Marxism and scientfic "objectivity"

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Tue Jan 31 14:44:31 MST 1995


A few more words on the subject of what differentiates Marxism from the
physical sciences.

In biology, physics, astronomy, etc., scientists tend to accept evidence on
its merit. For example, in today's NY Times it is reported that "Particles
so slight they were long thought to have no mass at all may be some of the
most consequential matter in the universe, probably much more abundant
and substantial than all the ordinary matter in planets, stars and
galaxies." Scientists at Los Alamos have produced evidence that these
particles, called neutrinos, do indeed have mass.

Scientists across the planet, whatever their political leanings, will tend to
accept hard, physical evidence. Unless, of course, they are someone like
Lysenko living under the special, constricted and highly politicized
conditions of totalitarian Russia in the 1930's.

But I don't think we'll ever see anything like this in the field we call
Marxism. Everything by its very nature is politicized and subject to the
class position and doctrinal predispositions of the participants in the
discussion.

This does not mean that we should have dismissed out of hand Edward
Bernstein's arguments against the labor theory of value, or on behalf of
the reformist project on the eve of WWI, had we been his contemporaries.
But we should recognize that German Social Democracy had developed
class-collaborationist habits of thought on account of the emergence of a
labor aristocracy within Germany at the turn of the century.

So debates between Rosa Luxembourg and Bernstein would have had
much more at stake than whether or not subatomic particles exist. They
would have had an impact on how people live and what kind of privileges
they enjoy. The labor lieutenants of pre-WWI Germany would tend to
dismiss revolutionary ideas since they would disrupt the rather pleasant
relationship they had with the Kaiser's government.

Perhaps there are more opportunities for dispassionate, logical
investigations into contested areas on the university campuses, but for the
most part Marxism as a broad-based mass movement is as deeply divided
as the class whose name it aspires to speak for. For example, in the recent
elections in Brazil, the socialist labor leader Lula was defeated by Enrique
Cardoso, a "socialist" and sometime contributor to New Left Review.
Cardoso, who is virtually indistinguishable politically from any other neo-
Liberal politician, once upon a time was a persecuted political prisoner,
but in recent years has become rather accomodated to the status quo in
Brazil and enjoys a privileged existence.

You could put Lula and Cardoso in a closed room and force them to try to
persuade each other of the "logic" and "scientific" merit of their ideas
about how to improve the lot of the workers and peasants of Brazil. But
nothing would come of it. That's what makes for politics and its also what
explains the rather sharp differences that have marked the Marxist
movement since its inception.

Louis Proyect

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