Marx, Socrates, Authority and Critique

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Demogorgon
Marx, Socrates, Authority and Critique
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This is a split from the Blood Relations thread, which we want to avoid being cluttered with discussion on wider epistemological questions which started from post #10.

From post #28 by Fred:

Quote:
The question of who is or isn't an authority is vital to the bourgeois limited grasp of human life. Much of their personal security seems pinned on this issue. Theresa May has suddenly become an authority by virtue of being PM. The BBC presents itself as an authority and thus those who get to pontificate on it in scientific programmes become authoritative courtesy of the BBC and not to be questioned.

For myself, I like and approve Socrates who was an authority on nothing and never claimed great expertise in any field. He just questioned everything and everybody in an effort to expose their basic assumptions specially those implicitly held. In this way he helped their learning processes and his own and thus contributed to the improvement of society by this educational process.

This Socratic method is like Marxism. Questioning everything. Socrates wasn't a proletarian but he thought like one, and of course finally paid for his proletarian-like subversiveness with his life.

It's true, of course, that Marxism has often been characterised as critique. However, Marxism - or proletarian consciousness, if one can distinguish between the two - can never limit itself to merely criticising what is. Marx discusses this here: "The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses."

Critique is not the end of Marxist thought, but the beginning. The proletariat doesn't simply limit itself to critiquing the existing order but attempts to not only overthrow it but build something new: communism. It is the only social force that can do this; you might say the proletariat is the expert on communism ...

In practical terms, the soviets in Russia weren't simply a questioning of the authority of bourgeois institutions, they were the negation of bourgeois authority and the establishment of a new proletarian authority. They were the means through which the proletariat imposed its will on wider society. However, the soviets weren't monolithic - they contained wide diversity of opinion and these opinions were settled by discussion and majority voting. The minority submitted to the will, the authority, of the majority.

Authority, then, is not simply a bourgeois pre-occupation, but one that the proletariat has to come to terms with as well. The question is what differences are there between the authority of the exploiter and the property owner, and the authority of a revolutionary class?

Coming back to the question of experts and their authority, I think that the hostility towards this conception is bound up with all sorts of other questions. In this society, intellectual authority (of the sort I described on the other thread) is often bound up with political authority. In Marx's famous aphorism, those who control the material means of production also control the intellectual means of production. The bourgeoisie also justifies its exploitation by its "expertise" in managing society's economic and political apparatus. It's natural then to associate "expert" with "bourgeois".

This fact shouldn't fool the proletariat, however. At present, "work" is also inextricably linked with "toil", that is the exploitation of labour. However, work - even hard work - is not inevitably linked with exploitation. Being a revolutionary is hard work, after all.

It's worth considering the origin of experts and specialisms for a moment.

Exchange is founded on specialisation and also encourages its development. It first appears historically when, by accident of environment, one particular group found itself near a particular use-value: fertile lands, copper deposits, whatever. Blessed with an abundance of one use-value but a dearth of others, the groups began to exchange their respective surpluses. Over time, communities began to specialise in particular products made solely for exchange.

In capitalism, what began as irrational accident becomes systematically applied to the whole of society. Everything is specialised as commodity production becomes progressively more dominant. More and more, the labour process itself is fragmented into different parts, each more specialised and precise, forcing the worker to adapt himself to the labour process rather than the other way around. We are forced to develop a particular set of talents and characteristics, to the exclusion of all others - progressively isolated and rationalised by capital, they become divorced from the whole human being, and become major factors in the disintegration of each worker's invidivual personality. Every attribute developed in this way becomes alien to us. This is why, for most of us, the skills we use in working life are not the skills we like to focus on in our "spare time". In a desperate attempt to recover humanity, we try to be something different in our non-working life. Today, a theoretical physicist that wants to produce art, cannot do so without creating the great risk that he will damage his career. The time he must dedicate to art, reduces the time he spends discovering new particles and he risks falling behind in his chosen field of work. And, unless he is especially talented, he cannot produce art to "make a living". Our actual productive talents, which should be a source of joy, become a source of misery in the workplace and the yearning of unfulfilled longing outside of it.

However, at the same time as it creates more and more specialisation, more and more "experts", capitalism also does the exact opposite: progressively establishing the the equivalence of labour for exchange purposes. As labour becomes more specialised, it also becomes more identical, its qualitative differences being submerged in the purely quantitative. The commodity of labour thus expresses the same contradiction between use-value and exchange-value that all commodities express within capitalism.

But specialisation is also a requirement of the development of the forces of production. As I said on the other thread, as human knowledge and technical applications expand continuously, it becomes progressively impossible for any single human being (barring hypothetical artificial means that I referred to somewhat facetiously on the other thread) to master all the different "trades". Even before the domination of commodity production, specialisms had long emerged in the form of artisanry.

If communism is based on a a further development of the forces of production - the alternative being, I suppose a return to a form of primitive communism - this seems to imply that specialisms and expertise will not simply disappear. So there is a fundamental question about the connection between specialisation, commodity production and exploitation. In capitalism, all three appear as inextricably interlinked. Marx once described the commodity as the cell form of capitalism - this is why Marx rejected Proudhonism, which sought to maintain the commodity form while abolishing exploitation. Is specialisation the cell form of the commodity? Should we work to abolish it as well? And what does that mean, then, for the forces of production?

I don't think this is, in fact, a problem. Cells in living organisms perform specialised tasks - brain cells cannot form a protective integument like skin cells can, just as skin cells can't perform cognitive functions. Yet they function in a unity, allowing the organism to exist. More importantly, that unity creates something far greater than the sum of its parts.

Communism will allow the full flowering of individuality and the widest possible exploration of human knowledge. All the disparate talents of human beings will work in unison, with no particular talent seen as more important as another, and no particular privilege arising from them.  Of course, humans are more complex than cells. And while, outside of very particular circumstances, most cells perform the same function for all of their existence, humans in a communist society would not need to be so specialised as that. Instead, development of skills and talents must be a process in harmony with each individual's totality. We'd be free to explore all of our individual talents, try different things and recreate ourselves. Our theoretical physicist need no longer fear penury if he wants to create art. The economic imperative no longer applies.

Another crucial point to remember is that humans beings are not all the same. It is the bourgeois left, having internalised the reification of capitalist exchange relations, that succumbs to this idea. For them, it is "poverty" that stands as a barrier to "aspiration" and "achievement". Eliminate poverty and everyone is not only "the same" in economic terms, but also "the same" in human terms, a sort of featureless raw material that can be shaped into anything. This is a reflection of the contempt that bourgeois rationalisation has for each individual's idiosyncracies which "appear increasingly as mere sources of error when contrasted with these abstract special laws functioning according to rational predictions".

Different humans beings will display different aptitudes, different interests, and will gravitate towards them without being enslaved by them. The specialisms of  living cells are determined by a chemical process beyond their control - in the metabolism of communism, each "cell" will choose freely his or her place in the wider body. Specialism becomes a means to advance both the individual and the whole, and no longer a form of, or excuse for, exploitation.

LBird
Authority is a social product and a political power

Demo, it seems that the heart of your OP is about 'authority' and 'who' (or 'what') wields it.

As a Democratic Communist and a Marxist, I would say that the only 'authority' for the revolutionary proletariat (or, post-revolution, the social producers) is the proletariat (producers) themselves.

And this 'social authority' must be democratic - that is, all proletarians involved in building for Communism must have a equal vote in what is to be 'produced'.

This, to me, makes it clear that there won't be 'elite experts' who tell us 'what is what', neither in politics nor physics.

Of course, there will be what are now called 'experts', but they'll be democratically elected and controlled 'delegates', who'll be given such autonomous powers as suits those who choose them to be delegates.

Any 'findings' of our delegates will be subject to our overview - the delegates won't be telling us that 'they know best', and we that we are simply compelled to accept their 'findings' (whether about 'society' or 'nature').

Once this position is accepted - the democratic control of production, as Marx argued - then there can't be any myths about there being something 'out there', to which only 'elite experts' have 'special access' (which is not available to the producers themselves), and that the 'out there' is the 'authority' for 'what is', or what 'nature is'.

Any 'nature-for-humans' is a social product, produced differently by different societies (hence, Marx's 'modes of production'), and no humans have a socially-unmediated access to 'reality' ('Truth'), neither 'experts' nor 'the masses' (even after the revolution).

We are the active agents, the social subject that creatively builds its own 'nature', by its social theory and practice.

That is, we are the 'authority'. We are the 'authority-for-us'.

This is Marx's argument - we product our 'object'. Only we can determine our own interests and purposes when creating 'nature-for-us', our 'organic nature', 'reality-for-us', 'existence-for-us'.

jk1921
Good post Demo, but I think

Good post Demo, but I think it raises the issue of ecology and the extent to which captialist society today might be to some extent "over developed" and "over specialized." The perspective of the Frankfurt School is important here in asking to what extent has captialist development extended the domain of technics and specialization to the point where it already no longer serves human development and interests and actually begins to degrade it? One example might be in medicine where there are now all kinds of ways to prolong human life well beyond the point where it serves any humane purpose and loved ones are forced to make the difficult decision to say no to the medical experts who want to perform additional procedures that may prolong the patient's life, but in ways that appear degrading on the human level. Perhaps there is a limit to the extent to which scientific authority can order a truly human life?

Demogorgon
Quote:I think it raises the

Quote:
I think it raises the issue of ecology and the extent to which captialist society today might be to some extent "over developed" and "over specialized" ... Perhaps there is a limit to the extent to which scientific authority can order a truly human life?

Lots of interesting points. But, it doesn't overcome the problem I see with specialisation being inextricably linked with a certain level of development of the forces of production. One can imagine a future communist society being based around more simple living, but this cannot be so easy as simply giving up this or that technological advancement or specialism. Specific technologies don't exist in isolation, but as part of a web with all the parts interlinked, like the production process itself. Microprocessor technology depends on certain metallurgical techniques, and processes that allow to manipulate extremely timely objects. We cannot simply give up this or that technology without this having a knock-on effect on all those other technologies that the original one depends upon, some of which we may actually want to keep.

Of course, we don't necessarily have to use all the applications of a particular technology. I doubt the world will fall apart if we abandon smartphones. Perhaps this relates to the point about medicine - is this a problem of application or the underlying technologies? If the former, then the problem of maintaining technological advance without specialisation remains. If the latter, we then have a more serious issue.

I am basing my view on the assumption that communism will be based on an advancement of the productive forces. But if there are inherent problems with certain technological advancements, if they are by their nature anti-human, then where does this leave the communist project? How can communism be made possible by a certain level of the productive forces, if those productive forces are inherently anti-communist?

Leaving that aside, perhaps communism will (or could) be based on reducing the forces of production? This overcomes the problem of interdependent technology, but raises another question. If Marx was right and productive forces have a certain "natural" affinity with certain modes of production ("The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist.”), then this raises the question of whether returning to a particular level of technological development risks the return of previous modes of production.

This wouldn't happen right away - the first couple of generations would be happy communists choosing to live a certain way. But, over time, things would change. It might seem very attractive - at first - spending your time happily chopping wood and farming in the old way. But the "old ways" are necessarily inefficient and the amount of labour to produce necessities would increase, thus decreasing the amount of time dedicated to cultural and scientific pursuits. Knowledge and skills die out through lack of use and over the generations, what began as a choice becomes a constraint. Provisions against exploitation remain, perhaps for some time, but as history becomes legend, then myth, this is relegated to superstition rather than consciousness. The forces of production push towards their natural social forms and, at some point, the whole nightmare of human (pre)history begins again.

LBird
Avoiding the issues?

What happened to Marx, Socrates, Authority and Critique?

Surely we have to identify 'authority' to 'critique' it?

LBird
Marx on 'authority'

Marx, Theses on Feuerbach III, wrote:
The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm

Thus, the 'authority' for the 'changing of circumstances' is 'humanity'.

This 'authority' itself must be 'educated'.

Any ideology which 'forgets' this, will 'divide society', into an 'authority' outside of 'humanity', and a 'society' which is inferior to this 'authority'.

This, according to Marx, is just what 'materialists' do.

'Materialists' deny that it is 'humanity' which is the only 'authority'.

There is not an 'educational authority' which is separate from 'humanity'.

To put it simply, both politicians and physicists will be subject to humanity, and not the reverse.

There won't be politicians telling us what our own interests and purposes are, and there won't be physicists telling us what our 'reality is'.

Neither 'elite experts' nor 'matter' are the source of 'authority'.

Only the democratically-organised revolutionary proletariat can be the source of its own 'authority'.

To argue for 'experts' or 'matter' is to "divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society".

jk1921
I generally agree with Demo's

I generally agree with Demo's comments in the opening post in regards to authority: i.e I am not letting just anyone perform surgurey on me anytime soon. You better believe I am checking the credentials of anyone who is going to perform any kind of procedure on my body. But at the same time, I have to say that as I move forward in life, the number of times I encounter a so-called specialist or expert who appear to have absolutely no idea what they are talking about only increases: I am talking about lawyers who give amazingly bad advice, medical doctors who diagnose from a pharmaceutical company's script, auto mechanics who just make it up, etc. And when I encounter such instances, I am generally not shy about questioning the authority of the purported expert, even if I lack the formal qualifications in the particular field of knowledge.

Of course, malpractice is always possible, but I am not sure if the increasing frequency of such experiences are just an effect of getting older and thus having larger personal sample size to examine or if they are reflective of something like either a.) a general decline in the quality of professional work (perhaps as a result of an overproduction of various professionals with the expansion of higher education) or b.) a reflection of the "democratization" of knowledge resulting from the explosion of information technologies. The latter possibility seems likely to me, as the more medical doctors I meet, the more it becomes clear that the profession has a serious chip on its shoulder about people questioning their diagnoses after researching their symptoms on the internet. Still, a man who defends himself in court has a damn fool for a client.  

LBird
Bourgeois ideology always reverts to 'I' and 'Me'

jk1921 wrote:

I generally agree with Demo's comments in the opening post in regards to authority: i.e I am not letting just anyone perform surgurey on me anytime soon. You better believe I am checking the credentials of anyone who is going to perform any kind of procedure on my body. 

[my bold]

This is a standard approach by bourgeois ideologists: to alter any discussion about 'political and social' issues to one of 'personal experience'. The use of 'I' demonstrates the origins.

The issues in science and epistemology are about power in society, not about letting an amateur carpenter use a knife and fork to carry out a botch-job on one's brain.

Any class conscious workers should be aware of this bourgeois ideological manoeuvre - it's exactly the same as when we Communists try to discuss Marx's concept of 'value' (a social relationship, concerned with 'exploitation'), and the bourgeois ideologists drag the conversation onto grounds favourable to them, and ask questions about 'how will I earn enough to eat?', and 'how will I choose how much 'value' I can work hard for, if there is no money?'. etc.

Always be aware of those supposed 'communists' who refuse to discuss social issues, about how we workers will politically control socially powerful ideologies, like science, physics, logic and maths.

 

Demogorgon
With brief reference to JK's

With brief reference to JK's remarks, I saw this today. The general crux is that the NHS is trying to move the decision making process more to the patient with the doctor providing information and options.

There's plenty more to say but I haven't had time recently to put anything intelligent together.

LBird
Bourgeois policies in the NHS are nothing to do with 'science'

Demogorgon wrote:

With brief reference to JK's remarks, I saw this today. The general crux is that the NHS is trying to move the decision making process more to the patient with the doctor providing information and options.

Yes, another attempt to lessen the power of workers as a class, and pretend to place it into the hands of individuals, so that those individuals take the blame for social decisions taken by a ruling class determined to reduce their own social costs.

However, this has nothing whatsoever to do with 'authority' in science and epistemology.

Only the democratic proletariat can collectively determine its own interests and purposes in the social activity of science, and in the social production of knowledge.

There is no 'matter' simply sitting 'out there' which speaks only to an 'expert elite' of bourgeois physicists, or 'special individuals'.

Fred
authority and democracy

Demogorgon wrote:
 Authority, then, is not simply a bourgeois pre-occupation, but one that the proletariat has to come to terms with as well. The question is what differences are there between the authority of the exploiter and the property owner, and the authority of a revolutionary class?
 

What is the authority of the proletariat? It is the bearer of new relations of production. When it  seizes power  it will be the ruling authority, with the authority.  to establish the new relations of production and to build the new society. 

But this is a new and different understanding of authority from that of the bourgeoisie. For them  authority is embodied in personages holding office - like Theresa May, whose pontifications  suddenly carry a  weight they lacked before - or officially recognised experts and spokespersons and of course celebrities. 

Socrates wasn't like that , though he may have attained a certain scandalous celebrity in the end. But, as I understand it, he didn't claim to be a specialist in any field except  perhaps that of the relentless questioning of what people thought and why they thought they understood   what  they thought, and not something else. 

In fact of course most people don't actually think at all, just accept the ideas currently going round and regurgitate them as  their own.  Is this what populism is? Is this what D. Trump does par excellence? He shares all the latest cliches.  Hillary does the same but  with the well-worn cliches of the American Democratic Party and its supporters.So her "populism" is more official than Trump's. . In bourgeois society I suppose original thought, apart from undercover of science and research, is today a very suspect activity like Marxism itself.

unffinished

 

 

 

 

 

jk1921
Interesting

Demogorgon wrote:

With brief reference to JK's remarks, I saw this today. The general crux is that the NHS is trying to move the decision making process more to the patient with the doctor providing information and options.

There's plenty more to say but I haven't had time recently to put anything intelligent together.

Interesting piece, which raises what I think is something of an old debate in medical ethics regarding "informed consent." Some ethicists have wondered to what extent such a thing is even possible as most patients lack the capacity to understand what the doctor is telling them and as such fall back into a "whatever you say doc" deference to a god-like authority they can't possibly fathom. In such cases, there really is no genuine consent, because the informing part is simply impossible and patients are unable to rationally evaluate risks and options.

But today, many doctors get testy about defending the authority of their profession in the face of the opposite problem of patients coming in the door with their minds already made up about their diagnosis and demanding specific treatment.