If the Coxian intervention that shattered the hegemony of the scientific claim to truth is anything to go by, then this book will face interrogation such as the title of this piece. That is, Shlomo Avineri’s very new book titled Karl Marx: Philosophy and Revolution. The author is introduced as a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A former bureaucrat in the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs, he is also introduced as a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
According to Robert Cox in a 1981 essay, every theory is for someone and for some purpose, meaning that science’s claim to objectivity in social analysis is a fraud, a case of answering a question no one has asked. Following Cox, the typical reader is bound to start from the point that the book is not a project of an aimless scholasticism but something for a purpose and for someone in its effort in bringing up the Jewish context of Marxism now. In any case, the book is published under a Yale University Press’s publishing on Jews of eminence and Jews of eminence are simply preponderant in History. But, what could be the purpose of this particular book?
This sort of question cannot be answered conclusively by any one reviewer, more so that this is not a review of the book but more of an alert on its release and what is likely to happen its coming. Already, the book is receiving rave review. The New York Times has published one. So also The Wall Street Journal! It would not take long before The Economist, The Guardian, Financial Times and the BBC, all in London and then Aljazeera, CNN, RT, South China Morning Post and, in fact, the global popular culture picks it up. Anything concerning Marx is always like that, more so that it has been published by Yale University Press, an actor in global politics in itself.
The interesting thing is how the reviews would tend to overshadow the book itself. Already, that is emerging. When one reads the few that have been published, it is not clear whether the objective of the book is to assert Jewish claim on Marxism or to disown it. Common to all the reviews so far is the notion of Marx’s Jewish identity, all his parents being Jews but his father having to convert to Christianity to expand his survival space in Rhineland once authority over the place passed from French to Prussian control. One of the reviewers even asserted how it was never clear where Marx stood on his father’s action and was never a good or a lived Jewish.
But they are all agreed that he fought for Jewish emancipation. Jonathan Rose who wrote the review of the book for The Wall Street Journal went on to show how Shlomo Avineri, the author of this new book used what Marx wrote on Palestine to counter Arab and Soviet delegates charging Israeli counterparts at a 1976 UNESCO function with overemphasizing Jewish roots of Jerusalem. That is on one side. On the other side, the reviewers are also tracing anti-Semitic phrases such as “money as the jealous god of Israel in the face of which no other god may exist” to Marx. As such, it is never clear what it is about Marx that is being promoted. But, of course, no other book has such a straightforward objective. The meaning of a book depends a lot on who is reading it.
There are attempts in the book at correcting certain things about the totality of Marxism, some of it adding almost nothing new to scholars and practitioners of Marxism. One is the idea that Marx declared himself not to be a Marxist or a Marxologist although, in this case, this is interpreted to mean that Marx was never in the barricades or did not consider that to be the hallmark of the revolutionary. The other is Marx not being against religion by declaring religion to be the opium of the people. Of course, he wasn’t in that blatant sense. A third could be added: that he was not a dogmatic revolutionary. There are many more.
So, what do all these add or subtract from Marxism and why might all of that matter in the 21st century? Well, a discourse analyst would say that both the author and the reviewers are all involved in discourse. In other words, they are involved in a purposive exercise, in power struggle because ideas create reality. If discourse is power, then they matter. And why not when the voice of someone such as Michael Walzer, the influential theorist of global ethics at Princeton University can be heard crediting the author with “a wonderfully perceptive and nuanced biography of Karl Marx – paying all due attention (but no more than that) to Jewish interests, Marx’s and ours”. In a world of extreme imbalance in discursive power, there is everything to bother about every new book, more so if it is on Marxism. The specifics of this claim is what part 2 of this piece would take up shortly!