Re: [OPE] Science and scientology

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Thu Jun 04 2009 - 05:55:21 EDT

Dave Zachariah wrote:
> I think Jerry is pointing to a real problem in the Marxian tradition.
> Its scientific content should be possible develop without references to
> some initial founding texts. That is a characteristic in most mature
> sciences. There is no need for Darwinists to constantly go back to
> Darwin.
Reading Gould and Dawkins, they do often go back to Darwin and argue
about just what Darwin's view of natural selection was.

> Similarly, there ought to be a clear distinction between
> Marxology and a positive Marxian research program.
> //Dave Z
> Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
>> Jerry, of course it is not per se "unscientific and assbackwards" to
>> check Marx when dealing with questions of contemporary capitalism,
>> why? Scientific people in my experience read all kinds of professional
>> and non-professional literature to get ideas, or stimulate innovation.
>> The unscientific part is just if you believe that the MECW is sorta
>> like "the book of revelations" which has all the answers to all of the
>> questions already. Because in that case, you are just really being
>> biblical or Talmudic - the idea being then that there are "sacred
>> scrolls" which, if read and interpreted correctly, contain all the
>> answers to all of life's problems.
>> It is perhaps of interest here that Engels refers to Das Kapital as
>> the "Bible of the working class", in the preface to the 1886 edition
>> of Das Kapital:
>> "Das Kapital" is often called, on the Continent, "the Bible of the
>> working-class." That the conclusions arrived at in this work are daily
>> more and more becoming the fundamental principles of the great
>> working- class movement, not only in Germany and Switzerland, but in
>> France, in Holland and Belgium, in America, and even in Italy and
>> Spain, that everywhere the working-class more and more recognises, in
>> these conclusions, the most adequate expression of its condition and
>> of its aspirations, nobody acquainted with that movement will deny.
>> This was meant both "defiantly" (as Terrell Carver notes, Engels had a
>> lifelong hostility to christianity, which was a main source of his
>> historical materialism) and "sincerely", because epistemically,
>> workers really did regard particular books as the revelators of the
>> truth in those days, and to some or other extent still do today.
>> Certain books are revered as containing the true idea by workers who
>> are not in a position to relativise things in the same way that an
>> academic, able to access hundreds of references and trained in
>> interpretation, might. Practical people anyway do not have much
>> intellectual use for subtle nuances and qualifiers, they want
>> definite, yes-or-no answers. Propagandistically, of course, it is
>> convenient to be able to refer to a book which "has the answers" and
>> can provide a guide or orientation to what to believe or what to do.
>> There is still comparatively little research on the initial reception
>> and diffusion of the ideas of Marx and Engels in the period of (say)
>> 1859-1890, but it is clear that in reality christian religion still
>> had a very strong influence at that time, and that socialist or
>> communist beliefs contained a strong flavour of religious faith or
>> religious fervour, even if they were in principle atheistic. Indeed,
>> socialism in New Zealand, a very modern country originally colonized
>> overwhelmingly by skilled workingclass people from the British Isles
>> and proletarians from Australia, began precisely in the form of
>> socialist churches (see Roth, H. O. "The labour churches and New
>> Zealand". International Review of Social History 4, No 3 (1959):
>> 361--366). The NZ Socialist Party formed in 1901 initially had
>> religious themes in its activities and propaganda; a NZ Marxian
>> Association was founded circa 1918, two years after the founding of a
>> united NZ Labour Party. The NZMA featured among other things reading
>> groups in a special Hall, which also studied literature forbidden by
>> the sedition laws and imported illegally. Most communist and socialist
>> literature was in fact illegal, and was smuggled in by sailors from
>> San Fransisco, London and Scotland.
>> This is just to say that - although this is mostly ignored in the
>> literature - Marxism had very strongly "religious" cultural roots, not
>> at all because it was itself a theistic doctrine, to the contrary, but
>> precisely because it was formed and took shape in a strongly religious
>> environment.
>> This is acknowledged by Engels to some extent, in tracing the
>> development of socialism "from utopianism to science". The very idea
>> of a "scientific socialism" was supposed to be the alternative to a
>> socialism which was not rational-scientific at all, but fideistic and
>> utopian. Likewise, when Lenin aimed to forge a Marxist party ideology
>> in Russia that would be an infallible modernizing doctrine -
>> literally, "omnipotent, because it is true" - he did so in the context
>> of a Russian culture which was actually dominated by the Greek
>> Orthodox Church and a superstitious belief in the semi-divine
>> characteristics of the Tsar, and in the context of a battle against
>> religious superstition, which involved the counterposition of a
>> completely new "world view" to it, a whole new cosmology. In good
>> part, the first world war was also justified in religious terms.
>> Hermeneutic debates occur especially in the social sciences and
>> humanities - for example in theology, philosophy, cultural
>> anthropology, archaeology, history - but they occur sometimes also in
>> natural science. To some extent, this practice could indeed be said
>> to be intrinsic to the human condition, as Viktor Frankl explains in
>> his writings on "Man's search for meaning" and Sartre also covers in
>> his existentialist writings.
>> Jurriaan
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