Addendum on Marxist Eschatology

14 January 2012

Saturday


Yesterday in Marxist Eschatology I wrote:

Marx is the greatest exemplar of a perennial tradition of human thought that has been with us from the beginning and which will be with us as long as civilization and human life endures. This tradition wasn’t always called Marxism, and it won’t always be called Marxism, but the perennial tendency will remain. There will always be individuals who are attracted to the perennial idea that Marx represents, and as of the present time Marx remains the most powerful advocate of these ideas.

While on my other blog in Marx and Fukuyama I wrote:

With Marx, we can identify a “bend in the road” of history at which point Marx might be proved right or wrong. For some people — wrongly to my mind — this point was identified as the end of the Cold War. To my mind, it is the full industrialization of the world’s economy. Thus Marx’s thesis has the virtue of falsification.

This calls for a little clarification, since if interpreted uncharitably it might be found contradictory for Marxism to be a perennial idea and to be falsifiable, since what distinguishes a perennial idea is that it is not falsifiable — at least, not in a robust sense of falsification.

Karl Popper was the philosopher who formulated falsifiability as a criterion of scientificity (I’m not certain he was the first, be he has definitely been the most influential in advancing the idea of falsifiability, especially in contradistinction to the logical positivist emphasis on the verifiability criterion), and he discussed Marx at some length. Here’s nice summary from one of Popper’s later works:

“As I pointed out in my Open Society, one may regard Marx’s theory as refuted by events that occurred during the Russian Revolution. According to Marx the revolutionary changes start at the bottom, as it were: means of production change first, then social conditions of production, then political power, and ultimately ideological beliefs, which change last. But in the Russian Revolution the political power changed first, and then the ideology (Dictatorship plus Electrification) began to change the social conditions and the means of production from the top. The reinterpretation of Marx’s theory of revolution to evade this falsification immunized it against further attacks, transforming it into the vulgar-Marxist (or socioanalytic) theory which tells us that the ‘economic motive’ and the class struggle pervade social life.”

Karl Popper, Unended Quest, “Early Studies,” p. 45

I should point out that I agree with Popper’s arguments, and that Marxism construed in the narrow sense that Popper construed it was falsified by the events of the Russian Revolution. Lenin’s “weakest link of capitalism” theory was instrumental in the reinterpretation of Marxism that Popper mentioned. Beyond Lenin, Mao made even more radical changes by shifting the focus from the industrial proletariat to the agricultural peasant. It is a testament to the extent to which the twentieth century was not fully industrialized that it was Maoism rather than Marxism or Leninism that was the form of communism that reached the masses during the last century.

However, I think that there is a species of Marxism that lies between Popper’s narrowly conceived Marxism and the vulgar Marxism reinterpreted in the light of apparent falsification, and this is a Marxism that has been generalized beyond the historically specific conditions of the Russian Revolution, and even beyond the Cold War, which had almost nothing to do with democracy or communism and almost everything to do with national rivalry and the great game of power politics.

I have called a generalized Marxism a species of Marxism, and herein lies to clue to the distinction between Marxism and a perennial idea in the strict sense. Marxism (of one variety or another) is a species that falls under the genera of collectivist political thought. The latter — collectivist political thought — is a perennial idea, and lies beyond falsification. It is neither true nor false, but an ongoing influence, just like its implied contrary, which is individualist political thought. Individualism also lies beyond falsification, and is neither true nor false but remains an ongoing influence in human affairs.

Most forms of capitalism are individualist in orientation, though not all: oligarchical capitalist societies (like medieval Venice) had little to do with individualism. Thus a generalization of capitalism does not always lead to individualism. A generalization of capitalism, depending on its subtle differences in tone of market activity from one society to another, may lead to individualism, but it may also lead to a profoundly hierarchical crony capitalism, or to some other socio-economic formation.

Speaking generally for ideas, and not just communism and capitalism, and indeed not just political and economic ideas but all ideas, the generalization of an historically situated and therefore specific idea usually leads to a perennial idea if the generalization is sufficiently radical. The generalization of capitalism may or may not lead to individualism, but it will eventually lead to some perennial idea which lies beyond falsification, whether that idea is patriarchalism or something else. The generalization of Marxism, I think, leads more directly to a perennial form of collectivist thought, which at its greatest reach of generality is scarcely distinguishable from a vague sentimental connection to others.

The species of Marxism that I have posited — midway between Marxism narrowly conceived and Marxism generalized to the point of a vague feeling of cooperative common cause — is falsifiable, but it is not falsifiable by experiment. It is only falsifiable by history. It shares this property with other theses in the philosophy of history. This is one of the fundamental distinctions between the natural sciences and at least some of the historical sciences: theses in some of the historical sciences are falsifiable, but they are not falsifiable on demand. One can only wait and see if they are eventually falsified. With the passage of time the inductive evidence of an unfalsifiable thesis in the philosophy of history increases, but is never confirmed. Thus the philosophy of history, contrary to most expectations, is the most science-like of the branches of philosophy.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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15 Responses to “Addendum on Marxist Eschatology”

  1. MisterEgo said

    Congrats, you’ve broken through the iron curtain of american patriotism(sic) riddled with unbelievable optimism and unbelievable amounts of anti-communism, you see that it’s not just a giant bear on the other side, but differing beasts… That’s probably an achievement of a century for a typical American but you are far from a typical American. 🙂

    Well, remembering the original Marxist eschatology, you probably broke through it earlier, but you still have a tendency to cling to American cliches about communism like our last discussion on communist economy and it’s red sector.

    As a side-note, there were somewhat different communist systems present in the past when it comes to economy. There was even a (more or less free) market based system in Yugoslavia that operated via worker self-managment, and that meant financial bonuses as well for every worker apart from governing control, usually bigger monthly bonus then monthly wage… There were politics involved, of course, like placing Communist party members on some positions within enterprises, but they didn’t control economic output decisively, they were there mostly to maintain party policies and control…

    Pointless to go into further detail here except to say that basically worker councils of several tens of people controlled and shaped it’s own production, even within bigger enterprises.

    It’s probably a closer example to Marxism then Bolshevism, but of course, it’s still far from it in many respects.

    Bigger read, intertwined with history, but more informative:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Federal_Republic_of_Yugoslavia#Economy

    Smaller read on the same page as above, but less informative:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Federal_Republic_of_Yugoslavia#Economy

    Heh, when I was giving you this last link, I noticed this as an expanded article on the “Economy” section, at the start of the previous link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_SFR_Yugoslavia

    Heh, it mentions US and western involvement, something I choose not to talk about, since I wanted to avoid alienating and accusing (west, not you of course) without proper research (in the contest of presenting Yugoslav economy as at least somewhat successful)… Heh, it seems Wikipedia did most of my research for me. I love the internet.

    Viva la Wikipedia!

    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear Mr. Ego:

      Viva la Wikipedia indeed! As I write this the English language Wikipedia is offline for a day to protest pending legislation that could compromise the ability of all of us to freely express ourselves on the internet.

      Yugoslavia was well known in the West, even during the Cold War, as pursuing a separate path, and Tito was a hero to many, especially in the non-aligned nations movement.

      The worker self-management you describe is quite similar to the views of many anarcho-syndicalists today. It is closely related to the idea of worker’s councils (soviets) that was one of the first forms of industrial organization to emerge from Russian Revolution, and in case of the Battleship Potemkin preceded the revolution, since the mutineers established a council on board to run the ship.

      There have been, are now, and will continue to be many forms of communism, Marxism, etc. This is one of the things that makes it interesting to study.

      Best wishes,

      Nick

  2. I think you are on to something regarding the falsifiability of Marx and Fukuyama. The jury is to some extent out. But as it relates to Fukuyama, his book, “The End of History and the Last Man,” makes extensive references to Nietzsche. The concept of megalothymia is very important. Liberal democracy may well offer recognition to more people than any other single type of governing system, but, it still may fail on the shoals of tradition and culture because some people will find their identity in different ways than through the individualism of liberal democratic capitalism. It seems a western conceit that all people necessarily buy into this single overarching mechanism of social organization.

    I think Huntington is more right on this. Not necessarily in every way, but in the most profound way.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear Mr. Lawson,

      I completely agree with you that, “some people will find their identity in different ways than through the individualism of liberal democratic capitalism,” and furthermore I think that the exceptions are important. But the Rule is also important, and when a particular identity has a predominant place in a particular historical period, it defines that period.

      I’ve skimmed Huntington, but haven’t read his book carefully. It didn’t strike me as having any particularly bold theses. I would be interested to know what you found to be of value in his book.

      In regard to Fukuyama and falsification, I should have been more careful in stating that, just as Marx can be interpreted in falsifiable and non-falsifiable senses, so too Fukuyama can be interpreted in falsifiable and non-falsifiable theses.

      Best wishes,

      Nick

  3. Mister Ego said

    It seems the difference is in my name: MisterEgo vs Mister Ego… wordpress probably remembers previously allowed comments or you manually gave me permission to post without review while you were reviewing one of my earlier comments (by checking a box or something similar).

    Don’t be scared of code, it’s just a more formal language, it doesn’t bite 🙂

    Cheers.

    • MisterEgo said

      It could be URL’s as well, that they require review. We’ll see now, this nickname should go to the review bin if it’s nicknames…

      • MisterEgo said

        Or not… I have no idea what causes it 🙂

      • geopolicraticus said

        Perhaps by now I have approved enough posts in both versions of the name to make both of these names pass without review.

        Best wishes,

        Nick

  4. MisterEgo said

    Oh, one more thing that might tickle your strategic analyst mind.

    This SOPA/PIPA opposition… it’s being powered by the same thing that powered the Arab spring, London riots (the riots were about class/racial inequality and blackberry communication), Occupy movements, Russian protests after their elections and probably a few more that I am not aware…

    I’m guessing you are aware by now what is powering/powered these things… The proles have military grade communication capabilities now…

    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear Mr. Ego,

      While I do not agree with your analysis, which strikes me as a particularly clear example of seeing a pattern where there is no pattern (something I discussed in A Valedictory for 2011), there is an interesting BBC article that I just read that touches upon your argument, Sounds of the sea: Listening online to the ocean floor.

      Several books about the Cold War and chronicled NATO “wiring the oceans for sound,” and now this technology is becoming available beyond the defense community. As the BBC noted, this transition has already happened with satellite photography, although the military continues to have much higher resolution cameras. However, the important thing here (and the core of what is valid in your argument) is that one of the most significant strategic trends of our time is the gradual but steady “civilianization” of high technology once exclusively in possession of a few of the world’s most advanced military forces.

      There is no question that the civilianization of military high technology will have significant consequences in the middle-term future.

      Very Respectfully Yours,

      Nick

      • MisterEgo said

        Communication breakthroughs are my alleged pattern, I’m not a conspiracy theorist 🙂

        I accept your skepticism though, it’s valid. As with all trends, I guess time it will tell us…

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