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“The Language Question in Marxism: Brecht, Gramsci and Wittgenstein”: Wolfgang Fritz Haug

The title pretends too much. The scope of my remarks is in a way quite modest. I want to show that in the creative laboratory of the twenties and early thirties there are innovative elements in Marxist thought of great theoretical productivity. These promising beginnings were prevented from developing by Stalinism, World War II and the subsequent Cold War period. My argument is, that some of these elements meet vital needs of Marxist thought today. This leads to the immodest side of my argument: Here I pretend that Marxist thought or the philosophical discourse of Marxism is in need of being reinvented. The various sedimented philosophies which occupy its field are disparate and at least partly dead. It is time to reinvent, because the time of the old mainstream-Marxisms has run out. This is one element of truth in post-marxisms. There is only one way to »win back« the initiative –which is to move on. We have had our doomsday. If we simply wait for resurrection it will fail to come. Philosophical action is wanted. However – and as ever – from academic philosophy is not much to be expected, though its potential of rationality defines standards which cannot be neglected. To recur to Brecht und Gramsci seems odd to the institutional philosophy. To recur to Gramsci at least does not seem odd at this marvelous conference. There are dozens of presentations and many panels where this is explicitely done. With Bertolt Brecht the case is different. As far as I have seen, the title of my presentation is the only one in which he figures.

There is an enormous discrepancy between the theoretical wealth in Brecht, its importance for Marxist philosophical thought and the restricted use made of it. Brecht’s glory as a playwrite and poet still outshines his contribution to the modernization and radicalization of Marxist theoretical reflection. In Anglo-Saxon countries Brecht’s theoretical productivity may in addition be obscured by the influence of Brecht’s theoretical opponent Lukács. The Brecht-Lukács-debate was one of the major theoretical events in 20 century’s Marxism. One might ask: How can a debate that never took place in its own time and space be a major event in theory? What is more, the event, that never took place, is but the reverse side of what has to be discovered: the respective philosophical hinterlands of these two opponents. On Lukács’ side the recurrence of the Hegelian spirit, this time in red – a going back to Marx which meant falling back behind Marx. On Brecht’s side there is an insatiable critical appropriation of the advanced tendencies of physics (quantum mechanics, special relativity theory), psychology (Kurt Lewin’s field theory to analyse the relation of masses and individuals) or social epistemology (Otto Neurath), of American Pragmatism and Behaviorism — and last not least of the linguistic turn in philosophy.

Lukács’ hinterland is still widely accepted, though the Anti-Lukács, Louis Althusser, has done damage to it. Althusser was one of the few (with Henri Lefebvre) to recognize the philosophical importance of Brecht. All the more important is it to draw attention to a misunderstanding in Althusser’s relation to Brecht as well as in the prevailing image of Althusser, who is almost as present on this conference as Brecht is absent. Let me give an example. In his Avertissement to the readers of Capital I from 1969 (Paris: Flammarion) Althusser characterizes Marx’ theoretical achievement as »the discovery of the system of concepts« (»la découverte du système de concepts«) which opens the »continent of history« to the scientific research. Those who accept Althusser’s selfpresentation as an anti-Hegelian should be astonished to discover, how close Althusser can be to Hegel. For Hegel the history of philosophy is »the history of the discovery of the thoughts [Gedanken] on the absolute which is their object« (Encyclopedia, Preface to 2nd ed.). To speak of »discovery of concepts« makes sense only in a universe, in which, in Hegels words: »Everything which is not this reality being posited by the concept itself is nothing but transitory existence, exteriour contigency, opinion, inessential appearance, untruth, deception.«2 This is obviously not the universe of historical Materialism. Compare to this Brecht’s word: Take the philosophers as Erfinder, nicht Finder, as inventors, not discoverers. They are most interesting, he observes, where they disarticulate one another. All of a sudden the technicality of their terms appears.

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