A summary of the afternoon session

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Fred
A summary of the afternoon session
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: A summary of the afternoon session. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Fred
  This is a quote from the

 

This is a quote from the article in question. "There is not an administrative solution to the Period of Transition. It is a matter of class consciousness....All will depend on the capacity of the proletariat to retain control over its own activity." 

Its easy to say that its all a matter of class consciousness because of course it is. But how much class consciousness do we need to be able successfully to achieve victory for our new consciousness?  What quantity of consciousness is required, and what quality?  

To deal with quantity first. What proportion of the working class has to have attained a communist consciousness in order  for our dictatorship to be established on a rational basis?  A dictatorship in which the majority of workers don't properly understand what exactly it is we're trying to do will fail.   And of course the words "don't properly understand"  raise the matter of the intellectual depth of understanding among workers -  in short raise the question of the quality of the consciousness around  in the class in general. 

in previous attempts to discuss this matter, LBird has always insisted that unless the whole class has realized a communist consciousness in advance of the revolution, then the revolution will fail.  (If I have misunderstood LBird's position then please excuse me, but at least  the misunderstanding provides us a starting point for a discussion,)   I think he has a point.  But the question is: does it really have to be the whole class or just a majority?  And, if a majority then how big?  

Others might argue that this is a nice idea but quite out of the question. A majority of the class will not be able to achieve a communist consciousness till we actually set about building communism after the successful revolution. which opens the door to such a possibility.  

 

Others might say say that a sufficient number of workers have to have attained a sufficient awareness of the differences between capitalism and communism  prior to a successful uprising for the revolt to get any where....and that the spread of communist consciousness and the increase in the quality of that consciousness  is an ongoing process that takes place thereafter.  (I am starting to repeat myself!) 

 

As to the class needing "to retain control over its own activity"  well yes of course. It'll be an armed dictatorship.   But " its own activity" has also  to include a large measure of intellectual development.  The class has a vital need to ensure the continuing exposure and defeat of bourgeois ideology in all its forms,  while simultaneously pursuing  the growth and dissemination of its own superior class consciousness as the necessary replacement.  Is this where an international party would make an important contribution?   Or do we manage without?  

LBird
If not 'now', 'when'?

Fred wrote:
in previous attempts to discuss this matter, LBird has always insisted that unless the whole class has realized a communist consciousness in advance of the revolution, then the revolution will fail. (If I have misunderstood LBird's position then please excuse me, but at least the misunderstanding provides us a starting point for a discussion,) I think he has a point. But the question is: does it really have to be the whole class or just a majority? And, if a majority then how big?

Well, even I don't think that it has to be 100% of the proletariat being class conscious before the revolution! It's hard to put a number on it, but I do think that it has to be very widespread, either a simple majority or near as damn it to 50%! The real issue for those like me, is that it is a reaction against the notion of a 'party' which consists of a 'conscious minority'. This debate must take place in the context of a discussion about Lenin's organisational model and his view of consciousness (and behind his ideas, those of Engels' 'scientific socialism').

Furthermore, any revolution must take place in the context of the developing weakness of the capitalist system and its state.

If I was going to caricature the circumstances, I'd say that on every bus or train that we Communists got on, we would hear many groups of workers openly discussing social, political and economic issues, and the local police forces would be so weak that there would only be one constable per 100,000 workers. Perhaps to be more serious, I'm saying our strengths would be obvious to all, and their weaknesses would be obvious to all. And by 'all', I mean us and them.

I don't think that these circumstances have ever yet been present in a capitalist society, so I don't think that there has ever yet been the objective possibility of a successful Communist revolution.

Do I think we are even close to such circumstances, at present? No.

But... do I think that it's possible that these circumstances will emerge in the future? Yes, it's possible.

The key is that a majority of workers have to be class conscious and in favour of a Communist society.

To me, the role of revolutionaries must be to help develop a proletariat that, of its own volition, has started to reject capitalism and is searching for answers for its replacement. This must be a world-wide movement of criticism of what exists. This must be self-initiated by workers: 'consciousness' does not come from outside of the class, as Lenin argued. The best that workers' political organisations can do is to advise. As Fred says:

Fred wrote:
But " its own activity" has also to include a large measure of intellectual development. The class has a vital need to ensure the continuing exposure and defeat of bourgeois ideology in all its forms, while simultaneously pursuing the growth and dissemination of its own superior class consciousness as the necessary replacement.

This 'intellectual development' does not take place within the confines, strictures and organisational norms of a Leninist-style party. Dissent and criticism must be unbounded; factionalism must be rife; leaders must be constantly watched, rotated and replaced; even 'science' and 'truth' must be democratised.

The majority have the answers, not a minority (however well intentioned, disciplined and 'conscious').

Our role, as Communists, is to develop 'criticism', not 'answers'.

Fred
Thank you for your reply

Thank you for your reply LBird.  I can't really find anything in it to disagree with which leaves me with little or nothing to say.  Except about Lenin.  I am not hung up about Lenin and he and the circumstances in which he operated have long  since gone, and I don't think I could really be bothered to spend energy discussing either his "organizational model" or his view of consciousness.  Because what matters is what we  think now. We must move on.  I don't believe that either the ICC or the ICT, or other revolutionary groupings, or individual unattached revolutionaries  think now, today, that consciousness has to be brought in by those who know best from outside, and presented to the vacuous class as a ready-made, because we understand better today who we are and what we're trying to do ie emancipate our selves and our class as a class movement. Either we've learned this from history or we've started to mature more  as a better educated and occasionally better fed class or probably all three. 

 

You   insist that "intellectual development" must not and cannot take place within the confines of a Leninist-style party, in which strictures rule and dissent and critical thought are suppressed.  And  you are so right!  I so agree!  I think all the revolutionaries on the planet would agree with you because if they didn't they wouldn't be revolutionaries would they? because they'd be leftists  or some other kind of bourgeois manifestation for whom dogmatism and repression of thought are the order of the day.  It could be argued that what you dislike about what you call Leninist organization is  that you always  see it and present it as being a bourgeois Leninist organization as opposed to being a proletarian (Leninist) organization.  

But why do we even have to contemplate  any communist party of the future, if we had one, as having anything to do with poor old Lenin anymore than it'll have anything to do with Marx and Engels?    Other than that Marx, Engels and Lenin are an essential part of our historic working class struggle to get free. We can subject them to criticism the same way as we submit all else to criticism. Or at least try to. 

 

But really my friend LBird I agree with all you say.  But surely the point is now that we look forward not back? 

LBird
Specialists and power

Thanks for your comradely words, Fred. I, too, think that we're not too far apart in our thoughts.

I thought I'd return to the source of this thread, to try to stimulate some more discussion and reflection.

A Summary... wrote:
There is not an administrative solution to the Period of Transition. It is a matter of class consciousness. ... In a hospital: we'll still need the consultants after the revolution. There must be some form of compromise with the needs of these elements.

This question about 'consultants in a hospital' really applies to all 'specialists' within a Communist society. In my view, the process of revolution will already have reduced the power and status of 'consultants', and concommitantly have raised the power and status of the nurses, clerks, cleaners, porters, etc. That is, the hospital will have been affected by the social processes already so much, that the regime within the hospital will already be a democratic one. Consultants will already have grown used to having their authority and power questioned and decisions overturned by the rest of the active staff who will be running the institution. Already, the most reluctant, conservative-minded consultants will have been sidelined (or left, if they have the material choice), whereas the most Communist consultants will be giving more confidence to their fellow workers that all should have a say in running the hospital.

Given this scenario (that hospitals will be a microcosm of the changes going on in wider society), I don't think we need to consider 'some form of compromise with the needs of these elements'. We are all, at present, forced to think within the parameters of what now exists, and it's easy to think that not much will change, and hospitals will still be run along similar lines to today. I think we need to realise just how much will change, during the pre-revolutionary process, when the state is weakening, and it can't police every hospital and maintain the authority and power of consultants. They must be 'broken' to the democratic will of the workers within the hospital (and patient delegates from the community?). These consultants, too, will live in the 'real world', which will be changing rapidly, and they will be as affected by the process as we all will be.

We must have confidence in our collective ability to take control of our society: which includes our hospital consultants. They'll have the same say as any other workers: sometimes their opinions will hold sway, because of their knowledge; but othertimes, their ignorance of wider issues will be apparent, and they'll follow the democratic decisions that we all will. Or they won't do 'consulting'.

Fred
Excellent post LBird.  We do

Excellent post LBird.  We do indeed need to realize just how much will change during the pre-revolutionary period - and presumably even more afterwards.  And smarty pants surgeons who carve their names onto people's livers during transplants, as in "Joe Bloggs woz here" (there's one in the news tonight) will be rebuked by attending nurses who, at the present time, are too scared to speak. High powered specialists in this society will certainly need to be "broken" as you put it, to the democratic will of workers  and to that of those who require their services, in the society to come.  Not all will like it I suspect. But isn't it a matter of "from each according to their ability" put into practice? 

 

LBird wrote:
We must have confidence in our collective ability to take control of our society: which includes our hospital consultants. They'll have the same say as any other workers: sometimes their opinions will hold sway, because of their knowledge; but othertimes, their ignorance of wider issues will be apparent, and they'll follow the democratic decisions that we all will. Or they won't do 'consulting'.
 
LBird
We are all specialists in something

Fred wrote:
And smarty pants surgeons who carve their names onto people's livers during transplants, as in "Joe Bloggs woz here" (there's one in the news tonight) will be rebuked by attending nurses who, at the present time, are too scared to speak.

Yeah, this is really shocking, isn't it? Both that a surgeon could do it, and that none of the other attendees at the operation felt able either to question or report it. It's a microcosm of the problems in our wider society.

Fred wrote:
High powered specialists in this society will certainly need to be "broken" as you put it, to the democratic will of workers and to that of those who require their services, in the society to come. Not all will like it I suspect.

They'll learn to like it.

And we shouldn't forget that many specialists will have also already have become Communists themselves. Communism will come about because the vast majority of our society will have come to realise that we, as a species, can't continue in the old way. It won't be a minority activity.

Well, merry xmas, Fred, and everyone else! I'm off now to visit, eat and drink. I may be some time.

A.Simpleton
Good stuff

Thank you.

Although it is 'looking back', nonetheless here's a passage from Marc Ferro's October 1917 : the second volume. He searched high and low to get a 'from the ground up' picture not just the 'big names': records, reports of workers' meetings, literally just scraps of paper sometimes. 

 

'The February Revolution had been the greatest in all history. In the space of a few weeks, Russia got rid of all her former leaders - the Tsar and his law-makers, the police, the priests, the landowners, the civil servants, the officers and the employers. Not one citizen could fail to feel free - free to determine at any time what he would do in the present or the future....

From the very depths of Russia came a great cry of hope, in which were mingled the voices of the poor and down-trodden, expressing their sufferings hopes and dreams. They experienced unique events: in Moscow, workmen would compel their employer to learn the bases of workers' rights in the future; in Odessa, students would dictate a new way of teaching universal history to their professor; in Petrograd, actors would take over from the theatre manger and select the next play; in the army, soldiers would summon the chaplain to attend their meetings so that he 'could get some real meaning in his life'. Even 'children under the age of fourteen' demanded the right to learn boxing, 'to make the older children have some respect'.

It was a world turned upside-down: hence the apprehension of men who derived their authority from ability, knowledge or 'public service', let alone the old 'Divine Right of Kings'. Up to and including the high priests of the most extreme religion, Bolshevism, they were at one in their belief that they need only be patient and that the people would in the end come to their senses.'

Stalin, Kropotkin and most of  'the revolutionaries' called for order and discipline. Maxim Gorky kept berating the workers and telling them to go back to work :' enough of this chattering.'

[October 1917: vol. II : Marc Ferro]

As far as I can gather, the response from the masses could be summed up in one word: 'no!'.

I think this passage not only resonates with the points made so far but also demonstrates the power that was in real terms, released (however briefly): power that was just 'potential' a month earlier.

Now, 'we' all know that it was brought down, recouped, diverted, perverted etc. and we also know how furiously the 'why, how, who' of that is still contended. I don't want to derail such a constructive thread with that old chestnut and divert it 'back into the past' too much. Besides, I would have to research for the rest of my life just to form any kind of even 'subjective' conclusion - research that probably wouldn't help anything: I'm inclined to agree: as you say, LBird, one way or another, or better, in many ways - the conditions, circumstances, were not present: under-developed on both sides of the equation perhaps in the case of Russia.

In Germany 1918/19 despite being highly industrialised, with a concentrated industrial workforce, the 'encouraging' news that the Tsar, government, administrative hierarchy had been overthrown, still Liebknecht wrote:

'The working people who are elected are often only imperfectly enlightened,
have only weak class consciousness, and are even hesitant, irresolute, lacking
in energy, so that they [the councils] have hardly any revolutionary character and thus
their political struggle against the agents of the old régime is hardly
visible.'

AS
 

LBird
Wider understanding

A.Simpleton wrote:
... I'm inclined to agree: as you say, LBird, one way or another, or better, in many ways - the conditions, circumstances, were not present: under-developed on both sides of the equation perhaps in the case of Russia.

In Germany 1918/19 despite being highly industrialised, with a concentrated industrial workforce, the 'encouraging' news that the Tsar, government, administrative hierarchy had been overthrown, still Liebknecht wrote:

'The working people who are elected are often only imperfectly enlightened,
have only weak class consciousness, and are even hesitant, irresolute, lacking
in energy, so that they [the councils] have hardly any revolutionary character and thus
their political struggle against the agents of the old régime is hardly
visible.'

Yeah, AS, the recurring problem is not 'industrial development' (what's often referred to, wrongly in my opinion, as 'the objective, material conditions'), but the lack of 'class consciousness'. Many (most?) workers must have developed a Communist view of the world prior to the political events of a 'revolution' (that is, the 'revolution' is not simply an 'act' but a long process topped by an 'act'), and this development of consciousness is also a 'material, objective condition' that must be present. Capitalism itself won't just produce 'class consciousness': rocks do not talk, as the DiaMat-ists would have us believe. Humans produce ideas, not 'material conditions'.

The alternative is some kind of rule by an 'enlightened' minority. Like Uncle Joe and the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism.

This opinion of mine leads me to the conclusion that the role of Communists is to propagandise amongst their fellow-workers, to help develop the necessary Communist class consciousness. If I'm pressed, I think that this 'propagandising period' is an initial phase of the revolutionary process, and will last for a number of generations to come. That is, Communism is, at present, a distant prospect. Not even the foundations have been laid yet, in the construction of an active class-for-itself, which is a complex process.

I know these opinions of mine are unwelcome with some, but unless we all discuss these issues, in terms that ordinary workers can follow (and thus agree or disagree), then we will get nowhere. We must move on from 19th century philosophy and explanations. We must make Capital understandable (our task) and understood (workers' task).

Fred
Sod this web site.Ive just

Sod this web site.Ive just lost a marvelous reply to LBird because of some new fangled protection system! I give up! 

LBird
Saving posts, time and sanity

Fred wrote:

Sod this web site.Ive just lost a marvelous reply to LBird because of some new fangled protection system! I give up! 

Sorry to hear that, Fred

My advice is, if writing a long post, to write it in Word first, and when completed, paste it here.

Or, at least, before pressing 'Preview', highlight all your text, right click on it, and click 'Copy'. Then, if the site fails, you simply 'Paste' from your clipboard (CTRL & V) the same text and try to 'preview' or 'save' again.

If the site is down, simply paste into a Word document and try later.

Hope this helps, comrade.

Fred
Thank you LBird. But I only

Thank you LBird. But I only have an iPad. It's all I can manage. 

Fred
LBird says that capitalism

LBird says that capitalism doesn't produce class consciousness, and that ideas are produced by humans not by material circumstances.  Isn't this the negation of Marxism?  Don't changed material circumstances produce changed ideas?  Don't changed ideas - at least potentially? - produce changed material circumstances which in turn can effect more changes in ideas?  (I really need jk's help here.) 

 

But aren't we now, materially and historically speaking, at the point when the disastrous condition of the capitalist system, its imposition of a crippling austerity, and its yearning for more and more war,  is allowing the emergence of the idea that perhaps capitalism it isn't an eternal system?  And follow-up ideas like: perhaps capitalism could be changed for some other system; or perhaps we could change our rulers, perhaps become our own rulers and run things ourselves as the producing class, with our own creative ideas, waiting to be implemented?  

LBird says that its going to take generations before we're ready to make the proletarian revolution. But global warming is speeding up and austerity saps the energy of the working class already as decomposition spreads round the planet.  How much time have we got left?  Generations?  

LBird
Matter, schmatter

Fred wrote:
LBird says that capitalism doesn't produce class consciousness, and that ideas are produced by humans not by material circumstances. Isn't this the negation of Marxism?

No, Fred, that is 'Marxism'. Active humans produce ideas.

Fred wrote:
Don't changed material circumstances produce changed ideas? 

No, that is Engels' misunderstanding of Marx's views (which were expressed in the Theses on Feuerbach).

Fred wrote:
Don't changed ideas - at least potentially? - produce changed material circumstances which in turn can effect more changes in ideas?

Yes, 'changed ideas' (ie., ideas changed by humans, not rocks) start to fit better with 'changed material circumstances', and thus also help produce further changes in material circumstances. Humans are the active element, not rocks. If humans are not producing new ideas to fit changed circumstances, then nothing will happen. Humans are the active producer of their own ideas, not passive contemplators of 'reality', which speaks to us if we listen quietly, as 19th century positivist science alleged, and as Engels unfortunately also argued, having been completely fooled by 'ruling class ideas'. This can happen to any of us.

Fred wrote:
But aren't we now, materially and historically speaking, at the point when the disastrous condition of the capitalist system, its imposition of a crippling austerity, and its yearning for more and more war, is allowing the emergence of the idea that perhaps capitalism it isn't an eternal system? And follow-up ideas like: perhaps capitalism could be changed for some other system; or perhaps we could change our rulers, perhaps become our own rulers and run things ourselves as the producing class, with our own creative ideas, waiting to be implemented?
[my bold]

But this idea hasn't yet 'emerged', and Communists, with their focus and insistence on outdated 19th century philosophy and early 20th century political acts which are now irrelevent to us, are not helping to produce the 'emergence of the idea', by producing understandable propaganda for workers, which can support their development.

This development must be 'our own creative ideas', not the diktat of a 'party' of 'conscious revolutionaries'. Only the class can be 'conscious'. At best, we can help to develop that 'class consciousness'. We are not doing this at present, and haven't throughout the 20th century. That much is evident from where we are today. Irrelevent.

Fred wrote:
LBird says that its going to take generations before we're ready to make the proletarian revolution. But global warming is speeding up and austerity saps the energy of the working class already as decomposition spreads round the planet. How much time have we got left? Generations?

Yeah, 'generations'.

We've wasted the last century by following Engels' (and Lenin's) mistaken ideas. Time to get started, reassess their legacy, and try to both understand ourselves, and explain to other workers, Marx's (almost incomprehensible) views. Time for workers themselves starting to think and act. Not a 'conscious minority' (sic).

LBird
Even Engels doesn't think 'matter as such' is 'material'

Fred Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Collected Works 25, p. 533, wrote:
N. B. Matter as such is a pure creation of thought and an abstraction. We leave out of account the qualitativative differences of things in lumping them together as corporeally existing things under the concept matter. Hence matter as such, as distinct from definite existing pieces of matter, is not anything sensuously existing. When natural science directs its efforts to seeking out uniform matter as such, to reducing qualitative differences to merely quantitative differences in combining identical smallest particles, it is doing the same thing as demanding to see fruit as such instead of cherries, pears, apples, or the mammal as such instead of cats, dogs, sheep, etc., gas as such, metal, stone, chemical compound as such, motion as such.
[my bold]

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch07d.htm

The essential 'qualitative difference' for human science is human consciousness.

'Material conditions' (or 'matter') don't produce ideas.

Humans are the active element, not rocks.

Those comrades patiently waiting for 'the material conditions of capitalism' to produce 'ideas' are going to have a long wait.

Our job as Communists is to produce propaganda that helps the proletariat, of which we are a part, to develop itself. This development cannot be fulfilled by a minority grouping/party/movement/sect/faction/current/etc. All we can do is to help this developmental process to proceed. But it's the class that determines our success as Communists, not Communists themselves, as a 'conscious' minority.

Fred
I wish I knew what you are

I wish I knew what you are getting at LBird.  I know rocks aren't active, though Messiaen says they all sound different. And didn't Engels say that consciousness was the highest form of matter yet produced?  But then he seems to have said so much in so many different ways. And I know that ideas exist in people's' heads - but also on paper, on video, in music, in books, in art and science, though its people who put them there, and people who bring them to life by responding to them - and that ideas don't generally exist in rock formations, unless being examined by a mineralogist.  But so what?  Dont we all get our ideas as a result of being  alive and responding to material  reality and the environment (another word for the same thing) which includes capitalism?  

If capitalism didn't exist I doubt anyone would have written the Communist Manifesto. Human history  and capitalism created the very material  conditions through which which we humans became able to critique it and thus begin to understand the way forward to escape what is now  the great negation.  If capitalism didn't exist I doubt you and I and many other comrades would be talking about it or posting on this website.  If there was no material reality we wouldn't be here would we.  The concept of "no material  reality" would mean that there was nothing  alive capable of naming it.

 Aren't ideas and human consciousness a vital part of the material  conditions, the environment, the noosphere,  in which we all live and create together?  The critique of life and of ideologies is a critique of the material reality in which we find ourselves: and this critique is thus a product itself of the material  reality under scrutiny. Its a dialectic between the outside and the inside. The "within you and without you" as mystics might put it. 

LBird
Who will tell us what 'reality' says? Professionals?

Fred, post #14, wrote:
LBird says that capitalism doesn't produce class consciousness, and that ideas are produced by humans not by material circumstances. Isn't this the negation of Marxism? Don't changed material circumstances produce changed ideas?

This notion of 'Marxism' as being 'ideas' being 'produced by material circumstances' is a passive conception of humanity.

Fred, post #17, wrote:
Aren't ideas and human consciousness a vital part of the material conditions, the environment, the noosphere, in which we all live and create together?

This foregrounding of 'ideas and human consciousness' is the opposite, and stresses the activeness of humanity.

Fred wrote:
I wish I knew what you are getting at LBird.

What I'm saying, is that whilst Communists erroneously stress 'material conditions' as the source of 'ideas', we'll remain philosophically and politically sidelined.

That conception requires a 'minority' to 'interpret' what the 'material conditions' are saying to us. The mass of humans, not being able to hear rocks talk, will be subservient to those who claim to have a special method of understanding 'reality'. Unless we stress the fact that humans produce ideas, and that these ideas must be under the control of all humans employing a democratic method, then we will remain in thrall to 19th century positivist science, and under the influence both of 'scientists' who produce 'The Truth', and a 'conscious minority' who will themselves carry out the revolution.

The notion of a long 'period of transition', the need for a 'workers' state', etc. flow from these philosophical assumptions. As does the Leninist idea of a proletarian political organisation bringing 'revolutionary consciousness' from outside the class, which is inherently unable to do this for itself, prior to the revolution.

The class, as a majority, must be the source of the revolution. Humans create their society, and our Communist society must be the creation of the majority. Workers know best, not 'revolutionaries'.

Fred
I suppose my problem with

I suppose my problem with LBird (which I suppose is really a problem with myself)  is that while I actually agree with most of what  he says, the didactic way that he says it (as if he's saying something new, that nobody has every thought of before) so pisses me off that it makes me kind of retch.  But when he drops the top-down attitude - as in the last paragraph above - he's okay!  

As to material conditions ....we are them and they are us so of course they are the source of our ideas just as they are the source of life itself. It isn't a matter of us and them as if there's no connection.  We are inseparable.  

LBird
Clearly unsuccessful 'Didactics'

Fred wrote:
As to material conditions ....we are them and they are us so of course they are the source of our ideas...

No, Fred, 'material conditions' are not 'the source of our ideas'.

Humans are the source of our ideas.

Rocks do not talk to us. We are not them, and they are not us.

Fred wrote:
I suppose my problem with LBird ... is ... the didactic way that he says it (as if he's saying something new, that nobody has every thought of before) so pisses me off that it makes me kind of retch.

The 'retching' is caused by the swallowing of the thoughts of too many Engelsian-Leninist rocks, Fred. They are indigestible for workers.

Fred
material reality

If you include human brains and an interactive  humanity as part of "material conditions" which we are, then these  material conditions  do produce ideas.  Otherwise from where do ideas come: from idealists? When Charles Darwin went up that mountain in S. America and saw rocks in which sea shells were embedded  he suddenly got an idea about evolution!  The rocks made a contribution!  If Darwin hadn't been a living and thinking part of material  reality and been observant  with things around to observe I doubt he would have been receptive to much in the way of ideas at all.  This doesn't mean he was passive, or that all observers are passive, or that people who cotton onto ideas before some other people all want to be leaders and dominate the others for being slow, or reluctant, or too busy earning money.  

Somebody called Chris  Packham presented a marvelous program on tv recently about the Brazilian rain forest.  He explained and illustrated the active learning processes that go on between plants and animal life as they struggle for survival and acquire new ways of outwitting each other in the process of maintaining  their existence. The strange ingenuity of the Brazil Nut Tree, with its happy manipulation of animals, bees, and orchids, in its effort to ensure the distribution of its seeds  around a wider environment, was breath taking.

 

 I think its too easy  - too bourgeois  - to play down the capabilities of life on this planet, and play up the passive submission trip so convenient to bourgeois exploitation.  

 

Chris Packham  also said that: Science is the Art of understanding Truth and Beauty: which is a good thing to have said; and is rather like Keats':  Beauty is Truth: Truth Beauty. This is all you need to know. 

LBird
Revisit

Fred wrote:

If you include human brains and an interactive  humanity as part of "material conditions" which we are, then these  material conditions  do produce ideas.  Otherwise from where do ideas come: from idealists? ....

Chris Packham  also said that: Science is the Art of understanding Truth and Beauty: which is a good thing to have said; and is rather like Keats':  Beauty is Truth: Truth Beauty. This is all you need to know. 

I think that, to some extent, you've answered your own question,Fred!

Yes, ideas come from humans, not 'material conditions'. This is what Marx argued in the Theses on Feuerbach and elsewhere.

I've tried to discuss the philosophy of science before, Fred, so you will be aware of some of the arguments; but the central one is that your views are essentially those of Engels and Lenin, rather than Marx.

Since I've tried before, I won't repeat myself again, but if anyone genuinely wants to discuss the differences between Marx and Engels, they only have to ask. If comrades are already convinced that I'm wrong, and Marx and Engels said the same thing, and that unified view is the one now being followed by Fred here, for example, then that's OK by me.

I think, though, that it can be summed up by the phrase, 'rocks don't talk'. I'm yet to hear of the scientific method that can achieve this miracle, of making 'rocks talk'. Bourgeois science and positivism and empiricism claimed to do this, but we humans now know that it isn't true. 'Material conditions' don't create ideas, humans do.

LBird
Darwin: observation or creation?

Fred, perhaps if I give an example based upon your own suppositions, about Darwin and ‘passive discovery science’ (that is, the belief that, if we merely observe and keep our political theories to ourselves, that the ‘scientific method’ will allow ‘material conditions’ to speak for themselves).

Fred wrote:
When Charles Darwin went up that mountain in S. America and saw rocks in which sea shells were embedded he suddenly got an idea about evolution! The rocks made a contribution! If Darwin hadn't been a living and thinking part of material reality and been observant with things around to observe I doubt he would have been receptive to much in the way of ideas at all.

So, here we have positivist/empiricist science, the notion that with mere human ‘observation’ the rocks can contribute. This is 19th century science, the sort of method most people even today think is the ‘scientific method’. That is, keep politics out of science and let ‘material conditions’ tell us what they are. “For god’s sake, let the rocks be heard!” The ‘Truth’ is out there, if only we listen carefully enough.

But contrast that notion of mere human observation, with Marx’s views about the active role played by human ideas and politics, even within Darwin’s ‘observations’ of nature:

Marx, in a letter to Engels, wrote:
Darwin, whom I have looked up again, amuses me when he says he is applying the “Malthusian” theory also to plants and animals, as if with Mr. Malthus the whole point were not that he does not apply the theory to plants and animals but only to human beings –and with geometrical progression –as opposed to plants and animals. It is remarkable how Darwin recognises among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, “inventions” and the Malthusian “struggle for existence”. It is Hobbes’ bellum omnium contra omnes (war of everyone against everyone) and one is reminded of Hegel’s Phanomenologie, where civil society is described as a “spiritual animal kingdom”, while in Darwin the animal kingdom figures as civil society…

http://www.socialiststudies.org.uk/marxstud%20darwin.shtml

Here, ‘material conditions’ are the substance upon which active humans construct theories about ‘nature’; both nature and humans are required (no-one is arguing for ‘idealism’, which does not recognise reality), but the stress is upon creative human activity, not ‘material conditions’. All that ‘material conditions’ do is provide the backdrop for inquisitive humans.

Furthermore, it was Engels (not Marx) who provided the so-familiar dichotomy of idealism versus materialism. So, when Fred attempts (as do all who share his beliefs) to counterpose my ‘idealism’ (because I argue for ‘creative ideas’) to his ‘materialism’ (because he thinks only he accepts ‘reality’ and that I don’t), Fred is following Engels’ theoretical schema.

In fact, Marx, in the Theses on Feuerbach, clearly adopts a third position. He praises both idealism and materialism, but also shows what’s lacking in both, and goes on to unite idealism and materialism in a theory of active human practice upon the world of nature. That is, historical materialism (not mere ‘materialism’) or praxis, the unity of theory (ideas) and practice (action on reality).

In the extract above, Marx comments upon Darwin’s praxis, and reveals Darwin’s ideas which Darwin used to construct his ‘theory of evolution’. The animals and rocks of the Galapagos Islands played no active part in this. If human theory seems to fit the ‘material conditions’, we adopt it as ‘True’. But the idea that this ‘Truth’ is eternal, a ‘reflection’ of reality, is an outdated 19th century version of ‘science’. Marx, as usual, was ahead of the game, and late 20th century philosophy of science largely fits with Marx’s views. Humans create their knowledge of nature, by active, creative interaction with it. Not by listening carefully to, or passively observing, ‘rocks’ or ‘material conditions’.

As Einstein argued “Theory determines what we observe”. A Marxian proposition.

Fred
let the rocks be heard!

Thank you for your very interesting post LBird.  I'm not sure that I understand it but I am trying to, and at least realize that you're indicating a different approach to science than that of Darwin and Engels. The only trouble is that  I  don't understand what it is.  Are you saying Darwin's Theory of Evolution is all bunkum, because he derived his theory from observation, rather going to Galapagos fully armed with his theory in advance and just looking for "proof"?  (I don't really believe you're saying that, but someone deliberately wanting to misunderstand you could easily put it that way!)   So can you give an example of science at work and/or  human praxis in action in the realm of science that will indicate the different (proletarian?) science methodology in action?  

I don't see how a different political stance would have changed the conclusions that Darwin drew from discovering evidence of sea creatures in rocks up a mountain.  Wasn't Wallace less of a bourgeois than Darwin, yet he found much in Darwin's work that he agreed with?  (Incidentally, that's a wonderful quote from Marx's letter to Engels.  I hadn't realized Marx could be so bitchy.  But Engels of course wouldn't understand what his friend was talking about, would he? Being such a died-in-the-wool positivist/empiricist. ) 

Something  else I think I don't understand is how all this relates to the proletariat and the revolution.  Theory determines practice....oh well!  Perhaps that's true in this case. But where does the theory come from?  

 

LBird
Proletarian activity depends upon its theory and criticism

Fred wrote:
Theory determines practice....oh well! Perhaps that's true in this case. But where does the theory come from?

If this is true, we are forced to ask the question (as you do, Fred) 'where does theory come from?'.

Now, we're approaching 'the heart of darkness'.

Is it the 'class' or the 'proletarian organisation' which provides the 'theory'?

If the premise 'theory determines practice' is not true, then there is no issue, and humans can get on happily just 'doing stuff', and listening to what 'material conditions' (with which humans have to engage, we all agree on that) urge them to do.

But... if the proleteriat just happily goes on 'doing stuff', and they are wrong (in that 'theory' is pre-supplied), then the proletariat will always be at the beck-and-call of the 'hidden' theorists.

In fact, if one was a 'hidden theorist', one would stress a 'reflection theory of knowledge', which posits that 'knowledge' merely 'reflects' the 'object'. Thus, armed with this 'reflection theory of knowledge', the proletariat could just assume that 'material conditions' can be passively 'observed', and that alone will 'tell us the Truth'.

But all along, the proletariat would be an unconscious tool for the 'hidden theorist' (whether the 'hidden theorist' recognises their own role or not: the 'hidden theorist' might truly believe in the 'reflection theory of knowledge' themselves; NB. Lenin argued for such a 'theory of knowledge').

Fred wrote:
Are you saying Darwin's Theory of Evolution is all bunkum, because he derived his theory from observation, rather going to Galapagos fully armed with his theory in advance and just looking for "proof"?

Well, we now know that Darwin didn't 'derive his theory from observation', according to Marx (and, indeed, late 20th century philosophers of science agree with Marx, as did Einstein).

Does this mean that the 'Theory of Evolution' is 'bunkum'? Or correct anyway, even if methodologically suspect? Or partially correct, but can be improved with further 'theory and practice'?

And who decides?

Fred wrote:
I don't see how a different political stance would have changed the conclusions that Darwin drew from discovering evidence of sea creatures in rocks up a mountain.

If we agree that what counts as 'evidence' in any scientific enquiry is predetermined by one's theory, then 'discovery' is not the right word (according to Pannekoek's criticism of 'discovery science'). Humans actively use a theory in their practice upon the world, and if nature seems to confirm the theory, then it is assumed to be 'True'.

But we know that very often 'science' gets it wrong, because we have lots of examples of 'Truth' which is later shown to be 'Untrue'. Our theories can be wrong, but seem right in practice. 'Truth' must always be under suspicion.

Fred wrote:
Something else I think I don't understand is how all this relates to the proletariat and the revolution.
[my bold]

Is this important issue becoming any clearer, Fred?

LBird
Supporting quote

A little more supporting information, Fred.

Georg Lukacs wrote:
Nature is a societal category. That is to say, whatever is held to be natural at any given stage of social development, however this nature is related to man and whatever form his involvement with it takes, i.e. nature's form, its content, its range and its objectivity are all socially conditioned.

Taken from Alfred Schmidt, The Concept of Nature in Marx, Verso (2014), p. 167.

Thus, agreeing with Pannekoek, Lukacs sees Darwin's 'theory of evolution' as a 'societal category', not as a 'discovery' of nature in itself.

Our 'laws of nature' are human constructs, not 'discoveries of reality', as positivist science alleges. That's why 'laws of nature' can be found to be wrong, when other, later, 'social theories' are applied to our interaction with nature.

As Marx said, Darwin was a 19th century bourgeois Englishman, and this social circumstance played a part in Darwin's theorising of nature.