My purposes in joining this list

Robert Peter Burns rburns at chaph.usc.edu
Mon Nov 20 00:03:58 MST 1995


 
     
       First, though it will probably invite ridicule from some
       on this list who profess to love and serve 'humanity', a 
       prefatory autobiographical note: 
     
       I grew up in a poor working-class neighborhood in poor, 
       working-class Glasgow <Scotland> in the 60s.  Because my father 
       was never paid more than a pittance and couldn't afford any 
       better, my 'bed' was a baby's cot in my parent's bedroom in 
       my grandparents' 2 bedroom tenement flat until I was 8.
       My sister slept on the couch until she was 12.  Cars and
       telephones were things well-off people had.  At least *we*
       had a <tiny> bathroom; but I went to school with kids whose
       homes didn't even have a toilet--they had to share a single
       toilet with no bath for the whole tenement.  I read the Communist
       Manifesto at age 11, and though I admit to getting more 
       'socialist motivation' from reading the gospels when I was 15, I 
       realized from a young age that Karl M was definitely on to 
       something.  My father was unemployed for 6 years before he 
       finally "retired" and my sister is, as I write, in serious danger 
       of having her house repossessed, with her, her husband, and her 
       3 kids thrown out on the street.  Am I strongly pro-working class 
       and anti-capitalist?  You're damn right I am!
     
       So despite what some of you might think, I am very sympathetic 
       to Marx's thought and to the intellectual and political renewal 
       of Marxism and socialism in today's world.  What I was trying to 
       do in my previous contributions to this list was to suggest: 
       
       1. that there are serious problems with adopting a dogmatic, 
       physical-reductionist, scientism reminiscent of 19th materialism 
       in today's intellectual and scientific context <see the last of 
       my posts on "vulgarities">; 
       
       2. that it would be better to read Marx in a more humanistic/
       Aristotelian/Hegelian spirit--as many more recent views of Marx 
       suggest we should <and on the basis of Marx's own texts, too>
       --so that we can handle problems about ethics and the role of 
       reason in history, in logic and mathematics, and in science 
       itself in a more satisfactory way.  You know the kind of thing: 
       we are human beings, not just collections of atoms <humanism>; 
       matter is never without "form" <Aristotle>; we are not just 
       animals, we are rational animals <well, some of us are, I hope>, 
       and our rationality unfolds and develops historically and socially 
       <Aristotle as corrected by Hegel>;
       
       3. that because of the blindingly obvious fact that, however 
       you add up the pluses and minuses, all previous *attempts* at 
       instituting a totally planned economy have not resulted, to say
       the least, in vast increases in working-class enthusiasm for 
       the cause of socialism, it is urgent that we think more 
       carefully about how we go about the task of using planning 
       first to subordinate the market, and then to make it wither.  
       I realize that whether we should call what these previous 
       attempts did result in, "planned economies", is doubtful; but 
       be that as it may, the attempts were *travesties* of what Karl M 
       had in mind, and that gives the point to serious rethinking 
       on this subject.  Jim J correctly pointed out that leftwing 
       priests are a distinct minority.  An even more distinct minority
       are those self-styled marxist regimes which greatly added to
       the credit of socialism with the international proletariat, or
       achieved *lasting* contentment for their domestic populations. 
        
       Now my attempts to explain part 2> were not very effective 
       because of the dogmatism and Dumainesque abuse that greeted 
       my arrival on this list, as well as the uninformed views of 
       part 1> that were on display from some others.  Many *physicists*
       <like Davies and Penrose, whose books I've mentioned>--the people 
       whose job is the rational study of matter--i.e. not just 
       "bourgeois/idealist" philosophers, are discarding scientistic 
       forms of materialism in favor of a more nuanced account that
       gives an irreducible role to mind and reason, and I think it 
       is unwise for Marxists to ignore this *scientific* development.  
       And as for part 3> Louis P tells us that he's going off to think 
       about things for 3 or 4 years, so I suppose I'll just have to wait.
       
       I came on this list because I have marxist friends like David 
       Schweickart <AGAINST CAPITALISM> and Rodney Peffer <MARXISM, 
       MORALITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE> whose ideas I greatly respect, and
       which I wanted to explore with sympathetic minds.  I thought 
       that given the fact that slaughtering priests has generally 
       not turned out to be a big vote-getter among the working class 
       around the world, people on this list would not mind too much if 
       a sympathetic priest showed up.  The Cuban Communist Party dropped 
       its ban on Christians joining up several years ago, so I thought 
       I could get by on this list without much more than a spot of 
       gentle rib-poking on the religious issue.  But no!  The pernicious 
       influence of a Jesuit education on Fidel Castro is revealed at last!
       
       I admit to now feeling somewhat discouraged from even
       bothering to continue on this list.  I thought we could respect 
       each other's differences over the reasonability of religious 
       belief; I didn't really want to get into religion, but felt I had 
       to respond when my intelligence and conscience were subjected to 
       ill-informed disdain.  I admit to using some condescending language 
       too, but I think a fair reading of the record reveals that I was 
       severely provoked.  I would prefer at this stage just to concentrate 
       on the ways in which marxist philosophy and economics can be revitalized 
       in the light of recent politics and recent science.  But if marxists 
       can't engage in these issues without insulting people's intelligence 
       and consciences, then they are going to go nowhere fast, intellectually 
       *or* politically--which I am sure you'd agree would be a GREAT PITY.
     
       A final autobiographical note: when I was child I was spat at in
       the street because I went to a Catholic school <these are fully
       part of the state system in Scotland, BTW>.  Since then I have
       always had an aversion to being spat at physically or verbally,
       and to bigotry in any form, Catholic, Protestant, or atheistic.
       
       Peter  
 




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