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Anti-Marxism as Putrefied Theology

The author argues that Arun Patnaik's rejoinder ("Theological Marxism", EPW, 22 October 2011) to his paper ("Leninism as Radical 'Desireology' ", EPW, 24 September 2011) is based on borrowing from the western liberal tradition, and is thus confused as to what to do with the Marxist legacy.

DISCUSSION

Anti-Marxism as Putrefied Theology

Murzban Jal

latent content of the unconscious. Let us try to see the latent content of Patnaik’s criticism of Marxism.

One however begins with some sort of irony. Whilst there has been resurrection of Lenin studies in the western world (especially by Žižek, Lars Lih and Paul le

The author argues that Arun Patnaik’s rejoinder (“Theological Marxism”, EPW, 22 October 2011) to his paper (“Leninism as Radical ‘Desireology’ ”, EPW, 24 September 2011) is based on borrowing from the western liberal tradition, and is thus confused as to what to do with the Marxist legacy.

Murzban Jal (murzbanjal@gmail.com) is with the Indian Institute of Education, Pune.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
march 3, 2012

There is no going beyond them (i e, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel and Marx) so long as humanity has not gone beyond the historical moment which they express. I have often remarked on the fact that an ‘anti-Marxist’ argument is only an apparent rejuvenation of a pre-Marxist idea. A so-called ‘going beyond’ Marxism will be at worst only a return to pre-Marxism; at best only the rediscovery of a thought already contained in the philosophy which one believes he has gone beyond.

– Jean-Paul Sartre, The Problem of Method (1957).

F
or the last two decades ever since the collapse of Stalinist state capitalism in eastern Europe and with the heralding of western capitalism characterised by the works of Fukuyama and the celebration of messianic capitalism, there has also been euphoria by certain intellectuals that Marxism is dead. Patnaik follows this line of thought, one that is also reminiscent of the language of the cold war intellectuals. His claim that one must move beyond Marx, possibly to the discourses of Foucault, also suggests a subtle censorship, since he does not suggest that Foucault was the same scholar who celebrated Ayatollah Khomeini’s coming to power. One must also mention his suggestion that Marx was a sort of fanatic was also claimed by E H Carr, who as we know, kept his historical scholarship for the service to the British Empire. And, that it was J Edgar Hoover (the founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the hunter of communists in the US) who also used the same paradigm of operation.

It is not my case that Marx and Marxism ought not to go under the hammer of ruthless criticism. It is my case that a sort of censorship operates in the type of criticism. This essay is on uncover this censorship mechanism. One knows that it was Freud in his Interpretation of Dreams who used this understanding of censorship mechanism to uncover the

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Blanc) there has also been an almost impasse in the studies on Leninism in India. What we know as “Leninism” is what Charu Mazumdar in his anarchist rejection of the established left imprinted on the imagination of the radical left. Or a softer version of “Leninism” is what the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) proclaimed in subtitles to differentiate itself from the then pro-Congress CPI. Our understanding of Leninism is totally distinct from these two versions. It of course has nothing to do with Stalin’s manipulation of Lenin’s ideas. It deals with the historical evolution of Lenin’s thought, keeping in mind Marx’s theory of alienation and class struggle and the transcendence of both these. It is here that Lenin’s theory of party comes in.

Marx’s Supposed Deficits

We begin with the criticism of Marx offered by Patnaik. Recall the old criticism which chastised Marx as a fanatic who wanted to change the world with brutal force. Recall that it was not only the voice of J Edgar Hoover and the anti-communist faction of the Culture Industry that spoke these words, but also that of the scholar E H Carr Remember how Carr, the scholar par excellence, the historian who wrote volumes on the Russian Revolution, had titled his biography on Marx Karl Marx: A Study in Fanaticism (1934). Now we see the new critic, the critic as liberal, ecologist, anti-nuclear activist, feminist, nationalist, besides a whole lot of things never ever imagined. What does this new critic say? The new critic says that, since capitalism has changed since the days of Marx, Marxism is outdated. And what is the innermost detail that he has understood? He has understood that by “historical” (in the term “historical materialism”) is meant that one “must move beyond Marx” (Patnaik 2011: 143).

DISCUSSION

We also learn that there is a “spirit” of Marxism (ibid). And this spirit whispers in the ears of the new critic, “move beyond Marx!” Once upon a time Hamlet confronted the spirit of his dead father. Now the new critic confronts directly the spirit of Marx. The new critic then quotes Draper, Sweezy and Althusser, all out of context, to prove how one must move beyond Marx.

We will see how these great insights are achieved, not after reading the Mar xist classics, but after listening to the spirit of Marx. Patnaik has direct access to Marx’s spirit. We see that after conversing with Marx’s spirit, followed by the chasing away of this very same spirit, the arrival of another spirit, the spirit of Lenin. Marx’s spirit asked the new critic to move beyond him. Now Lenin’s spirit says: have “concrete analysis for concrete conditions” (ibid). And what do these concrete conditions say? They say that one cannot talk of changing the world or transcending the state (ibid). One cannot transcend the state, but one must transcend Marx (ibid: 144). For purposes of authenticity, our critic says that of all the people Sweezy is supposed to have said that. If Althusser is supposed to have whispered in the new critic’s ears that one must be a feminist and ecologist (ibid), then Sweezy is supposed to have said that one must transcend Marx. If we learn these principles from our critic, the communists will be able to come out from the “Biblical spirit” that they are caught up in.

So let us exorcise the evil Biblical spirit and see what our feminist, ecologist, nationalist, has to say about the deficits of Marx. There are, so we read, “quite a lot of deficits in Marx”. “His theory of state is very weak”. Marx was very “simplistic”. He talked of the withering of the state which must be defended at all cost. Instead Patnaik (after understanding what the term “historical” in “historical materialism” means) says that one must “reconstruct the nature of the state, expand its networks...”. What does this mean? Expand the networks of the state, the state that is above all classes that works for the fictitious public good? Again what can it really mean? Expand the networks of the armed forces in Kashmir and the north-east, expand the network of the Salwa Judum, expand the secret NATO forces working in south Asia?

Besides Marx’s alleged faulty theory of the “withering away of the state” (Marx never said it, Engels did) we are now told that the relation between the state and civil society was also faulty. Marx did not know what civil society meant. He “sometimes confuses civil society with general society. Sometimes”, so we hear, “he flattens it with capitalist economy, a point well made by Gramsci in disagreement with Marx” (ibid: 144). Marx should not have flattened civil society. Maybe because he did it Anna Hazare is out to overthrow the Indian state. Marx flattened civil society. Anna Hazare flattens the Indian state.

Besides not understanding both civil society and the state, Marx also had a “simplistic conception of division of labour that we can do whatever we desire to do from morning to post- dinner” (ibid). What! How dare one simplify division of labour! And how dare one desire to do whatever from morning to post-dinner! Besides studying desires from morning to post-dinner, our liberal has found more deficits. Marx did not understand “pessimism in human nature” (ibid). He did not study “painful material realities like death, natural disasters, animalistic desires of human beings (which) cannot be transcended” (ibid).

We learnt earlier that the state cannot be transcended. Now we learn that pessimism, natural disasters and animalistic desires cannot be transcended. But wait again! Patnaik does not like desires from morning to post-dinner, desires the theologian Marx promoted. What is the essence of the new discipline discovered by Patnaik, the new discipline called “Theological Marxism”? The essence of Theological Marxism is that it sees Marx as promoting animalistic desires. Maybe the main problem with Marx’s theory of the state and civil society is that there is too much pessimism, natural disasters and animalistic desires. We cannot transcend the state, because we cannot transcend the state of animals! We can put this in syllogistic form:

Animals have states (the state of animalistic desire). Human beings are animals.

march 3, 2012

Therefore they too necessarily have a state that cannot be transcended or which cannot “wither away”.

We go further. “By not recognising these aspects, Marx’s praxis retains idealistic residues. Therefore there are limits to transcendental praxis” (ibid). What do we learn from this? We learn that Marx’s praxis was transcendental because he wanted to transcend the state and flatten civil society, but not transcend “animalistic desires” which he advocated from morning to night and beyond. And because Marx studied this beyond, he was both transcendental and a theologian. And besides being a transcendental theologian, Marx was also against human rights. Yes, so our liberal claims, Marx did talk of “rights of humanity” (ibid), but he did not understand whether they “arise against civil society, the state or nature” (ibid). “Thus, a Marxist theory of human rights is very opportunistic. Marx did not believe in human rights and yet the human rights movement is a cover for Marxist expansionism” (ibid). We knew that Marx was illiberal, a transcendental theologian. Now we learn that he was an opportunist and imperialist expansionist.

Marx’s Purported ‘Illiberalism’

After learning of all these deficits we learn how hostile/condescending he was to his contemporaries like J S Mill (ibid). And because Marx was hostile with everyone (especially with Mill) the “communists share the same attitude towards anything other than themselves, leading thus to a greater fragmentation of the communist movement once they notice a communist dissident” (ibid). And because Marx did not like Mill, he did not like liberalism: “communists display a very illiberal attitude towards inner party democracy or inter-party democracy” (ibid). “This illiberalism is inherited from Marx to Lenin...Marxism-Leninism blinded us for a long time in the above matters” (ibid).

To articulate Patnaik’s criticism of Marxism let us digress to Carr’s version of Marx to understand how Patnaik repeats all the old points. Now it is well known that Carr was not only the celebrated “historian” who wrote volumes on the Bolshevik revolution, but also wrote

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DISCUSSION

Marx’s biography in the times of the Stalinist counter-revolution. Carr, like both the Stalinists and the critics of Marxism, did not distinguish Marxism and the revolutionary legacy (that went from Marx and Engels to Plekhanov, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky, to Gramsci and Lukács) from Stalinism. What appears in Carr’s biography is Marx appearing as a “genius of destruction” (Carr 1934: 301). We are also told that Marx was not a great philosopher, economist, nor a leader of people, or had any love for humanity (ibid: 300). Yet Carr considered himself “a better Marxist than the Marxists themselves” (ibid: VII). Patnaik is caught up in the same tradition. He wants to be a liberal and does not know what to do with Marx. He cannot totally disown him. He wants to be a liberal and does not want to face the consequences of liberalism. After all, Gaza and Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, are projects of liberalism. They are not fascist ones. It is this confusion that haunts the liberal.

Yet the critic of Marx follows the same tradition that western liberalism and Stalinism institutionalised, namely the continuity between Marx and the Stalinist counter-revolution. Remember that Stalin’s coming to power was over the dead bodies of not only Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoveiv, Kamanev, Rykov, but the entire Bolshevik central committee at the time of the 1917 revolution, not to forget countless Marxist revolutio naries. Stalin killed more Marxists than any other counterrevolutionary. Patnaik forgets this. He forgets that I talked of the shadow of this counter-revolution hovering over us even now. He forgets that I talked of Marxism as dialectical and historical-humanist materialism, and not the fatalistic and bland version of “historical materialism” where anything, and everything can be fitted in: from Stalin to Fukuyama. He forgets that I mention Marxism as “human natural science”, where this humanity, the humanity of the here and the now, defines history in general and revolution in particular. He also forgets that I have said that it is this humanity and this human natural science that defines the understanding of the problems of spontaneity, vanguardism, the place of the

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
march 3, 2012

communist will, the problems of parliamentary politics, etc.

For a Marxist Libertarianism

He forgets that I am talking of philosophy (to be specific, Marxist philosophy), that philosophy has a definite rigour, and that philosophical arguments cannot be substituted by anti-communist rhetoric. He forgets that I talked of the masses as recovering their human essence. He forgets that it is in this radical recovery that the same humanised mas ses become the weapons (waffen) and force (gewalte) of democratic movements. He refuses to talk of the various renderings of Leni nism from Trotsky and Lukács to Kevin Anderson and Žižek that I mentioned in my paper. His ideological horizons are determined by Stalin’s manipulation of Leninism and liberal cold war rhetoric. And since he forgets what Revolutionary Marxism as New Humanism means, we will have to remind him. We remind him by recalling Fromm’s reading of the revolu tionary legacy that western liberalism has so far manipulated:

The general habit of considering Stalinism and present-day Communism as identical with, or, at least a continuation of revolutionary Marxism has also led to an increasing misunderstanding of the personalities of great revolutionary figures: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Just as their theories are seen as related to those of Stalin and Khrushchev, the picture of the “revolutionary fanatic” is applied to them as it is applied to the vengeful killer Stalin, and to the opportunistic conservative Khrushchev. This distortion is a real loss for the present and the future. In whatever way one may disagree with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, there can be no doubt that as persons they represent a flowering of Western humanity (2002: 271-72).

Whilst there is the distortion of Marxism (mostly by the Stalinists), it is imperative to argue for a Marxistlibertarianism, where political freedom and human rights are placed at the centre of Marxism. That is why I talk of Marxism as anti-state and Marxist politics based on the idea of communism as humanism and naturalism (a form of “direct communism”) and Lenin’s praxis of insurrection as art. And that is why we insist that we offer another perspective for radical politics that transcends both liberalism as well as the politics offered by the organised left led by the CPI(M). But then we also offer an alternative that is distinct from the politics of the Trotskyists and the Maoists too.

References

Carr, E H (1934): Karl Marx: A Study in Fanaticism (London: J M Dent & Sons).

Fromm, Erich (2002): “Trotsky’s Diary in Exile – 1935” in Science & Society, Vol 66, No 2, Summer.

Patnaik, Arun (2011): “Theological Marxism”, Economic & Political Weekly, 22 October, Vol XLVI, No 43.

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march 3, 2012 vol xlvii no 9

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