[Marxism] The class nature of the Chinese state

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Sun Oct 21 10:49:48 MDT 2007

> Haines: "How can I get away with saying such provocative things
> without at least someone challenging them?"
> Why are you laboring under the impression that you said ANYTHING?
> It's like this: "theory of how social" + "theoretical tool" +
> "empirical specifics" + "satisfactory theory" + "appropriate mode of
> production" + "ripe for reconstruction" + "ontological status of
> theory" + "'scientific realism'"
> Grumph.

You string some phrases together and suggest that they add up to
nothing. Well, of course they don't. The phrases themselves need to be
understood, they need a context, and they need some logical
relation. As for the first, there's obviously no problem (you would
agree, I assume, that each phrase is transparent enough in itself, for
it consists of conventional words found in a dictionary), and so the
difficulty arises from your plucking phrases from context, throwing
them all together into a bag, and saying, wow, what a mess! But why do
you intentionally deconstruct any meaning? That's not a constructive
> Or in other words that your theoretical dick is bigger than everyone
> else's.

Not fair. I'm as allergic as anyone else to theoreticism - a good
Marxist term which refers to a detachment of theory from practice and
hypostatizing it (lending it ontological autonomy).

Please read what I said. I objected to a _separation_ of theory and
empiria and therefore the hypostatizing of _either_. I suggested a
discussion of a society or economy as a whole such as that of China or
the USSR could not be undertaken without a clear sense of the relevant
mode of production. I protested that people were not doing that.

Theoreticism is as fruitless as empiricism. Theory and empirical facts
have to be combined in some way, and I suggested the obvious way to do
it was to represent them as aspects of a process. Until they are
rejoined, neither theory nor observational data have any value for
understanding large-scale issues.

> Apart from that, I haven't gotten a clue what you're saying ...
> Y albergo la sospecha que tu tampoco. [And I harbor the suspicion
> that you don't either.]

Joachim. While there are issues on which I'm ambivalent, uncertain or
unclear, I certainly do understand the content of my last message. I
regret to find out that you did not. However, as a student myself, I
know it is very unwise to assume that just because something does not
make sense to me, that it must be B.S./merde/Mist. A student is
continuously confronted by things he does not understand; it's called
learning. Are we not all student here trying to learn from each other?

When a teacher (which I am not) sees a blank look on the faces of his
students, he must retreat and start again on a more basic level. In a
dialog, each participant is both student and teacher. A retreat to
basics is what I tried to do at the end of my last message, although I
didn't spend any time with it because I assumed that the point was a
simple one. However, I see the blank look on your face, and so let me
take this opportunity to expand on my point a little.

There's a long tradition of both theoreticism and also of strong
objections to it in the Anglo-European cultural tradition. To some
extent this divide is a function of regional culture. For example, a
noted British historian, Roger Collins, once insisted that theory is a
German vice (sorry, I no longer have the reference for this, but it
was a footnote in a book on Visigothic Spain of which I long ago

Broadly, we can say that the objection to theory arose because it is
incompatible with empiricism, which is a bourgeois world view in the
Anglo world, just as idealism is a bourgeois world view typical of the
Germanic world. Empiricism holds that the _only_ facts are the facts
of observation. Anything unobservable (causal relations, for example,
but also a process itself, black holes, labor power, strange quarks,
etc.) can only be inferred. Being inferred, they are constructs of the
mind, which, given Cartesian dualism, makes them fundamentally
different from the object of observation (Ding an sich) and therefore
have no necessary "truth value" in relation to the "real" world. In
the eastern half of Europe, there was a strong bourgeois tradition in
which tangible things were instead seen as the actualizations of
ideas, of the inner logic or essence of things. This tradition is
still much alive (for example, see Nicolai Rosov's PhilOfHi Internet

We generally speak of this ontological contradiction between matter
and idea as "Cartesianism". It is universally accepted in capitalist
ideology (although I'm not entirely sure about some aspects of
Romanticism). Marx strongly objected to this Cartesian dualism, not
only to its neo-Hegelianism idealist side, but particularly also to
the ("mechanical") materialist side that disconnected the world as an
object of observation from our conscious activity within it. From the
_Theses on Feuerbach_:

  "The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism - of
  Feuerbach included - is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is
  conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but
  not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence,
  in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed
  abstractly by idealism - which, of course, does not know real,
  sensuous activity as such".

All I was trying to do was to explicate and update Marx's position
here. A (mechanical) materialism devoid of theory arising from our
past engagement with the world is as empty as idealism. The two sides
of this ontological divide must somehow be re-united.

How to do it? It turns out that this problem is currently being
addressed in the philosophy of science, which, has finally gotten back
in touch with the assumptions of practicing scientists. Its current
position is that theoretical objects are "real" - not fundamentally
different from empirical objects. This is the position of the branch
of the philosophy of science known as "scientific realism". That is,
scientific realism is the same as "materialism" in the sense that it
embraces a monist rather than Cartesian ontology. A materialism is the
consensus in the philosophy of science now _for the first time_!
It is significant that a) scientific realism is today the consensus
view in the philosophy of science, that b) philosophy of science and
scientific practitioners are seeing eye-to-eye for the first time, and
that c) Marx is generally seen as a scientific realist (if he were a
philosopher of science, he would have been remarkably prescient, but
as a scientific practitioner, he was not out of line with other
practicing scientists).

How can one reconcile a theoretical object, such as a causal power,
with an empirical object of observation? Although I'm not sure there
is a consensus on this point, it seems there is a widespread
assumption that we can only do it by considering all things to be
processes, where "process" refers to empirical constraints on causal
powers that define the probability distribution of the possible
actualizations of the process. Observables and unobservables refer to
aspects of a singular process, its engine of change and its constraint
of change. An empiricist definition of process infers it from
empirical distinctions in the static states of a single entity that is
presumed to exist in an imagined time line.

Yes, this is a mouthful, but on the surface it obviously seeks to
reconcile the part and the whole, particular and universal,
specificity and generality, being and becoming, unobservable causal
power and observable empiria, freedom and determinism. The present is
a union of the empirical effects of the past that creates the
probability distribution of possible futures, and so it also seeks to
reconcile past and future without the presumption of a counter-factual
time line. All I'm suggesting with this flight of speculative fancy is
that a materialism understood in Marxist and contemporary scientific
terms reconciles conceptual categories that bourgeois ideology
represents as being contradictory. 

I don't wish to carry this further because it goes beyond the most
basic level, which is that of materialism. Let me re-emphasize:
sticking to the facts, in the empiricist sense, is not a materialism,
but is its opposite. That's all I was trying to say. For large-scale
problems such as raised in this thread, besides the facts, we must
also have a theoretical grasp of what makes societies tick - we must
employ a definition of their mode of production. Only then can we
construct a meaning for the observed facts.

I don't believe anything I've said here is either obscure or
off-the-wall in terms of Marxism and of the contemporary philosophy of
science, but if I'm wrong on either count, please object to it in
specific terms.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM


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