The Re-education of an Idealist Apostate(or, what I was getting wrong about Marx) By: Ross Ion CoyleRead Now
I had done a course in Marxism in college years ago (actually, it was called 'Marxism and Existentialism', done by a very new-left lecturer, so you can imagine the bad taste it left in my mouth). We studied the German idealists in a separate course, although Marx should have been the culmination of that module. Instead they lumped Marx in with existentialism, which didn’t appeal to me.
Perhaps that was intentional. Our philosophy department was headed by a Thomist who was a founding member of a far right ‘Christian’ party here in Ireland until he realised that no-one was buying his bs upon which realisation, he moved to America where he joined the faculty of a Von Mises university. He would, wouldn't he. I think the logic there is that if you can't control society as a fascist, you become a libertarian to argue that society should not control you; frustrated power-bid and consequent paranoia.
Our token leftist as I say was a real Frankfurt school enthusiast who I really didn’t get on with. All this to say that my Marxist education prior to doing the online Midwestern Marx course was more a question of miseducation.
The biggest flaw (apart from an unhelpful penchant for eclecticism) in my understanding was- and this is a point that was driven home to me especially in reading Stalin – my entrenched idealism. I falsely assumed, even if only unconsciously, that an ideology had to begin with getting the abstracts right. Getting a kind of static geometrical representation in my head of what was going on in the ideology. And of course, that is anathema to proper Marxism as I have now learned.
Furthermore, I hadn’t understood the implications of the phrase “from the abstract to the concrete” in either Hegel or Marx, which is a very big failing. I had, given my prior philosophical tastes and absorptions, assumed it was some kind of mystical formula – something akin to the Buddhist idea of the world being a manifestation of the storehouse consciousness (alaya vijnana). I understand now that it is, like that Buddhist concept, both an epistemological and ontological characterisation, but unlike the Buddhist one, it takes place historically and makes up the proper Marxist worldview. This is the worldview through which we can get a hold on what is unfolding in history and society and what needs to be done, and importantly, what we need to do if we’re to advance the struggle.
It is in the material conditions of the society that the prime determining factors of the human situation are located, not in some noetic abstract inner realm. The great mesh of causes and conditions, and most importantly the character of the way the society produces the necessities+, is the shaping basis for all in human experience. The life pattern of that base is the dialectic of historical materialism.
Those dynamic processes, innate and directing of the flow of nature are immanent in us and pattern our human mental faculties which serve as the inventory for both our experience of the world (and ourselves) and our ways of engaging in our activity within the world. The way nature or the universe is is reflected in the organisation of our minds which have arisen from and in nature. If nature changes according to the dialectical principle, then so too should the best philosophy be one which recognises this dynamic flux where all things are intimately related and change through mutual interactions. In fact, the reality that is the cosmos is both other than a vast and dynamic web of interdependency and all things, each and every thing, arises from the web of causes and conditions, having no independent substance which would make it independent of all else. Marxism recognises this fundamental characteristic of the world as a dynamic totality of dependent origination and mutual development of things, including humans.
From the Purity Fetish, as proposed by Carlos Garrido, I learned that Purity fetishism is a particular vice in western thought which, when manifest in socialist discourse and attitude, appears as an intense literalism and intolerance, often combined with heavy emphases on radical and contrarian posturing both reactionary and liberal.
These purisms are especially directed towards existing socialist states such as Cuba and China, in line with Washington imperialist policy, but also causing vicious fracturing and impotence within any nascent leftist resurgence. And here, though my absence from being on twitter has saved me from a lot of it, nevertheless I see instances of exactly what Carlos has identified as the purity fetish all the time on other social media platforms; radical posturing and sloganeering, mostly directed at already existing socialist states and mostly from those whose radical (at least in rhetoric) stances can only render them as appearing bizarre if not ridiculous to ordinary people.
This can be seen to be occurring also in the ‘mirror of wokeness’ left, a largely stylistic and aesthetic variant of the more traditional, academic radical-recuperater safety-valve that the ruling class can rely on to misdirect energy and potential. This new form manifests as the plastic contrarianism and enthusiastic embrace of culture-war issues from a purportedly conservative side, doing little more than aping the worst excesses of the tabloid media’s decades long assault on working class consciousness and ending up, just as the ultra purist left, supporting the maintenance of the system and edifying the ruling class.
This article was produced by World in the Great Darkness.