András Gedö on Marxism after the demise of the Soviet bloc

Reviewed by R. Dumain

The tenor of this essay, which follows the fall of the Soviet bloc, differs from that of Gedö’s final chapters in Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy:

’The Irrevocable Presence of Marxist Philosophy in Contemporary Thought’, Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 7, no. 2, 1994, pp. 133-53.

This article is equivalent to:

‘Marxism in Philosophy — Philosophy in Marxism’, in Diverse Perspectives on Marxist Philosophy: East and West, edited by Sara F. Luther, John J. Neumaier, and Howard L. Parsons (Westport, CT.; London: Greenwood Press, 1995), pp. 33-50. (Contributions in Philosophy; no. 53) Papers presented to the 19th World Congress of Philosophy, held in Moscow, Aug. 23-28, 1993.

Gedö necessarily frames the situation differently:

The search for Marxism in philosophy and for philosophy in Marxism beyond yesterday’s idolatry and today’s condemnation conflicts with the Zeitgeist of our times.


But while Marxism in general and Marxist philosophy in particular did not suffer an intellectual defeat, they are now confronting a difficult situation as a result of the reversal and destruction of socialist transitions in Europe and in a large part of Asia. The general philosophical situation has hardly changed. There have been no fundamental shifts in contents, tendencies, lines of argument, interrelationship of categories, distinctions and convergencies, status and weighting of problems and debates except perhaps the oft-repeated formula about “the end of Marxism,” that is, the implication that the debacle of the first historical attempt at socialism has falsified materialist dialectics and forced its withdrawal.

(This theme is also prominent in Gedö’s ‘Gramsci’s Path through the Tension between “Absolute Historicism” and Materialist Dialectic’, Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 6, no. 1, 1993, pp. 7-40.)

Gedö continues largely to reiterate this perspective, citing the continuing and permanent intellectual influence of Marxism, and recapitulates his theme of the dominance of positivism and life philosophy in bourgeois thought.

He also demonstrates the influence of Marx, even in antagonism to him, among the bourgeois thinkers of the past century and more. This has its ups and downs, as Gedö outlines. For example, while this influence at a given moment declines in France or Italy, it rises in American academic circles.

Gedö also puts front and center this notion he put forth elsewhere:

But while materialist dialectics is situated within contemporary thought, it exists prior to and outside of the philosophical patterns that are conditioned by the controversy and complementarity of positivism and life philosophy. “Prior to” because the rise of the philosophy of Marxism did not depend on the currents of positivism and life philosophy and in fact preceded their dominant position. “Outside of” because Marxist philosophy is capable of grasping and decoding the motives and consequences of those frameworks; it develops its own contents in debates with both currents and raises itself conceptually above both.

I believe this is true in a way, but not quite in the same way as Gedö conceives it as evidenced in all of his writings (in English translation). Marxism itself, since it became “Marxism,” has blended with the entire gamut of philosophical currents and orientations from positivism to existentialism and phenomenology, from scientism to Romanticism, blended with Freud, Jung, Lacan, Husserl, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Buddhism, behaviorism, Weber, Wittgenstein, deconstruction ... One might argue that some or all of these are illegitimate—more than “might”. But what Marxism is apart from any other tendency, in addition to its analysis of capitalism, presents an interesting question: in philosophy, what does the ‘materialist dialectic’ mean? Is it diamat, dialectics of nature, dialectical logic, the logic of capital, subject-object dialectic, praxis, revolutionary theory, all of these? Even the adopted phrase “dialectical materialism”—outside of the disputes within the generally orthodox formulation—has been used in completely different ways, by C.L.R. James and Theodor Adorno, most notably.

Marxism is a particular critical orientation to history and social organization and to forms of culture and thought, whether it has its own separable “philosophy” or not. The way in which it is outside of or transcends prevailing patterns of the forms of thought is not necessarily immediately obvious, as there are different ways of conceiving this.

The right-wing frenzy of the early 1990s does not impress Gedö:

The euphoria at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s is beginning to wane. The late crisis of bourgeois consciousness, which was veiled and put into the background by the blissful frenzy of the triumph over socialism, is again coming to light.

Rorty comes in for a deserved drubbing, as does the whole postmodernist trend.

Even in this time of darkness:

Marxism and its materialist dialectical philosophy are proving to be a counterforce to intellectual darkness, making possible, through social analysis, an understanding of the reasons and motives for the crumbling of the whole in human consciousness.

In section IV of this essay, Gedö expands on a quote he cited at the beginning: in 1913, German conservative nationalist Ferdinand Jakob Schmidt praised Marx for still doing philosophy in the grand style, at a time when Marxism was presumed to be in crisis. Such are the ebbs and flows of the historical process.

Gedö vaguely addresses the flaws of the Soviet system which he could not see or say in the ’70s, now evident in its defeat:

It revealed the loss, destroyed the protestations to the contrary, the fine phrases and the understandable illusions of those involved in the process. This temporary loss of effectiveness was not a consequence of the philosophical content of materialist dialectics but of its ahistorical-pragmatic implementation, which degraded the philosophy of Marxism to ancilla politicae [a supplement of politics] and destroyed its connection with practice, that is, with the concern so overemphasized in the ahistorical-pragmatic attitude.


The participation of philosophical reflection in the cleansing of the Marxist movement has been long overdue. Brecht, one of the Marxists who realized early on that such a cleansing was inevitable, thought in the 1930s that it was necessary “to liquidate all faith in words, all scholastics, all secret teachings, all shrewdness, conceitedness all of such snootiness being inappropriate in view of the real situation, which required the giving up of all pleas for ‘faith’ and going over to proof” (1982a, 117). By participating in rigorous criticism of the first attempt to approach socialism, materialist-dialectical philosophy is carrying out a self-examination of its own situation as well. The adopting of quasi-religious traits; the approving and presenting of philosophical theses as if they were articles of faith; the stubborn clinging to dogmatism derided so long ago by Hegel, that is, the tendency to reduce philosophical thoughts to a single proposition, disregarding the path of knowledge leading up to them and the dialectical-systematic context in which they are to be found; the assumed primacy of textbook over theory; explaining dialectics in a way that loses the dialectical movement of thought the exciting, appealing, dramatic, and humorous moments that are inherent in dialectics; the aversion to critical self-reflection, which in accordance with Marx’s favorite motto, “De omnibus dubitandum” [doubt everything], also includes theorems of Marxist philosophy in its investigative reflections, its connections and its results, and which recognizes gaps and inconsistencies within its own conceptual framework or exposition; the reluctance to take up topics not treated hitherto and problems and insights not incorporated into the textbook all this led to the discrediting of the philosophy of Marxism, the surrender of materialist dialectics, and apparently warranted its capitulation to positivism and life philosophy.

Gedö marshals Hegel in buttressing his perspective.

There are necessary self-criticisms and changes to be made in Marxist philosophy, but ....

[...] they do not create, however, an aggregate of philosophical Marxisms or “metaphilosophical Marxisms” that deny philosophy; rather they move within the dialectic of identity and renewal of Marxist philosophical theory.

This article was originally published in German in 1993. You can judge for yourselves what might be said 25 years on. There is nothing earth-shattering here, but the comparison between the Soviet era and afterwards yields a question for those of us not in the know about these non-dissident thinkers: to what extent were they consumed by illusions about “real socialism” while touting its ideals and engaging in serious scholarship? The same of course could be asked about intellectuals in our own countries.

I have not made the comparison between this and the final, propagandistic chapters of Crisis Consciousness. One wonders, though, how much one has to read between the lines, when the advocates of Marxism-Leninism call for further development of its allegedly already substantial philosophical results:

Dialectical materialism is preserved and renewed in changing forms in connection with social processes, in particular the course of the class struggle, the development of (nonphilosophical) scientific knowledge, the ideological debates and the inner historical logic of Marxist thinking.

The confrontation with the philosophical crisis and crisis consciousness, directly or indirectly, is a factor in the changes of form of dialectical materialism‑not in the sense that Marxist philosophy adapts the contents of the crisis and crisis consciousness, but in the sense that Marxism, polemicizing against it, goes more deeply into certain questions (which it had earlier barely worked on, or from which its attention had been diverted) on the basis of its own formulations of questions and categories, of the systematic context of its own theory.

The present confrontation between Marxism and bourgeois philosophy cannot be reduced simply to mere repetition of results already achieved by dialectical materialism. Its conflict with critical rationalism implies further development of Marxist philosophy, for example on the levels of objectivization of knowledge, on differentiation of the category of development, on the epistemological status of theoretical knowledge and—stimulated by Engels—on the philosophical aspects of the problem of induction. Critique of Husserl’s phenomenology leads to rethinking the activity of cognition and the limits and objective conditions of this activity, the problem of the connection between intellectual appropriation of reality and practice; the debate with hermeneutic idealism includes an investigation of the specific features in sociohistorical knowledge of intellectual phenomena of the past; in the polemics against crisis myths which assert an alternation and recurring of cycles in history, Marxist research into the differences and relationships between the movement of society as a world historical process and local development of societies is imperative. [Crisis Consciousness, p. 178]

Gedö himself went on to develop the themes he had worked on for decades, and what we have seen in English is usable, more so than what it in this programmatic post-Soviet-era article. His thematic failed to properly address the Frankfurt School, which requires a more substantive engagement than simply picking out the influences of Nietzsche and the considerable flaws of Dialectic of Enlightenment.  The schematic of positivism/life-philosophy is an essential one to ideology critique, but it cannot address everything. It does fit in with the logic of capital, with the lived reality of modern society both in its capitalist and Stalinist incarnations.  The integration of the world picture, or “how everything hangs together” as Wilfrid Sellars put it, is an always uncompleted task, but even while the technical details must always remain fuzzy in one way or another, there is a strategic way of approaching it, which is what my focus on this subject matter aims toward.

András Gedö — Vita (Bibliography)

András Gedö on Rationality, History, Philosophy, and Post-History
by R. Dumain

Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy by András Gedö

The Contemporary Attack on Science” by András Gedö

Why Marx or Nietzsche?” by András Gedö

The Historical Character of the Concept of Nature” by András Gedö

On Hegelian Dialectics by Bertolt Brecht

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

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