[OPE-L] Marx and philosophy

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Nov 05 2007 - 16:01:02 EST


I am not intending to mislead, I therefore said explicitly "also by analogy"
and therefore, not only by analogy. The Enlightenment thinkers typically
sought to discover the laws of nature and society or indeed of the cosmos.
Initially, God still underpinned their systems, lateron the systems became
more secular, and God played little explanatory role anymore (if any).

Paul C. said he had followed Mirowski's interpretation that Marx's laws of
motion of capitalist market economy were in some way inspired by Isaac
Newton's theories. I doubt that interpretation, especially because I am not
aware that Marx seriously studied Newton, or even referred to his theories,
other than perhaps incidentally. Marx argues that value is created,
conserved and transferred by living labour, and consequently that the act of
economic exchange by itself cannot add or subtract one atom of value in this

Goods can trade above or below that value, but if product-values "regulate"
exchange, then it could be argued that the exchange of newly produced goods
traded above their value must be offset by other newly produced goods traded
below their value. It is not that the act of exchange "conserves"
product-values however, but that the act of exchange itself cannot affect
the quantity of the new value produced. It can only re-allocate the
ownership of that quantity, such that more of the new value produced is
realised here, and less there.

When Marx talks about "laws of motion" and "inevitability", there is IMO no
particular theoretical conflict or tension in his thought, unless you argue
that efficacious human choices made on the basis of free will are
incompatible with, or contradict, determinism. However, as Ernest Mandel
once suggested with his concept of "parametric determinism"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parametric_determinism, they are quite
compatible, in fact, in human affairs, free will and determinism presuppose
each other. In a world of chaos and randomness, free will effects nothing,
or at least can have no knowable effect.

Hegel himself noted that "in all necessity there is an element of the
accidental", implying that the same result could be obtained by different
routes, or that, while different factors could contingently advance or
retard a necessary process, they could not block it altogether from
happening (otherwise it would not be a necessary process).

The "tensions" arise only in crudified, anti-historical Marxisms which
operate with a deformed or schematic idea about determinism. In Stalinist
theory, as Stephanie Coontz noted once, "laws of motion" played an
ideological role, namely these laws of motion - which only the Central
Committee could truly fathom and understand - meant that the forward march
of history was inevitable, and all resistance to it was useless, and
therefore, if workers and peasants failed to co-operate with the Stalinist
bureaucracy's modernization drive, that could be only because they lacked
sufficient understanding of what necessarily had to occur according to the
laws of history, like it or not. In which case they needed re-education, or
perhaps a stint in a psychiatric hospital or forced labour in the Gulag.

A similar elitist argument is made by the Kojevian neoconservatives - e.g.
the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is simply a necessary aspect of the forward
march of human progress, it is just that ordinary people are too ignorant to
understand this, because they do not know truly what is at stake in the big
geopolitical picture (recently Mr Bush hinted at the threat of world war
III, i.e. if you don't accept a small war you will get a big war). Recent
surveys suggest that most people are now prepared to pay extra taxes to help
develop "environmentally-friendly technologies", and thus the idea of the
inevitability of global warming etc. can also be turned into a source of
income and profit.

Inevitability theories explain why people should passively accept inevitable
processes, but this is usually an ideology. A true scientist always
distinguishes appropriately between what you can change and what you cannot
change, and there is usually something that you can change. If you believe
you can change nothing, that is rarely true, that is more a problem of your
own perception of your personal capacity and willpower, or of your own

The "science of evolution" is not simply a natural science (see e.g. Bruce
Trigger, Sociocultural evolution: calculation and contingency, 1998). Living
organisms, particularly mammals, can develop social systems which often
cannot be explained simply by physical or biological factors alone, because
they involve a certain amount of sentience or social conciousness, i.e.
behavioural choices not simply dictated by nature or instinct, but by
socialisation and acculturation involving learnt dispositions.

Marx himself constantly emphasized a distinction between the social world
and the material world, arguing that the reifying tendencies of market
economics tend to confuse the one with the other. Thus, the political
economists often mistook purely social phenomena as natural phenomena. Of
course, if things are just "naturally" what they are, you cannot change
them, and so this idea has ideological uses for those who benefit from the
way things are.

After Marx and Engels had finished with their critiques of the
post-Hegelians, they had little use anymore for philosophy, especially
speculative philosophy, because they believed real knowledge came out of
mastering the facts of experience, studying that experience, using the tools
of scientific inquiry. Hence the notion of "the end of classical German
philosophy". Marx and Engels ridiculed academics who claimed to obtain
knowledge without systematically studying the facts of experience.

The "whole" in Marx's economic writings, is the capitalist mode of
production, defined as an organic unity of the production and circulation of
commodities. In precapitalist society, trading capital also existed, but it
typically did not produce and reproduce the conditions of its own existence
on any large scale, because labour and means of production could not be
universally traded. The traders mainly acted as intermediaries between
non-capitalist communities of producers. In order for that to change, there
had to be a confluence of many conditions - technological, social, cultural,
ideological, political, scientific etc. - which made the inclusion of the
whole of production in capitalist relations feasible. Once that began to
happen, a new social system emerged which, unlike previous modes of
production, was dynamic rather than stagnant, and had its own expansionary
momentum and trajectory, which Marx sought to elucidate as a law-governed
process. That is, the given system of property relations and trade gave rise
to a pattern of economic behaviour which had aggregate social effects,
explicable in terms of scientific laws, i.e. they involve causal necessities
which ruled out some states of affairs, and promoted other ones.

Unfortunately, in Marxism, students are often miseducated, insofar as the
teachers do not appropriately distinguish between:

- the existence of capital as such
- the existence of the capitalist way of producing commodities
- the existence of capitalist (bourgeois, bürgerliche) society

which are different things. And this leads IMO to many errors of social and
historical analysis. Likewise, bad ideas about freedom and determinism lead
IMO to errors of social analysis. In this respect, the influence of
Althusserianism was IMO particularly pernicious, insofar as it reduces
history to "a process without subjects" and projects a scientific authority
before any scientific research is done (for example, Marxism is "scientific"
even if it does no science and provides no proof of its scientificity). The
active, history-making individuals and groups disappear from view, and you
are left with sects who dispute about the correct interpretation of a
deterministic reality they are unable to influence, and who indeed are
mystified about their own lack of influence. .


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