Marxism as science

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sat Apr 15 03:09:59 MDT 1995


In response to my "Kevin Brien" post, Rahul raised several interesting points:

>I'd have to say I basically agree with Brien's analysis. I never said
>Marxists were howling lunatics or anything of the sort. I fail to see,
>however, what bearing this has on the question of Marxism as science. As
>best as I can distill his turgid prose, he's saying that although there are
>many possible factors which could block a transition to socialism, there is
>still a historical trend toward transition. That's a nice way of putting
>it, but it's just words -- how do you test the existence of such a tendency
>and where's the proof that it exists? I'd say there's even more empirical
>proof for the existence of a trend toward the tyranny of global finance
>capital and multinational corporations.
>Rahul Mahajan

1. Brien's concerns with existential viability of forms of social consciousness,
the logical possibility of the formation of new counter-tendencies (esp to
the fall in the average rate of profit), and the relative autonomy of the
superstructure during protracted crisis all suggest that Marx's theory (as
reconstructed by Brien) cannot be understood as what Daniel Little has
called and himself critiqued as predictive-theory naturalism.

My purpose in quoting this passage was not to critique Rahul but to bring
out--let's say--the open dialectic of Marxism for which there is no room in
certain conceptions of science. I must say however that I am not quite in
agreement with Brien's conceptualization of counter-tendencies, while I am
at this point unable to advance a rival conceptualization.

It seems to me that the growing impotence of counter-tendencies and the
growing necessity of ever more violent crises are indeed predicted by
Marxism and that it is positively harmful to suggest to the working class
that it is possible that some counter-tendency may arise which will enable
the advancement of the  productive forces and assure full employment
(bourgeois economists would like us to believe that with the dissemination
of microelectronics the capitalist system has once again found an epochal
innovation which could not be predicted but will soon set the world on the
upswing of its next Kondratieff wave, as long of course as the state does
not fall into hands of subnormals and decadents and prematurely socialize
the economy).

In short, I think that Brien's notion of the logical possibility of
unforseen countertendencies may be an implicit concession to the bourgeois
ideology of innovation and "waiting out its dissemination", in which the
proletarian movement then becomes embedded, e.g., through participation in
worker retraining programmes, instead of strategizing what it would require
to win political power.

It is of course true that certain capitals may be able to stave off crisis
at the expense of others and attempt to enlist fractions of the working
class in such a project.  But it seems to me to be essence of Marxian
science to prove that there is no way out of crisis for the working class
as whole but by way of proletarian revolution (it is the utter realism, not
anti-scientific propagandism, which has drawn me to the work of Rosa
Luxemburg, Henryk Grossmann, William Blake, Tommy Jackson, Paul Mattick,
Tom Kemp, Walter Daum and others).

.I fear that in developing what is often a brilliant critique of
predictive-naturalist science, Marxists will leave the working class frozen
with the quintessentially bourgeois hope that counter-tendencies may
logically arise which will again enable a rapid development of the
productive forces.  And do so of course without the necessity of
frightening class conflict. But Lukacs reminded us long ago what long-term
consequences derive from the morality of industrial harmony.

Brien, I think, is unresolved on this issue, for the example of his
counter-tendency  is  fascism.  But isn't this to say that the only
alternative to capitalism is barbarism, not the logical possibility that
economic mechanisms may be found to reestablish rapid accumulation?  While
the older Marxists on the line may have had a more difficult time posing
the alternatives this way when people were waddling in the mud of Woodstock
(sorry I couldn't resist), it is I believe much clearer to this generation
what capitalism entails.

Ralph has raised the problem however of our sense of impotence in the face
of catastrophe--as the problem we have to confront-- instead of Marxist
party building.  This is a profound question, but I think I will be reading
through Robert Guttmann's How Credit Money Shapes the Economy. Sharpe, 1994
this week instead of thinking about it.

By the way, I just attended a talk on Rwandan holocaust where the Zairean
speaker reminded the audience that the primary obstacle to a tribunal at
this point is the lack of funds.

2. I think that Brien is emphatically denying that there is any historical
trend towards socialism.  He is bringing out the importance of a
transformation in the existential viability of forms of social
consciousness if capitalist breakdown is to be turned into revolution,
instead of healing process for capital through for example the process of
ever-more severe crisis-induced devaluations and centralization (which of
course may be accomplished through the barbarism of war).  Brien is
attempting to undermine "economic determinism" and therewith a certain
scientistic conception of revolutionary theory.

3. The suggestion of the tyranny of global finance and multinational
corporations recalls the the ideas of super-imperialism and planned
capitalism. This is a very important debate.  I will have to think about
it.

Rakesh





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