27 May 2011

Marxism, or Marx?

Philosophy and Religion, Part 7


Marxism, or Marx?

Cyril Smith, late in life, and following the fall of the Soviet Union, felt himself free enough to challenge the principle Shibboleths of Marxism, including the word “Marxism” itself. Students may think that here and there, Smith did not quite succeed in resolving all his issues.

For example, he approves Marx's aim of “development of communist consciousness on a mass scale” but disapproves, in another place, of what he considers to be Lenin’s determination to do the same thing “from outside” (This CU course will continue to examine that particular question).

But otherwise, Cyril Smith succeeds admirably to hit and to knock down his targets, which are the dead wood and the rotten branches of 165 years and more of “theory”, and he does us a great service thereby.

This makes Smith’s work ideal as a means of introducing to this course a set of propositions about the work of Marx, Engels and their successors, and asking whether their ideas have stayed on track or whether they have been reversed, or overturned, by those who have claimed to be their carriers down the years.

We may quickly get close to the heart of the matter by first looking at Smith’s talk on “The Communist Manifesto After 150 Years” (a 12-page document, linked below), and in particular at the section headed “The Subject of History”. In this section, the daily practice of communists (“to educate, organise and mobilise”) comes together with the most profound depths of philosophy. It begins:

“Marx's problem was to discover the possibility for humanity, individually and collectively, to take conscious charge of its own life, and to find this possibility within bourgeois society. Communism would mean that humans would cease to be prisoners of their social relations, and begin purposively to make their own history. In other words, we should cease to be mere objects and start to live as subjects.”

It is not unreasonable, nor is it an exaggeration, to say that this is no less than the whole matter of Marx, Lenin, communism and the entire work of all the communists that have ever been. Therefore this section is suggested as the main reading and discussion text for this part, and the matter will be taken up again in the next part. Use the section on “The Subject of History” for discussion, because it is sufficient, but do also read the entire document, for the light that it sheds upon the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

Image: The late Cyril Smith’s passport photograph.

The full Cyril Smith archive on MIA can be found here.

Please download and read the text via this link:

Further reading:

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