Three Situationists walk into a bar…

The Hamburg Theses

A new article by me on the Situationist International and the Hamburg Theses published in the online journal Axon number 8. Available here:

Or, the peculiar case of the Hamburg Theses

Unfortunately ‘marxism’ is listed as one of the ‘keywords’ of the article. There is nary a mention of ‘marxism’ in the article, though there are several mentions of ‘Marx’. It is depressing that some still automatically associate Marx with the mutilation of his ideas known as Marxism. The SI criticised and rejected not only Marxism but the possibility that there was a ‘true’ Marxism, or even the need to ‘refound’ Marxism. For them Marxism was ideological in the sense Marx gave the term in his early work – i.e. as a body of ideas abstracted and ultimately opposed to the revolutionary practice from which they were drawn.

From The Society of the Spectacle:

The deterministic-scientific facet in Marx’s thought was precisely the gap through which the process of “ideologization” penetrated, during his own lifetime, into the theoretical heritage left to the workers’ movement. The arrival of the historical subject continues to be postponed, and it is economics, the historical science par excellence, which tends increasingly to guarantee the necessity of its own future negation. But what is pushed out of the field of theoretical vision in this manner is revolutionary practice, the only truth of this negation. What becomes important is to study economic development with patience, and to continue to accept suffering with a Hegelian tranquility, so that the result remains “a graveyard of good intentions.” It is suddenly discovered that, according to the science of revolution, consciousness always comes too soon, and has to be taught. “History has shown that we, and all who thought as we did, were wrong. History has clearly shown that the state of economic development on the continent at that time was far from being ripe” Engels was to say in 1895. Throughout his life, Marx had maintained a unitary point of view in his theory, but the exposition of the theory was carried out on the terrain of the dominant thought and became precise in the form of critiques of particular disciplines, principally the critique of the fundamental science of bourgeois society, political economy. It is this mutilation, later accepted as definitive, which has constituted “marxism.” (Thesis 84)

The weakness of Marx’s theory is naturally the weakness of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat of his time. The working class did not set off the permanent revolution in the Germany of 1848; the Commune was defeated in isolation. Revolutionary theory thus could not yet achieve its own total existence. The fact that Marx was reduced to defending and clarifying it with cloistered, scholarly work, in the British Museum, caused a loss in the theory itself. The scientific justifications Marx elaborated about the future development of the working class and the organizational practice that went with them became obstacles to proletarian consciousness at a later stage. (Thesis 85)

All the theoretical insufficiencies of content as well as form of exposition of the scientific defense of proletarian revolution can be traced to the identification of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie from the standpoint of the revolutionary seizure of power. (Thesis 86)

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1 Response to Three Situationists walk into a bar…

  1. Grant McDonagh says:

    thanks for this. just read it & it’s excellent. The new Luca should be winging its way Canberrawards in the next couple of days Grant

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