[Marxism] Marx's "Newtonian Laws"- Reply to Calvin Broadbent & Joe Dubovy

Rob Lucas roblucas at lucasandblench.com
Sun May 23 23:45:38 MDT 2004

The point is rather a subtle one. Marx indeed determined a great many "laws"
in his work, and many remain very valuable analytical tools. Marx must also
be seen as attempting to create a valid social "science" to sit alongside
advances that were being made in the natural sciences at the time. All of
this is incontestable.
However, it is the status of "science" that must not be taken simply. Whilst
Marx saw the advances made by people like Darwin as incredible progressions
for knowledge, and stunning examples of the efficacy of empirical science,
he did not simply- or only- aim to create some form of social equivalent to
Darwinism, nor some sort of social "thermodynamics"; he actually saw his
work as somewhat more philosophically grounded than people like Darwin
through his firm Hegelian roots, whilst at the same time possessing the
benefits of empirical science. This is a very significant defining point of
Marx's work; that it is neither easily classifiable as simple empirical
science, nor as simple philosophy. I think, in truth, some texts are more
empirical (thus positing "laws") and some are more philosophical (thus

There are certain points on which dialectical thought can take issue with
empirical science's postulated "laws", which do not necessarily declare
these laws false or contradictory, so long as they are considered
descriptions based on empirical observations and nothing further. For
example, it may be easier to talk about "forces" and "laws" as distinct from
the things which they affect- as if physical forces were somehow conceivable
in separation from their manifestations in the objects that are affected,
but the idea that force is conceivable in separation from it's manifestation
is actually nonsensical.
Now, Newtonian laws give us a very accurate depiction of the experiential
world which we live in, but the "laws" themselves can not be understood to
have any existence in themselves other than as an abstraction (furthermore,
relativity and recent science has clearly undermined the apparent
universality of Newton's "laws" even whilst they remain generally applicable
to the universe as we experience it).
Marx indeed did sketch many "laws" as an empirical scientist, but he was not
only an empirical scientist; his work was also consciously dialectical. This
is one of the biggest difficulties of understanding Marx- grasping the
extent to which he was the one or the other. Whichever we conclude is the
more important, we cannot separate the two sides, thus we have to tread
carefully when talking about issues like the scientificity of Marx's work.
Now, just as with Newton after relativity, we may very well continue to
assert how well Marx's observations fit the changing world; how much his
"laws" do indeed seem to be precisely that- laws; but the fact remains that
Marx himself would have probably considered it an abstraction to separate
out and universalise laws from his work as if the laws could be separated
from their manifestation in the material world.

As I said before, it is not to denigrate the "scientificity" of Marx's
writing that I insist we consider it not simply as a system of "scientific
laws"; rather, we should not attribute an abstraction like "law" to work
which ultimately should be considered as at least as dialectical as it is
empirical. The actual meaning of this with regards to the validity of Marx's
work is subtle, but I think it is an important distinction to make.

Regarding associating this standpoint with a critique of Marx as economistic
or deterministic; that is not what I am doing here. Rather, I am trying to
salvage from Marx himself a key point that is so often neglected for
arguments on the one side or the other: the philosophical or the
social-scientific. I think to honour what is best in Marx, we need to try to
be on both sides of this divide; think the dialectic as much as the
empirical law.

Also, I would maintain that the "pragmatic" element is one which is often
neglected in Marx's work. This is understandable since there is generally
much more emphasis on description of social system, but certainly he
considered that social system to be constituted by acting, creating
individuals, and he would have considered himself in his work to be one such
individual- I say it again- dialectically engaged with society.

It's a shame the old fella didn't live a little longer to clear some of
these big questions up for us, huh?


> Of course Marxism, as social science, does
> not produce 'Newtonian' laws, since human beings can consciously effect the
> laws determining their (social) existence, whilst solar systems cannot.
> Nevertheless, Marxism does involve elucidating general laws governing the
> development of society- it is an attempt at an objective analysis of those
> laws in the same way that Darwin attempted to objectively elucidate the laws
> governing the evolution of species. The more developed higher species can
> consciously affect the evolution of their species, yet this, in itself, does
> not invalidate evolutionary laws or the attempt to formulate general
> evolutionary laws. Marxism is more scientific than pragmatic, and I do not
> think that Marx's intention was solely to provide useful ammo for the
> burgeoning working class movement. He genuinely believed it was possible to
> postulate generally applicable laws concerning the development of social
> forms. There are many examples of Marx doing this, including his belief in
> the fundamentally economic foundations of society, his concept of ideology,
> his concept of class, his conceptual distinction between the forces and
> relations of production, and his many 'laws' of capitalism (including the
> law of the falling rate of profit, the theory of crisis, the theory of
> imperilalism, etc.). If Newton was a scientist, then so was Marx. All
> science is dynamic, provisional, and related to its practical evolution-
> this fact does not, in itself, render the whole notion of science
> meaningless.
> I think, in the West, the critique of economistic or deterministic
> (cultural) Marxism has gone far enough, and needs to be reigned in a little.

> Message: 12
> Date: Sun, 23 May 2004 11:52:37 EDT
> From: Cnyadp at aol.com
> Subject: Re: [Marxism] Marxism, Science- Reply to Rob
> To: marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu
> Message-ID: <1d0.219ef26d.2de222c5 at aol.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
> Marxism certainly has a synergistic connection to the new science and new
> physics..these multi-disciplinary theories based on empirical work introduce a
> new goal for humanity..that goal is for  all humanity to ultimately
> participate 
> in it's   own evolutionary progression...reaching this goal in turn is
> impossible in the current society divided by class with  the great majority
> oppressed, at or below subsistence level and   unable to participate to
> collectively advance  a noble, global and cosmic future ...The social sciences
> and 
> physical sciences  are totally interdependent !
> One cannot progress without the other........

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