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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une lecture non conformiste et non académique

by Philippe Corcuff

A Non-Academic And Non-Conformist Reading

Translated Monday 1 October 2012, by Gene Zbikowski

Marx can tell us things about what is at stake at a time when, now more than ever, capitalism is dominant. Rediscovering Marx presupposes scratching off the rust left by previous, favorable (Marxist) and unfavorable (anti-Marxist) readings. In fact, three orientations are found in the present-day renaissance of interest in Marx. The first one, which is to be rejected, is that of dogmatic and orthodox retrenchment, oriented against the supposed threat from contemporary critical thought (Michel Foucault, Cornelius Castoriadis, Pierre Bourdieu, etc.) The second one presents itself, on the contrary, as an open Marxism that dialogues with other currents of critique.

By Philippe Corcuff, sociologist, member of the scientific council of Attac. (1)

At the heart of the third orientation, critical and benevolent readings unfold, valorizing the polyphony of Marx’s writings that lie beneath the rigidities of the label “Marxist.” In the framework of this third orientation, my book is rooted in the methodological advice given by Foucault, who invites us to be more sensitive to the heterogeneous threads that run through a work such as Marx’s. This assumes a break with academic habits concerning the history of ideas, on the lookout for forced coherencies in authors and their works.

In short, my Marx 21st Century is intended to incite readers to think starting from Marx, with Marx, next to Marx, beyond Marx, and sometimes against Marx! And to do this by making Marx accessible to as many people as possible.

The undiscovered Marxian continent of individuality.

The present capitalist crisis is accompanied by a crisis in contemporary intimacies, when the scrapes and grazes on our individualities (on-the-job suffering to the extremity of suicide, the frustrations of mass consumption, etc.) reveal that our powerful demands for personal recognition and individual autonomy have been disappointed. And this crisis of intimacies expresses a veritable existential crisis, affecting the very meaning of our lives and the organization of human societies. But left-wing movements are often wide of the mark when confronted with these difficulties, because these movements are still generally dominated by a “collectivist program.”

What do I mean by that? It’s a kind of knee-jerk reflex according to which you have to choose the collective over the individual if you’re on the left. When they react that way, left-wing movements tend to allow neo-con capitalism to monopolize individuality. The communist philosopher Lucien Sève [born 1926] is one of the few to have deviated from that path with his 1969 book Marxism and the Theory of Human Personality [Published in English in London in 1975], but the book had little impact.

Now, unlike the collectivist readings which Marxists have tended to make predominant, Marx was deeply attached to the figure of individuality, both as a support for the critique of capitalism and as a horizon for social emancipation. For example, in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx was interested in the development of the senses and capacities of each individual: “Each of his human relations to the world – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, observing, experiencing, wanting, acting, loving – in short, all the organs of his individual being.” A sensualist Marx! And this assumes a struggle against capitalism, because “In the place of all physical and mental senses there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses, the sense of having.” The being of emancipation against capitalist having!

However, let us point out that Marx’s individualism had two main characteristics: 1) He was a relationalist, he did not begin with individuals isolated the one from the other, but with social relations and social connections. 2) He strove to take the social conditions of the emancipation of individualities into account. Hence this phrase in The German Ideology (written with Engels in 1845-1846): “In revolutionary activity, changing oneself and changing these conditions coincide.” At one and the same time, working on oneself and collective action to change the world!

(1) Philippe Corcuff is the author of Marx XXIe siècle. Textes commentés, Published by Éditions Textuel, collection « Petite Encyclopédie critique », 2012, 192 pages, 12 euros

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