‘Reassessing Marx’s Social and Political Philosophy: Freedom, Recognition and Human Flourishing’ by Jan Kandiyali (ed) reviewed by Meade McCloughan

Reviewed by Meade McCloughan

About the reviewer

Meade McCloughan is on the organizing group of the Marx and Philosophy Society and teaches …


This very stimulating volume raises – and indicates various ways of answering – the question as to what it means to take Marx as a philosopher. There are no doubt many ways to do so, but the contributors to this volume for the most part adopt one of two approaches. The first of these involves relating Marx to Hegel, an approach which accords with Marx’s own intellectual development and self-understanding, but which then tends to result in a focus on the early writings. This approach is represented here by seven of the twelve contributors: Moggach, Renault, Ikäheimo, Schmidt am Busch, Chitty, Neuhouser and Sayers. The other approach is to relate Marx to liberalism; this can overlap with the preceding approach, insofar as Hegel is understood – controversially no doubt – as a liberal philosopher, and perhaps allows for a wider range of reference to Marx’s writings. This second approach is represented here by five of the twelve contributors: Neuhouser, Reiman, Sypnowich, Brudney and Kandiyali (and also to a degree some of the others). (The only contributor not accounted for on this basis is Leopold.)

To what end then are these connections undertaken? It could just be that the point in each case is to affirm one against the other, as with Marxist critiques of liberalism and Hegelianism and, conversely, liberal and Hegelian critiques of Marxism. But the authors here can for the most part be seen as taking the relations they establish (between Marx and Hegel and between Marx and liberalism) as being productive, that is, generating new positions or understandings. How then might we describe or label the positions which could result from these productive interrelations? Starting with the Marx-Hegel relationship, I take my lead from the distinction made by Joe McCarney (one of the founders of the Marx and Philosophy Society), between on the one hand, ‘Hegelian Marxism’, and on the other hand, ‘Marxist Hegelianism’. The former – ‘Hegelian Marxism’ – is a version of Marxism, one which emphasizes its Hegelian character, as we find for example with Lukács. (Note that this Hegelian Marxism could be intended either as an explicit reconstruction or development of Marxian theory or as an interpretation of what that theory originally involved.) The latter– ‘Marxist Hegelianism’ – is a version of Hegelianism, one which turns or transforms it in a Marxist direction, as we find perhaps in Adorno. In both cases the emphasis falls on the second component, which the first, notwithstanding its prominence, is merely meant to modify or inflect – thus Hegelian Marxism and Marxist Hegelianism. A parallel distinction could then be drawn between, on the one hand, ‘liberal Marxism’, and on the other hand, ‘Marxist liberalism’. So I therefore identify four possible positions which could emerge on the basis of the positive and productive endeavours to relate Marx to either Hegel or liberalism. Where then do the contributors to this collection end up in relation to this matrix?

The volume contains one – and only one – exposition of what we can clearly identify as Hegelian Marxism: this is the final piece by Sean Sayers, in which he argues that Marx’s theory of history is thoroughly Hegelian in structure, and then uses this account to criticize the anti-Hegelian post-Marxism of Badiou. The term ‘Hegelian Marxism’ does not itself feature here, but Sayer’s presumably self-penned description at the end of the book has him down as having ‘written extensively on many areas of philosophy from a Hegelian-Marxist perspective’ (274). The claim that Marx’s theory of history is Hegelian in character certainly has a lot going for it and is no doubt one of the main reasons for affirming Hegelian Marxism. The other papers dealing with Marx in relation to Hegel do not have much to say about either’s theory of history; the one exception is Frederick Neuhouser, who argues that Marx’s expectations for communism are insufficiently dialectical or Hegelian, given that they do not allow for the proper Aufhebung of the achievements of the bourgeois liberal epoch, specifically liberal rights. In fact I recall when Neuhouser gave a version of the paper to the Marx and Philosophy Society conference back in 2012, Sayers questioned him on precisely this point, suggesting that Marx is by no means committed to disdaining bourgeois individuality, but rather sees this as one of the great achievements of modernity, one which communism will develop. Neuhouser responded by agreeing in general, but still insisting that the programmatic conclusions of ‘On the Jewish Question’ cut against this. The issue therefore becomes two-fold: on the one hand, to what degree and in what forms does Marx think that bourgeois individualism will be positively transformed in communism? And on the other hand, does this transformation still operate within the Hegelian pattern or does it instead seriously alter or even break that pattern? Neuhouser thinks that the transformation Marx envisages is insufficiently preservative and therefore undialectical; Sayers presumably thinks otherwise. There is no doubt more to say about the specific issue of liberal rights, but for now we just need to note the general thrust of Neuhouser’s approach, which is to urge that Marx be placed back into the Hegelian frame in order to rectify deficiencies in his own position. Marx, to be sure, has much to add to Hegel, especially in terms of his analysis and criticism of ‘civil society’, but unfortunately tends to move too far away from Hegel in the manner in which he develops these ideas. Neuhouser therefore argues that we need as it were to rescue Marx from himself by making him more of an Hegelian; in fact, given Neuhouser’s general endorsement of a suitably updated Hegelian social and political philosophy, updated in part by reference to Marx, his position could be said, at least in this paper, to instantiate a form of Marxist Hegelianism. In which case, the disagreement between Sayers and Neuhouser then represents the divergence between Hegelian Marxism and Marxist Hegelianism.

Neuhouser’s approach exemplifies that taken by most of the contributors who deal with Marx in relation to Hegel. Moggach, Ikäheimo, Schmidt am Busch and Neuhouser all claim that Hegel’s social and political philosophy is more philosophically sophisticated and defensible than Marx’s; where Marx does well, they argue, he does so by developing or applying Hegelian ideas; where he goes wrong, it is by discarding them. A reiterated theme is Marx’s rejection of liberal rights; more generally, Marx is charged with disregarding the normative significance of rational individual reflexivity. He is said to ‘seem naïve’ (Schmidt am Busch, 112) in respect of his failure to attend to issues of ‘institutional mediation’, if not guilty of ‘romantic fantasy’ (Ikäheimo, 97).

The sense then that the best we can do with Marx is to use him to reinfuse Hegelianism involves returning to the spirit, if not the letter, of Left / Young Hegelianism, which helpfully is the subject of Emmanuel Renault’s contribution. Renault argues that we must understand the early Marx as operating within the intellectual movement of Left and Young Hegelianism, and not simply as taking Left and Young Hegelian positions as the targets of his criticisms. This approach is more a matter of reconstructing the philosophical context of Marx’s early ideas rather than evaluating them, as we find with Neuhouser and the others. But it nonetheless confirms the sense we get from Neuhouser and the others that the best way to understand and indeed appropriate Marx is in terms of Marxist – or more generally – Left Hegelianism.

The one (partial) exception to the otherwise predominant tendency of the contributors here to fold Marx back into Hegel comes with Andrew Chitty’s remarkably detailed reconstruction of Hegel’s and Marx’s arguments for human solidarity. Whilst noting the extent to which their respective arguments have much in common, he also wants to insist on the important differences, thereby allowing Marx to emerge as a thinker in his own right, not one who always needs to be grounded in Hegel. That said, the results of this exercise are rather equivocal, and in three respects. Firstly, Chitty has to concede that Hegel’s argument is more philosophically satisfactory than Marx’s, specifically in virtue of its being based on an account of rational reflexivity, rather than being pitched in empirical, naturalistic terms (139). To this extent, his approach coincides with what we find in Moggach and Schmidt am Busch. (But this evaluation presupposes, following Kant, that philosophy should be concerned with such transcendental grounding; might we not instead suppose that Marx was right to proceed in a more Aristotelian direction?) Secondly, the advantage Chitty sees in Marx’s argument is that it can be extended to justify a genuinely human form of solidarity, one that can and should have global reach. Hegel, by contrast, seems to be concerned only with a more limited version of solidarity, one realized within particular social settings (specifically the contemporary constitutional state). But could it not be argued that Hegel’s particularism in this respect is inconsistent with the universalism implicit in his account of self-consciousness (and spirit), and so a prime target for a ‘Left Hegelian’ critique? Thirdly, this latter suggestion then connects with an issue which does not feature in Chitty’s paper as published here, but which he did touch on – briefly – in the version he delivered at the Marx and Philosophy Society conference in 2016, namely the different ways in which Hegel’s and Marx’s accounts of social or human solidarity figure in their accounts of human history. The difference Chitty identifies between Hegel’s limited, socially-defined version of solidarity and Marx’s implicitly human, global version surely also reflects the different purposes of their theories of history, Hegel concerned to establish what has happened (the advent of state-based solidarity), Marx by contrast what is going to happen (the advent of global solidarity)?

Let me now consider whether the contributors who discuss Marx in relation to liberalism can be understood in terms of the distinction between liberal Marxism and Marxist liberalism. Unlike the previous distinction (Hegelian Marxism / Marxist Hegelianism), which doesn’t as such figure in the book, this distinction does, or very nearly does, as it does clearly relate to the endeavour of the relevant contributors to bring Marxism and liberalism together, or at least closer together. This project is exemplified in the very title of Reiman’s chapter, ‘Marxian Liberalism’, which the editor says is better understood as ‘a liberal theory modified by certain Marxist beliefs rather than a Marxist theory modified by liberal ones’ (Kandiyali, 13), thus exactly describing the difference between what I have called Marxist liberalism and liberal Marxism. And I think that ‘Marxist liberalism’ is reasonably accurate way of characterizing the contributions of Moggach, Neuhouser, Reiman, Sypnowich, Brudney and Kandiyali, given the manner in which they aim both to save liberalism from Marx’s criticisms but also take on board some of Marx’s diagnostic claims about capitalism.

My inclusion of Sypnowich in this list cuts against the editor’s claim in his Introduction that Sypnowich is arguing that ‘Marx provides an attractive alternative’ to liberal egalitarianism (9). This could be thought to mis-state Sypnowich’s argument in two respects. Firstly, her position seems rather to be that the ideal of human flourishing found in Marx ‘can correct the deficiencies of contemporary liberal argument’ (188), and accordingly is intended to supplement and transform liberal egalitarianism rather than contest or replace it; and so follows in the line of attempts to ‘bring together Marxist and liberal egalitarian theory’ (Sypnowich quoting Jonathan Wolff, 192), in the form of a ‘Left-liberal marriage’ (Sypnowich quoting Will Kymlicka, 192). Secondly, it is not so much Marx as the socialist tradition (201) more generally to which Sypnowich appeals– hence references to Morris, Tawney and Laski, as well as Marx – and even non-socialists, such as Beveridge (194). The resulting position is one which stands sufficiently at odds with mainstream liberal egalitarianism to count as an ‘alternative’ to it, but I am not sure really warrants the epithet ‘Marxist’; rather, socialist egalitarianism, or liberal socialism?

So what then of liberal Marxism itself – does this have any adherents amongst the contributors? Well, the editor – Jan Kandiyali – certainly seems to want this to be the case: his introduction attributes what he calls ‘a more liberal version of Marxism’ to two of the authors we’ve already considered, Neuhouser and Reiman (8). Now I think this is somewhat wishful on his part; as I’ve already indicated, Kandiyali goes on to (accurately) characterize Reiman’s project as ‘a more Marxist version of liberalism’ (13) rather than the other way around; if this is the case with Reiman, then it is even more so with Neuhouser.

The closest we get to ‘liberal Marxism’ in fact comes in the form of Kandiyali’s own contribution, which examines the theme of specialization in Schiller and Marx in an admirably clear and thought-provoking way. In this piece Kandiyali is concerned to emphasize the liberalism – i.e., the ethical individualism – within Marx’s philosophy. He himself doesn’t make this explicit, but his overall strategy of a) aligning Marx with Schiller (the latter identified as liberal: 239, 246), and b) contesting the characterization of Marx as a collectivist ‘opponent of liberal individualism’ (239), I think justifies my take on his account. This is a somewhat different kind of liberalism, to be sure, than the one recommended by Moggach, Neuhouser and others; that is, it is not one which is fixated on rights (and therefore also coercion), but instead centres on the idea of free personal development, which we can take to be the core value at the heart of much of the best of philosophical liberalism (e.g., J.S. Mill) – and with it hostility towards what Kandiyali calls the ‘collectivist vision of self-realization’ (257). On this account, Marx himself would be the original ‘liberal Marxist’! Kandiyali is obviously sympathetic to this position, though doesn’t want whole-heartedly to endorse it, certainly not given some of the more utopian forms it takes in Marx’s thought.

Kandiyali’s consideration of what I am somewhat provocatively calling Marx’s liberal individualism proceeds on the basis of an examination of the alienating effects of productive specialization. He starts by quoting a famous passage from Schiller:

That polypoid character of the Greek States, in which every individual enjoyed an independent existence but could, when need arose, grow into the whole organism, now made way for an ingenious clock-work, in which, out of the piecing together of innumerable but lifeless parts, a mechanical collective life ensued….  Everlastingly chained to a single little fragment of the Whole, man himself develops into nothing but a fragment; … he never develops the harmony of his being. (On the Aesthetic Education of Man, sixth letter, cited 242)

What I find striking here is the contrast between the organic and the mechanical; Schiller does not in fact seem to be critical of specialization per se, but rather of mechanical specialization; it is not being part of a whole that is pernicious, but being a ‘lifeless’ part, one which does not feel itself to be part of the whole, does not understand and affirm its functioning within the collective. This then connects with much of what Marx conveys in his critique of specialization: it is not so much specialization that he objects to as capitalist specialization, as this is, as Kandiyali notes, ‘involuntary’ and ‘coercive’ (258) and results in social atomization or alienation.

Kandiyali goes on to quote Marx:

Modern Industry imposes the necessity of recognizing, as a fundamental law of production, variation of work…. [It] compels society to replace the worker of today, crippled by life-long repetition of one and the same trivial operation, and thus reduced to a mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs, are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers. (Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, cited 249)

Kandiyali then comments:

Here Marx makes two claims. The first is that machinery and modern industry will eradicate, or at least significantly reduce, the demand for specialists and finely developed skills. Rather than being a specialist in one line of activity, the worker of the future will be a generalist, capable of turning their hand to whatever task society requires. The second is that this is a positive development, for it will lead to a higher development of human powers…. Both claims are open to doubt. The first claim, while not entirely false, is exaggerated… [M]ore than a century and a half since Marx penned those words, there remain a number of highly skilled jobs in our economy. What Marx seemed to overlook here is the fact that, as well as reducing the demand for certain skills, technological advancement also creates a need for new skills and new specializations. (249-50)

I think this gets things wrong. Marx is comparing a) the ‘crippled’ condition of the worker in contemporary large-scale industry with b) the ‘the fully developed’ worker in the imminent future. Kandiyali has the transition from a) to b) as ‘eradicating’ or ‘reducing’ ‘the demand for specialists and finely developed skills’, but this description hardly fits with the passage from Capital. He backs up his interpretation by citing a line from Marx that modern industry ‘wipes out specialists’ – but this comes from The Poverty of Philosophy, published twenty-one years before Volume One of Capital, where Marx is describing the transition from craft production to precisely the kind of large-scale industry in which the worker is condemned to being ‘crippled by life-long repetition of one and the same trivial operation’. Kandiyali goes on to argue that this claim is ‘exaggerated’, if not ‘refuted’, given the manner in which ‘technological advancement […] creates the demand for new skills and new specializations’ (250). But surely this is why the worker of the future will need to be ‘fit for a variety of labours’? That said, the passage from Capital does more generally fit with Kandiyali’s account, given the expectation that individuals will be able to ‘perform different social functions’ and thereby ‘give free scope to their own natural and acquired powers’. But again, this indicates that the problem isn’t specialization as such, but the fixity of specialization given the industrial / capitalist division of labour.

Just as I think Schiller is in effect recommending organicist collectivism as the solution to mechanical specialization, so too is Marx. The value of ‘perform[ing] different social functions’ isn’t just that one then gets to exercise more of one’s own capacities; one also gets to identify with the social whole of which one is – in various ways – a part.

My response to Kandiyali’s argument is therefore two-fold: i) specialization as such is not the real problem for Marx, but rather fixed or mechanical specialization; ii) the solution Marx envisages to this problem is by no means as individualistic as Kandiyali suggests. Further support for this rejoinder comes when we realize that even on Kandiyali’s account specialization is not the real problem, as his focus increasingly moves away from specialization to what he calls ‘mundane work’ (251, 252) and ‘mundane labour’ (255). Moreover, one of the solutions Kandiyali considers leaves specialization completely untouched; according to him, Schiller and Marx both hold that the (alleged) problem can be resolved by a change of attitude; so for Marx, he suggests, specialized work can be undertaken ‘in a unalienated fashion under communism’ if it is motivated by a concern for others as such (251: this is his take on the ‘Comments on James Mill’ passage treated by many of the other contributors). But surely this is to conceive of one’s own specialism as functioning for the benefit of the whole?

Kandiyali is keen to present what I am no doubt tendentiously calling a ‘liberal Marxism’, one which sets itself against what he refers to as the Hegelian’s ‘collectivist vision of self-realization’ (257).  But I am not convinced that it is genuinely Marxist.  So once again, back to Hegel?

7 June 2019

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