: Philosophy and revolution: from kant to marx (9781859844717) : Stathis Kouvelakis, Fredric Jameson : Books
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Philosophy And Revolution: From Kant To Marx

by Stathis Kouvelakis, Fredric Jameson
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Verso
  • Publishing date: 13/03/2003
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781859844717
  • ISBN: 1859844715


Throughout the nineteenth century, German philosophy was haunted by the spectre of the French Revolution. Kant, Hegel, and their followers spent their lives wrestling with its heritage, trying to imagine a specifically German path to modernity—a 'revolution without revolution'. Trapped in a politically frozen society, German intellectuals were driven to brood over the nature of the revolutionary experience.

In this ambitious and original study, Stathis Kouvelakis paints a rich panorama of the key intellectual and political figures in the effervescence of German thought before the 1848 revolutions. He shows how the attempt to chart a moderate and reformist path entered into deep crisis, generating two antagonistic perspectives. In one camp, represented by Moses Hess and the early Friedrich Engels, were those socialists who sought to discover a principle of reconciliation and harmony in social relations, by bypassing the question of revolutionary politics. In sharp contrast, the poet Heinrich Heine and the young journalist Karl Marx developed a new perspective articulating revolutionary rupture and struggle for democracy, thereby redefining the very notion of politics.

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  • Original Points well made
    From Amazon

    Frederic Jameson prefaces Stathis Kouvelakis' Philosophy and Revolution with the claim that it is the first truly original version of Marx's intellectual development since Auguste Cornu. Well, not quite. But it certainly does stand in the Cornu-Ranciere-Labica tradition, rather than in the Anglo-American analysis of Marx's intellectual origins. With Cornu generally untranslated, that makes it - if for no other reason - worthwhile for the English language reader.

    Kouvelakis builds his contribution on three pillars - Heine, Hess and Engels. For Kouvelakis the advantage of studying these writers is that they « shuttled back and forth between different theoretical and national cultures » (P.168). Marx is to stand portrayed by contrast with those three, though not as their reconciliation.

    From Heine he observes the spontaneous post-hegelian dialectic of transition from universality to particularity and to singularity. In retrospect that movement can be seen to frame 19th-20th century intellectual history and to emerge because of the inability of Hegel's method to derive the universal from the particular.

    To my mind his reading of Heine does not pin down the specific character of the moment of singularity so critical to Heine. He misses the historical fact that Heine's moment of singularity retrospectively undermines the whole dialectical approach with a humble romanticism. This is most evident in his reading of Heine's 1855 `Forward to Lutetia'. Kouvelakis reads it - in defiance of Heine's own version of his intellectual development (cf his 1851 will) - as indicating Heine's continued, unaltered, partisanship for communism.

    This reading surely reflects a whole French post-Kantian tradition at the centre of which still stand Sartre and Althusser, puzzling over what a materialist dialectic might be. As a concomitant Kouvelakis also displays that regard for Foucault as an authority, which can only puzzle anyone not immersed in French post-modernism.

    From Hess, Kouvelakis takes on a surprising, fascinating, determination to take seriously the differences between the social and political conditions of England, France and Germany, a focus which vitiated so much of the political writing of the period and which so many since have by-passed in search of a prematurely singular international socialist debate.

    The core point of his analysis of Hess is that Hess' philosophy of action seeks to create a dissident, anti-political movement which values freedom, a social movement which will ultimately produce a new religion of universal love.

    Whether he captures accurately the twin elements of Hess' argument - that Germany, by contrast with England, is well placed to push forward towards that goal precisely because revolution is least likely in Germany and almost certain in England - is more debateable as is his charcterization of the argument as `anti-political'.

    From Engels' early work Kouvelakis draws a picture of a socialist humanism (shades again of Althusser). Engels is portrayed as a disciple of Hess, taking from Hess a focus on the conditions of social and political action.

    The danger is that Kouvelakis will fall into the tired old `Marx contra Engels' debate. He does at times succumb to this temptation. But his contribution lies in identifying the way in which a dialectic of association replaces the mere affirmation of singularity, particularlity (Schelling) or `concrete universality'. In that way, almost despite himself, Kouvelakis identifies the positive contribution of Engels' early work to the unfolding intellectual debate of the 1840s.

    Kouvelakis wants to locate the cause of the crudities of Engels' 1844 analysis as lying in a linear understanding of the relationship between economic and political development. The reader needs to ignore this and the inconsistent references forward to the Anti-Duhring and the Dialectics of Nature that seem eclectically to reduce Kouvelakis to that old anti-Engels stance. He does not analyse the development of Engels' political perspectives after 1844 and proves bound to his own characterisation of Engels as a disciple of Hess - a characterisation by Kouvelakis which defines the political issues as which of the triarchy of England, France and Germany will have priority in progressive activity. The interesting question is how that ceased to be the key question for Engels. At one point Kouvelakis, with post-modern integrity, worries about his own susceptibility to retrospective illusion (P.233), but he worries about it at the wrong place.

    Standing in the French interpretative tradition, Kouvelakis is refreshingly comfortable with the idea of a political and theoretical rupture by Marx as the best way to conceptualise Marx's developmental process.

    This brings us to Kouvelakis key virtue : he advocates the primacy of the political over the theoretical rupture in Marx's development and names that political rupture as an acceptance of the primacy and immediacy of antagnonism over reconciliation. Furthermore, he explains the possiblity of this political rupture in Marx's unique critique of Hegel and thus sets Marx outside the Young Hegelian movement (P.235-236).

    He identifies in Marx's work a different re-formulation of the dialectic of singularity than Engels'. Raher than a dialectic of association, he finds in Marx's early work a dialectic of critique/theory.

    Kouvelakis stands in the tradition of the critique of the Second International by Lukacs and Korsch which idealistically explains the failure of that International by reference to its belief that revolution was inevitable. It is despite that view that Kouvelakis book is worth reading.

    His insistence on the importance of Heine and Hess to any successful narrative of the emergence of Marxism is a point well made and, alone, makes this a book worth reading. The evidence of dialiectics of association and critique as alternatives to the empirical singularity, the moralising particular or the transcendental concrete universal are useful.

    It proves to be a defining feature of Kouvelakis' book that he takes his leave of Marx on the threshold of the emergence of Marx's communist views - prefering to rest tentatively with ungrounded concepts of action, event and process, chimerical references to the `proletariat', a totemic reverence for `politics' and an aspiration for a permanent democratic revolutionary process.

  • An essential recovery of Marx's foundations
    From Amazon

    A challenging and brilliant book, based on an extraordinary amount of research in the left-wing thought of the early 1840s. Kouvelakis emphasises the crucial importance of Heine (yes, the poet) in the "Germanization" of revolutionary thought. More surprisingly, he shows us an Engels who was in many ways the opposite of Marx, pursuing an empirical "social-ism" at odds with the profoundly self-critical approach that led to Marx's discovery/creation of the proletariat. While there is a lot that's difficult or just plain obscure here on first reading, and a few too many references to Foucault, the flaws don't get in the way of Kouvelakis's rediscovery of Marx's original vision of a permanently self-transforming historical process, one as different from the statist organization of production usually associated with Marx as it is from the "humanist" Marx usually drawn from the 1844 manuscripts. Here is Marx the Hegelianizer of Hegel, pushing the limits of thinking-about until it issues in self-transforming action instead--a Marx who once again can challenge us. We are all in Kouvelakis's debt.

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