Chris Cutrone’s masterful take down of post-war Marxism
Chris Cutrone and James Turley engaged in a debate over Lukacs in which only Cutrone ever laid a glove on his opponent. If you have not read it, you can find the entire series of exchanges here.
Of course, Cutrone’s point is so deeply buried in his argument, you will need a backhoe to excavate it. It is a complex, (almost unintelligible for me), argument about the applicability of classical Marxists ideas to our own present situation. Cutrone basically asks: Do the ideas, strategy, tactics of the post-Engels Marxists regarding social emancipation apply directly to the era of fascist state political-economy.
The heart of Cutrone’s argument is made in his response to Turley:
“The question is, what happens to Marxism as critical theory when evacuated of its object of critique, when divorced from political practice? It disintegrates. But this was not due to the “antinomies of Lukács”, but rather the degradation and liquidation of Marxism, and the resulting regression of history. The self-critique of Marxism – its ‘Hegelian self-consciousness’ – cannot make sense when there is no Marxism politically.”
Which is to say, since Marxism is the praxis of proletarian class struggle, without this proletarian class struggle there is no Marxism. Marxism loses its content — the political struggle — and, therefore, the object of its self-critique. Unfortunately for us, Cutrone ends his latter at this point, when it should have been his starting point; but, in this single letter, he demolishes Turley, who can only respond by quibbling (mostly incomprehensibly for me) over minor details.
According to Turley, if the praxis of the proletarian class struggle is specific to the period of the Second International, so is the emergence of fascism.
“More to the point, we have no way of assessing Lukács’s relevance as a critique of his own time, either. To put it in a very bald way, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a product of the same historical context … Why should Hitler’s ‘critique’ of Second International Marxism be treated with any less respect than Lukács’s? After all, we lack his ‘object of critique’ too – and so surely we are equally doomed to misinterpret the poor man.”
Thus, without even realizing it, Turley has conceded defeat to the Cutrone’s in the debate without even realizing he has done so.
Properly understood, Cutrone’s argument is that the praxis of proletarian class struggle was overcome by the praxis of fascism. Hitler’s critique of Marxism was precisely that the material condition of existence of the proletariat is the premise of capital. Insofar as the proletariat moved within the conditions of its own existence, it moved within the material conditions of bourgeois society. It is a necessary premise of capital and, as only its premise, belongs not with communism, but as a mere category of capital.
The pretensions of the class to rule on its own behalf as a class over capital was always utopian, since, as a class, it is nothing more variable capital. The interests of this variable capital, as with all capital, is materialized in the bourgeois state, not in the association of producers. The bourgeois state is a national form and thus the ‘natural’ interest of variable capital is a ‘national interest’.
The critique leveled by fascism against Marxism is that the working class as a class is the private property of the national capital.
Without requiring any real assistance from Cutrone, James Turley sealed his own defeat at Cutrone’s hands. However, because Cutrone is not a fucking wuss, he shoved the knife, introduced by Turley into his own argument, deeper and twisted it savagely:
“James Turley seems to distinguish between regarding bourgeois society as a whole and the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Second International in the crisis of World War I as exhibiting what Lukács called the problem of ‘reification’, as if the workers’ movement were somehow apart from bourgeois society “
Although Cutrone clearly does not as yet grasp the whole significance of his words, he does realize something else is at work in history:
“Indeed, we may not be able to fully understand the historical moment of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the present – history does grant some small mercies! But Hitler was not merely wrongheaded: millions joined Nazism for some reason, not simply for lack of reason!”
What was this reason? Again and sadly, Cutrone breaks off from the thought before he has time to develop it. And, true to form for Marxists, Turley never even notices his argument has received a fatal blow at his own hands.
Still, despite his masterful dispatch of his opponent, there are two things I take exception to in Cutrone’s argument against Turley: First, his argument that the events of the early 20th century constituted what he calls a “regression”. I am pretty sure Cutrone cannot defend this position and it forms an obstacle to his own argument against Turley. It is undoubtedly true the proletariat suffered a historical defeat at the hands of the bourgeois class in the rise of fascism and war. Marx’s own view of defeat, however, was quite different than the one Cutrone champions.
In Marx’s view, the proletarians’ movement advances through its defeats at the hands of the bourgeois class. The logic here is obvious once it is realized that every defeat at the hands of the bourgeoisie only increases the mass of proletarians. It also becomes obvious when it is realized that every defeat of the proletariat by the bourgeois class soon reduces the number of capitals. In the end, the whole of the proletarians are reduced to the property of the national capital — their respective bourgeois (fascist) state. Far from being a regression as Cutrone believes, Engels explained this event would constitute an advanced in the mode of production. And Engels argued this, not in some obscure letter or correspondence, but in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, the text book of Marxism.
Second, Cutrone seems to pine away for a return to the period of the Second International worker’s movement, despite its defeat by fascism. He hopes, and expects, this period will somehow return and, therefore, imagines history as some cycle of revolution and regression. In fact, history is continuous — there will never again be a period of class struggle of the sort he imagines. The class struggle was a national struggle between a national bourgeoisie and a national proletariat — that battle is over and, as Cutrone has acknowledged elsewhere, we lost. Social emancipation is now bound up with the world market and world history and, therefore, the proletarians movement has assumed its final constitution.
This constitution is no longer political in any sense.