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The "Modernity Critical of Modernity" Essay Trilogy Draws to a Close.

My upcoming essay for Abstrakt forms the completion of my trilogy concerning the emergence of Marxism in the context of modernity and the bourgeois order. Being a series of philosophical treatments (rather than a historiography, sociology, or political economy) these three essays focus on key and interconnected themes––Enlightenment, science, sovereign power––that are related to Marxism's manifestation as a "modernity critical of modernity". The point is to think Marxism's meaning against the ideological constellation from which it emerged as a challenge, as well as contemporary criticisms of Marxism that seek to crudely identify it with this ideological constellation thus reducing it to an antiquated philosophy amongst the other philosophies of the space and time of Marx and Engels. In this sense, Marxism is treated as an inheritor of the European Enlightenment project, no more or less meaningful than liberalism, notable only because it influenced a radical tradition whose contemporary interlocutors (post-modernists, post-structuralists, post-colonialists, etc.) believe has superseded the Marxist tradition.

Although we could dismiss such pat claims about radical theory moving beyond Marxism by indicating that those who make them remain in the long shadow cast by Marx and Engels (a point I make in Demarcation and Demystification), a mere description of historical debt doesn't help us think Marxism's theoretical importance against those who would reduce it to a crude precursor of the "superior" theory of Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Agamben, etc. Rather, we need to examine Marxism according to the context of its emergence which many of these thinkers and their followers treat as an original sin. After all, there are those who claim that Marxism at its origins was merely a radical expression of liberalism; the best way to show that such a claim is a lie is to demonstrate how alien its fundamental premises are from the assumptions of bourgeois thought.

The first essay, Radiating Disaster Triumphant, thus deals with the problematic of Enlightenment/modernity and the charge that Marxism, being a product of the European Enlightenment, is intrinsically flawed because of the Enlightenment's relationship to colonialism and capitalism. By understanding the complexity of the Enlightenment and modernity, and Marxism as theory that emerged both from and against European Enlightenment, we are able to better understand the context of its emergence and oppose the claims that reduce Marxism to a mere artifact of European modernity.

The second essay, This Ruthless Criticism of All That Exists, examines the charge that Marxism is an antiquated and totalizing doctrine because it was proclaimed as a science. Here I accept the charge that Marxism was wagered as a science and argue why it is necessary to accept this claim in order to understand Marxism as something more substantial and in fact global than an artifact of European modernity. Arguing against the assertion that Marxism is intrinsically Eurocentric, and discussing how those who make this assertion tend to draw on theoretical trajectories that are in fact more Eurocentric than Marxism, my claim is that historical materialism's identity as a science is what allows it to transcend the Eurocentric boundaries of its emergence.

The final essay of the trilogy, The Transplanting of Heaven to Earth Below, deals with modern theories of sovereign power from those theoretical trajectories that seek to either displace or supplement Marxism. (While I was working on the preliminary materials of this essay I blogged about some of my frustrations of the sovereignty discourse.) This essay demonstrates that contemporary conceptions of "sovereignty" are far more in line with the understanding of political power that was in operation during Marxism's emergence and that Marxism in fact superseded. This examination of the question of political power––how it was framed by bourgeois thought and how Marxism transcended this framing, how contemporary post-Marxist currents in fact return to this framing––unites the previous two essays by demonstrating that: i) the scientific approach of historical materialism demystifies the problematic of political power; ii) these post-Marxist currents that accuse Marxism for being a mere creature of the European Enlightenment are in fact connected to the negative aspects of the European Enlightenment.

There is of course much more that could be said on all of these topics, and I am certain that I will return to them in the course of later projects (i.e. why did I forget to talk about Kant's "Toward a Perpetual Peace" in the final essay?), but I am happy with the way the trilogy developed and grateful for Abstrakt's interest––as well as their editing and translating––in publishing each of its component parts.

As I have consistently maintained, part of my raison d'etre as a philosopher is to think Marxism as a totality. Part of this means providing a philosophy of political economy (i.e. thinking the meaning of the claims made by political economy in light of the central claims of Marxism). Which means thinking through central historical and sociological claims that circulate around the historical deployment of the Marxist theoretical terrain. But part of this project of thinking Marxism means combatting the laziness a large amount of contemporary Marxist thought (meaning, here, both academic and activist expressions of Marxism that are either eclectic or dogmatic) that results in a failure to think the meaning of this thought itself. That is, it is not enough to merely claim that Marxism is a science if one cannot grasp and practice Marxism as a science. Nor, conversely, is it acceptable to deny the scientific aspect of Marxism, not to mention developing an eclectic/eccentric version of historical materialism, while simultaneously maintaining that one is a faithful Marxist. If revolutionary theory is essential to building a revolutionary movement than we need to understand the meaning of this theory.

Understanding Marxism's meaning is not only an understanding of its emergence to its present articulation but an understanding of how the latter is necessitated by the former. That is, why do some of us say that Maoism is the current and correct expression of historical materialism––what about Marxism and then Marxism-Leninism has necessitated Marxism-Leninism-Maoism? I tried to think through the concept of historical materialism's scientific development in Continuity and Rupture, and though some were unhappy with this thinking their unhappiness failed to produce a scientifically defensible alternate understanding of the proclamation of Maoism. If we are to take historical materialism seriously as a science we must explain how, like all sciences, it is open to the future, how it develops like any other science, and what this development means. How do we think Marxist categories in every conjuncture, not as monks memorizing holy passages but as scientifically minded cadre? Such a thinking is a grand project, and I will be the first to admit that my attempts are not perfect, but all of us who call ourselves Marxist must take this project seriously while we also engage in mass work. And part of this thinking is understanding the emergence of our science against the field of modern bourgeois thought––how historical materialism first demarcated itself and continues to demarcate itself because of this emergence––to which I hope this essay trilogy has contributed.