Marxism is centered on the idea that classes can be abolished through the liberation of the proletariat. Since the proletariat engages in abstract labour – it can farm on collective fields, work in factories, perform bureaucratic functions – it is capable of doing everything that society needs without deferring to an exploitative class above it. The bourgeoisie, then, which creates the proletariat, will simply disappear as the proletariat builds itself a classless future. Marxist humanists point to the idea that the alienation of humanity from its own labour will be overcome in a new communist person, essentially restoring rationality to human labour. Althusser was sharply critical of this view of history because it suggested an essential nature to humanity that could be restored. If there was an essential human nature, rather than one conditioned by society, then why had classes arisen in the first place?
Althusser believed that criticizing the popular notion of alienation and refocusing on the contingent historical situation of exploitation would help end the crisis of Marxism. But how much of Marxism’s attraction is the idea of restoring some sort of rational control to society? If Marxism is simply a solution to a specific historical problem, why fight so hard for it? If justice amounts to a calculation of weighted consumption outcomes, why spill so much blood over it?
In his book on evolutionary socialism, Bernstein argued that socialism was best thought of as the legitimate heir of bourgeois society. That is, the proletariat’s values were raised in bourgeois society, and citizenship was an important aspect of the labour movement. Here he embraced a sort of humanism: Socialism was the natural tendency of the proletariat because it had certain humane values. These values would grow in culture over time. This basic trend simply built up ideas of “class peace” into a sort of humanistic socialism.
A different take comes from Hitler. In Hitler’s view, bourgeois values of national citizenship have no independent value and neither do proletarian values of labour. Citizenship in the presence of the crass exploitation of the nation’s labour force does nothing but put a liberal face on brutality. Labour without culture, however, is simply materialistic and aims at nothing but commodity production. The aim of society, then, should be a unity between bourgeois citizenship and proletarian labour. This is found in the unity of national feeling and culture with production for national use. National Socialism, then, is the contingent solution to contemporary problems - largely by admitting there are no truly final solutions.
When Zizek complains that we are all Fukuyamaists, announcing the end of history, it is ironic that his only solution to this is another form of the end of history. His Marxist vision of communist utopia, however renewed, is another way of stating that liberalism will end with the advent of communism. Can one imagine going beyond communism, though? This is what Orwell referred to when he said that most socialists can only imagine socialism as the removal of a toothache – they know what they don’t like (poverty, pollution, war), but they don’t know what they do like. This is the coward’s position in history.