Norman Geras's work on the subject of Karl Marx's antisemitism involved significant dissent from the Marxist tradition in which he located himself, precisely because unvarnished honesty prevented him from glossing over the many troubling ideas and notions that, simply, are there. His Normblog demonstrated how Geras, as a Marxist, took on the shibboleths of the postmodern left, and in particular the relativism whose malign influence he had noted when writing his book on Marx's conception of human nature. 'The principle of self-emancipation', wrote Geras in 1971, 'is central, not incidental, to historical materialism.' This book shows how the materialist usage of 'powers of human nature', 'natural desires', 'natural character' play an important role in the formulation of Marx's theory of history. It explores Richard Rorty's various usages on the question of human nature and the tensions and anomalies as well as then theses on utopia. The book also reviews a fast-growing sector of the current literature on Karl Marx, i.e. whether Marx condemn capitalism in the light of any principle of justice, and the controversy that has fuelled its growth, and distinguishes three meanings (personal, intellectual and socio-political) of 'being a Marxist'. It discusses the significance of the Euston Manifesto, antisemitism on the left anti-Jewish stereotypes, and Marxism before the Holocaust. The book concludes with insights into the 9/11 incident, the principle of humanitarian intervention and international law for military intervention.
an unwavering commitment to the goal of anti-capitalist social transformation, a transparent sense of humanity and a conception of democracy informed by vital liberal assumptions. This is a combination still to be commended, I believe, today.
NormanGeras, 2002 1
In a body of work marked by the meticulous exegesis, scrupulous critique and creative development of the classical Marxist tradition, NormanGeras established himself as the twentieth-century Marxist theoretician we need most in the twenty-first century. Why? Three reasons: few understood
A first word about the title of this anthology. The phrase ‘what’s there is there’ is taken from a 13 May 2009 blogpost by NormanGeras on the subject of Karl Marx’s antisemitism. Many Marxists have been, at best, unwilling to deal with these less savoury aspects of Marx’s thought and character. But, as Geras noted, ‘The only reason for not facing up to these things is to protect Marx’s reputation as a thinker. But this is not a good reason, because it’s no protection; what’s there is there.’
That observation might be said to encapsulate the approach of
Terry Glavin here speaks of how he was attracted to Normblog and offers some reflections on the work of Norman Geras, particularly citing the 9/11 incident and the terror against the Afghan democrats by the United States. By the time Norm's conversations evolved into the Euston Manifesto, Norm's helpfulness and the significance of his work was made plain in the way the modest document was greeted with such livid fury from so many on the left. If there is a single point when it can be said that the left's hegemonic narrative for the coming years was inaugurated, that the die was fatally cast and the primary expression of left-wing activism for more than a decade was set in motion, there is no better marker than 18 October 2001. Norm Geras's writings and commentary retain a surprisingly vivid and prescient sense about them all these years later.
(This is the text of a presentation by NormanGeras to the YIVO Conference on Jews and the Left held in May 2012 in New York City, first published in Fathom , Issue 2, Spring 2013)
In Marx’s essay On the Jewish Question, * written in 1844, there are two contrasting sets of themes vis-à-vis the Jews. In Part II of the essay Marx deploys some well-known negative stereotypes, according to which: the mundane basis of Judaism is self-interest, egoism, or, as Marx also calls it, ‘an anti-social element’; the worldly religion of the Jew is huckstering; and the Jew
Ralph Miliband and Leo Panitch (eds), Socialist Register 1990: The Retreat of the Intellectuals , London: The Merlin Press, 1990, pp. 1–34.
3 Karl Marx, ‘Preface’ to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.
4 Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, Anne Arbor, 1960, p. 256.
5 C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary , London: Hutchinson, 1963, p. 200.
6 See NormanGeras, ‘Socialist Hope in the Shadow of Catastrophe’, The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy after the Holocaust (hereafter CMI), Verso, 1998, pp. 83
43 Cf. my ‘Marxism and Moral Advocacy’, in NormanGeras, Discourses of Extremity , London, 1990, pp. 7–8.
44 ORT, p. 182 n. 17.
45 Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, London, 1984 (reprinted 1966), pp. 27–29, 46.
46 Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature , Oxford, 1980, pp. 361–362 n. 7, 377; CIS, p. 36.
47 ‘Saul Bellow on Mozart’, The Guardian , 2 April 1992, p. 25; Primo Levi, The Mirror Maker, London, 1990, pp. 110–114; Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works ,London, 1975, vol.3, p. 276; Karl Marx
Primo Levi, Afterword to If This Is a Man and The Truce , London, 1987, pp. 394–396.
31 ‘Prémisses’, section 11.
32 See NormanGeras, ‘Literature of Revolution’, New Left Review , Nos 113–114 (January/April 1979), pp. 25–29; reprinted in my collection Literature of Revolution , London, 1986, at pp. 247–250.
33 Leon Trotsky, 1905 , London, 1972, pp. 131–135.
34 See Martin Broszat/Saul Friedlander, ‘A Controversy about the Historicization of National Socialism’, Yad Vashem Studies , 19 (1988), pp. 28–29.
35 Saul Friedlander, ‘The “Final Solution
When NormanGeras launched Normblog in 2003, the medium that came to be known as ‘blogging’ was still in its infancy. Over the course of a decade, Normblog became one of the top-tier blogs, attracting thousands of readers to its daily posts. Meticulously constructed arguments about politics and international affairs were accompanied by musings on literature, cricket and jazz, profiles of fellow bloggers, and occasional, deeply personal reflections about work, life and the family he loved. Sadly, the flow of words stopped with Geras’s untimely death in October
It is remarkable that many have discerned, with the emergency of the materialist conception of history, a dismissal by Marx of the idea of human nature. The German Ideology, expressly criticizes the mistake of those who, ignoring what it terms the 'real basis of history', thereby exclude from the historical process 'the relation of man to nature', create an 'antithesis of nature and history'. At one point it echoes a passage from The Holy Family just in emphasizing nature's internal and external dimensions. In this chapter, Geras shows how the materialist usage of 'powers of human nature', 'natural desires', 'natural character' plays an important role in the formulation of Marx's theory of history, showcasing the concepts and arguments placed in these two works and the Theses on Feuerbach. The Holy Family is an 'early' work; it antedates historical materialism, while The German Ideology itself proposes the theory of historical materialism.