Theater of Cruelty

Marx in dreams

Modernism in the Streets A Life and Times in Essays
Forfatter: Marshall Berman
Forlag: Verso Books
Marxist humanism can help people feel at home in history, even when history hurts them. 


Marshall Howard Berman (1940 – 2013) was an American philosopher and Marxist humanist, professor of political science history and a teacher of political philosophy and urbanism. Growing up in the Southern Bronx, the demolition of this district was the starting point for his interest in urbanism and humanist Marxism, which he described in his most famous book All That Is Solid Melts Into Air.

Berman discovered Karl Marx through the reading of the early German philosopher's writings. In this meeting he gained his own view of modern capitalism as unsuccessful, both in its industrial and its post-industrial phase, but primarily through the emotional suffering ideology has inflicted on man.

"Calvin Klein, another rattled Jewish boy, would have loved Kafka's body."

Down with God. For Berman, Marx becomes most interesting as he moves behind structuralist power analyzes and historical determinism. He liked the idea of ​​a Marx crushing the idolatry of communist orthodoxy.

From the 1840s Marx published most of his political articles, treaties and pamphlets – writings that often dealt with the condition of man. Berman explains to us that it was not Marx's opinion that ideas govern the evolution of history, but human practical conditions of life. Marx was very skeptical of religion – "opium for the people," which he so famously called the phenomenon. According to Berman, Marx believed that religion is shaped by production and material conditions, that religious beliefs exert an independent influence on how economic systems are developed and shaped.

Sex power. In Paris, Marx met radicals who discussed the role of sexuality in modern society. Some looked at so-called promis-
cowardly way of life as an exercise in sexual liberation. Marx agreed that love could be problematic if it only appeared as one of the many expressions of private property law, but sexual promiscuity he considered to be a kind of "universal prostitution".

The defenders of this type of "prostitution" he considered to be evil, mindless communists. They used their sexual desires to gain power over other people. Marx, writes Berman, would include the self-awareness of modern man. "What does it help with noble motives when one does not know their real motives?"

The Marx presented in Modernism in the Streets, is a friend of Baudelaire, Nietzsche and Freud. We meet a humanist who could dance in the streets in both excitement and dismay over modern society – and a Marx liberated from the communist system. Whether this is a Marx who actually existed, or an imaginary dream figure for romantic idealists, remains an open question.

Romance. What does the author think a Marxist humanism can do? Jo: “Marxist humanism can help people feel at home in history, even when history hurts them and hurts them. It can show those who have been broken down by supremacy that they can renew their faith in life, and it can help people who have survived personal tragedies to make history. "

Since then, Berman's book takes us on a journey through the history of several romantics, seen through Marxist glasses. We meet Englishmen like Wordsworth and Blake, and their relationship to Marx's concepts stranger- og reification.

As the development has gone quite the opposite way of it Modernism in the Streets preaches, Berman's book feels a little strange to read, but nonetheless the author had great faith in man's potential for liberation: “The American people, and the people they oppress, certainly have opportunities for freedom, but the liberating power must somehow come from outside, that is, outside the American system. "

What this should mean, we get the explanation of through the meeting with Herbert Marcuse, as in his book The one-dimensional man discusses the possibilities for social and human change: “It is clear, however, that Marcuse used the word 'outside' in a complex, metaphorical way. He did not mean to say that there can be no fruitful contradictions outside the American system. The one-dimensional human being can still discover – or create – new dimensions within the existing system. "

Small plus Kafka. Berman becomes somewhat simple when he says that we all become colder people under capitalism. (Did you get so much warmer during communism?) The book is still good when it describes the urban world's conglomerate of possibilities, and when it takes us on journeys into known and unknown literary waters. The chapter on Kafka and Walter Benjamin, for example, is excellent.

"Calvin Klein, another ragged Jewish boy, would have loved Kafka's body. Can't you see him photographed by Calvin Klein in black and white? » writes Berman. After this sentence and the following: "Kafka exposed his cup of suspicion, interrogated and judged it," I close this book with a smile on my face. Reading about humanistic Marxism can indeed be both intellectually stimulating and emotionally liberating.

Henning Næs
Henning Næss
Literary critic in MODERN TIMES.

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