An academic current that defines Marxism as a “method of analysis” that can be developed outside of the class struggle.
Under the label “academic Marxism” a multitude of approaches and schools are actually grouped together by the idea that “Marxism is a method” and that as such it can be “applied” or “developed” in different contexts regardless of its aims and the social context in which the theory is developed. Starting with the university itself.
Marxist critique of “academic Marxism”
Marxism is not a method
Nothing could be further from Marxism than to propose a set of steps or a recipe, let alone a “procedural machine”, an automaton, as an “infallible formula” for the analysis of reality. Not even historical materialism can be understood as a method in that sense, which, in any case, would be more of a framework, a set of premises for the analysis of social reality in order to understand historical change as a transformation of the modes of production, as a totality.
Among these premises are, by the way, two that are quite uncommon in these schools:
- materialism: it is not the history of “ideas” or “ideologies” that explains historical change but rather the transformations in the productive, material base of society;
- and the old dialectical principle that in any system, the whole determines the parts, while the parts -or the aggregation of the parts- cannot explain the whole.
Marxism is a critique (=demolition) of the very foundations of the academy
A good part of Marx’s works are titled or subtitled with the word “critique”: critique of the philosophy of the state (philosophy of history, we would say today), critique of political economy (economic theory), etc. All his work is a “critique” in reality. And the fact is that Marx does not propose a “critical thought”, but the critique of thought. And when he says critique, in reality we must read “demolition”.
Because his critique of thought begins by placing it as a historical product, as an expression of the material social reality and the class struggle this reality generates. That is, Marx converts the critique of thought into a critique of ideology[[ and as such he treats the different sciences. That is why, in the essence of the Marxist critique of thought is to deny the autonomy of the sciences defined by the academy, not to mention their particular “methods”.
There is no methodology that can be segregated from Marxism, there is no application, no procedure, no method that can be distilled from the work of Marx and the revolutionaries who followed him, that can live outside the class struggle. Once again, the part cannot exist apart from the whole. Marxism is a continuous effort that implies a revolutionary demolition of ideology, a continuous iconoclasm.
Marx and Engels -it is worth remembering- were irrepressible iconoclasts, even in relation to themselves, because there is no other way to escape from the compartmentalization of the closed system. The first answered to those who spoke of the Marxists of continental Europe: “I am not a Marxist”. In this way he tacitly established an a-dogmatic definition of revolutionary thought, which today is very little understood. Engels, on the other hand, expressed how he and Marx had set to work on a large amount of materials that needed to be developed. Now it is necessary to add the materials that have since been generated by the world class struggle. Therefore, we are deliberately carrying out a desecration. Only one thing matters: whether or not it is in line with the long continuity of all the desecrations that revolutionary thought has committed, and which it cannot avoid committing so as not to suffocate itself.
Preface to the Italian edition of “For a Second Communist Manifesto”, 1967
There is no Marxism at the margin or outside the class struggle
Communism is a process of negation of capitalism that is underway from the very moment the proletariat appears as a universal class.
Communism is not a state that must be implanted, an ideal to which reality must be subjected. We call communism the real movement that annuls and surpasses the present state of things.
Marx and Engels. The German Ideology, 1846
Marxism is the theoretical expression of the ultimate possibilities, immediately and historically, of this ongoing negation. Like any expression of a movement, it cannot exist outside it. That is, it cannot exist as a dogmatic body, as a doctrine fixed once and for all, nor can it exist outside the organized struggle of the working class.
In reality what is called Marxism is the theoretical expression of the struggle of the working class, its ultimate possibilities and its means. In other words: the most advanced theoretical form, the most free of ideological illusions, of class consciousness. And once again: as such it cannot exist outside the class that gives rise to it, to believe this would be to fall back into the separation between body and soul proper to religious idealism… which is not very Marxist.
It is true that this error existed in the labor movement itself in the form of Kautsky’s “class consciousness implanted from outside”. And it is true that revolutionaries like Lenin in certain moments of isolation made it their own. But even though it was a mistake, at least they attributed this “injector” role to a political organization, an organism that emerged and brought together the most advanced sectors, however small, of the working class. But the mistake becomes an evident aberration when “the party” is replaced by “the academy”, that is, by an organ of the state -or its officials- whose function is none other than to indoctrinate and manufacture ideology.
The University is an organism of the class state
“Marxism” cannot emerge from the university because the university is an organ of a different and adverse class whose function is precisely to create ideology, that which Marxism seeks to demolish. And it cannot come out of individuals either, whether they are professors or plumbers, because class consciousness is the product of the movement and struggle of a class and therefore it can only have a collective existence and expression, however small in numerical terms. The figure of the “Marxist professor”, an individual who is capable of replacing an entire class and elaborating in isolation an understanding of its historical situation and the steps it must take is simply absurd from a Marxist perspective. This is the position that the famous doctor Eugen Dühring, whose theory Engels demolishes, intended for himself.
Does that mean the class movement won’t be able to win over college professors? No, of course not. But has anyone ever thought what tremendous virulence and strength the current class movement would have to show in order to have “won over” the thousands of “Marxist professors” who “teach Marxism” in universities around the world?
And in any case… what does it mean for the workers’ movement to “win over” an intellectual? What did it mean to “win over” for example… Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin or Trotsky? In integrating them as militants into their organizations, not in “integrating their contributions” without them having to commit themselves to the material movement, something that only the “Dühring” of each epoch sought.