[Marxism] Marcuse vs Popper: pre-game warm-up [3]

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.org
Sun Oct 30 01:33:38 MDT 2005

I may have a final round of proofing to do, but here is Bender's essay in full:

Frederic L. Bender, "Marxism, Liberalism, and the Foundations of Scientific 
Method," pp. 1-53.

This is the same Bender who wrote THE BETRAYAL OF MARX, one of the major 
texts of the sloppy interpretive scholarship of the Engels-Betrayed-Marx 
school.  It is true, though, that what came down to subsequent generations, 
including Bender's, under the rubric of "Marxism" or "Marxism-Leninism" was 
a monstrous distortion of the foundations of Marx's own views.  It was 
necessary to separate Marx from Marxism in order to recover Marx in full.

I hope this is not the same Bender who more recently wrote a book in 
advocacy of deep ecology.  If it is, the decline into intellectual senility 
could have one or both of two plausible causes: (1) it is one logical 
outcome of latent romantic tendencies inherited from certain critical 
theorists; (2) as the fortunes of the New Left and the new social movements 
declined, and times changed, the Spotted Owl Club emerged as a congenial 
center of ideological loyalty.

More seriously, Bender does a largely creditable job of summarizing basic 
concepts of Marx's Marxism and its implicit ontological 
fundaments.  However, as I argued in my previous post, Bender's argument is 
seriously weakened by his grounding in Lukacs and the Frankfurt 
School.  This shows up conspicuously in his treatment of the natural 
sciences, which seems to partake of the worst notions of the tradition from 
early Lukacs to Habermas (including by implication if not explicitly, the 
notion of instrumental reason).  I get the sense that Bender has got Popper 
wrong on a number of points, but even more fundamentally, Bender's notion 
of science undercuts his analysis of Popper's philosophy of science.  This 
is unfortunate, as Bender otherwise successfully skewers Popper's shameful 
ignorance in the history of ideas, his inept views of holism, historicism, 
and Marxism.

The full essay may begin to address some of the questions surrounding this 
approach to social theory, but it is just as likely it's not going to 
register with people unfamiliar with this type of material.  If and when 
time permits, I will comment more fully on the essay to point out the 
salient features that would clarify its approach for novices.

For now, I'll make only one or two points.  Bender published this essay in 
the wake of the heated social movements of the late '60s and early '70s, 
and with the waning of the New Left's momentum in the '70s.  The text, 
however, is abstract and thus not specific to any particular moment or 
strategic situation.  The question is, then, how one would relate what 
Bender calls an "anthropological-axiological" argument, i.e. one that lacks 
empirical specificity, to a specific site of political intervention.  The 
issue is no stranger to the tradition of anti-Stalinist Marxism.  The 
political situations of the mid-70s and now are very different, hence, a 
characterization of how these ideas apply in reference to what is going on 
politically then and now would have to be different.  Bender (circa 1976) 
argues that the radical movements of the '60s and '70s would have to be 
generalized into a working class movement in order to effect a fundamental 
power shift.  Not terribly different from what others have had to say on 
this score.  The only difference is that the meta-perspective, the notion 
of what the movement would aim toward and how it conceives of itself is 
predicated on a social ontology different from both the specific social 
movements (Blacks, women, etc.) and Stalinist, Maoist, or Trotskyist 
positions.  What practical difference does this make?  This is a question 
for political strategy itself, not a philosophy or metascientific 
perspective, which is to help explain the meaning of what is going on in 
society as a whole.  Strategically and tactically, one can only do what one 
can based on the possibilities of the moment, though hopefully oriented by 
the big picture.  Contrary to Popper's ignorant ravings, the majority of 
radicals in modern times have done just this, aside from currents of 
romantic revolutionaries who think they can subjectively impose their will 
on the world.  Even the phenomenon of ideological rigidification has its 
counterpart of critical self-evaluation.  One of the purposes of theory is 
not only to criticize the existing social order and its operant political 
ideologies, but the very movement one is a part of.  Without fundamental 
theoretical critique, how can one penetrate to the core of the meaning of 
one's historical moment?  This is a key reason why fundamental social 
theory, and not merely pragmatic wonkitude, is requisite.  What a shame 
folks inside the Beltway will remain clueless to their dying day.

"Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the 
truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to 
write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize 
it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a 
weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; 
and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons. These are 
formidable problems for writers living under Fascism, but they exist also 
for those writers who have fled or been exiled; they exist even for writers 
working in countries where civil liberty prevails."  -- Bertolt Brecht

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