Marx, Again! The Spectre Returns
Translated by Steven Cenci, The Pertinent Press, Oxford, 2017. 208pp., Ł50 hb
Reviewed by Mirko Hall
Mirko Hall is a Germanist at Converse College in South Carolina.
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