Marxism as science

Rahul Mahajan rahul at
Sat Apr 15 10:57:55 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
>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).

The significance of the Information Age for social emancipation is
obviously chimerical and at this point we hardly need waste any energy
demolishing a straw man like that. However, the stupidity of a few
bourgeois economists need not be the whole story here.
Interestingly, by my reading, Marx was prey to some similar ideas. He, and
Lenin after him, very clearly thought that a certain stage had developed in
the ability to and the way of manipulating resources by society that
especially enabled the formation of socialism. The points they made a big
deal of were:
1. The ability, because of the advent of industrialization, to produce
goods sufficient for all of society.
2. The fact that industrialization vastly simplified the complex division
of labor that had existed in preindustrial times.
3. The idea that the work of administration of government could now easily
be carried out by any literate person.
They did not, of course, say that somehow the world would become a nice
happy place with the lion lying down with the lamb because of this, but
they did conceive of these facts as symbolizing an important universal
trend with great emancipatory possibility. In actual fact, the modern world
seems to press on us the very opposite of points 2 and 3, while from our
standpoint, point 1 seems not to have been the case in their time, even if
it is in ours -- it also seems not to be particularly relevant to the
structure of society, because of careful efforts to make sure that we don't
all just wallow in an excess of goods.

>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).

This seems to me to completely against the whole essence of science.
Theologians talking about God and lawyers arguing cases start from their
conclusions and attempt find an argument that leads to them, but scientists
are not supposed to do that. It's true that one must always be informed by
some theory in order to do analysis, but for a scientist both the theory
and the expected goal is always provisional and may dissolve into nothing
at any time. Perhaps the essence of Marxian science is to discover whether
there is no way out of crisis, etc.

>.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.

This part of Brien's argument is clearly naive. I would say instead that
imperialism, finance capitalism, and the welfare state together form a much
more convincing and effective counter-tendency to the evolution of
socialism than fascism does (although we clearly see that fascism has its
place in the modern world).

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