[OPE-L] Jurriaan, Reply to Domhoff

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sat Sep 24 2005 - 23:48:41 EDT

---------------------------- Original Message -------------------------
Subject: Reply to Domhoff
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date:    Sat, September 24, 2005 11:00 am


I personally value greatly Prof. Domhoff's empirical work on the state and
on the ruling class, but his critique of Marxism concerns mainly a
crudified, lifeless, caricatured Marxism, such as is still propagated by
certain academics and critics unfamiliar with real research. This has very
little to do with Marx's own text, or with more sophisticated Marxian
scholarship (including work by OPE-Lers and ex-OPE-Lers).

So really Domhoff is attacking a straw man, which may of course still be
hoisted by naive people as the real thing, and scare off a few crows.

Ultimately though, by his eclectic stance he shoots himself in the foot, to
the extent that *explanans* (i.e. that which explains) and *explandum* (i.e.
that which must be explained) get confused with each other, and to the
extent that he is only left with a unique interpretation or description,
without more profound reasons, as to why that interpretation or description
would be better than any other.

What Marx teaches us, is precisely that intellectual activity progresses,
not by simply dismissing other theories, but by *integrating* and
synthesizing their valid parts consistently in what we know. That is a real
critique, a real dialogue. Thus, much of Domhoff's insight can, I believe,
be integrated in a Marxian interpretation, without much problem. Of course,
archaeological evidence is always patchy, so there's perpetually room for

In this context, we could distinguish between an "open" and a "closed"
Marxism. The latter is incapable of further development, because its
all-encompassing metaphysical system of categories cannot be modified by
new research findings, nor does it stimulate much new research. The former
insists only on a broad methodology guiding and informing research, and on
distinctively Marxian insights, theories and findings that remain valid.

Personally, and perhaps ideosyncratically, as a socialist, I reject the
whole notion of "Marxism" and "historical materialism", even although I
still highly value the work of Marx and Engels, own Marxist books, have
Marxist friends, and have published in the journal "Historical Materialism"
and on Marxmail.

Marx and Engels rarely used these doctrinal concepts of "Marxism" and
"historical materialism" anyway, and really didn't appreciate them. Their
whole project, as far as I can see, went downhill with subsequent
doctrinalisation and dogmatisation, it became a substitute for a social
religion, in which people no longer thought for themselves. In that sense,
the neoliberal challenge is quite refreshing.

The enduring concept turns out to be not Marxism, but socialism, i.e. the
dialectics of history, sifting out human mistakes, return us to exactly the
points where Marxian thought took a wrong *political* turn. So from my point
of view, "Marxism" as such really belongs to the debris or dustbin of
history, although the thought of Marx and Engels, and what is valid in the
thought of their followers, will remain. It will remain, because it is part
of the struggle for egalitarian social justice.

But in contradistinction with Domhoff, I am not about to throw out the baby
with the bathwater. You don't abandon theory at the drop of a hat, simply
because new facts have come to light, that is dilletantism, religious
conversion, or a kind of communism that's just in your pants. A correct
stance is one which aims to integrate or synthesize the new findings
consistently. Obviously you cannot do that, if you're not even prepared to
look at them (well, sometimes I don't even want to look at anything anymore!

As I have tried to explain in my wikipedia contribution to the article on
historical materialism (for my articles, see <User:Jurriaan>), Marx and
Engels, as social scientists and critics, rather than professional
politicians, faced the problem of gaining popular influence in the labour
movement, and defeating the influence of their competitors (just how that
really worked, can be gauged at the hand of e.g. Marx's own interventions
in the First International, in which he was extremely cautious really; for
more info, see e.g. volume 4 of Hal Draper's magnum opus). This problem
created a tension between science and ideology, in the context where
christian belief dominated in society, a tension which Engels aimed to
resolve by propagating a "scientific world outlook".

But that "scientific world outlook" rapidly became a doctrine, an ideology
and a dogma, or even a metaphysical cosmology, resolving the tension not in
favour of a critical science, but in favour of an ideology. The main reason
is that science, although it can and should shed light on human values,
cannot usually directly *produce* human values of its own. If it tries to
do so, we often end up with "scientism", whereas some spheres of life are
simply not amenable to scientific activity.

In modern European socialism, a clear distinction is nowadays drawn between
scientific research and political values. Obviously, these will influence
each other, and they should; we cannot very well be non-partisan. But each
have their autonomy as they should, and to argue Marxism defines socialism
is a bit like saying that Einsteinism defines physics and physicists. It
doesn't, and never will, even although Marxists will still try and fail to
build exclusively Marxist mass parties.

Marx and Engels were pioneers, but they don't have the last word, and even
if they have, the problem is one of applying that word, and that, in turn,
requires something new from us. No one thinker has all the answers, and as
soon as we think that, we enter the realm of religious followership. That
may be personally satisfying in a heartless or uncaring world, but the
historical record shows that when that followership substitutes for
independent thinking, it always begets bad results, rather than produce
leaders who cause real progress, and in the end, the "true believer" is
just left with the *rhetoric* from the past.

I suspect that what Domhoff objects to, is precisely that rhetoric; but as
scholars, scientists and researchers, our duty is always sort the wheat
from the chaff, rather than chew over the chaff endlessly. If we plant the
wheat, new ears of wheat may spike from the ground.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Sep 25 2005 - 00:00:02 EDT