Marxism Primož Krašovec

In a postsocialist historical situation, Marxism has a very curious position within the intellectual field. On the one hand, it has been successfully exorcized from the university and public discourse in general (under the pretext that it constituted the ideology of the previous, “totalitarian” regime); on the other hand, this exclusion of Marxism is preventing the postsocialist intellectual field from correctly assessing and theorizing about the new, postsocialist, historical situation. Both processes are even more closely connected—it is precisely the exclusion of Marxism from the intellectual field which, under postsocialism, allows “theories” of totalitarianism to take place.

The typical revisionist excuse would state something like “Of course Marxism had to be banished since it is impossible to explain the cruelty and inhumanity of the previous regime using its own ideology.” But this is only true if we accept the a priori claim that socialist regimes were cruel and inhumane—that is, if we accept something which, according to standard research procedures, constitutes the final result or outcome of the research process, as that research’s point of departure. By discarding Marxism as an illegitimate theoretical perspective, one assumes the criminality of the sociopolitical system Marxism is usually associated with and further research based on anti-Marxist “theories” just confirms this prior judgment.

It comes as no surprise that “discoveries” derived from such research procedures are of a moralistic type (sometimes masked in legalistic terms), since it is, when dealing with theory itself, absolutely illegitimate to discard this or that theoretical perspective on the grounds of common morality (for example, claims that Marxism was indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people). The only legitimate procedure to determine the correctness or falsity of a particular theoretical perspective is thorough epistemological engagement and polemics and this has not been the case with the exclusion of Marxism under postsocialism.

If such an engagement did take place, it would probably show that Marxism constitutes a theoretical system much too complex and much too wide ranging to be reduced to a simple ideology used in the day-to-day political activities of the ruling classes under current socialist regimes. Actually, it is Marxism’s very complexity that distinguishes it from many other modern “theories” that have been bound up with different political projects. For example, Arendtianism or French new philosophy have a very limited theoretical scope and a very precise political charge and can easily be identified with a certain political project—an ideological assault on Soviet “totalitarianism” during the Cold War in the case of Arendtianism and the destruction of the emancipatory charge arising out of the May 1968 protests within French society and the restoration of a conservative social order in the case of the new philosophy. In contrast, Marxism has fueled many different political projects, from socialist revolutions and antifascist resistance in Europe during the Second World War, to guerrilla anticolonial and anticolonialist struggles on other continents, and—most importantly for our purposes here—internal resistance to and uprisings against certain nominally socialist regimes.

The typical revisionist strategy consists of firstly reducing Marxism to just another political doctrine and thus simplifying it beyond recognition and then, secondly, discarding it as a political doctrine of “totalitarian” regimes, while overlooking its role in antifascist, anticolonialist, antibureaucratic and other emancipatory struggles. The “surplus” of Marxism, if we compare it to other political doctrines, is its utopian character—it is not a real-political goal-oriented product of a specialized think tank (like other contemporary political doctrines, be they conservative or social democratic)—consisting in its promise of universal emancipation from social and political injustice. Such a utopian promise cannot simply be translated into a step-by-step manual for political action. While contemporary doctrines try to be as realistic and down to earth as possible and produce countless documents containing Machiavellian “advice to the prince,” Marxism is a critical theory in the strict sense. Rather than being a practical manual, it offers a set of tools for thought primarily used to analyze capitalism and come up with forms of political action to overcome it; however, it can be used equally well to analyze and struggle against any unjust sociopolitical system, such as colonialism, fascism, or even real socialism. In contrast with contemporary political doctrines, created just for that purpose, Marxism can never be fully subsumed under any existing sociopolitical order—it always has a utopian residue that fuels further emancipatory demands. Rather than being a nation- or state-building doctrine, Marxism is a distinct theoretical perspective that can take any social fact as its research object (thus we can have Marxist historiography, critique of political economy, political theory, anthropology, linguistics, literary studies etc.).

Marxism is not one area or a distinct discipline within the field of the social sciences; it is (much like structuralism) an alternative to the social sciences generally. What distinguishes it from the “regular” social sciences is its political charge—while the social sciences pretend to be neutral and cling to the defunct notion of the autonomy of science, Marxism openly admits its political perspective and, moreover, exposes the political perspective of the regular social sciences, which, despite their ostensible neutrality, simply support the current socio-political order. Marxism is thus openly political, while other systems of thought are unknowingly political.

This is the reason why Marxism developed a theory of ideology and also why it was, at the same time, able to and forced to articulate the relationship between everyday thinking and theory, between the production of knowledge and politics, since it was precisely its own unyielding political charge that enabled this investigation and demanded it at the same time. The ability to explore the space between supposedly autonomous spheres of modern society (politics, economics, everyday life, culture) and to explore the connections and causal links between them is the greatest power Marxism wields and, at the same time, the greatest threat it represents in its struggle against established systems of thought (Marxism is always a combative way of thinking, and always combative on two fronts: against sociopolitical systems of domination and exploitation and against their ideologies, sciences, and philosophies). While established systems of thought respect the boundaries between the various spheres of society and organize their research agenda accordingly, Marxism not only criticizes their organization and composition, but also explores the areas they necessarily exclude, since those areas represent a blind spot for the regular social sciences. Simply noting the existence of a connection between economics and politics or politics and everyday thinking undermines the basic ideological illusion regarding autonomous social spheres that capitalist societies rely on—herein lies the political charge of Marxism. Contrary to the claims of many neutral critics of Marxism, this is not an artificial and redundant add-on, which supposedly sullies its scientific nature. The politics of Marxism is not a retroactive supplement to its theory; it is always already present in its methods of research and in its basic epistemological foundations.

In Marxism, “critique”—a word that accompanies the titles of most of Marx’s works—is not a voluntary add-on, but a necessity. Marxism cannot not be critical; its particular way of selecting objects and its specific research methods always bring it into conflict with the regular social sciences. Marxism’s characteristic political stance is not fueled by morality (as is the case with anti-Marxist revisionists, whose politics are actually an artificial add-on to doubtful theoretical endeavors); it is already included in its theoretical structure. It is thus Marxism’s combined utopianism and criticism that are the real thorns in the side of postsocialist regimes—much as in certain intellectual purges in some nominally socialist regimes. Postsocialist revisionism is not a matter of breaking free from the repressive ideologies of the past and entering at last the golden era of democratic, free thought unstained by ideology—as the propaganda of these new revisionists proclaims—rather, it is an attempt to discredit and push aside a theory able to reveal oppressive and exploitative elements even in regimes that are nominally democratic and inspire political action that could undermine them. Postsocialist revisionism does not try to banish “totalitarian” ideologies, but utopian and critical modes of thought and any form of revolutionary politics (which are, from the revisionist perspective, always equated with revolutionary terror, mass killings, concentration camps etc.). Marxism is thus not a ghost from the past which must simply be forgotten, but a constant alarming threat—despite its almost complete absence in today’s postsocialist academic establishment and in “transitional” regimes in general—since to analyze them anew from a Marxist perspective would also entail a political demand to change them.