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

wrobert at uci.edu wrobert at uci.edu
Wed Aug 30 18:12:58 MDT 2006

My impression was that Engels was simply trying to link up Marxism with
the leading trends in the social and natural sciences of the 19th century
(aka Socialism: Scientific or Utopian and the Dialectics of Nature.  It
also can be linked up with the Hegelian use of the word (it is important
to remember that the word die Wissenschaft not only refers to science, but
also learning and knowledge.) I read the use of the word 'scientific'
within contemporary ideological battles more than anything else.  Actually
the contestation over the word with the history of Marxism is pretty
interesting.  The best example I can think of is the way that Louis
Althusser continually throws the word back in the face of PCF orthodoxy in
order to demand a more critical and rigorous theoretical apparatus.  I
have some thoughts on the quotations as well, but will get to those later.

                                 robert wood

> 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.

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