Magazine article Monthly Review

Mészáros and the Critique of the Capital System: Foreword to the Necessity of Social Control

Magazine article Monthly Review

Mészáros and the Critique of the Capital System: Foreword to the Necessity of Social Control

Article excerpt

István Mészáros is one of the greatest philosophers that the historical materialist tradition has yet produced. His work stands practically alone today in the depth of its analysis of Marx's theory of alienation, the structural crisis of capital, the demise of Soviet-style post-revolutionary societies, and the necessary conditions of the transition to socialism. His dialectical inquiry into social structure and forms of consciousness-a systematic critique of the prevailing forms of thought-is unequaled in our time. No less a historical figure than Hugo Chávez referred to him as the "pathfinder" of twenty-first century socialism.* 1

The present book grew out of a conversation that Mészáros and I had in July 2013 in London, in which I expressed the need for an easily accessible work that would provide a way into his thinking for the uninitiated. He took this challenge seriously, resulting in The Necessity of Social Control. The role of this foreword is to help to put his system of thought as a whole, and this book in particular, in their historical contexts, while illuminating some of the distinctive concepts governing his analysis.

Marx, Lukács, and Mészáros

Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844-discovered in the late 1920s but only becoming widely known decades later-was unquestionably the most discussed and influential philosophical work to appear in the twentieth century. For the first time the full philosophical roots of Marx's system became evident-in ways that challenged the whole history of philosophy up to that time, along with the roots of the prevailing social order.2 At the same time the discovery of Marx's early writings raised entirely new intellectual challenges for social theory. Among these were comprehending the much deeper relation between the Hegelian and Marxian philosophical traditions that these works made evident.

It was Georg Lukács-whose monumental History and Class Consciousness (1923) had provided the most influential interpretation of the dialectical relation between the Hegelian and Marxian systems, but whose outlook was to be transformed by his subsequent encounter with Marx's early manuscripts-who responded most radically to this challenge, delving deeply into Hegel's philosophy, out of which Marx's theory of alienation had emerged. The result was The Young Hegel: Studies in the Relations between Dialectics and Economics (1966).3 Here Lukács focused on how critical analysis of the logical categories of classical political economy had led to the genesis of Hegel's system, separating him from his predecessors, such as Kant, Fichte, and Schefling. Hegel recognized from the beginning that the dominant philosophical concepts of the Enlightenment were in the main reified expressions (that is, abstracted from their material basis and given an artificial, ideal life of their own) of the underlying production and exchange relations of bourgeois society. It was this recognition that lay behind the extraordinary importance that Hegel gave to the concept of alienation in his philosophy.4

Hegel's idealist philosophy thus took on a more comprehensive form than that of any of his predecessors within German idealism. What Kant had previously characterized as insurmountable antinomies were seen in Hegel's philosophy as manifestations of a contradictory historical process, in which the various mediations between the material and ideal, subjective and objective, particular and universal were revealed and superseded-but only at the level of thought. Here the inalienable truths of Enlightenment philosophy were given their ultimate justification: as the unfolding of reason (the absolute spirit) in history.

Marx's theory of alienation represented his rebellion against the Hegelian system.5 In Marx's materialist dialectic, it was theoretically mediated material practice (praxis) associated with a given mode of production or social formation that lay at the root of social change. …

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