Theses on Feuerbach

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Alf
Theses on Feuerbach
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Thought it might help our 'philosophical' debates if we could refer easily to this, from the marxists.org site:

 

 Karl Marx 1845

Theses On Feuerbach

Written: by Marx in Brussels in the spring of 1845, under the title “1) ad Feuerbach”;
Marx’s original text was first published in 1924, in German and in Russian translation, by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in Marx-Engels Archives, Book I, Moscow. The English translation was first published in the Lawrence and Wishart edition of The German Ideology in 1938. 
The most widely known version of the Theses is that based on Engels’ edited version, published as an appendix to his Ludwig Feuerbach in 1888, where he gave it the titleTheses on Feuerbach;
Translated: by Cyril Smith 2002, based on work done jointly with Don Cuckson.

1

The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the Object [der Gegenstand], actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object [Objekts], or of contemplation [Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice [Praxis], not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in opposition to materialism, was developed by idealism — but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects[Objekte], differentiated from thought-objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective [gegenständliche] activity. In The Essence of Christianity [Das Wesen des Christenthums], he therefore regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and defined only in its dirty-Jewish form of appearance [Erscheinungsform][1]. Hence he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity.

2

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking, in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.

3

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change [Selbstveränderung] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.

4

Feuerbach starts off from the fact of religious self-estrangement [Selbstentfremdung], of the duplication of the world into a religious, imaginary world, and a secular [weltliche] one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. He overlooks the fact that after completing this work, the chief thing still remains to be done. For the fact that the secular basis lifts off from itself and establishes itself in the clouds as an independent realm can only be explained by the inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must itself be understood in its contradiction and then, by the removal of the contradiction, revolutionised. Thus, for instance, once the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must itself be annihilated [vernichtet] theoretically and practically.

5

Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants sensuous contemplation [Anschauung]; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.

6

Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man [menschliche Wesen = ‘human nature’]. But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence is hence obliged:

1. To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious sentiment regarded by itself, and to presuppose an abstract — isolated - human individual.

2. The essence therefore can by him only be regarded as ‘species’, as an inner ‘dumb’ generality which unites many individuals only in a natural way.

7

Feuerbach consequently does not see that the ‘religious sentiment’ is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual that he analyses belongs in reality to a particular social form.

8

All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

9

The highest point reached by contemplative [anschauende] materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society [bürgerlichen Gesellschaft].

10

The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society or social humanity.

 

11

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.

 

1. “Dirty-Jewish” — according to Marhsall Berman, this is an allusion to the Jewish God of the Old Testament, who had to ‘get his hands dirty’ making the world, tied up with a symbolic contrast between the Christian God of the Word, and the God of the Deed, symbolising practical life. See The Significance of the Creation in Judaism, Essence of Christianity 1841

 

 

Alf
to begin with....

The first thesis: "The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the Object [der Gegenstand], actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object [Objekts], or of contemplation [Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice [Praxis], not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in opposition to materialism, was developed by idealism — but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such". 

So Marx begins with the need to make a radical critique of all hitherto existing forms of materialism, which he sees as 'contemplative' (which can also be defined as 'mechanistic materialism'). The active role of consciousness has so far only been grasped, up to a point, by idealism (no doubt he had Hegel in mind, but also others before Hegel), but "only abstractly", because idealism is removed from real sensuous activity, into the realm of pure thought. Where it ends up in the same prison as contemplative materialism.

But the goal of the theses is to serve the replacement of these outmoded forms of materialism, based on "the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society [bürgerlichen Gesellschaft]", with a new materialism, whose standpoint is social humanity, or human society. In other words, the standpoint of the future, of communism. 

LBird
Why favour one half of a whole?

Alf wrote:
But the goal of the theses is to serve the replacement of these outmoded forms of materialism, ... with a new materialism...

No, this is a wrong conception, Alf, IMO.

Marx wishes to reconcile forms of idealism with forms of materialism. He criticises parts of materialism and praises parts of idealism, and vice versa.

So, to say it is 'a new materialism' doesn't make sense. Or, rather, it makes as much sense to call it 'a new idealism'.

It's better to see it as 'idealism-materialism' (or, 'materialism-idealism'), in which neither preponderates. Humans are creative (and produce ideas) but must employ these ideas within material nature, of which we are a part, by their  collective practice.

Thus, 'theory and practice'. This is not 'materialism', 'old' or 'new'.

I think the better modern term for what I've polemically called 'idealism-materialism', is Critical Realism. I think Marx was a Critical Realist, before the term was invented. He was 150 years ahead of the bourgeois thinkers!

lem_
well it's an object in

well it's an object in dialectics, isn't it? and the text with the most personal meaning for me... i think terms are unimportant, and that Alf is spot on - in that he's approaching the theses asking who is marx writing this for. otherwise, it can end up becoming a bit of an argumentative swamp!

lem_
Marx wishes to reconcile

Marx wishes to reconcile forms of idealism with forms of materialism

the theses is to serve the replacement of these outmoded forms of materialism, based on "the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society [bürgerlichen Gesellschaft]", with a new materialism

 

these are not opposed - are they???

a more interesting question on these theses for me is simply - how did he do it? how was he able to replace bourgeois idealism with revolutionary praxis? not, why think he did [that's just a scholarly question], but what it tells us about the world that he was able to.

or more specifically, the relation between the materialism of the theses with actual materialism - practical activity. does it simply refer to it, or help create it - and if so in what way?

Fred
LBird said Quote:   I think

LBird said

Quote:
 

 I think the better modern term for what I've polemically called 'idealism-materialism', is Critical Realism. I think Marx was a Critical Realist, before the term was invented. He was 150 years ahead of the bourgeois thinkers!  

  Why not just call it Marxism?  Even if  Marx said he wasn't.
LBird
Terms

Fred wrote:

LBird said

Quote:
 

 I think the better modern term for what I've polemically called 'idealism-materialism', is Critical Realism. I think Marx was a Critical Realist, before the term was invented. He was 150 years ahead of the bourgeois thinkers!  

  Why not just call it Marxism?  Even if  Marx said he wasn't.

Because what's really at the root of this issue is the need to challenge the notion that 'Marxism' equals 'Materalism'. If we merely continue to just say 'Marxism', 120 years of myth won't be removed.

Marx wasn't a 'materialist', which is what most people think 'Marxism' is. The Theses on Feuerbach, to me, make this clear. But the immense weight of 'tradition', initiated by Engels, is against me.

Fred
Marxism and new thinking

I've never thought that Marxism equals materialism, or that Marx can be compared to a bourgeois thinker.  Isn't Marxism the embodiment of all the theoretical and practical political  gains made by the working class during its history?  Isn't it the theory and practice of the proletarian struggle to emancipate itself? 

And Marx and the working class, from whose existence Marxism derives its theory, its practice and all it knows - if there wasn't a working class then there wouldn't be any communist theory would there? - aren't 150 years ahead of the bourgeoisie. This  is a strange thing to say.  Given we don't even share with the bourgeoisie the same consciousness, the same understanding of history, the same understandings of solidarity and individualism, of the role of science,  of the purpose of life, or of the role of critical theory as understood by Marxism which you say invented it, then a span of years doesn't come into it.  Because we are light years ahead of the bourgeoisie in our ideas;  and the future evolution of humanity depends on us and absolutely not on them. For they are in the process or destroying everything to preserve an antiquated and failing economic system, and their antiquated and failed mode of thought. 

For the ruling class critical theory is just something else to write a book about, and become thereby a "successful" individual; a competitor who has momentarily won. But if the writer connects his theories about critical theory to the life struggles of the working class, then for me he will cease to be merely another bourgeois on the make, and become a comrade in struggle. Like Engels was. 

 

lem_
i think it's moot... previous

i think it's moot... previous materialisms weren't revolutionary.

just like idealists were unconcerned with reality, so materialism could not find itself - its own activity. i think that's the difference, that marxism - let's call it revolutionary materialism for the sake of argument, not only "wants" reality but "wants" to change it.

 

i think the point is that the philosophy of revolutionary materialism is not just activity, but knows that it is, and so it is the philosophy of revolutionary activity.

but why think that the actvity in question is communist? that's the bulk of what he's talking about here. as well as why the defect in materialism can be transposed into revolution.

A.Simpleton
I read

More agreement here than disagreement (or is 'Agreeism' a petit-bourgeois stance pregnant with 'Centrist' disaster )

I agree with Fred in the sense that I have never equated Marxism with 'Materialism' so why not call it 'Marxism' (and he rightly adds that Marx wasn't to keen on any 'ism')

I also, however agree with LBird's insistence that terms - especially 'core' terms don't go unscrutinised.

Why? because if they are, then their 'subsumed, corollary 'uses ' material circumstances' (materielle Bedingungen): 'material conditions' (Wesenliche Umstande : 'essential aboutstandings) Material premises (wirkliche Vorausetzung : real starting-point ) potentially can end up - albeit unwittingly -reduced /levelled/ emptied of meaning thus deepening the unproductive 'argumentative swamp' as lem_ aptly describes it on the Feuerbach Thread.

Yes I am quite capable of going too far in scholarly debate but when the word 'material/materialist' is used every time to translate and thus synonymise quite wide differences it is important: having said that - and in the spirit of Alf's post - however 'rough' the important thing is that we understand what each other mean.

Here's Marx on Feuerbach:

'....Certainly Feuerbach has a great advantage over the “pure” materialists in that he realises how man too is an “object of the senses.” But apart from the fact that he only conceives him as an “object of the senses, not as sensuous activity,” because he still remains in the realm of theory and conceives of men not in their given social connection, not under their existing conditions of life, which have made them what they are, he never arrives at the really (wirklichexisting active men (Menschen) but stops at the abstraction “man" ('Der Mensch')

.... when, for example, he sees a crowd of scrofulous, overworked and consumptive starvelings, he is compelled to take refuge in the “higher perception” and in the ideal “compensation in the species,” and thus to relapse into idealism at the very point where the communist materialist sees the necessity, and at the same time the condition, of a transformation both of industry and of the social structure'

So in this particular case Marx himself uses the term 'communist materialist' but that doesn't 'fix it' for all time or place nor would Marx be anything  but irritated by such a 'triumphant conclusion' methinks

I don't quite understand your last question lem_  could you you sort of re-express it ?

Having said all that with regard to terms, let's face it :it's never going to be 'all right'

'Communism': 'democracy': 'revolution': 'dictatorship' they've all been beaten, tortured, dragged through every imaginable slime.

That we understand each other as clearly as possible even if only to disagree as clearly (which is not the same as 'loudly') isn't a bad goal for starters.

AS

lem_
i was just wondering why we

i was just wondering why we should change the world with communism and not i dunno random bad stuff. or in what way does the text answer that question, anyway

Fred
I like your post above very

I like your post above very much my dear comrade AS and love the quote from Marx. Where is it from?  (I never expected to ask such a question!)  "Scrofulous, overworked and consumptive starvelings" is magnificent, and is of course where Marxism starts from.  And the words we use constantly demand our definition and redefinition if we are ever to approach saying what we think we are trying to say!  T.S.Eliot used to talk about the constant battle with words, with constantly decaying faculties. 

 

AS wrote:
 That  we understand each other as clearly as possible even if only to disagree as clearly (which is not the same as 'loudly') isn't  a bad goal for starters.
.  
A.Simpleton
Got it

You're right in the sense that I don't think the text does - on its own - 'explain' why. In fact it was the second bit of Marx that someone (way back in1971) gave me to read: and although I thought some of the plays on words 'neat' I couldn't fathom it - least of all why a criticism of this 'Feuerbach' whose name meant less than zero to me had any relevance to me, life, whatever.

But when not long after, I read - by chance - Marx on 'alienation' it rang all my bells.

(won't drone on autobiographically ..maybe pm you?)

AS

Fred
communism is not idealism

Further to my post 12 above.  The words "scrofulous, overworked, and consumptive starvelings" as a description of the working class,  may appear at first glance to present am  immediate  and materialist response  to its condition.    But look again and it becomes apparent the words embody a moral, ethical, and, probably for some readers, an idealistic imperative.  They demand action. It is the action, and the need for communism implicit in the words, that prevents them from being interpreted as in any way an statement of an idealistic nature.  Marx and the working class are by no means idealists, because communism is not an ideal - it's an absolute necessity. 

LBird
communism is idealism and materialism

Fred wrote:
Marx and the working class are by no means idealists, because communism is not an ideal - it's an absolute necessity.

Isn't this just another re-formulation, Fred, of 'materialism'? That is, your phrase 'abolute necessity' can be read as a regression to 'materialism', especially given the title of your post, 'communism is not idealism'.

Surely, if we agree that Marx united materialism and idealism in a philosophy of praxis (ie. theory and practice), then we have to stress conscious human activity, within the constraints and possibilities of a changing reality, as an essential part of our perspective?

That is, in opposition to your post title, that 'communism is (in part) idealism'?

How can we accept that materialism is not enough, and then revert to the claim that there is no idealism? To me this doesn't make logical sense. Theory and practice requires both ideas and materiality (or, human consciousness and external reality).

I think that the fear of the concept 'idealism' that we've learned, goes back to Engels, not Marx.

Fred wrote:
But look again and it becomes apparent the words embody a moral, ethical, and, probably for some readers, an idealistic imperative. They demand action.

Yes, morals, ethics and ideals all have an inescapable part to play, in the creation by humans of Communism.

A.Simpleton
I still read

More agreement than disagreement.

I will preface the below with this: 

'Consciousness' (capital C) - that ethereal independent 'thing' does not = 'consciousness' (small 'c')

'consciousness' (small 'c') - real human consciousness is not synonymous with 'thinking''mental labour' etc

It allows for the development of these: remember that Marx in specific criticism of Hegel said - almost with a sympathetic 'alas' :' language is as old as consciousness: from the very beginning 'spirit' (Hegel's 'Geist') has been 'burdened' (Marx's italics) by the material in the form of agitated layers of sound ...et seq.  

'Idealism' is most certainly not synonymous with 'idea-ism'

Marx's key depiction of the historical, ever widening division of labour is the real (wirklich) basis which reveals amongst much else, how the two become uncritically confused/conflated: but - also let us not forget that it is the 'actual circumstances' (Wesenlich Umstand) which impose the restriction of confusion/conflation.

An 'idea-ist' is -to me- no more no less than a 'typist', 'artist': an 'ideaist' produces ideas: a typist sheets of script : an artist paintings, poems, music - but not 'just as they please' but under the domination of present material relations of power, with vestiges of older forms as well (which Marx points out can 'linger on for centuries).

BUT - most importantly - these circumstances don't exclusively, mechanistically,in some hermetically sealed cause effect box - ordain every sheet the typist types, every poem the poet writes, every idea the idea-ist produces. As I keep posting (but no-one hears : moan moan fume fume snide snide) if that were so, how come Marx under the weight of The German Ideology came up with an idea SO radical and far reaching?

Now this is just 'at an individual' level and Marx throughly, forensically and ruthlessly criticises Max Stirner (et alios) for the slovenly solipsism of their arguments 'from the individual' (in a 'style' - Saint Max - Saint Sancho - 'only the Holy' etc.. and " oh 'us' 'we' ! : who is 'we' 'us' ..in a 'style' incidentally, which reminds me of some c'rade ....whose name ...er... escapes me momentarily)

ibid;

'Thus, Stirner the “ragamuffin”, the “man of only ideal wealth”, arrives at the desperate decision to carry on trade with the curdled, sour milk of his thoughts.But what cunning does he use if the state declares his thoughts to be contraband? Just listen to this:

“I renounce them” (which is undoubtedly very wise) “and exchange them for others” (that is, if anyone should be such a bad businessman as to accept his exchanges of thoughts), “ which then become my new, purchased property” 

Our honourable burgher will not rest until he has it in black and white that he has bought his property honestly. Here one sees the consolation of the Berlin burgher in the face of all his political calamities and police tribulations: “Thoughts are free of customs duty!”

Now I may be falling into the same trap but ...

When Marx writes:

'Thus things have now come to such a pass that the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but, also, merely to safeguard their very existence.

This appropriation is first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a universal character (international perspective? :AS)  corresponding to the productive forces and the intercourse.

He surely means :the existing totality of productive forces,  otherwise he ...er...wouldn't have written that.

He considered the proletariat to be one of the greatest productive forces and I perhaps rather simplistically take to include their/his 'against the dominant ideology' products surely?

Communism isn't an ideal: nor is it a 'material state of affairs' (Zustand) to be put in place :it is the real (wirklich -again) movement towards abolishing/lifting off the limitations of, the present 'material state of affairs'.

If I may indulge in a romantic moment :It's almost as if Marx is implying that - should the day ever come when even the transition is but a distant memory - theory/practice, ideal/material, have/nave-not won't mean anything anymore.

(Hmmm .this post is either quite good or rather silly )

AS

 

 

 

 

MH
Marxism is historical materialism

LBird wrote:

Marx wishes to reconcile forms of idealism with forms of materialism. He criticises parts of materialism and praises parts of idealism, and vice versa.

IMO it is a fundamental misconception to say that Marx wishes to “reconcile” idealism with materialism.

This is the equivalent of saying that Marx wishes to reconcile the class viewpoint of the (then revolutionary) bourgeoisie with the class viewpoint of the proletariat.

Surely the Theses on Feuerbach demonstrate Marx’s break with bourgeois philosophy of both the idealist and materialist schools – and the end of bourgeois philosophy itself wth the rise of the proletarian revolutionary movement?

Marx ‘reconciles’ with idealism only in the sense that he turns the best insights of its most advanced expression on their head by demonstrating that, far from having achieved an ideal state as Hegel believed, capitalist society is merely the final stage of class society...

And this is surely why Marxism is not idealist or materialist but historically materialist; Marx demonstrates that class society is a historical not an absolute problem. The world that needs to be changed at the end of the ToF is the historical world of the capitalist mode of production, which like all previous modes of production is transitory, going through a phase of ascent and descent.

And this is also why the concept of decadence is absolutely central to the materialist conception of history:  

Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was 1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.” (Marx to J. Weydemeyer, March 5th, 1852, Collected Works, vol.39, p.62).

LBird
Class viewpoints?

MH wrote:

LBird wrote:

Marx wishes to reconcile forms of idealism with forms of materialism. He criticises parts of materialism and praises parts of idealism, and vice versa.

IMO it is a fundamental misconception to say that Marx wishes to “reconcile” idealism with materialism.

This is the equivalent of saying that Marx wishes to reconcile the class viewpoint of the (then revolutionary) bourgeoisie with the class viewpoint of the proletariat.

MH, I could rewrite your last line as:

"This is the equivalent of saying that Marx wishes to reconcile the class viewpoint of the (then revolutionary) bourgeoisie [ie. Feuerbachian materialism] with the class viewpoint of the proletariat [ie. the ideas of class consciousness]."

To this, I could answer 'Yes, Marx was trying to do just that'.

It depends on one's reading of 'class viewpoint'. I don't think 'idealism' and 'materialism' can be reduced to a 'class viewpoint'.

MH wrote:
Surely the Theses on Feuerbach demonstrate Marx’s break with bourgeois philosophy of both the idealist and materialist schools – and the end of bourgeois philosophy itself wth the rise of the proletarian revolutionary movement?

Is this an argument for 'proletarian science', MH? If so, I have some sympathy with it.

MH wrote:
And this is surely why Marxism is not idealist or materialist but historically materialist; Marx demonstrates that class society is a historical not an absolute problem.

But doesn't 'history' imply 'ideas' and 'consciousness'?

It seems to me that all that happens is that some comrades say 'historical materialism', and then conclude that therefore it is a form of 'materialism', so revert to calling it 'materialism'.

If we seriously don't want to lose Marx's insights against some forms of 'materialism', why not ensure they are not lost, by stressing both aspects, ie. 'idealism-materialism' (or, as I've suggested, the more modern phrase 'critical realism')?

MH
Just to be clear...

On re-reading my post #17 I realise I’ve expressed myself clumsily.

The class viewpoint of the (then revolutionary) bourgeoisie is expressed by both Hegelian idealism and Feuerbachian materialism.

Marx does not wish to reconcile with either, and the class viewpoint of the revolutionary proletariat breaks with both.

Red Hughs
I like "new materialism" best

I like "new materialism" best among the different labels.

While Marx may be taking approaches from both idealists and materialists, he's outlining a position that's fundamentally material in the sense of looking at the material world and not at the world of spirit.

Further, the label Marxism has the weakness that it implies that any further advances will merely be "interpretations of Marx". This kind of position is actually very common today and I believe detrimental to a communist movement.

Also, the Theses are a great description of this new approach, a great description of "how to go forward" rather than "what to believe".

 

A.Simpleton
Yes and Yes

MH wrote:

Surely the Theses on Feuerbach demonstrate Marx’s break with bourgeois philosophy of both the idealist and materialist schools – and the end of bourgeois philosophy itself wth the rise of the proletarian revolutionary movement?

I agree: at the heart of my (overly verbose) post was precisely this radical shift: 'break' is the key word you use MH. 

He overtakes and renders obsolete the false oppositions: not at all the same as 'reconciliation' which implies 'incorporation'.

I fear it's that 'inexplicably-imbued-with-hi-falutin-qualities' verb auf-heben: it has at least a dozen utterly mundane and simple meanings in everyday use in German: 'off-have'

My template is parking restrictions: when parking restrictions are lifted in -say- a private road: they are done away with (auf-gehobne) hence 'abolish' yes, but the restrictions are lifted (auf-gehobne) thus the freedom to park anywhere is up-lifted (auf-gehobne).

It is also used of a tax disc that has expired (auf-gehobne). A carefully chosen mundane word used 'in the heavens' by Hegel: brought back to earth ,its proper place ,the only place: real life (re-appropriated).

**

Feuerbach's chickens come home to roost when he calls himself a communist because he addresses the common man but Marx replies -as it were- 'nice try. but you're still off world with the 'ideal man'.'

[...] It is also clear from these arguments how grossly Feuerbach is deceiving himself when  by virtue of the qualification “common man” he declares himself a communist, transforms the latter into a predicate of “man,” and thereby thinks it possible to change the word “communist,” which in the real world means the follower of a definite revolutionary party, into a mere category.

Feuerbach’s whole deduction with regard to the relation of men to one another goes only so far as to prove that men need and always have needed each other. He wants to establish consciousness of this fact, that is to say, like the other theorists, merely to produce a correct consciousness about an existing fact; whereas for the real communist it is a question of overthrowing the existing state of things.

We thoroughly appreciate, moreover, that Feuerbach, in endeavouring to produce consciousness of just this fact, is going as far as a theorist possibly can, without ceasing to be a theorist and philosopher... 

So Marx appreciates Feuerbach's endeavours but reveals the restrictions/limits of his theory and theory in general: just as he reveals the restrictions/limits of Hegel's philosophy and philosophy in general because it starts in abstractland. 

 

Marx was too far sighted to shoot himself in the foot by incorporating restrictions: he lifted off  those restrictions: and not just as an idea: for it was Marx who precisely put the historical into whatever label you want to give 'it'.

The Bourgeois revolution 'apparently' gave new freedom and abolished certain restrictions/limitations but what had they actually bought themselves? Just another set of restrictions and limitations.

AS

 

A.Simpleton
Obviously

I am aware that Marx never owned a BMW and never tried to park it: he could never have afforded such a vehicle had it existed.

My point still stands I think.

AS

MH
Karl Korsch on parking

A.Simpleton wrote:

He overtakes and renders obsolete the false oppositions: not at all the same as ‘reconciliation’ which implies ‘incorporation’.

Thanks AS, I was hoping you’d come in on this... ‘Aufheben’ was the word going round my head as I wrote my post, but I didn’t have a sufficient understanding of the parking question…

In the face of LBird’s fundamentally wrong conception of Marxism as the 'reconciliation' of idealism and materialism I felt it was necessary to ‘bend the stick’, as it were, by emphasising the aspect of a ‘break'. But your descriptions of a “radical shift” and “overtaking and rendering obsolete false oppositions” seem to me to get much closer to describing the process involved.

Personally I found Korsch’s “Marxism and Philosophy” very helpful here. He describes clearly how Marxism formally emerges from German Idealist philosophy; indeed it takes from it the dialectical method, which bourgeois philosophy itself abandons because it cannot abandon its bourgeois class viewpoint. Marxism thus ‘completes’ German Idealist philosophy, which undergoes a ‘transition’ – but only by becoming the viewpoint of the opposing class, the proletariat:

Since the Marxist system is the theoretical expression of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, and German idealist philosophy is the theoretical expression of the revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie, they must stand intelligently and historically (i.e. ideologically) in the same relation to each other as the revolutionary movement of the proletariat as a class stands to the revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie, in the realm of social and political practice. There is one unified historical process of historical development in which an ‘autonomous’ proletarian class movement emerges from the revolutionary movement of the third estate, and the new materialist theory of Marxism ‘autonomously’ confronts bourgeois idealist philosophy.”

http://www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm      

I’ll stop there. Korsch emphasises that an understanding of the dialectical method is absolutely crucial to an understanding of this whole question, but that sounds like another thread…

 

LBird
Break required in consciousness and conditions

MH wrote:

A.Simpleton wrote:

He overtakes and renders obsolete the false oppositions: not at all the same as ‘reconciliation’ which implies ‘incorporation’.

...

In the face of LBird’s fundamentally wrong conception of Marxism as the 'reconciliation' of idealism and materialism I felt it was necessary to ‘bend the stick’, as it were, by emphasising the aspect of a ‘break'. But your descriptions of a “radical shift” and “overtaking and rendering obsolete false oppositions” seem to me to get much closer to describing the process involved.

Personally I found Korsch’s “Marxism and Philosophy” very helpful here. He describes clearly how Marxism formally emerges from German Idealist philosophy; indeed it takes from it the dialectical method....

I’ll stop there. Korsch emphasises that an understanding of the dialectical method is absolutely crucial to an understanding of this whole question, but that sounds like another thread…

This appears to be a key point of disagreement between me, on one side, and you and AS, on the other. I say this because I think AS has been regarded as 'on my side', so far, in our disagreements about science, consciousness, materialism, etc.

I think that 'incorporation' of 'idealism' and 'materialism' is precisely what Marx did do, in the Theses.

Further, once talk turns to 'dialectics', I can predict that it's a short step to returning to 'materialism' (just renamed from 'mechanical' or 'Feuerbachian' to 'dialectical'), and thus Marx's insights in the Theses are, once more, lost.

Unless the creative consciousness of the proletariat, in the context of its real social struggles, is given as much weight as 'material conditions', then I think we Communists are on the wrong track. The 'break' you mention, MH, is as ideal as it is material.

If arguing for 'creative consciousness' is to be condemned as 'idealist', then I'm an 'idealist', from that point of view.

From my point of view, however, I regard this 'idealism' as an essential part of Marx's view of 'theory and practice'.

LBird
My mates Korsch and Marx?

MH wrote:
Personally I found Korsch’s “Marxism and Philosophy” very helpful here. He describes clearly how Marxism formally emerges from German Idealist philosophy; indeed it takes from it the dialectical method, which bourgeois philosophy itself abandons because it cannot abandon its bourgeois class viewpoint. Marxism thus ‘completes’ German Idealist philosophy, which undergoes a ‘transition’ – but only by becoming the viewpoint of the opposing class, the proletariat:

Since the Marxist system is the theoretical expression of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, and German idealist philosophy is the theoretical expression of the revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie, they must stand intelligently and historically (i.e. ideologically) in the same relation to each other as the revolutionary movement of the proletariat as a class stands to the revolutionary movement of the bourgeoisie, in the realm of social and political practice. There is one unified historical process of historical development in which an ‘autonomous’ proletarian class movement emerges from the revolutionary movement of the third estate, and the new materialist theory of Marxism ‘autonomously’ confronts bourgeois idealist philosophy.”

http://www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm      

I’ll stop there. Korsch emphasises that an understanding of the dialectical method is absolutely crucial to an understanding of this whole question, but that sounds like another thread…

But this quote from Korsch is followed by:

Karl Korsch wrote:
The emergence of Marxist theory is, in Hegelian-Marxist terms, only the ‘other side’ of the emergence of the real proletarian movement; it is both sides together that comprise the concrete totality of the historical process.
[my bold]

To me, 'both sides' means 'idealism and materialism' (or, 'theory and practice' by the 'real proletarian movement').

LBird
More Korsch

Karl Korsch wrote:
The sense of their materialism is distorted in a disastrous and irreparable manner if one forgets that Marxist materialism was dialectical from the very beginning. It always remained a historical and dialectical materialism, in contrast to Feuerbach’s abstract-scientific materialism and all other abstract materialisms, whether earlier or later, bourgeois or vulgar-Marxist. In other words, it was a materialism whose theory comprehended the totality of society and history, and whose practice overthrew it. It was therefore possible for philosophy to become a less central component of the socio-historical process for Marx and Engels, in the course of their development of materialism, than it had seemed at the start. This did in fact occur. But no really dialectical materialist conception of history (certainly not that of Marx and Engels) could cease to regard philosophical ideology, or ideology in general, as a material component of general socio-historical reality – that is, a real part which had to be grasped in materialist theory and overthrown by materialist practice.

In his Theses on Feuerbach Marx contrasts his new materialism not only to philosophical idealism, but just as forcefully to every existing materialism.

[my bold]

http://www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm

The emphasis by 'materialists' on 'material conditions' is one-sided.

Ideas are as important for Communists as materiality, comrades.

LBird
Korsch'ed out?

Karl Korsch wrote:
Yet these very people fall straight into the anarcho-syndicalist ‘transcendental underestimation’ of ideology when they are told that intellectual struggle in the ideological field cannot be replaced or eliminated by the social movement of proletariat alone, or by its social and political movements combined. Even today most Marxist theoreticians conceive of the efficacy of so-called intellectual phenomena in a purely negative, abstract and undialectical sense, when they should analyse this domain of social reality with the materialist and scientific method moulded by Marx and Engels. Intellectual life should be conceived in union with social and political life, and social being and becoming (in the widest sense, as economics, politics or law) should be studied in union with social consciousness in its many different manifestations, as a real yet also ideal (or ‘ideological’) component of the historical process in general. Instead all consciousness is approached with totally abstract and basically metaphysical dualism, and declared to be a reflection of the one really concrete and material developmental process, on which it is completely dependent (even if relatively independent, still dependent in the last instance).
[my bold]

 

LBird
Last Korsch

Karl Korsch wrote:
In spite of this, many vulgar-Marxists to this day have never, even in theory, admitted that intellectual life and forms of social consciousness are comparable realities. Quoting certain statements by Marx and especially Engels they simply explain away the intellectual (ideological) structures of society as a mere pseudo-reality which only exists in the minds of ideologues – as error, imagination and illusion, devoid of a genuine object.
[my bold]
MH
cross purposes?

LBird wrote:

But this quote from Korsch is followed by:

Karl Korsch wrote:
The emergence of Marxist theory is, in Hegelian-Marxist terms, only the ‘other side’ of the emergence of the real proletarian movement; it is both sides together that comprise the concrete totality of the historical process.
[my bold]

To me, 'both sides' means 'idealism and materialism' (or, 'theory and practice' by the 'real proletarian movement').

I don’t think so. I read Korsch as saying that both the emergence of Marxist theory and the emergence of the real (practical) proletarian movement = “the concrete totality of the historical process”.

Are you really saying that “idealism and materialism” in this context somehow correspond to/are equivalent to “theory and practice?”

This seems completely confused to me because it turns them into completely abstract, timeless categories rather than historically specific schools of (revolutionary) bourgeois thought. But it would explain your vehement defence of idealism.

But who here would disagree with your insistence on the importance of ideas for communists, or on the role of the creative consciousness of the proletariat?

This suggests such a fundamental talking at cross purposes that it’s difficult to know where to begin!

LBird
Not mere importance of ideas, which reverts to material

MH wrote:
But who here would disagree with your insistence on the importance of ideas for communists, or on the role of the creative consciousness of the proletariat?

But when I argued that the production of the 'Truth' of 'material reality' (or, the proper 'scientific method') should be by the proletariat (post-rev., by humanity) voting, I was met by the argument that 'material conditions' themselves should determine 'Truth'.

This argument can only hold either if 'rocks can talk', or if humans employ an 'objective' (ie. positivist) method which goes beyond human thinking (ie. ignores politics in physics) and produces 'Truth'.

On the contrary, the acceptance of the equality of both human consciousness and reality require both to be taken into account: thus, physics must be under our control, not the control of experts.

This is what is at stake:

What predominates?: a) the material; b) the ideal; or c) both.

Post- Theses on Feuerbach, our answer must be 'both'. Thus, nature is humanised, and humans are naturalised.

This isn't just about 'the importance of ideas', MH, but their centrality and equality with the material.

MH wrote:
This suggests such a fundamental talking at cross purposes that it’s difficult to know where to begin!

I'll know by your answer, if we're at 'cross purposes', MH!

A.Simpleton
Workers of The World

Unite !

A Simpleton wrote:

When Marx writes:

'Thus things have now come to such a pass that the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but, also, merely to safeguard their very existence.

This appropriation is first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a universal character (international perspective? :AS)  corresponding to the productive forces and the intercourse.

He means :the existing totality of productive forces,  otherwise he ...er...wouldn't have written that.

He considered the proletariat to be one of the greatest productive forces and I perhaps rather simplistically take to include their/his 'against the dominant ideology' products surely?

Also - as I inferred in the title - I read more agreement than disagreement, which is why I wrote;

A Simpleton wrote:

'Consciousness' (capital C) - that ethereal independent 'thing' does not = 'consciousness' (small 'c')

'consciousness' (small 'c') - real human consciousness is not synonymous with 'thinking''mental labour' etc

It allows for the development of these: remember that Marx in specific criticism of Hegel said - almost with a sympathetic 'alas' :' language is as old as consciousness: from the very beginning 'spirit' (Hegel's 'Geist') has been 'burdened' (Marx's italics) by the material in the form of agitated layers of sound ...et seq. 

'Idealism' is not .. synonymous with 'idea-ism'

Marx added that 'language is practical consciousness' : and that doesn't mean 'only' language. To me it is simply part of his putting back where it belongs - i.e.first in the chain with real living breathing men language AND all other expressions. Whether art, music, ideas, he shows that the division of labour ever more divorces mental and physical labour the 'used' to be not or less divorced in man's natural activity. As men developed both their material production AND relationships/'traffic between them/ (Verkehr ..'intercourse' tends towrds ...er..) the unity gave way to disparity and ended up with  'mental expression' 'thought' 'philosophy' getting 'pompous and thinking it really was somebody' ( close to Marx's expression).  It would hand down the rules: describe 'reality'.

The Capitalist mode is the mode that has produced the widest disconnection of these. It is the loudest, most universal expression of the 'superiorisation' of mental labour and its products - which are none other than ideas (including yours LBird) 'theirs' 'ours' 

Precisely because of the power relations inherent within it - it promotes and reproduces the baseless and unscrutinised acceptance that the 'proper' residence of these mental products of real men is with the 'experts', 'professors', 'professional academics' - which I have always had an underwhelming repect for.But it 'resides' there not necause they are cleverer because they - literally - own the means : books, ability to publish them and time -most importantly They steal this time from the Workers: they exhaust them to the point where no energy is left to express their thoughts: they deprive them of the means to express them. But Marx shows exactly how this false position has come about and how it reproduces itself: there is no thruth in the apparent superiority. 

So, AS - born into the sub-class , the 'miserable raggle taggle mob of ne'er do wells and artisans' as 'E' (who cannot be named for explosive reasons) writes to Marx in personal correspondence, AS does not necessarily have to produce miserable raggle taggle ideas (that's just begging for a quip )

**

I intuit a couple of different issues to be distinguished or linked or ....within this from which clarity/agreement/disagreement may indeed produce 'sides to be on' but all within the Proletarian Team hopefully. 

1)It is not that I deduce 'wrongness' or 'rightness' .Apart from the obvious necessity of colloquial shorthand - this is to me a sometimes misleading dualistic reduction and thingyfying (reification: ver-ding-lich-ung). The depiction of reconciling and incorporating the best of what has gone before and is still being improved on is not per se 'wrong'. Why need such a depiction be incompatible with 'going way beyond' to a radicality different new page with radically different language. ..........unless

2)It is inextricably tied to a different fundamental issue neither 'side' of which is -yet- clear to me: that of class-consciousness. .....about which ...

3)Both 'sides' appear to my motled brain sometimes as assumers assuming that the other assumer has assumed this that and the other: or at least reduced the 'unceasing sensuous activity of men' to black and white opposites. ....as in

4)Class-consciousness can 'only come from/in struggle' -which may or may not be what 'Side 1' is saying: I certainly believe that class consciousness can spread like wild fire in struggle but only if quite a lot of matches have already been struck .

Otherwise it does somewhat beg a question: any struggle for the real communist goal must be class-conscious: as class-consciousness can only emerge during the struggle therefore - a priori - the struggle is off the rails from the start. (Crude but you get my gist)

NOW I am not saying that anyone is saying that it is that simple but that it appears to be reduced to that sometimes.

***

Miscievously, I will end with this (re:science) from Marx in the G.I. right at the beginning : Heading:

Feuerbach : Opposition of Materialist and Idealist Outlook: 

1. Ideology in General, and Especially German Philosophy

A.

We know only a single science, the science of history.

One can look at history from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men. The two sides are, however, inseparable; the history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist. The history of nature, called natural science, does not concern us here; but we will have to examine the history of men, since almost the whole ideology amounts either to a distorted conception of this history or to a complete abstraction from it. Ideology is itself only one of the aspects of this history.

Now curiously this appears in the first 'clean' manuscipt but Marx crossed it out so it doesn't appear in published editions .

Or did 'E' steal Marx's pen while Marx was changing nappies in Brussels, score out this 'heinous' claim and whip it off a bit sharpish to his old man's publishing house? ... what a ho'bble thought..

AS

 

 

 

 

 

LBird
Simplificatory summary?

To simplify, what I think that all this discussion comes down to is the philosophical/political question:

"Which has priority for workers: the 'material' or the 'ideal'?"

And the answer, as far as I'm concerned (and I think I'm following Marx, here) is: 'Neither'.

From my experience in discussing this issue, I think that 'lip service' is paid to the 'interlinking' of 'material conditions' and 'consciousness' (which, to me, means that neither can be considered outside of the other), but, under the immense pressure of Engels' misunderstanding of Marx, that comrades soon revert to the prioritising of 'material conditions' in their understanding of the proletariat and our tasks as Communists.

The philosophical position taken on this issue has implications for political strategy and tactics, so a decision can't be avoided.

lem_
thanks for your post

thanks for your post LBird.

what textual evidence is there for the answer being "neither". i woud suggest that he is saying that a) it depends on what you think dialecics is and b) what matters is activity - which in marx is consciousenss AND matter, or the substrate of action [i.e. conditions etc.]

LBird
Marx, theory and practice

lem_ wrote:
thanks for your post LBird.

And thanks for your consideration, lem_! I hope my summary has helped comrades to focus the issue for themselves.

lem_ wrote:
what textual evidence is there for the answer being "neither".

All of the various works of Marx, but especially the Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts (Collected Works, Vol. 3) and the Theses on Feuerbach (CW 5).

lem_ wrote:
i woud suggest that he is saying that a) it depends on what you think dialecics is...

Well, 'dialectics', which originates from the Greek 'dia-lego' (which means 'through-talk' or 'by discussion') has nothing to do with 'material conditions', 'matter' or 'nature' telling us anything, as alleged by Engels. None of those can 'talk'. Dialectics, if it means anything, means humans discussing 'material conditions', 'matter' or 'nature'. Consciousness discusses, matter doesn't.

lem_ wrote:
...and b) what matters is activity - which in marx is consciousenss AND matter, or the substrate of action [i.e. conditions etc.]

As long as we mean 'conscious activity'. That is, 'theory and practice', in that order.

The notion that 'practice' produces 'ideas' is wrong. In fact, it is a conservative formulation, which starts from 'what exists' and thus employs 'common sense' to deal with 'the real world'. In the philosophy of science, this method is known as 'induction'. That is (allegedly), merely uncover the 'facts' and draw the 'correct' theoretical conclusions from the 'data'. Or, 'Keep politics out of physics!'.

On the contrary, we must have some theoretical, class conscious, Communist idea prior to our practical activity.

IMO, activity based upon bourgeois ideas (wage rises, better conditions, etc.) will produce bourgeois ideology (support for the wage system and good employers), not the theoretical break that we require for Communist consciousness to develop and spread.

lem_
oh well i agree [was just

oh well i agree [was just thinking] that consciousness preceeds action. my reasons are bizarre, the good reasons seem obvious, but i don't know why you are saying so - perhaps because i'm a bit confused as to what you were correcting / disagreeing with me on, in your last post. you make it sound like it's contentious AND obvious what marx means by the relation between matter and thought, and so you've confused me about the meaning of your terms.

ah well, philosophy ha.

 

edit i am no scholar of marxism, and have no opinion on engels. well, i do have an opinion in a way after reading this thread - i think that  marxism is ideological, party based, and addressed to proletarians, in an attempt to encourage us to act in our class interests. so perhaps this idea you mention [to attack] about activity not needing a change in consciosuness, is just another side of the coin - perhaps marxism from the perspective of the party.

 

but maybe this is word salad, in which case - i'm really sorry :-) !

LBird
Marx 'the materialist' contradicts himself

lem_ wrote:
you make it sound like it's contentious AND obvious what marx means by the relation between matter and thought...

Well, it is contentious.

In fact, I'd say Marx's ideas have almost nothing to do with what most Communists (from Anarchists, through Stalinists, to the 'Communist Left') call 'Marxism'. This is a so-called 'materialist' view of the world, built up partially by Engels (who didn't seem to realise what he was doing); a 'Marxism' that started to appear in Marx's life (and which he apparently rejected, with his famous aside 'All I know is that I'm no 'Marxist!', when confronted with the determinist views of some French 'Marxists'); a 'materialism' that Engels himself tried to back-peddle on, when he admitted than he and Marx had over-emphasised 'materialism' in history, for the understandable reason that in the 19th century they were combatting the 'Great Man Theory of History' which ignored the real world of the exploited, and that they had gone too far, in this regard.

But there has been a constant stream of thinkers during the 20th century who've tried to put the humanity back into 'Marxism', with Marx's stress on the need for interaction between the 'ideal' and the 'material', with no talk of either being 'the real cause'. These thinkers, however, have been sidelined as 'idealists', by Communists who wish to stress the importance of the 'Party form' over the wider class, because they can say that they have special access to 'the Truth' and consciousness, of which workers can't know for themselves. Indeed, most of these thinkers have gone on to reject the 'Marxism' that has been dominant, simply because they have recognised that 'Marxism' often has f*ck-all to do with Marx's ideas. IMO, unless the class attempts to build upon these insights, and re-read and re-think Marx and 'Marxism', then we'll never see Communism.

As for obvious...

Almost nothing that Marx writes is 'obvious'!

He's a terrible writer, at least when discussing his ideas (rather than just historical description, which is easy to read). IMO, that's the root cause of our problems. Whole passages, even chapters, of Marx's writings are essentially meaningless, because they are unclear and contradictory. It's easy to find quotes from Marx that contradict what I'm arguing, for example:

Marx, Capital, German afterword 1873, wrote:
With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p3.htm

In the context of Marx's lifework, this statement is complete nonsense. Whilst Lenin held to a 'reflection' theory of mind, Marx didn't. This mistake by Marx, perhaps can only be understood in the context of the triumph of positivist science opposed to religious thinking, which Marx was keen to bolster.

The truth is, comrade, we workers have to take Marx's valuable insights, ditch the shite and mistakes, and reformulate 'Marxism' for the use of the 21st century proletariat. The constant uncritical repeating of 'the masters' words' (Marx, Engels, and the rest) doesn't get us anywhere. We have to think critically.

lem_ wrote:
edit i am no scholar of marxism, and have no opinion on engels. well, i do have an opinion in a way after reading this thread - i think that marxism is ideological, party based, and addressed to proletarians, in an attempt to encourage us to act in our class interests. so perhaps this idea you mention [to attack] about activity not needing a change in consciosuness, is just another side of the coin - perhaps marxism from the perspective of the party.

Why 'marxism from the perspective of the party'? Why not 'from the perspective of the class'?

Link
Im struggling to understand

Im struggling to understand the discussion here as too much is about counter arguments to counter argument to a counter argument and I really don’t see what Lbird  is arguing against so ive tried to work out what he is arguing for.  I notice yet again he uses this strategy when asked to give a proper explanation of his ideas he replies with an instruction to read all of marx!!  His constant contributions are full of assertions and little actual explanation cos he ‘cant be arsed’

Some things I agree on, there is a problem reading marx. Its hard, its been translated and its quite often convoluted.    I know the thread starting with the Theses on Feuerbach but I don’t find them very helpful – an assortment of collected notes and good ideas rather than a developed argument/overview – and to be honest, I think my understanding of historical materialism came from the ICC rather than Marx or Engels as such.   However that’s no reason to write off what Marx and Engels wrote, especially by someone confused enough about the issue to write elsewhere.

I do believe historical materialism is very important however so I am persevering and I am interested to work out the arguments and to understand better what Marx and Engels did say. But for me the discussion has been more philosophical rather than political – certainly in terms I don’t understand.

So if you don’t mind here’s a couple of quotes from M&E

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”

                                                                                                                            Marx, 18th brumaire

“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form”                             Engels Letter to Joseph Bloch 1890

I hope that is a reasonable summary of materialism as M&E believed.  I do not believe this means that Marx wasn’t a materialist (even if Lbird isn’t)  and I still don’t see a great deal of difference between what Marx and Engels wrote.

Ive been reading an SPGB forum on materialism in which Lbird it seems to me is saying something very different and entering the realm of the supernatural.  (http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/general-discussion/long-awaited...)

‘Lbird says:  “.. my present opinion is that the main transmission is 'from political to economic', that is, propaganda and ideological struggle to develop our class consciousness …  is the 'starting point'

He continues ‘”I don't think 'economic struggle' leads to class consciousness” and suggests that he is in agreement with Marx in that “Ideas drive activity” !!  (note the contradiction with his statement  above that neither predominates)

I cant see this as anything other than a distortion of what Marx said even if there is a difference between Marx and Engels.  This is a quasi-religious view that the world is created by an idea  -  in the beginning there was the word and the word was communism’

For me the quotes from M&E show they see human ideas as having a powerful impact on the real world but it’s the framework provided by economics and economic relations that provides the scope.   Physical need and want have to exist to create both the ideas and material things that can become material reality for future generations.  Television cannot be a product of feudal society and communism cannot be the product of slave society. 

Certainly conscious workers will try to persuade others workers about communism and certainly as some point in a revolutionary period I believe that workers can consciously take hold of society to change it for the better but because some are conscious now and that class wide consciousness may come to exist in communism,  it does not mean that now that consciousness has become the prime factor whilst we still live under capitalism.    Such a communist consciousness needs the development of capitalism,  and of material conditions within capitalism, to produce  the emergence of  general consciousness of the real world as it is.   This step still needs material conditions to develop in any given generation.   Its not, as I think Lbird is saying, that Marx has said his piece and because that idea is now out there, the materials conditions for communism exists.  Lbirds approach in fact rejects marx and the working class and the class struggle and puts the onus simply on people in general believing in a good idea  - as he asserts: “Philosophy is always at the basis of human actions”

lem_
ah well i think everyone is

ah well i think everyone is arguing in good faith - at least compared to most places... :-)

LBird
Resort to personal attack by the 'materialists', once again

Link wrote:
I notice yet again he uses this strategy when asked to give a proper explanation of his ideas he replies with an instruction to read all of marx!! His constant contributions are full of assertions and little actual explanation cos he ‘cant be arsed’.

I've 'properly explained' my ideas ad nauseam, with quotes from all sorts of thinkers, over several threads, and I've even supplied quotes that disagree with me, to try to help comrades see the difficulties.

Have you considered, Link, that the real problem is that you 'can't be arsed' to do the reading and critical thinking that's required?

Link wrote:
I cant see this as anything other than a distortion of what Marx said even if there is a difference between Marx and Engels. This is a quasi-religious view that the world is created by an idea - in the beginning there was the word and the word was communism’.

As I never tire of predicting, the 'religious' adherents to 'materialism' always call their opponents 'idealists'.

I've even explained where they've got this notion from, that if it's not 'materialism' of their liking, it's 'idealism'. That is, from Fred Engels, who wouldn't recognise philosophical discussion if it bit him on the arse, who split philosophy into two schools, and only two schools. It's nonsense.

Do us a favour, Link? Stop criticising me personally, and build an argument against what I'm saying.

A.Simpleton
Clear

A most appropriate summary: by no means diminished by its simplicity.

It gets across to me at least - if I have read you right - key points which are fundamental and food for thought. A basic summary but the powerful differences that indeed can stem from apparently 'secondary' subtleties in Marx's writings is communicated: which also means - whatever differing conclusions c'rades may take - that the 'cross-purpose' problem may be helped: 

I also like your 'word salad'; coinage lem_ (is it the inevitable theoretical efflux of the alphabet soup  that is the 'material condition' of the Left Communist Milieu ?)

Can't expand: bit pushed for time: Marx commended Hegel's work until his dying day and as I note above, commended Feuerbach equally for 'going as far as he possibly could'.

Let Marx have the last word;

But since for the socialist man the entire so-called history of the world is nothing but the creation of man through human labour, nothing but the emergence of nature for man, so he has the visible, irrefutable proof of his birth through himself, of his genesis.

Since the real existence of man and nature has become evident in practice, through sense experience, because man has thus become evident for man as the being of nature, and nature for man as the being of man, the question about an alien being, about a being above nature and man – a question which implies the admission of the unreality of nature and of man – has become impossible in practice. Atheism, as the denial of this unreality, has no longer any meaning, for atheism is a negation of God, and postulates the existence of man through this negation.

Socialism as socialism no longer stands in any need of such a mediation. It proceeds from the theoretically and practically sensuous consciousness of man and of nature as the essence. Socialism is man’s positive self-consciousness, no longer mediated through the abolition of religion, just as real life is man’s positive reality, no longer mediated through the abolition of private property, through communism.

Communism is the position as the negation of the negation, and is hence the actual phase necessary for the next stage of historical development in the process of human emancipation and rehabilitation. Communism is the necessary form and the dynamic principle of the immediate future, but communism as such is not the goal of human development, the form of human society.|XI||[34]

1844 manuscripts :Private Property and Communism.

AS

LBird
Practice and induction

Link wrote:
He continues ‘”I don't think 'economic struggle' leads to class consciousness” and suggests that he is in agreement with Marx in that “Ideas drive activity” !! (note the contradiction with his statement above that neither predominates).

What bit don't you understand, Link, in the phrase 'theory and practice'?

Neither predominates, both are required, mindless activity is not Marx's view.

Where do you think ideas come from? Practice?

If so, why not tell everyone that you believe in 'practice and theory'? In contrast to Marx. And inline with conservative thinkers, who just 'deal with the real world that confronts them' (rather than criticise it, and then base activity on that criticism), and use induction, so that 'theory' emerges from the 'facts'. It's nonsense, comrade.

lem_
chatty reply

LBird wrote:
Why 'marxism from the perspective of the party'? Why not 'from the perspective of the class'?

well i was suggesting that a communist party doesn't need to be more class conscious.

 

i think marx can be easy to understand, but we overelaborate things and get stuck cos we're unsure what questions we are asking.

just an impression i have... word salad isn't my term, it's a term for certain schizophrenic symptoms (that i don't have) - i was just using it very very loosely :)

LBird
Marx made simple?

lem_ wrote:

LBird wrote:
Why 'marxism from the perspective of the party'? Why not 'from the perspective of the class'?

well i was suggesting that a communist party doesn't need to be more class conscious.

The nature of the relationship between organised Communists (which I'm all for) and the wider working class which is not yet class conscious, is a discussion which needs to be had.

On the whole, I'm in favour of an educational and propaganda role for Communist workers in their attempt to help produce class consciousness amongst their fellow-workers. In contrast, I'm not in favour of an organised, centralised, cadre-professional 'Party' which is under the direction of a central committee employing so-called 'democratic centralism'. Workers must develop wider structures than a 'Party', perhaps starting with workers' discussion groups, and eventually councils. A central role must be kept for dissent and factionalism, to help develop our ability to argue. I think these views of mine on organisation flow from my views about the development of class consciousness. At the end of the day, I'm a democrat, and I don't think Communism can be built by a minority, no matter how well-meaning. A majority of workers (or at least a very large minority) have to become class conscious. If the mass proletariat cannot develop this, with help from workers who are already Communist, I don't think Communism is possible, and that Marx was wrong.

Furthermore, it's my opinion that the 'Leninist-style' party, which I've outlined, is actually destructive of class consciousness. That is, workers who've started to question this society, and join a 'party', have their incipient dissent knocked out of them by the party's structures, methods and ideology. Workers need their argumentativeness to be fostered and developed, not diminished and strait-jacketed by apparatchiks.

lem_ wrote:

i think marx can be easy to understand, but we overelaborate things and get stuck cos we're unsure what questions we are asking.

I'm afraid I disagree with you here, lem_. Marx is a terrible writer, and I think he is the source of our 'overelaborateness'. We need to simplify his ideas, and thus be able to explain them to workers. I've tried to do this regarding 'science', 'dialectics' and 'value', for example, on a number of sites, but there doesn't seem to be much taste amongst Communists for actually making Marx's ideas easier to understand.

There seems to be an attitude that 'if it's taken me five years to understand 'value', why should other workers be helped to understanding it in five weeks?'.

Personally, I think it should be the role of workers who've become Communists to actually explain, rather than just tell others to read Marx, Engels, etc. IMO, this hasn't been done throughout the 20th century, and I'm inclined to blame 'Party consciousness' for this state of affairs. It suits 'party consciousness' to remain opaque to workers, and thus retain power over workers.

All this depends on whether one thinks workers are capable of this development; Lenin clearly thought that they weren't, outside of a disciplined party. I disagree about this.

lem_
well IME "value" just means

well IME "value" just means value, "science" science. and "dialectics" - the resolution of opposites. i don't think marx is redefiing these terns, i think that he is working to tell us something in these terms. i.e. that history is the history of class struggle, and one way or another capitalism is doomed - the existence of a separate class that means that the other class is cotnrolled through things.

LBird
Slithy toves

lem_ wrote:
well IME "value" just means value, "science" science. and "dialectics" - the resolution of opposites.

Ahhh... if only things were so simple, comrade, and words would just stand still!

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

lem_
well, quote something in

well, quote something in which his terms are obscure / change

?

radicalchains
Right....

Lbird what do you think class consciousness is? Workers' being aware of their class or somethng else or something more? Are we talking for the moment solely within the realm of ideas?

Is there also a communist consciousness? If so, is this something different?

Not trying to be sarcastic or funny, just trying to understand your conception of consciousness, struggle, the working class in general and communist workers re post 43.

(p.s Link and Lbird I was 'proletarian.' on the SPGB forum)

 

 

A.Simpleton
Good Stuff

And at a measured pace which I feel is always helpful: it is directly related to the point about 'speed of understanding'.

LBird wrote:

The nature of the relationship between organised Communists (which I'm all for) and the wider working class which is not yet class conscious, is a discussion which needs to be had.

I agree: and also think that the way that it is presented is good: it hopefully lays to rest the myth (so often scuppering such discussions) that the c'rade assumes 'organisation? bad !': he states the opposite. Nor does it necessarily imply - in spite of polemical water under the bridge - that the organised ICC/ICT/CWO= bad! It is the relationship - the real or perceived relationship - with the wider class that is identified as needing scrutiny which indeed includes deeper (and perhaps more contentious) fundamentals.

On the one hand an International revolutionary organisation like the ICC most definitively and clearly states in its resolute Basic Positions:

*10) The working class is the only class which can carry out the communist revolution ...... In order to destroy capitalism, the working class will have to overthrow all existing states and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat on a world scale: the international power of the workers’ councils, regrouping the entire proletariat.

*12) The revolutionary political organisation's .... .... role is neither to ‘organise the working class’ nor to ‘take power’ in its name, but to participate actively in the movement towards the unification of struggles, towards workers taking control of them for themselves, and at the same time to draw out the revolutionary political goals of the proletariat’s combat.

I agree and these definitive statements should always be kept in mind. The ICC in its Platform also states:

*16 The class and the organisation of its vanguard are two distinct things but they are not separate, external or opposed to one another as is claimed by the Leninist tendencies on the one hand and by the workerist-councilist tendencies on the other.

They specifically distance themselves from 'Leninist' tenencies:( 'the Central Committee is external/opposed: 'its will shall be done' as it were') and also they specifically distance themselves from the 'it'll just happen without any help from you lot thank you very much' approach.

On the other hand however: the convenient 'dots' ..... I have inserted in the Basic Positions quotes contain what perhaps are examples of the key problematics which -forgive me if I've completely misunderstood- c'rade LBird is getting at.

*10) .... Its revolutionary struggle will inevitably lead the working class towards a confrontation with the capitalist state.....

'Inevitably'...is that so ... I 'hope' so .....but nonetheless .... and in 

*12)...* The revolutionary political organisation constitutes the vanguard of the working class and is an active factor in the generalisation of class consciousness within the proletariat.

Is it not the two things together : the 'inevitability' of the confrontation and its placing as the predicate for the factor of generalisation to become 'active' sort of implied?

Thus is there not very reasonable and necessary room for scrutiny of the context, nature in which this 'factor can become active in generalising' ? I happen to agree with the decompositional depiction of our chaotic present : the 'stalemate' but it would seem to militate against that 'inevitability' word.  

AS

(I will respond to 'Marx was a terrible writer' separately: why the very idea!)

 

LBird
Obscure

lem_ wrote:

well, quote something in which his terms are obscure / change

?

Well, here's an example of a supposed 'basic text'.

Marx, Grundrisse, pp. 100-2, wrote:

(3) The Method of Political Economy

When we consider a given country politico-economically, we begin with its population, its distribution among classes, town, country, the coast, the different branches of production, export and import, annual production and consumption, commodity prices etc.

It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, with the real precondition, thus to begin, in economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation and the subject of the entire social act of production. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest. E.g. wage labour, capital, etc. These latter in turn presuppose exchange, division of labour, prices, etc. For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without value, money, price etc. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception [Vorstellung] of the whole, and I would then, by means of further determination, move analytically towards ever more simple concepts [Begriff], from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations. The former is the path historically followed by economics at the time of its origins. The economists of the seventeenth century, e.g., always begin with the living whole, with population, nation, state, several states, etc.; but they always conclude by discovering through analysis a small number of determinant, abstract, general relations such as division of labour, money, value, etc. As soon as these individual moments had been more or less firmly established and abstracted, there began the economic systems, which ascended from the simple relations, such as labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, to the level of the state, exchange between nations and the world market. The latter is obviously the scientifically correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung] and conception. Along the first path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract determination; along the second, the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought. In this way Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind. But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being. For example, the simplest economic category, say e.g. exchange value, presupposes population, moreover a population producing in specific relations; as well as a certain kind of family, or commune, or state, etc. It can never exist other than as an abstract, one-sided relation within an already given, concrete, living whole. As a category, by contrast, exchange value leads an antediluvian existence. Therefore, to the kind of consciousness – and this is characteristic of the philosophical consciousness – for which conceptual thinking is the real human being, and for which the conceptual world as such is thus the only reality, the movement of the categories appears as the real act of production – which only, unfortunately, receives a jolt from the outside – whose product is the world; and – but this is again a tautology – this is correct in so far as the concrete totality is a totality of thoughts, concrete in thought, in fact a product of thinking and comprehending; but not in any way a product of the concept which thinks and generates itself outside or above observation and conception; a product, rather, of the working-up of observation and conception into concepts. The totality as it appears in the head, as a totality of thoughts, is a product of a thinking head, which appropriates the world in the only way it can, a way different from the artistic, religious, practical and mental appropriation of this world. The real subject retains its autonomous existence outside the head just as before; namely as long as the head’s conduct is merely speculative, merely theoretical. Hence, in the theoretical method, too, the subject, society, must always be kept in mind as the presupposition.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch01.htm

I've tried understanding this several times (dozens?), but it still seems to me to support whatever viewpoint one wants it to.

It makes me feel like grabbing Charlie by the shoulders, and shouting at him "Stop burbling, man! Speak clearly, and tell us what you really mean!"

LBird
Outline of posssible process?

radicalchains wrote:
Lbird what do you think class consciousness is? Workers' being aware of their class or somethng else or something more? Are we talking for the moment solely within the realm of ideas?

Is there also a communist consciousness? If so, is this something different?

Not trying to be sarcastic or funny, just trying to understand your conception of consciousness, struggle, the working class in general and communist workers re post 43.

Well, perhaps at its very basic level, class consciousness is awareness of the reality of exploitation, That is, knowing that we're being stolen from by the rich, and that we create wealth, not the rich. This also clearly implies awareness that 'nation' is the cover story by the thieves to get workers to support rich people.

But this basic awareness just throws up the question of 'what do we workers actually do about stopping this theft of our products?'.

This seems to me to be the point of interaction of class conscious workers and Communist workers. That is, workers are already at the position of asking questions and being willing to listen to potential answers, and that already Communist workers are available to provide some potential answers. I don't mean this as a 'final cut', fixed 'answer', but an opening up of possible explanations for our exploitation (like Marx's ideas on 'value'), and a potential course of action which will remove the structural exploitation (like a revolution, rather than piecemeal, slow, evolutionary, reformist changes, which will fail; a course we will use history to demonstrate).

This view of class consciousness is one that I think shows the process we all have gone through: first, we become aware of the failings of capitalism, perhaps by experience as much as by discussion; but secondly we have to talk with other workers to get to a point in which we learn the lessons of proletarian history and thought (rather than re-inventing the wheel, every time, as individuals), and become Communists (or reformists, depending upon the arguments to which we are exposed).

I don't think that there is anything 'automatic' in this process, based upon 'material conditions' making it so.

Will most workers just knuckle down to austerity and just work harder, for longer hours, for smaller, later, pensions, and for less wages, and never ask questions at all?

Will most workers develop a hostility to the rich, or just to foreigners?

Will workers who become hostile to the rich want to overthrow them, or just persuade them to be decent?

I think Communists can help this process to take place, but it requires workers themselves to become critical of their current existence. Once they are critical, then the door is open to Communists, but nothing is guaranteed.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, comrade, but one thing I am sure of: the strategy and tactics of Communists in the 20th century did not work. We have to critically discuss these issues, rather than just reiterate old, outdated, views. The answers are not 'in the texts'. We are not a religious movement, which quotes our 'bible' as authority.

Or, we shouldn't be.

LBird
Class and power

A.Simpleton wrote:

And at a measured pace which I feel is always helpful: it is directly related to the point about 'speed of understanding'.

LBird wrote:

The nature of the relationship between organised Communists (which I'm all for) and the wider working class which is not yet class conscious, is a discussion which needs to be had.

I agree: and also think that the way that it is presented is good: it hopefully lays to rest the myth (so often scuppering such discussions) that the c'rade assumes 'organisation? bad !': he states the opposite. Nor does it necessarily imply - in spite of polemical water under the bridge - that the organised ICC/ICT/CWO= bad! It is the relationship - the real or perceived relationship - with the wider class that is identified as needing scrutiny which indeed includes deeper (and perhaps more contentious) fundamentals.

Perhaps if we use simple examples to illustrate some differences of conceptions of this relationship between not-yet-Communist workers and organised Communist workers.

The first (Leninist?) conception works by (say) 5 Communists in a "party branch" organising a public meeting, which 20 workers attend. The meeting remains under the control of the party. The 5 supply the chair and other roles, and the meeting remains under the control of a minority. Power lies with the 5.

The second (Councilist?) conception works by (say) 5 Communists in a "loose federation" organising a public meeting, which 20 workers attend. The meeting opens by all 25 attendees electing a chair. Perhaps the chair is a Communist, perhaps they are not. The 5 do the donkey work of organising the meeting (booking room, publicising, opening up, setting out chairs, etc.), but don't control the pace, content or direction of the meeting. The meeting remains under the control of the majority. Power lies with the 25.

I think that the second method is more appropriate to developing workers confidence in their abilities. Communists might provide arguments, as participants just like the others, but it remains clear to all that the only power that Communists have over workers is the power of persuasion. Each participant can have the chance of chairing meetings that they attend, and indeed, over series of meetings, the role of the chair should be rotated, so that all can have the chance to experience that power (and its potential for abuse).

How this would work in practice, I don't pretend to know. The point is, we have to reconceptualise this relationship between workers as a class, and workers who are Communists. Power must lie with the class, not the Communists. Until, of course, the class is Communist!

We have to come up with ways of developing workers' confidence, rather than merely teaching them to sell papers, attend picket lines, and do as they're told by party cadres and central committees.

And stop telling workers that 'the rocks' are the source of their inspiration. The only way forward is by workers thinking for themselves, critically and creatively. If that's 'idealism', then I'm an 'idealist'!

[edit]

From the thread's opening 'Theses':

Marx wrote:

3

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change [Selbstveränderung] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.

I think the second method above is closer to this conception than is the first method. The first 'divides society/meeting into two parts, one of which is superior to society/meeting'. The second involves 'human activity or self-change' for workers.

lem_
"it still seems to me to

"it still seems to me to support whatever viewpoint one wants it to"

well i think it's readily understandable... but i kinda get how it might confuse someone - and think it's worth working out why there might be disagreements there. a new thread maybe?

Link
Historical Materialism

As is suggested in an earlier post I do not see the theses on Feuerbach as a strong piece of writing and certainly does not give a coherent overall view of the world.

Lbird at last explains where his view of materialism comes from  and I agree that Lbird’s selected quote appears at first sight to support his argument that Marx was not a materialist.  However I do think it ought to be read in a different way. 

Firstly the grammar – is he taking about materialism or the (type of)  materialist that….. – my insertion.  Although this alone is clearly not decisive.    What Marx is saying here however  should be read in context of the first thesis which is an arguing against ‘hitherto existing materialisms’ :  I think Marx is clearly criticizing a particular type of materialism in opposition to the historical materialism that M&E had by then worked out. 

There are different types of materialism – the rather simplistic idea the matter creates thought which Lbird correctly criticizes – and historical materialism.  The latter is still a materialist viewpoint but it is a materialism which is based on a view of society and social development rather than just things.  That is one of the key insights produced by Marx and Engels.

If I can make a further quote from Engels:  “history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.”   Engels letter to Joseph Bloch

On its own this appears to support Lbird again (and I still can see why he is against Engel view on the subject) it was clearly written in a context that  ‘According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life” as appears earlier in the same letter. 

Marx expressed it also: “ In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”  Preface, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)

Reality determines thought.   This is the historical materialism of Marx and Engels and it does not need redefining even if it can be explained better. 

Only for individuals do ideas lead to practice but this is not a starting point to understand or explain how society works

lem_
Only for individuals do ideas

Only for individuals do ideas lead to practice but this is not a starting point to understand or explain how society works

 

i understand that this is quite a common belief, or something like it - the idea that early marx was not a scientist (unlike in das kapital say). but i struggle to understand what alternative there is to "ideas [that] lead to practice... [being] a starting point to understand... how society works".

without worrying about sounding like i've got ahead of myself without yet having a reply to my question, perhaps that is why there is confusion and disagreement about his writings.

LBird
Do rocks tell us their 'material' facts?

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Link.

But it clearly brings out the difference in our views of Marx's ideas.

Link wrote:
Reality determines thought.

This is as tight a definition of the view that I'm attacking as one can get. Whatever 'reality' is, it doesn't determine 'thought'.

Humans determine thought.

Humans creatively come up with new ideas, new explanations for 'reality'.

Unless we take this view, then we have to admit that 'creativity' is outside humans, that 'ideas' are put into our heads by some mysterious force, that the source of Communism is not humans actively and creatively shaping their world.

As has been said many times, the 'mechanical materialist' view is really 'idealism' in different clothes. And the pretence that changing its name to 'historical materialism' removes this 'outside creative force' is mistaken. Marx wasn't a 'materialist', he was an 'idealist-materialist' (I prefer the term 'critical realist', but I'm using 'idealism-materialism' to emphasise the necessity to retain Marx's insight that the idealists correctly saw that humans were 'the active side', not 'material conditions').

Thanks again, Link, for being open enough to debate and argument to accept that there is room for this interpretation in Marx's works.

Link wrote:
...I agree that Lbird’s selected quote appears at first sight to support his argument that Marx was not a materialist....On its own this appears to support Lbird again (and I still can see why he is against Engel view on the subject)...

In turn, I think that it's obvious that the Engelsian, positivist version of Marx is also based upon, and can be supported by, Marx's works.

But...

I blame Marx for his terrible writing, which at times reads just like the positivist view of science that Engels particularly was prone to support, but even Engels could see the dangers of this form of 'materialism' towards the end of his life, as evidenced by the letter of 1890, which Link quotes.

The key, to me, is to stop using the 19th century term 'materialist', and to start using the modern concept 'realist'. I think that this is closer to Marx's intended meaning, which clearly was not mere 'materialism'.

The essential difference, I think, between 'materialist' and 'realist', is that 'materialist' invokes things that can be 'touched', whereas 'realist' includes both rocks and thoughts as 'real'; that is, some 'real' things can't be 'touched'.

As a final comment to any 'materialists', I'd ask them to answer the question "How does 'reality determines thought'?". That is, what is the mechanism for 'reality' transferring 'ideas' into the human mind?

This is the philosophical question that can't be answered by positivists. The creation by Einstein of 'the theory of relativity' in 1905 showed that Newtonian science (supposedly based upon passive observation of the 'real world of nature') was incorrect. That is, the supposed method of letting 'reality determine our thoughts' was nonsense. In fact, Newton himself had created Newtonian physics, the explanation of 'reality' which was so influential until Einstein. But we now know that 'reality' wasn't speaking to him, it wasn't 'determining' his 'thoughts'.

Comrades, religious philosophers have read the debates between philosophers of science throughout the 20th century, and understand that the old 'materialism' is dead, as an explanation of our world and ourselves. Whilst we refuse to take on board these advances in human thought, we will remain behind the religious, never mind the atheistic bourgeoisie.

Once we accept that Newton creatively built his class's understanding of the world, we can begin to creatively build our understanding of the world, ie. Communism. If we wait for 'reality' to do this for us, the world will pass us by, and Communism will fade into the ideas of the past.

MH
I agree with Link

I think this is a really good summary of the main arguments why, as revolutionaries today, we defend a materialist conception of history as developed by Marx and Engels.

Unfortunately, his use of the single word ‘reality’ allows LBird to ignore the rest of the evidence.

If you substitute the words ‘material conditions’ for ‘reality’ then it is clear. Reality is not separate from human consciousness. For Marxism, human consciousness is itself part of material ‘reality’, which is why, for Marx, “theory … becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses”...

While Marx clearly recognises the role of human consciousness in the development of the material forces of production, the actual relationship of consciousness to these other forces is not ‘equal’, as LBird claims. On the contrary, Marx is very specific about the relationship of one to the other, as Link’s quote from the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy makes clear:

The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, my emphasis).

That’s as clear as it can be, surely? I think the real problem here is not so much the correct interpretation of what Marx (or Engels) wrote, but the fact that, when it comes down to it, LBird defends an idealist conception of history, ie. that, in the final analysis, it is the ideas in men’s heads that are the ultimately determining element in history...

How else are we to interpret his insistence (in post #34) that theory comes before practice and that 'practice' does not produce 'ideas'?

The history of the workers’ movement is so full of examples that disprove this simplistic, idealist schema that it is hard to know where to begin: the appearance of the soviets in the 1905 Revolution, for starters, surely began with the activity of the mass of the working class, the historic implications of which for the class struggle in the new epoch of capitalism were only afterwards grasped, let alone elaborated, by the clearest revolutionaries?

LBird
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Rock

MH wrote:
That’s as clear as it can be, surely? I think the real problem here is not so much the correct interpretation of what Marx (or Engels) wrote, but the fact that, when it comes down to it, LBird defends an idealist conception of history, ie. that, in the final analysis, it is the ideas in men’s heads that are the ultimately determining element in history...

How else are we to interpret his insistence (in post #34) that theory comes before practice and that 'practice' does not produce 'ideas'?

Unfortunately, MH, we can never take any quote of Marx's as defining 'as clear as it can be'. He says the opposite, elsewhere. And Engels admits that they were very one-sided (perhaps with good reason, then).

'Idealism' is the belief that 'ideas come from outside humans'. As loads of thinkers have pointed out, throughout the 20th century, 'materialism' also falls into this trap. 'Materialism' (including your version 'historical materialism') is, in fact, idealist. For this method, rocks play the role of god.

What's more, you get your opinion of 'ideas' being 'idealist' from Engels, not Marx, as I never tire of saying.

Marx unified idealism and materialism into a philosophy of 'theory and practice'.

The notion that 'practice produces ideas' is induction. To all intents and purposes, this is the positivist method.

On the contrary, 'practice' confirms or rejects 'ideas'; but the 'ideas' come first. Alone, they are meaningless. Human ideas must be tested in practice. But practice can confirm incorrect ideas, too. That's our philosophical problem: Newtonian practice seemed to confirm Newtonian ideas. But it was wrong.

The simplistic notion the 'material conditions' tell us the 'Truth' (a 'naive realist' view of epistemology, Lenin's 'reflection' theory of knowledge) has been destroyed since 1905.

The good news is that Marx (if we ditch the shite about 'materialism', which he and Engels over-emphasised too much, as we know) can be shown to support the most advanced philosophy of science that the bourgeois thinkers have come up with, only 150 years later than Marx!

And once more, I can only ask 'How do 'material conditions' implant ideas in the human mind?'.

'Materialism' is, ironically, the last bastion of 'Idealism'.

MH
'Implanted'?

LBird wrote:

And once more, I can only ask 'How do 'material conditions' implant ideas in the human mind?'.

 

If only it was as easy as demonstrating how this or that change in material condition ‘implanted’ a particular idea in a human mind...  But no one is arguing this, least of all Marx. On the other hand, to give a real historical (and suitably complex) example, surely we can agree that Protestantism ended up as the perfect ideological justification for the ascendant capitalist class - and this despite the  pungent personal arguments of Martin Luthur about capitalism being the devil’s work…  How can we really understand the meaning or significance of the Protestant Reformation except in the context of the decay of feudalism and the rise of the new mode of production, ie. by reference, in the final analysis, to changes in material conditions, essentially outside of human control, rather than to the ideas in men’s heads?
 

LBird
In the final analysis, we're all dead

MH wrote:
How can we really understand the meaning or significance of the Protestant Reformation except in the context of the decay of feudalism and the rise of the new mode of production, ie. by reference, in the final analysis, to changes in material conditions, essentially outside of human control, rather than to the ideas in men’s heads?

But 'understanding', 'meaning' and 'significance' are human judgements. And 'reference' is a human act.

The same 'material conditions' can survive differing accounts of those 'material conditions', because it's the humans who live in those 'material conditions' that create those accounts.

The notion that, without 'Protestantism' that capitalism would have collapsed, is nonsense (as I'm sure that you'll agree). Some other religious justification, even if it didn't fit the 'material conditions' as well (in our judgement), would have emerged. Perhaps some ideology did emerge which was better for capitalism than Protestantism, but was defeated and lost to history.

Communism has to be argued for, through propaganda and education, within the working class, by the working class. A minority can't know the truth of Communism, because it must be the conscious act of the majority. The claim that a minority can read the 'material conditions' is an elitist lie. Lenin was wrong: if the class can't develop their own consciousness, prior to revolution, then Communism is impossible.

The notion that Communism will emerge from 'material conditions' is mistaken, in my opinion. Workers must become critical of their lives, and then actively choose Communist ideas to explain their 'material' lives.

It's just like physics.

Science doesn't produce 'The Truth' about nature. Humans produce 'true knowledge' about nature, and that 'truth' can be wrong.

We must stimulate criticism of what exists. Including Marx, Engels, Lenin and the rest.

MH wrote:
If only it was as easy as demonstrating how this or that change in material condition ‘implanted’ a particular idea in a human mind... 

Well, how does a 'rock' put 'knowledge' of that rock into our minds?

If we now know this is impossible (contrary to positivist science's claims), then how can any minority tell us about something as complex as 'material conditions'. 'Knowledge' of 'material conditions' must be produced by humans voting democratically. Our political processes, from the start, must emphasise democratic methods: hence my points about meetings (or was that on the other thread?).

radicalchains
Lenin was wrong and so was Marx.

You might not care but I think you think Marx was clearly wrong too. As he made explicit that only during a revolution will the consciousness of men and women change on a mass scale. He thought prior to revolution only a minority would already be partly consciously communist (in any case this is what I think anyway). More people would become communist by acting communist (not just having communist ideas or preferences) during the revolution, during action and their own explicit doing, experience and reflection. Not teachers teaching them what the right consciousness is or about communism or even reading Marx and Engels by themselves. That doesn't mean those things are bad or pointless. It only does very little though.

LBird
Uncle Joe cares for his flock

radicalchains wrote:
You might not care but I think you think Marx was clearly wrong too.

Well, since I keep saying that I think Marx was often wrong (certainly in the way he expressed himself), this won't come as any surprise to those not religiously committed to 'Marx the Saviour'. He was human; of course he was wrong, at points.

rc wrote:
As he made explicit that only during a revolution will the consciousness of men and women change on a mass scale.

This is part of the problem, comrade. Marx made very little 'explicit', because of the convoluted way he expressed himself. That's why most people turned to Engels for an explanation of what-the-fuck Marx meant!

rc wrote:
He thought prior to revolution only a minority would already be partly consciously communist (in any case this is what I think anyway).

That's the way! Think for yourself! I don't agree with you, but we must discuss this issue. We need more comrades actually saying 'this is what I think', rather than quoting scriptures, of 'what Marx is supposed to have meant'. All sorts of answers lie within those, just like the bible!

rc wrote:
More people would become communist by acting communist (not just having communist ideas or preferences) during the revolution, during action and their own explicit doing, experience and reflection.

Luckily, eh, they'll have you and others to do the conscious thinking for them? Who needs 'class consciousness', when we have such fine leaders, cadres who'll selflessly guide the way? Not!

rc wrote:
Not teachers teaching them what the right consciousness is or about communism or even reading Marx and Engels by themselves. That doesn't mean those things are bad or pointless. It only does very little though.
[my bold]

You're making my case for me, rc.  Unconsciously, of course, which is ironic, and surprising for one who considers himself amongst the conscious chosen 'elect', who will lead us mere near-illiterates to the promised land of Communism.

The righteous path of the 'materialists', once again!

All I can say is "Workers, Beware!"; or, "Joe Stalin wus 'ere!"

radicalchains
To Lbird

LBird wrote:

Well, since I keep saying that I think Marx was often wrong (certainly in the way he expressed himself), this won't come as any surprise to those not religiously committed to 'Marx the Saviour'. He was human; of course he was wrong, at points.

I agree, Marx was and is not a God, it is okay to disagree with him. But his works do sort of act as a bit of a compendium . That's not to discount other writers of course. But we are all aware of his very famous works, Capital and the Manifesto. This obviously reflects itself in some ways as does his historical standing. I agree his language at times is difficult as much as it is obscure it is the general problem of being 19th century and a foreign language with the added translation factor in certain cases. 

Quote:

This is part of the problem, comrade. Marx made very little 'explicit', because of the convoluted way he expressed himself. That's why most people turned to Engels for an explanation of what-the-fuck Marx meant!

I disagree that you cannot understand Marx because of his writing style or his use of language. Yes it is difficult to understand at times and some of the ideas, concept, understanding is difficult in itself. But then when you think about, we should understand the world we live in naturally shouldn't we? We all live in it, we all have brains. But we don't, we don't have a fucking clue about the world half the time. There is of course an argument to popularize Marx, to simplify without weakening the content. Great, do it, distribute it.

rc wrote:
He thought prior to revolution only a minority would already be partly consciously communist (in any case this is what I think anyway).

Quote:
That's the way! Think for yourself! I don't agree with you, but we must discuss this issue. We need more comrades actually saying 'this is what I think', rather than quoting scriptures, of 'what Marx is supposed to have meant'. All sorts of answers lie within those, just like the bible!
 

I say partly conscious because we cannot posess perfect or ideal consciousness and also it is not static, there are advances and retreats. Why is it partial, for many reasons including bourgeois ideology which is nearly all encompassing. Look at all the so-called communists and anarchists who lean towards nationalism and cross the class and internationalist line. And also partly conscious because when I talk about the subject I refer to ideas or preferences and action. Not one or the other and it is fluid, not static. I mentioned on a different thread that we do not know what each of us will do when the time comes, we can only judge now by our history and previous experience not by just what we say. Someone, I think Alf made the point that why the organisation, the ICC plays such an important role for him because it gives him strength and guidance over an individual to which I probably agree, in fact I think it's obvious that in most cases it would help.

rc wrote:
More people would become communist by acting communist (not just having communist ideas or preferences) during the revolution, during action and their own explicit doing, experience and reflection.

Quote:

Luckily, eh, they'll have you and others to do the conscious thinking for them? Who needs 'class consciousness', when we have such fine leaders, cadres who'll selflessly guide the way? Not!

I don't understand comments like this. Why do you think I'm saying I and others who share my position that we will think for them? Workers become conscious for themselves just as hopefully I will. I am perfectly capable of being behind in consciousness or even reactionary. This to me is so simple and I'm not afraid to admit it. I am not a leader or a cadre, I'm more like you actually. I'm outside an organisation looking in trying to work out the mess we're generally in as a class. Besides, workers obviously do consciously think now but what we want is communist or revolutionary consciousness or whatever it is we call it when workers are actively transforming capitalism into communism.

rc wrote:
Not teachers teaching them what the right consciousness is or about communism or even reading Marx and Engels by themselves. That doesn't mean those things are bad or pointless. It only does very little though.

Quote:

You're making my case for me, rc.  Unconsciously, of course, which is ironic, and surprising for one who considers himself amongst the conscious chosen 'elect', who will lead us mere near-illiterates to the promised land of Communism.

Now you're saying formal education does little which seems to be a complete reversal of your earlier position about needing to teach Marxism ( I think you said something like that).

Link
development of historical materialism

Lbird, thanks to you for the explanations of your views in contrbn 55 – it really was what I was asking for before  - current readers can never easily know where to find previous discussions and explanation  - appears to be the nature of internet blogs im afraid.

One of the things I have done is go off and read Pannekoek’s Lenin as Philosopher.  I think you recommended it but I certainly would to all comrades to understand more of this discussion which appears to get so philosophical.  I does provide an explanation of many terms that were new to me.

That said I do not think he would agree with lbird's world view though.  The point of the book is to compare bourgeois materialism and historical materialism thereby identifying Lenin’s materialism as fundamentally bourgeois. Pannekoeks argument is then that this false view is a root cause of the counter-revolution in Russia.  Written in 1948,  it must be the case that his priority was to explain the downfall of the Russian Revolution and he ascribes that to failings in the Bolsheviks which led to creation of state capitalism in Russia.  The latter argument is not entirely convincing but is not the point of the discussion about materialism here.

Pannekoek separates and defines bourgeois materialism and historical materialism.   As Lbird says bourgeois materialism is a materialism which simply sees ideas and thought as a product of the existence of things in the real world (presumably this is where the issues about rocks comes from)  Bourgeois materialism is a product of history and rose with capitalism as a tool, an argument against ideas of feudalism, absolutism and the religion.  That its purpose and its role in history.  With the rise of the working class , Marx and Engels were able to identify the weaknesses in this approach but they recognized that a world view cannt be simply based on materialism of  nature and physical matter but a social materialism  based on society and social development ie things and human beings and the relationships between them. 

I think therefore ‘reality determines thought’ is correct but that is because true that reality includes social relationships and the development of thought culture etc.  All of these have an impact on following generations.  None of them exist without the other so no matter how we physically work as brain and thought-processes, it is clear that without reality we cant come up with ideas about reality.

I think its easy for us all to use the wrong terms, misunderstand terms and confuse others about what we are trying to say in this discussion.  Reality, matter, things, physical world, the real world, things nature can all sound to have the same meaning but in this discussion they don’t and that is where what confusions can come from.  When lbird uses the terms ‘humans’ it think that is important because it should mean a focus on society rather than on the individual but his explanation is actually of individual action.

For bourgeois materialism the starting point is matter and nature, for historical materialism the starting point is society or rather the current stage of social development – which for Marx and Engels meant the development of the productive forces and the existing economic relations  and then the legal, social philosophical cultural superstructure built on top of that  - and that’s what I think the term reality describes.

In parts this seems to correspond to lbird’s use of the term realist but I think it is wrong to redefine the terms used in the past by the workers movement.  In part I cannot agree with his conclusions - we should not lose sight of the starting point of social development and see its content as purely ‘thought’ or ‘ideas’ because then you are in the realm of the supernatural and individualist explanations of human development.

As lbird says, an individual thinks before the or she acts agreed,  but humans must be part of society and experience the social developments achieved up till that point in time to have the needs and wants to give thought processes something to be applied to. 

LBird
Thought is real

Link, thanks for your comradely response.

Although I agree that Pannekoek is essential reading for all Communists, there are things he says which I think I disagree with - but that's for another thread!

Link wrote:
I think therefore ‘reality determines thought’ is correct but that is because true that reality includes social relationships and the development of thought culture etc.
[my bold]

This is key point of much confusion, I think.

If 'reality' includes 'thoughts' (and I agree), then it doesn't make logical sense to deny that 'thoughts' (a part of reality) also 'determine thought'. So, we have the tautology that 'thought determines thought'. This, however, whilst true, means everything and nothing.

Yet whenever someone argues this, that 'human thought' is a central part of 'reality' (as are 'rocks'), and so that 'ideas' are as important as 'material conditions', there are always loud shouts of "Idealism!".

It is not idealism to place human thinking at the heart of our understanding of nature or society. This is precisely what Marx did in the Theses on Feuerbach.

Any failure to acknowledge Marx's unifying of both strands of philosophy, is a return to pre-Feuerbachian materialism. It was Engels who made this reversion respectable, by his condemning of idealism in favour of materialism. Once we return to 'materialism', we lose 'theory and practice', which requires both human creative ideas and an external reality which is outside of our thinking. Ideas alone are useless; but they must exist for practice to take place.

The only people who argue that 'practice takes place without ideas' are conservatives. And they lie. Since ideas are always required for practice, the (hidden) ideas being used are those of 'common sense' of the world 'the way it is'. Do I need to further emphasise the essentially conservative nature of supposed 'thoughtless practice'?

The political effect of this 'materialism' (which denies human creativity, our 'ideas') is to place the inescapable role of thinking with a minority, who deny they are doing the thinking, and merely insist they are 'reading off' from the 'material conditions'.

Marx warns us in the Theses of allowing a minority which is superior to society.

PS. I won't respond here, Link, to your view that I'm arguing for 'individual thought', because I'm sure the other comrades can remember that I always stress the social nature of consciousness, and it will just divert us from the main task here. I just wish it to be noted that I don't argue for 'individual' thought or action.

LBird
If Marx is easy, I must be stupid!

radicalchains wrote:
I disagree that you cannot understand Marx because of his writing style or his use of language. Yes it is difficult to understand at times and some of the ideas, concept, understanding is difficult in itself.

I find this a contradictory statement, rc.

Anyone who's tried to read the first three chapters of Capital will take my side, I'm sure! That's why Engels' simplifications were so important in the early building of the ideology of 'Marxism'. At least people could understand Engels' works; the fact that Engels not only simplified but changed or even reversed Marx's ideas, makes this even worse. It'd probably be better if Engels was as poor a writer as Marx, but then 'Marxism' probably wouldn't have made the impact that it did. A hundred years later, we're still trying to untangle what Marx said (and meant) from what Engels said 'Marx said' (and meant).

rc wrote:
But then when you think about, we should understand the world we live in naturally shouldn't we?

This could be seen as a breathtakingly naive statement, rc. The problem is, humans don't just 'understand the world'. This is one of the central issues in philosophy, and has been since the Ancient Greeks. Heraclitus said 'nature hides itself', in about 500 BC. Marx, being a classical scholar, agreed with this approach.

rc wrote:
But we don't, we don't have a fucking clue about the world half the time.

So, what happened to 'material conditions' telling us? You seem to be aware of this philosophical issue, but deny its political implications. We can't take human creativity out of the equation. The question is, "Should a 'human minority' or a 'human majority' do this thinking?". As a Communist, I have to answer 'the latter'.

Link
more

Spent a bit of time replying to lbird’s earlier contribution earlier on and missed various new contributions so i prepared some extra words and now ive just discovered a new contribution from lbird. Help i need food!! Anyway this was written before contributions 64 and 65 so may now look out of step. 

MH I have kept on using the word reality to denote social development in a physical and social sense because rather than the term material conditions as you suggest not because I disagree with you but to stress to lbird that it means far more than physical things.  This is where he gets stuck – on the rocks? – and doesn’t see that thoughts, social and economic relationships as well as economic conditions are part of what are called material conditions by Marx.   Also Pannekoek uses it!   I do have the feeling that it is easy to confuse the meaning of materials conditions with just physical things.

Lbird is right to say Marx was not a materialist of the old school but he is mistaken in then rejecting what is called historical materialism as the same thing.

I also agree with radicalchains’  point about the working class learning forom practice during a revolutionary situation.  This is precisely why we don’t think that we are teachers, because we see that workers learn for themselves out of experience of reality of capitalism and conflict with the capitalist state.   And  that lbird is also why we see your viewpoint as supporting the idea of teachers bringing ideas from outside:  there is absolutely nothing in what radicalchains said for you to accuse him of support for an elite doing the conscious thinking for the class.  Whereas your viewpoint lbird says to me that you think workers don’t and can’t  learn for themselves from the real world and real conditions and that the explanations of this are only brought to them from those with a 'good idea'

Lbird questions how material conditions become thoughts but the correct question it seems to me is how do ideas emerge and become reality?  Thoughts and ideas do not have a separate life ‘in the ether’. -  ideas and thoughts do not have their own life which progresses and changes distinct to the real world.  Thoughts and ideas cannot be generated without any relation to MH’s ‘material conditions’ or my ’reality’  This is pure supernaturalism but it appears to be what you say.  An individual will have ideas and put them into practice and then have more ideas and then put them into practice and so on and so on.  All true but its of no help to understanding how society works if you start with ideas appearing in individuals out of nowhere.  To do that you must find a starting point in this process which is precisely what marx’s idea of social materialism did - that starting point is social development to date.   Those ideas and thoughts that change society are based on human needs and wants that emerge in reaction to the previous set of material conditions – that’s how materials conditions generate thoughts in humans.  (Do humans determine thought? What does that mean?  Humans are thought or are nothing without thought?)

 

Lbird, you also use what is for me a strange combination of sentences in your reply no 59 -  if you don’t mind me picking them apart.  The following sentences I agree with

Communism has to be argued for, through propaganda and education, within the working class, by the working class.

A minority can't know the truth of Communism, because it must be the conscious act of the majority.

Workers must become critical of their lives, and then actively choose Communist ideas to explain their 'material' lives.

 

I agree with  these sentences absolutely because they say to me that the majority can only learn from the real world, wont just take the word of an elitist minority and cant be told what to do by an elitist minority.   the other sentences in that section say to me the opposite

Yes workers must become critical of their lives, but that can only happen because there is something wrong in their lives and it wont happen just because somebody like you or me try to persuade them to.  I do not understand at all how you turn these short sentences into the idea that believing in a working class consciousness emerging from experience of struggles against the material conditions/reality of capitalism is an elitist belief. 

 

Fred
If Marx and Engels hadn't

If Marx and Engels hadn't existed does that mean that there wouldn't be a workers movement?  I mean if the confused and impossible to read Marx, to say nothing of the horribly positivist Engels, who is sometimes made to sound like a secret agent of the bourgeoisie, in on the birth of communism by luck alone, and doing his best to render Marx even more difficult by "simplifying" everything  he wrote, if they had never lived and done what they did, what difference would it have made to proletarian progress?  I suppose the Marxist answer is "no difference at all".  The proletariat's progress towards "consciousness" via its endless struggles against its  enslavement to wage labour ( of course, we wouldn't know what "wage labour" is if it wasn't for Marx, would we?)  is surely the result of its endless struggles against its enslavement, and not the product of a couple of fancy German 19th century  philosophers  with nothing better to do than invent theories straight out of their own phantasmagorical fantasy worlds.  

 

The  proletariat's development of "consciousness"as a result of its own struggles for life against a horrible system,  is a production by and of the working class itself; the result of working class life stemming from its own  actual existence and living conditions.  If the working class had no actual material reality to think about then.... well... It wouldn't be alive would it?  It may sound daft,   but without an actual bodily physical material existence - and don't forget that consciousness is the highest form of matter yet produced by living beings (that Engels said this doesn't  make it wrong even if it is a positivist speaking) - well there wouldn't be any ideas, thoughts or theories at all, would there, because there wouldn't be anyone alive to have them?    

 

When Link says "reality determines thought" I assume what he's saying is "dead people don't think!" I agree with him.   Being alive, which I assume is what "material reality" means with regard to human beings, is an essential condition for the creation of any thoughts at all, be they fantasy  idealisms  and  escapism, serious scientific explanations of stuff,  Marxists type theories, or artistic representations of phantasmagorical fantasy worlds. 

 

The philosophers only interpret the world and are capable of talking incredible clap-trap.  A hundred years later the working class isn't "still trying to understand what Marx said" but we are still finding our revolutionary way. Either we understand Marx or we don't. He may help some of us and confuse others, and be of no interest at all  to many. We will make the revolution with or without him.  But need the party. Just as Marx did. 

LBird
Creativity is the key

Link wrote:
Lbird questions how material conditions become thoughts but the correct question it seems to me is how do ideas emerge and become reality?

You seem to be asking the same 'correct question' as me, Link.

'How do ideas emerge [step 1] and become reality [step 2]'.

Link wrote:
Thoughts and ideas do not have a separate life ‘in the ether’. - ideas and thoughts do not have their own life which progresses and changes distinct to the real world.

I agree with every word you've said. I've constantly argued for 'theory and practice'.

Link wrote:
Thoughts and ideas cannot be generated without any relation to MH’s ‘material conditions’ or my ’reality’ This is pure supernaturalism but it appears to be what you say.

But this relates to 'step 1'. Of course 'thoughts and ideas can be generated without any relation to 'material conditions' or 'reality'. Have you never heard of madness? Creativity in humans can produce all sorts of nonsense. Humans create god, for example.

At this point, you seem to reject the method of 'theory and practice' for understanding the world. You've made the methodological mistake of separating 'ideas' from 'reality'. Since you address 'ideas' alone, not surprisingly you see this as 'supernaturalism'.

But when we correctly return to your earlier question, "how do ideas emerge and become reality?", where you acknowledge the difference between 'emerge' and 'become', we can give an answer.

When humans produce ideas, the subjecting of them to practice tells us whether they are useless/mad or useful/sane. Our method cannot separate ideas from the application of them to a material context.

You seem to be mixing up three potential positions, Link, and thus misunderstanding mine. They are:

1) Ideas emerge from humans, but don't need to be confirmed by 'the real world' (this is 'idealism');

2) Ideas emerge from the 'material', and so humans are not the 'active side' (this is 'materialism');

3) Ideas emerge from humans, and must be tested in practice (this is Marx's unification of 'idealism-materialism', from the Theses).

If we follow position 3, ie. Marx's method (which I subscribe to), then we can see that, initially, "'thoughts and ideas can be generated without any relation to 'material conditions' or 'reality'", because those ideas, if useless, will be weeded out by the second step of 'practice'.

But the ideas are creatively produced by humans, and so might be totally unrelated to the current view of 'material conditions', and yet prove in practice to be a creative, revolutionary, jump in understanding. I think that this is just what Marx and Einstein achieved, for example.

Whosoever follows position 2, that 'material conditions' create 'ideas', denies the revolutionary creativity of humans.

And since it is not possible for 'material conditions' to create 'ideas', then the followers of position 2 must pretend that 'material conditions' create 'ideas' but actually they themselves provide the ideas outside of the oversight of those whom they are telling that 'material conditions' create 'ideas'.

Thus, we have a separation of society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

This is precisely the position taken by those who argue that 'consciousness' is the property of the few prior to the revolution. This will lead to minority, party control, and power will remain outside of the control of the class, who, according to this theory, can only develop consciousness after the revolution.

This is not Marx's view, comrades. This is Lenin's view.

We must emphasise 'theory and practice', which means creative, active humans testing their new, revolutionary ideas within the real conditions within which they find themselves.

But the 'real conditions' are not the origin of ideas; humans are.

To argue otherwise is to return to 'mechanical materialism' (even if the words 'historical materialism' are used to hide this), and to lose the insights of Marx, according to the Theses on Feuerbach.

It's my opinion that the phrase 'critical realism' should replace 'historical materialism', because this makes plain the break from 'materialism', and because Marx's 'historical materialism' is not the 'historical materialism' of the materialists. If Marx would have had the concept of 'critical realism' available to him when he wrote the Theses, he would have used it, IMO.

Critical, creative, original thinking by the proletariat is the way forward, comrades, not listening to either the 'rocks' or those who claim to translate for them.

Link
Yes yes yes and no

Lbird, thanks for the step by step approach, this is helpful even if it means I must scrap what I have already written so yet again thanks again.  I think we appear to be agreeing on the basics of what reality is, on the problems of idealism and bourgeois materialism, even what is historical materialism. 

But it at that point where you apply Marx that you seem to take a step backwards to an idealistic viewpoint. 

You say:

  “But then you ascribe to marx historical materialism some magical qualities of idealism  If we follow position 3, ie. Marx's method (which I subscribe to), then we can see that, initially, "'thoughts and ideas can be generated without any relation to 'material conditions' or 'reality'", because those ideas, if useless, will be weeded out by the second step of 'practice'.

But the ideas are creatively produced by humans, and so might be totally unrelated to the current view of 'material conditions', and yet prove in practice to be a creative, revolutionary, jump in understanding. I think that this is just what Marx and Einstein achieved, for example”

These statements however  contradict your own rejection of the idea that  ‘thoughts can have a separate life in the ether’ and it directly contradicts you own rejection of the statement (1) that ideas don’t need to be confirmed by the real world!!   Your argument is not improved by adding practice to those ideas and suggesting they together can have a joint existence separate to the real world. It is these arguments of yours that are idealist and an incorrect interpretation of marx's historical materialism

If you don’t mind me taking a step back and repeating something – not to annoy but with an approach to try to clarify something step by step.

Firstly the explanation of the term material conditions/reality is important in that it includes the state of production forces, relationships of production,  class structure,  complimentary social political and intellectual thought and culture as achieved to a given point in time.    Material conditions/reality are a totality, it is indivisible and it is temporal ie the totality changes continuously. I think we agree in rejection idealism we reject the theory that thoughts and ideas evolve in a world of their own with no physical reality. .    I agree with you again that its not idealism to place human thinking at heart of our understanding of society because social relationships are a tied to thought process.  Ideas existing at a given point in time and are a part of the existence of reality and material conditions at that time and as such must also be a reflection of that totality.   Being a totality however means that none of the elements of materials conditions/reality that I mentioned above can have their own parallel thread running through history.  So please reconsider the way you use the term material conditions because I believe you apply it as though it is just material things and it is not . 

Marx and Einstein were clearly a product of history and of their specific time in history, This is where you go wrong lbird in your reading of Marx because he clearly does not suggest that thoughts and ideas can be generated without any relation to material conditions just because he unifies ideas and pracdtice. The whole content of his writing is about explaining society and history and social development up until his point in time so  suggesting his writing might be produced at any time and  bears no relationship to his conjunctural conditions is quite astonishing to me.  

Secondly I also had a little schema - Reality determines thought determines reality determines thought is perhaps how id express it I think  because it is in practice an ongoing and continuous process. As you say one strand or element of this would appear to mean thought determines thought determines thought. You appear to criticise the former but agreeing with the latter.  Am I correct in saying this or not?

Both however are attempts to describe historical development as a process but stated very generally and have limited value as an explanation.  To make a theory which explains that history you need to identify a starting point in the process for the analysis.  Marx did this by rejecting the starting point of ideas (ie idealism) and of objects such as rocks (ie materialism) and as you say unifying them.  He called it historical materialism and Pannekoek labeled it a neatly as social materialism.  Both saw the process as a history of society and took society as a totality as the starting point.   So the schema does makes sense as long as you accept that reality (ie the materials conditions in society) is this all embracing totality of nature and physical world, economics, humanity, its thoughts and the relationships between them ie the physical and non physical elements all together.

 

LBird
On a 'hiding' to nothing, Link!

Link wrote:
Lbird, thanks for the step by step approach, this is helpful...

Thanks for the feedback, Link. I'll keep trying to clarify, as long as you're getting something from what I'm saying. Even if you end up disagreeing with me, you will have learned how to combat my arguments, to your satisfaction, at least.

Link wrote:
So please reconsider the way you use the term material conditions because I believe you apply it as though it is just material things and it is not .
[my bold]

Then why call them 'material' 'conditions', if it is not (just)?

Why not (more accurately, presumably) call them 'idealist-materialist' 'conditions'?

Why hide a part of the 'conditions'? What have the theorists, who do this 'hiding', got to hide? And who are the ones being 'hidden from'?

To 'hide' something requires both a active 'hider' and a passive 'hidee'.

Link
Lbird, its time for a break

Lbird, its time for a break and im off to Berlin without my laptop for a week.  I have had this idea that it is a healthy land there with no diabetes, no high blood pressure nor even high cholesterol so I am going to make the most of the Schultheiss and Obstler and perhaps even  the odd Eisbein 

If you can suggest some light reading that would be great particulary some bit of Marx that would support your statement from post no 66.

“If we follow position 3, ie. Marx's method (which I subscribe to), then we can see that, initially, "'thoughts and ideas can be generated without any relation to 'material conditions' or 'reality'", because those ideas, if useless, will be weeded out by the second step of 'practice'.”

Frankly at this point I don’t think this is Marx’s view at all but where does this argument come from?  If you havent got any backup then how about some justification for your criticisms of Engel's materialism instead!

As a parting gift I leave you 2 quotes the first (because its your fault I had to read the book) is Pannekeok’s explanation of Marxism

Essential, however, are Marx's new contributions to science. There is first of all the doctrine of Historical Materialism, the theory of the determination of all political and ideological phenomena, of spiritual life in general, by the productive forces and relations. The system of production, itself based on the state of productive forces, determines the development of society, especially through the force of the class struggle. There is, furthermore, the presentation of capitalism as a temporary historical phenomenon, the analysis of its structure by the theory of value and surplus value, and the explanation of its revolutionary tendencies through the proletarian revolution towards communism. With these theories Marx has enriched human knowledge permanently. They constitute the solid foundation of Marxism as a system of thought. From them further conclusions may be drawn under new and changed circumstances.

The 2nd is from Das Kapital because I have been looking but cant find anything supporting your interpretation.  I think is a more accurate reflection of Marx’s view

"My dialectical method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite.  To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of "the Idea," he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of "the Idea. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production."

(had to look it up but demiurgos was apparently god’s mate to did all the work making the physical world!!)    

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