Friday, December 2, 2011

Further Clarifications about the Last Entry (Was Gramsci a Marxist?)

After the last entry, I received some criticisms and questions via facebook. Therefore, I think, further clarifications would be useful for all of us.

Following the question, Was Gramsci a Marxist?, Ibrahim Efe asked whether or not Marx himself was a Marxist. As far as I know, Marx is believed to have said that "if anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist." However, perhaps my formulation of the question was not very correct. Actually, what I was trying to ask was whether or not Gramsci was successful in overcoming the liberal-idealist philosophy of Benedetto Croce - the idealist philosopher who had a significant influence on Gramsci's early thinking, that is, before he came into contact with Marxism. I was interested in that question because to a certain extent, I think, this is a common problem for many thinkers/intellectuals/philosophers.

Then Alphan joined the discussion and said: "To utilise Cox's words: the pertinent question is not: Is Gramsci a marxist, rather it is: do the inferences which he has drawn from Marx help towards understanding the historical phenomenon that was the very object of his inquiry. Surely he differed from the historical economists and had a tendency towards the historical materialist elements in Marx's work."

Then I answered as follows: "Yes, but to what extent was it the inferences he has drawn from Croce, or to what extent from Marx help towards understanding the historical phenomenon that was the very object of his inquiry? Sometimes, we think that we are utilizing the ideas, concepts of a certain philosopher, a certain philosophical system, and criticizing others, but rarely do we realize that we actually in a way reproduce the philosophical system or the philosopher we criticize. In some ways, I know that perhaps it is not a very important question because in the final analysis you're right. Probably what matters more is whether or not it helps us toward understanding (and maybe also changing) the social/political phenomena that is the object of our inquiry. But also, sometimes the boundaries or the border lines between different theories, different philosophers and philosophical systems get blurred so considerably, it even becomes meaningless to continue speaking with the old concepts, such as marxist, idealist, materialist, etc. I think I saw this problem in Carl Schmitt's critique of liberal democracy as well. When you read Carl Schmitt's criticisms, and then see how he tries to differentiate his approach, you see that he cannot really succeed in that; he cannot escape liberal democracy. Also, like Jürgen Habermas continues to call himself a Marxist. Zizek calls himself a Marxist as well. But then, what is the limit of Marxism? Can you deny everything, change or ignore many essential core elements of Marxism, and still consider yourself a marxist? I mean, perhaps you still can, but what is the purpose anyway? Why would you bother about that?"

And I added: "Furthermore, I think it's also about being fair to the philosophers whom we criticize. I think it's not just/fair that we give a lot of credits to Marx in influencing Gramsci's thought, but not Croce."

Alphan: "I dont kow Feyzullah. Gramsci is a very complex personality as far as I understood. Of course he had ties with Croce, for example the concept of passive revolution is directly taken from his writings. I guess Gramsci was busy in moving beyond Marxist orthodoxy by opening new paths. And I think in this way he also tried to integrate Croce to his writings. I said he is a complex human being, for example he had Sorel in mind whilst writing about the "historic bloc", but Sorel only touches the topic of "social myths" that move history like the trade union activism or the general strike."

"Furthermore, if my memory is not misleading me, Gramsci also knew well Croce's interest in Vico and I even remmember that Pareto helped Gramsci while he was in prison by sending money. So at the final analysis I agree with you that in understanding and explaining the development of a philosophers thought we should try to 'phantasise' as Vico puts his life and the influences which had an impact on his writings. In this respect, i do think that Croce had a profound impact on his personal and philosophical development and singling out Marx as the only "mentor" is a misleading idea."