Marxism and Social Theory

Marxism and Social Theory

Alvin W. Gouldner

Theory and Society, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1974), pp. 17-35

Marx’s treatment of ideology and ideologues has certain symptomatic silences. It possesses a “dark secret” in which the existence of the secret itself lays hidden. Having focussed its analysis on what is hidden in other theories and in bourgeois society, Marxism may seem to some the embodiment of a healthy candor that has no secrets of its own. The accusor, of course, classically diverts attention from his own guilt by accusing another. That his accusation has this self-protective function, however, does not mean that it was intended to do so, nor does it mean that his accusation is untrue.

While we are issuing caveats, add this: the analysis that follows focuses on certain of the internal contradictions and mystifications of Marxism; but those who have the illusion that the “normal” social sciences are devoid of corresponding contradictions and false consciousness will find no support here. The sectarian, of course, could not care less for such even-handedness. Sectarian and vulgar Marxists – which is to say, some but scarcely all Marxists- will totally reject the general point here, even while ritually nodding acceptance of it. Such Marxist sectarians are the radical counterparts of “normal” sociologists; or, conversely, normal sociologists (in Thomas Kuhn’s sense) are the sectarians of academic social theory, bound by limits concerning which they lack reflexive awareness. Neither can reject self-criticism openly; both must admit the possibility of self-contradiction within their systems – at least, in principle. Neither will, therefore, focus his attack on the general thesis that his system embodies a false consciousness. Rather, his response commonly takes the form of a rejection of the specific cases held to exemplify his false consciousness, while never acknowledging the truth of any particular specification of it. In short, both sectarian Marxists and normal sociologists alike will admit that all men are mortal, but neither really believes in his own mortality. For the unreflective, false consciousness like mortality is always the fate of the Other.

We may approach our problem by asking, how ideology and ideologues – any ideology – commonly expect to change the world. The question is the Kantian one: how is this surmounting “possible”; what are the assumptions that any ideology necessarily makes, in proposing its public projects of social reconstruction? We will focus here only on one such necessary assumption: ideology proposes to surmount the present by (whatever else it also does) providing a new and allegedly correct re-thinking that is expected to yield a re-ordering of the world. In other words: ideology supposes that, if the world is to be changed, there must be a prior change in thinking; that a change in thinking is a necessary condition for world reconstruction. However diverse the other assumptions made by ideologies, and however different their concrete projects, this premise is their common one, true of both revolutionary and reactionary ideologies alike.

The presence of this assumption is not always evidenced by what ideologues say expressly about the relations between thinking and world-changing. It is, however, (at least) commonly exhibited by the potency they tacitly attribute to ideas by the very act of communicating them emphatically through writing, by the importance they attribute to writing, by the sheer amount of time and energy they devote to writing. Not to speak yet, of reading.

Whatever their politics or their public project – whether reactionary or revolutionary – all ideologies are regarded by their believers as having their definitive and authoritative exposition in a writing. A Socratic preference for the spoken word, and a corresponding rejection of writing, is inherently anti-ideological. It is, however, profoundly characteristic of ideological persuasion, discussions, or meetings, that there will commonly be, at some point, a reference recommending certain readings; there will commonly be the buying, lending, or borrowing of books or pamphlets or articles. And there will be talking about this reading and writing. (That this makes it difficult to distinguish between ideology and, say, academic social science, that it focalizes a rational dimension in ideology, is correct and was intended. It is difficult to distinguish the two and ideology is historically characterized by its rational mode of discourse and persuasion. But this is another problem that will not be explored here.) To bring the potential adherent to a reading is to bring him into what is taken to be a relation to the authoritative expression of the idea; with a highly valued, if not quasi-sacred, embodiment of the idea, that may occur apart from the distracting presence of a surrounding troupe of believers. There is, however, some ambiguity here: from one standpoint, a man’s isolation with a book can be a basis for a more rational appraisal of an idea, facilitating a more reflective judgment. From another standpoint, however, the printed object may be seen as a way the ideological group penetrates the person’s private life, thus reinforcing their public pressure upon him.

To revert: the importance attributed by ideologues to writing and to written objects evidences, then, the great importance they attribute to ideas, in particular, and to ideas as instruments of social change. We may say, then, that the concept of ideas-as-potent constitutes the generic, underlying, common dimension of concrete ideologies. “Generic ideology”, then, is a belief in the potency of ideas.

This estimate of the power of ideas, this over-estimate that is sedimented in the ideological vision and is the essence of generic ideology, may also be looked at ideologically. That is, one can ask: whose ideology is generic ideology? Which social stratum commonly overestimates the potency of ideas? Which group is more likely to have an interest (spiritual no less than material) in stressing the significance of ideas? Who holds that ideas can change the world? Once asked, these questions, as it were, point to their own answers: generic ideology is the ideology specific to the intelligentsia, to the intellectuals.

The overestimate of the power of ideas, the belief that the crucial thing in social change is to have correct ideas, the stress on the importance of theory, of explanation, of conceptual systems, on facts that concretize concepts or take shape with them, the stress on words, languages, speech, and on communication systems, all these are symptoms of the presence of a “generic ideology” that is more typical of intellectuals than of other social strata. The unstated but consequential premise of all intellectuals is the importance of writing and reading. The premise of all intellectuals, is that people are changed by ideas: the intellectual’s concrete paradigm of the idea, the model of its embodiment is the written or printed object.

Even among those intellectuals who seek to exorcise ideologies, the practitioners of “ideology-critique”, there is the usually tacit, sometimes explicit, assumption that ideologies may be vanquished simply by exposing those who believe in them to true ideas. Ideologies, they sometimes seem to believe, can be defeated by brandishing true ideas before ideologists as one brandishes the cross before the vampire.

I have suggested, then, that “generic ideology” – the stress on of the potency of ideas- is the ideology distinctive of (not limited to) the intellectuals. How do these views compare with Marx’s classic formulation of this

issue? They are for the largest part convergent and essentially continuous with his views. Clearly, Marx rejected any overestimate of the potency of ideas, and he did so polemically and repeatedly. Marx rejected the idealist assumption that consciousness determines being and he opted, instead, for the inverted formulation: man’s consciousness is determined by his social being.

When Marx and Engels sought to clarify the essential and distinctive characteristics of “ideology” they stressed that it was a belief system made with a false consciousness. They held that it was a false consciousness precisely in that thought saw its own origins only in thought, and ideas were grounded only in ideas. In his famous letter to Franz Mehring (London, 14 July, 1893) Engels remarks that “ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness…he imagines false or apparent motives”. Specifically, adds Engels, ideology is a false consciousness because the thinker “derives both its form and its content from pure thought, either his own or that of his predecessors. He works with mere thought material, which he accepts without examination as the product of thought, he does not investigate further for a more remote process independent of thought. . .the tacit pre-supposition is that these facts themselves are also only the fruits of a process of thought. . .”

Clearly, then, there is a continuity between the Marxist view of ideology, as thought accomplished with a false consciousness, and the view of (generic) ideology as that which premisses the potency of thought. There is, I say, a continuity but not an identity between these two views. For, in Marxism’s view, the ideologist has a false consciousness because he only makes reference to thought and ideas, in grounding his own thinking; ideology, then, is seen as something in the nature of a “limit” upon the ideologist’s thought. Our own position, however, stresses the complementary view that thought is viewed (at least tacitly) by the ideologist in a certain positive way: as a locus of power. It is precisely this conception of it that makes it possible for the ideologist to accept ideas as a limit and not seek beyond them. For thought is conceived as sufficing to account for thought because it is defined as powerful. This was the tacit premise accepted by philosophical idealism and is implied in speaking of thought as Geist. (Geist was not so much a plan or blueprint, but was more like germinal matter with imprinting power.)

Another way of clarifying this: Marx does not unequivocally affirm that (in his own vocabulary) “idealism” is the essence of ideology. For he also wants to be able to speak of (certain vulgar or mechanical forms of) materialism as being ideologies. If he identifies the essence of ideology as idealism – the overestimate of ideas – he is then in the seemingly contradictory position of asserting: materialism is idealistic.

The difficulty is that Marx did not firmly establish a distinction between idealism as a technical philosophy, an extraordinary language, on the one side, and idealism as a part of ordinary language and everyday life, on the other. Had he done so, it might be seen more readily that there was no contradiction here, for these were different levels. It would be obvious – not as fugitive insight but as theoretical perspective – that even philosophers who are “materialists” may, in their tacit, everyday assumptions, overestimate the power of ideas – even when their theories affirm the contrary. Tacit,everyday idealism is, then, compatible with theoretical materialism.

It is not that Marx is unaware of the presence of “idealism” in everyday life. It is, rather, that he has difficulty in speaking of it there. When Marx speaks of idealism, he mostly focuses on it as a technical theory of Mandarins rather than as an aspect of ordinary language. Correspondingly, when Marx focuses on ideology he is mostly focusing on the role of ideas and interests in everyday life. For Marxism, idealism is ideology written in a Mandarin technical language; and ideology is interest-corrupted idealism written in ordinary language.

Marx does not want to assimilate philosophical idealism to ideology because he does not see technical philosophy as “nothing but” the tool of the ruling class, which is how he saw ideology. As Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” indicated, idealism properly saw the “active” side of cognition. He thus does not want to reduce idealism to ideology because he believes idealism does have a measure of truth and autonomy, but he correspondingly stressed the distorted character and bondage of ideology.

Failing to construct “ideology” and “idealism”, so that both had a measure of autonomy, from one another as from other social forces, Marx sometimes failed to see that the tacit rules of everyday life were not simply a degenerate form of high culture and have a great degree of autonomy from the objects of Mandarin culture. He thus failed to see that one’s everyday life might go its own way, remaining idealistic, for example, even as one’s theoretical culture became materialistic. In this, however, there is a paradoxical and tacit over-estimate of the importance that Mandarin languages are expected to have in everyday life. As a step toward a definition of Marxism we might say that it is: a philosophical “materialism” that is, in practice, grounded in the tacit idealism of an everyday culture.

In some large part, this is why much of Marx’s study of Das Kapital is focused, not simply on capitalist society, but on theories about capitalism and on their technical vocabularies; Das Kapital is, after all, emphatically subtitled “A Critique of Political Economy”. In Marx there is a decisive conflation between the technical categories of economic theory, on the one side, and the cultural categories of everyday life, on the other. In the result, there is also in Marx a conflation between the critique of political economy and the critique of capitalist society. In thus focalizing the importance of Mandarin culture for everyday life, Marxism merely manifests once more the importance it always attributed to “theory”; Marxism once again exhibits its assumption that technical theory was vital for transcending everyday life. Indeed, what is Das Kapital but the most technical political economics? Marxism’s concern is to subject everyday life to an extraordinary “theory”, to a praxis informed and guided by this theory: this is what it means to affirm the “unity” of theory and practice. From such a standpoint, everyday life then inevitably loses its autonomy; indeed, the aim is to make it lose its autonomy; the aim is to subject everyday life to a high theoretical culture.

The generic ideology of intellectuals that premises the power of ideas does so in a distinctive style of discourse and rhetoric. It does so “objectivistically”, speaking as it does of the power of certain ideas or cultural objects, but saying nothing about the power of their producers, intellectuals themselves. It is precisely by dramatising the importance of ideas that generic ideology functions to obscure the role of idea-producers. Generic ideology serves to hide the role of men in the shadow of the cultural objects that it accentuates.

Why is there such an objectivistic occlusion of intellectuals in the very generic ideology that is an ideology of intellectuals? Above all, it is indicative of efforts to resolve tensions between intellectuals and more dominant, hegemonic classes. The bourgeoisie and other dominant classes in bourgeois society conceive themselves to be “principals” acting on their own behalf. They also want their agents to act on behalf of these interests. The hegemonic class rejects agents who want to govern.

So the newly emerging intelligentsia learned they had better bridle and disguise their ambitions, which soared beyond their modest social position. But this disguise could not be made so impregnable that no one could ever guess that they had something to offer. Intellectuals had, in short, prudently to flash their product without calling vulgar attention to themselves. The rhetoric of objectivism enabled them to do just that, to separate their ideas from their persons, thereby giving the social role of ideas emphatic yet anonymous endorsement.

It is on that level – i.e., on the level of this displaced objectivism – that Marxism joined the issue with idealism, addressing itself primarily to a critique of ideas rather of the intelligentsia. In the course of this polemic, Marxism introjected idealism’s objectivism, the objectivism generally characteristic of ideology itself, even while disengaging itself from idealism on the technical, philosophical level.

In the language of this introjected objectivism, Marxism’s announced method becomes “the unity of theory and practice” (or “Praxis”) rather than the unity of intellectuals and proletariat. The doctrine of a unity of theory and practice is, tacitly, a call to the establishment (or re-establishment) of certain social relations between intellectuals and masses. The objectivistic focus on the unity of theory and practice thus permits socialists to avoid direct confrontation with the question of the role of intellectuals in their own cadres. The very emphasis on the role of “theory” leads discourse to the brink of that issue but stops it there, leaving it as a discussion of theory but not of intellectuals. Behind Marxism’s affirmation of the doctrine of the unity of theory and praxis there are unresolved fundamental questions about the role of intellectuals; and not only about their social role in the modern world in general but, more pointedly, about their role in the socialist movement, about their relations with the proletariat, and about their implication in communism and vanguard parties. Above all, there is the unresolved problem of the paradoxical authority of intellectuals in a “workers’ movement”. Marxism’s stress on the role of theory and of a “scientific” socialism must inevitably invest theorists and intellectuals with a great authority. For it is they and they alone – with the rare exception of a working class autodidact such as Eugene Dietzgen1 – that are the sources and origins of socialism’s theory. If Marxism

1. Marx’s own judgment of Dietzgen (in a letter to Engels of 4 October, 1868) was characteristically harsh and condescending: “My opinion is that J. Dietzgen would do best to condense all his ideas into two printer’s sheets and have them published under his own name as a tanner”. In his reply of 6 November, 1868, Engels was more generous and argued that Dietzgen be given much more space than Marx had advocated; but it was in character that Engels also doubted that the most brilliant part of Dietzgen’s work was actually his own: “. . .if one could be sure that he had discovered it for himself”.

affirms the primacy of the proletariat as historical agent, it is clearly an agent that is expected to fill its historical mission only after it has freed itself from bondage to the immediacy of the status quo and this, in turn, is never possible except by submitting itself to the tutelage of “theory”.

The doctrine of the unity of theory and practice has this silence: how can one submit oneself to the tutelage of theory without, at the same time, submitting oneself to the tutelage of theorists and intellectuals? Marxism’s doctrine of the unity of theory and practice is therefore a doctrine tacitly functioning to conceal the actual social structure of the socialist movement; it is a tacit doctrine about the system of social stratification within the socialist movement, and serves to obfuscate its actual structure of domination, and the origins and character of its dominant strata of intellectuals.

Contrast this formulation with the characteristic self-understanding of Marxism. So far as its own grounding is concerned, Marx’s and Marxism’s self-understanding was that itself it was a theoretical standpoint based on the objective interests, and reflecting the historical emergence, of the proletariat. From this standpoint, Marxism was the critical philosophy guiding the proletariat’s self-emancipation. What this obscures is the role of the intelligentsia as the social grounding of Marxist theory and as the social strata whose own social character – and not only the proletariat’s- shapes the nature of Marxism. If it was true that “social being” determines consciousness, as Marx and Engels insisted, then this question must arise: how could the consciousness of the proletariat emerge from the social being of the intelligentsia? How could the intelligentsia elude their own different social being to give expression to the consciousness of another strata, the proletariat? Did Marx and Engels really believe that they themselves were workers, even intellectual proletarians? There is not the slightest indication that they thought of themselves in that way. Rather, they seem to have thought of themselves as revolutionary intellectuals. But they never suggest how intellectuals could develop the consciousness of a revolutionary proletariat, except to remark that, on some few occasions, certain members of the ruling class go over to the proletariat.

Marxism had only the most fugitive and garbled account of its own origins. For it could not account for itself without the most obvious self-contradiction, and without revealing the dissonant presence of intellectuals as authoritative figures in a working class movement. The objectivism of Marxism functions to conceal the embarassing presence and authority of intellectuals in a “working class” movement.

Marxism’s unconsciousness, then, is an inability to face and mount rational discourse concerning: the actual leading role of intellectuals in a proletarian, socialist movement; concerning the role of ideas in a movement committed to materialism; concerning the importance of voluntaristic commitment in a political theory stressing the primacy of social structures and formations.

Workers, says Marx writing to Sorge (London, 19 October 1877), who “give up work and become professional literary men, always set some theoretical mischief going and are always ready to attach themselves to some muddle-heads from the alleged ‘learned’ caste”. It was in this vein that one of the first to be purged from the young Marx’s revolutionary circle in 1846, was Wilhelm Weitling, the uprooted German revolutionary leader, one of the few having authentically working class origins; in a near-ritual ceremony of status degradation, Weitling was upbraided by Marx and Engels for the poverty of his theoretical doctrine and denounced by them as an ignorant, “abject fraud”.

To foster theory among workers, then, was to require something for which workers themselves clearly had little training or talent. With all its risks, the proletariat would have to get theory from social strata outside their own ranks – as Karl Kautsky would, years later, correctly infer from his Marxism – and to whom the working class would have to submit itself, if it were to achieve its historical mission.

Marxism was thus created, and remains, a paradoxical social theory in which those who create the theory itself do not clearly figure in it, but are hidden behind the objectivistic doctrine of the unity of theory and praxis. Paradoxically, it is the theorist, the intelligentsia, the intellectuals, who, although given short shrift in Marxist theory, are to be the source of the very theory which Marxism holds to be indispensable for the advent of socialism. Still, it also needs to be stressed that there is a certain rationality in Marxism’s impulse to conceal the presence of theorists, even while vaunting the importance of theory, in the socialist movement. For as the above quotation from Engels sees, on which theorists could socialism actually rely? If not the autodidacts among the workers and if not the academicians, then who? And if neither, then from where indeed will the continuing and cumulative development of Marxist theory come from?

If Marxism stresses the importance of theory for social transformation, on the one side, and if, on the other, it encourages an understandable suspicion of the autodidact and the academician, Marxism thereby ensures its own stasis. For if there are no social strata of intellectuals and theorists who can continue to develop Marxist theory how, then, is Marxist theory to provide a guide to the continually changing and new historical circumstances within which the transition to socialism would have to be made?

While vaunting theory, then, Marxism – and, quite properly so, given its revolutionary aspirations – is suspicious of theorists. If theorists are working class in origin and training, Marxism fears that they will either have the crudity of autodidacts or the susceptibilities of the parvenu to the merely cheap and fashionable. If, however, the theorists are academicians comfortably living a Mandarin life, Marxism greatly fears their conventional timorousness, their implication in the state civil service of the university, their middle class family origins, their false consciousness and accommodation to the status quo. There is, therefore, in Marxism this ineluctable contradiction: theory is absolutely necessary for social transformation, but theorists may not be trusted. From Marx to Mao, that contradiction is fully exhibited in the continuing distrust of the intelligentsia. It is this contradiction, too, that is concealed by the doctrine of the unity of “theory” and “practice”.

Marxism’s relation to theorists, then, must be profoundly ambivalent. It needs but cannot trust intellectuals and theorists. It copes with this ambivalence in part by affirming a commitment only to “theory” but not to the theorists. Marxism has a lucid and firm understanding that even its own theorists may bind it to the status quo, that they may constantly serve as an unwitting “transmission belt” subverting Marxism’s own revolutionary commitments.

For Marxists to be ambivalent to theory and theorists, means that they must also be ambivalent to Marxism itself. It is precisely in this that we reach the deepest levels of Marxism’s own secret: its own self-doubts about culture, intellectual activity, and theory itself. There is a level in Marxism, a level as perduring and strong as it is repressed, in which Marxism is anti-intellectual, anti-philosophical, anti-theoretical. There is a level in which Marxism’s promised “abolition” of philosophy was not only some cerebral Hegelian Aufhebung but a hot fantasy of true aggression against theory. These are among the repressed proclivities of Marxism derivative of its own contradiction, of its simultaneous vaunting of theory and suspicion of theorists.

On this repressed level, Marxism glimpses itself as in part the seed of its enemy;2 has an intimation that the enemy to be vanquished is in part within itself; begins to suspect that the “revolution in permanence” has its ultimate implication in a self-transcendence. Marxism begins to grasp that revolution in permanence must mean revolution against itself. The contradictions within Marxism, then, direct it blindly onto the path of theoretical parricide, inviting it to a rebel act that paralyzes it. Maoism has seen this more clearly than all other Marxisms. For this is the most fundamental (but hidden) object of its “cultural revolution”.3

In its awareness of the vulnerability of theorists, of its own theorists, to ideological distortions emanating from the dominant institutions, Marxism achieves – even if recoiling from the ultimate implication – a substantial measure of genuine reflexivity. It has a certain sensitive and correct understanding of the dangers that threaten it. It can easily accept the reality of this enemy as an external object, even if sometimes resisting the idea that he is also inescapably internalized. Limited and precarious as its self-awareness is, Marxism seems more prudently self-critical of its own vulnerability to the status quo than does normal, academic social theory. Unlike the Marxist, the academic theorist is not committed to a rebel cause that brings him into conflict with the dominant ideologies around him, thereby making him aware of their pressure upon him and of his vulnerability to them. Commonly lacking such awareness-heightening tensions, the academic social theorist is more likely to fantasy himself a “value free” scholar.

In vaunting theory, while warning about theorists, Marxism plainly implied that a special sort of theorist would be necessary for socialism. For the working class cannot be emancipated, Marxism held, without theory; but it can neither create theory itself nor hope to receive the theory it needs from the usual academicians. And if a special theorist thus becomes necessary, it is also necessary to create the social infra-structure that could produce and reproduce such special theorists. That special instrument was, of course, the organized “vanguard party”, which came to full self-consciousness with Lenin’s organization of the Bolshevik Party and in his theoretical analysis, What Is to Be Done? It was the latent function of the vanguard party to

2. As, for instance, in the idea that “capitalism creates the seeds of its own destruction”.

3. For fuller development see my discussion of Maoism in “The Two Marxisms”, in Alvin W. Gouldner, For Sociology, New York: Basic Books, 1973 and London: Allen Lane, 1973; pp.444 et seq.

overcome the contradiction between Marxism’s insistence on the necessity of theory, and its critique of theorists.

The function of the vanguard party, then, cannot simply be conceived in terms of the needs and role of the proletariat alone. It cannot simply be conceived as the true “consciousness” of the working class of its historical mission – in Lukacs terms. It is surely not the consciousness “natural” to the proletariat which, as Lenin suggested, is primarily that of economics or trade unionism. This consciousness of the vanguard party is largely articulated and directed by the intellectuals within the party and especially in its leadership cadres. As such, it is a consciousness open to the intelligentsia, open to its specific background, ongoing culture and present situation, which are scarcely identical with those of the proletariat.

But the vanguard party is not just a transmission belt for the consciousness of the intelligentsia. It is not just the instrument through which the intellectuals give expression to a consciousness and ideology that they “bring with them” to the vanguard party; it is not a consciousness altogether anterior to that party. The vanguard party, then, is not just a disguise and an instrument for the intelligentsia, even though the vanguards’ central cadres are essentially derived from and manned by the intelligentsia.

The vanguard party is the instrument of an intelligentsia transformed. It is, also, an instrument for the transformation of that intelligentsia’s social character. In some part, this “transformation” of the consciousness of the intelligentsia by the vanguard party can be thought of as a “radicalization” brought about, in some degree, by involving the intelligentsia in an intensifying political struggle against the status quo. This is and always has been a unique kind of radicalization. It is a radicalization from above, born not of the intellectual’s own experience but of his identification with the lowly and suffering; born not of his own economic deprivation so much as from the violation of his own Jacobin spirit, the violation of the intellectual’s sense of his own dignity and self-worth, the violation of his cultural hopes and values and, especially, of his emphatic belief in (a certain kind of) equality. This radicalization precedes the intellectual’s involvement with the vanguard party and is the leverage through which he is cumulatively committed in the course of organized struggle. Through this, the intelligentsia are freed of an uncritical acceptance of the language and ideology of the status quo; freed of respect for its symbols of authority; of any assumptions about its “naturalness” or invulnerability to change.

Commitments are made via the vanguard party that make it difficult (or impossible) for the intelligentsia to pursue normal careers within conventional institutions. From one perspective, it might be said that an intelligentsia thus “radicalized” is one whose career prospects in the status quo are threatened.

Its future is, therefore, tied increasingly to the struggle against and victory over, the status quo. It is this “material” transformation that is part of the infrastructure of the ideological changes, the value transformations, the linguistic shift, and the consciousness-raising entailed by “radicalization”. A central function of the vanguard party is the management of this alienation of the intelligentsia from normal careers within the status quo by a series of successive tests and cumulative commitments until, at the end, a small section of the intelligentsia has and wants no way back into the status quo. Moreover, it is also an important function of the vanguard party to help intellectuals in such transition cope with their own anxieties and panics. These are to be expected, first, because such intellectuals enter into dangerous confrontation against powerful authority and, secondly, because they cut themselves off from conventional, security-giving careers that they and their families had at first often expected them to pursue.

One central function of the vanguard party, then, is managing the social transformation of the intelligentsia; promoting their alienation from conventional society and careers; facilitating their self-discipline in the face of often rampant anxiety. This is a view substantially different from a Pollyanna conception of the vanguard party as “radicalizing” the intellectual, as imparting symphathy for and a learning from the proletariat. It is also a conception totally at variance with a Lukacsian view of the vanguard as the embodiment of the proletariat’s true historical mission and its proper class consciousness.

The vanguard party, then, is an agency for the selective assimilation and resocialization of the intelligentsia, alienating it further from its middle class antecedents and culture. It is also an agency for the corresponding tutelary development of some of working class origin, on the condition that they assimilate appropriate theory, subordinate their practice to it, and overcome the natural limits of working class consciousness – economism and trade unionism. The latter thus escape the pressures of those institutional structures which, from their different quarter, would bind them back into conventional society.

The emergence of the vanguard party marks a new historical period in which a sector of the socialist movement no longer passively waits for the historical maturation of the objective socio-economic formations once deemed requisite for socialism. The emergence of the vanguard party marks the beginning of the long crisis of “scientific'”, evolutionary socialism. Now, it is the testing, the hardening, the combativeness, and the obedience of the vanguard party to its center, that become the new operational definition of the existence of the objective requisites for revolution. The vanguard party’s own development becomes the decisive objective condition for the revolution.

Thus one central organizational innovation of the Leninist vanguard conception was the stress it placed upon the political initiative of the vanguard, vis-a-vis the proletariat and the masses. The second organizational innovation, crystallized by Lenin in his well known controversy with L. Martov (Iullii Osipovich Tsederbaum) over the formal requisites for party membership, was one in which Lenin successfully rejected a distinction between intellectuals and others, and imposed his requirement for their common submission to Party discipline.

The vanguard party is in continual peril from two fundamental organizational pathologies. One is “opportunism”, in which it succumbs to bourgeois culture and politics, being no longer able to maintain an effective boundary between itself and its threatening surround. The second organizational pathology is “sectarianism” in which, because the boundary it has drawn is too impermeable, the vanguard isolates itself from social reality and, in protecting itself from outside influence, also fails to influence that outside. Both these pathologies demoralize and exhaust its forces. They are, we might say, the occupational hazards normal to the life of the professional revolutionary. But still, they are pathologies only, and they are by no means the entire sum and substance of his existence and his meaning.

Seen from the standpoint of ideology and theory, sectarianism means the breakdown of encounter with the Other. It means the corresponding distortion of theory, first, by its “monumentalization”, by sacralizing the great books and other authoritative sources which, being written earlier, inevitably fail to do justice to an understanding of the present. Secondly, sectarianism means “subjectivizing” theory, by failing to discipline political fantasy and personal anxiety with a reality-test, with Other-encounter; here political needs and individual autisms govern social diagnosis.

Correspondingly, opportunism means surrender to an alien theory and ideology, not because it is more empirically sound, but because it is essentially stronger, politically and socially; it also means irrational discontinuities in theoretical development, the failure to build and develop theory cumulatively. Above all, opportunism means the fundamental transformation of revolutionary theory – it becomes academicized.

The transformation of the intellectual into professional revolutionary by the vanguard means the total instrumentalization of theory itself. On the one side, theory no longer serves as a wide-ranging effort to comprehend the culture as a whole but focusses on narrower issues implicated in the polemics concerning present party policy. Theory no longer concerns itself with the “big news”, serving as an outpost and early warning system; theory comes to be subordinated to the very immediacy of the at-hand that it was, at first, intended to transcend. It now becomes the “market research” of the revolution.

There is, of course, always a powerful tendency for such market research to make its findings consistent with political commitments that had already been made and justified on other grounds. Far from providing information, theory then serves primarily to contribute legitimacy to policies formed without reference to it. It now constitutes an ersatz rationality.

Finally: theory becomes Weltanschauung in the context of the vanguard party. In its own internal relations, on the one side, and, on the other, in the vanguard’s relations with the masses. In the vanguard, then, theory does not function as a grounding for a critical understanding of the larger social world; nor even as information instrumentally useful for managing it; nor even as window-dressing to persuade others to accept problematic policies. Theory also becomes a set of shared beliefs that maintain the social solidarity of the vanguard party and the personal security of its individual members.

Locked as it may be in fearsome rebellion against the powerful forces of the status quo, the vanguard party cannot easily look upon – or allow others to look upon – its theory with a cold reflective eye. For it needs this theory as a shared language to hold itself together; to enable it to mount cooperative effort; to fortify its solidarity and to fend off its members’ threatening anxieties.

It is in this respect mistaken, I believe, to condemn the Soviet Union, for having transformed Marxism into a Weltanschauung; or, at least, it is mistaken to impute a special culpability to them for this development. For this is inherent in the fact that, in the context of the vanguard party’s absorbing and dangerous struggle to change the world, and to maintain its own organizational existence under pressure, it must have and maintain shared values. In effect, it derives these from its theory. Theory here, then, becomes culture subserving social solidarity and survival. To that extent, it must be removed from the calculating and rational appraisal necessary to develop, deepen, adjust, improve it, as an instrument for either understanding the social world or changing it.

Once theory becomes culture, the everyday culture requisite for vanguard social solidarity, theory can be neither “played with” nor instrumentally revised without offending the vanguard cadre’s sense of propriety, its conception of the sacred, and without threatening its very security. Affirmation of the doctrine of the unity of theory and practice, all too often serves to conceal the fact that theory has died and has been replaced by ritual.

Marxism, then, lives on two levels, which is not in the least to suggest that it is “two-faced”; nor, again, is it in the least to imply that it is in this respect one whit different from normal academic sociology. There is Marxism’s manifest level as an extraordinary language, as a technical theory and philosophy, as a materialism on behalf of working class emancipation.

Marxism also lives on a deeper level, an unconscious level not easily spoken in its own community, in which there is an abiding commitment to theory, to ideas, to generic ideology, and the dissonant authority of intellectuals. It is in terms of this two-layered structure of Marxism that we may be able to bring into focus the existence and the meaning of Marxism’s metaphoricality. For it is only in the light of Marxism’s two-fold structure that we may note how the proletariat for Marx was, indeed, always was, a metaphor. It is because of this metaphoricality of the proletariat in Marxism that it has been capable of dropping the proletariat and searching out other historical agents to replace that tired “heart” of the revolution. Again, this also makes it understandable how Marxists can concretize “socialism” in such a surprising variety of forms, for example, as a “people’s democratic dictatorship”, presumably (perhaps only) capable of emerging even in societies with scarcely a proletariat.

To speak of the metaphoricality of Marxism is to make reference to the interchangeability, for Marxism, of vastly different concrete cases, so that “socialism” can be said to exist in Russia, China, or even (for some) Algeria and Albania. Correspondingly, the interchangeability of the “proletariat”, of the people, of the peasantry, of colonially exploited, of the racially subjugated, means that the fundamental commitment that Marxism made was not to the “proletariat” as such but to some other, imprecisely defined value, which subsumes the proletariat but also allows inclusion of vastly different social strata.

This metaphoricality of Marxism is one of its great adaptive factors. It allows Marxism to survive repeated contradictions of its manifest technical social theory and economics and to accommodate to falsified predictions without evoking, in many of its believers, a demoralizing sense of Marxism’s non-rationality or inauthenticity. Indeed, it is precisely Marxism’s metaphoricality that signals the presence of its very rationality; that signals that its fundamental commitments are not to some historically limited social segment but primarily to certain values and ideas: the struggle against unnecessary suffering, exploitation, irrational scarcity, and any “surplus” inequality interpretable as unnecessary in the light of modern productivity – a struggle that was now no longer limited to capitalist societies with proletariats; a struggle whose universalism was primarily persuasive and meaningful to intellectuals.

This rationality of Marxism, its basic value commitment, abides on its deepest level as ideology justifying and fostering action against almost any form of inequality in the modern world. This is Marxism’s repressed underside; repressed because it is in direct contradiction with its technical level, where Marxism easily and frequently succumbs to a view of itself as a “science”; where Marxism becomes a materialism which grounds a political evolutionism, where it is not so much struggle, but the development of certain objective conditions, that is the requisite of revolution and socialism. This deeper and repressed level, is an infra-structure of Marxism that cannot be self-reflected upon. Indeed, its sheer existence is scarcely acknowledgeable in the symbol system constituted by manifest Marxist theory. This deeper, repressed level is Marxism’s final survival system and its ultimate meaning. It contains the last immanent code for interpreting messages on the technical level; for authoritatively resolving ambiguities and dissonance that could not be resolved on that manifest level. In short, the deeper level contains – among other things – the analytic of last resort.

The great Marxist revolutionaries are defined by their courage in establishing connections with this repressed and silent level in Marxism, by their ability to reestablish a revitalizing contact with the deeper Marxism. The invisible struggle of revolutionaries such as Lenin, Mao, and Castro has been a struggle to get beneath the manifest surfaces of “scientific” Marxism, beneath the objectivism and the passive evolutionism. Probing beneath manifest Marxism they risked the charges of revisionism, of political heresy, of leftism and the ostracism that follows. In short, they risked their Marxism and their lives.

Having once found their way down to the repressed deeper levels, they could now mobilize and use latent Marxism’s voluntarism, its conviction about the importance of ideas, and the potency of the subjective. The successes of the great revolutionary Marxists are due in part to the fact that they were able to work their way down to the repressed latent level of Marxism.


Our discussion of the tensions between the manifest level of Marxism, with its stress on the importance of socio-economic structures, and Marxism’s latent level with its generic ideology and its stress on the importance of ideas, consciousness, and will, corresponds to the distinction I had earlier developed4 between “Scientific Marxism”, on the one side, and “Critical Marxism”, on the other. That distinction had been largely developed in a structural manner. Here, however, I begin to exhibit some of the dynamics of that structural differentiation. This was done by stressing, in effect, that critical and scientific Marxisms are different layers in one structurally integrated Marxism, although each may occupy a different position at different times.

As Marxism first emerged as an historical phenomenon, perhaps until the Second International, these two layers had a distinct relation to one another. In that structuring of Marxism, Scientific Marxism was the dominant layer and served to impose a repressive silence on Critical Marxism. That, we might say, was Marxism and our analysis of the dynamics in Marxist theory has centered primarily on it. With the emergence of Leninism that specific structure of Marxism cracks. With the emergence of Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba that structure of Scientific Marxism gives way to a radically new structuring of Marxism, in which the bottom rail has become the top; in this, Critical Marxism surfaces, becomes the controlling and dominant layer in Marxism, especially in underdeveloped nations, and there is a new repressed layer – Scientific Marxism itself.

Historically, what had first been publicly defined as Marxism was Marxismt, Scientific Marxism. One may well wonder whether there is sufficient continuity between it and Marxism2, Critical Marxism, to speak of the latter as being a Marxism at all. It is clear, however, why some will wish to pour new wine into old bottles, for to define oneself as a Marxist is to link oneself with that powerful and authentic tradition of determined, if not always revolutionary, resistance to established arrangements. With the movement toward

2. See “The Two Marxisms”, ibid, pp.425-462.

Marxism2, however, Marxism is pressed toward an increasing metaphoricality. Such increasing metaphoricality serves to liberate political action from the limits involved in Marxismi without, however, having to renounce one’s claim to a Marxist identity and without having to sever one’s connection with the long-standing anti-establishment tradition it names.

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