Any failure of communism reaffirms the promise of Marxist historiography, and the specter continues to grow…
The capitalist state apparatuses first told us that communism was over, history had reached its conclusion, and we were going to ride the wave of neoliberalism to utopia.
Now they realize that the spectre of communism is still haunting, and it never stopped haunting.
In fact, the more communism became relegated to the margins, the more it continues to haunt.
The less capitalism has to worry about communism, the more capitalism is able to accelerate the tensions within capitalism. And when the tensions within capitalism grow, the spectre of communism grows.
In Althusser’s text On the Reproduction of Capitalism, also known as, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, he begins with a fairly simple explanation of what philosophy is.
In it, he argues that Gramsci is right when he claims “everyone is a philosopher.” But Althusser correctly adds that there’s a difference between everyday philosophy, and Philosophy with a capital P. There’s also a difference between traditional quote “philosophies”, as in folk understanding of the world, and Philosophy with a capital P.
“While common-sense philosophy has, it seems, always existed, Philosophy has not.
Everyone knows how Lenin begins his famous book State and Revolution: he points out that the state has not always existed. He adds that the state is observed to exist only in societies in which social classes exist.
We shall make a remark of the same sort, but it will be a little more complicated. We shall say that Philosophy has not always existed. Philosophy is observed to exist in societies in which
1) social classes (and therefore the state) exist;
2) science (or one science) exists.”
Althusser then goes on to define science, and he means it much more broadly than we typically understand science. Basically, by science he means:
“an abstract, ideal (or, rather, idea-dependent) discipline that proceeds by way of abstractions and demonstrations”
Althusser gives some historical examples. For example, he says the creation of the Macedonian Empire, and the end of the city-state, combined with the idea of a biological science created Aristotle and Aristotelianism.
Another example Althusser gives is the development of legal mercantile relations under the absolute monarchy, combined with the foundation of mathematical physics by Galileo created Descartes and Cartesianism.
Another example Althusser gives is Hegel wrote in a time after the French Revolution, after the Thermidorian Reaction, the Napoleonic suppression of the Fourth Estate, and Civil Law Code. This was all taking place in the context of the first approaches to a theory of history.
Althusser finally also gives Marx as an example. He says Marx and Marxism-Leninism develop out of a combination of the emergence, growth and first struggles, failures and victory of the workers’ movement, and the science of history founded by Marx called dialectical materialism.
What’s the impact of this?
The impact is that a philosophical system remains relevant, as long as the conditions that created that philosophical system remain.
The democratic party has seemingly crushed the progressive insurgency of the democratic party. The tension of capitalism’s tight grasp grows closer and closer to snapping. And yet they tell us and told us communism is dead.
Communism died when Chairman Deng reformed the Chinese economy. Communism died when the Berlin Wall, they said.
Marxism remains relevant because the historical conditions, and scientific theories, of his time, remain relevant. In fact, the more the capitalist state apparatus tries to relegate Marxism to the margins, paradoxically, the more powerful its ghost becomes. The less Marxism plays into society, the moore capitalists have the license to push the contradictions that enabled Marxism to develop as a philosophy to begin with.
Until something resolves the contradictions that developed out of workers movements and a material conception of history, Marx will always remain relevant.
Badiou has a great, long quote about this in The Communist Hypothesis. It starts slow, because he talks about math, but makes a great point:
“Take a scientific problem, which may well take the form of a hypothesis until such time as it is resolved. It could be, for example, that ‘Fermat’s theorem’ is a hypothesis if we formulate it as: ‘For >n, I assume that the equation x^n + y^n = z^n has no whole solutions (solutions in which x, y and z are whole numbers).’ Countless attempts were made to prove this, from Fermat, who formulated the hypothesis (and claimed to have proved it, but that need not concern us here), to Wiles, the English mathematician, who really did prove it a few years ago. Many of those attempts became the starting point for mathematical developments of great import, even though they did not succeed in solving the problem itself. It was therefore vital not to abandon the hypothesis for the three hundred years during which it was impossible to prove it. The lessons of all the failures, and the process of examining them and their implications, were the lifeblood of mathematics. In that sense, failure is nothing more than the history of the proof of the hypothesis, provided that the hypothesis is not abandoned. As Mao puts it, the logic of imperialists and all reactionaries the world over is ‘make trouble, fail, make trouble again’, but the logic of the people is ‘fight, fail, fail again, fight again … till their victory’.”