Invaders from Marx
On the Uses of Marxian Theory, and the Difficulties of a Contemporary Reading

Heinrich, Michael
Year Published:  2005
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20167

Heinrich stresses the difference between Marxian theory and traditional understandings of Marxism, emphasizing the "new reading of Marx", which has developed through the last decades.



The strengths and weaknesses of the two critical currents sketched out here in a strongly simplified manner are largely complementary. Whereas Operaismo exhibited a certain superficiality with regards to the Marxian categories of value, an ignorance regarding concepts like value-form or fetishism, as well as a somewhat idealized view of contemporary struggles, the other tendency, buried behind its theoretical trenches, lagged behind in its engagement with social classes and their struggles. This was especially problematic when the limits of categorical development were ignored in an attempt to derive all decisive elements of the state, society, and consciousness from the fundamental categories of the critique of political economy.

The Marxian opus is a gigantic body of fragmentary theoretical work. Not only does it consist of unpublished and unfinished works; Marx’s own research program remained largely uncompleted. Above all, Marx’s theoretical development does not consist solely of continuities, but also of a series of breaks. One cannot therefore regard Marx as a quarry from which to extract quotations, nor can one, without regard for context, pass off certain texts as “the” position of Marx. But that is exactly the common method among both many Marxists and many critics of Marx.

Many critics of traditional “worldview Marxism” (Weltanschauungsmarxismus) have thus stressed the impossibility of distilling a theory of “historical materialism” from the mere one-and-a-half pages of observations concerning forces of production and relations of production from 1859 preface of “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”. But many “non-dogmatic” Marxists also deal in a similarly uncritical manner with the texts that they favor. The renowned “Theses on Feuerbach” from 1845, which were first published by Engels after Marx’s death, are commonly regarded as the founding document of a new science of society and history. And the eleventh thesis (“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point however is to change it”) is used with relish as the ultimate argument against adversaries who seem to theorize too much. No further allowance is made for the fact that the “Theses” were scribbled into a notebook by Marx within the framework of a debate with certain philosophers (the so called “young Hegelians”), and that he never again made any specific use of them. Also gladly forgotten especially in the case of the eleventh thesis is that nowhere else with Marx can one find a tension, not to speak of a mutual exclusion, between “interpretation” and “change” (cf. Heinrich 2004 for a critical investigation in the “Theses on Feuerbach” and the use, which was made of them). A similarly superficial practice can be observed with regard to other texts, such as the famous “Introduction” of 1857, which is often used as a methodical “key” to “Capital”, which appeared ten years later and at a quite different level of theoretical awareness.

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