‘Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto: A Reader’s Guide’ reviewed by Garrett Pierman


Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto: A Reader’s Guide

Bloomsbury Academic, London and New York, 2015. 192pp., £14.99 pb
ISBN 9781472512369

Reviewed by Garrett Pierman

About the reviewer

Garrett Pierman is pursuing a PhD in political theory at Florida International University. His work …

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Peter Lamb, in his Reader’s Guide to the Manifesto of the Communist Party seeks not only to give the reader a simplified summary of this revolutionary pamphlet, but to accomplish several other goals as well. First, the author gives succinct but not incomplete biographical sketches of Marx and Engels from their early lives as students, drawing important links to the thinking of Hegel as well as the writings that preceded the Manifesto itself. Following the biographical section, Lamb goes on to give fairly broad and understandable summaries of themes important to the understanding of the Manifesto and Marxism more broadly, including historical materialism, class struggle (and accompanying terms, of course) as well as making clear the shortcomings of Marx’s own writings and the lack of a clear program for the continuation of praxis after the proletarian revolution. Concluding his explicitly thematic section, the author dives into his analysis of the Manifesto, which covers the work more or less paragraph by paragraph. Each section of the analysis concludes with study questions which may aid students in checking their understanding or provide instructors with ideas for quiz questions. This analysis concludes with treatments of the various Prefaces of versions of the Manifesto that have been printed over the years which essentially present the early critiques of the body of the work, especially the lack of a clear revolutionary plan to accompany the fervor. A final analytical section gives the reader a history of the work, from its slow reception into European thinking of the late nineteenth century to its being co-opted into Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution. The concluding remarks consist of a `further reading’ section that includes biographies of Marx and Engels, other translations of the Manifesto and a limited selection of works on Marxism more broadly.

As a reader’s guide, Lamb clearly intends the book to be an instructional companion to the Manifesto: it should be clearly noted that the work is not meant to stand alone. In fact, the author explicitly specifies an edition of the Manifesto that he recommends as a companion and makes references to the pagination of the edition published by the Yale University Press in 2012. The work makes limited mentions to other works of communist thought, most notably in a passing reference to Lenin’s work on imperialism, but does not attempt to further a research agenda per se. Simply put, Lamb intends his work to help students who are new to Marxism to navigate the sometimes confusing theoretical waters. In doing so, the work is largely successful. The language used is accessible without venturing into the realm of condescension. After a careful reading of the book, I would expect a neophyte undergraduate to be able to explain Marx and Engels’ view of history as well as the roles of the proletariat and bourgeoisie both in industrial capitalism as well as the revolutionary recommendations made by the authors of the Manifesto. In that sense, no new ground is broken and that is no disparaging remark. Rather, the book serves to formalize into writing what a good lecture introducing students to Marxism ought to cover and leaves the reader with a clear idea of the major themes at work within classical Marxism.

Some of the finer points of the book are deserving of special attention and praise. In his chapter overviewing the major themes, Lamb makes sure to outline the concepts of the bourgeoisie, proletariat, and capital early on in the work (17). This gives students a strong basis upon which to base the rest of their reading. Additionally, Lamb provides instructors with questions that would be perfectly suited for a short-answer type of quiz, such as “In the series of epochs through which history progressed what did Marx suggest was different about the one which he was experiencing” (59)? In addition, the author’s treatment of the influence of Lenin on what would become the Bolshevik revolution, in which he discusses Lenin’s development of the idea of a professional revolutionary class and explicit revolutionary program, give astute students a better idea of how Marx’s ideas could be transformed to a commentary on the working class into a revolution in an agrarian state, though there is little on Lenin’s rejection of the idea that the revolutionary class needed to be urban in nature as Marx himself specifies.

As it stands, the book provides a useful framework in getting a basic understanding of classical Marxism. There are several areas of the book, however, that could use reorganization for the sake of clarity in making students conversant with Marxist thought beyond the Manifesto. Two examples illustrate my point nicely. The first is in Lamb’s explanation of the materialist conception of history, which appears early on in the book (13-15). While this short section does a nice job explaining that Marx conceived of different epochs as differing sets of relations of production and modes of production, but does not clearly differentiate between the two either in this section or the book as a whole. This theoretical muddiness could be easily rectified in a footnote, but without such an annotation, a student without a careful professor guiding his or her learning could remain unclear. Similarly, the ideas of base and superstructure are discussed in this early section but the terms themselves do not appear until much later in the book (60). Though this particular critique is mostly an editorial one, a slightly more fleshed-out introductory section may alleviate possible theoretical missteps on behalf of students not already familiar with the relevant terminology. Additionally, the difference between private and public property is never explained as such, though a careful reader could infer it; I firmly believe that such a distinction is necessary in dispelling the myths common to those not yet exposed to a serious student of Marx, especially the idea prevalent in the Western world that Marx would have us give up material possessions such as homes.

The second section which I find to be slightly underwhelming given the overall high quality of the book as a whole is the chapter dedicated to further reading. The section is essentially a listing of other works seeking to help a student understand Marx’s own work. To this end, it is highly successful. I would suggest, however, making several additions. For instance, Lenin is cited often in the notes at the end of the book. Making explicit to the students that reading the works of Lenin are also key to an understanding of the first application (albeit a perverse one) of Marxist ideas to the real world on a national level would be a boon to placing Lamb’s work within a larger field of study. Additionally, there is precious little said about specifics of economics in the book. With that in mind, recommending Ernest Mandel’s Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory may give students who liked Lamb’s book for its parsimony a similarly tight but deeper understanding of the more technical details of Marxist economics. Finally, suggesting that students read some of the writings by Stalin and Mao may also help in placing the book in a broader context of study.

In considering Lamb’s contribution to the field of Marxist scholarship, one must constantly keep in mind that the book is meant to be a companion text to the original work of Marx and Engels. Lamb, therefore, makes no major attempts at adding any additional theoretical posits beyond that of classical Marxism. Given the purpose of the work, I find the lack of theoretical contribution to be no hindrance to the quality of the work as a whole. Rather than attempting to posit new theory, Lamb explains, with a great deal of success, the major themes and ideas present in the Manifesto. Essentially, the author sets out to give students a look into the world of early Marxist thought through clear language and mostly careful structuring of the book. Overall, I find Lamb’s contribution to be useful in the context of a possible companion to primary texts in undergraduate courses intended to introduce students to political theories. Lamb’s reader’s guide to Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto is a fairly good supplement to, but not replacement for, a solid undergraduate lecture series on classical Marxism. Instructors who feel as though their current syllabi do not spend enough time explaining Marxism may do well to consider adding Lamb’s book as a recommended reading.

24 July 2015

12 comments

  1. ” … the shortcomings of Marx’s own writings and the lack of a clear program for the continuation of praxis after the proletarian revolution. ”
    People often make this complaint. In my humble opinion, it is usually made by critics who have no understanding of the development of scientific knowledge. Marx was making a scientific analysis of capitalism up to his time. Someone [I forget who????] said the only science is history. All scientists accept the underlying concept now. In addition to his scientific work, Marx and the others were political agitators. They wrote, quite correctly, in my view, how to tackle immediate problems. No competent scientist would ever presume to explain how 22nd Century scientists should do their work. The building of socialism is a novel task that must be approached with humility and enough courage to be innovative, answering the immediate real problems of the time and place.
    That Marx did NOT presume to tell future generations what to do in future unknown circumstances shows the depth of his understanding.

    ” … With that in mind, recommending Ernest Mandel’s Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory may give students who liked Lamb’s book for its parsimony a similarly tight but deeper understanding of the more technical details of Marxist economics.”
    Or perhaps the text by Paul Sweezy entitled ” The theory of capitalist development.”, first published in 1942, which should be read like Marx, as a contribution to the science of human society. They should not be read as the final definite texts on this science.
    I do not necessarily endorse either text.

  2. Science grows, its paradigms shift [e.g. Newton -> Einstein-> Quantum], but some of its fundamental principles – its basic epistemology – remain unchanged. This is also true of the Marxian theory: Enshrined in it is a view of human society and history, which is not to be compromised. The pre-eminence of ‘Mode of Production’ for instance , which allows you entry into the heart of each and every social formation. It’s a stable core of Marxism.
    Viewed thus, as a MoP, capitalism is [i] a system of generalised commodity production [ii] predicated on the dualism of wage-labour and capital. It is quite clear in Marx that these two features must disappear in the post-capitalist era even if the entire superstructure of the new social formation cannot be announced or designed beforehand.

    Some thoughts.
    Sarban

  3. Sarban is quite correct. And Marx said as much repeatedly. But he did not prescribe how we are to achieve these objectives. Each revolution must find its own way to these objectives.

    The epistemology of science does in my humble opinion evolve. While the [ancient] Greeks and the [ancient] Indians and Chinese had some understanding of materialism and of dynamics, that is of development, the Christian Church suppressed such understanding. And even now serious and respected scientists can write papers with titles like; “What if time does exist?”
    Finally, a minor correction to Sarban’s history of science. A little appreciated fact.
    Newton –> Einstein –> Quantum. Einstein was one of the originators of what we now call quantum mechanics, although he later thought it was still incomplete because we lacked adequate empirical data. Einstein, unlike contemporary quantum mechanics finds time central to his conceptions. He shows that time cannot be regarded as an absolute parameter and that Newton’s notion of a stable ‘something’ constituting ‘space’ must be abandoned and replaced by a dynamic and active ‘space’.

  4. The review is, like almost all on this site, clear and helpful. I am troubled by the reference to Marx’s analyses, and Marxist theory in general, as “scientific.” This is an almost universal conceit among Marxians. To my mind it betrays a kind of scientism. It is as if no analysis can count as producing knowledge unless it is scientific. This is a philosophical claim. It cannot be established “scientifically” without circular reasoning. When used by Marxists ‘scientific’ cannot refer to repeatable, controlled experiments. We Marxists have none of these. How could we. Not all scientific methods are based on the controlled experiment model. Think of geology or evolutionary biology. In fact, there is no single “scientific method.” Method is specific to the discipline. Why not just say that our analyses are rigorous and accurate, and appeal to the myriad standards of cogency that we employ frequently in everyday life, and which have nothing to do with science, ordinarily understood. The scientism implicit in Marxian claims to scientific status is, to my mind, the form positivism takes in Marxist circles. Let us eschew scientism, positivism and other pointers to a certain lack of intellectual confidence among radicals.

  5. I would like to pick up the comments by Alan Nasser.
    Firstly, I would be much obliged if he, or anyone else would define the term “scientism” for me. Beyond that it is a term of abuse, I have no idea whatsoever what this word means.
    Secondly, is Marxism scientific? But of course it is. Firstly, one of the most important insights that Karl Marx gave the world, was an appropriate approach and method for the scientific study of human society. This parallels the contribution of Charles Darwin in biology.
    As Alan himself notes, science is not just laboratory experiments. Each scientific study must develop its own specific mode of deconstructing, analysing, studying the dynamics and history of its specific subject. Marx did this, at least in major outline, for the scientific study of human society.
    Next, I will assert categorically that the scientific approach is the only so far known road to knowledge. I know that this is a Philosophy list, so I will enter the lion’s den, mentally armed. Inasmuch as philosophy can and has determined true facts, it has become science. Ultimately, all philosophy must evolve into science or the study of the scientific method. There simply is no other path to knowledge than through science. Scientific knowledge is defined as true knowledge and I do not know of any other kind of knowledge. One must be very careful, as Marx was, to separate out the activities of individual or groups of ‘scientists’, students of knowledge, and the control of what and how science is pursued, from the socially collective corpus of knowledge that we call ‘scientific knowledge’. On the edge, some scientific ideas may change, but contrary to many assertions, Newton’s laws of mechanics are still true. Einstein did not disprove Newton’s laws of mechanics. He correctly pointed out that in their intended domain, the earth at human dimensions, it is quite correct. Einstein showed that when we move to much larger or much smaller scales then a modification of Newton is necessary.
    Alan confuses the issue when he says that there is no single scientific method, because each discipline has its specific methods. The scientific ‘method’ is not how you go about finding out stuff. The scientific ‘approach’ is how one tries to ensure that what one has found out is true. The trivial aspects of this are repetitions, both at home and abroad, and various checks of one sort or another. The scientific ‘approach’ by contrast, takes its model from Marx, who took it from scientific practitioners of his time. The Marxian approach to truth is; what happens when a notion is applied socially, en masse in society. Does class conflict exist? Try a workers’ strike and find out. Truth ultimately is found in social experience. This is the scientific approach. And in my humble opinion there is not other satisfactory path to knowledge.

  6. Sydney

    I am having some problems with your contributions perhaps you can help me out, scientifically of course!

    Can the scientific method deliver meaning? For example what was or is the meaning of the french revolution? Is science and/or the scientific method merely descriptive? If so how do we understand the meaning of events.

    Alternatively if science is merely a careful application of a methodology how does that differ from a prudent practitioner of voodoo?

    Why is it important for Marx’s works to be scientific? Does that make it true or correct or does it merely show that Marx’s methods conform to a particular (and peculiar) methodology?

    Does being scientific confer a moral superiority?

    What would be scientific ethics?

  7. Apropos of Alan Nassar’s comment, I would invite his attention to the distinction between ‘mode of inquiry’ and the ‘mode of exposition’ made by Marx in his preface to Capital. Empirical observation+
    dialectical exposition defines and constitutes the scientific procedure for Marx, which is applicable to all fields of knowledge. Conceptual appropriation [of reality], as Marx stated in Grundrisse, is what distinguishes science from aesthetics and spirituality.

    I would like to copy and paste a part of my letter that I once to the editor of a newspaper:

    As Jairus Banaji has demonstrated in his outstanding paper From the Commodity to Capital: Hegel’s Dialectic in Marx (published in Diane Elson’s The Representation of labour in Capitalism), “it is impossible to grasp Marx’s conception of scientific method outside the framework of Hegel’s logic… the method that Marx followed was a method ‘which Hegel discovered’.”
    It is remarkable indeed that the methodological references scattered in Marx’s writings express, according to Banaji, “a consistent and internally unified conception which it is impossible to grasp without reference to the dialectic, that is, to what can now be formally defined as a specific, non-classical logic type of scientific thought, a form of scientific reasoning and proof distinct from generalising inductivism, deductive-axiomatic methods, or any combination of these supposedly characteristic of a ‘scientific method in general’, e.g. Della Volpe’s hypothetico-deductive method.”

    Sarban

  8. There’s a lot going on here. Sydney’s substantial comments epitomize what I argue against. First, ‘I would be much obliged if he, or anyone else would define the term “scientism” for me.’ Scientism claims, as does Sydney: “I will assert categorically that the scientific approach is the only so far known road to knowledge.” Scientism claims that nothing counts as knowledge unless it is scientifically established. Science is the standard of knowledge. Scientific knowledge is to any claim to knowledge as the standard meter is to anything that is claimed to be one meter long. I can’t imagine how such a claim could be established. Certainly not by preceding the claim with the circular and question-begging “Science proves that …” That would be like trying to establish the standard meter as the standard by measuring it. And which science? Aristotle’s? Modern science is preferable to Aristotelian science, not because it mirrors the external world more accurately than its predecessors, but because it is instrumental to our way of life, which gives high priority to intervening in the natural and social world in order to make things happen that would not happen absent the intervention, or to prevent things from happening that would happen absent the intervention. Other ways of life do not embody this priority. There are surely gains enabled by modern science, but there are also losses, e.g. in explanatory power. Phlogiston theory explains why metals resemble one another more than their ores, which oxygen theory does not; oxygen theory explains the relative weights of metals, which phlogiston does not. Choice of way of life precedes choice of science. Predictable response: this is a bald case of relativism which compromises the objectivity of science. But the same issue arises here as arises re which “scientific” standard the scientism adherent clings to. Standards of objectivity are parasitic on standards of knowledge, and in this case on what-counts-as-science standards. More important: relativism does not preclude objectivity. The relative is contradistinguished from the absolute, the objective from the subjective. ‘Relative’ and ‘objective’ are entirely compatible. This is of course a form of radical Kuhnian-Wittgensteinian analysis that the comrades reject as Vlad does the crucifix. But I’ll defend it to the hilt.
    “There simply is no other path to knowledge than through science. Scientific knowledge is defined as true knowledge and I do not know of any other kind of knowledge.” I do. I know, and so do you, that Beethoven is a superior composer to Pergolesi. I know there’s a supermarket 4 blocks from my house. And so much more. I know that rape is a heinous crime, as is torture for fun is wrong. The citation at the beginning of this paragraph admits of no non-circular justification. It’s an item of linguistic legislation that renders most of humankind lawbreakers, and lawbreakers in the right. It has all the trappings of a metaphysical recommendation. I appreciate the advice, but no thanks.
    Sydney’s “what happens when a notion is applied socially, en masse in society” as a clue to the scientific approach is more congenial to me. It needs to be developed further of course. But this notion corresponds to no going concept of science. One is of course free to do the Red Queen and stipulate meanings, but this is to my mind not helpful when discussing this issue with those in another camp. But as I say, I am sympathetic to Sydney’s pragmatism. But this approach is not compatible with naive Realism, of which Sydney’s overall remarks are redolent. Kuhnian-Wittgensteinian relativism is what’s called for.
    And Eric’s comments re science and the discovery of meaning never occurred to me, to my shame. This is a very important point.

  9. I will start by thanking Alan for his careful contribution.
    Secondly, I would like to thank Professor Sayers for permitting this conversation. For my part, he may terminate the discussion whenever he thinks we have strayed too far from the purposes of this list.

    Alan says that scientism is:
    “Scientism claims that nothing counts as knowledge unless it is scientifically established. Science is the standard of knowledge. ”
    We need to start very clearly by clarifying what is meant here by ‘science’. And in fairness to Alan I will note that he has already detected that I have a view of science which does not accord very well with most main-stream views of what constitutes science, precisely because like Sarban [see his quote below] and no doubt many others, my view of science has been profoundly modified as I have read and thought about the writings of Karl Marx.
    In order to have a clear conception of what science is we need to start at the beginning. What is science? Science is the social activity of human societies during human history, directed at gaining an understanding of the world around us and of ourselves and our part in this world. Because this is a Marxist list I will cut away a lot of polemic and simply say that personally I view the world from a [philosophically] materialist viewpoint, and I must emphasise that I include in my understanding of materialism the essential characteristic of evolution [ or equally of development, mutation, change, history] ( others might use the word dialectics here).
    Now, the world and we in it are real. We can therefore gain insight into this world by careful observation and subsequent analysis of our observations. In my view this is all science, even though much of it is not performed by professional or amateur scientists.
    Now all scientists when at work are materialists, although when not at work most contemporary scientists are at best [philosophical] idealists
    Now we must address the question; what is science? To approach this correctly we need to note that in fact the word ‘science’ embraces three quite different meanings. Firstly, there is the corpus of knowledge which people like me include under this heading. Anything which socially appears to be true [ more of ‘true’ below] is in my view part of the corpus of scientific knowledge. Hence, Marxism is part of scientific knowledge because it is true. True means that is accords with reality and experience. Hence also, the observation that Alan and Sydney prefer Beethoven to Pergolesi is also part of scientific knowledge because the statement is true to reality. That a supermarket is 400 metres from Alan’s house, is a scientific statement, par excellence.
    But now we must also recognise that ‘science’ also means the social activity of finding out what the world is and how it works. This has two components, firstly the people who do the finding out, predominantly nowadays professional scientists, but not exclusively so. Karl Marx was not a professional scientist. These people who do the finding out are people like any other; they have the same foibles and attributes as others. They also like everybody else belong to a class and often, like many people in Europe and North America [ and on this list] have mental views which are at variance with their objective class status in their specific society. Scientists as people behave as all other people; this must not be forgotten. Finally, finding out stuff, that is scientific research in all spheres from cosmology to political economy is governed by the ruling class of the day. Consequently, what avenues are pursued and what is done with the knowledge obtained is determined entirely by the ruling class and its social objectives. Scientific research does have a certain momentum of its own, but there can be no doubt, especially in contemporary times, that the scientific program is specified by the interests of the capitalist class. This is explicitly said and pursued by the bureaucrats of the European Union.
    So this brief summary, should make very clear two things. Firstly, the corpus of knowledge which I call scientific knowledge is ALL the knowledge which appears to be true according to scientific criteria, defined below. Secondly, it is totally erroneous to suppose that only professional scientists contribute to our store of truth about the world about us and about ourselves as a human society.
    It is necessary to enlarge a little on what constitutes sufficient proof of the truth of any information. There are the familiar scientific procedures to prevent obvious errors involved in any observation; repetition, controls, social checking. But in addition, I would add another criteria to which Alan refers, I think. This is social experience. In my opinion practical, social experience properly observed is IMHO the mainstay of truth determination.
    Finally, let me say that scientific finding out stuff consists of careful, controlled observation followed dialectically [literally] by repeated cycles of careful social, logical analysis and consequent further observation.
    And finally, finally, the previous paragraph was not a discovery of contemporary style scientists, but of philosophy. It is worth remembering that for centuries what we call physical science was known, for good reason, as natural philosophy. In reference to some previous comments of mine, I will end by saying that I do not think of science as replacing philosophy, but that philosophy has been quietly evolving into science. And the more philosophy, of the correct sort, we have in science the better. The absence of philosophy in Anglo-American science is often justly, IMHO criticised.
    I have for moment left many other comments and sound questions to await the response of our generous moderator. If permitted, I will further comments and questions.

    Sarban writes:
    “Empirical observation+
    dialectical exposition defines and constitutes the scientific procedure for Marx, which is applicable to all fields of knowledge. Conceptual appropriation [of reality], as Marx stated in Grundrisse, is what distinguishes science from aesthetics and spirituality.”

  10. I think Nasser is right in saying that it is incorrect to equate science with knowledge. It is not an original point and has been previously made, e.g., by EP Thompson in his “The poverty of theory” – a polemical work directed against Althusser.

    It is also correct to assert that nature or reality can be appoached, understood and conceptualised in more than one ways. Ayurveda, Homeopathy and allopathy or the modern western medicine are three incommensurable ways of conceptualising nature and human body, but which are useful and effective. The truth of perspectivism and pluralism or the possibility of alternative ways of knowing reality in and out of science has to be acknowledged. As Levi-Strauss showed in “The savage mind”, the premodern science of the concrete was true and useful in its own way. The same may be said of the more sophisticated hermetic tradition of knowledge – from Hermes to Paracelsus and Goethe.

    I suppose there is need to specify the category of science as one species of knowledge among others and distinguish a variety of scientific approaches according to the way they relate subject and object (facts and values) and theory and practice (life and knowledge). Hegel and Marx’s dialectical way of knowing is a distinct approach within science and for some of better worth than others.

    In humility,
    Sarban

  11. I will conclude my comments with the question that lies at the roots of my general stance toward all the issues put forward here: “For whom are these discussions intended?” They seem to me to be aimed at a very very small constituency, academics and professional theoreticians. Thus the recherche elaborations of what should count as science, the importance of the “dialectical method,” and the emphasis on the indispensability of “historical materialism” as an analytical tool and, if i may, a general historical ontology. My reservations about all this stem from my experience for more than half a century as a teacher, and my sense of the primary task of socialists. The latter is to build organized resistance, an essential component of which is to educate. Here in the U.S.the general population has no idea of what it is to think politically and historically. And there is general ignorance of key factual matters. As a teacher I have done my best (the degree of success of these efforts is for others to decide) to acquaint students of every age and social position with both a way of thinking about the world around them, and important factual information, that might lead them to begin to see a duck where others see a rabbit. (a hoary but useful old example) Helping others to see the world differently, to appreciate the significant of both familiar and hitherto unknown facts in a new way is accomplished largely through the use of language of which students are already in possession. New terms of course must be introduced, e.g. the precise meaning of ‘exploitation’, which can be elucidated with no reference to the labor theory of value, the notion of ‘economic rent’, and other important notions. In no case have I found it helpful to employ the term ‘dialectical’, which is invoked repeatedly in our circles, most often with no clear meaning attached, or with a virtually infinite variety of vague and elusive connotations. Never have I found it useful to introduce students to the issue of whether what I am teaching counts as ‘science’. “But when you are dealing with more advanced graduate students these issues become important.” Not in my experience. These debates are for intellectual gentlemen and seem to me to be the equivalent of a philosophical question raised in the analytical philosophy journal Analysis: When you are told someone’s name, you learn not their name but the name of their name. This is a wonderful and useless brain teaser, fun to think about in one’s spare time, as a form of relaxation. Thoughts like the above have been defended, I think, by Nigel Pleasants (sp?) and his partner in polemics (can’t recall the name) with a degree of success I leave others to decide. The bias is strongly anti-theoretical, heavily Wittgensteinian. I don’t know whether I go all the way with them. But I am in general sympathy. With few exceptions, I no longer publish in journals, read by very few, but instead in widely hit websites read by teachers, students, workers, uptown academics, people at the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the US Dep’t. of Labor, etc. It’s astonishing how many different sorts respond to what I write. So much of what’s written above I could not discuss with “regular people.” That speaks volumes.
    I’m afraid further remarks on the latest comments above will be repetitious. I will end with a shameless plug, if I may, for my forthcoming -next spring- book United States of Emergency American Capitalism and its Crises. – Thanks to all for taking the time to reply so thoughfully.
    Solidarity,
    Alan

  12. First I must apologise to Eric Longley and to the Moderator for replying to Eric after such a long delay. I had not forgotten his post, but ill health intervened. So if the kind Moderator will permit, I will attempt to reply to Eric’s questions.
    I must start by saying that these questions are asked very frequently and are rarely accorded the answer that they deserve.

    Eric Longley wrote, on 17 Sep 2015 at 2:42pm:
    >I am having some problems with your contributions perhaps you can help me out, scientifically >of course!

    >Can the scientific method deliver meaning? For example what was or is the meaning of the >french revolution? Is science and/or the scientific method merely descriptive? If so how do we >understand the meaning of events.

    My answer is that scientific knowledge can definitely illuminate questions of ” meaning”. I am never certain what a questioner means by “meaning”, so I will take the liberty of replacing it with notions of morals, ethics or aesthetics. I believe that in general this is what is being referred to.

    Science, in my view is the social activity of trying to understand the world about us and to understand ourselves and our place in this world in which we live. Any and all approaches which bring us knowledge are necessarily then part of scientific endeavour. Scientific investigation is not merely a methodology, nor is it merely what is done in laboratories or in ‘recognised’ institutions. As Charles Darwin and Karl Marx have demonstrated science can be done anywhere. Also, since this is a Marx Philosophy channel, I would emphasise, as I believe he did, that scientific investigation is a social activity, above all else. The correctness of any notion is thus tested at the limit, not simply by repeated observations, accordance to logic, etc., but it is social practice using notions that scientists have advanced and supported by observation as the basis for social practice. Crudely, I ‘know’ that Newton’s laws of mechanics are true because collectively society has used these notions to construct tall buildings, bridges, cars, boats, aeroplanes, etc, and they work.
    Secondly, I must explain that my view is not that something is ‘true’ because it is scientific; but on the contrary anything that is ‘true’ I define as scientific knowledge. Now, because scientific investigation is a social activity, it means that it is carried by people who live and work in a specific society, in our case, a capitalist society. Thus, it is immediately apparent that although science has some degree of internal momentum, its direction and the use made of the knowledge gained is entirely determined by the (capitalist) society in which we live. Thirdly, because science is a social activity, it is carried our by members of our (capitalist) society, who inevitably have to varying extents the habits, customs and general outlook promoted by capitalism.

    With that background we can now answer your question, which is fundamentally, if I may rephrase it, how should we behave in this capitalist society in which we live? [I believe that essentially it is the same question, as what does it ‘mean’ when our country goes to war?] Well, the question is complex and it is self-evident in my view, that without some understanding of the actual construction and development of the society in which we live, we cannot make informed choices between alternative behaviours. By contrast, the more we know about any given social condition and its development, limitations etc., the more likely we will be to arrive at an informed and hence a realistic, workable solution to the question, what is to be done? Without the informed background, we will simply decide based on the prejudices and lies that the surrounding capitalist society has induced in our brains. So finally, I believe that the more one understands a social condition the more likely are we to find a good, usable [in practice, as always] answer to a problem.
    Lastly, I must point out that my view expressed here is not held by the majority of practicing scientists. I would argue that my view is profoundly influenced by both the writings of Marx and his actual, practical life and of course, by by own life experiences.

    >Alternatively if science is merely a careful application of a methodology how does that differ from >a prudent practitioner of voodoo?
    see above.
    >Why is it important for Marx’s works to be scientific? Does that make it true or correct or does it >merely show that Marx’s methods conform to a particular (and peculiar) methodology?
    Marx’s work is scientific for the same reason that Darwin’s work is scientific. It is scientific because it is true and correct. So the word ‘science’ carries no particular merit for me. The words ‘true’ and ‘false’ by contrast are important.

    >Does being scientific confer a moral superiority?
    Does being correct and true confer a moral superiority?

    >What would be scientific ethics?
    Working in any way suitable to one’s position in society to promote the emancipation of the working class of the whole world.
    And clearly, therefore, a profoundly vile ethics would be to defend, and prolong the life of capitalism in this world.

    I hope at least, that my comments give people food for thought. I am fully aware that these views are not commonly expressed.

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