Friday, August 27, 2010

Hegel at 240

Since it's Hegel's birthday today (he was born 27 August 1770), we're going to spend today talking a bit about standing him on his feet. I've spent the last two days weeks writing a first draft account of Karl Korsch's and Lukács's criticisms of Social Democracy and the 2nd International,  working up an explanation as to why Hegelian dialectics re-emerge as a central methodological problem for Marxist theory in 1923. 

At the same time, I've been filling out the picture by reading up on other prominent figures in revolutionary struggle from 1900-1923, focusing on the various ways that Marx (I know that there's some anachronism here), Lenin, and Rosa Luxemburg defend revolutionary struggle against reformism. Eduard Bernstein, who I've already briefly discussed here, is the paradigmatic figure of reformism, until the 'Pope of Orthodox Marxism' Kautsky falls on the wrong side of the critique of imperialism. Of Bernstein's 'method', Luxemburg writes:
Today he who wants to pass as a socialist, and at the same time declare war on Marxian doctrine, the most stupendous product of the human mind in the century, must begin with involuntary esteem for Marx. He must begin by acknowledging himself to be his disciple, by seeking in Marx’s own teachings the points of support for an attack on the latter, while he represents this attack as a further development of Marxian doctrine. 
This passage from Reform and Revolution is still spot on. How many times, since I've started working on Marx-Lukács-Benjamin for my next book, have I heard somebody mention that whatever thinker they work on 'admires Marx' or 'takes Marx seriously' and then proposes said thinker's critique as an advance of critical political thought, when said thinker knocks down a straw man version of Marxist theory (which, incidentally, was probably held by some prominent figure in the 2nd International)? If you don't believe me, go back and reread Heidegger's essay on humanism, or anything Schmitt wrote on Marx.

Sure they quibble about particular parts of Marx's thought, but they won't follow Marx into the details of political economy. Heidegger dodges the bullet by pushing Marx (with Hegel no less) off to the 'history of metaphysics', and Schmitt goes all sovereign-fetishist crazy, but neither looks at so-called metaphysical or juridical problems as part of the totality of social organization. As Lukács argues, the capacity to present these problems as part of the totality of social organization is precisely the merit of Marx's historical materialism.

No comments: