Praxis and dialectics: reflections on Tony Smith

fellini at fellini at
Wed Apr 12 16:55:22 MDT 1995

Hi, it's me again, Fellini

I am just trying to understand the idea of praxis; if my interpretation
is correct, however, it has some implications for the importance of
Hegel's dialectic in Marx too. In this regard, I would like to say something
about Tony Smith's article " Marx's Capital and Hegelian Dialectical
Logic" in the volume edited by F. Moseley. But first, I would like to say
something about Marx's critique of Hegel, in his _Critique of Hegel's
Doctrine of the State_, and _Manuscripts_.

My concern is not the formal part of Marx's critiqe, but its
"substantive" part. I think the substantive part of Marx's critiqe has
to do with Hegel's "uncritical idealism" and his "uncritical positivism";
crudely, Hegels' whole system is to explain the embodiment of the Idea in
the forms of appearances (or empirical forms), but since "Hegels' task is
not to discover the truth of empirical existence but to discover the
empirical existence of the truth,"  every empirical form, irrespective of
the contingencies through which the Idea is realized, is the _actual_
moment of the Idea. I think this is, the essence of Hegel's "uncritical
positivism". Therefore, Hegels' whole doctrine is a mystification which
we should get rid of.

But then, the question is how essential is dialectics in Hegel's project,
and whether we should take dialectics as a method ("systematic" in Smith
or "non-metaphysical" in Hans Despain's language) irrespective of the
project. Frankly, I do not know the answer, I only have some reflections.

For example, in the same volume Tony Smith's article appears, there is an
interesting article by Paul Mattick, "Marx's Dialectics,". Unfortunately
I haven't read it but from F. Moseley's introduction to the volume, we
learn that Mattick argues that Hegels' attempt is to derive his system
through dialectical logic and then to apply it to all forms of societies,
whereas Marx's logic emphasizes that there is no general theory which can
be applied universally and that the concepts in the theory of capitalism
should be derived from historically specific social relations
in capitalism. Then he argues that Marx used Hegelian logic just to
criticize the classical political economy which presupposes the universal
character of capitalist relations.

Again, I don't know how the argument works in Mattick's article but to me,
this historically specific character of capitalism is essential in Marx's
project. If this is so, then we might argue that capitalism's specific
character is given by commodity fetishism, and therefore an adequate
analysis of capitalism should be to "demistify" the system. Then, it
is possible to say that whether or not dialectics can be helpful in
understanding Marx's analsis in Capital is of secondary importance;
rather our emphasis should be on the peculiar character of capitalism and
its mistifying aspects. In other words, perhaps Marx's substantive
analysis is more important than the formal (logical/dialectical) part.

But of course one can argue that in "demistifying" capitalism dialectics
is still essential; unfortunately, I have no idea about this. But I
fail to see how dialectics by itself can emphasize historically
transient character of societies. Now it seems that Tony Smith
believes that Hegel's "systematic logic" is to be
understood "as a reconstruction in thought of the social world, a
reconstruction that begins with the emprircal appropriation of that
world" (p. 3)  [such a definiton, I suspect, implies that Marx had
misinterpreted Hegel in his criticizing Hegel's "uncritical positivism"]
But still, for Smith, "the method of systematic dialectics is appropriate
only for the [theories regarding the general nature of a given mode of
production]" (p. 27) Is this to imply that systematic dialectics cannot
sustain historical analysis and therefore it should be based on such an

Second, although Smith says that systematic logic has to with the
theory, he also believes that the knowledge of "necessary structural
tendencies" just reflect the real relations/tendencies. That is,
dialectics is valid for both the reality and its reconstruction in
thought; so what's the difference? (What if the very social reality
itself is in an upside-down fashion, due to fetishism? then, wouldn't
our reconstruction be also in an upside-down way? I don't know please
help) Also one can argue that this is an example to "epistemic fallacy",
our knowledge of reality and reality are the same thing.

Further, from my understanding, Smith suggests that once we
establish social/economic relations (in thought of course) then we can
derive necessary forms of social agency. Is this same with the saying that
social relations have causal primacy over agency? Maybe not, because
Smith also argues that "commodity", "capital" and "money" as relations,
not things, "are constituted in and by social relations, however alien
from social control these social relations have become. In themselves
they lack both independent metaphysical status and any causal powers. The
... emphasis on social agency remains true to this crucial thesis of
Marxism." Does this saying "these relations have no metaphysical status
or causal powers" is to say that these social relations are just
'fictions' which has no real ontological status, they are just abstract
models showing that only the level of indiviudal/agency is real (as a
methodlogical individualist would say). In other words, what is the
conception of the contact between individual action and social relations
or institutions in Smith? A lack of such a conception might amount to
asserting that some social relations like capital just appear to be real
because of fetishism, but they are not real. But if so, I think fetishism
refer to the fact that social relations appear to be relations between
things, not to the assertion that some social relations appear to be
real though they are not.

So, what am I missing here? Also, Hans Despain, are you sure that
Smith's conception corresponds to Bhaskar's? (I would like to stress
that these are not criticisms; they are only questions --maybe due to my
misunderstanding, I don't know).



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