Historical Materialism, Scientific socialism, Philosophyof praxis

Charles Brown CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Tue Dec 26 13:50:35 MST 2000

>>> farmelantj at juno.com 12/23/00 07:17PM >>>

>Nestor: There is what I believe to be a good deal of reasons to oppose, as
> moments
> along the road to the completion of the Marxist philosophy, the
> "historical
> materialism" best represented by the _German Ideology_ (1)  to the
> mature
> "dialectical materialism" of Marx and Engels at their full (2).

Jim F. : In my understanding, "historical materialism" denotes Marx's
science of history, it represents his attempt to develop a scientific
theory of historical development.  "Dialectical materialism"
represents an attempt to formulate a philosophy of this science,
which many Marxists have sought to develop into an all encompassing
philosophy that would include not just a philosophy of history or
of social science but also a philosophy of nature, and indeed a

 The term "dialectical materialism" was itself coined
by Joseph Dietzgen, and was later popularized by Plekhanov.
It developed out of the philosophical reflections of the
later Engels as found in his *Anti-Duhring*, *Socialism:
Utopian and Scientific* and his posthumously published
*Dialectics of Nature*.


CB: Yes, and as we called up from our collective memory in the big "seminar " on this
on Thaxis, Engels uses "materialist dialectics" in _Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of
Classical German Philosophy_. The importance of its occurrence there is that Engels
focuses in that book on the fact that Hegel violated his own central dialectical
principle by designating the Hegelian system as a sort of finished cosmology. That is
the first principle of dialectics is that every theory, including Hegel's
philosophical system , is a finite description of an infinite universe, and thus
incomplete, a relative and not absolute truth. So, it is unlikely that Engels turns
around and makes the same error he highlights in Hegel, that is conceiving of
materialist dialectics as "the last word" on everything.

The laws of dialectics for science are more like the laws of thermodynamics for
physics. The latter do not form an all encompassing philosophy of physics, rather
important principles. Similarly, the laws of dialectics are not an all encompassing
philosophy of everything in science ,rather important principles that have wide
application in science.

>Nestor: In my humble opinion, this opposition lurks behind the struggles
> that were
> sparked immediately after the Russian Revolution put the Socialist
> ideas to the
> proof of reality.  One would be tempted to (over)generalize "a la
> grande
> maniere" and claim that what happened during these 70 years is
> closely related
> to the division between historical materialism and dialectical
> materialism, a
> division which goes far beyond philosophy as a disembodied parcel of
> mental
> reality (3).
> So that I am not in favour of calling Marxism a "historic
> materialism". There
> is no Marxism without historic materialism, but Marxism is far more,
> qualitatively far more, than that.

Jim F.: Certainly!  Many scholars accept historical materialism either
wholly or partially as the basis for their studies without in
anyway being committed to socialism or the proletarian
struggle.  It is quite possible for one to accept as valid the
materialist conception of history while remaining fully committed
to capitalism and the bourgeoisie.


CB: But it is hard to see how supporters of capitalism could do more than partially
accept historical materialism which teaches that capitalism must transform and be
qualitatively changed just as all previous modes of production have. In a way this is
the dialectical principle applied to history in that there are no eternal forms.

>Nestor: So that neither "historic materialism" nor "scientific socialism"
> for this guy.
> Hugs, and merry Solstice for all (and merry Xmas or merry Chanuka
> for those who
> don't frown at these simple things of life, sorry if I am unfair to
> believers
> in other Gods...)

Jim F.: The interpretation of the Theses on Feuerbach has long been
a point of contention among Marxists.  Adovates of a synthesis
between Marxism and Pragmatism from Max Eastman & Sidney
Hook down to Cornel West & Justin Schwartz have long argued
that the Theses constitute an essentially pragmatist statement
on the part of Marx.  on the other hand, Sebastiano Timpanaro
who has been a foe of pragmatist interpretations of Marxism,
has sought to downgrade the status of the Theses within the
corpus of Marx & Engels' writings.

CB: One wonders why this idea is not termed a Marxist idea within pragmatism  rather a
pragmatist idea within Marx , since the Theses on Feuerbach was written before the
Pragmatists started purveying their philosophy.


Jim F. :Dialectical materialism so conceived would seem to hardly
differ from a Deweyian pragmatism.

CB: Ditto, not to Jim F. , but to the Deweyites. How is it that Deweyites are not
Marxists rather than vica versa ?  Sort of plagerism and redbaiting for Deweyites not
to acknowledge that Marx's had he ideas before they did.

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