‘Marx, Again! The Spectre Returns’ reviewed by Mirko Hall


Marx, Again! The Spectre Returns

Translated by Steven Cenci, The Pertinent Press, Oxford, 2017. 208pp., £50 hb
ISBN 9781912142002

Reviewed by Mirko Hall

About the reviewer

Mirko Hall is a Germanist at Converse College in South Carolina. …

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Diego Fusaro, a professor in History of Philosophy at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, has quickly become a shining star in the firmament of Italian Marxian theory and criticism. Describing himself as a ‘dissident intellectual’ and ‘independent student’ of Marx in interviews, he is the author of more than ten books on the ‘critical history of ideas’ (vii) and a frequent commentator on current political events across various media platforms. Fusaro’s best known work, Bentornato Marx! (2009), which explores the continued revolutionary potential of Marx, was an unexpected bestseller in Italy. Going into several editions immediately after its publication, the book even garnered critical acclaim from automotive workers of the Fiat Mirafiori factory in Turin.

Marx, again! builds upon the above title. In this thought-provoking work, Fusaro provides English-speaking readers with a snappy synopsis of his writings on the philosophical and political thought of Marx. Across seven engaging chapters, which can be read independently of each other, he offers a non-exhaustive summary of ‘what Karl Marx really argued’ (xviii) and analyzes the ‘relevance of Marx’s thought in the post-1989 world order’ (xix). Fusaro emphasizes that – even with the ongoing attempts to neutralize the German revolutionary as a mere theorist of globalization – Marx’s radical critique continues to haunt the political imaginary with its overt ‘spectral and obsessive presence’ (xix). This conclusion harks back to Derrida’s thesis of haunting in his Specters of Marx.

The methodological thread that underlies Fusaro’s work, which is unpacked in the second half of the text, is the belief that Marx’s intellectual oeuvre – with its many contradictory and allusive positions – remains an ‘open construction site’ (131) that is capable of envisioning a truly democratic public sphere of enlightened citizens. Despite the efforts of Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky, and others to systematize the thought of Marx into a closed theory, Fusaro, on the contrary, attributes to him – the incessantly self-critical, self-correcting thinker and writer – a discursive disposition akin to the early German Romantics. The ‘heterogeneous reflections [and] incessant transformations’ (128-9) of Marx’s writings explode any interpretation of his oeuvre as a ‘doctrinaire and finalised system’ (134). In order to move beyond this damaging institutionalization, Fusaro argues that we can never return to the Marx of Marxism: we can only re-start and work toward ‘the authentic and original Marx’ (144). In other words, we must investigate – through critical analysis and sober reflection – ‘what Marx really said [and] what his theoretical achievements and mistakes were’ (144). While still recognizing the catastrophes of twentieth century communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall provides Fusaro with a renewed opportunity for reclaiming Marx’s radical critique to transvalue our imploding world of late capitalism.

The first half of the book, however, involves a series of sophisticated philosophical discussions that seek to re-imagine the emancipatory promise of Marxian thought. Drawing largely from the arguments in The German Ideology, the ‘Theses on Feuerbach,’ and Capital, Fusaro proposes that Marx was – notwithstanding his materialist conception of history – an ‘Idealist thinker malgré lui’ (xviii). He persuasively argues that Marx’s lifelong search for a ‘universalisable self-consciousness of the whole of humanity’ (120) was based on a dynamic, reciprocal interaction between Hegel’s philosophy of spirit and Fichte’s philosophy of praxis. Here, Hegel’s dialectical model of subjectivity involves a socially and historically mediated subject that initially loses itself in its own objectifications, but eventually overcomes this alienation by attaining self-consciousness. Likewise, Fichte’s own dialectical model establishes the subject’s self-consciousness through the active transformation of its objective conditions. Fusaro claims that the first volume of Capital is really a philosophical work and not one of economic or political analysis. In fact, it contains the ‘beating heart of idealistic philosophy’ (28). The volume shows how the capitalist mode of production – as an expressive totality that commodifies everyday human life – not only alienates workers, but also causes them to attain the self-consciousness necessary to prevail over the oppressive laboring process. In other words, it generates the very ‘possibility for the attainment of emancipation’ (24).

Fusaro also calls for ‘amending the Marxian code’ (111) by uniting Hegel’s emphasis on the universal validity of history’s unfolding through symbolic production with Marx’s emphasis on the genesis of history’s unfolding through material production. This re-programmed code would lead to a ‘new ontology of social being” (112) that recognizes itself in history as a critical and revolutionary self-consciousness. As a result, men and women would understand the ‘full correspondence of the Subject (humanity transcendentally conceived as a single acting subject in history) with the Object (history as the place of humankind’s practical objectifications” (124). For Fusaro, such a union would demystify late capitalism’s insistence on a post-ideological world.

Marx, again! (with Steven Cenci’s nice translation) is an enjoyable read that is often marked by poetically infused philosophical language that gracefully propels the narrative forward. Despite its brevity as a mini-monograph, this book is a very erudite text – with a broad range of intertextual references – that draws upon the legacy of European philosophy (from Plato to Žižek) and a number of Italian thinkers (Roberto Fineschi, Giovanni Gentile, and Aldo Masullo). Because Fusaro disregards notes and bibliographical references for a more direct, unencumbered read, the book does presuppose a wide range of philosophical texts and contexts that may be unfamiliar to general audiences. For this reason, it might be more suitable for an experienced reader or researcher, particularly one with a strong background in German intellectual history around 1800. Given Fusaro’s insistence on Capital as a ‘triumph of German science in the idealistic sense’ (13-14), and the lack of a critical apparatus, one might suspect that – by sidestepping questions of economics and politics and, rather, emphasizing those of alienation and exploitation – he is returning to some kind of mythical Marx, who is unburdened by future uses and abuses in his name. A generous reading, however, and his call to historicize Marx as neither ‘Bible [n]or infallible Pope’ (xx), problematizes this possible critique.

In the end, Fusaro challenges us to never resign ourselves to complacency, indifference, or resentment under the anesthetizing conditions of totalitarian capitalism, but, rather, to use Marx’s ‘surprising critical actuality’ (94) to continuously project alternatives – in the form of a ‘cosmopolitan communitarianism’ (156) – to the total administration of human life. Why? Because Marx promises us the ‘most radical critique of capitalism and the most enticing promise of a happy alternative to the “last man” of the consumer civilization. Like a shipwreck victim who survived the twentieth century, Marx does not cease to tell us that, all said and done, even in these times of the “end of history” something is still missing’ (xx).

14 July 2017

One comment

  1. M&PRoB Readers: I wrote this comment in the grips of a rant, after watching Diego Fusaro on You Tube, and it didn't get posted. I'm positing it now, more as a commentary on recent events than on Fusaro's books, which I haven't read. In that spirit, take it or leave it, for what it's worth…

    I invite readers of this review to look up Diego Fusaro's You-Tube video, 'We need to abandon NATO and the free market," in which he first argues, quite correctly, that, since 1989, the United States and NATO have falsely portrayed themselves as the glorious saviors of the Brave New World (Dis)Order, by converting WWII anti-fascism and Cold War anti-communism into a pretext for military interventions against 'The New Hitlers' (Sadaam, Milosevic, Qadaffi etc.) in the former Second and Third Worlds, and that 'democracy' and 'human rights' have been employed in this effort as a trumpet call for US/NATO intervention, when in actuality, democracy and human rights are the first casualties of US/NATO intervention (as currently in the sieges of Mosul and Raqqa).

    But having made this basically correct point, Fusaro then goes on to portray 'The New Stalin,' Vladimir Putin (!), as the glorious savior of the Post-Cold War World from US/NATO crypto-imperialism—forgetting, of course, the Dirty War in Chechnya, the Moscow Apartment Bombings, the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis, the Beslan Hostage Crisis, the Murder of Boris Nemstov, and Putin's countless crimes against Post-Soviet dissidents, and so on—and to argue that the Great Syrian Dictator, Bashar Assad—who, I'm afraid, really is 'The New Hitler'!—is the poor suffering victim of US/NATO imperialism—forgetting, not only Assad's countless crimes against the Syrian people (shrapnel-filled barrel bombs, gas attacks, horrible prison tortures etc….) but that, after Obama's red line fiasco, the US/NATO coalition has effectively abandoned the Syrian people to Assad's (and Putin's) murderous repression, and can't be blamed directly for the nightmarish horrors of Syria 2017. And the terrible fact is that, in the absence of US/.NATO military intervention, 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian catastrophe—a far greater number of them by Putin and Assad then by Da'esh—while the US/NATO coalition and the international community stand by watching, failing in their self-proclaimed duty to enforce international human rights law and to intervene to save innocent civilians from the horrors of contemporary warfare, as I, for one, would argue they absolutely should and must…

    This is the result, I'm afraid, of shoddy, un-dialectical thinking, which thinks, in the first place, that if one side of a political conflict (the US/NATO coalition) is wrong (and they often are…), the other side (Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin?!?!) must be right! (instead of even wrong-er…), and, secondly, that all situations which appear superficially alike (Iraq 1991, Kosovo 1998-1999, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011, Syria 2014, etc.) must actually be alike, and not each different, requiring different theoretical analysis and different political responses. Yes, the Persian Gulf War 1991 largely was an exercise of Post-Cold War US/NATO muscle-flexing, designed to establish Post-Cold War US/NATO superpower hegemony over the Brave New World Disorder, and as a pretext to create what Fusaro calls World War IV (the war against terrorism?), which justifies US/NATO military intervention against so-called anti-Western/anti-US terrorism, upon the slightest accusation of human rights violations etc., basically anywhere in the world. But the US/NATO Kosovo intervention was, at least partly, a UN-backed, NATO-enforced international effort to stop the genocide of Muslims by Milosevic's Serbs and Croatians in the former Yugoslavia, and actually not only successfully stopped the killing, but even resulted in a comparatively stable state (Kosovo) in the catastrophically war-prone Balkans, and therefore should be applauded as one case where the Post-Cold War international world-system, dominated by the US/NATO superpower, really did work. As it obviously does not now….

    And as for the Syria situation, there is little doubt that, after Obama's Cairo Speech, provoking the Arab Spring uprisings in, among other places, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, the US/NATO coalition has not only failed to follow through on a drastically necessary humanitarian intervention that might have removed 'The New Hitler,' Assad, from power, and thereby saved 500,000 Syrian lives, but that, after provoking the Syrian civil war, the US/NATO coalition deliberately stepped back and turned Syria over to 'The New Stalin,' Putin, who applied the same unscrupulous methods he used in The Dirty War in Chechnya to crush the Syrian opposition, who would otherwise by now have ousted Assad from power, and possibly even have established a Syrian democracy free from both Assad and the Islamic State, and from US/NATO intervention.

    What's my point? My point is, that although US/NATO superpower hegemony may be basically an evil, a world ruled by Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad would be unimaginably worse, and that sometimes it's necessary to support the lesser evil (the US/NATO coalition) for the (dialectically?) greater good that can come out of it (a contemporary world ruled by international civil and human rights law), rather than simply standing back and watching the greater evil (Syrian, Russian, or Islamist state-sponsored terrorism…) triumph, while still awaiting the glorious world revolution (the true communist revolution?) against all evils (which, I'm afraid, ain't gonna happen…). So there's no doubt that had Obama followed through on his red line speech, and the US/NATO coalition helped the Syrian opposition to oust Assad, Syria would be in enormously better shape than it is now. And 100,000s of Syrian civilians (women, children, old people…) would still be alive.

    And as for the statement that Marx was 'an idealist,' well… I leave that to Old Marxists to debunk.

    I confess I haven't read Fusaro's book, and I thank the reviewer for referring me to it. Maybe I will read it. But I will definitely read it critically, especially after watching Fusaro's video. And I would really like to see more critical reading in these reviews, in the spirit of good old crit./self-crit., along with, of course, a helpful precis of the title's contexts and basic argument, like that provided by this reviewer, and thank you for that…

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