Date: Fri, 13 Mar 98 16:27
From: (Mr C Smith)
Dear Andy,

I remember working for a living - its extremely wasteful! Nice to hear from you whenever you get the chance.

Maybe I have got into the habit of putting things as provocatively as possible. Anyhow, the way I am trying to see things is this. Marx has set himself the task of making a critique of bourgeois thought in general, concentrating on its three greatest achievements: 'Hegel's dialectic and philosophy as whole', political economy and socialism. Each of them contains within its bourgeois skin a communist content, but only after inversion can it be rescued. Materialism of the Lockean kind formed the foundation for the thinking of the political economists. (I've got a reference in Theories of Surplus Value to back this up.) That's the 'standpoint of the isolated individual in civil society.' We think we grow up as isolated individuals, but we are actually social individuals, although we shan't find out about it fully until we live in a 'free association of producers' (Capital). Hegel began a critique of the Enlightenment, but he could not break free of the outlook of political economy. Within his idealism was contained the understanding of human social activity as self-creation. (Thesis 1.) Marx calls himself a materialist when he wants to emphasise his break with the shell of the Hegelian dialectic, but this is not an extension of the old materialism, Locke with a few historical knobs on. (That is what Plekhanov taught Lenin.)

My provocativeness is aimed to stop people jumping to old conclusions. The Afterword reference is very interesting. Marx is very sparing with his use of the word 'dialectic'. The one you quote is about the only one in any published work I know where he applies it to himself. He actually doesn't talk about 'the material world', but uses the unusual word 'Materielle', 'the material'. In the French translation, which Marx himself did, we find instead 'le mouvement reale', 'the real movement'. Also, we have 'the human head', rather than the mind.

What we haven't got is individual brains passively reflecting the impact of matter on the senses - that's the old materialism. All knowledge is a social process in which individuals participate. 'Even the five senses are the work of centuries.'

Now a bit about the theory of knowledge. Hegel saw the problem: how can you explain the activity of knowing, as if this was not itself part of that activity? Kant wanted to do this, criticising the faculty of knowledge. But Hegel demands to know what is doing the criticising?

For communism this is a huge problem. Lenin wanted to 'bring consciousness from without'. Where can he get it from? (Trotsky and Rosa both refused to accept this Plekhanovite formulation, and Lenin himself backed away from it. But it suited Stalinism down to the ground, and we never really got to grips with the question.

I always think that the passage in the Communist Manifesto is very helpful on this. It is about the disintegration of the old society reaching a stage where a section of the ruling class breaks away to join the proletariat,'the class that holds the future in its hands'. In the context, this can only refer to the authors of the Manifesto themselves. So Marx is trying to explain his own ability to break through the ideological framework within which he lives.

A small point: we are not just alienated from other people. We are alienated from ourselves, from our humanity. That is why we can accept a life which is inhuman. At the same time, we can - with an effort - become aware of this alienation.

Keep it coming,