George Katsiaficus

San Diego State University

April, 1979


Distributed as part of the
TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.



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liberation and subversion of the established reality into an instrument of domination and justification for the new social order. In the aftermath of 1917, the quantitative proliferation of the Communist Parties throughout the world under the leadership of the Comintern resulted in the qualitative reduction and standardization of what was the theory and practice of the European socialist movement. By developing a critique of orthodox Marxism as it exists, I hope to contribute to a critical Marxism useful in the transformation of social reality.

Since the October revolution in 1917, Marxism in the Soviet Union has been transformed from a means for Philosophical Foundations. What unites the various categories of Orthodox Marxism in the modern world is a reduction of Marxism from a synthesis of rationalistic philosophy and empirical science to a scientific naturalism independent of human will and imagination. Following in the footsteps of Engels, modern orthodoxy considers natural reality to be the ultimate touchstone upon which the facticity of the dialectical method can be evaluated. Stalin claimed:

Given only this empirical foundation, the humanistic critique of the established reality, an essential element of revolutionary Marxism is lost. A dialectical Marxism worthy of its name is. rooted both in the internal development of philosophy as well as in the empirical foundations of natural science. 2 By posing the "'existence of nature as it is," orthodox Marxism fails to comprehend the mental activity required in the construction of facticity--the epistemological problematic--and instead asserts the rules of natural science as the only methodology useful for the study of social reality.

The rules of natural science, such as those used by Marx in Capital to exhibit some of the necessary laws which operate 'Within the capitalist system, have a validity rooted in the structures of capitalism. But the moment of truth in such a methodology reaches its limit when the focus of investigation becomes the human transformation of the totality of the existing system, Orthodox Marxism insists that:

This variety of "'scientific" Marxism fails to differentiate between the naturally-given realities of biology and the humanly constructed nature of the social world. However, a better reading of Marx is found here:

But even in the writings of Marx, there are elements which may be said to have been preconditions for the hegemony of positivism within contemporary marxist orthodoxy. In Critical Theory of Society, Albrecht Wellmer critiques Marx's approval of the comparison made by some between the phenomena of economic life as analyzed in Capital to the history of biological evolution as analyzed by Darwin. Marx's disciples, particularly Engels, admiringly referred to Capital as following in the scientific tradition of Copernicus and Galileo. More recently, Althusser has referred to this analysis of Engels as "'pages of extraordinary theoretical profundity."

Within the writings of Marx, the roots of the scientific reduction can be traced to his conception of the self-constitution of the human species as taking place only within the sphere of material production. This presupposition excludes important aspects of human existence from consideration and furthermore, the fetishization of work, not its quantitative reduction or qualitative transformation, has become the position of dogmatic Leftist theory. Generally speaking, the Left in the U.S. today romanticizes the working class and point of production organizing at the same time as the women's liberation movement, Third World movements, the student movement, and community organizing are blasted as "petit bourgeois."

Revolutionary praxis is a second dimension by which the human species has shaped ourselves. Habermas calls for a reinterpretation of the dialectic through the self-conscious integration of revolutionary praxis into our philosophical self-understanding:

In calling for an integration of revolutionary activity into the notion of species-constitution, Habermas reinterprets the necessity of philosophical practice:

Any science of society which follows in the positivistic tradition of fetishizing objective knowledge as the only goal of science only reconfirms what absolute idealism had already accomplished--the elimination of epistemology in favor of unchanging universal knowledge--but this time in favor of the ideology of technocratic science, not the dogma of religion.

The Ideology of Scientific Marxism. In the modern world where the technocratic ideology permits the rule of experts and elites,'is it surprising that a justification for the reduction of Marxism from the philosophy of the proletariat to the science of the Party is done in the name of science? The dominant ideology of the modern world, in contrast to the era in which Marx articulated his revolutionary philosophy, is technocratic materialism, not religious idealism. The elites of today, whose hegemony depends on the docility of their followers, rely on people remaining convinced of their own incapability to think and act properly without the presence of experts.

Within the Communist Parties, a strata of high priests of Marxism has been created to interpret the needs of "the revolution" for the members of the Party as well as for the working class. Under the conditions of monopoly capitalism, the reduction of Marxian theory to a set of rigid categories has resulted in the standardization of thought common to the sectarian Left in the United States. Under similar conditions in France, but with a more conscious base among the working class, the reification of Marxism is an important explanatory reason for the Community Party's antipathy toward the popular movement of May 1968, whose constituency and visions were not and are not comprehensible from within the myopic world view of "scientific" Marxism.

The "scientific" treatment of Marxism may be seen as a reinterpretation of Marx from within the dominant ideology of modern corporate capitalism. A failure to break with the mentality of mass society has resulted in a fetishized treatment of Marx and Lenin. These "great men" of history have been turned into commodities by the savants of Orthodoxy. In the United States, each sect resembles a collective Capitalist struggling to reap as much profit (cadre) from the mass movement as possible, each selling their version of "the real thing." The house dogma which members freely recite is more in the tradition of a catechism than a questioning and critique of the established reality. in few groups do activists learn to think about important issues as a process of open scientific investigation. Instead the answers (and the questions) are provided by "higher-ups." Such standardization of thought parallels, not negates, the dominant ideology of our society. The chart below summarizes these conflicting views:

Chart 1

ORTHODOX MARXISM (including ALTHUSSER) the world view of the mass and their masters TWO-DIMENSIONAL MARXISM the world view of the revolutionary (collective) subject in the U.S.
1. Essence and appearance not distinguished: things (structures) not human beings. 1. Essence and appearance distinguished: human beings at the center of analysis. Humans seen as creators of social life or wealth.
2. Great Men of History; powerlessness of ordinary people like you and I. 2. Human classes, races, sexes and individuals as makers of history. Power of the people.
3. No morality--'scientific objectivity 3. Human morality--philosophical science.
4. Inability to transcend the dominant forms of comprehending reality: categories of the past seen as eternal (biologically, theologically or socially necessary).
Base/superstructure; only the past/present; only material needs (security).
4. Consciousness of historical conditions give freedom to expand forms and content of social life. The only necessity is change;
human needs as a whole.
5. Fragmentation: inability to comprehend individual phenomena, to understand connectedness, or to see the totality. 5. Universality begins with the totality and embraces individuality.
5a. Individualism/atomization. 5a. Collectivity--real individuality.

Back to Marx. It should be said here that Marx never tired of criticizing what he called "crude Communism" for not centering on the human essence, the human subject of social reality, but operating in a world of things. The discovery of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts in 1930 gave impetus to a revolutionary transformation of the conceptual framework within which orthodox Marxism continues to operate today. In the early work of Marx, and in his last work, Capital, political economy is derived from philosophical concepts. The crucial breakthrough made by Marx was the transformation of economic fact into human factors.

Capital was never defined as a thing by Marx. On the contrary, At every point in the development of his scientific theory, he unmasked what had been regarded as the property of the capitalist as stored-up dead labor, as "objectified labor, i.e., labor which is present in space." 7 Even the exchange value of Nature was seen by Marx as contingent upon the embodied human 'Labor required to extract raw materials from their natural state. Orthodox Marxism makes economic facts out of human relationships.

By transforming the dialectical method of Marx into a universally applicable system of "base-superstructure," orthodox Marxism elevates its truth to a new metaphysic. Reality is poured into a bottle of static "scientific" propositions, reducing knowledge from a living human praxis to a dead conformity with the dictates of the formalistic model.

It is not simply the formalistic methodology of Orthodoxy but the content of its imposed forms which are called into question by a critical social science. The language itself-that is, the words "base" and "superstructure"--belie a simplicity of analysis which, within the methodology of universally valid scientific knowledge, destroys in advance of its possibility the transformation of the qualities of human beings and of collectively constructed reality. Especially in the modern world where the state plays an increasing role in the economy, it is increasingly difficult to accept the vulgar dichotomy of base and superstructure.

It is within this framework that Orthodox Marxism can be seen as predicated on a metaphysical, trans-historical idealism. As Luckacs observed in History and Class Consciousness, what is common to all bourgeois system of analysis is the inability to formulate the categories of the present as other than eternal ones. modern orthodoxy is predicated on a negation of the power of human reason and imagination as being ideological and unscientific. Parallel to the effects of sociological positivism, reality is thereby reduced to what exists as it is, and the definition of the totality of human existence excludes the possibility--indeed the necessity--of the qualitative transformation of the categories of social reality.

The "absolute knowledge" of Orthodox Marxism is predicated on methodological presuppositions including the formal logic of natural science. By making Marxism into an abstract scheme universally applicable through the Communist Parties of the world, the living subjects of the concrete history of human society-the "little people" (as well as the dialectical logic of Marx which-conceived human beings as the creators of their social reality)--are destroyed, buried beneath the rule of bureaucratically organized science. Orthodox Marxism regards the workings of things--whether the economic base or the reified superstructures--as determining the consciousness and praxis of human beings. By calling for a reintegration of philosophical concerns within Marxism, critical Marxism, in theory at least, prepares the ground for a popular reconstruction of reality, By negating philosophy, Orthodox Marxism fails to strengthen liberatory mass movements, and in practice, as we have seen in recent years, seeks to crush them.

Philosophy provided the basis for Marx's theory and practice. Orthodox Marxism misses the dynamics of society and revolution in their human essence by rejecting the rationalistic foundations, of Marxism. The class struggle, proletarian revolution, and freedom are retained but as metaphysical truths. The "scientific" method of orthodoxy has become a static shell of empty logic universally applicable yet increasingly irrelevant to the liberation of human beings. in a period where the working class has become contained within the consumer society of the "free world" and where the ideology of the Party has become a means of justifying the bureaucratic control in "'socialist" societies, critical theory has examined each development from the perspective of the unfreedom of the modern world, and the potential of a qualitative step forward for human beings through the popular transformation of history. According to Marcuse:

Critical theory in the modern world has been defined by its philosophical and historical critique of theory and reality, capitalist and socialist." in so doing, it has helped preserve the possibility of a real "leap into freedom" at a time when even the notion of human liberation has been in danger of scientific reduction. it has preserved the possibility of a critical Marxism.

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J. Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism (International Publishers, 1940), pp. 9,15. Return
H. Lefebre, Dialectical Materialism (Grossman Publishers, 1968). Return
J. Stalin, op. cit., p. 20. Return
K. Marx, Critique of Political Economy (Charles Kerr, 1904), pp. 10-13. Return
J. Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interest (Beacon Press, 1971), p. 55. Return
Marx, Ibid, p. 63. Return
K. Marx, Grundrisse (Vintage Books, 1973), p. 272. Return
H. Marcuse, Soviet Marxism (Vintage Books, 1961), pp. 122-123. Return
H. Marcuse, Negations (Beacon Press, 1968), p. 144. Return
Marcuse, Negations, op. cit., p. 153. Return

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