Worm Either Way (was Despair & Utopia)

Charles Brown CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Tue Nov 9 10:45:40 PST 1999

>>> Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu> 11/09/99 01:11PM >>>

Carrol Cox wrote:

> Just a note. Marx never said this. He said that when *ideas* (not
> "ideology") grip the masses they become material forces.

I may have misquoted too -- did Marx say "ideas" or "theory"? I think the latter but right now can't even remember where it occurs in his works. But what I said about "ideas" in contrast to "ideology" would apply even more strongly to "theory."


Charles: Yes, Carrol , it is "theory".

In "Contribution to Critique of Hegel"s Philosophy of Law: Introduction" ( In my Collected Works Vol. 3 , International, there is another essay with the same title but without the term "Introduction". There are two essays) page 182 ( which is several pages on from the famous beginning when he says all the familiar stuff about religion, it is the halo 'round the vale of woe and all that):

"The weapon of criticism cannot , of course, replace criticism by weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstates _ad hominem_, and it demonstrates _ad hominem_ as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But for man the root is man himself. The evident proof of the radicalism of German theory, and hence of its practical energy, is that it proceeds from a resolute _positive_ abolition of religion. The criticism of religion ends with the teaching that _man is the highest being for man_, hence with the _categorical imperative to overthrow all relations_ in which man is a debased, enslaved, forsaken, despicable being, relations which cannot be better described than by the exclamation of a Frenchman when it was plannned to introduceed a tax on dogs: Poor dogs ! They want to treat you like hum! an beings ! "


And to carry one of my points a bit further -- I think Marx's point applied *only* to revolutionary theory, and is false when applied to ideas in general or, especiallly, when applied to capitalist *theory*. Capitalist ideology (in 9 out of 10 of the meanings of that term) permeates mass thought and feeling, of course, but one of the frustrations often in teaching college courses is that the students, while imbued with capitalist ideology, have no conception whatever of capitalist theory. Can you imagine the ordinary worker (including college faculty) saying, "I'm going to vote for X because she upholds the theory of comparative advantage"? Ideology is a "material force" only in a very indirect way: it blocks off or makes more difficult access to theory, to conscious and deliberate thought. That is, it operates as a barrier to theory seizing the minds of the masses.


Charles: And , of course, Lenin said, "Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement." ( _What Is To Be Done ?_)


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