The end of Marxism was announced at the end of 1970s (Kołakowski 1978), and the end of art (again?) in the middle of 1980s (Danto 1984). The end of cold war between socialism and capitalism came twenty years later, when, after fall of Soviet socialist block, the end of history was announced (Fukuyama 1989). Following the pattern introduced by postmodernism, we have now Marxism after the end of Marxism, art after the end of art, and history after the end of history. Marxism after the end of Marxism does not mean “Back to Marx!” or, back to young Marx and philosophical Marxism, as in 1960s. It means “Back to the critique of political economy!” Marxist philosophical farewell to Marxism, lying in-between contemporaneity and past Marxist orthodoxy makes this return a tough job. Even by Marxists themselves, three main points of view of orthodox Marxism were often thrown away together with dogmatism, and in favour of more postmodern cultural relativism: that economy determines overall social structure, that capitalist state is a tool in hands of the ruling class, and that class struggle is the generator of history. These positions need more sophisticated elaborations, indeed, but were they ever so evident as in contemporary crisis of (late) capitalism?
To start with critique of political economy through aesthetics might sound problematic. Marxists and non-Marxists always apologized for their interest in aesthetic issues in conflicting times (Marcuse, Eagleton, Schiller…). One of the reasons was that aesthetic, and particularly artistic field did not seem that serious, another, that it seemed to dwell beyond core issues of political economy and its critique. With aesthetization of commodities, and commodification of the artwork, however, seriousness of the aesthetic and its necessary placement at the core (critique of) political economy need no excuse any more.
Within return to critique of political economy, I will examine two of previously often expressed Marxist and artistic movements’ positions on the relationship between capitalism and art. The first one is that capitalism, after it established its hegemony, is unfavourable to art; the second one is that commodity form is unsuitable, if not directly harmful to artwork. The former developed from cultural pessimism with its insistence on decadence of (Western) civilization, the latter from modernist, bohemian and avant-garde artwork ideology.
The aim of this paper will be to expose these two Marxist aesthetic traditions to critique, to examine them in the context of critique of political economy, and to put them into the context of contemporary art. Two of the final proposals will be to acknowledge significant similarities between commodity fetishism and aesthetic fetishism, and to transgress Marxist aesthetic vocabulary developed from old but persisting understanding of contemporary art in terms of decadence and avant-garde binarism.