‘Varieties of the Transcendental in Western Marxism’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published in Problemi International in 2018.


Contrary to today’s few remaining radical Leftist theorists, whose main premise is that the Western Marxism has lost contact with the Third World revolutionary movements, this article argues that it is in fact the Third World Communist radicalism which has lost contact with authentic emancipatory content of Marxism. The main novelty of Western Marxism, the article further argues, resides in its rehabilitation of the transcendental dimension.

If at its inception, Western Marxism was a Hegelian reaction to the progressive neo-Kantianism which was (more or less) the official philosophy of the reformist Second International social democracy, neo-Kantians insisted on the gap between objective social reality and the normative realm of autonomous ethical goals which cannot be deduced from reality (they reject this option as a case of illegitimate determinism which reduces the Ought to the positive order of Being); which is why they referred to their political stance as that of “Ethical socialism.”

However, although revolutionary Marxism aims at overcoming all metaphysical dualities, its history is traversed by the gap between realism and transcendentalism: while the Soviet version of dialectical materialism proposes a new version of naïve-realist ontology (a vision of all of reality with human history as its special region, a topic of historical materialism), Western Marxism proposes collective human praxis as the ultimate transcendental horizon of our philosophical understanding.

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