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    ichadwick, Machiavelli and Marx + Machiavelli and Marxist Politics

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback

    Messages : 17993
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    ichadwick, Machiavelli and Marx + Machiavelli and Marxist Politics Empty ichadwick, Machiavelli and Marx + Machiavelli and Marxist Politics

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback Ven 25 Mar - 10:15

    "I started reading Karl Marx’s Capital, vol 1. recently and that got me wondering about what similarities or differences there were with or between these two great political philosophers, Machiavelli and Marx.

    Form my admittedly limited and autodidactic education in political theory, the first thing that strikes me is the scope. Machiavelli aims his works at the individual leader – the eponymous prince – as the engine of social and political change. Marx, on the other hand, looks at the masses – the proletariat – and sweeping tides of history. He is often speaking to the crowd – although ironically it was the intellectual elite who mostly read his work.

    (Gramsci, as I understand, makes an argument in The Modern Prince that the revolutionary socialist party can stand in for Machiavelli’s prince as the sole actor thus take advantage of Machiavelli’s advice, but I don’t think so because it involves group dynamics… it’s an argument for another post, though…)

    Many of Machiavelli’s concepts – like virtu, a term undefined but rooted in morality – are personal, not group attributes. He focuses at his widest on small groups to manage events and activities – a single leader and his advisors (whose role is to mitigate the ideology of the individual leader towards common and sustainable goals).

    Marx, on the other hand looks at the larger picture, a scientific analysis of events and trends. He disdained the ‘great person’ theory of history. His concepts like revolution and even capitalism would have no place in Machiavelli’s vision, any more than Niccolo’s self-reliant city republican state would have in Marx’s.

    Machiavelli doesn’t address class except in general terms – the need for the leader to have the people on his side. Class is taken more or less for granted, although he does distinguish between the strata within the upper class (the hereditary rulers versus those who take or assume power; most of whom are members of an upper crust of rich and powerful families like the Medici and the Borgia).

    Marx is all about class and class struggle. Both saw the masses could overthrow a leader and do so easily given the right circumstances – Machiavelli had personal experience seeing the Medicis, Savaronola, then the republic overthrown – but the circumstances for both were different and the results of such revolution more so. Marx saw the proletariat rising to take control itself; Machiavelli saw one leader (or family) replace another.

    Of course they are separated by more than 350 years. Machiavelli wrote at the dawn of the modern era, when printing was just getting its start and its impact was not yet fully felt. Marx wrote in the heyday of the industrial revolution when technology was rapidly changing societies and economies.

    Machiavelli believed chance or luck – fortuna – played a decisive role in history. Marx did not. Machiavelli thought that, despite local differences, the motivations behind events, desires and politics were essentially the same everywhere. Marx thought that history was a series of waves of class struggle, each one working towards improvement of the human condition to the point where class would finally disappear. However, Marx thought that such revolution was inevitable – it was fated to happen. It hasn’t (yet), at least not on the worldwide scale he envisioned.

    Marx also went on at length in several of his publications about freedom and how important it was. Freedom from exploitation was at the top of his list, and he saw the only way to achieve it was through the class struggle that led to a proletarian (communist) state. He saw history as a series of steps, each one ascending to this goal.

    For Machiavelli, the modern notions of liberty and freedom simply didn’t exist – they are a construct of the 19th century, not the 16th. Machiavelli believed in freedom with limits and responsibilities set out by just laws. His biggest concern was that actions of leaders and individuals should ultimately benefit the state and if not, then those actions should be curtailled (sometimes with the ultimate sanction: death). He is not opposed to repression, as long as that repression is done for the greater good – but wrote that a stable (i.e. good) state will not need to resort to it.

    Machiavelli also did not share Marx’s notion of evolving states – another 19th century idea. For him, history was more static. His Discourses use the Roman Empire as a model for his theories – noting that, while distant in history, the events and motivations behind them were essentially the same as those in his own world.

    Machiavelli was inescapably Christian. It was impossible for anyone in his time and place not to be so, although he clearly had ideas about the differences between the spiritual versus temporal authority of the church (his criticism was often indirect). He, however, was not an absolutist: he tried to define and redefine morality based on what was best for the state. What was ultimately ethical was what proved the best for the greater good.

    Marx was an atheist or perhaps better described as a humanist (he is, oddly, rather optimistic about human nature and its inherent goodness), yet he also had absolute moral views in his objection to exploitation and the suffering it caused.

    Machiavelli and Marx both recognize that evil exists, but where Machiavelli tries to find ways to mitigate it through practical means, Marx unrealistically assumed that human nature would eventually overcome it.

    Some have even described Machiavelli as a pragmatist compared to Marx the idealist.

    Some political writers have tried to pair Marx and Machiavelli as revolutionary brothers from different ages, but I don’t think the two shared common definitions of the term ‘revolution.’ Machiavelli’s view of the world was that humans are prone to fall prey to their passions, and that collectives aren’t any more moral or less prone to passion than individuals.

    What they do share in common is that they are both largely unread by the people who either embrace or demonize them. We’ve all heard the terms Machiavellian and Marxist used to describe people, ideas and events – usually disparagingly, and usually without a proper understanding of what either stood for. This is in large part because those who later adopted their words often changed, condensed or altered them into mere epithets that in no way reflect the depths or complexities they stand for.

    What two epithets come to mind with Machiavelli and Marx? “The end justifies the means,” and “Workers of the world unite…” respectively. Neither of which encapsulate even a tiny fragment of their views (and the former are actually not even Machiavelli’s own words!).

    They also have in common that they wrote about the conditions of their own times and looked for immediate ways to deal with them. And in their writing, they attempted to expose the mechanics of those politics to outsiders; to shine a light on what had been before them only the purview of the elite. They pulled aside the curtain.

    Marx has also become closely – and unfortunately – linked to the Soviet version of communism. While his work may have inspired people like Lenin and Trotsky, the mantle they later wore as ‘communism’ was not what Marx envisioned. That’s too bad because from what I’m reading, his ideas still have resonance today."
    -Ian Chadwick, , 21 février 2015: http://ianchadwick.com/machiavelli/machiavelli-and-marx/

    "The 'Modern Prince' is among Gramsci's most important writings. Because of their significance, his notes on the modern prince (i.e. the political party) will be spread over a number of posts. In this short piece I will be concentrating on Gramsci's appreciation and appropriation of the early Florentine political theorist, Niccolò Machiavelli.

    Machiavelli's had a bad press these past 500 years. Along with the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, The Prince is regarded as a notorious tract of political pornography. Why? For dictators, careerists and climbers of the greasy pole, The Prince is *the* handbook for achieving and maintaining political power. Machiavelli is said to be responsible for exposing political calculation in all its naked cynicism and bad faith. For example, this piece is typical of the commentary on Machiavelli. Gramsci however had no truck with this sort of hand wringing and goes some way to rehabilitate him for Marxist political theory.

    What did Gramsci want to recover from centuries of hypocritical commentary on The Prince? It was the fact Machiavelli and Gramsci were motivated by analogous political projects. Whereas Gramsci theorised the political strategy appropriate to socialism in an age where capitalism appeared exhausted (what is fascism if it is not an attempt to freeze historical development by state violence and dictatorship?), Machiavelli was concerned with developing an ideal construct/individual that could unite a "shattered people". In other words he was motivated by a political vision of a united and strong Italy that could compete on equal footing with the powerful unitary states of England, France and Spain. In this sense he was an enemy of the feudal land owners and the Pope, whose interests were served by the division of the Italian peninsular into petty states and fiefdoms. From the standpoint of the development of the productive forces, Machiavelli's project, had it been a success, would have set Italy firmly on the path to capitalist modernity centuries before Italian national unification actually occurred.

    For Gramsci what made Machiavelli a modern political thinker as opposed to a utopian dreamer like Thomas More and Plato was the rooting of his project in the prevailing social conditions of his day. Gramsci argues Machiavelli knew that a movement for national unity would need to mobilise the mass of the peasantry, and the means for doing so lay in the emerging urban bourgeoisie. He favoured the reformation of militias - which were the preserve and playthings of aristocrats and princelings - into truly popular forces. And of course 'the Prince' of his work's title was to spearhead this movement. Therefore the hard headed advice Machiavelli dispenses is really a programme for building consent, winning power and consolidating a new nation-wide regime in 16th century Italy.

    As far as Gramsci was concerned, Machiavelli's work was not written for those already 'in the know': it was addressed to the (would-be) constituents of the historic bloc for whom politics was not part of their complex of socialisation. In so doing he systematised the existing political practice of elites - an enterprise that may have seen the traditional classes in the centuries since reap the benefit, but also and more significantly he introduced the mechanics of political technique to those outside these exalted circles. For many commentators on Machiavelli's work, this is his real, unpardonable sin.

    What was Machiavelli's relevance to Gramsci? In a very basic sense their respective political projects were similar, that is to forge a new collective will that could bring together an historic bloc of classes whose interests lay in a revolutionary direction. But that is where the similarities end. For Machiavelli, the movement he desired was personified by the prince: a figure who would act as a lightning rod for the popular social forces and who, in turn, would stamp this bloc with his personality. Under modern conditions the roles and functions of 'great men' are much more tightly circumscribed. For Gramsci it's only at specific conjunctures where politics allows decisive individual action, such as moments of crisis (cometh the hour, cometh the man is a political myth, but it contains a grain of insight by recognising individuals can exercise a crucial influence over the course of events). However the actions of the individual political leader are capable of "restoration and reorganisation", but not the major shift the supersession of capitalism by socialism would require. Therefore individual leadership is an improvisation that serves particular interests at particular times.

    Instead of an individual standing at the front of the workers' movement we have (or should aim to have) the modern prince: the revolutionary socialist party. Only a collective actor is capable of the immense task of organising for socialism. As the harbinger of the socialist future and the expression of working class interests, of necessity it must address itself to the question of 'Jacobin' (i.e. insurrectionary) technique, but more importantly it is the chief agent for organising a new collective will from political and (seemingly) non-political moral, intellectual and cultural phenomena and promote the vision of socialism.

    This is why Machiavelli was significant for Marxist politics. Just as The Prince stresses building the consent necessary for achieving and stabilising the prince's reign (while recommending violence be deployed when necessary), Gramsci emphasises the patient work of developing the collective will, putting off a violent confrontation with the ruling class to the point where the modern prince can pull the rest of society in its train.

    Gramsci's discussion of Machiavelli raises a couple of points about the role of personality in modern politics. At first glance his idea that politics have rendered the individual redundant appears to sit uneasily with his own circumstances. If this was the case, how would he have explained the Mussolini personality cult of the fascist regime that jailed him? Furthermore the bulk of his notes date from the time when dictatorships were mushrooming all over Europe. By the time the second world war broke out, liberal democracies were thin on the ground. However if one applies Gramsci's understanding of the modern prince to the likes of Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR, the qualitative difference between modern and late feudal/early modern politics is plain.

    Most dictatorships regardless of their professed ideologies rest on a political party or a party-style organisation. This is no accident of history: parties provide the indispensable foundation for dictatorial rule. In liberal democracies, theoretically speaking parties link (mass) memberships and electorates to competing sets of political elites. The same can be said of Iraq's Ba'ath party, the Korean Workers' Party and Italy's Fascist Party, albeit the linking they performed was with a permanent leadership. While these parties possessed a monopoly on political power and enabled their figurehead considerable license to mould party and society in their image, this was only possible because of the organising capacities of their party. The party did not exist because of their leader: the leader existed because of their party.

    Many may moan today about the dominance of personality politics, but this is a far cry from Gramsci's understanding of personality in the political process. Sure, personalities have become more important as the political differences between the main bourgeois parties in the West have narrowed, but it is very rare for an individual to utterly dominate their party. Whatever they like to pretend now, the Tories were never united behind Thatcher. Where personalities persist in having a 'prince-like' effects on their parties, this tends to be toward the fringes where social weight gradually drops away the further the distance travelled from the centre left and centre right (this helps explain why so many far left organisations are grouped around petty gurus, and to greater or lesser extents collectively project the personality of their comrade number one).

    Returning to the main point, for Gramsci the modern prince was the revolutionary socialist party. Its task is nothing less than winning over the mass of popular classes (the working class, the peasantry) to a force (the historic bloc) is with the potential to make a revolution. Intertwined with this is the forging of a national-popular collective will that successfully challenges the hegemony of the modern day 'traditional class' (the bourgeoisie), overturns their legitimacy, and justifies the socialist transformation of society."
    -Phil, "Machiavelli and Marxist Politics", 5 juin 2010:

    « La question n’est pas de constater que les gens vivent plus ou moins pauvrement, mais toujours d’une manière qui leur échappe. » -Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961).

    « Rien de grand ne s’est jamais accompli dans le monde sans passion. » -Hegel, La Raison dans l'Histoire.

    « Mais parfois le plus clair regard aime aussi l’ombre. » -Friedrich Hölderlin, "Pain et Vin".

      La date/heure actuelle est Mer 29 Nov - 19:48