Posts Tagged 'Marxism'

The Proletariat and the “Creation of Class”

In an essay on Mao Zeodong’s philosophical  thought Richard Johnson writes:

Because, relative to that of the Communist, the socioeconomic persona of the proletariat is limited–and, give the empirical existence of political vicissitudes, may remain so indefinitely–the chance that from such a basis alone will be launched a coherent, direct, and enlightened politics, is slight.  Understandable then, in this light, is the enigmatic logic of the Manifesto, where, inscribed among the historic character of communists, is the task of the “formation of the proletariat into a class.”  The apparent paradox that an entity that is already a class, must be made to become a class, is comprehensible when it is remembered that the historical process of consciousness is not identical to the consciousness of the historical process; that, moreover, “ideological forms” have a historical depth related to, but not immediately determined by, material development.  It is thus by this logic that the qualitative transformation of empirical, perhaps sporadic, political action into direct, and conscious, class-based political programs exists within the historical scope of an organizing medium led by a group of enlightened elites, vis Communists (211-2).


Johnson, Ricahrd.  “A Compendium of the Infinite: Exercises of Political Purpose in the Philosophy of Mao Zedong.”  In Critical Perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought, eds. Arif Dirlik, et. al., 207-233.  Amherst, New York: Humanity Books.

The Falsehood of Multiple Modernities

"On White" by Wassily Kandinsky

Critiquing the concept of alternate modernities and its consequences toward understanding universalist theories, Žižek explains:

The significance of this critique reaches far beyond the case of modernity–it concerns the fundamental limitation of nominalist historicizing.  The recourse to multiplication (“there is not one modernity with a fixed essence, there are multiple modernities, each of them irreducible to others…”) is false not because it does not recognize a unique fixed “essence” of modernity, but because multiplication functions as the disavowal of the antagonism that inheres to the notion of modernity as such: the falsity of multiplication resides in the fact that it frees the universal notion of modernity of its antagonism, of the way it is embedded in the capitalist system, by relegating this aspect to just one of the historical subspecieis…

Jameson’s critique of the notion of alternate modernities thus provides a model of the properly dialectic relationship between the Universal and the Particular: the difference is not on the side of particular content (as the traditional differentia specifica), but on the side of the Universal.  The Universal is not the encompassing container of the particular content, the peaceful medium-background of the conflict of particularities…In other words, the Universal names the site of a Problem-Deadlock, of a burning Question, and the Particulars are the attempted but failed Answers to this Problem (34-35).


Žižek, Slavoj.  2009.  The Parallax View.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

West’s Prophetic Pragmatism

Photography by Stephen Charles (click for photographers Flickr page).

In a book analyzing Cornel West‘s (1953– ) philosophy and politics Mark David Wood writes:

Prophetic pragmatism, one of the most fully elaborated and progressive expressions of post-Marxist politics in the present era, appeals to academicians, politicians, and business leaders precisely because it poses no serious threat to the class of individuals who control and appropriate the lion’s hare of the Earth’s resources and humanity’s collectively generated wealth.

[I]t seeks to implement a reform agenda that attempts to address the needs of both rulers and ruled by establishing cross-class alliances on the grounds of shared moral, parental, or national identity…and…it seeks to solve human problems without challenging the moral legitimacy and social consequences of privatized control of production and planning of social development (185-6).


Wood, Mark David.  2000.  Cornel West and the Politics of Prophetic Pragmatism.  Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Sartre on Class Consciousness

In his work, The Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre elaborates on class consciousness and the formation of working class groups fighting for their own interests:

The events we have studied occurred at a particular moment of the historical process, in a particular field defined by class struggle; and the class struggle itself takes place between [individuals] who are produced by the contemporary mode of production…Conversely the working class defined itself by and through this struggle by its degree of emancipation, that is to say, both by its practices and by its consciousness of itself (which amounts to the same thing). But in truth, the workers’ tactics, the militancy of the proletariat and its degree of class-consciousness are determined not only by the nature, differentiation and importance of the apparatuses (unions, etc.) but also by the more or less immediate opportunity for serial individuals to dissolve their seriality in combat groups, and by the aggressiveness, violence, tenacity and discipline of these groups themselves in the course of the action they undertake (699).


Satre, Jean-Paul.  2004.  Edited by Jonathan Ree and translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume 1.  New York: Verso.

Lukács on non-Proletarians and Revolution

Russian peasants in 1918 during a period of numerous peasant revolts against their previously untouchable landlords (source: )

On a critique of Rosa Luxemburg‘s (1871-1919) “Critrique of the Russian Revolution” György Lukács points out the mistake of just solely focusing on the proletariat in countries that are majority non-proletarian, such as Russia, which had been mostly peasant and feudal based.

[Her essay] consists in the overestimation of its purely proletarian character, and therefore the overestimation both of the external power and the inner clarity and maturity that the proletarian class can possess and in fact did possess in the first phase of the revolution.  And at the same time we as a corollary the underestimation of the importance of the non-proletarian elements in the revolution.  And this includes the non-proletarian elements outside as well as the power wielded by such idologies within the proletariat itself.  And this false assessment of the true driving forces leads to the decisive point of her misinterpretation: to the underplyaing of the role of the party in revolution and of its conscious political action, as opposed to the necessity of being driven along by the elemental forces of economic development (274-5).


Lukács, György.  1971.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  Cambridge: MIT Press.

Sartre on the “Fused Group”

In his massive existential Marxian work, Critique of Dialectical Reason,  author Jean-Paul Sartre explains how a seriality of seemingly unrelated people (except through markers of class, ethnicity, or gender, etc.) can come together to form a social force: a group:

[I]n the movement of History, an exploiting class, by tightening its bonds against an enemy and by becoming aware of itself as a unity of individuals in solidarity, shows the exploited classes their material being as a collective and as a point of departure for a constant effort to establish lived bonds of solidarity between its members.  There is nothing surprising about this: in this inert quasi-totality, constantly swept by great movements of counter-finality, the historical collectivity, the dialectical law, is at work: the constitution of group (on the basis, of course, of real, material conditions) as an ensemble of solidarities has the dialectical consequence of making it the negation of the rest of the social field, and, as a result, of occasioning, in this field in so far as it is defined as non-grouped, the conditions for an antagonistic grouping (on the basis of scarcity and in divided social systems) (346).

Thus the common praxis, as the totalisation and struggle against a common praxis of the enemy, realises itself in everyone as the new, free efficacity of [their] praxis, as the free intensification of [their] efort; every freedom creates itself laterally as the totalisation of all freedoms, and totalisation comes to it through the others as a lateral dimension of its individuality, in so far as it is freely individual for them.  This has nothing to do with the radical transformation of freedom as individual praxis, since the statute of this freedom is to live the very totality of the group as a practical dimension to be realised in and by its individuality.  But it is true that there is a new relation between freedoms here, since in every totalisation of the group, the freedom acknowledge themselves to be the same…And the unity of this freedom beneath the shifting multiplicity of the syntheses is itself, and fundamentally, the relation between a negative unity of all (totalisation through annihilation by the enemy) and the negation of this negation to the extent that it is occasioned as totalising and that it produces itself freely on this basis (402-3).


Satre, Jean-Paul.  2004.  Edited by Jonathan Ree and translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume 1.  New York: Verso.

History and Consciousness

In his work History and Class Consciousness György Lukács (1885-1971) wrote:

In his celebrated account of historical materialism Engels proceeds from the assumption that although the essence of history consists in the fact that “nothing happens without a conscious purpose or an intended aim”, to understand history it is necessary to go further than this.  For on the one hand, “the many individual wills active in history for the most part produce results quite other than those intended–often quite the opposite; their motives, therefore, in relation to the total result are likewise of only secondary importance.  On the other hand, the further question arises: what driving forces in turn stand behind these motives? What are the historical causes which transform themselves into these motives in the brain of the actors?”  He goes on to argue that these driving forces ought themselves to be determined, in particular those which “set in motion great masses, whole peoples and again whole classes of the people; and which create a lasting action resulting in a great transformation.”  The essence of scientific Marxism consists, then, in the realisation that the real motor forces of history are independent of man’s (psychological) consciousness of them (46-47).


Lukács, Georg.  1971.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


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