Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Mon Sep 18 08:40:02 MDT 1995

On Mon, 18 Sep 1995, Scott Marshall wrote:

> Chris S:
> >	Scott asks "who would argue" such a silly notion.  How about Marx
> >and Engels?  Marx argues that genuine human history begins when human
> >beings become the architects of their own destiny.  And Engels states
> >that as people "understand in advance the necessity of changing the
> >social system . . . on account of changing conditions [they] will desire
> >the change before it forces itself upon them without their being
> >conscious of it or desiring it."  The producers will have "a perfect
> >understanding" of social forces, under communism, which are "transformed
> >from master demons into willing servants."  Social forces will "pass
> >under the control of man himself.  Only from that time will man himself,
> >with full consciousness, make his own history -- only from that time will
> >the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a
> >constantly growing measure, the results intended by him."
> Scott:
> By what strech do you get this to mean 'human control over *all* aspects of
> social forces?' Do you take these quotes to mean that Marx and Engels
> seriously thought there were *no* variables that we couldn't predict,
> nothing we can't understand about social forces? I think that a misreading
> and a misunderstanding of Marxist theory of knowledge. To wit a strawman
> argument.

Scott -- I would say that Marx and Engels thought that collective
humanity could never achieve omniscience -- but that collective humanity
could come pretty darn close; what's a few unknown variables in the face
of what Engels states above?  Simply put, this is no "strawman" -- the
Marxist tradition is filled with Enlightenment-inspired visions of human
possibility, except that Marx and Engels left the job to the generations
of some distant millenium since currently, any attempt to reach this
plateau in the absence of material conditions, would ultimately be utopian.
The Marxist tradition -- well into the 20th century, even in the writings
of Trotsky, and in the thought of critical theorists such as Habermas,
continues to promote the faith that human beings will become on average,
Aristotles, Goethes, and Marxes.  We need a little humility here, and a
little realism, because as much as I'd like to believe this faith, "it
ain't necessarily so..."  And if, existentially, it is impossible, then
we have to ask ourselves what damage are we doing by promoting such a
silly notion, since it would take more than a race of superbeings to
create and sustain a socialist society.  It would take gods and goddesses.

					- Chris
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at

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