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Dmitry Khanin WILL AESTHETICS BE THE LAST STRONGHOLD OF MARXISM? Will marxism—as theory, worldview, and political movement— quiedy take its leave in the era when the former communist states are competing in the race to transform themselves into brand-new capitalist democracies? Or will it survive, in all ofits present incarnations, whatever is happening on the historical scene? In other words, what will be the effect of the demise of the communist system on the body of ideas that granted it its self-legitimation? Will Marxist theorists go on in the same vein, arguing as they did in the past that the doctrine they profess (or the infallible dialectical method) is completely innocent of its practical applications? Or will they turn in upon themselves and reexamine at least some of the dogmas they still hold sacred? Marxism today is hardly a cast-iron monolith (ifit ever was a monolith) and zealots regarding themselves as Marxists might not have much in common. A professor of art history in Massachusetts, a Chinese apparatchik , an Afghan war vet in Russia, and a Third World opponent of the free market are probably more different than the Vulcans and Romulans in Star Trek. Still there are some patent similarities in how these Marxists think and argue, resulting, it appears, from their emotional stands and preferences rather than from purely theoretical grounds. The majority of modern Marxists (from Stalinist disciplinarians to Bohemian anarchists) probably concur at least on three points, loosely connected with the doctrine enunciated by Karl Marx. First, they unanimously refuse to regard capitalism in its classical Western coinage as a norm of economic development that has not yet been surpassed and cannot be by-passed. Second, they believe that contemporary Western Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 266-278 Dmitry Khanin267 democracies are by and large masterminded and cleverly manipulated by vested interests of the bourgeoisie so that other social groups are brainwashed and victimized. Third, they fantasize some Utopian future communities—noncompetitive, socially fair, environmentally oriented, ethnically and/or religiously homogeneous—based on an unfettered cooperation and mutual love, intellectually satisfying and aesthetically pleasing at once. It's a tough question: why are those different specimens of human beings (from American peaceniks to Muslim fundamentalists) so confident that Marxism is the only way to go if they wish to see their ideals carried out? Certainly, nothing in either Soviet or East European or, for that matter, Kampuchean experience lends support to such fancy dreams. The only explanation for this bizarre infatuation is that Marxism managed to ingrain itself in everyday life while other Utopian experiments did not. The actual failures of state communism to achieve its own aims seem less important in this perspective than its practical ability to stay in power for such a long time. Besides, Marxism always had a way with its opponents. The slogan of dumping capitalism "into the dustbin of history" proved to be irresistible for all kinds of radicals even though it is not altogether clear what makes it so dashingly appealing . Marxism has long become a rallying cry for folks dissatisfied with the existing order. Those in need to vent their longing for an impending utopia almost automatically take resort in Marxism which grants a universal support for all such ill-defined but well-articulated feelings. For this cohort of "sentimental Marxists" the question of what will now happen to Marxist doctrine might seem irrelevant. In no way, in their view, can the collapse of communism cast a shadow on the heart-warming visions of the socialist societies of the future. The primary target of this article, however, is not the sentimental, but rather the orthodox Marxists, whose standpoint is somewhat different . Habitually reluctant to grant diplomatic recognition to the new phenomena of life which had the misfortune to appear after the publication ofDas Kapital, they seem to possess a special technique employed to reduce such new phenomena to more familiar schemes elaborated by the founders ofMarxism on quite different data. But now they might be facing a situation when this time-worn methodology may not be as easy to apply as before. In the early 1990s it became increasingly clear that Marxism had failed...


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