Alfred Betschart has claimed that the project of existential Marxism is a contradiction in terms, but this argument, even when supported by many experts and quotes from Sartre's 1975 interview, misses the point of my Boston Review article, “The
Revisiting Existential Marxism
A Reply to Alfred Betschart
Sartre, Camus and a Marxism for the 21st Century
terrorism” of Marxism. But what, specifically, was so wrong with The Rebel ? The book purports to explicate the tragic consequences of rebellion turning to revolution. With the “death of God,” the history of which he analyzes in detail, the universal
Marxism and Christianity
Dependencies and Differences in Alasdair MacIntyre's Critical Social Thought
Alasdair MacIntyre, a leading moral philosopher in the English speaking world, was from his earliest intellectual formation influenced profoundly both by Christianity and Marxism. MacIntyre argues that Marxism has religious roots, in that it gains its vision of the good life of peace and reconciliation from Christianity, mediated by Hegel, but makes this life historically concrete. The article views MacIntyre's early intellectual career as a case study in the productive tension generated by an analysis of the connections between Christianity and Marxism. It is suggested that by examining the similarities and differences of these two traditions, MacIntyre points to the sources of radicalism that lie at the apparently conservative heart of western culture and reveals aspects of the continuing significance of this culture's religious background. He also points to the difficulties both traditions have in engaging with modern liberal culture.
Celebrating the Critique’s Fiftieth Anniversary
When published, Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason appeared to be a major intellectual and political event, no less than a Kantian effort to found Marxism, with far-reaching theoretical and political consequences. Claude Levi-Strauss devoted a course to studying it, and debated Sartre's main points in The Savage Mind; Andre Gorz devoted a major article to explaining its importance and key concepts in New Left Review. Many analysts of the May, 1968 events in Paris claimed that they were anticipated by the Critique. But the book has had a very quiet 50th anniversary: it is now clear that the project has had little lasting effect beyond a narrow band of specialists. It has not entered the wider culture, has not been picked up beyond Sartre scholars except by one or two philosophically interested social scientists and feminist thinkers; and after the energy of 1968 wore off the Critique faded as well from the radar of political activists. This article asks and attempts to answer the perplexing question: Why? What became of the great promise of Sartre's project?
Palliative Marxism or Imminent Critique
Włodzimierz Brus and the Limits to Classical Marxist Political Economy
In 1956 communists North of the Limpopo discovered, to their horror, that ‘he who had been the leader of progressive humanity, the inspiration of the world, the father of the Soviet people, the master of science and learning, the supreme military genius, and altogether the greatest genius in history was in reality a paranoiac torturer, a mass murderer, and a military ignoramus who had brought the Soviet state to the verge of disaster’ (Kol˜akowski 1978:450). The decade which followed was to witness an important although inconclusive challenge to the orthodoxy and authority of the once omniscient Soviet Union; a development characterised by increasingly heterogenous relations within Comecon, and by a series of bold but ultimately unsuccessful attempts at economic reform (Swain & Swain 1993:127).
Les débats autour du mouvement pour la décroissance
The last four years have seen the rise of a movement on the French radical left positing a fundamental conflict between economic growth and ecological sustainability and calling for a reversal of growth (décroissance) against the current consensus around the concept of sustainable development. This challenge to the growth imperative and, more widely, of the ideology of progress, represents a return to the explicitly antiproductivist approaches that emerged in the early 1970s with the rise of radical political ecology. This article charts the birth of the décroissance movement, which is comprised of two components: anticonsumerist and antidevelopment. It also contrasts the movement with other closely-related ideological elements of the French antiglobalization and anticapitalist movements, elements that belong to the dominant, mainly Marxist tradition, whose anticapitalist struggle builds on the legacy of the Enlightenment period. The article concludes that, by placing antieconomicist and antiutilitarian thought drawn from social sciences on the agenda of the French radical Left, the décroissance movement could potentially generate a major paradigm shift founded on a critical evaluation of the heritage of modernity.
"Nothing Fails Like Success"
The Marxism of Raymond Aron
One of the most influential thinkers in twentieth-century French intellectual debates, Raymond Aron (1905-1983) spent a lifetime studying Karl Marx. Aron's adaptable interpretations of the German thinker began on the eve of the Second World War, continued in his Sorbonne lectures, and ended in his celebrated Memoirs. Far from being a mere object of derision linked to totalitarian regimes, the "semi-god" provided Aron with an unrivaled stage to promote his own evolving views on an array of critical epistemological and political issues linked to heterogeneous values, historical determinism, class warfare, and the role of Communist parties. Aron cleverly segmented his views on Marx so as to address different audiences and seduce the largest possible number of young people on the side of liberal democracy.
The 'Anti-Existentialist Offensive': The French Communist Party against Sartre (1944-1948)
This article considers Sartre's relations with the French Communist Party (PCF) in the years immediately following the Liberation when the PCF considered that, of all the prominent French intellectuals, it was Sartre who posed the greatest threat. This article opens by situating the PCF within the French political landscape immediately after the Liberation and addressing its attitudes towards intellectuals. It then examines the main themes of the attacks launched by the PCF, between 1944 and the staging of Les Mains sales (Dirty Hands) in 1948, on both Sartre and existentialism and the reasons for these attacks. It concludes by noting the differences between the PCF and Sartre on three specific political issues during this period.
Christina Morina, The Invention of Marxism: How an Idea Changed Everything (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023) 557 pp. Beginning just a few years before his death in 1883, Karl Marx's writings were translated, distilled, and disseminated
The Return of Stolen Praxis: Counter-Finality in Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason
What is counter-finality? Who, or what, is the agent of counter-finality? In the Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre employs a complicated and multivalent notion of counter-finality, the reversal of the finality intended by an agent in different contexts and at different levels of complexity. Sartre's concept of counter-finality is read here as an attempt to rethink and broaden the traditional Marxist notion of commodity fetishism as a tragic dialectic of human history whose final act has yet to play out. The article analyses and explicates Sartre's complex concept of counter-finality, focusing on material antipraxis.