During the period of October 1843 to August 1844, Marx experienced a profound intellectual transformation. The cognitional theory of the twentieth century Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan enables us to understand what occurred. Lonergan maintains that culturally-rooted assumptions constitute horizons that block relevant questions from consciousness, thus leading to ethnocentric understandings. For Lonergan, this problem can be overcome through personal encounter with persons of different horizons, enabling a person to arrive at an understanding that goes beyond the limited, partial, and ethnocentric understanding that is rooted in his or her culture (see “What is personal encounter?” 7/25/2013; “What is cross-horizon encounter?” 7/26/2013).
Marx experienced this phenomenon of personal encounter with persons of different horizons from October 1843 to August 1844, when Marx relocated to Paris and began listening to and taking seriously the understanding of the artisans, industrial workers, intellectuals (including journalists, writers, university professors, and medical doctors) connected to the workers’ movement. Marx’s personal encounter with the working class movement occurred as he was studying intensely the British science of political economy, which was fundamentally different from the German philosophy that had formed Marx’s perspective prior to October 1842. Unlike German philosophy, which focused on the history of ideas, British political economy was an analysis of the modern system of capitalism, and it was based on empirical observation (McKelvey 1991; see “Marx and the working class” 1/6/2014).
This simultaneous process of encounter with the working class struggle and with British political economy was the experiential bases for an intellectual transformation that provided the foundation for Marx’s intellectual and moral project: an analysis of human history and of modern capitalism on the basis of a synthesis of German philosophy and British political economy, written from the vantage point of the proletariat. The basic outlines of the project are evident in the writings that were published after his death as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, written from April to August. He would spend the rest of his life further developing its formulation, but its basic outlines were in place by August 1844. Whereas his writing prior to October 1843 reflected a radical philosophy typical of German intellectuals, his double encounter with the science of political-economy and the working class movement led to what Lonergan calls an intellectual and moral conversion, such that by 1844 he was formulating the basic concepts of the new scientific perspective of historical materialism (McKelvey 1991).
Lonergan’s cognitional theory enables us to understand that Marx formulated an analysis of the political-economy of modern capitalism that was not merely different from that of Adam Smith but was more precisely a further development of the analyses of Smith and Ricardo and a more advanced formulation, in that Marx’s formulation was a more integral and comprehensive analysis based on relevant questions that emerged from horizons defined by three intellectual and moral traditions: German philosophy, English political economy, and the emerging Western European proletarian movement. Lonergan’s cognitional theory also enables us to understand how Marx, although a petit bourgeois intellectual, was able to write from a proletarian point of view, for it provides us with the explanation that Marx through encounter with the working class movement had discovered relevant questions that were beyond the horizon of the petty bourgeois cultural context, enabling him to move beyond its limitations.
Marx’s achievement was to overcome the parameters of nationality and class within the context of nineteenth century Europe. In our time, the movements that challenge the capitalist world-economy emerge primarily not from the exploited European working class but from the neocolonized and superexploited peoples of the Third World. Just as Marx delegitimated the notion of a general interest, a concept that obscured class interests at stake in theoretical interpretations, our task today is to overcome the colonial denial, which obscures the role of colonialism and neocolonialism in the origin, development, and reproduction of the modern world-system (see “Overcoming the colonial denial” 7/29/2013). And just as Marx’s achievement was rooted in encounter with the newly emerging working class movements of his time, our understanding today must be based on encounter with the movements from below in our time, that is, with the anti-neocolonial movements of the Third World. What is required is a reconstruction of the classical Marxist formulation on the basis of a vantage point rooted in the colonial situation. And such a reconstruction is underway and has today reached an advanced stage, inasmuch as Marxism-Leninism has been reformulated through adaptation to the colonial situation by charismatic leaders such as Ho Chi Minh and Fidel, and inasmuch as a further reformulation is occurring today in the context of the Chavist revolution in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
McKelvey, Charles. 1991. Beyond Ethnocentrism: A Reconstruction of Marx’s Concept of Science. New York: Greenwood Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marx, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, cross-horizon encounter