[OPE-L:3507] Marxism and 19th century materialism

From: Paul Cockshott (clyder@gn.apc.org)
Date: Sun Jun 18 2000 - 18:55:43 EDT

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At 12:47 18/06/00 -0400, ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu wrote:
>But aside from instrumental subjectivism, what about the dangers of 19th
>century materialism? We have been led to believe that whenever we hear the
>word 'shape' or 'form' pronounced, that it must be the shape or form of
>*something*, that a material substratum is reqired to take on a shape
>(Schroediger, Science and Humanism).
followed by some stuff about Shroedingers criticism of 19th century

What other than an appeal to currently fashionable anti-communist
ideology are we supposed to read into your warning of the
dangers of 19th century materialism?

The point about materialism from a philosophical standpoint is as Althusser
says in Lenin and Philosophy - that matter's sole philosophically important
point is its independent existence - independent that is of human knowledge.

This is the basic dividing line between idealism and materialism - does matter
exist independently of our knowledge of it.
Changes in our understanding of the small scale properties of matter
from Lucretius to 20th century quantum mechanics are irrelevant to this
philosophical position.

The phrase '19th century materialism' is one taken from the discourse of
the idealist reprise of physics and New Age literature - Capra and all
that crap. This is a profoundly reactionary and anti-communist
philosophical tradition which seized upon the revolutionary advances
in our understanding of matter in the last century to discredit
'19th century materialism'. This labelling of materialism with
the 19th century is not innocent. The well understood subtext
is that 19th century materialism actually means Darwin and

Our blessed delivery from 19th century materialism by the
Copenhagen interpretation is a delivery from the demons of
Darwinian atheism and atheistic communism.

Why on earth label materialism with being 19th century otherwise?

Atomism was not even generally accepted as anything more than a
hypothesis by 19th century physics. Boltzman apparently dying in
dispair at ever getting it recognised. It was not until Einsteins
paper on Brownian motion in 1905 that the atomic theory of matter
became universally accepted. So as an accepted orthodoxy atomism
had to wait until the 20th century. The labeling of the materialism
to be rejected as being '19th century' misses the comming of age
of atomism, but hits its real targets Marx and Darwin.

One could as well rail against 1st century BC materialism, for
De Rerum Natura, dates from then, or the 17th century materialism
of the Principia. But no, that misses the target, it is not
Lucretius, Newton or Einstein that are the targets so 19th
century materialism it must be!

>>What I object you is your slide towards instrumentalist subjectivism with
>>the suggestion that unless values are represented as prices they do not exist.
>>Paul Cockshott (clyder@gn.apc.org)
>Instrumental subjectivism? Well how much mind is there in the universe...At
>any rate, I understand value in neither subjective nor objective terms
>(that is as independent description of the thing being measured) but rather
>in irreducibly systemic terms--the thing being measured and the measurement
>being made.

The reason why your position is subjectivist is that it takes on the
stanpoint of the bourgeois juridical subject buying and selling commodities.
To the selling subject it appears that value comes into existence
through the sale. To them all that matters is price, and value just
another word for price.

The truely great political economists have been those who in one way
or another broke free from the ideological constraints imposed by
commercial calculation to see the hidden relations that determine
these forms of appearance. Smith, Ricardo, Marx and Keynes in their
different ways all did this.

To the comercial bourgeois, abstract labour only becomes
apparent in the price of his product your own mass
only becomes apparent through your bathroom scales.
But this means neither that spring balances are responsible
for your weight, nor that price determines value.
In the shaddows stand weightier things - Big Macs and
hard work.

Price is the necessary form of appearance of abstract labour
***in bourgoeis commercial calculation*** but such calculation
is not the only form of economic calculus possible. On the
contrary it is a historically transitory form of calculation,
with its own peculiar forms of misreprentation.

When you change this to say that price is the *** only possible ***
form of representation of abstract labour, then you are abandoning
historical materialism and adopting the theoretical standpoint of
Mises and Hayek. When you abuse 19th century materialism you
move over to adopting the reactionary philosphical standpoint that
buttressed their reactionary politics.
Paul Cockshott (clyder@gn.apc.org)

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