The Marxian Turn: A Renaissance in the Making?

In our darkest moments we begin to reveal the truth to ourselves. Maybe it is always the burdens of life: the pains, the depths of physical intrusion, the sleepless nights that give shape to those self-critical appraisals that awaken us from our dogmatic slumbers. Or, maybe it is disgust.

Louis Althusser in his Letter to Merab Mardashvili  once said that ‘disgust’ is “the word that says right out loud that one can no longer find one’s place in the cesspool, and that there’s no use looking for it, because all the places have been swept away by the crazy course of events” (5).1  During this same period (1978) he began a self critque of Marxism; or, what he termed the ‘crisis of Marixism'(7).

The crisis was the actual history of Marxism itself: its failure, and the “result is that the Marxists who call themselves Communists have proved incapable of accounting for their own history” (9). So this crisis is a political one and what it points to is termed by Althusser of that time as its “theoretical crisis, malaise or disarray” (9). The great question, and it still remains unanswered, as Althusser stated it in 1978 was this: “why has the Communist movement been incapable of writing its own history in convincing fashion: not just Stalin’s history, but also that of the Third International and everything that preceded it, from The Communist Manifesto on?” (9).

This is where it gets interesting, in that Althusser begins to question the whole theoretical ediface of Marxist theory itself “as conceived by its founder and interpreted by his successors”; yet, Althusser surmises, we know that it was the Stalinist turn that blocked any resolution to this dilemna, that prevented and political or theoretical research that might reconcile us to its task. Yet, he also saw that all this long history of failure had come to a head, that it was time for a full disclosure and rectification, a revision of the whole gamut of this failure as a possible overcoming. He knew all too well that this ‘crisis of Marxism’ might lead to a collapse. But what type? Would it lead to a crisis of liberation and transformation; or, to that deadly fatalism of death and decay.

As he knew all to well the reactionaries wanted it to collapse along with the whole theoretical framework of Marxism. In fact there was a long lineage of underming the Marxist framework, from Weber to Croce, from Aron to Popper who have all seen within Marxism an impossible thought or a metaphysical deadend (11). Instead of falling into some theoretical quagmire, falling into the arguments that the enemies of Marixism so willingly will lend us, Althusser tells us that what is needed is to wrest from those very enemies the deadly arguments they have for so long used against us. Maybe we need a little of the poison to immunize ourselves from the darkest fatalism within our own history. Maybe it is high time for a renaissance of Marxism, a rebirth and transformation of its insights and truths into the theoretical praxis of our own day and age.

As Althusser once said plainly there is no “act of faith in these words, but a political act pointing to a real possibility, already on its way to being realized in our own world”(12). It all comes down to us, to our own measure of involvement and engagement with this material history. But it is an effort that will take all of us working together, a social intelligence, a liberation and struggle, a resistance that knows the odds against its rebirth.

We see the voice of Communism in Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Costas Douzinas, Bruno Bosteels, Jodi Dean, David Harvey, Hardt and Negri, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Étienne Balibar, Jacques Ranciere and many more to fill books and literature galore. Yet, it is a small assemblage, a coeterie of intellectuals, something that has yet to find its voice within the people themselves. I watch as the Academy and academics join each other in meetings around the globe exchanging promissary notes about the truth of this struggle; and, yet, in the streets we see the aimless voices of failure as protest after protest resolves nothing, and counter-revolutions regain control of the political machinery of existence. Oh yes there are fringe groups, more radical anarchic elements that would seek to destroy all forms of Oligarchic tyranny around the globe; yet, even these are without recourse, money, voice within the mainstreams of the mediaglobe.

It’s as if we are all waiting for someone else to start the revolution in thought and praxis, as if we could just keep on talking to each other in our little conclaves and meetings and discussions around the globe in our academic safety nets without there really ever being a true change at all. What is to be done? Lenin once said this about it all:

“…socialism ceased to be an integral  revolutionary theory and became a hodgepodge “freely” diluted with the content of every new German textbook that appeared; the slogan  “class struggle” did not impel to broader and more energetic  activity but served as a balm, since “the economic struggle is  inseparably linked with the political struggle”; the idea of a party did not serve as a call for the creation of a militant organisation of revolutionaries, but was used to justify some sort of “revolutionary bureaucracy” and infantile playing at   “democratic” forms”(from What is to be done?)

Shall we continue to play our academic games, or shall there ever be a real resurgence of militant organizations of revolutionaries in our midst to challenge the status quo, to revise the old outworn doctrines of a failed Marxist tradition and renew its inner core and teachings for our own time. Shall we repeat its mistakes? Shall we instead make it our own? Shall we find a voice? Move forward in a struggle of emancipation and liberation from the dark overlords of this present economic system? Is this a renaissance in the making or just another turn toward failed political struggle? And who are we, anyway?

1. Louis Althusser. Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987. Verso; 1 edition (June 17, 2006)

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