Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Mon Nov 11 08:54:19 MST 2002

On Mon, 11 Nov 2002 15:09:33 -0000 "James Daly"
<james.irldaly at> writes:

> this
> reply to Phil Ferguson, who wrote:
> We got that [Popperian] line given to us in the Hist dept at honours
> level,
> in the
> compulsory paper, 'History as a Discipline'. And, of course, this
> was
> used as a log to hit Marxism with. Marxism was said to be
> metaphysical
> and incapable of being disproved. An evidence of this claim against
> Marxism was said to be Engels' statement that it was only in 'the
> final
> analysis' (or final instance) that the economic foundations
> explained
> social phenomena.

It is interesting to note Popper's influence on the Analytical
Marxist school, both positively and negatively.  G.A. Cohen
in his *Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence* makes no
mention at all of Popper, and yet his book reads to me
as a kind of reply to Popper, since Cohen attempts to
reformulate historical materialism (or at least historical
materialism as understood by the Second International)
as a rigorous empirical theory of history.  William Shaw
and Dan Little, on the other hand, do attempt to answer directly
Popper's criticisms of Marxism, and they both draw upon
Lakatos' critiques of Popper, in doing so.  Jon Elster
in *Making Sense of Marx* presented a version of
Analytical Marxism that was actually quite Popperian
in tone, including an embracing of Popper's methodological
individualism and rational choice approach to social science.
Curiously enough, Elster makes no mention of Popper, and
yet it is hard to imagine that he arrived at his views without
having drawn upon Popper.
> In spite of his disclaimers, to all intents and purposes Popper's
> philosophy
> of science was just a more finely tuned positivism. In its own terms
> its
> criticism of Marxism, interpreted, as it was by its own
> practitioners, as
> mechanistic, was justified -- and was in fact prefigured in Engels's
> panic
> about economic determinism. Even Althusser had to admit that "the
> lonely
> hour of the [economy as] last instance never comes". But base/
> superstructure determinism is alienated thinking. To my mind the
> answer lies
> in a realist (not empiricist or positivist) theory of science, the
> best for
> this purpose being Roy Bhaskar's. It also lies in seeing the
> Aristotelian
> cast of Marx's thinking (see Scott Meikle). Derek Sayer's *The
> Violence of
> Abstraction* is the best account I know of the relation between
> "economy"
> and "politics".
> Phil continued: I can't help wondering now whether Popper's approach
> had
> something to do
> with the rise of pessimism among the democratic bourgeoisie and
> middle
> class after the rise of fascism.
> Far from it, Popper's Open Society was highly successful gung ho
> Cold War
> liberalism. I used -- only partly tongue in cheek -- to beg students
> in my
> political philosophy course at Queen's University in Belfast not to
> read it.

> Comradely
> James Daly.

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