Monday, May 18, 2009

What I have written before on this blog refers, of course, only to the philosophy of Marxism as it was undoubtedly conceived of by Marx himself(from my own readings of both the "early" and the "late" Marx-if anything the silliness was worse in the young Marx) and the vast 99% of his historical followers. It was the "philosophy" that I learned as a teenager and later came to reject in favour of what Marxists refer to this day as "crude empiricism" ie the idea that facts matter.
There have been numerous attempts to 'reform" Marxism. Some of these have been purely political and economic, and, as I said before, I think that Marxism is made up of "sets" of beliefs that can be conveniently detached from each other. Most Marxists today, now that there is no longer any Vatican in Moscow or Beijing would agree with me. The "libertarian Marxists" are a long standing example of such. When Marx wrote 'Capital' he did indeed make properly religious bows to his earlier Hegelianism in the book. His mistaken!!!! claim to have deduced an inevitable end to capitalism, however, was more or less backed by a very restricted set of economic data that he abstracted beyond the evidence to some "general laws" that didn't exist in reality. His efforts in this case were, of course, influenced by his earlier Hegelianism in that, just as he was incapable of understanding some very simple mathematics he was also incapable of understanding the "scientific method" that was gaining ground in his time. He honestly believed that his mental calculus of abstractions was "scientific", in a bizarre sense no longer current in the modern world and only current in some countries in his own time.
I want to leave aside, for the moment, the assertions that have been made by Marx and his followers on other matters. These are best dealt with under headings such as "historical materialism" , "Marxist economics","Marxist sociology", "Marxist anthropology" and "Marxist political theory". To be honest the only places where I see a Marxist "approach" as valuable is in "historical materialism" and "Marxist sociology", and even there I see Marxism as merely (at best) a starting point and a model for things that are far more complex than Marx could conceive in his limited mind. to Marxist philosophy ie "dialectical materialism" I will similarly leave aside those post modernist word spinners who basically have nothing to say. I advise the reader who wants to waste their time over such matters to take pretty well any paragraph of their writings and parse it as to grammar to see if it actually says anything. I also advise the use of a dictionary as the primary tool to see how empty such things are. Check the unfamiliar words such as "epistemology", "hermeneutics" or even "hegemony" and NOTICE just how much the post modernists use such words without knowing what they mean. They sound "intellectual", but they mean nothing. This, however, is the realm of academic curricula vitae, something as far removed from an honest search for truth in our modern world as the Oprah Winfrey Show is. Plato has spun so much in his grave that he is half way to the centre of the Earth by now.
Aside from the silly what is "dialectical materialism" today. I'll say it plainly, a collection of truisms and platitudes that are pretty well obvious and need no grand philosophical "gathering" into a system. Such truisms include the following:
**everything exists in history. Nothing is permanent. Oh!!!
**it is often useful to examine a thing in its historical development. Oh!!!
**in social situations there are conflicts. Oh!!!
**one can, if one wants (though one loses a better grasp of reality by doing so) reduce any situation/conflict to an abstraction of binary opposites. One wonders why one would attempt to do so.
**one can pretend !!! that social reality is the same as intellectual abstractions and their "contradictions" and "syntheses", but this approach has no predictive value whatsoever.
Dialectical materialism has little (nothing ?) whatsoever to do with the original Greek idea of "dialectic" which meant a process of accepting and drawing conclusions from an opponents argument to finally result in a reductio ad absurdem. In conclusion I reject the philosophical underpinnings of Marxism in toto. There is nothing there of any value.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Wow, this is actually a very large subject to tackle. It is an unfortunate fact that Marxism has pretty much been the overwhelming ideology that has been adopted by radical (and not so radical) opponents to the present order for over a century. Even anarchists, where they should have known better ie where they were a mass movement, often adopted Marxism in a reflexive way, just like Bakunin once did because of the limitations of his time and place.

To put in bluntly Molly agrees with practically none of the statements of Marxism insofar as they have any meaning in any modern language. She agrees with exactly one emphasis, but her agreement is hedged by some very extensive caveats. My general opinion, for what it is worth, is that Marxism, as the historically demonstrated ideological justification of a new ruling class, has pretty well no values that anarchism can accept and use. Even this new Marxist ruling class has been proven by events/facts to have been an useless historical detour in the "perfection of managerial society". Other forms of managerialism have been proved to be much more viable and productive. It failed plain and simple.

But let's begin at the beginning, with the most absolutely useless and strange aspect of Marxism ie "dialectical materialism". Please note that this matter has been extensively discussed over at the Anarchist Black Cat discussion board under their "Map Making" section. Most(but not all) of what I will say below has been covered there, along with the replies of people more sympathetic to Marxism. Unfortunatly the discussion wandered off into "historical materialism" which is really an amalgam of Marxist economics and sociology, rather than Marxist "philosophy". When the pronouncements of Marxists, including Marx, on such subjects are given they may bow to "dialectics", but their attempt to argue is very much muddied by what most of us consider a proper way of arguing. "Dialectics" is merely brought in as an extra justification- just as "the will of God" would be brought in in an intelligent prognosis by a religious fundamentalist ie as a last resort and "proof" of the coherence of the world view.. THAT is Marxism- a substitute for religion.

Please also note that I will be discussing Marxism as it has been interpreted by well over 99.99% of its adherents, including whole populations of certain very populous countries such as the USSR and China. There is a move afoot in the western academy to redefine Marxist dialectics. What this results in is the corruption of the word so that it has no real meaning whatsoever. It can mean whatever the speaker says it does. I hate to say the following, but, as somebody well familiar with animal behavior, this strikes me as nothing more than display behavior whose only goal is to establish the position of the speaker in some bizarre academic/leftist dominance hierarchy. Whenever such reformers of Marxist philosophy put forward their propositions they are pretty well inevitably doing two things: 1) saying something totally different from both what Marx said and what the vast,vast, vast majority of his followers have said throughout history and 2) saying in a "fancy" way what could be better said in plain English (or French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic or whatever). In other words "truisms" disguised as some sort of revelation only available to the "enlightened".

When I do attempt to tackle the meaningless word that "dialectics" has become I will try and give fair warning to the readers. Other than that, let's see what dialectics meant to Marx and the 99.99% of his followers.

The essential idea of "dialectics" is actually quite simple- and simplistic. It derived from the Hegelian philosophy that Marx imbibed as a student in Germany in the early 1800s. It simply says that you can take any situation and look at it as a binary opposition of abstractions that contend against each other until the conflict results in a new situation called a "synthesis". Hegel believed that these "contradictions" of "thesis" and "anti-thesis" were purely in the realm of ideas. In actual fact this may be an useful way to describe the progress (?) of academic philosophy, though its application to the world outside of the academy is doubtful in the extreme.

Marx made the supposition that you could use this method of viewing things to describe human history outside of the realm of ideas. The sound of huge distant thundering is the sound of the tens (hundreds ?) of millions of Marxists trying to hammer the square pegs of reality into the round holes of their ideology. Of course !!!!!!!!! human history doesn't work that way. It is a true tribute to the power of the modern academy that the first comment at the Anarchist Black Cat website on this subject was saying that Marxism was exactly what it is not ie a theory of "multiple causation", known in present day jargon as "complexity". Personally I find this very sad. The responsibility of leftist intellectuals should be to 1)teach facts!!!!!!!!(though I know that "facts" are anathema to many academics. leftist and otherwise) and, more importantly, 2)teach how to think in a "radical" questioning way. I know that a lot of these academics were semi-educated themselves- at best, but I would like to imagine that they could have overcome the bullshit of their ancient Maoist professors by individual effort with a commitment to truth. I guess not.

But here we are with the original meaning of "dialectics" in the Marxist sense. I have no doubt that one can divide up any situation into binary opposites and have a great intellectual exercise about their "contradiction". But what on God's green Earth does this add to a description in common sense language ? I say nothing!!!!!! In actual fact it obscures much more than it reveals. As the history of Marxism demonstrates it has allowed the advocates of a new ruling class to totally ignore the reality of what they have created.

As I must admit I am not an expert on Marxism. I have merely read everything written by him up to the end of 1848, the first two volumes of Capital and half of volume 3 (I gave upon due to boredom), and various works between these dates such as 'The Civil War in France' and 'The Eighteenth Brumaire'. In other words I have read more of Marx than the great 99.99% of Marxists and, once more, and I don't consider myself an expert. on the other hand I would be totally willing to set my knowledge of Marxism against that of the average Marxist university professor today. Especially as I don't have to bullshit because of academic fads.

But let's return to the original premise of this blog- dialectical materialism. In Capital Marx "attempted" to be scientific according to the definition that is common today. He took very limited empirical data and extrapolated from them to the "inevitable" demise of capitalism. That's fine. He was wrong, and his mistake was obvious over 100 years ago when Bernstein wrote the book presently called 'Evolutionary Socialism' in English. That's fine as well too; in the early years of the 20th century Bernstein operated from what is our modern definition of "science" ie that a theory should make predictions that are falsifiable. By Bernstein's definition- which is the same as our own today- what Marx predicted was wrong, and socialist ideology had to be adjusted accordingly.

Bernstein also recognized the semi-religious nature of "dialectics" and criticized it as an irrelevance, though that was hardly the heart of his so-called "revisionism". To say the least the term "scientific socialism" is inappropriate in our present age, and has been inappropriate for over 1oo years. In the days when Marx was conning the much more creative and intelligent Engels to support him financially "scientific" had a totally different meaning than it does today. At that time it could include any and every fantastical speculation of any "philosopher". Today we have a a totally different and more exacting definition of "scientific" (outside of the true believers in post modernism in the academy of course). Nowadays we believe that "scientific" demands the presentation of a wide range of actual facts which will be challenged in a collective way by others. In the days of Marx it demanded little more than taking a name and playing with it in some intellectual calculus by hammering it into categories. Such a sad definition of "scientific" !!!!!

Marx's view is, of course, silly from an intellectual point of view. You choose the so-called "thesis" and the 'anti-thesis" arbitrarily, and then you get to define the so-called "synthesis" as a situation that you want to come about. this was the great belief in the inevitability of socialism that informed the millions of Marxists in history who believed in this nonsense.
Teleology(the ideas that the future is predetermined via "development") is, of course, part and parcel of the Marxist philosophy of "dialectical materialism". It has spilled over into other parts of Marxism, but it is very much detachable from them.
Hence my first entry on this question, directed to the silliest part of Marxism. Other entries will deal with matters that are much closer to reality.