[OPE-L:1653] Re: Callinicos

Subject: [OPE-L:1653] Re: Callinicos
From: Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Date: Tue Nov 09 1999 - 19:22:55 EST

Chris Arthur wrote:

What Callinicos and company do is to retreat from reality
>altogether and insist states which are manifestly not capitalist must still
>be so, appearances to the contrary, so as to protect the dogma.
>I do not know the Clarke review so I do not know if he made this point.

Clarke does make a similar point, although being a "Trotskyist" he has
difficulty with the possibility that there could be anti-capitalist
revolutions (1) which are made by social forces other than the working
class, (2) which are not specifically socialist revolutions. He makes some
interesting remarks about Imre Lakatos's theory of science which I will quote:

"The problem of Lakatos's specifications for the scientificity of any
theory is the difficulty of transferring it from the scientific laboratory
to the real of social science. Specifically Lakatos's theory seems to work
under controlled empirical experiments which require formal logic for their
solution. But this method seems incapable of dealing with dialectical
thought. A couple of examples will show what we mean. Take the following
propositions: a) Core theory: Stalinism is counterrevolutionary through and
through and has gone over to the bourgeois order. b) new fact: Stalinism
overthrew capitalism in Eastern Europe c) Auxiliary hypothesis: Stalinism
can destroy capitalist social relations, while retaining its
counterrevolutionary character on a world-historical scale. Now the
Lakatos-meter blows up when this data is fed into it because this
particular machine is incapable of dialectical thought and considers the
input to be gibberish. Since Callinicos in this instance agrees with the
machine, let's take a less controversial example. a) Core theory: British
capitalism is in a prolonged crisis and decline b) New fact: British
capitalism expanded rapidly between 1984-88 c) Auxiliary hypotheses i) even
capitalist economies in crisis can experience periods of expansion ii) even
within long waves of capitalist decline, the business cycle continues to
work, giving temporary "upturns" and "downturns" within the cycle. It is
difficult to see how Lakatos's propositions cope with these self-evidently
correct series of propositions. Once the number of variables under
discussion becomes very large, the protocols of formal logic become
unworkable, which is why a machine armed with a few propositions cannot
replace the human mind in most scientific experiments. This brings us
straight back to levels of abstraction. Marx's famous explanation in the
Grundrisse of the method of abstraction he utilised, inscribes the
dialectical notion of contradiction in its very formulation: "The concrete
is concrete because it is a combination of many abstractions, and hence the
unity of the diverse". To put it another way, Marxist method is that of
successive approximation, a constant interplay of the abstract and the
concrete. In dealing with, and attempting to falsify any proposition, it is
necessary to know the level of abstraction under discussion>" (p. 137-138).

Clarke also in passing discusses critics of Mandel's Marxist solution for
the integration of Marx's economic theory with real economic history:

"There is a school of thought, at one time somewhat influential in Britain
through the writing of David Yaffe, which wants to reduce events to the
direct workings of master laws like the tendency of the rate of profit to
fall. But the concrete course of the capitalist economy cannot be reduced
to the workings of such laws. For example, you cannot explain the postwar
boom without knowing there was a world war which preceded it. You cannot
explain the boom without integrating the outcome of the bitter post-war
class struggles which followed, and the defeats that followed... if you
admit that the crucial variable in capitalist boom and slump is the rate of
profit, you have to explain the concrete elements in the formation of that
rate of profit. These... also involve the outcome of social and political
events - that is the class struggle. It is classically in Marxist theory
those who reject the integration of the fundamental laws of capitalist
economy with the outcome of class struggle who developed mechanical and
fatalistic theories - notably various theories of "inevitable capitalist
breakdown", the most developed of which was expounded by H. Grossman... Of
course Alex Callinicos is right to reject the "multiple causality" theory
of the detractors of Marxism who see no discernible laws or long-term
causality in historical development. However, the reduction of events to
"master laws" ends up explaining everything by explaining nothing. Most
politically debilitating, such theories do not distinguish between what
lies in the ambit of human action and is thus changeable, and that which is
inscribed by the "objective" situation." (p. 136).

Callinicos objects inter alia that Mandel fails to specify the "relative
importance" of numerous partially autonomous variables influencing the rate
of profit, thus being guilty of theoretical syncretism. However Mandel does
not argue that the relative importance of these variables can be specified
"in general", their combination must rather be empirically and concretely
investigated, to establish their relative importance and magnitude, and
once this is done, any "syncretism" disappears. The problem with Mandel's
account is really rather different than Callinicos thinks: whereas Mandel
often advances a Popperian "bold hypothesis" and correctly indicates how
the subjectmatter is to be explained, he doesn't really do sufficient
systematic empirical research himself to explain it. But neither do the
International Socialists (who seem to prefer dogma) nor most conventional
economists (who just build an abstract model and see how it behaves under
various assumptions or conditions).

If, like Callinicos, you cannot correctly understand the class nature of a
state, correctly understand when that class nature changes, and correctly
understand what capitalism is and what it is not, then I think you might
still be able to make a revolution, but not a socialist one, nor are you
able to lead the transition to socialism.

In solidarity


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