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You are here: Platypus /Platypus Chicago summer 2010: Marx and Marxism

Platypus Chicago summer 2010: Marx and Marxism

Platypus Marxist reading group

June 5 – August 14, 2010

Saturdays 1–4PM at:

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Ave. room 707

Marx and Marxism

Marx and Engels at work together
Marx and Engels at work together

Readings pp. from Robert C. Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978) (* at

June 5

Karl Marx on the history of his opinions (from Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy), pp. 3–6

Marx, To make the world philosophical, pp. 9–11

Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existing, pp. 12–15

Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, pp. 143–145

June 12

Marx, On The Jewish Question, pp. 26–52

June 19

Marx, The coming upheaval [see bottom of section, beginning with "Economic conditions had first transformed the mass"] (from The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847), pp. 218–219

Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, pp. 469–500

Marx, Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League, pp. 501–511

June 26

The tactics of social democracy (Engels's introduction to Marx, The Class Struggles in France), pp. 556–573

Marx, from The Class Struggles in France 1848–50, pp. 586–593

July 3

[break for Independence Day weekend]

July 10

Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, pp. 594–617

July 17

Marx, On imperialism in India, 653–664 (available online as The British Rule in India and The Future Results of British Rule in India)

Marx and Engels, Europocentric world revolution, pp. 676–677 (available online as Marx to Engels October 8, 1858 and Engels to Kautsky September 12, 1882)

July 24

Marx, The Civil War in France, pp. 618–652

July 31

Marx, Inaugural address to the First International, pp. 512–519

Karl Korsch, The Marxism of the First International *

August 7

Korsch, Introduction to Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme *

Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, pp. 525–541

August 14

Max Horkheimer, "The Authoritarian State" (1940) (in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, eds. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt, pp. 95–117)

* * *

August 28

Vladimir Lenin, "Karl Marx" (1914)

One comment

  • Posted 10 years ago

    The readings for this week’s meeting, the first of the Platypus summer reading group on Marx and Marxism, is focused on Marx’s point of departure in philosophical critique that informed his life-long efforts in critical theory and practical politics.

    The question is what is Marxism as “philosophy,” “science” and “politics,” and how are these aspects of essentially one and the same activity?

    Many have pondered this about Marx, and so it behooves Platypus to try to address it directly. As Gillian Rose put it, Marxism is a “mode of cognition sui generis.” What did Rose, as a latter-day “Hegelian,” mean by Marxism’s radically sui generis character?

    The final readings from the primary Platypus reading group for academic year 2010-11, by Adorno on theory and practice, provide a good background framing among our regular participants of which we can make use and build upon for this kind of consideration of Marx.

    Adorno himself, like Moishe Postone, et al., tends to emphasize the “mature Marx.” This is in some contrast to those such as Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Raya Dunayevskaya, et al., who in the mid-late 20th century emphasized the early Marx (of the 1844 Manuscripts, etc.). This distinction can be misleading, however, as if the early Marx had been Romantic and philosophical (and “humanistic”), while the mature Marx was analytical and critical-theoretical — “scientific.” But perhaps there is a reason — of our own historical moment — why specifically the early Marx should be considered by Platypus. Perhaps we are in an “early Marx” more than a “mature Marx” moment. Perhaps the early Marx can speak to us in ways pertinent to our moment, and we thus have an opportunity to reconsider the early Marx in new ways.

    The mature Marx is given voice in the 1st reading for this week, the (selection from the) Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), a post-Grundrisse (and hence “mature”) writing that can be seen as part of the moment of the project of Marx’s writing of Capital. In this Preface (AKA, in the Tucker edited Marx-Engels Reader, “Marx on the history of his opinions”) (by the way, this was one of the very first readings we did when the Platypus reading group began in 2006), Marx compares (or even identifies) his approach to the analysis and critique of political economy to the objectivity of natural science. It is an instance of Marx introducing the notorious “base-superstructure” model. But he immediately qualifies both the argument for objective science and for economic determinism by pointing out that it is in the subjective (ideological) superstructure that society is transformed, through politics. Marx ends the Preface with a curious quotation from Dante’s Divine Comedy, the warning at the entrance to hell (which must according to Marx also come at the entrance to science), “Here must all distrust be left; All cowardice must here be dead.”

    Marx’s claim to science clashes in a particular way with this epigraph from Dante. This points to the way Marx understood his “critique of political economy.” It is the critique, not of the consciousness of the ruling, capitalist class, but rather of the consciousness of the socialist workers’ movement, which Marx thought had become the inheritor of classical bourgeois political economy, of Adam Smith, David, Ricardo, et al., as opposed to the “vulgar” political economy of those who came later such as John Stuart Mill, et al. — just as others, Engels, Plekhanov, et al., considered the socialist workers’ movement to be the inheritors of the tradition of classical German Idealist philosophy. This is because the earlier “bourgeois” thinkers, or, more properly, the thinkers of the classical bourgeois era, unlike their apparent epigones (in the “science” of society, e.g., sociology, as well as in “philosophy”) attempted to grasp society in its fundamental historical totality in ways that the later “vulgar” thinkers of the period of the crisis of capital (i.e., post-1848) did not — indeed, the later thinkers sought to avoid this, not broadening but narrowing the concerns of their inquiry. Lukacs’s term for this partial rationality in avoidance of the historical totality “reification;” Adorno characterized it (also) as “positivism” and “nominalism,” etc. Marx was trying to confront the consciousness of the socialist workers’ movement with the same critique by presenting the problem as he did in Capital. Marx’s critique was the immanent critique of the reified consciousness of the socialist workers’ movement, as the highest subjective expression of capital.

    So what are the “philosophical” and critical “theoretical” — and *political* — assumptions for this kind of approach by Marx, that finds itself at the threshold of “hell” as that of “science?” Why did Marx consider his “critique of political economy” so radical? This is where the early Marx’s writings are key.

    The young Marx’s writings from the 1840s — the period of the first global crisis of modern capital, the “hungry ’40s,” a decade that precipitated the revolutions of 1848 comprising a turning-point in the history of capital whose political expression will be the central concern of our readings this summer — of which the 1844 Manuscripts (that are part of our primary readings during the academic year, but we won’t be reading this summer for reasons of time and focus) and the 1848 Communist Manifesto are part, need to be understood in two respects: the disintegration of Hegelianism and the rise of the modern socialist workers’ movement. For Marx, these were aspects of a singular historical phenomenon.

    Our reading from Marx’s dissertation (titled in the Tucker ed. Marx-Engels Reader, “To make the world philosophical”) is concerned with the relation between theory and practice in ways that should be at least somewhat familiar from our prior readings of Adorno, namely that theory and practice advance precisely through their antagonistic extremes.

    In a way that foreshadows what Marx wrote in the 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy about “contradiction and conflict,” Marx wrote in his 1839-41 dissertation that Hegel’s “science in the process of becoming” was not about the “accommodation” of the world. Marx called for “specifying better” the process by which the “theoretical mind, once liberated in itself, turns into practical energy, leaving behind mere will, and turns against reality.” This Marx called “reason’s immanent determination and universal historical character as a philosophy,” its “course of life narrowed down to a subjective point.” According to Marx, however, this is “afflicted” with “contradiction” in which “inner light has become consuming flame turned outwards.” But according to Marx this is a “double-edged demand, one edge turned against the world, the other against philosophy itself,” “a demand and an action contradicting each other.” For Marx, Hegel’s philosophical consummation of bourgeois society’s — capital’s — emergence had entered into a period of dissolution and “carnival,” in which “the bones of its mother are luminous eyes.” (This characterization compares well with Lukacs’s original 1922 Preface to History and Class Consciousness, about how Hegel must be recovered in his “seminal elements.”) As Marx put it,

    “The division of the world is total only when its aspects [i.e., theory and practice] are totalities. The world confronting philosophy total in itself is therefore a world torn apart . . . its objective universality is turned back into the subjective forms of individual consciousness in which it has life.”

    But the music of such a philosophy in the process of self-contradiction and dissolution is that of “Aeolian harps struck by the storm,” by which however one must not allow oneself to be “misled.”

    For Marx, ideological forms of appearance in consciousness must be pursued in their extreme contradictions.

    In a letter to Ruge of 1843 (in the Tucker ed. Marx-Engels Reader, “For the ruthless criticism of everything existing”), Marx opposes what he calls the “dogmatism” of socialist utopias, in favor of what he calls “criticism.” The characteristic thought figure here is the relation between the “new” and “old,” and the obscure character of subjective intention of radical “revolutionary” political perspectives.

    The importance of the early Marx for Platypus is salient here. When Marx says that he thinks revolution is about “carrying out the thoughts of the past,” in which “humanity begins no new work but consciously completes its old work,” we should find great resonance with our moment. Concretely, it is also quite significant that Marx situates his own insight in the context of his contemporary reformers’ extreme “confusion” about their goals, the “future” towards which they are working, in which there is more “inner difficulties” than “external obstacles.” The paradox that clarification about the future can be achieved through greater consciousness of the struggles of the past leading to the present is a precise conception of the Platypus project, the issue of historical consciousness in grasping the emancipatory strivings of capital.

    Marx’s 1845 Theses on Feuerbach continue to purse this issue of “subjectivity” in clarifying the relationship between “materialism and idealism,” in which Marxism is situated. Marx’s critique of Feuerbach’s “materialist” critique of Hegelian idealism, Marx’s recovery of the importance of “idealist” philosophy as the subjective side of practical activity, is of utmost importance for us.

    At issue is the relationship of subjective idealism to historical consciousness of the objective concrete or “material” problem of the self-contradictory totality of capital, and how, as Marx put it, the world must be “made philosophical” in order to be overcome. The self-contradictory categories of bourgeois society can be overcome only by being made an effective reality, completed and transcended, realized and overcome at one and the same time. This is how Marx understood the “political economic” consciousness of the socialist workers’ movement, the highest subjective manifestation of capital, which Marx sought to overcome by consciously pursuing it to completion.

    As we will see in coming weeks, this will involve the democratic demands of the modern workers’ movement under capital, or what came to be known as “social democracy,” and how this expressed the crisis of bourgeois society, which had entered its “proletarian” phase, leading to the “authoritarian” phenomenon of the “Bonapartist” state that comes to seem to stand “above” society and its fractious “politics.” For Marx, the social-democratic workers’ movement was itself a symptom of the self-contradiction of bourgeois society in crisis. The need for proletarian social-political revolution was the need to push the crisis of bourgeois society to its extremes.

    Today we live in the dim, extended shadow of the failure of this crisis to reach adequately extreme — and potentially emancipatory — manifestation. Looking ahead to the final reading of this summer’s syllabus, Max Horkheimer’s 1940 essay — 100 years after the early Marx — on “The Authoritarian State,” points out that the only emancipatory choice is to push the modern authoritarian “state capitalism” to its limits, for its dissolution would only start the “entire horror” “back from the beginning,” which subsequent history has certainly proven. But even Horkheimer appears in retrospect to have been too optimistic. For today, post-authoritarian “neo-liberal” capital hardly starts again simply from the beginning but rather repeats the problem of capital at a much degraded and hence even less potentially emancipatory level. Nonetheless, perhaps the insights of a Marxist apprehension of the emancipatory potential of capital as the crisis of modern society can still allow us some grasp of emancipatory potential, however distantly (for now). In this respect the relatively preliminary or underdeveloped character of the early Marx can be fertile for us in Platypus, for re-opening the most fundamental questions of the radicalism of capitalist modernity, whose historical moment we still may yet share in its possibilities.

    — Chris

    by Chris Cutrone on June 5, 2010 10:43 am

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