[Marxism] RE: Science and Society [was: Challenge...]

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Wed Aug 30 17:39:13 MDT 2006

Science starts with observations and data, attempts a generalized
hypothesis, then tests that hypothesis with experiments that addresses the
problem of variables or its offers mathematical or other proofs.  There is a
social and cultural context to science, but the scientific method is
supposed to--and largely does--cut across those distinctions.

Nineteenth century studies of human behavior regularly aspired to
establishing them as a "science," but the "social sciences" are sciences
rather like the Democratic Party is democratic or the Republican Party
republican.  Same word, different meaning.

But there were many claimants to this.  Over the past few weeks, I was
reading Henry Thomas Buckle, an English scholar cited by early American
socialists much more than Marx and Engels.  He interests me as someone like
August Comte, who were seeking laws of history that would be comparable to
Newton's laws of gravity or Darwin's concept of evolution....

I'm almost certain that Marx never made such a claim and I'm not really sure
whether Engels intended to do so.  His claim that he and Marx advocated a
"scientific socialism" could have referred simply to the differences between
their rigorous data-driven secularist approach--as opposed to the often
moral and mystical imperatives that informed their predecessors.  (Engels
particularly addressed Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen in "Socialism, Utopian
and Scientific," part of his polemic against Eugene Duehring, but see also
Marx's earlier writings on "True Socialism," etc.)  They were, across the
board, debunking sweeping, groundless generalizations and trying to put
socialism on a materialist footing.  In any event, the differences can be
real enough without claiming Marxism as a distinctive "science."

And--while I'm not sure on this--if Engels was writing in German, he may
have well been misunderstood.  In the end, though, it's not important.  It's
quite possible Engels was wrongly staking a claim to have established a
science.  They weren't.

What they accomplished was important enough.

I think the notion of Marxism as a science usually reflects its being
accorded that status in the Soviet Union and the former eastern bloc
nations.  Doing so discouraged disagreements from the established, official
and "scientific" position.

Mark L.

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