[Marxism] My review of Philosophical Arabesques

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Mon Jan 30 15:34:12 MST 2006

On Sun, 29 Jan 2006 20:56:42 -0500 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> writes:
> (clip)
> As a work of Marxist philosophy, Philosophical Arabesques can rank 
> with 
> such classics as Engels's Anti-Duhring or Lenin's Materialism and 
> Empiro-Criticism. It is an attempt to defend Marxism as a philosophy 
> against a wide range of opponents, from 19th century idealism to the 
> kind 
> of obscurantist mysticism that was being churned up by capitalism in 
> its 
> death throes. As Bukharin put it in his introduction:
One interesting aspect of this book is how much of it
represents a settling of accounts by Bukharin with
views that he had held earlier on. Much of his attack
on idealism focused on critiquing the empirio-criticism
of Mach and Avenarius. Lenin, of course, had done
that sort of thing earlier on in his *Materialism
and Empirio-criticsm*, and to that extent, Bukharin
recapitulates Lenin's arguments. However, it is
interesting to note that at the time that Lenin wrote
that book, Bukharin's own philosophical views were
closer to those of Bogdanov. Indeed, some of Bukharin's
most interesting ideas concerning Marxist philosophy
such as his extensions of Marxism into ecology, owe
more than a little to the influence of Bogdanov who
was one of the pioneers of ecological Marxism.
Furthermore, Bukharin remained rather partial to
positivist interpretations of Marxism for quite a few
years.  Thus, in his *Historical Materialism*, 
embraced a positivist interpretation of Marx's materialist
conception of history, emphasizing that
the goal was to develop causal explanations
of history, which would take the place of
teleological explanations.  Furthermore,
Bukharin argued that "It is quite possible
to transcribe the 'mystical' (as Marx put it)
language of Hegelian dialectics into the
language of modern mechanics."  Bukharin
thus maintained that Marx's materialist 
conception of history should over time
lead to the development of a positive
science of society that would be mechanistic
in character and in which the concept of
equilibrium would play a central role.

As Helena Sheehan notes in her introduction,
in the debates between the mechanists and
the Deborinists in the 1920s, he was much
closer to the mechanists' side than he was
to the Deborinists. So it comes as a bit of
surprise that later on he should have come
around to a distinctly Hegelian Marxism,
one that drew upon such writings as 
Engels's *Dialectics of Nature* and
Lenin's *Philosophical Notebooks.*
In *Philosophical Arabesques*, he
seems to push the stick so much in
the other direction from positivism to
Hegelianism, that he arguably went
beyond Plekhanov, Lenin, and Deborin,
to arive at a Marxism that wasn't so different
from the Marxism that was being developed
at about the same time by Lukacs and Korsch.

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