Translation by Todd Chretien. Originally published by Jacobin Brasil, originally published in English by Jacobin, republished here by No Borders News with permission. Cover artwork by Catarina Bessel.
Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro stokes his base’s fears by warning of the “communist threat” posed by “cultural Marxism.” But if you don’t make a living off exploiting workers, there’s no reason to be afraid of Karl Marx and his friends.
The following text was published in the first print issue of Jacobin Brasil. Brazil is currently governed by the far right after Jair Bolsonaro’s successful 2018 election campaign, filled with fake news, moral panics, and talk of the “communist threat.”
Jacobin Brasil’s first issue discussed the far-right conspiracy theories that had helped lift him to power — and especially the specter of “cultural Marxism” and its destruction of traditional values. It proposes that if the Brazilian right most takes fright at Marx and the socialist movement, then perhaps this is precisely the place from which the Left should draw its own strength.
A specter is circling the planet. And the powers that be have united in an unholy alliance to keep it from sight — from evangelical preachers to the tsars of the economy, from Steve Bannon to Bolsonaro’s guru Olavo de Carvalho, and from neoliberals to militiamen.
According to this alliance, anyone who does not fit into their conservative political project must be a Marxist. Since 2013, there isn’t an opposition party to be found that the sitting government hasn’t accused of “Marxism.” In their opponents’ eyes, feminists and LGBTQI movements, ecologists and human rights activists, museum curators and performance artists, academic researchers and religious Afro-Brazilians appear as one homogeneous bloc. Marxism has thus been recognized by its enemies as a power unto itself, but not just any kind of power — a conspiracy.
Yet it’s not so easy to reduce all history to paraphrases from the Communist Manifesto. And as we see today, the ideologists doing battle with “Gramscianism” or “cultural Marxism” are fighting something very different than the theoretical framework of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
A Revolutionary Nursery
Karl Marx did not consider himself a Marxian or a Marxist. These terms instead entered the political vocabulary thanks to his adversaries in Germany, starting around 1850, and the polemics generated in the International Workingmen’s Association after 1864. When partisans of Marx’s own ideas adopted the term “Marxism” in 1882, Marx flatly rejected it. Later, Engels accepted its use in England, so long as the term was rendered as “so-called Marxism.”
The word took root during the time of the Second International, created in 1889, as the doctrine of the recently founded social-democratic and working-class parties. From that point on, the term was claimed by people who belonged to very different political currents. But might there be a common core, or a “baseline Marxism?”
We shouldn’t respond to this question in ahistorical terms. Marx was born in an age of revolutions, as Eric Hobsbawm called it. The eighteenth century was marked by the French Revolution, but many other explosions came after.
One such round of revolutions began two years after Marx’s birth. Beginning in 1820, agitation spread across Portugal, Spain, Greece, Poland, Belgium, and Latin America, and after King Charles X attempted to reimpose absolutism in France, this country rediscovered its own revolutionary traditions with the uprising of July 1830.
The Springtime of the Peoples was not long in coming and in 1848 Rome, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Frankfurt, and other cities were shaken by a combination of students, workers, artisans, and socialist intellectuals.
This was the stage of liberal and bourgeois revolutions, but they sanctified two central ideas that would be incorporated into the Marxist framework: revolution and class struggle. Judged by their political leadership, theoretical limits, and social gains, these revolutions were bourgeois, being limited to achieving legal equality and abstract liberty. Conveniently, they forgot all about fraternity.
It is true that they mobilized the “Third Estate” (that is, mostly the common people) and propagated a universal message. Their limitations, however, led them to retreat to the national (rather than international) plane and to establish regimes lacking in popular participation.
As French historian Albert Soboul noted, the Parisian masses who made the revolutions did not yet constitute a class. Instead, the multitude was composed of artisans, small merchants, street vendors, the unemployed, and, in exceptional cases, workers. Taken as a whole, these were the sans culottes, the conglomerate of people who couldn’t afford the aristocrats’ knee breeches and high silk socks, instead wearing long pants, an ordinary shirt, and a carmagnole, a popular short jacket.
Their radical rhetoric denounced privilege and the noble rich. However, they did not question property as such, they had no political program, and the violence they deployed wasn’t always aimed from bottom to the top. Sometimes their hatred was directed at those standing to either side of them.
Even conservative French historian François Furet argued that these people were united less by a common form of insertion into production than by a mentality, in the broader sense that French historians gave the word. This was the mentality of the excluded that replaced the fight for reforms within the given social order not with the goal of revolution, but with revenge. As distinct from these elemental rebellions, socialism needs organization, a party, a program, and, finally, it needs the working class. And here is where Karl Marx enters our story.
The Critique of Critical Criticism
Contrary to what our “cultural anti-Marxists” imagine, the reader will have already understood that the ideas inherited by the socialists originated in the same context that mobilized the liberal and national (not always united) revolutions. Namely, the class struggle and the conquest of state power (and not the conquest of consciousness or of small dispersed powers) — and starting in the twentieth century, all of this within nation states.
The core of Marx’s critique was not directed at culture, but at political economy. Thus, although he did concern himself with various forms of domination, his basic proposition was that practical action was needed to overthrow the bourgeois order.
Marx began his work by combating metaphysical philosophies that separated subject from object, in both theory and practice. He criticized those utopian socialists who promoted egalitarian and humanitarian doctrines and fantasies but restricted their actions to the organization of cooperative experiments, ignoring the need to overturn the entire structure of bourgeois domination.
As opposed to these utopian socialists, Marx drew closer to another socialist lineage that sought practical means by which to defeat the existing order, even if its efforts were based on conspiracy and revolutionary vanguardist uprisings. Marx had no love for Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, preferring the practical “communist” Louis-Auguste Blanqui, the genuine inheritor of Jacobinism — the term “communism” being adopted in France around 1840 and then taken up by Blanqui himself.
In order for Marx to advance his perspective, it was necessary to study political economy. Thus, he began his investigations into the classic writings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo and the labor theory of value. He also owed much to the French physiocrat François Quesnay, who elaborated the tableau économique, a scheme analyzing economic reproduction, a model of how wealth flows between the classes. The development of Marxism, then, necessarily involves an understanding of his criticism of the liberal thinking of his time.
Karl Kautsky and Vladimir Lenin wrote that Marxist theory had three sources: English political economy, classical German philosophy, and French utopian socialism. However, Marx was also acquainted with the French physiocrats, like Quesnay and Vincent de Gournay, who coined the phrase laissez-faire, laissez-passer, le monde va de lui-même [“Let do, let pass, the world goes on by itself!”]
Yet, the following needs adding to this schema: 1) alongside German classical philosophy, a model of revolution and the idea of class struggle that Marx drew from liberal historians such as Guizot, Mignet, and the remarkable Madame de Staël; 2) alongside English political economy, the contribution of the physiocrats that treated social classes as economic subjects; and, finally, 3) alongside utopian socialism, which Marx and Engels criticized in the Communist Manifesto, the practical action of French communism, of “Blanqui and his comrades,” were all essential for the solidification of Marxism.
The kind of practice that interested Marx was not contained in “alternative communities.” He left behind no model of economic planning that might guide socialist societies. However, he did write some selections on this topic in Capital and his Critique of the Gotha Program (1875). This last article comes closest in Marx’s work to what an emancipated society might look like.
The critique covered the German Social Democratic Party’s program, written in Gotha, Germany in 1875. In it, Marx distinguished “the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society” and a more advanced phase when, “society can inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” This was a phrase commonly used by anarchists of the time and had its origins in Christianity (Acts 4:35). Marx knew this very well.
Here, an already mature Marx was paying homage to those who first spread socialist ideals in the 1830s and 1840s, including Louis Blanc and Étienne Cabet, who had both previously used this phrase. Marx’s views resonated with an organization of German emigrant revolutionaries made up of tailors, watchmakers, and craftsmen who organized alongside Friedrich Engels in the League of the Just. When Marx joined the organization, he argued to change the group’s motto from “all men are brothers” to “proletarians of all countries, unite.” He also wanted to change its name and it soon become the Communist League.
The draft notes that Marx wrote before writing Capital, which became known as the Grundrisse, were completed in early 1858. Here, the author ironically attacked the ideas of cooperative banks and the exchange of products based on the amount of labor hours involved in their production, if these measures were not accompanied by plans to abolish capitalist production relations as such. For Marx, there could be no question of returning to a world of isolated producers who would simply exchange goods without money acting as a mediator. The abolition of money could only be accomplished through the abolition of the capitalist system of production.
As Marx demonstrated, surplus value is not extracted from workers because bosses pay them less than would be “fair.” Employers do often pay below the value of labor power, owing to their advantages in the struggle between the classes. But that is not what matters, here. The exchange between capital and labor is based on the actual value of the commodity that Marx dubs “labor power,” that is, the total cost of the means of subsistence that allow a worker to survive. Exploitation, then, takes place within production itself and has nothing to do with the moment of exchange. Moreover, the values of commodities rarely match their market prices because prices and values only balance out in the long run and when analyzed at the level of production as a whole.
Still, Marx and Engels held some of the utopian socialists in high esteem. First among these was a Welsh industrialist named Robert Owen who owned factories in Scotland. Owen tried to shorten the workday, he created kindergartens, a socialist community in the United States (New Harmony), and invented an hourly bonus to replace money. Owen’s proposals attempted to provide socialism with an economic foundation. He was a strong critic of Malthusianism after discovering for himself in 1818 that, contrary to what Thomas Malthus preached, the supposed conflict between geometric population growth and the arithmetic growth of food supplies was a fiction. Instead, he realized that industrial overproduction was outstripping population growth by 20 percent to 1,500 percent respectively.
Working in the context of reform socialists like Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet, Robert de Lamennais, and Jean Charles Sismondi (who was an especially sharp critic of capitalism) helped Marx refine his own theory. On some points, in fact, they were more advanced than Marx. Fourier, for example, criticized monogamous marriage. Proudhon had a healthy suspicion of the state. Marx even later admitted the potential role cooperatives could play in attempting to abolish capitalist production relations under capitalism itself. But that was as far as he followed them. He never believed that communism could simply be an idea proposed by generous people, nor that social consciousness could be challenged by students or Marxist professors.
Communism is a practical movement that comes to understand its own role in history through its self-activity and practical autonomy. Facts cannot simply be grasped by isolated thinkers; they must be revealed by action. Marx’s theory of praxis, then, is action mediated by collective knowledge.
Marx and Engels developed their theoretical outlook as an expression of the historical moment in which they were inserted; after all, as they argued “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”
Historical materialism, as their ideas became known, is the concept that history and human actions should be understood starting from the organization of the mode of production of material life. In order to live, humans need food, clothing, and shelter and how these are produced is inseparable from everything else we do.
In an 1846 letter, Marx wrote that human beings “who establish their social relations in conformity with the material productivity, produce also principles, ideas, and categories, in conformity with their social relations.” However, Marx does not reduce ideas to simple expressions of material reality. Ideas and material reality are opposites, but exist within a unity.
Thus, there is no “Marxist” ideal to be fought against — only real and very concrete practices. What separated Marx from all other socialists is that for him socialism would not be the product of thought or mere cultural change, but of practice.
Socialism can only be the historically necessary result of capitalist society itself and, at the same time, of a social revolution. The proletarian would be a “midwife” of the new society and the “gravedigger” of the bourgeoisie. Marxist socialism has no unrooted utopia. Instead there is a concrete utopia that begins with material transformation. This explains why Engels insisted on emphasizing the scientific character of Marx’s socialism.
Those Who Came After
French socialist republican Louis-Auguste Blanqui lived a long time for a man of the nineteenth century who had spent half his life in prison. He was elected president of the Paris Commune in 1871 (in absentia, since he was imprisoned outside the capital) and ended his career as the revolutionary model for his time. (Lenin would play this role for the first half of the twentieth century.)
Toward the end of the century, a proletarian majority appeared to be forming as a result of irrepressible economic laws, leading some to propose that socialism could be the result of gradual reforms within capitalism. Using Kant, or Darwin, or Spencer, these Second International socialists reduced Marxism to an ethical imperative or its complementary opposite, a mechanical inevitability of economic evolution.
Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Antonio Gramsci, and many others opposed this fatalism. Theirs was a new generation hailing from economically marginal areas of continental Europe. The generation after Marx was typified by August Bebel — the working-class leader of German social democracy, born in 1840; Eduard Bernstein — whom Rosa Luxemburg would later debate in the controversy over “Reform or Revolution,” born in 1850; and Karl Kautsky — the orthodox heir to Marx and Engels’ works, born six years later.
Whereas Lenin and Luxemburg, the oldest of the newer generation, came into the world in 1870 and 1871, respectively, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky followed in 1878 and 1879, and Gramsci later still in 1891. Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin were Russian social democrats, Luxemburg began her activism in Poland, and Gramsci was from Sardinia. They were the first generation of twentieth-century Marxists.
After the defeat of the European revolutions — with the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Germany in 1919 and the reverses in Finland, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, and Poland — still another generation of Marxists shifted their theoretical focus. Concentrating on cultural, philosophical, and artistic themes, they turned away from party organization and sought refuge in academic institutions. They distanced themselves from the labor movement and, finally, abandoned the approaches that had characterized previous generations.
But it is not as if a “cultural Marxism” was born here. This detachment had political roots that grew over into a theoretical expression — it cannot be explained the other way around.
It is not that Marx and Engels were not interested in art. Trotsky wrote Literature and Revolution (1923) and Lenin left us his Philosophical Notebooks (published in 1930). But their generation’s focus was the practical transformation of society through the conquest of political power. Most of them read Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz who ostensibly concentrated on military matters but approached his subject using economics and history. For his part, Gramsci’s central concern was hegemony as a phenomenon born in the factory, that is, arising from economic relations of production — something far removed from the “Gramscian” dystopia of his critics.
The next generation of Western Marxists did not choose their subjects arbitrarily based on individual preferences for aesthetic themes. For instance, Theodor Adorno theorized musical developments in the context of the mass production of radios. His generation’s criticism of so-called progress would be meaningless without the rise of Nazism in an industrial country like Germany. It was the Fordist factory and the alienation of the proletariat, including in leisure activities and mass culture, that shifted Marxist theory to seek an understanding of workers’ fragmented lives and their recomposition under a false unity of the spectacle.
Unemployment, outsourcing, and other changes in the labor market led Marxists like Harry Braverman to analyze the degradation of labor. The Cuban Revolution, anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia, and the May 1968 explosion intensified Marxist historians’ studies regarding the spontaneous mobilizations of the marginalized. These generations did not abandon their appeal to the working class in favor of maneuvers or tinkering. Rather, the material importance of the superstructure now gave rise to Marxist theories of culture. Marxism has never been solely cultural, economic, or political. It simply responds to the contemporary movement of real history.
In situations where Marxism could not confine its focus to philosophical themes, revolutionaries combined studies of nation and class, the working class and the peasantry, and thus generated a new approach that involved the scientific study of revolutionary war (Mao Zedong and Vietnamese general Võ Nguyên Giáp), innovative interpretations of social classes (Mao and Guinean leader Amilcar Cabral), indigenous liberation (Peruvian theorist Carlos José Mariátegui) and the colonial question (Caio Prado Júnior in Brazil and Argentine Trotskyist Milcíades Peña). Obviously, we are only touching on these theorists’ dominant areas of work — for instance, Mao also bequeathed philosophical works.
From the 1960s on, after Stalinism entered into crisis, and the international communist movement was divided between China and the Soviet Union, several philosophical schools fought for influence in Western Europe, and even followers of the Frankfurt School or Georg Lukács were forced to devote themselves to substantially material problems.
Guy Debord, who theorized the society of the spectacle, held Clausewitz’s work in high regard and he was clearly concerned with a social revolution encompassing the arts and everyday life. French philosopher Louis Althusser was a Communist Party activist and dedicated himself to the interpretation of Capital and the “ideological apparatuses of the state.” Amílcar Cabral was simultaneously a guerrilla leader, a scholar of imperialism, and a theorist of colonial liberation. Fredric Jameson, writing about the cultural logic of postmodernism, drew on actual experiences from the world of intellectual labor in the era of late capitalism, while referencing Ernest Mandel, a Trotskyist leader who wrote his principal economic text shortly after participating in the events of May 1968 in Paris. And Perry Anderson himself, the historian of “Western Marxism,” published the most important Marxist study of the modern state, Lineages of the Absolutist State (1974).
The Material Roots of Culture
Studying a current of thought matters more if it has had any measurable effectiveness in social life. The number of editions of the Communist Manifesto published in Russia before 1917 or of the Bible during the classical period of imperialism are indices of their relative weight, but taken in isolation, they are not defining indicators of a cultural transformation. The print runs must be put to use by a historian.
On the other hand, culture, for Marxists, is not just defined as a set of shared values, preferences, habits, feelings, and ideas. There is an organic connection and reciprocity between economy and culture that make them inseparable, except for analytical purposes.
Any social group first becomes aware of the contradiction between the material forces of production and the relations of production at the level of superstructures. But this realization does not take the form of becoming aware of a supposedly autonomous sphere called “economics” imposing itself upon all other aspects of life. On the contrary, demands for cultural renovation, if that renovation is realistic and corresponds to the needs of some indispensable social group, give rise to “economic” necessity as a conscious, organized, institutional force. If consciousness (social, political, national, or class, for instance) is merely a critique of other forces by social groups that do not represent any historical class, then it can only be arbitrary.
Institutions are inseparable from the ideas that constitute them — or such is Marxism’s view of the materiality of ideologies. There is no form without content, and vice versa. Therefore, civil society is not the realm of ideologies as the Italian social-liberal Norberto Bobbio claimed. Instead, ideas are born on the factory floor as well as in philosophers’ heads.
What makes any idea more than a simple individual extravagance is its cultural meaning, its penetration into the masses. We cannot, therefore, only speak of values. Rather, we must assess the material force that emerges when social groups mobilize around ideas.
Social classes are ideologically organized, but this organization itself is material. Within the limits of a given social and economic structure, social groups struggle for, or to retain, power. Thus, they create a conception of the world that suits their interests.
The conquest and the maintenance of power also depend on the diffusion of a given ideology. And this diffusion, in turn, depends on material instruments (be it the printing press, the radio, or information technology). In short, holding power depends on material support within the superstructure. How can one analyze the process of cultural massification in a particular country in the 1970s without specifying the number of televisions and the oligarchic structure of broadcasting? How can one study the twenty-first century without tallying the number of smartphones, websites, and blog hits, the millions of WhatsApp group users, or the underground world of the deep web?
In different ways, Marxist authors have suggested guidelines for analyzing culture as a reproducible phenomenon on an industrial scale. This does not mean abandoning historical materialism and workers’ organizations, but requires understanding cultural relationships as they are embedded in capitalism’s material structures of reproduction.
Ernest Mandel was an avid reader of detective novels and, after receiving acclaim for his book Late Capitalism (1972), eventually wrote a social history of the genre, Delightful Murder: A Social History of the Crime Story (1985). The success of the detective novel under capitalist society, for Mandel, was not a reflection of bourgeois interests, but lay in its ability to criticize those capitalist interests without overstepping the structural limits of capital. We might add that crime literature exposes social problems but stops short of proposing solutions where crime is not explained by social contradictions but at the level of individuals. Thus, solving specific crimes almost always leads back to reconciliation with the bourgeois world.
That is why all criticism soon becomes a commodity and its antagonistic impulses can be integrated into acceptable forms of rebellion. The Revolution of 1968 itself could be incorporated into commodity production as its leaders were turned into icons while its horizontal and rebellious practices were harnessed for the purposes of commercial propaganda, that is, advertising … of course, in a distorted form.
Be that as it may, Marxists have ventured into the business of writing novels. In the 1960s, Communist Per Wahlöo abandoned failed commercial attempts to publish political books after meeting his partner Maj Sjöwall. The two went on to write ten detective novels together, beginning with Roseanna (1965) taking on themes of violence against women, a theme also taken up by Swedish writer, and socialist, Stieg Larsson.
These examples notwithstanding, could Marxism itself become a commodified cultural object? It is entirely possible, and this possibility must be confronted by Marxist means. Certainly, many artistic works designed to shock the bourgeoisie only succeeded in undermining its morality the first time around — whereas later derivative works are exhibited in exclusive galleries.
Any (eventually inoffensive) violation of the standardization of life under capitalism can only be accomplished, paradoxically, by an object that itself becomes a standardized commodity. Hence, attacks on the performance of social roles seem to only function as diversions, even if they affirm artistic freedom of expression. The fact that those who execute such attacks are unaware of this dilemma is perfectly analogous to war, as soldiers never know how their platoon fits into the generals’ global strategy.
Correspondingly, one must also ask why do Marxists still bother to contest capitalist cultural norms? Mandel provides a useful reply with respect to 1968 in his book Students, Intellectuals, and Class Struggles: “We could comment on the role of paperbacks … in transforming revolutionary theory into an object of consumption. Theory now acquires an exchange value … But the use value of this particular commodity lies in spreading the theory … in encouraging anti-capitalist passion.”
The powers that be who single out so-called cultural Marxism for attack operate with their own ideology, with their own political and economic project. Not surprisingly, think tanks and media outlets spread mutually compatible warnings to the population. They well know that the struggle for hegemony cannot be reduced to the number of autographs or the inauguration of a conceptual art exhibition (however important this may be). The system’s advocates do not hesitate to ally with prosecutors and judges, or the military and the police, to exercise coercion over rebels and the unwanted. They take part in elections and they construct governments in their interests, and whenever it is necessary to produce panic and to secure consent, they harass artists, academics, and activists with bizarre theories and bizarre counter-performances.
Afraid of Marx, and You
Why are they so afraid of Marx? In answering this question, the reader can identify the real social forces at work. After all, fear can only be produced and mobilized by those who do not want Marxism to be an instrument for the emancipation of an opposing class.
It is worth remembering that most of the targets of the new right’s “culture war” are not dealing in what Marx, Lenin, or Gramsci really wrote. Fictions and hoaxes, such as the so-called “Ten Commandments of Nikolai Lenin,” were conceived before fake news became fashionable. Fabrications of this sort do not take aim at real proposals made by communists or working-class activists. This function is outsourced to professional politicians, who often use conspiracy theories as cover. Yet, the influence of their anti-Marxist propaganda is enormous.
When some sucker writes a critique of so-called “Gramscianism,” the results may be pathetic, but its popular influence can be disproportionate.
There is no “Gramscianism” in Gramsci, of course, nor any “cultural Marxism” elaborated by any Marxist, as we have seen here. These terms are part of a marketing operation like the fake news that facilitated Bolsonaro’s 2018 election. “Cultural Marxism” is a label chosen by its own creators, a caricature of what they imagine their enemies are thinking that exists because conspiracy theories are basically fetishistic. They cling to fake news and any individuals who might embody a conspiracy. Thus, a woman is not a human being in their eyes, but simply the embodiment of gender ideology. Apart from the modern means of diffusion, there is nothing new here for those already familiar with right-wing conspiracies such as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and the “Judeo-Bolshevik” plot.
Much of what is pointed to in the media as exemplary of “cultural Marxism” bears no relation to Marxist thought. We are not, it’s safe to say, living in a postmodern reality subject to infinitesimally fragmented power groups in a postindustrial world. Neither the self-referentiality of art, nor intertextual writing, nor Andy Warhol’s Campbell soups, nor satire can replace the struggle for state control — at least for a genuine Marxist, no matter to which particular current he or she belongs.
Admittedly, social domination has become more complex, through a myriad of molecular power relations embodied in disciplining institutions. Yet even in our time, it is typically accepted that there is a universal morality that can be critiqued. And while there have been many modifications, there has as yet been no break with the capitalist mode of production. Financialization did not abolish the importance of value in the production process. Yes, class struggle no longer seems so simple. But when did it?
Gramsci created another category alongside the proletarian designated by Marx to account for new forms of domination. For Gramsci, the locus of the subaltern’s subordination is external to the productive process, unlike the working class. But as a Marxist, he did not abandon the economically conditioned nature of subordination, but only broadened its cultural dimension. The different demands of subaltern groups, once marginalized by Marxists themselves, are strongly related to sections of the class. What some sociologists have characterized as the agendas of new social movements, designed to displace a class perspective, are, in fact, compatible with the development of Marxist analysis and praxis.
Not surprisingly, many feminists have positioned themselves in the Marxist camp or its environs, for instance: Angela Davis maintained her links to the Communist Party of the United States; German “value dissociation” theorist Roswitha Scholz participated in the iconoclastic reading of Marxism with the Krisis magazine group; and Silvia Federici built an economic and social analysis on a classic Marxian theme known as primitive accumulation, now from the perspective of its victims such as subversive witches and enslaved peoples.
There are those who seek other avenues for emancipation, or who attack the “great oppressive narratives,” among which Marxism is seen as just one more intrinsically Eurocentric, macho, or racist ideology. But just as there have always been working-class leaders who have devised some ploy to obscure their adherence to capitalism, why wouldn’t people subjected to other dimensions of capitalist oppression do the same?
There are inescapable dimensions of oppression that cannot be appreciated by those who have not lived them. And there is a necessary stage of conceptual and generalized recognition by the subjects of oppression without which any dialogue, any organization, and any collective struggle is impossible. Yet, even if most of the Bolshevik leaders and other revolutionary socialists in Russia had never worked on a farm or factory, they led a social revolution. They could never have done so without integrating parties composed of the oppressed classes into the common struggle. And in that phase of universalization of different struggles against the ruling class, no better theoretical and political force was found than Marxism.
Marxism lays bare the barbarism of each cultural monument and the idleness of the class that each work of art presupposes. Everything revealed from this perspective must get to the source of the material social origins of its production.
“Marxism” is not a theory standing outside the world that contemplates it in order it to expose its errors, in a universal catalogue. It is not the product of an individual mind, but the self-consciousness of the real mass movement elaborating its own views. Thought does not mirror some external world, rather, it is integrated into revolutionary praxis.
Marxism negates itself as a commodity because it reveals that everything we know will soon be transformed. Or as Marx himself states in Capital, the dialectic “is a scandal and abomination to the bourgeois … because it lets nothing impose upon it.”
Reasons abound to fear Karl Marx and his friends.
The first issue of Jacobin Brasil is available at https://jacobin.com.br/loja/revista/jacobin-brasil-marx-e-companhia/.