[OPE-L:6761] Marx's eurocentrism

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sun Mar 17 2002 - 18:57:18 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <j.bendien@wolmail.nl>
Sent: Sunday, March 17, 2002 6:25 PM
Subject: Marx's eurocentrism

Hi Jerry,

 As regards Marx's alleged eurocentrism: I think he was to an extent
necessarily "eurocentric", because:

 - the knowledge he could have of other parts of the world was limited, and
he was often not in any position to verify the biases in the literature he
 had access to.
- he was limited or at least influenced by the science and ideology of his
 own time, and sometimes subject to certain clear prejudices (e.g. his
 reference to "dirty Mexicans" etc.)
- he lived in Europe and as far as I know never even travelled outside
 Europe except Algeria as an old man.

 For all that, Marx was careful himself to qualify his views. Thus, for
 example, in an unpublished letter in late 1878 to Nikolai Mikhailovskii he
 objects that "...my critic...feels himself obliged to metamorphose my
 historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into an
 historico-philosophic theory of the marche generale imposed by fate upon
 every people, whatever the historic circumstances in which it finds
 itself..." (Shanin, 1983:136).

 Let us also not forget that Marx helped to found the first International,
 i.e. his orientation was internationalist, whatever his mistakes might have

 It was rather latter-day "Marxists" who tried to cast Marx's thought into a
 general historico-philosophical system, not to say dogma, which explained
 life, the universe and everything, often without doing any serious
 research. This was what Marx objected to when he wrote sardonically to
 Lafargue that "all I know is that I'm not a Marxist". I think Marx's wish
 was for other people to develop his approach - the materialist conception
 of history - further, and in this sense he "welcomed every serious
 scientific criticism", as he wrote in the Preface to Capital Volume 1. Just
 like Capital, historical materialism wasn't a finished doctrine, but an
 invitation to further thought, political action and research.

 So I have some sympathy for Andre Gunder Frank's views, because a lot of
 "Marxism" by my way of thinking has nothing in common with Marx's own
 intentions, it's more a kind of religion, or a sentimental attachment to a
 world view. In some ways, you have to "abandon Marxism to be able to return
 to Marx".

 However, Frank of course goes further than that. You can acknowledge Marx
 had his limits, did not know everything, and had mistaken views about other
 societies. It is another thing to abandon core concepts of Marx's approach
 (for example, Frank doesn't accept the validity of the concept of a "mode
 of production" as such anymore). I would be much more reluctant to do that,
 even without Frank's wide-ranging knowledge, as I think Marx offers very
 fruitful hypotheses, a very rich heuristic, and I don't think his basic
 propositions about historical development have been disproved; to the
 contrary, he has made the most powerful contribution to the social
 sciences, so that it is impossible to ignore his influence.

 To his credit, Ernest Mandel, whom I studied, made a great effort to break
through Euro-centrism and the dreary old Marxist-Leninist dogmatic culture,
 for example in his book Marxist Economic Theory in which he tried to show
 the promise of Marx's theory in explaining world history, inviting other
 researchers to develop the ideas further. That's the kind of "open Marxism"
 that we need more of.

 Be that as it may, Mandel told me himself in all modesty, he knew "most
 of subjects". And his Marxist rationalism was in fact often not as open as
 it could have been, as he was very concerned to defend basic Marxist
 propositions (almost to the letter) and maintain the "theoretical
 coherence" of the Marxist "system" - an orthodoxy which has its pitfalls.

 Which really raises the question of how "open" or "closed" one should be,
 what to keep and what to discard ? On this there will probably always be
 different views, and oscillations between dilletantism and dogmatism. But
 one thing is clear to me: for Marx it was a matter of conscientious,
 painstaking scientific research of social reality, on the basis of certain
 hypotheses, which might be modified by the results of that research. It is
 in that spirit that Makoto Itoh also writes in his book "Political Economy
 of Socialism" that historical materialism is not a finished doctrine, but
 open to modification.



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