13 September 2009

Not your grandfather's Marx

As far as the natural-scientific materialism of his contemporaries was concerned, Marx felt only scorn for it. The realization that we are, both mind and body, spirit and flesh, is a basic assumption of Marxian naturalism. While Marx did not differ from the materialists in their belief that body is more fundamental than mind, he also clearly put the spirit high above the flesh. Marx cherished the spiritual aspirations and the spiritual world of man as much as the most determined idealist and showed little appreciation for the material in the everyday use of this term. Although he was close to materialists, Marx was so emphatic about the worth of man’s spiritual life that he was rightly described- in the sense in which a paradox might state an important truth- as a thinker who leaned, so to speak, towards a practical dualism of body and mind and wished to liberate men from the bondage of their material nature.

This book is fascinating. It mainly consists in arguing that Marx was not a dialectical materialist, but an anthropological naturalist, and that dialectical materialism bases itself on Engels' misunderstandings of Marx and then Lenin's misunderstandings of Engels. Interesting and plausible - the paragraph above totally confirms the basic ideas that this blog is founded on (that spirituality and culture can be understood using Marxism, not abolished), and the book's description of "anthropological naturalism" reads like simple common sense to yours truly.


  1. Ever read "Karl Marx and the Iroquois," by Franklin Rosemont, on the topic of Marx's Ethnological Notebooks? Since you like the Jordan chapter, I think you'd really dig it...


  2. Thanks for that - it is certainly interesting. I followed some of the links off to the lib-com websites. I always feel a bit torn, because I am so attracted by the rhetoric and the theory of lib-coms, but repelled by their practical on-the-ground cluelessness and their firebreathing hatred of the Trots.

    (The analysis that "Trots would be evil dictators if they ever got into power, so isolate and bedevil them now" strikes me as something out of Minority Report, and doesn't fill me with any confidence that a world where lib-coms or anarcho-coms were in control would be "free" in any sense I'd recognize. One could even argue that you can tell this by the frankly tribal or cultish nature of actually-existing anarchist movements, but that's a topic for another time.)

  3. Hey, I'm with you completely when it comes to contemporary anarchists and the stuff on libcom. Although I would no longer call myself a "Trotskyist" without a lot of qualifiers, that's where I come from too. I just like the Rosemont essay and that's where I happened to find it when I gooooooogled.