“Communism is at once a complete system of proletarian ideology and a new social system. It is different from any other ideological and social systems, and is the most complete, progressive, revolutionary, and rational system in human history.”
According to a significant constellation of progressive thinkers, theorists, and activists, the theoretical trajectory initiated by Marx and Engels is intrinsically Eurocentric and generally irredeemable. This charge is not new and its monotonous repetition has made it doctrinaire: Marx and Engels were white men; Marxism is an Enlightenment doctrine of progress and thus, like the European Enlightenment (another connected assumption), is thoroughly colonialist and imperialist; other non-European theoretical trajectories are usurped even when the subaltern expresses themselves according to Marxist categories. Hence, Marxism occupies an exceptional space that renders it a priori worthy of sacrifice.
At the beginning of Gore Capitalism, Sayak Valencia writes, implicitly referring to Marxism by referencing Gayatry Spivak: “[w]e do not seek white discourses ‘nor white men looking to save brown women from brown men’; we do not need First World discourses to explain the realities of the g-local Third World.” (Valencia, 2018: 9) And yet this proclamation does not prevent Valencia from borrowing liberally from the “First World” theories of Foucault and Agamben. Just as Spivak and Edward Said, who singled out Marxism for castigation, borrowed from Foucault and Derrida. Just as Achille Mbembe and Jasbir Puar also grounded their theory in a hybrid of post-structuralist and post-Heideggerian theory while sacrificing Marxism (along with the liberalism that Marxism, more than the theory they preserved, fought tooth-and-nail to eradicate) upon the altar of Eurocentrism. Those devoted to these theorists, and other thinkers within this family of post-Marxist radicalism, are committed to exposing Marxism as a novel variant of Enlightenment Eurocentrism. They perform this exposure, however, by finding bastion in the post-Enlightenment theories that are not only as European and white as Marx and Engels but, unlike the founders of historical materialism, were never committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the European states of their time.1
In Habeas Viscus Alexander G. Weheliye writes:
Foucault’s and Agamben’s ideas [among others] are frequently invoked without scrutinizing the historical, philosophical, or political foundations upon which they are constructed, which bespeaks a broader tendency in which theoretical formulations by white European thinkers are granted a conceptual carte blanche… The concepts of Foucault and Agamben are deemed transposable to a variety of spatiotemporal contexts because the authors do not not speak from an explicitly radicalized viewpoint (in contradistinction to nonwhite scholars who have written about racial slavery, colonialism, indigenous genocide, etc.), which lends their ideas more credibility and, once again, displaces minority discourse. (Weheliye, 2014: 6)
Although Weheliye holds that Marxism is guilty of the same errors, he also diagnoses the problem behind its doctrinaire dismissal. The entirety of Habeas Viscus is about the ways in which the strain of critical theory that bases itself on non-Marxian “radical” traditions is intensely Eurocentric but pretends otherwise due to its uncritical adoption of these theoretical toolboxes. Furthermore, though Weheliye does work a number of these concepts back into his own theoretical approach he does not treat them as any more or less correct than concepts drawn from Marxist theory, nor does he single out Marxism as being somehow more Eurocentric than other theories originating from Europe.
My position, however, which is the position of multiple revolutionary movements and the great world historical revolutions, is that we cannot be ecumenical. Whereas today’s chic critical theorists uphold a variety of post-Marxist European theoretical tendencies so as to dismiss and castigate Marx, I uphold Marxism to castigate these theoretical tendencies. I am not claiming, to be clear, that we cannot borrow from some of the insights of these tendencies but only that, as tendencies, they are theoretically inferior to Marxism regardless of the latter’s purported flaws. Weheliye reduces every European theoretical tendency to the same state of “white European thinkers [who] are granted a carte blanche” but, in this reduction, misses a key point: it is only the Marxist tendency that can account for and surmount this carte blanche, thus necessarily generating theoretical offspring critical of its erroneous aspects, because of what it is: a science.
That is, the reason why those of us who are committed to Marxism can and should uphold this commitment in the face of other theoretical tendencies is because the theoretical trajectory initiated by Marx and Engels, which goes by the name of historical materialism, was one that was scientific. Unlike the so-called “radical” theories generated by or drawn upon its discontents, historical materialism is not a mere quirk of the humanities based on some academic’s thoughts about reality translated into an intriguing terminological set. Rather it is a natural explanation of natural phenomena that has generated a truth procedure and thus falls within the gamut of science. And it is precisely this claim that has made Marxism the scapegoat of those theories that, from their very inception, have also sought to destabilize and usurp the very conception of a historical/social science.
1) The unfashionable claim
The claim “Marxism is a science” is immediately controversial. On the one hand it summons those odd reactions to the category of science where the category itself is treated as either oppressive or at least as theoretically identical to the categories of religion and spirituality. On the other hand it provokes the ire of those who think that all claims to the status of science outside of the so-called “hard sciences” (physics, biology, chemistry) are beyond the pale of those who theorize history and society: both reactionaries who preserve this contemporary notion of science as “hard science” and humanities scholars who agree with the distinction but seek to defend their privileged domain.
But if our first task in understanding an object of inquiry is to understand what it is, what makes it distinct from other objects, then we cannot dismiss the claims of Marxism’s initiators, Marx and Engels, or the claims of its greatest successive theorists at the forefront of world historical revolution who asserted it as a distinct field of inquiry intended to be a science. Historical materialism was developed and constructed as a science (a science of history and society, ultimately a science of revolution) and not as a philosophy, sociology, theology, or any other possible category of human experience that, as the science of history and society, it necessarily absorbed.
Reactionaries and liberals who reject Marxism because they laugh at the notion that it could ever claim to be a science might understand what is at stake. Karl Popper theorized science so as to exclude Marxism and place it on the same level as the failed scientific attempts of Freud and psychoanalysis. As I have pointed out elsewhere, though, Popper unintentionally rendered a small service to Marxism thanks to his unscientific grasp of social categories: his conceptualization of falsifiability did not exclude historical materialism from the privileged domain of the sciences but, because he was too lazy to grasp Marxism as a historical process, cinched its inclusion. Historical materialism can indeed lay claim to falsifiability (and its inverse, “testability”) as one of its criteria for scientific veracity: revolutions are the crucibles in which the unfolding theoretical terrain is tested and where its hypotheses can possibly be rendered false––and this is how we judge its development as a discrete science.
I discussed the concept of revolutions (particularly “world historical” revolutions) as the crucible or laboratory of the science in Continuity and Rupture. Simply put theories are put to the test in these revolutions and their veracity is established based on their successes and the repeatability of these successes (i.e. for example, the theory of the vanguard party has been proved correct because it was not only successful but has been repeated) but, like all sciences, meet their limits when they encounter problems the development to date of the theory cannot solve. Similarly, the Newtonian conception of physics reached limits and failed to answer the questions its problematic encountered, hence the necessity of the Einsteinian paradigm shift. Of course the analogy of the laboratory, like all analogies, is imperfect because the limits reached by a theoretical sequence in revolutionary science are not experienced like the limits reached by the physicist or biologist. For revolutionary science encountering problems that cannot be solved by the theoretical terrain to date in the “laboratory” of class struggle results in violent catastrophe.
Here I am not interested in explaining the reasons why historical materialism is a science, or how we should understand it as a science, because I have already discussed this in The Communist Necessity, Continuity and Rupture, and various articles. My focus in this treatise is what is rendered onto Marxism as a theory, as opposed to other theories, if it is a science and how this understanding, if it is correct, invites us to understand Marxism. If it is indeed a science, and elsewhere I have provided good reasons (along with reasons given by Marx and other theorists) to presume this is the case, then it cannot be held to the same standard that should be levelled at other theories from continental Europe but, as Weheliye points out, have not.
Unfortunately, to claim that Marxism is a science encounters a refusal amongst numerous contemporary Marxists as I discovered with the reception of The Communist Necessity. There are Marxists who now find what was once essential to their theoretical terrain controversial. They have adapted to a situation that is suspicious of scientific claims but simultaneously projects scientific authority only into the domains of physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics. In this context claims to scientific authority made outside of the privileged domains are treated with suspicion. Thus, claiming that Marxism is a science, which was once the very meaning of Marxism, becomes dubious––especially so in a post-Enlightenment context, as we shall later discuss, where some strains of “radical” theory question scientific authority in general. In any case, Marxism passes into the universe of the so-called humanities. A privileged site, to be sure, for those who think Marxism is correct, and yet there is no longer any reason to uphold its correctness as superior to other theories encountered within the gamut of “the humanities”. As a theoretical terrain it was only historical materialism’s claim to scientific meaning that made it distinct and even able to survive charges of Eurocentrism, superseding them in a way that other theoretical tendencies cannot.
But as I stated in Continuity and Rupture:
Those Marxists who reject the category of “scientific” have no legitimate reason to privilege historical materialism because they cannot say why it is superior outside of theoretical taste. Although it might be the case we need to define science according to an older sense of the term, or maybe just content ourselves with the qualifier of “scientific approach”, we can only dispense with this distinction and retain the significance of historical materialism by playing with semantics. (Moufawad-Paul, 2016: xiii)
That is, it makes no sense to declare ourselves Marxist, and thus insist that Marxism is superior to other social theories, when we dispense with the qualifier of scientific. By what means is historical materialism superior to some post-structuralist or post-Heideggerian body of theory, especially if they are all guilty of intersecting with Eurocentrism? Clearly personal taste is no justification since, like the preference of strawberries over bananas, it does not provide a meaningful reason to accept one option over another. Appealing to philosophical efficacy might be more meaningful but, aside from placing the dilemma again under the critique of Weheliye and others that ecumenically reduce all European social theory to the same problem, it again dodges the essential meaning of Marxism that was wagered against philosophical reduction.
As I argue in my upcoming Demarcation and Demystification, Marx broke from philosophy-qua-philosophy when he broke from Feuerbach, signaling this break in the 11th thesis on Feuerbach. One of the greatest line struggles of Marx’s time, in fact, was waged over the meaning of science in the social sphere, articulated in Engels’ Anti-Duhring which Marx edited. To claim that Marxism was not really a science, or that it can be recuperated as a social theory outside of the bounds of science, is to do serious damage to the object of inquiry and in fact make it non-Marxist. Although there are many aspects of the Marxist theoretical terrain that can be––and have been––debated, removed, and transformed, there are primary aspects that make it what it is and that the deletion of which would transform it into something else. Moreover, it is only by understanding Marxism as a science that we are able to coherently grasp its development and transformation. Rather than seeing the multiple trajectories of Marxism as a series of options that we can pick and choose from like a wardrobe filled with costumes, a scientific perspective allows us to understand why trajectory x is more theoretically sound than trajectory y. Thus we can understand that the deletion of class struggle constitutes “revisionism” since it rejects the foundational thesis of historical materialism, that history is history because of the struggle between social classes––this is a scientific assessment. The claim that Marxism can remain Marxism without being a science is a denial of this theoretical terrain’s fundamental identity, deeper even than the denial of class struggle which itself can be assessed scientifically. The very thesis of class struggle was established and categorized according to scientific processes.
To declare Marxism as a science, then, is the only way to declare oneself Marxist. Such a declaration is what allows us to preserve our Marxism against the insipid charges of Eurocentrism and Marx’s whiteness. Unlike the similar charges that can and should be levelled against those theories many critics of Marxism use without submitting them to the same critique, Marxism can survive and supersede these criticisms because it is a science. After all, it does not matter if Newton was a white European when we talk about the mechanical theory of gravity: what comes up must come down regardless of colonialism.
2) The troubled trajectory of scientific totalization
As aforementioned there is the tendency to deny science altogether as a privileged domain of investigation. Innumerable anti-Enlightenment theoretical tendencies have expended a lot of energy to relegate the very conception of science to a narrative of totalizing violence. Science is conceptualized as a European notion bound up with the predatory aspects of the Enlightenment, murderous because of its universal claims. Hence, Marxism’s claim to scientific authority should indeed undermine the significance of Marxism if we hold that any claim to scientific authority is essentially colonial and murderous.
But let us be honest: despite the fact that such anti-scientific arguments are chic in some quarters of academia, those who make them are not devoted to them in everyday practice; they must necessarily promote a variety of inconsistencies. Unless those making these arguments refuse to visit a doctor or hospital in their lifetime, choose to live their life according to horoscope charts,2 and dispense with the instruments that science has provided (computers, smart phones, etc.) they are being dishonest.3 There are indeed anti-vaxxers and primitivists who are truly dedicated to the rejection of modern science and these anti-Enlightenment academics don’t seem interested in joining their ranks. As a side note it is worth investigating the popularity of the anti-Enlightenment extreme amongst privileged white North American populations––why is it that the whitest and wealthiest populations are those who are mainly embracing this anti-scientific nonsense and why do they like to pretend that this anti-science is in fact scientific?
There is no question that scientific progress in various fields is mediated by the ruling class, but this mediation does not make this progress untrue; it makes it inaccessible and distorted. And this is precisely what the Marxist analysis of social phenomena has demystified and why, in that throwaway footnote of The German Ideology, Marx and Engels spoke of recognizing only the science of history. But none of this changes the fact that science does things that are repeatable, and that to reject science because of some perceived Eurocentrism doesn’t matter in the least. There are artifacts produced from scientific knowledge that we use on a daily basis and we can rely on them because the principles established through scientific investigation are true. The smart phone functions according to clear scientific principles, for example, and not because of wishful thinking. Magical versions of this technology do not exist and will never exist.
In fact, to claim that science is “wrong” because capitalism holds the monopoly on its development, or that some principles were established in the period of bourgeois mastery and thus were used for vile purposes, lends credence to the asinine and laughable claims made by capitalist ideologues where socialists are called “hypocrites” for using technologies produced under the dominance of bourgeois social relations. Just as bourgeois relations of production obscure the fact that productive forces are developed also by the proletariat under the command of these productive relations, many of the scientific advancements made in tandem with the development of European colonialism and capitalism were only possible because of scientific knowledge stolen from subjugated populations. Colonial ideologues claimed that non-Europeans were “primitive” and only European men could be rational and scientific; they promoted this lie while appropriating and exploiting knowledge from those they colonized and murdered.
There is, of course, a more nuanced version of this anti-science discourse that shifts the blame from science in general to the European Enlightenment. Derived from post-modern/post-structuralist philosophy, particularly the work of Michel Foucault, this variant of anti-science calls into question all discoveries made during early modernity because of the evils of colonialism and early capitalism. The focus is on the “totalizing” aspect of the Enlightenment, the ways in which other knowledges have been excluded, rather than wallowing in an explicit rejection of science in general. Although it is indeed the case that the social relations that were in command during the European Enlightenment did distort the application and intention of scientific investigation, once again the problem is not the scientific principles that were established but the ways in which they were established and the class monopolization of scientific reason. More importantly, Marxism itself reveals this truth: all scientific work, due to the fact that scientists occupy class positions, is affected by ideology.4 Enlightenment science, though still successful in producing key developments of scientific truth, was indeed hampered by the colonial-capitalist ideology of that conjuncture.
As I argued in my essay Radiating Disaster Triumphant, a proper understanding of the Enlightenment and modernity––following Amin’s claim the Marxism represents a “modernity critical of modernity”––allows us to better understand what was happening rather than making claims as equally “totalizing” as this kind of dismissal of Enlightenment thought. In any case, this more “nuanced” anti-science position is not as distinct from the explicitly anti-science position as its adherents imagine since the result is often the same. Scientific principles, if they succeed in being established as scientific principles and withstand the historical tests, are correct regardless of the ideological distortions surrounding their emergence. Natural selection remains correct (as far as we know and at this point) regardless of Darwin’s European chauvinism, and the existence of antibiotics confirms that this is the case. At the same time those of us who are historical materialists are keenly aware that Darwin did not remain unaffected by the ruling ideas of the ruling class. Thus, the language he used to describe the motor of evolution, lifted as it was from Malthus’ theory of populations, easily loaned itself to Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism. (Sapp, 2003: 52-54)5 Although Spencer has been relegated to academic ignominy his distant theoretical progeny, such as Evolutionary Psychology, remain at large. But it is historical materialism, which is the science of the social, that allows us to rigorously trace the distinction between science and ideology as well as the ways in which these two domains codetermine each other.
Moreover, claims that there are other knowledges that have been excluded by the dominant scientific narrative does not prove that science-qua-science is incorrect––as the artifacts the latter produces immediately demonstrates. At best such claims only demonstrate that the colonial-capitalist monopoly on scientific investigation has excluded just as much as it has appropriated and that it could stand to learn more from the research of others: we know this is correct since environmental scientists have discovered that there are indeed suppressed knowledges of numerous Indigenous populations that prove the possibility of living sustainable lives. At worst, however, claims about excluded knowledge traditions can lead to unqualified endorsements of culturalist mystification. Just because a truth claim is made by a colonized or formerly colonized population does not make it correct, no more than the various anti-scientific truth claims made by colonizing populations (i.e. Six Day Creationism, anti-vaccination, “chem-trails”, ethno-nationalism, conservative conceptions of gender and sex, etc.), and thus it is not always wrong that science excludes some knowledges. Indeed, science necessarily has to exclude those truth claims that are proven wrong regardless of their origin. This does not mean that scientific investigation, because of the influence of the ideological instance, might not wrongly exclude truths due to a scientist’s devotion to various social dogma, only that other times the exclusion is correct. Only Christian fundamentalists would argue that we are not better off for the exclusion of Six Day Creationism from the discipline of biology.
Moreover, this appeal to culturalism is something that the important revolutionary theorists of oppressed peoples already rejected generations ago, and we would do well to learn from this past. Frantz Fanon rigorously critiqued this culturalism in The Wretched of the Earth. Abdulrahman Babu castigated Julius Nyerere’s cultural nationalism in African Socialism or Socialist Africa, and it is worth pointing out that while Babu led the revolution in Zanzibar, Nyerere with his appeal to culturalist truths worked with the US and Britain to suppress and destroy this revolution. (Wilson, 2013) Samir Amin, having observed the currents of Third World struggle before and after the Bandung Conference, would conclude in numerous books that this kind of anti-scientific culturalism was a serious threat to any anti-colonial/anti-imperialist movement.
These modern rearticulations of culturalism, along with the anti-scientific and anti-Enlightenment claims, coalesce to deny the importance of Marxism. Indeed, these complaints are usually raised in response to Marxism, treating it as the cause célèbre to be overthrown, mobilizing arguments opposed to science and the European Enlightenment––as well as appeals to cultural nationalism––mainly to attack Marxism. That is, the vast majority of such claims are wagered only against the existence of Marxism so as to explain why Marxism (and so-called “Marxplaining”, a pithy term circulating across social media) is outdated and erroneous. The fact that Marxism is singled out from the rest of Enlightenment thought, when it was in fact critical of the Enlightenment, as well as the rest of science––so as to reject science––reveals more about these strains of anti-scientific theory. They are more concerned with opposing the Marxist conception of revolution, and the history wherein this concept was articulated, than anything else. Why do so many radicals who live according to the law of gravity, who have no problem accepting that smartphones and internal combustion engines work and not by magical principles, suddenly start making grand pronouncements about the veracity of science, that are substantially identical to those made by anti-vaxxers and Six Day Creationists, when they encounter Marxism? Clearly something else is going on, and this something is an antipathy to what Marxism represents.
3) Exceptional spaces
There is an exceptional space of antipathy in which Marxism is placed by those thinkers and theorists devoted to the philosophical trends that came after Marxism, could not have existed without Marxism, and whose foundational identity is a resistance to Marxism’s long shadow. If such antipathy is warranted because of the European origins of Marx, we must again repeat that the charge is inconsistent: the even more pernicious Europeanness of the post-Marxist constellation of theory is generally ignored or dismissed.
Moreover, the fact that Nietzsche and Heidegger are often the theoretical inspiration for this post-Marxist milieu (the former for Foucault and Lyotard, the latter for Derrida and Agamben), the exceptional antipathy accorded to Marxism by these traditions that claim to be emancipatory becomes quite strange. Nietzsche and Heidegger seem to be odd choices for non-Eurocentric alternatives to Marxism: the former was a consummate bourgeois European with nothing but hatred for the “slave morality” of the masses; the latter was a committed member of the Nazi party. What Nietzsche and Heidegger share as alternative theoretical origin points from the Marxist tradition, though, is that they did not speak in the language of science, i.e. totalization, and in fact abjured this language for their own fragmented or ontological approaches, respectively. That which attempts to totalize is necessarily predatory; that which rejects totalization or rejects the European Enlightenment is conversely treated as progressive. A displacement happens where words such as “colonization” are used to refer to these totalizing narratives rather than the real-world event of colonialism; the concrete solidity of the latter usage melts into the air of the former’s metaphorical register. Marxism is forced to bear the charge of Eurocentrism whereas these other tendencies––despite relying on a consummate Eurocentric bourgeois apologist’s fragmentary narratives and a Nazi’s radical ontology––are accorded respect because of their supposed break with Enlightenment thought.
How did we get here?
Let us return to that core claim of Marxism without which it would be meaningless as a theoretical tendency: historical materialism is a science. Again, since I have articulated the reasons why this claim is meaningful elsewhere I see no reason to repeat myself here. Rather, taking the statement “historical materialism is a science” as axiomatic, I want to explore why this sets it apart from other theoretical tendencies that purport to be radically progressive. Specifically, I want to discuss why it is this claim and this claim only that allows contemporary Marxists to ground themselves in this theoretical terrain.
First of all, and as aforementioned, the critique that Marxism is Eurocentric (and the more vulgar critique that Marx was a white European man) extend also to the majority of theoretical tendencies that are relied upon to make this critique in the first place. Edward Said’s critique of Marx’s Eurocentrism in Orientalism, for example, is paradigmatic of the “post-colonial” rejection of Marxism. That is, Said’s critique of Marx’s early and uninformed journalistic writings on India––which were indeed terribly Eurocentric––results in a hasty generalization of Marx’s entire project. “Marx was concerned with vindicating his own theses on socio-economic revolution,” writes Said, “but in part also he seems to have had easy resource to a massed body of writing, both internally consolidated by Orientalism and put forward by it beyond the field, that controlled any statement made about the Orient.” (Said, 1979: 155)6 The implication is that Marxism is internally flawed since a large part of its justification is based on misreading the social, particularly non-European social formations.
Although Said accuses Marx of orientalism, to his credit he somewhat pulls his punches when it comes to Marxism as a whole. Considering that he draws upon the work of Marxists such as Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and Anwar Abdel-Malek (who coined the term “orientalism”) he cannot dismiss the theoretical terrain out of hand. Rather, it is the post-colonialists following Said who would use his critique of Marx to attack Marxism as a whole. The fact that Said privileged a Foucauldian analysis while attacking Marx would arm the post-colonial critique of Marxist logocentrism.7 This privileging of Foucault over Marx, where the latter was guilty of orientalism and the former was an abstract and untroubled theorist, is significant. Why is it that Said privileges a Foucauldian hermeneutics while side-lining Gramsci’s and Abdel-Malek’s Marxism through the centrality of Foucault? Foucault was also a European thinker and it is odd that he would receive a pass, contributing to the central theoretical method of Said’s criticism, considering that his work in itself functions to exclude the experience of colonization and racialization. Marx and Engels, for all their mistakes, at least spoke of the depredations of colonialism and slavery, connecting these processes to capitalism. Foucault, on the other hand, rarely thought of racialization/racism (the only thoughts about this appear in Society Must Be Defended) and only spoke of colonization figuratively, rather than as a real world process, as the ways in which totalizing narratives capture and suppress genealogical fragments. (Weheliye, 2014: 58)8 Although Foucault’s failure to comprehend and address the real world history of European colonialism does not by itself render his concepts useless––they can and have been appropriated and rearticulated by successive radical theorists such as Said––it should lead us to wonder why his theoretical output, along with other similar European non-Marxist thinkers, has been given a pass whereas Marxism, which does have a history of directly addressing these problematics, has not.
If Marxism is not a science then it would not necessarily be any worse than these post-Marxist theoretical tendencies. Although its relationship to the European Enlightenment might render it suspicious, such a suspicion was only amplified by these other European theories that were themselves indebted, and in fact far less critical in many respects, to the boundaries of Fortress Europe. Following Weheliye we should at least be ecumenical with our criticism and subject these non-Marxist European radicals to the same criticism of Eurocentrism. And if this is the case then the Marxist terrain (if it is not understood as scientific) cannot be superior to other theories, whereas it is not inferior either (since those same theories fall, as Weheliye points out, to the criticism of eurocentrism) to the theories most often used to dismiss Marxism. Thus the charge that “Marxism is Eurocentric” which is made by those who rely on Foucault, Derrida, Agamben, and other similar thinkers is internally inconsistent. At the same time, however, if Marxism is rendered no more or less significant than these other theoretical tendencies then Marxism does not really matter: it passes into the realm of one hermeneutic among many, a possible option in a mix-and-match smorgasbord of theory. There is no reason for those Marxists who abjure the adjective of science to be Marxist. After all, what makes Marxism any better than another theoretical option––what secures its legitimacy within the constellation of humanities where there are multiple theoretical tendencies all intent on describing, with their own linguistic toolbox, the same phenomenal universe?
My contention, which is the contention of classical Marxism, is that the only thing that secures and grounds the legitimacy of socio-historical critique is a science that can generate the concrete operations necessary to demystify and explain the social and historical. If we do not accept this axiom as the basis of Marxism then there is no reason to treat Marxism as any more meaningful than other theoretical approaches concerned with the same socio-historical phenomena. At the very least we can treat Marxism as no less important than those tendencies that are used to critique it, but without the qualification of science there is no reason to pretend it is any more significant than what even those Marxists who reject the qualification of “science” hope to critique. That is, we cannot critique competing theoretical tendencies as Marxists in a meaningful sense if we do not respect the scientific meaning of our theoretical terrain––this would be akin to critiquing astrology from the position of astronomy while simultaneously asserting that the latter is not superior because of its status as a science.
Accepting that Marxism is scientific does not, by the very condition of science, mean that we are unable to criticize the erroneous positions of Marx, Engels, and other theorists within this terrain. In fact, according to the very concept, the opposite is the case: a science stands above and beyond its theoretical contributors. We know, for example, that Darwin was a racist just as we also know that this undeniable fact does not mean that the theory of natural selection is racist, let alone incorrect. Recognizing Darwin’s racism, however, allows us to distinguish between the scientific aspects of his work from those ideological aspects, with the latter being justly castigated and discarded whereas the former are upheld. There is a reason that The Descent of Man has been of little scientific use (it is by-and-large racism masquerading as science) whereas On The Origin of the Species initiates the discipline of biology. And though it is indeed the case that the scientific study of biology can be used in the interest of ruling class ideology, it is not the case that the theory of natural selection is “wrong”––there are antibiotics and vaccinations that exist and work directly as a result of this theory.
Moreover, it is the science of historical materialism that first generated the theoretical approach that permits us to understand the ideological instance, the ways in which the ruling ideas of the ruling class can distort our understanding and knowledge production. Historical materialism teaches us that “every science… is constantly submitted to the onslaught of existing ideologies.” (Althusser, 2011: 12)9 Such an insight, which is repeatable and concrete, is what allows Marxism to make the same distinction between science and ideology within its own theoretical terrain. “What goes for the sciences holds in the first place for historical materialism itself, which is a science among others and holds no privilege of immunity in this matter.” (Ibid.) For example, the fact that Robert Biel could write Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement so as to critique the Eurocentrism within the history of communism from a Marxist perspective ––and expose this history better than post-Marxist thinkers have ever done–– speaks to the strength of the science. As aforementioned, we have a name for the ideological distortion of Marxism: revisionism. Hence, just as Newton was subjected to gravity, the theorists of historical materialism are subjected to class struggle.
Other theoretical tendencies that seek to displace Marxism are incapable of this recursive movement. For example, criticizing Derrida from a Derridian perspective results in an infinite regress of language games: reading the limits of his theory of différance according to the concept of différance produces incoherence rather than insight. There is nothing foundationally significant about these radical theoretical tendencies that seek to displace Marxism, a characteristic that many of them in fact celebrate. The opposition to the language of universality, to concrete foundations, to that totalizing Enlightenment narrative that is named “science” is precisely what these alternative tendencies seek to displace.
But it is the claim that Marxism is a science that allows Marxists to expropriate notions generated by other theoretical tendencies and repurpose them. Indeed, Marxism has a history of borrowing and transforming non-scientific notions from other theoretical tendencies. For instance, Marx borrowed from Smith and Ricardo just as Lenin would later borrow from Hobson and Hilferding. Every science has promoted the expropriation of non-scientific/pre-scientific fields; hence modern particle physics begins with the expropriation of the ancient notion of the atom. The notion is transformed under the rubric of modern science, however, and this transformation is significant because it generates the kind of meaning that non-scientific approaches cannot.
And yet the rejection of Marxism is often premised on the rejection of Enlightenment thought that speaks in the name of science. That is, Marxism is dismissed as old-fashioned and Eurocentric precisely because it has articulated itself as a science. There is a strangeness underlying this criticism since, as aforementioned, those who make it are not as a whole opposed to scientific claims (they benefit from science, they would not choose to receive brain surgery from someone practicing holistic medicine whatever they might say in theory), and so we must ask why is Marxism singled out over and above the so-called hard sciences? Such a perspective mimics the claims made by reactionary STEM academics who refuse to conceive of the possibility that anything outside of physics, biology, chemistry, math, and engineering can qualify as properly scientific. More than this: the targeting of Marxism as a monstrous outgrowth of the Enlightenment functions to quarantine the only theoretical tendency that can generate a revolutionary critique of business as usual, the predatory business inherited by the bourgeois containment of modernity.
Thus, in the face of this theoretical collapse of theoretical reasoning (since the only theoretical tendency capable of critiquing reality is Marxism) we must reassert the scientific legacy of Marxism. This legacy is not the inheritance of academics and petty-bourgeois intellectuals, however, but belongs to the wretched of the earth. The science of historical materialism judged as a total theoretical terrain that incorporates the great molar movements––from Marx, through Lenin, and then through Mao––is a weapon for the proletarian movement. All attempts to blunt this weapon or relegate it to the dusty shelves of antiquity coincide, regardless of intention, with the ruling class desire to neutralize its potential gravedigger.
4) On revolutionary science
In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific Engels summarizes the essential concerns of the Marxist project by demarcating it from what it is not. Rather than being simply a philosophy where socialism is presented as an ethical prescription ––a more just and modern version of Plato’s Republic, a more reasonable future state than what the empiricists or utilitarians promised–– socialism is instead derived as a necessity following the scientific assessment of the past and present. Philosophical socialism is a utopian approach to the problematic of history/society where “every old traditional notion was flung into the lumber room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudices; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. Now, for the first time, appeared the light of day, the kingdom of reason; henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal right, equality based on nature and the inalienable rights of man.” (Engels, 1998: 32) The socialism aimed at by the Marxist approach, however, is not directed by the utopian sentiment of “inalienable rights” or “the kingdom of reason.” The pre-Marxist utopian fantasy, which projected the highest moral aspirations of the bourgeois order into a stable future, is logically identical to imagining the mechanical 19th century principles of physics projected unto the future: a fiction that, at best, gives us only a glimpse of emancipation. 19th century physicists could not call themselves “scientists” if they just imagined future technologies, projecting present values into a temporally distant state of affairs. H.G. Wells and Jules Verne produced late 19th century Science Fiction but they did not produce science.
Here it is worth pointing out that those claims that relegate Marxism to a purely Enlightenment status fail to recognize that Marxism’s claim to science is premised on a rejection of the authority of the dominant aspects of Enlightenment philosophy. Utopian socialism perfectly represents Enlightenment thought due to its idealization of a kingdom of reason derived from the most ideal expression of bourgeois social relations. But this approach to socialism is about as practically useful as writing a novel about future technology. What Marxism did was historicize philosophy, including Enlightenment philosophy, in a scientific manner that revealed the class ideology behind all “rational” claims about morality and political meaning. In order to understand a socialist politics concretely ––in order to actually pursue this politics–– meant that appealing to abstract notions of Reason and Man were as meaningful as Plato’s appeal to the Form of Justice since both were generated by the class composition of their respective modes of production, as are all political-moral judgements right up to contemporary articulations of political philosophy.
Hence, the radicality of historical materialism as a science is that, it can be understood according to the following criteria that function simultaneously: i) in every period of its development (because like any scientific terrain it does develop) Marxism is historically mediated and limited by time and space; ii) Marxism’s scientific characteristics (which are open to the future) mean that it is also beyond every period in which it finds itself and can thus hold its own limitations to account. From its very origins Marxism was able to push beyond the limits of the bourgeois directed Enlightenment, holding Enlightenment thought itself to account by historicizing it and revealing the class struggle behind the facade of abstract modernity. Now, following both its own development and internal controversies, Marxism can perform the same demystifying function for every philosophy and theoretical tendency of the contemporary era.
Therefore, Marxism stands above those other theoretical tendencies that attempt to replace, supersede, or ignore its influence because it has the potential to do what these other theories cannot: fully grasp the concrete circumstances of a concrete situation, demystify historical and social phenomena, provide the explanatory depth that is missing from these alternative accounts, and even appropriate aspects of these other accounts into its general methodology. Since it is able to turn this perspective upon itself because it has also, like other sciences, developed and transformed according to paradigm shifts and epistemic ruptures, it proves its strength: it is simultaneously bound by history and transcendent of history. Historical materialism is limited by the historical periods in which it is practiced (which is why Marx and others can make mistakes) while also possessing the tools to critique this very thing. It is mediated by history and yet can also be abstracted from history to make this very point. It can comprehend the movement of history while still being within this movement ––like the procedure of physics which establishes the historical moment of Newton’s law of gravity but also transcends this moment with Einstein’s transformed theory of gravity. Other theoretical tendencies that function to displace Marxism cannot make the same claims; they are always bound, like the Utopian Socialists and their kingdom of reason, to the very circumstances of history that Marxism unveils. Their strongest and most useful insights are those they have inherited from the Marxist tradition.
Most importantly, though, this science of Marxism is revolutionary science. If each science possesses a corresponding practice (i.e. the laboratories and theoretical methods of chemistry, for example, are particular to its field), then historical materialism’s practice is revolution. That is, Marxism is not simply an analytical framework used to examine historical and social phenomena ––though it is also this–– but only functions as such a framework inasmuch as it develops according to its fundamental axiom: class struggle is the motor of history. When Lenin wrote that “[w]ithout revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” (Lenin, 1987: 69) he was not asserting the logical priority of theory over practice, as this statement is sometimes read. Rather, the statement was intended as symmetrical. This symmetry is attested by Lenin’s disdain for those Marxist thinkers who, like the Utopian Socialists, were not active in what Marx and Engels called “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” (Marx and Engels, 1998: 57) Hence it is also the case that without a revolutionary movement there can be no theory: practice and theory are different articulations of a singular scientific totality.
The conclusion of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific makes the above relationship clear: i) scientific socialism is defined as “the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement”; ii) “universal emancipation is the mission of the modern proletariat”; iii) understanding this “mission” requires both the necessity of action and “a full knowledge of the [historical] conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act of revolution.” (Engels, 1998: 75) This science is thus proclaimed as a revolutionary science that belongs to, and can only be developed by, “the proletarian movement.” That is, this science is wagered as a science if and only if it is intimately linked to making revolution.
Lest we be dismissed by those competing theoretical tendencies that imagine that they alone have theorized the insights of “intersectionality”––and thus focus on the qualifier of “proletarian” to accuse Marxism of a crude class reductionism that excludes race, gender, etc. from the register of resistance ––we should be clear: the Marxist tradition has a long history of thinking the composition of the proletariat beyond economism and workerism. At the same time, however, “proletarian” is a qualifier that can only be dismissed by those who refuse a scientific understanding of human existence. Whatever the composition of this proletariat might be ––however it is clearly determined by multiple structures of oppression–– any honest and empirical assessment of reality must conclude that, when we look at the entire world, the majority of humans toil under violent conditions of exploitation so that a minority of the global population can possess less vulnerable and more enriched lives.
Thus to grasp the meaning of social reality in totality is only possible through that “ruthless criticism of all that exists,” the science that first demystified social-historical phenomena to theorize the historical instantiations of class struggle, the modes of production, through which all forms of oppression (as well as ideologies, states, institutions, and life in general) are articulated and mediated. Although the multiple post-Marxist philosophical detours disdain the notion of grasping social reality in its totality,10 there is no reason to accept this critique as justified beyond its status as an academic fad that was generated in the latter days of the Cold War.11 Most importantly, though, these detours have produced nothing significant beyond an endless and increasingly arcane interpretation of social phenomena ––the very thing that Marx already accused philosophy of doing in the 11th thesis on Feuerbach! The point is to “change the world” which is more than just an analysis of the status of affairs in its totality. Beyond the theorization of history and society historical materialism also generates theories of revolutionary strategy and organization, just as physics and biology generate their respective instruments or laboratories. This is where science begins and non-scientific theory ends.
What it means for Marxism to be a science ––to be apprehended and practiced as a science–– is often a poorly neglected region of investigation even amongst Marxists. It is not enough to assert that Marxism is a science but to practice that science and to develop as theoreticians; part of this practice and development (best undertaken within a revolutionary movement) is to understand why it is a science and what it means to pursue it as a science.
We have already discussed the error that results from dispensing with the notion of science altogether, an error that reduces it to the same theoretical level of multiple post-Marxist and/or anti-Marxist theories while simultaneously promoting eclecticism. Such an error is behind the multiple academic exhortations to pick-and-choose amongst various expressions of Marxism without caring to pursue the kind of theoretical consistency demanded by the sciences. A rigorous investigation of the foundations of the science thus becomes unnecessary because, perceived as non-scientific, the foundations are interesting only as historical curiosities.
There is another error, however, that results from an impoverished understanding of science: Marxist Scientism. That is, there are those Marxists who agree that Marxism is indeed a science but ––lacking a clear understanding of what a science is and what makes Marxism a science–– treat historical materialism as a kind of religious dogma. This perspective, which is precisely what numerous post-Marxist theories have erected as the straw-person of Marxism as a whole, treats Marxism as a perfect doctrine that, like the book of Revelations, can explain the past, present, and future as long as it is interpreted correctly. Marxism is thus reduced to a theology; hermeneutical practice is mistaken as scientific acumen. We thus encounter a variety of self-proclaimed Marxist “experts” who use the term “science” to justify their dogmatic appreciation of Marxism, specifically their expertise in classical Marxist texts ––the latter of which they use to demonstrate their authority as historical materialists, castigating those they imagine do not understand these foundational texts with the same level of mastery.
Although it is indeed correct to recognize the significance of classical texts as the foundation of the science, and the study of these texts should not be neglected, it is dangerous to treat them as sacred doctrine. The academic convention of Marxology already functions to preserve and valorize the corpus of Marx and Engels and we know that this intellectual practice has distanced itself from revolution, turning the understanding of Marxism into an intellectual exercise. There is a reason Mao warned against “book worship”. This warning was not, as some vulgar interpretations claim, intended to prevent people from reading the foundational texts of Marxism. Rather:
When we say Marxism is correct, it is certainly not because Marx was a “prophet” but because his theory has been proved correct in our practice and in our struggle. We need Marxism in our struggle. In our acceptance of his theory no such formalisation of mystical notion as that of “prophecy” ever enters our minds. Many who have read Marxist books have become renegades from the revolution, whereas illiterate workers often grasp Marxism very well. Of course we should study Marxist books, but this study must be integrated with our country’s actual conditions. We need books, but we must overcome book worship, which is divorced from the actual situation. (Mao, 1971: 42-43)
Hence, Mao’s warning was intended to criticize an unscientific understanding of the text, an understanding that treated Marxism as being outside of social practice rather than a theory that is necessarily open to the future, rearticulated through revolutions, and that must be understood according to concrete practices in concrete situations.
Just as the contemporary physicist does not try to justify their current practice by claiming all later developments of the science were encoded in the work of Newton, or the contemporary biologist justifying their work by locating a destiny in Darwin, contemporary Marxists cannot make the mistake of ascribing religious destiny to our foundational texts. The continuity is indeed there, and we can locate this continuity, but only from the position of successive scientific developments––which are ruptural, tearing through the fabric of business as usual, just as they have been for every science. It is only the dogmatist who, unaware of their location in the contemporary moment, imagines that the classical texts were purely prefigurative and that they couldn’t be anything otherwise, that continuity is not retrospective but was promised and thus predestined.
The difficulty many contemporary Marxists display regarding the problematic of science (a difficulty that manifests as an explicit rejection of the category of science or an implicit rejection of science through the dogma of scientism) is due to the fallen state of Marxist philosophical practice. Investigating the meaning of concepts such as science and Marxist science is a philosophical rather than scientific exploration. Scientists do not obsess over defining the conceptual meaning of their disciplines; their practice begins by assuming that their discipline possesses meaning and that it demonstrates this meaning through scientific practice. Questions about what makes x discipline scientific, what makes science significantly different from other theoretical terrains, and what are the qualifications for accepting particular proclamations about reality as scientific or non-scientific has always been the purview of philosophy which, from its emergence, has tailed science.
The problem with the contemporary state of Marxist expressions of philosophy, however, is that it has by-and-large failed to carry forward the kind of philosophical perspective that was initially operationalized by Marx and Engels (Theses on Feuerbach, The German Ideology, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy) and later deployed by Lenin (Materialism and Empirio-Criticism) and Mao (Talk On Questions Of Philosophy). Marxist iterations of philosophy tend to happen within academic settings and, distorted by the malaise of the contemporary conjuncture, are more interested in treating all of Marxism as a mere philosophy and thus abjuring the category of science.
But the question of Marxism’s status as a science is a philosophical question and thus determines the role of Marxist philosophy. This was the role given to philosophy in Marx’s 11th thesis on Feuerbach and yet one that the vast majority of contemporary Marxist philosophy either side-steps or rejects.12 If we embrace this role and thus understand that Marxist philosophical practice functions to clarify and defend the science of class struggle, we must also recognize that Marxist philosophy is about defending Marxism as a science, arguing for its scientific conception, clarifying its articulation and deployment as a revolutionary science. The philosopher of Marxism is identical to the philosopher of physics or biology or any other science: a philosopher of science whose role is to elucidate the science’s meaning, to defend its status as a science, to think the logic of its development, and to explore the problems engendered by the science’s development.
If we are to reestablish Marxism as a science, and to struggle against all of the wrong perspectives that would have us to believe otherwise, then we need to perfect philosophical struggle.
1) Even worse, some of the theoretical concepts they borrow without criticism come from outright reactionaries such as Heidegger and Schmitt.
2) Despite the contemporary but strange fad amongst first world leftist circles to promote astrology it is clear that those engaging in this fad do not intend to live their lives according to magical thinking. And the “progressive” astrologists who cater to this fad, such as Shaunga Tagore, appear to function as the mainstream left’s Delphic Oracle by providing in-group reinforcement along with obscure pronouncements open to multiple interpretations. While on one level this valorization of astrology by the left is indeed anti-mass because it peddles backwards ideas amongst the masses (it is akin to reinforcing Six Day Creationism or Flat Earth conspiracy nonsense), on another it is far from serious for the committed leftists because it is little more than a fad where everyone involved is treating it like an elaborate Rorschach Test. Would that they realize that their hobby might in fact promote backwards ideas amongst the masses.
3) This is not to say, to be clear, that a variety of technologies and medicines originating from colonized and marginalized peoples have not been excluded from the scientific mainstream. The fact that modern science developed in tandem with colonialism and capitalism means that it has also been affected by class-based ideology, which is inescapable. Indeed, Marxism has been clear about this fact since emergence. “We know only a single science,” Marx and Engels wrote in The German Ideology, “the science of history… the history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist.” (Marx and Engels, 1998: 34) Hence, the social history of humans in modes of production, determined by class struggle and the ideological perspectives generated by class struggle, interpenetrates the development of the natural sciences. Even still, regardless of ideological limitations, the natural sciences do establish truths. These truths might be delimited by ideological boundaries, they might exclude elements that could enrich them, but they are not akin to magic.
4) Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, for example, is an excellent analysis premised on Engels’ claim that every scientist possesses a philosophy of science even when––especially when––they claim they are beyond philosophy and ideology.
5) Although it was Spencer and those around Spencer who pushed Darwin’s theory of natural selection into the social sphere, focusing on its inheritance from Malthus and thus translating it into the language of “survival of the fittest”, analyses that claim a clear distinction between Darwin and “Social Darwinism” are dishonest. Darwin himself was also writing “Social Darwinism” as the numerous ideological claims in The Descent of Man demonstrate; he made such claims for the same reason that he spoke of the concept of natural selection in the language of Malthus. Biologist and historian Jan Sapp writes in regards to The Descent of Man: “Indeed, ‘social Darwinism’ may itself be a misnomer because it presupposes that there was a Darwinism that was not. The term reinforces the notion that true science is objective and free from ideology. But one cannot draw a neat boundary between objective science on the one hand and ideology on the other.” (Sapp, 2003: 50) The point is not that his scientific contributions were “wrong” because of the influence of the ideological instance–-science and ideology are not the same, a conflation often made by post-modernists––but that ideology always affects and distorts the work of the scientists leading them to produce as much ideology disguised as science as they produce science clothed in the language of ideology.
6) Here we need to point out that Kevin B. Anderson has pointed out in Marx at the Margins that Marx’s assessment of India critiqued by Said was one that Marx would significantly alter due to his “shifting perspective on the progressiveness of capitalism” (Anderson, 2010: 19) and more accurate historical data. The problem with Anderson’s intervention, despite its historical importance, is that it fails to recognize that an attitude of Eurocentrism still lingers in Marx’s work on the subject of India and other non-European social formations regardless of how this historiography changed for the better over time. As Robert Biel discusses in Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement, “Anderson affirms Marx’s immense strengths, as well as tracing a certain progressive evolution in his thinking in the direction of a greater recognition of the historicity of non-Western civilisations and the justness of their anti-colonial struggles” and yet still fails to grasp the ways in which Eurocentrism lingers even in this development of thought. (Biel, 2015: 98-99) Biel’s point, which is mine, is that Marx was limited by Eurocentrism but that if we understand these limitations, which can be charted by historical materialism itself, we will have a better understanding of Marxism as a science. In any case, both Anderson and Biel demonstrate the simplicity of Said’s assumption.
7) This is the charge levelled at Marxism (and other forms of Enlightenment reason) by post-modernism and post-colonialism: that Marxism is based on the privileging of Western Reason.
8) Similarly, there is also nothing in Derrida’s critique of the Western metaphysics of presence that in fact criticizes the actual depredations of the West’s colonial and genocidal real world practices. The closest Derrida gets to discussing actual politics, which is barely concrete, is when he is obliquely addressing Marxism in Spectres of Marx. Otherwise, Derrida remains firmly in the philosophical tradition, though as a critic à la Levinas, which Marxism sought to tear asunder. Then there is Agamben, who does address politics with his critique of sovereignty and bare life, but is singularly incapable of addressing the crimes of Europe unless they are visited upon Europeans. As Weheliye demonstrates in this same book, the zones of colonial oppression and the plantations of the slaveocracy are not even cognizable by Agamben.
9) If other non-Marxist radical philosophies repeat, in their own way, this insight it is because of Marxism. That is, they are only able to make similar claims because of what Marxism introduced. The strength or weakness of these claims have to do with these philosophies’ closeness or distance from Marxism.
10) In the lectures that comprise Society Must Be Defended, Foucault talks about theoretical “totalization” as a danger that can provide a unitary discourse to otherwise fragmented genealogies. He thus worries about how fragmented facts and events “will be recoded, recolonized by these unitary discourses,” (Foucault, 2003: 11) i.e. how a totalizing/unitary “discourse” such as Marxism (or liberalism or any other unitary theory) will unify them in a scientific manner. What is interesting, here, is the way in which Foucault uses colonization in a figurative rather than a literal sense. As Weheliye points out, Foucault does not once talk about real world colonization but instead always uses this word in a figurative sense. “The slippage between colonialism as a historical phenomenon and colonization as a synonym for hegemonic appropriation or annexation underscores the primitiveness of this concept in Foucault’s system of thought.” (Weheliye, 2014: 58) The overall point, here, is that Foucault and other originary post-Marxist thinkers are able to present their theory as radical by using the correct words but, despite using these words, they never once explore the real world processes that generated these words. To produce a thorough analysis of real world colonialism in a meaningful manner, after all, would be an act of totalization and thus figurative “colonizing” that comes with any unitary discourse.
11) The period in which these types of post-Marxist theories arose and were popularized is significant. We would be remiss if we did not recognize the role of the CIA’s cultural apparatus in promoting the popularity of postmodern/post-structuralist theory. (https://thephilosophicalsalon.com/the-cia-reads-french-theory-on-the-intellectual-labor-of-dismantling-the-cultural-left/)
12) Grasping the meaning of Marx’s claim that philosophy has only interpreted the world but the point is to change it has resulted in numerous bad faith interpretations amongst Marxist philosophers. When they aren’t claiming that the thesis means that philosophy is about social change, and thus historical materialism is another philosophy rather than a science, they are arguing that we need to go back to provide a better basis of interpretation. But when we read these theses in light of their object of critique, Ludwig Feuerbach’s project, we should be able to understand what Marx meant by this statement. The point, contra Feuerbach, was that philosophy by itself had nothing to do with changing the world; change was the province of science, specifically revolutionary science. Philosophy’s role was thus limited to interpretation and could not be mistaken for the practice that was the “point” of Marx’s intervention: social-historical transformation. This understanding of the 11th thesis forms the starting point of my upcoming book on the meaning of Marxist philosophical practice, Demarcation and Demystification, and functions to put philosophy in its proper place.
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