The final chapter of Mikhail Lifshits’ The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx (1933)

Here is the final chapter to the Russian philosopher and aesthetician Mikhail Lifshits’ groundbreaking 1933 book The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx.  Lifshits was the closest friend of Georg Lukács in the Soviet Union.  The two met in 1929, and though Lifshits, like Lukács, eventually proved to be an incorrigible conservative and anti-modernist when it came to aesthetics, I’d say that The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx is a valuable text. Consider, for example, its final chapter:

The historical role of the capitalist mode of production is to bring into the sharpest possible focus the contradictions of social progress; at the same time it prepares the ground for the annihilation of all these inequalities and antagonisms. The very division of labour gives rise to contradictions between the three ‘elements’: ‘productive forces’, ‘social relations’, and ‘consciousness’. The social division of labour is not, however, an eternal category. As a class stratification of society it disappears, and as a professional hierarchy it withers away in the transition to communist society.

But what does this transition mean with regard to aesthetic creation? Does it not mean the destruction of all distinctions between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic in art, just as in life the contradiction between the artist and the ordinary mortal is removed? Does not collectivism, generally speaking, suppress all individual originality and talent? Such are some of the bourgeois objections to communism. These objections Marx and Engels dealt with in criticizing Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own. Stirner, one of the founders of anarchism, distinguished between ‘human’ work, which can be organized collectively, and ‘individual’ work, which cannot be socialized in any manner. For who can take the place of a Mozart or a Raphael?

‘Here again, as always,’ wrote Marx and Engels, ‘Sancho [i.e. Stirner] is out of luck in his choice of practical examples. He thinks that “no one can compose your music in your stead, or execute your designs for a painting. Raphaers works can be done by no other.” But Sancho should have known that not Mozart himself, but someone else, largely composed and completely finished Mozart’s Requiem; and that Raphael “executed” only a small portion of his frescoes.

‘He imagines that the so-called organizers of labour wish to organize the whole activity of every individual, whereas it is precisely they who make a distinction between directly productive labour, which must be organized, and labour which is not directly productive. As far as the latter kind of labour is concerned, they do not think, as Sancho imagines, that everybody can work in Raphael’s place, but rather that everybody who has a Raphael in him should be able to develop unhindered. Sancho imagines that Raphael created his paintings independently of the division of labour then existing in Rome. If he will compare Raphael with Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, he will see to what extent the works of art of the first were conditioned by the flourishing of Rome, then under the influence of Florence; how the works of Leonardo were conditioned by the social milieu of Florence, and later those of Titian by the altogether different development of Venice. Raphael, like any other artist, was conditioned by the technical advances made in art before him. by the organization of society and the division of labour in his locality, and finally, by the division of labour in all the countries with which his locality maintained relations. Whether an individual like Raphael is able to develop his talent depends entirely upon demand, which in turn depends upon the division of labour and the consequent educational conditions of men.

‘In proclaiming the individual character of scientific and artistic work. Stirner places himself far below the bourgeoisie. Already in our time it has been found necessary to organize this “individual” activity. Horace Vernet would not have had the time to produce one-tenth of his paintings if he had considered them works which “only this individual can accomplish”. In Paris the tremendous demand for vaudeville and novels has given rise to an organization of labour for the production of these wares, which are at least better, at any rate, than their “individual” competitors in Germany.’ Thus bourgeois society itself makes attempts to organize the higher forms of spiritual labour. ‘Needless to say, however, all these organizations based upon the modem division of labour achieve results which are still very inadequate, and represent an advance only by comparison with the short-sighted self-sufficiency existing until now.’ But we should not confuse this so-called ‘organization of labour’ with communism. In communist society those confounded questions concerning the disparity between highly gifted persons and the masses, disappear. ‘The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in certain individuals, and its consequent suppression in the broad masses of the people, is an effect of the division of labour. Even if in certain social relations everyone could become an excellent painter, that would not prevent everyone from being also an original painter, so that here too the difference between “human” work and “individual” work becomes a mere absurdity. With a communist organization of society, the artist is not confined by the local and national seclusion which ensues solely from the division of labour, nor is the individual confined to one specific art, so that he becomes exclusively a painter, a sculptor, etc.; these very names express sufficiently the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on the division of labour. In a communist society, there are no painters, but at most men who, among other things, so paint.’

Collectivism, far from suppressing personal originality, in reality provides- the only solid ground for an all-sided development of personality. Marx and Engels stated this emphatically in The German Ideology. They knew full well that a new cycle of artistic progress can begin only with the victory of the proletariat, the abolition of private property, the spread of communist relations. Only then can all the forces now exhausted by capitalist oppression be liberated. ‘The destruction of private property is the complete assimilation of all human feelings and characteristics.’ The new society, wrote Marx, in criticism of ‘crude’, leveling communism. does not stand for the ‘abstract negation of all education and civilization’. It does not propose ‘to suppress talent by force’. Quite the contrary, ‘in communist society — the only society in which the original and free development of individuals is no mere phrase — this development is contingent precisely upon the very association of individuals, an association based partly on economic premises, partly upon the necessary solidarity of the free development of all, and finally upon the universal activity of individuals in accordance with the available productive forces. Thus the question here concerns individuals on a definite historical level of development, and not any random individuals…Naturally the consciousness of these individuals with respect to their mutual relations is likewise altogether different, and as remote from the “principle of love” or “dévouement” as from egoism.’

Communist society removes not only the abstract contradiction between ‘work and pleasure’ but also the very real contradiction between feeling and reason, between ‘the play of bodily and mental powers’ and ‘the conscious will’. Together with the abolition of classes and the gradual disappearance of the contradiction between physical and spiritual labour, comes that all-sided development of the whole individual which the ‘greatest social thinkers hitherto could only dream about.’ Only communist society, in which ‘the associated producers regulate their interchange with nature rationally, bring it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by some blind power’, can establish the material basis for ‘the development of human power which is its own end, the true realm of freedom’. ‘…The shortening of the working day is its fundamental premise.’

According to Marx’s doctrine, therefore, communism creates conditions for the growth of culture and art compared to which the limited opportunities that the slaves’ democracy offers to a privileged few must necessarily seem meagre. Art is dead! LONG LIVE ART! — this is the slogan of Marx’s aesthetics.

You can download the entire book here:

Mikhail Lifshits — The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx

Interview with Ross Wolfe of on #Occupy, the role of criticism in relation to theory and praxis, and the “return to Marx”


Conducted by C. Derick Varn of
The Loyal Opposition to Modernity

Here’s Derick’s introduction to this interview:

Ross Wolfe introduced me to the Platypus Affiliated Society and is a member of my Aesthetics, Politics, and Theory: Red and/or Black (of which Symptomatic Redness is a project).  Ross Wolfe is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  The main focus of his work is in Russian history, but he is also interested in Central European history, Jewish studies, philosophy, and Marxism.  He writes primarily about the history of avant-garde architecture, contemporary political issues (activism, current events), and topics such as the environment, technology, utopianism, and the history of the Left.  He blogs at the Charnel-House.

More from Derick’s ongoing Marginalia on Radical Thinking series can be found hereherehereherehereherehereherehere, here, and here.

C. DERICK VARN: So you have been working with and critiquing Occupy Wall Street from your vantage point in New York.  How did you get involved?

ROSS WOLFE: I was first alerted to the #Occupy protests going on down at Liberty Plaza about one week after it began, by someone much further from the scene than I was — my good friend Steve McClellan, a graduate student in Central European history at Oregon State University.  At that point, the movement had barely made any sort of splash in the mainstream media, and mostly established itself through YouTube videos and other decentralized, user-based means.

So I decided to take a visit down to Zuccotti Park to try and get a better sense of what was going on there.  What I saw there (especially at this early point) was largely ideological incoherence.  The politics on display at Occupy Wall Street were symptomatic in very much the same way that they had been at the resurgent anti-globalization protests against the G-8 in Pittsburgh back in 2009 and the G-20 conference in Toronto in 2010.  Needless to say, my first reactions to the demonstration were fairly pessimistic.  This was reflected in my initial write-up of my experiences. Continue reading

An Interview with the Permaculturist and “Alchemist” Willi Paul, with Ross Wolfe (from April 4th, 2011)

Ross Wolfe: First things first: an introduction. Perhaps you could tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of work do you do? Could you sketch out, briefly, some of your principal concerns and misgivings regarding modernity?

Willi Paul: My work is to publish and teach thru my network that includes Magazine, – and a new site called – to support a post crash transition and to help the build a healthy planet for all life on future Earth. I am almost finished with my first two tools for a sacred permaculture: a new symbolic language for the coming tribes and a second myth generator.

Modernity is not a word I use these days but my reaction to the present slate of war making, materialism, greed and lack for human respect is as follows:

Technology will not save us.
Big business really only cares about their profits. The environment is either a greenwash advert or a cost of making profits.
The environment is only here to serve our material needs.
The lack of a common definition and actionizing around the sacred will be our downfall.
All of the traditional religions – west and the east – have failed us and need to be replaced by a global, Nature-base spirituality.

RW: You have mentioned in a comment on my blog that “[a] dire lack of the sacred is the real crisis.” In Rudolf Otto’s 1920 work, The Idea of the Holy, he described the holy or the sacred as that which is numinous, as that which stood under the aspect of the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans. For him, the experience of the sacred included elements of awefulness (literally “filled with awe”), overpoweringness (majestas), and dire urgency. Not only that, but that the feeling was also “wholly other,” as that which feels completely otherworldly, beyond description. At the same time, however, the sacred fascinates the subject who experiences it as well.

Otto diagnosed that the modern age suffered from an acute lack of this feeling of the holy, the sacred, as if the world had been desacralized. So it would seem that your belief that the crisis of our age is its universal profanity has some precedent. In light of Otto’s description, how exactly would you define “the sacred”? How does one experience the sacred? Finally, how does the sacred manifest itself in the world? In objects, practices, or flights of fancy?

WP: My own understanding and practice of the sacred has evolved from my 300+ interviews with thought leaders on Magazine. I seem to be working around the edges of a new definition – please see my model of the sacred:

The best that I can offer today is that the way to the sacred is an integration between new myths, permaculture and several new types of alchemy. To be honest, I am seeking a new sacred, without the dogma, brain-dead ritual or money-centered traditions of traditional religions.

I feel something sacred coming now, perhaps through the soil, the stars or our empowered hearts. We need to work the new sacred and be open to a new consciousness that comes with it. Think Nature as sacred for now.

RW: You have said, furthermore, that “a new alchemy/mythology for a sacred in permaculture has my heart,” that this is one of your primary motivations. Let us begin with the subject of alchemy. What is your definition of “alchemy”? What is its relation to the long alchemical tradition of past ages?

For example, would you agree with the one of the greatest authorities on all things alchemy, the famous alchemist Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, pseudonym Paracelsus, that “[a]lchemy can render poison salubrious”?

Would you furthermore agree with him that the alchemist “understands nature itself as the bearer of a macrocosmic stomach or archeus”?

WP: My leap into things alchemic started with a life changing interview with internationally renowned author, lecturer and alchemist Dennis William Hauck for Magazine.

As my instinct and innovation on this subject evolved, including many sound scape / alchemy experiments, I am now touting the following types of alchemy to support the global leap in consciousness now under way:

Imaginative : This alchemy excites and creates our ideas, conflicts and even prayers in our brains.

Eco : Seeds, soil, plants and animals living, birthing and dying in a inter-related system pulsed by eco alchemy.

Shamanic : This is alchemy transmutates healing through ceremonies and rituals lead by a trained spiritual leader.

Sound or Sonic : The ancient alchemic power of song from cave rants to classical music and rock’n’roll.

Digital : Electronic learning and feeling working with computers including chat text, email and documents.

Community : People working with people: transforming attitudes, sharing ideas and making plans.

Earth : Planetary consciousness building and human evolution on a universal scale.

I would hasten to add here that most of the “stone to gold alchemy” of the past has no interest to me now. Alchemy is transmutation on many levels, a process and not the end result. To me alchemy is a new glue for the revolution.

RW: Moving on to the other element of your statement, let us address the topic of mythology. It was the three Tübingen seminary roommates Hegel, Schelling, and Hölderlin who first called for the establishment of a new mythology to replace the old, now that the Scientific Revolution had disenchanted nature. They drew up drafts of an early philosophy of mythology. Only Schelling ended up seeing it through, thirty years later.

In Weber’s use of the term, “[I]ncreasing intellectualization and rationalization does not mean increasing general knowledge of the conditions under which we live our lives…It means the knowledge or belief that if we only wanted to we could learn at any time that there are, in principle, no mysterious unpredictable forces in play, but that all things — in principle — can be controlled through calculation. This, however, means the disenchantment of the world. No longer, like the savage, who believed that such forces existed, do we have to resort to magical means to gain control over or pray to the spirits.”

Though capitalism has its metaphysical and fetishistic character in the form of commodities, it has generally led to a further disenchantment of the world. Nothing is sacred to it. Is this why you propose, as many have before, a new mythology? What would this new mythology look like? A potpourri of deities picked and chose from past mythologies, or the invention of entirely new deities? Does it require a story, or mythos?

WP: You can read my six new myths and call me to the carpet for a debate! Children can now write the new myths, using digital and other alchemy. There is no intelligentsia in my mythic vision. The old classic myths are withered and are at best examples of story structure and other authoring principles. Clearly Joseph Campbell’s mythic tools are still as vibrant as ever – initiation, journey and the hero.

As my model clearly shows, new myth + permaculture (a primarily source for new symbols, songs, stories, heros, etc.) + the new alchemies produce the new sacred.

RW: Your work seems to draw heavily upon Bill Mollison’s Gaia Manifesto, as well as a book he authored on permaculture. As you yourself have written, “To me, permaculture is more than design principles like those in sun angles, crop selection, drainage patterns or roof top grasses, and must include a spiritual connection so I journeyed to discover how the Mollison’s ideas juxtapose with the my work in the new alchemy, new Nature-based myths and the search for the sacred.”

Why do you think that some permaculturalists engage in their work without this inchoate feeling of the sacred, without a spiritual dimension? Do you believe that they can ever truly practice permaculture without these components? Would you encourage them to explore the more spiritual side of permaculture, in terms of myth-making and alchemical experimentation?

WP: My new relationship and recent video conversation with Permaculture Editor Maddy Harland has revealed an interesting controversy in the permaculture movement. It seems that many permaculturists in the UK want to stay away from the spiritual aspect of the field due to a concern with the conservative land use laws and government zoning process. I also understand that some do not wish to be seen as Burning Man types.

My position on the sacred in permaculture and the long-term security of the plant have been address already here.

RW: You have furthermore claimed that “[m]agic and mystery remain as dynamic and positive a force for many moving forward.” What do you mean by magic and the mysterious properties of things? How exactly are they registered as a force? Are they demonstrably magical and mysterious? And do they not admit of scientific explanation, which would thereby demystify and disenchant them?

WP: Any “force” that gets us to an sacred, beyond the idiocy in politics, the greed in war making, and the crap on TV is worth considering, yes? It is true that my sacred comes with new beliefs (not science) about environmental protection, imagination (i.e. magic) and the rest of the new consciousness. Humans have much to experience – in a hurry!

RW: You yourself have posed the following questions: “Isn’t Nature inherently sacred to many? Is sacred in Nature a lens that we use to protect her? Obviously Nature is not sacred at all in many traditional religions – she is just a collection of raw materials to use up before the planet blows up and God call some of us to go to Heaven!”

How do you account for those religions that treat Nature as just a source of raw materials to be utilized by mankind? How must the alchemical permaculturalist orient himself (or herself) to these religions? As false? As blasphemous?

WP: We need to get on the same page, forgive the sins of our Fathers and get on with the task of building a new, post-crash future. We need everybody to make this happen. I hope that the hard-core permies will soon be traveling to the backyards of the world to turn over the sod and educate us on the soil alchemies.

We are running out of time.

RW: To what extent do you believe that nature is a thing-in-itself that inherently remands our “respect”? Inversely, to what extent do you believe nature can be fundamentally transformed by the will and technologies of men, who have gained such mastery over the natural world?

WP: I keep hearing me thinking this these days: Nature will survive the crash but it’s the human that will be extinct soon with some practical and global process to a new sacred.

Men + technology = profit + environmental destruction. Period.

RW: Is the central problem of our age spiritual, or does it have to do with the structure of our society? Might the spiritual crisis you detect not be an ideological representation of an underlying problem in our socioeconomic substructure?

WP: Well, to be redundant, profit is the over-arching problem here. I can’t wait to see the rich folks in Hillsborough bartering their processions in the post-crash economy!

RW: Closing now, would you like to add a few words in light of our discussion and interview thus far? What is the overall message you would like to convey to our readers about man’s relationship to nature?

WP: Many in my circle view the current smoldering meanderings from the old myths as in dire need of a refreshed power center – free from the burden of the withering storylines in old plots, online game slaughters, and our twittering kindergardens. My quick scan of mythic sites includes the home page of the Institute for Cultural Change (formerly the Foundation for Mythological Studies), which does mention sustainability, as well as MYTHOS for Creatives, working a global culture-based view. And, of course, Joseph Campbell Foundation is still blessed with the Hero’s Journey and Initiation from Mr. Campbell. But myth needs a new spiritual search engine to go with the Internet. This new story base and vision map is permaculture and the new alchemy and sense of the sacred that comes with it.

— from the April 2011 Joseph Campbell Foundation web site ( posting: “Mother, Sun, and the Compost Pile: Integrating Permaculture with the New Alchemy, New Mythologies, and the Sacred” by Willi Paul, Associate