by postwar marxist geography. Contemporary economical marxism might have gained much from a more robust marxist humanism, which is for better or worse overdetermined by anthropological and literary marxist thought. It could be argued similarly that the ecological and environmental discourse of marxist thought is Sohn-Rethel’s kind of “real abstraction”

Ecological Marxism shares many common characteristics with traditional Marxism, such as criticizing capitalism, caring for the poor, defending justice, and pursuing the common good. Thus it is possible for traditional Marxists to be open to ecological Marxism and still retain their allegiance to Marxist analysis.

During the period of introduction, the following four theories (from among many Western ideas, schools, and representative figures of ecological Marxism) have attracted the attention of Chinese Marxists:

(1) The ecological crisis theory of William Leiss and Ben Agger, which claims that the Marxist theory of economic crisis is outdated because it not only fails to explain the continuous existence and development of capitalism, but also fails to provide a theoretical guide for the shift from capitalism to socialist society. Hence, it is necessary for Marxists to base their critique of capitalism on the new stage of ecological crisis, which has its source in “alienated consumption.”

(2) James O’Connor’s theory of two contradictions of capitalism. If, as traditional Marxism points out, the first contradiction in capitalism is between capitalist productive forces and production relations, O’Connor argues that the second contradiction is the one between capitalist productive forces, production relations, and production conditions. It is the two contradictions that lead to economic, as well as ecological, crisis.

(3) Joel Kovel’s theory of ecological socialist revolution and construction. For Kovel, in order to solve the ecological crisis of capitalism, we must liberate use values from exchange values, liberate labor from capital, and move toward an eco-socialist society which must meet two conditions: public ownership of the means of production and freely associated producers.

(4) The theories of John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett on Marx’s ecology. According to many Chinese Marxists, all three of the preceding theories acknowledge that Marxist theory can provide a guide for solving the ecological crisis of capitalism, but none of them publicly acknowledges (or for that matter denies) that Marxism, including Marx himself, provided the basis for an ecological worldview. It is Foster and Burkett who “commenced to construct Marx’s ecology, which gives ecological Marxism a much greater theoretical value in dealing with the contemporary ecological crisis.”6 Foster finds Marx’s ecology in his theory of metabolism while Burkett finds it in Marx’s theory of labor value.

journal articles

Marxism cannot achieve the logic of a physical science as a certain few orthodox marxists would desire, even as an ecological marxism might even make that more possible and of course there’s no space for a variety of other controversies on this issue, but this is yet another attempt to make some points of view available for the larger anti-capitalist discourse. For example, “Despite Deng’s condemnation, High Culture Fever continued to rise in China, with the work of Fredric Jameson being particularly popular”

Marxist humanism is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx’s earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx espoused his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural conception of capitalist society. The Praxis School, which called for radical social change in Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia in the 1960s, was one such Marxist humanist movement.
Raya Dunayevskaya (Russian: ???? ???????????; 1 May 1910 – 9 June 1987) was the American founder of the philosophy of Marxist Humanism in the United States of America. At one time Leon Trotsky’s secretary, she later split with him and ultimately founded the organization News and Letters Committees and was its leader until her death.

After more than a decade of developing the theory of state capitalism, Dunayevskaya continued her study of the Hegelian dialectic by taking on a task the Johnson-Forest Tendency had set itself: exploring Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind. She advanced an interpretation of Hegel’s Absolutes holding that they involved a dual movement: a movement from practice that is itself a form of theory and a movement from theory reaching to philosophy. She considered these 1953 letters to be “the philosophic moment” from which the whole development of Marxist Humanism flowed.

The totality of Marx’s Marxism, as developed from 1841 to 1883, provides the foundation for working this out. In particular, we stand on the philosophical new beginnings articulated in Marx’s 1844 Humanist Essays, especially the “dialectic of negativity as a moving and creating principle,” as well as on the whole of his critique of political economy and of the value form of production—from the Communist Manifesto (1848), to the Grundrisse (1857-1858), to Capital (1867-1872). We also base ourselves on the multicultural writings of the late Marx on gender and non-European societies, especially the Ethnological Notebooks (1879-1882). We see Marx’s vision of a new society in the Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), Capital and The Civil War in France (1871) as philosophical foundations for the non-statist, liberated society of the future, and as indications of how to get there. Inseparable from this, we consider Marx’s organizational practice and principles, especially in the Critique of the Gotha Program, as important ground for organization today.

In both Britain and the US, the terms “Marxist humanism” and “socialist humanism” were used to describe different aspects of what amounted to one intellectual and political trend. “Marxist humanism” emphasized the roots of this perspective in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and Marx’s writings on alienation more generally, and pointed to the debate within Marxist theory with Soviet and other structuralist versions of Marxism. “Socialist humanism” emphasized the participation of many non-Marxists – Christian socialists and others – in the critique of Soviet socialism and the effort to construct a democratic version of socialism in which the right to dissent would be protected, and free expression would be encouraged. While the published work of Western Marxist/socialist humanist tended, like that of the Praxis School, toward the theoretical and the philosophical, Western Marxist/socialist humanist circles were much more deeply involved in social movements than their Yugoslavian counterparts. Out of a desire to stress the ecumenical character of their perspective, they tended to use the term “socialist humanism” in preference to “Marxist humanism,” and thus that is the term that will be used here.

Even as “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” of course as an addendum, such a humanism might promote the notion of alternatives to policing:

As we work to eliminate or radically change police institutions we must also work to support and build liberatory alternatives to the police. Since 2003, Rose City Copwatch has promoted discussion about alternatives to the police. In 2007 we spent time learning about historical and ongoing alternatives to the police. In 2008 we drafted the Alternatives to Police booklet based on what we learned. This zine is a compilation of case-studies on alternatives to cops. The booklet focuses on projects that don’t collaborate with the state or court system in any way. A long bibliography for further reading is also included.

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