Reading Nietzsche: Anti-Nietzsche, and Reconciliation With Marx

Malcolm Bull has written a book called Anti-Nietzsche, in which, as one reviewer put it, “he encourages us to read Nietzsche’s texts through a process of consciously dis-identifying with its dominant perspective and, rather than simply reproducing the relations of dominance it posits, enter into a critical engagement against the grain of the work.” Bull encourages us to read Nietzsche “like a loser”—that is, read the work and identify not with the protagonist (Zarathustra, the Dionysian, the artist, the strong, etc.) but rather with the “herd,” and then question whether the philosophy has anything to offer if you’re standing accross from the author instead of alongside him. It’s an interesting experiment, and I will try it out in my future readings.

One less-than-positive comment on Bull’s work has been the timing: Why write a critique of Nietzsche now? (To which I might answer: When is it a bad time to write a critique of anything?) In Matthew Cole’s review, he speculates on why Nietzsche’s thoughts (and biography) have persisted, while others have been forgotten, noting that while down ecomonic times force some to join the worldview of the political Left (2008 crash renews interest in Marx), they also serve as incubators for a renewed cynicism, which lends itself not to cooperation but to resignation or even nihilism: “Though despite his populist appeal, Nietzsche remains resolutely anti-egalitarian, and anti-left. Marxian dialectical thought is profoundly incompatible with the Dionysian impulse of Nietzsche.”

On that point I’m not so certain. Being something of a Marxist myself, I have no problem switching between historical materialism and the quest for personal growth or mastery, and if that growth includes a Dionysian revolt against “common sense”—against the mundane—then all the better. Marx, it must be pointed out, wasn’t an egalitarian. I have never read any text of his that espouses a system where everyone gets the same amount of anything. To my knowledge he never calls for an equal distribution of wages. His critique of capitalism wasn’t that people get paid unequal wages, even for doing the same amount and kind of work.

His critique was that capitalism forces people to sell their labor-time in the first place, because most members of society have been shut out from actually using the land they live on. The goal of Marx’s revolution was not to beg for equal pay from factory bosses; it was to overthrow the boss, take control of the factory, and run it as a collective until eventually either changing the factory so that it produces what people need or smashing the factory altogether.

As I wrote here:

“The basis of the condemnation of wage labor,” writes Robert C. Tucker, in his introduction to the Marx-Engels Reader, “is not that wages are too low, but that wage labor by its very nature dehumanizes man.” There is a reason, Marx pointed out (again and again) that it is called “labor.” He writes in the Economic and Political Manuscripts: “…[the worker] does not fulfil (sic) himself in his work but denies himself, has a feeling of misery, not of well-being, does not develop freely a physical and mental energy, but is physically exhausted and mentally debased. The worker therefore feels himself at home only during his leisure, whereas at work he feels homeless. His work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labor” (emphasis in the original).

And as Marx himself wrote: “The positive abolition of private property, as the appropriation of human life, is thus the positive abolition of all alienation, and thus the return of man from religion, the family, the State, etc., to his human, i.e. social, life.”

Sounds perfectly Nietzschean to me.

P.S. I also wrote in the above link:

Marx’s reputation “has suffered,” writes T. B. Bottomore, in his preface to Selected Writings, “to some extent, from the combination of these activities [referring to Marx as a social scientist, political philosopher, and revolutionary] and still more from the historical vicissitudes of ‘Marxism’ as a political ideology. It has also suffered from ignorance of his work….”

Sound familiar?


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