A Rational Critique of Marxism and Communism - XV
(Selected from the book:
“Reason, Romanticism and Revolution”
By M. N. Roy-3)
1. “The historical significance of Marxism is that it was an attempt to harmonise the rationalist and the romantic views of life, which clashed at the time of the French Revolution and had pulled the subsequent intellectual and cultural history of Europe in two contarary directions. The harmony was latent in the Hegelian system, which incorporated the traditions of the Reformation, classical rationalism, eighteenth century enlightenment, and also Rosseau’s romanticism. Fuerbach’s Humanism and the philosophical Radicalism of his followers also tended to harmonise the rationalist and romantic views of life. Nevertheless, Marx combated these latter schools because they rejected dialectics as an idealistic, teleological conception not compatible with the ideal of freedom.”(Pages:392, 393)
2. “Although in the last analysis Marx rejected eighteenth century Materialism on the authority of Hegel, he did make an effort to criticize the philosophy of sensation. He held that mind was not a tabula rasa, passively receiving impressions; that sensations and perceptions were interactions of the subject and the object. In holding this view, Marx anticipated subsequent clarification of the problem of cognition in the light of biology, particularly physiology and psychology. The object is transformed in the process of being known; knowledge results from the subject action upon the object. The emphasis is on action which practically rules out pure thought as an instrument for acquiring knowledge and discovering truths. Consequently, the foundation of Marxist Materialism is not matter, as conceived by science and philosophy ever since the time of Democritus; it is man’s relation with matter, Again, an essentially idealistic position!”(page:395)
3. “By laying too much emphasis on revolutionary action, Marxism tipped the scale on the side of irrationalism, to degenerate eventually into a faith. At the same time, the Marxian theory of revolution is cynical. Its basic dogma is that human beings are never motivated by moral impulses. By rejecting the belief that human nature by itself is sufficient cause for the endless progress of mankind, it declared that revolutionary action by determined minorities was the decisive factor of history. The Marxian interpretation of history and theory of revolution, thus, create the cult of supermen (the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat organized in the party), and opens up the perspective of dictatorship as the alternative to democracy.” (Page:413)
4. “The philosophical significance of Marxism is that it offered a solution of the problem of dualism which had vitiated philosophy, ever since the speculations of the ancient forerunners of science about the origin of the world were overwhelmed by metaphysical assumptions. In course of time the world was split up into two – one of mind and the other of matter; and ultimately, in the Cartesian system, philosophy came to the conclusion that there was no bridge over the gulf between the two. The corollary to the conclusion was doubt about the objective validity of knowledge acquired through the senses and denial of the reality of the physical world. Philosophy being the love of knowledge, by coming to the conclusion that knowledge is impossible, it committed suicide.”(Page:416)
5. “Matter as a conceptual metaphysical category is the ultimate reality, capable of producing life. Consciousness, cognition, mind, ideas follow in course of biological evolution. The world of experience as a whole is real; transcendental reality is a figment of imagination. Mind as well as matter, the physical world as well as the world of thought and ideas, are equally real. But philosophy must have a realistic scientific understanding of their relation. Marx’s contribution to this understanding won for him an outstanding place, in the history of philosophy.”Page:417)
6. “In the beginning, Marxism tended towards a harmony of reason and romanticism. Had it developed consistently with its original philosophical premises, which implied that the laws of social evolution did not preclude the freedom of human will and endeavour, Marxism might have rescued the idea of revolution from its traditional association with the romantic extravagance of zealots and the orgy of violence let loose by willful minorities; it might have promoted a scientific humanist movement as heralded by Feuerbach and his followers, known as the German Philosophical Radicals. But the lure of a short-cut on the model of the Great Revolution induced Marx to go at a tangent, to become the fiery prophet of the coming revolution which would place the proletariat in power. He left the high-road of the rational and humanist thought built by generations of fighters for the spiritual and social liberation of man ever since the Renaissance, to sponsor a revolutionary movement which, guided by a self-contradictory theory, was bound to run into a blind alley. The Marxist neo-romanticism merged man into the masses and ascribed mystic powers to the latter.”(Page:425)
7. “The philosophical reaction heralded by the Reformation, unwittingly helped by British empiricism and finally ushered in by Rousseau, reached its apotheosis in Schopenhauer. “In one form or another, the doctrine that Will is paramount has been held by many modern philosophers, notably Nietzsche, Bergson, James and Dewey. And in proportion as Will had gone up in the scale, knowledge has gone down. This is the most notable change that has come over the temper of philosophy in our age. It was prepared by Rousseau and Kant, but was first proclaimed in its purity by Schopenhauer.”(Page:440)
8. “Fascism and Communism both claimed the historical missioin of building a new civilization, one on the ruins, and the other on the basis of the positive achievements of the nineteenth century. Either of them could, therefore, find in Nietzsche support for its doctrine and practice. But the Dionysian role on Nietzsche was predominating; his condemnation of modern civilization appeared to be so very sweeping that the Fascists monopolized him as their philosopher. But if Nietzsche was against Socialism, he was even more hostile to Nationalism. Nietzsche’s Superman was the “good European”, embodiment of all the intellectual, cultural and moral values of modern civilization which the Fascists proposed to destroy as decadent and foreign to the German spirit. The Nazis vulgarized the nietzschean idea of “Beyond good and Evil” to justify their negation of morality. But Nietzsche distinguished bad from evil. The idea was a declaration of revolt against the conventional meanings of the terms and the “salve morality” which it sanctioned. While ridiculing the idea of evil, he evidently had Schopenhauer’s philosophy in mind. Moreover, it would also be a plausible interpretation of the famous Nietzshean doctrine that good and evil stood for God and the devil, between which tow equally powerful imaginary rulers of his destiny, man was reduced to a position of utter helplessness. The archetype of Nietzsche’s Superman was presumably Goethe’s Mephistopheles, the cynical philosopher laughing at the hypocrisy of the man who had neither the courage to be bad nor the strength to be good. The doctrine of the eternity of the dual principles of good and evil must have attracted Neitzsche to the religion of the Magis. Since God was the embodiment of both the principles, it logically follows that spiritual freedom lay beyond good and evil.”(Pages:442,443)
9. “Nietzsche closed an epoch, and stood at the gates of a new one, which was destined to be dominated by two apparently, antagonistic movements. Both drew inspiration from him; the Fascists hailed him as their philosopher for his glorification of irrationalism and the cult of the hero; the Communists took from him lessons in cynicism, brutality and moral nihilism. And Nietzsche’s philosophy was not economically determined.
The aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy which could serve the purpose of Fascism were given a fantastic form by Stefan George and his followers. They declared that the entire European history since the age of Socrates was “the tragedy of the triumph of the intellect”. The Apollonian era must now be followed by a new Dyonisian one, which will dream of a cosmic cataclysm. In human relations, complete subordination and passionate devotion to the superman should replace the farce of democracy and corrupting and devitalizing intellectual pretensions. Stefan George sang the ode to the coming leader. “Plough over our bodies, and nobody will ever call you to account. “Unknown until the first world war, he sprang into fame as the poet-philosopher of the Nazi movement, and he had drawn inspiration from Nietzsche.
Fascism as well as Communism thus was the concrete outcome of the philosophical reaction which, reinforced by the “crisis of the physical theories”, led to the orgy of irrationalism in the beginning of the twentieth century.”(Pages:444, 445)
10. “With their faith in the Marxian determinist view of nature and history, Communists might appear to be rationalists. But the dogmatic assertion of determinism itself was a negation of reason. It amounted to a blind faith. Moreover, irrespective of the nature of that theory, in practice their appeal was exclusively emotional, the object being to promote a blind faith in the mystic power of the masses, and in the infallibility of the revolutionary vanguard, of the working class, that is, themselves and their party. The Communists were no less contemptuous of the liberal tradition and democratic practice of the nineteenth century than the Fascists. Both stood for collectivism, totalitarian regimentation and dictatorship. Both were equally cynical about morality; and both preached the cult of leadership. The ideological difference was superficial. The struggle between the two which all but destroyed the civilized world, was exclusively for power to dominate the world.”(Page: 445)
11. Marx’s failure to work out a sociology consistent with materialist philosophy was due to his passion for social justice, inherited from his humanist predecessors, though he disdained them as Utopians. Marx, however, was not the dry-hearted mathematical prophet of history, as he has been celebrated by his followers, and as he might have believed himself to be. With a burning faith in revolution, he was a romanticist and as such a Humanist. The idea of revolution is a romantic idea, because it presupposes man’s power to remake the world in which he lives. If purposeful human effort is left out of account, social development becomes a mechanistic evolutionary process, making no room for sudden great changes and occasionally accelerated tempo. As the prophet of revolution, Marx was a romanticist. He proclaimed his faith in the creativeness of man which, accelerating the process of evolution, brought about revolutions. Marx being a Humanist, the force of his theory of revolution was its moral appeal. Even his critics, who do not depart from objectivity, honour Marx for a passionate search for truth and intellectual honesty. Without a moral fervor of the highest degree, without an intense dislike for injustice, he could not undertake the lone fight to improve the lot of the oppressed and exploited.
One of the most impassioned fighters against cant and hypocrisy, Marx was a great moralist in the tradition of the ancient prophets of his race. His merciless exposition of the essence of capitalism was a severe moral condemnation. In the last analysis, Capital is a treatise on social ethics – a powerful protest against the servitude of the toiling majority. It may be presumed that Marx abstained deliberately from making the moral appeal of his economic theories explicit, because he hated the cant of the sanctimonious defenders of the established order of inequity. Nevertheless, it was as a moralist that he influenced history. Only his orthodox followers seem to be immune to that influence.
Marx talked of Socialism as “the kingdom of freedom”, where man will be the master of his social environments. One who preached such a humanist doctrine could not be a worshipper at the shrine of an exacting collective ego, even of the proletariat. According to Marx, under Socialism human reason will overcome irrational forces which now tyrannise the life of man; as a rational being, man will control his destiny. Freed from the fallacy of economic determinism, the humanist, libertarian, moralist spirit of Marxism will go into the making of a new faith of our time. It is a part of the accumulated store of human heritage, which must be claimed by the builders of the future, who will not belong to any particular class.” (Pages:420,421)
12. “The positive elements of Marxism, freed from its fallacies and clarified in the light of greater scientific knowledge, are consistent with a more comprehensive philosophy, which can be called Integral or Radical Humanism: a philosophy which combines mechanistic cosmology, materialist metaphysics, secular rationalism and rationalist ethics to satisfy man’s urge for freedom and quest for truth, and also to guide his future action in pursuit of the ideals.”(Pages:421,422)
[This series concludes with the next post which carries “The Twenty two These of Radical Democracy”]
Reason Romanticism and Revolution
Ajanta Books International,
I – UB, Jawahar Nagar
Delhi – 110 007