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McKenzie Wark on Alexander Bogdanov and class struggle


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Image: Vladimir Lenin plays chess with Alexander Bogdanov during a visit to Maxim Gorky, Capri, Italy, 1908.

The March issue of e-flux journal features an extended excerpt from McKenzie Wark’s new book Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene, forthcoming from Verso in April. In the excerpt, Wark discusses the little known Soviet philosopher Alexander Bogdanov, who was an acolyte of Marx but also tried to think beyond him. Wark argues that Bogdanov’s work is especially relevant to our own age of nascent class struggle, crumbling democracy, and environmental crisis:

In his book The Philosophy of Living Experience Bogdanov is not really trying to write philosophy so much as to hack it, to repurpose it for something other than the making of more philosophy. Philosophy is no longer an end in itself, but a kind of raw material for the design and organizing, not quite of what Foucault called discourses of power/knowledge, but more of practices of laboring/knowing. The projected audience for this writing is not philosophers so much as the organic intellectuals of the working class, exactly the kind of people Bogdanov’s activities as an educator-activist had always addressed. Having clearly read his Nietzsche, Bogdanov’s decision is that if one is to philosophize with a hammer, then this is best done, not with professional philosophers, but with professional hammerers.

Science, philosophy, and everyday experience ought to converge as the proletariat grows. Bogdanov: “When a powerful class, to which history has entrusted new, grandiose tasks, steps into the arena of history, then a new philosophy also inevitably emerges.” Marx’s work is a step in this direction, but only a step. Proletarian class experience calls for the integration of forms of specialized knowledge, just as it integrates tasks in the labor process. More and more of life can then be subject to scientific scrutiny. The task of today’s thought is to integrate the knowledge of sciences and social sciences that expresses the whole of the experience of the progressive class forces of the moment.

Bogdanov: “The philosophy of a class is the highest form of its collective consciousness.” As such, bourgeois philosophy has served the bourgeoisie well, but the role of philosophy in class struggle is not understood by that class. It wanted to universalize its own experience. But philosophies cannot be universal. They are situated. The philosophy of one class will not make sense to a class with a different experience of its actions in the world. Just as the bourgeoisie sponsored a revolution in thought that corresponds to its new forms of social practice, so too organized labor must reorganize thought as well as practice.

Read the full excerpt at the e-flux journal website.