[OPE-L:3515] Re: Marxism and 19th century materialism

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@Princeton.EDU)
Date: Mon Jun 19 2000 - 12:22:20 EDT

[ show plain text ]

>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.
The old concept of matter need not be retained in any defense of the
objectivity of physical reality. The old, 19th century concept of matter is
simply inadequate to account for physical reality.

>Changes in our understanding of the small scale properties of matter
>from Lucretius to 20th century quantum mechanics are irrelevant to this
>philosophical position.

Which 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.

No it is taken from Schroediger. I have never read Capra (though Henry
Stapp seems to be the one to puzzle over here), and Schroediger expressed
skepticism about the Copenhagen interpretation.

 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

Marxian theory depends neither on philosophical materialism nor atomism.

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

The political interpretation of the Copenhagen school has been developed by
Paul Forman, and critiqued by Roger Newton.

 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.

This overhyped political interpretation of the Copenhagen interpretation or
Schroediger won't stand. The materialism or atomism that had to be rejected
followed from black box radiation, the Compton effect, the photoelectric
effect, Stern Gerlach experiments, Bell's experiments, etc. It developed
internally out of the science.

And I see no reasons why Marxists out of ideological reasons should accept
Everitt's many world interpretation (which David Z Albert is defending) or
Bohm's hidden variables interpretation (of which Roland Omnes has developed
a critique, reprised by Lindley). These interpretations have problems as
does the Copenhagen interpretation. I think Marxism is absolutely
unaffected by this debate, one way or another.

>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.

Well at least you are not accusing me of taking the perspective of the
consumer or the leisure class! If not sold, then where does the value go?

> To them all that matters is price, and value just
>another word for price.

This is closer to your position than mine.

>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.

As for the magnitude of the total mass of surplus value and the average
rate of profit, I agree such a break is necessary.

>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.

Value, unlike mass, is not an objective property of the commodity (though
of course we have serious problems with the concept of mass according to
Mach who so exercised Lenin). This is why I say value is neither subjective
nor objective but irreducibly systemic.

Marx recognized a real difficulty as to pinpointing when commodities
acquire value. I argue that only upon sale does this occur. I wouldn't
grant reality or existence to value as a potentiae beforehand. Sale is a
precondition for value emerging and for value itself, but that does not
measure value. I have never even said that utility is measurable, because I
don't think it is.

>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.

I also think value is historically transitory, so once we move beyond a
system of commodities and money then we will be able to organize production
without the dreaded value.

>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.

I don't understand the necessary links in this argument.

Yours, Rakesh

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jun 30 2000 - 00:00:04 EDT