[Marxism] Hegel : 'hopeless baggage'?

shaun may mnwps at hotmail.com
Fri Jan 10 10:35:55 MST 2014

dave.x wrote : Marx's words are not holy writ on stone tablets. 

SM : That is true, of course, but that, firstly, does not deny the absolute within the relative and the dialectics therein. Marx was not a historical relativist. And, secondly, it does not deny Marx's METHOD which is animated by DIALECTIC. And for very sound reasons. It is not really a matter of reverence and I am never reluctant in drawing attention to dogmatism and doctrinairism which, actually, is a fall into positivism. And you are, indeed, correct to remind us of the 'holy writ' and 'stone tablets' approach which contradicts the spirit of Marx. My response to your post was on the question of METHOD. Why, later in your post, you have immediately chosen to import and raise tangential questions of 'veneration' and reverence is a mystery.  I was drawing attention (if you revisit my response to your post) to the relationship between Marx and Hegel where he studied and critiqued Hegel as a theoretical source of his own method. Reverence has absolutely nothing to do with the matter. We are discussing method here not religious devotion or gurus. Quine is undoubtedly located within the method of the analytic and positivistic tradition. [A self-declared Empiricist.] And not within the tradition of Hegel and Marx. 

dave.x wrote : Marx began, and advised others to begin with the criticism of religion, something he certainly never forgot and his attachment to Hegel should be understood at least partially in that light. It is a spirit completely at odds with the sort of veneration with which Marxists have so often approached his work and and by holy proxy, Hegel's. 

SM : Marx's critique of religion was very profoundly influenced by Feuerbach as well as Hegel. We all know that Marx was not a dogmamonger even though some *Marxists* are. But Marx's critique of religion - as the foundation of later critique - was not a rationalistic, ideological critique (for example, as we get with Dawkins today) but a revolutionary critique of the objective social historical conditions which necessarily produce religious thought and sentiment. He wasn't pointing the finger, blaming others for being religious or trying to beat and batter their religious sentiments out of them by means of 'rationalistic' argument, but trying to grasp the process of religion's historical origination and development. Neither did he critique religion as a sort of self-denying philosophical ordnance to remind himself not to be dogmatic or doctrinaire. Marx's relationship with religion - as with Hegel and Feuerbach - was a REVOLUTIONARY CRITICAL relation and not a rationalistic one. It was a rational relation but not philosophically rationalistic. This was the form of his *attachment* to Hegel and Feuerbach whom he critiqued as a means towards developing his conception. And no more than that. It was certainly not one of veneration or reverence even though some *Marxists* do venerate both Marx and Hegel and, accordingly, lose Marx in this approach. Hegel, of course, was a Lutheran. And this outlook was expressed in the conflict between his radical method and the conservative edifice of his philosophical system. That he used a dialectical method to erect such a finished philosophical system is itself the positing of a contradiction. 

dave.x wrote : Marx took the best from what he found around him, the latest science, the latest scientific philosophy, in a critical and inquiring spirit. Those who wish to have real fidelity to his project should do the same.

SM : Again, in my opinion, only partially true. Marx did 'take the best', etc, but your assertion that Hegel is 'hopeless baggage' is, in my opinion, simply the rejection of a thinker and his work from which every "Marxist" today would benefit as a result of a close, but discriminatory, study, especially of his Logic. There is nothing reverential or venerating in this. We know Hegel is not any easy study. It is done for reasons of method and grasping the living reality of the rule of capital today or for heuristic purposes. In other words, these questions are not fundamentally or primarily philosophical but rather POLITICAL. What is 'best today', of course, does not mean taking on board an eclectic philosophical cocktail and pauper's broth of all the latest musings of the salaried ideologues of the bourgeoisie. We have to develop Marx in the light of all the latest findings and discoveries in the Natural Sciences, etc but that also means a critique of all the latest productions outside of the tradition. Where valuable contributions have been made, within and outside this tradition, this must be acknowledged and taken on board. It would be dogmatic and doctrinaire not to do so.

However, to emphasise, Nature is objectively dialectical - independently of human thought and existence - and does not require the presence of human beings to be so. Nature preceded Man and Man only arose out of Nature as the outcome of the DIALECTICS of its pre-human evolution. Nature does not require our permission to be dialectical. Sooner or later, if we deny the dialectical character of the world, we inevitably fall into theism. In relation to his disputation with Max Eastman (also influenced by the pragmatism of Dewey and James which was critiqued by Lenin), Trotsky asserted that those who reject dialectics have never maintained a consistently revolutionary outlook. And I subscribe to his thought here. 

In order to develop a deeper conception of Nature and Society we, therefore, need to approach it with a method of thinking which is animated by dialectically related and moving categories in correspondence with their actual character. But a method which revolutionary critical and inseparable from praxis. Even in the natural sciences, dialectics (compared to the crass empiricism and positivism that currently pervades it) would be more fruitful as a heuristic guide in research. We only have to consider the questions and problems of today's Physics to see that; e.g. in Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics, Cosmology, etc, not to mention the rest such as Evolutionary Biology, Psychology, etc. (See, for example, Horz et al, Philosophical Problems in Physical Science, Marxist Educational Press, Minneapolis, 1980 or M.E. Omelyanovsky, Dialectics in Modern Physics, Progress)

dave.x wrote : Marx criticized the facile and confused positivism of Comte, who wanted to 
set up science as a sort of religion. It should be noted that modern 
postivism doesn't really start until much later with Ernst Mach, whose 
writings heavily influenced many in German social democracy and the second 
international. In any case I am not a positivist but a post-Quinean

naturalist, the dual well springs of which are American naturalism/pragmatism ala Dewey, Roy Wood Sellars, the early Sidney Hook, 
and many others and the unorthodox marxist Otto Neurath, one of the leaders 
of the Vienna Circle and who broke with Machian positivism in the mid 
thirties in favor of a form of naturalism. I recommend the book 'Otto

Neurath: Philosophy Between Science and Politics' edited by Nancy

Cartwright if you are curious.

SM : But Marx was not merely addressing Comte but the positivistic conception as a whole. I have reservations about some of Lenin's work in Volume 14, but he also addressed Mach's positivism in this work. The Vienna Circle and their descendants, Popper, Ayer, etc have been pulled to pieces by the Marxist tradition. But to try to synthesise Dewey with Marx (Eastman advocated the same in his correspondence with Trotsky) is like trying to perform the work of a chimney sweep and whitewasher at the same time. I was not attacking you personally as a 'positivist' (which you unequivocally deny being) but rather the tradition out of which Quine arose and its incompatability with Marx. In his *Two Dogmas of Empiricism*, Quine writes that...

*As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer . . . For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing, the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits*

Is all this compatible with Marx's materialist and dialectical conception and the tradition emerging from Marx?

To finish, from Quine's autobiography, The Time of My Life: An Autobiography, which reveals his conservative and reactionary politics

"At Syracuse in May 1981 I received an honorary degree, my twelfth, along with Alexander Haig, who gave the address. Radicals dressed in bloodied nuns’ garb protested our alleged aggression in Salvador and tried to silence him, but he coped admirably and I liked his thoughts on public policy." (p. 452)



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