Re: [OPE-L] Marx: In Our Time

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sat Jul 23 2005 - 13:02:49 EDT

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Marx: In Our Time
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <>
Date:    Thu, July 21, 2005 4:18 pm

Well comrades, don't get me wrong. I am personally not anti-philosophy, I am
*pro-philosophy*; it gave me more intellectual freedom than I ever thought
possible; consequently I believe in freedom for philosophy.

Push come to shove, I might even argue that philosophical preoccupations are
part of human nature, to the extent that *all* people ask "general questions
about man and world" at some time or other. The more the working classes
philosophize, the better it is really, in these days of professional
cretinism, although if that is all they do, then we're not much further
ahead either.

Michael Lebowitz's reference to Marx/Dietzgen is apt. But I think I am
correct in saying, as a generalization, that Marx himself believed the scope
of philosophy was drastically reduced and supplanted by the modern sciences
and empirical/practical investigation. This is proved incidentally by the 14
January, 1858 letter by Marx itself, I think it goes like this:

"...I am getting some nice developments. For instance, I have thrown over
the whole doctrine of profit as it has existed up to now. In the method of
treatment, in fact by mere accident I have again glanced through Hegel's
Logic has been of great service to me--Freiligrath found some volumes of
Hegel which originally belonged to Bakunin and sent them to me as a present.
If there should ever be time for such work again, I should greatly like to
make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence, in  two or three
printer's sheets, what is rational in the method which Hegel discovered but
at the same time
enveloped in mysticism.... What do you say to friend Jones?""

In other words, there was a problem, and there was something rational in the
mysticism, but it could be condensed in a few "sheets", and whether that was
an instance of *philosophy* is a moot point.

(As an aside, I recently visited Hegel Haus in Stuttgart; at ground level
they had these sculptures of women clutching their heads and holding up
shells to each other, with a curt inscription in German "this is how things
were in Hegel's time" or some such thing :-)). Funny how the mighty thinker
came from (what looked to me) a very humble home (nowadays tucked away
amidst shopping plazas).

I think Marx's original critique was primarily that philosophers of his age
pretended to be able to acquire knowledge by (speculative) philosophical
methods, which could not be *obtained* by those methods, resulting in
"twaddle". Rather, the generalisations and inferences from those
generalisations had to come from conscientiously working over the empirical
material, i.e. they had to be generalizations *from something*, namely
experience, observation and experiment, documented or otherwise. There was a
difference between a "Veralgemeinung" and a "Gemeinplatz". A valuable
generalisation was a *limited* generalisation derived from a disciplined
study of a real object (the German word is "bestimmt" which could also be
translated as "determinate").

I think Engels puts it quite well in his essay on Ludwig Feuerbach:

"The proof must be derived from history itself; and, in this regard, it may
be permitted to say that is has been sufficiently furnished in other
writings. This conception, however, puts an end to philosophy in the realm
of history, just as the dialectical conception of nature makes all natural
philosophy both unnecessary and impossible. It is no longer a question
anywhere of inventing interconnections from out of our brains, but of
discovering them in the facts. For philosophy, which has been expelled from
nature and history, there remains only the realm of pure thought, so far as
it is left: the theory of the laws of the thought process itself, logic and

Presumably if Marx had written a piece on "dialectics", as he said he
intended but never did, it would probably have concerned this "thought
process" in relation to practical existence.

As a matter of fact, I personally believe Marx and Engels were wrong on this
issue, just as Michael says I am wrong; a very important area of
philosophical inquiry Marx and Engels did not investigate systematically
was, for example, ethics. If they had done so, I'll wager it would have
saved a lot of lives, and prevented a lot of misery. I think ethics is an
enduring preoccupation in civil society, and that the moral dimension of
human life merits attention in social science (as long as it does not
degenerate in moralistic twaddle). That's my "Kantian" or "Spinozist" bias
if you like.

For the rest, I think Ian Hunt has pretty much got it sussed; and following
pertinent Hunt's remark, Engels "expulsion" of philosophy was really belied
by his own reflections on the "dialectics of nature". Having been bitten by
the bug of philosophy, as it were, Marx and Engels never fully escaped from

To change the point, we must interpret it, and that can get to be a big
problem, I can testify to that!


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