[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Sat Dec 9 10:47:13 MST 2006

> On Dec 9, 2006, at 8:19 AM, Haines Brown wrote:
> > Marxism is not about injustice or power relations, it is about the
> > limitations and potentials of the working class arising from
> > capitalist economic development.

> haines: this is just false. and I don't think you really believe it!
> and it enables joaquin type positions.

Yes, I do believe it, although you have to take into account the rest
of my post, to which I'll return momentarily. But to stick for the
moment your point that my reduction of Marxism as suggested above gets
us into trouble, let me make a very general observation or two.

There are all kinds of sciences, some more reductionist than
others. That, for example, quantum mechanics is an extraordinary
reduction of the physical world to the behavior of particles does not
in any way discredit its validity or use. All sciences imply domains
of knowledge, and we evaluate them primarily in terms of their
validity within those domains. That these domains are themselves one
sided and that we would like to unite them under the umbrella of a
more universal science, is a different issue. So far I suspect we are
in agreement.

So to see Marxism as aimed primarily at a scientific understanding of
the capitalist economy does not in itself invalidate it, although it
may bring up some troubling issues such as the one you
suggest. However, I will pro0ose that this is not really a
reductionism as the term is usually understood.

A view that I share is that Marxism is simply the ideology appropriate
to the modern working class. In other words, it is a world view that
is appropriate to the circumstances of workers today. From a
sociological perspective, it is natural that we seek to universalize
our world view and make it as coherent and consistent as we can.
Therefore it is also natural that Marxists seek to broaden Marxism
(putting to the side the extent to which Marx himself did that) to
gain a Marxist outlook on everything. Assuming that reality is
coherent, this surely can be done in principle.

I find such a project attractive, but exceedingly difficult, as the
uneven efforts of so many authors have shown. But the point must
surely always be that whatever efforts we undertake to arrive at a
Marxist view of culture, of politics, of race and gender, etc., it
must preserve a determanent relationship with the core of Marxism
(that this core can be or needs to be redefined is another issue I
don't believe is relevant here).

But of course the definition of this "core" is certainly relevant. One
approach is to refer to the classics. What did Marx, Engels and Lenin,
etc. focus on, and what is the essence of their approach. All had a
wide range of interests, but there are certain things that we perceive
as being their major contributions. However, defining a core set of
beliefs and representing them as coherent is not so easy.

In fact, I'm not inclined to attempt it on these terms. My own
approach I've hinted at in other contexts and so don't want to belabor
it here. But essentially it is to start out with the working-class
experience of contradictory development, and then ask how development
is possible and why it is necessarily contradictory, and to work out
from that point to address a variety of specific matters. I'm not
suggesting this is the right approach for everyone, but it seems to me
a very useful. To ask how development is possible and yet
contradictory, I'd argue means that we necessarily start with the
economy. My point is that we need to justify what we think of as the
essence or core of Marxism before we can even begin to talk about

> bhaskar doesn't fit your description here: ...

That is correct. But my definition is not about what makes a Marxist,
but what is the essence of Marxism. Bhaskar seeks to develop a Marxist
philosophy of science. That's good, and my sometime frustration with
him is irrelevant, for I sense that he aims to broaden Marxism, not
change its very nature, or, more importantly, to retreat to

> in your last post, you cited bhaskar's scientific realism and human
> emancipation: one of this this book's central tasks is to undo the
> fact/value split as part of making an argument for moral realism in
> ethics.  this endeavor becomes more clear in his dialectics book.

I applaud his effort in the book I cited, although if by "his
dialectics book" you mean _Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom_, I find
that book really clouds things terribly in my view, and so I'd
disagree with you that it is "more clear." However, this may only be
due to my intellectual limitations; I find Bhaskar difficult going at
best. However, your point is that Bhaskar is a Marxist and he is
applying Marxism in the development of a moral realism. To that
extent, I'm in agreement.

> the word "reductionist" is of little use because it's used so
> imprecisely.  all thought is reductionist. and reduction is built
> into good explanations of the natural and social worlds.

I fully agree, and I'm making some progress on a little piece that
tries to explore the point. However, it suggests that reduction as it
is often understood (in empiricist terms, which I call
"phenomonological reductionism") may not really support "good
explanations" as you suggest, but may in fact undercut real
explanations (for example, "covering law explanation" is really no
explanation, but a generalization of experience). However,
reductionism used differently than commonly understood can enhance
explanation. This is not OT for the point you are raising, for I feel
that a good Marxist reductionism actually supports explanation better
and enhances potential truth value.

I probably need to be more concrete for this to be at all clear. For
example, I would argue that Marxism's making the economy central is
not a reductionism as commonly understood, but is rather a focus on
what makes social development possible in the first place. Once this
is understood, then we are in a position (hopefully) of defining the
limits and potentials for development in all other dimensions of life,
such as regarding race and gender. If issues of race and gender are
disconnected from Marxism (such as by representing them in the
empiricist terms of differential power relations), we loose our
ability to really explain them at all.
> if people are going to call marxism reductionist about race, at
> least have the courtesy to study the best marxist stuff out there:
> say allen on race and gimenez on gender (there was a science and
> society issue recently devoted to these things).

Yes, but I'm suggesting that this "reductionism about race" is not
really a reductionism in the usual sense of perforce selecting a range
of phenomena in terms of its relevance and significance. That would be
empiricism, not Marxism (I'm not denying empiricism offers truth
value, only that its truth is one sided). I don't want to be
offensive, but to be honest I get very frustrated by folks who
represent themselves as Marxists, when in fact they are empiricists,
so that they contribute to Marxism's being blamed for the obvious
flaws if empiricism that it does not deserve.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM
   	 Dialectical Materialist        

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