The Possibility Of Marxist Philosophy

Adeleke Omotayo
The existence of Marxist philosophy over historical epochs has encountered stiff controversies, also about its nature. But it has stood to be strong and vibrant even as the controversies persist. However, an indispensable influence on 19th Century thought is undoubtedly from the works of the prestigious German thinker, Karl Marx. “Marxism” refers to works by the thinker as well as those it inspired. His ideas provide a fully worked-out theoretical basis for the struggle of the working class (proletariats). Marxism is a philosophy of history. It is also an economic doctrine. Marxism is also a theory of revolution and the basic explanation for how societies go through the process of change. Marxists believe that they and they alone have the analytical tools to understand the process of historical change, as well the key to predicting the future. Marxism is a perspective that involves a number of differing “sub-perspectives” (that is, whilst there tends to be a general agreement about the need to construct a critique of
Capitalist society, there are major disagreements between writers working within this
perspective)1. Keeping this in mind, we can aggregate some of the main Marxist ideas in the following terms:
Marxism emphasizes the idea that social life is based upon “conflicts of interest”. The most fundamental and important of theses conflicts is that between the Bourgeoisie (those who own and control the means of production in society) and the Proletariat (those who simply sell their labour power in the market place of Capitalism).
2) Marxism is a political theory who’s main concern is twofold:
a. To expose the political and economic contradictions inherent in Capitalism
b. To point the way towards the establishment of a future Communist society
3) Marxists tend to divide Capitalist society into two related “spheres of influence”:
a. The economic base (or infrastructure) and
b. The political and ideological superstructure.
4) Marxist theory emphasizes the total critique of Capitalist society; in order to
understand the way things appear we have to understand how social life is produced through a combination of economic, political and ideological conflicts.
The concept of alienation is deeply embedded in Marxism. It is the transformation of people’s own labour into a power which rules them as if by a kind of natural or supra-human law. The origin of alienation is commodity fetishism – the belief that inanimate things (commodities) have human powers (i.e. value) able to govern the activity of human beings.
As Marxism entails full historical, social, political & economic inclinations, many scholars have sought to extract perceived relevances to diverse fields of enquiry. Karl Kautsky, in reconciling Biology and Sociology adopted Marxism and the materialist conception of history without giving up Darwin’s evolutionary theory , he was confronted with the task of integrating two world view. He considered one of Marx’s greatest achievements his bringing together of natural and social science.2 Enrico Ferri duly deduced the precepts of Marxism from Spencerian thought on evolution. Herbert Spencer held that his evolutionary mechanism was necessary to explain ‘higher’ evolution, especially the social development of humanity, similar to Marx’s historical development of society. For Otto Bauer, Marxism could not be divorced by materialism because it was compatible with any philosophical doctrine, ‘including Thomism’. Plekhanov, in placing Marxism in the tradition of mechanist materialism later adding a dialectical theory of development to distinguish it from classic Marxism.
In feminism, the Marxism is essentially drawn from its major claims. Feminist standpoint theorists make three principal claims: 1) Knowledge is socially situated. 2) Marginalized groups are socially situated in ways that make it more possible for them to be aware of things and ask questions than it is for the non-marginalized 3) Research, particularly that focused on power relations, should begin with the lives of the marginalized. The genealogy of feminist standpoint theory begins in Hegel’s account of the master/slave dialectic, and subsequently Marx. Hegel argued that the oppressed slave can eventually reach a state of freedom of consciousness as a result his/her realization of self-consciousness through struggles against the master, an via involvement through labour in projects that enable her/him to fashion the world- to affect it in various ways. Marx developed this Hegelian idea within the framework of the dialectic of class consciousness, thereby giving the notion of a standpoint of the proletariat as an epistemic position that, it was argued, provided a superior starting point for understanding and eventually changing the world than that of the controllers and owners of capital. This Marxist tradition, then provide the genesis of standpoint theorists’ claim that the “double vision” afforded to those who experience social relations from a position of marginality can, under certain circumstances, offer them epistemic advantage.3
Among those who have tried to channel certain works of Marx into a whole different body of enquiry are philosophers. However, Marxists do claim that ‘Marxist philosophy’ is nothing short of a manifest contradiction. With regards to this “there is no Marxist philosophy” appears to be the historical antagonist of the motto “Marx is more important for philosophy than ever before” in the long debate pertaining to the possibility of philosophy in Marxism. In the thick of this controversy, it is paramount to source for Marx’s own perception of philosophy whether it is contained in his work. This ultimately leads to Marx’s remark in his Theses On Feuerbach of the irrelevance of philosophy as philosophers have only successed in the interpretation of the world instead of making efforts to change the world as it is. Thoughts should be more than intellectually luxurious theorizing instead. Scholars who deny the need of philosophy in Marxism do so mainly because they hold that Marxism will be necessarily deviated from practice, which is most sacrosanct to Marxism. Marx meanwhile do not categorically suggest a mode of philosophy or epistemology as he did not clearly set aside what he called he called his philosophical conception of how the world really is to him. Marx did not have an epistemologically themed work like Plato, Descartes or Russell. This seemingly indifference to philosophy prompted scholars over the century to doubt out rightly what is referred to a philosophy rightfully attributed to the German. Scholars like Karl Korsch in his ‘Karl Marx’ enunciated that Marx’s materialistic science, which is an empirical enquiry into definite historical forms of society, does not need an epistemological (philosophical support).4 Furthermore, this does not prevent us from having a look on social reality. Some judgments on knowledge and both truth and a general feature of his philosophical attitude or views.
At this juncture highlighting the definition of philosophy becomes paramount before delving into what is regarded as a ‘Marxist philosophy’. Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. It is critical, generally systematic in approach and is reliable on rational argument. Philosophy is divided into subfields, epistemology, which is concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge. Logic is the study of the principles of correct reasoning. Metaphysics, a study of the features of reality of reality such as existence, time, mind and body. Aesthetics deals with beauty, art, matters of taste and sentiment. History of Philosophy, a branch of philosophy as do with questions and philosophical traditions peculiar to an epoch of thoughts. With the few insights into the nature of philosophy, can it be exclusively contended that that such exists in Marxism? If it does what then what is its real nature? In an attempt to the questions, terms have been invented to express the philosophical content common to Marx’s work and the political and social movement which acted in his name: the most famous of theses is ‘dialectical materialism’.5 the philosophy of dialectical materialism is the Marxist-Leninist approach to understanding and changing the world. Many of the qualities that Hegel attributes to a universal spirit (God)- eternally, infinitude ,an uncreated being ,indestructibility and, the mind- Marxist philosophy affirms matter as ultimately real, rather than God. This appears to be godless philosophy. With this, it can be easily deduced that dialectical materialism could be part of philosophy as it explains the materialistic view of the world typical of ,metaphysics. Epistemology can be traced to Marxism too. Anything supernatural lacks objective, material reality, so according to Marxism we have no means perceiving it or of getting knowledge about it: this Marxists deny the supernatural. They distinguish between knowledge of material world and what they termed true belief in an attempt to allow for scientific speculation while ignoring speculation about God. Marxist epistemology declares that we can never know belief in the supernatural as “true belief” because we cannot test it scientifically or empirically. Knowledge can apply only to the material world. This is true largely because Marxists’ claim that dialectics operations in the place of metaphysics in their philosophy.
Dialectical materialism, the purported philosophy of Marxism, contains an epistemology, a cosmology, an ontology, and an answer to the mind-body problem. For the Marxists, science and practice refine knowledge; the universe is infinite and all that will ever exist; matter is external and the ultimate substance; life is a product of this non-living matter, and the mind is a reflection of this material reality. The importance of the dialectics, some have argued, is that it can explain every process and change that occurs. This process is written not only within the metaphysical make-up of our matter, but also in the evolution of humanity and the evolving social and historical context of our existence. This materialist belief affects the Marxist view of history, causing Marxists to view the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as thesis and antithesis, clashing from a synthesis. Dialectical materialism is a worldview and a philosophy of evolution and revolution. Unfortunately from a Marxist point of view, all such change is merely transitory because each new synthesis (including the long- anticipated communist classless society) inevitably becomes a new thesis in the never-ending process of dialectical materialism. The synthesis of communism today will become the new thesis of tomorrow, and the new struggles will evolve according to the laws of dialectical materialism.6
Philosophy seems to be manifested in the Marxist thoughts but Balibar stressed that “Marxism is an improbable philosophy today” because “it has to do with the fact that Marx’s philosophy is engaged in the long and difficult process of separation from “historical Marxism”. It cannot however be right for that philosophy to seek to return to its starting point, it must rather learn from its own history and transform itself as it surmounts those obstacles.7
Of a point, Marx did not clearly argue for his materialism philosophically. It could be argued that Marx’s conception was far from being philosophical bearing in mind that that he did not identify as a philosophy is an element of obscurity in his dialectic materialism. Is Marx envisaging a new kind of materialism ( one that would not have the defects of hitherto existing materialism) with his dialectical materialism or is it not all a call to leave philosophy- both materialism and idealism behind altogether? One could reason that he primaced his dialectics laced on his materialistic views.
Forwadly, one can be safely arrive at the conclusion that Marx’s dialectical materialism necessarily and sufficiently can be ultimately referred to as Marx’s philosophical conception of the world, whether he detests philosophy or not. Consequently, the controversies over the possibility of philosophy should lose ground and scholars should endeavor to channel their intellectual energy and passion in practical development geared by the philosophical precepts of Marxism. Even Marx would be fulfilled.

April 2014

•Karl Kautsky, Die Historische Leistung von Karl Marx (Berlin, 1908), 8
•Korsch Karl: Karl Marx (London: NLB, 1938), p169
•Etienne Balibar; The Philosophy of Marx, translated by Chris Turner (London, New York: Verso, 1995), p1
•Etienne Balibar; The Philosophy of Marx, translated by Chris Turner (London, New York: Verso, 1995), p123


Published by: Omotayo

International citizen | Flippant Philosopher | Cartophille | Hobbyist Vexillologist | Recreational Physicist | International politics enthusiast | Lover of history | Compulsive Teetotaler | Proud African. My area of correspondence is quite dynamic as much as I'm interested.

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