Monday, December 15, 2008

My expulsion from the Steiner/Brenner group

Just as I was being expelled from the SEP I contacted Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner of www.permanent-revolution.org. I thought they could help in my situation, but that didn't really interest them, they instead wanted me to read their polemic. While in the SEP I was neutral toward their polemic, but afterwards I came to agree with several of their positions.

Their polemic can be summed up very briefly, the SEP has failed to provide a consistent leadership for the working class. The failure to lead and engage the working class can be shown in many examples from Iraq war, the protests in Mexico, the 2008 elections, etc. The SEP has fallen back into a contemplative mode, most party work is devoted to commenting on events on the World Socialist Web Site.

This retreat can be explained in good part from the personal circumstances of the leading members and also the political conditions during the 80s and 90s. Over the years they have become burnt out on political work for which they have seen few results, at the same time they have grown to be more middle class and comfortable. They still show up a picket lines from time to time but not with serious intent to provide leadership.

It is wrong to suggest that the retreat is result of the adoption of certain philosophical conceptions. I would say instead that the SEP's embrace of objectivism and determinism is a rationalization of their retreat. I think that Steiner and Brenner are both wrong when they accuse the SEP of abandoning dialectics, Steiner and Brenner and the SEP share the same muddle headed conception of dialectics. The problem with the SEP is not their ability to cite the "law" of quantity of quality. Both the SEP and Steiner and Brenner miss the fact that dialectics was a critical method for the last three thousand years, even for Marx.

Supposing one agrees with Steiner and Brenner's political criticisms, the vital question remains, what is to be done? Do we wait year after year until the SEP finally sees that they are mistaken? Even if the SEP took every criticism to heart, would this then necessarily resolve the question of leadership within the working class?

Steiner and Brenner paint a bleak picture of the SEP, for them, the political line of the SEP on Iraq and the lack of involvement in working class struggles suggests an advanced state of degeneration. If the party has abandoned its orientation to working class to the extent that Steiner and Brenner suggest, what remains that is worth saving? At what point should a political alternative be put forward?

I think Steiner and Brenner leave far much to the imagination about what they would do differently. It has become clear in course of many correspondences that real political activity does not interest them. They want to be known and remembered for contributing to the creative development of Marxism, but to me that seems like an egotistical end. Would anyone remember James Cannon if he did no more than write polemics against the Communist Party from which he was expelled?

For a few months Steiner and Brenner have had their own discussion group for their supporters. There have been some interesting and productive discussions, but mostly there has been a repetition of points already made in the Steiner/Brenner polemic. The fatal comment for which I was removed was the suggestion that Trotsky had been fetishized by the SEP. What I meant by this was that Trotsky was praised and idolized within the SEP in a ritualistic and empty way. The way the SEP had treated Trotsky had turned me away from him, and I also made clear that I was won to Trotskyism and began to appreciate Trotsky's work when I started corresponding with Frank and Alex.

For me Trotskyism is a perspective, I made clear that I didn't have feelings of devotion toward Trotsky or any emotional entanglement. I explained that what was important was not our individual feelings toward Trotsky but our understanding of history and our desire to change the world. My further explanation only intensified the conflict. The discussion ended with Frank citing a comment of mine from the SEP's letter of expulsion to supposedly prove that I renounce Trotskyism, and Alex declaring that I was not a Trotskyist. In their methods of removing me Steiner and Brenner are no more principled than the SEP.

To suggest that to be a Trotskyist one must respond to history with a certain set of emotions is to be even more narrowly sectarian than the SEP. I have to think there were other factors behind my removal, which brings in doubt whether Steiner and Brenner are serious about their criticisms of the SEP. I think they are too wrapped up in nostalgia for the old Worker's League of seventies, with its forms of political activism, its studies of Lenin's dialectics, its veneration of Trotsky. It is almost as if they want orthodoxy for the sake of orthodoxy. My novel perspective on philosophical issues and my focus on the here and now and what is to be done does not seem to fit with their conceptions of party life.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog a few months ago, and afterwards I sometimes visited here. It's a pity that you sound very lonely and deserted. I'm now thinking about your final point that Alex/Brenner do not give a desirable and sufficient alternative.

Mark said...

I would say that I am disappointed with Trotskyism after my experiences with the SEP and now Steiner and Brenner and I also feel frustrated politically.

I am not sure how alone I am politically, the SEP is a lonely group, so is the Steiner and Brenner group, these groups do not as of yet represent popular political movements. For myself the most important thing has always been to do what is right, if that excludes me from narrow sectarian groupings, then so be it, I have other more productive and meaningful uses of my time.

At the same I do feel I have learned things from these groups, so I don't feel that my time spent was a total loss. There may be a time when my knowledge and experience can play some useful role in the political movements of the future.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mark.
I am the anonymous man who left a short comment on a recent writing of yours yesterday.
I come to a conclusion that there is no organization that is perfect in all aspects, and so look on the bright side that later contributes to the progress and happiness of human race. Despite a vast number of limitations, WSWS has played some meaningful roles in some ways. Similarly, Alex and Frank has scored some good points (though ultimately in a limited scope).
I know it's a very stupid thinking, but just now not disappointing one.

Mark said...

I am just curious, do we know each other? You don't have to respond on my blog, you can mail me privately.

As far as the WSWS goes, I think that it can contribute to a better understanding of the world up to a certain point, but beyond that point reading the web site becomes an empty exercise given the repetitious and formulaic writing.

The point of socialism is to establish a more harmonious social order. I think that point has been lost on the SEP, they can only identify problems. Imaginative and creative thinking in the SEP is discouraged, the membership is taught to not think, instead they are given the thin gruel of North's analysis and vague prophecies.

To experience the SEP first hand is to experience a socially repressive environment. Apparently in days of Healy, in the WRP, things were much worse, with members being subject not only to psychological but also physical abuse. It is hard to imagine something positive coming out of such a stifling environment, it is also hard to imagine that workers would trust an organization that has so little regard for the democratic rights of its members.

I wouldn't expect perfection from any socialist group. I worked within the SEP for a long time knowing that serious problems existed. What is disappointing about these groups is that there doesn't appear to be any way to move forward with them. Ultimately they are not part of the solution to the problems we face under capitalism, they are another obstacle that needs to be overcome.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mark,

You weren’t “expelled” from a political party, but taken off a discussion forum for comrades who agree with the essential tenets of Marxism Without its Head or Heart.

Your strange comment about not having an emotional attachment to the wholesale murder of Marxists in their fight against Stalinism is more indicative of your actual distance to Trotskyism in general. We would think someone who identified himself as a Marxist would evince some emotional intelligence or a deep felt sense of injustice when hearing about the murder of Trotsky and his relations, just like those who never directly experienced the holocaust still have an emotional reaction when reading or hearing about it.

When you could not declare yourself a Trotskyist we saw no reason for you to be included in the forum as that was a minimal basis for participation. We knew that we had some big differences with you on philosophy and the historical evaluation of the Trotskyist movement, but we hoped that after sufficient discussion you might come to some agreement with us.

Alas that proved impossible as you consistently refused to examine your own opinions critically. You are now embracing some conceptions typical of pragmatism - i.e. the denigration of theory at the expense of immediate activism. Your rejection of the theoretical framework of Marxism now leads you to trivialize the arguments we put forward in Marxism Without its Head or its Heart. You now see the degeneration of the SEP in terms of the small change of amateur psychology, of people getting "tired" and "burnt out." In the same manner, you speculate that what motivates Steiner and Brenner are a sense of nostalgia about the Workers League of the 1970s. Under the guise of advocating more activism, and criticizing us for failing to provide an alternative to the SEP, you are actually now announcing your retirement from revolutionary socialist politics. So be it.

To paraphrase Trotsky (speaking of the anti-dialectician James Burnham), "You may not recognize dialectics but dialectics does not permit you to escape from its net."

Andrew River

Mark said...

Andrew,

I didn't say that the Steiner and Brenner group was a political party, but I think it is fair to say that I have been excluded from that group since I have been excluded from its main discussion group. I also believe that Steiner and Brenner do not uphold their own principles as there was no vote to remove me, and there are no democratic procedures for the group as a whole. I would have been perfectly fine with leaving the group had there been a vote to remove me.

Who is to say that I never had an emotional reaction upon hearing about the Stalinist crimes? What I said was that my feelings toward those events are not the same as those who lived through those events or have close personal connections. Just as I could never have same emotional experience as someone who lived through the holocaust or a close personal relative of someone who lived through the holocaust.

There is much greater distance in my life between and those events both in years and personal connections than those that have direct experience. I could never compare my emotional reaction reading about those events to those that lived through those events. I don't think it is important how many tears I shed over the holocaust victims or the victims of Stalinist crimes. My emotions are not going help those that died, that is why quote Spinoza: "not to laugh, not to cry, but to understand." I feel that what is most important is that we have understanding of those tragic events and how they came to be. I don't think think cultivating some kind of devotional feelings for Trotsky and his comrades is the right way for a political party to educate its members.

I don't reject the theoretical framework of Marxism, and I don't know what you are basing that accusation on. Perhaps it is based on a misunderstanding of what the theoretical framework of Marxism consists of.

The degeneration of the SEP ultimately has to be explained from material premises, this is consistent with Marx's historical materialism. It is surely relevant to point to the difficult political environment of the 80's and 90's, the decline of the labor movement and so forth. At the same time it is relevant to point to the personal circumstances of the leading members.

I have not announced my retirement from revolutionary socialist politics, I am still looking for a way forward. All that is clear now is that neither the SEP nor the group around Steiner and Brenner represent a viable political movement. Even Steiner and Brenner now say that is fair to assume that the SEP will not address their criticisms. If that is case, shouldn't a genuine revolutionary begin to think about a political alternative? It has become apparent that the three of you have no interest in real political activity besides critiquing the SEP from the sidelines, I don't think it is wrong to consider other motivations such as nostalgia and egotism.

Mark

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

You say:

"I think that Steiner and Brenner are both wrong when they accuse the SEP of abandoning dialectics, Steiner and Brenner and the SEP share the same muddle headed conception of dialectics. The problem with the SEP is not their ability to cite the "law" of quantity of quality. Both the SEP and Steiner and Brenner miss the fact that dialectics was a critical method for the last three thousand years, even for Marx."

But, there is in fact no objective way of telling who has who and who has not applied the 'dialectic' correctly because it is possible to use this theory to argue for any conclusion you like, and its opposite, since this theory is contradiction-friendly.

Because it is inherently muddled, whatever is done with it, I have taken this theory apart from a Marxist angle at my site:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/

The alleged 'law' of the 'transformation of quantity into quality' that you mention is systematically demolished here, for example:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/page%2007.htm

Mark said...

Rosa,

While I also find Engel's writings on the subject of dialectics problematic, I don't agree with your positions on dialectics. My position is that dialectics is critical method from the time of the Greeks up to and including Marx. I think it is important to recall once again Marx's thoughts on dialectics, and why he felt it was important. Marx wrote in Afterword to the second German edition of Captial:

"In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary."

To deny dialectics is to deny a central aspect of Marx's work which is the comprehension of social forms as contradictory phenomenon. Social forms are not free from contradiction, if they were they would exist eternally, and indeed this is why Marx says that his method of comprehending social forms is a "scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom." The bourgeoisie do not want a theory of society that shows the finite nature of their rule.

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Mark:

"To deny dialectics is to deny a central aspect of Marx's work which is the comprehension of social forms as contradictory phenomenon. Social forms are not free from contradiction, if they were they would exist eternally, and indeed this is why Marx says that his method of comprehending social forms is a "scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom." The bourgeoisie do not want a theory of society that shows the finite nature of their rule."

1) But, Marx also included a long review of 'his method' in which not one atom of dialectics as it is traditionally understood can be found; no 'unity of opposites', no 'contradictions', no 'negation of the negation', no 'quantity passing over into quality', no 'universal change', no 'totality'...

Moreover, he himself admitted that he merely 'coquetted' with Hegelian jargon in Das Kapital. So, the 'rational core' of 'the dialectic' is in fact empty.

2) 'The dialectic' isn't a scandal to the bourgeoisie, they just totally ignore it. And it is not hard to see why; it makes not one ounce of sense, as my essays show. Historical materialism shows how and why societies change; we do not need this mystical theory ('dialectics') to help us do this.

3) I have been asking comrades now for over 25 years, just as I have been searching through literally hundreds of highly repetitive books and articles on this theory, but I have yet to find one single dialectician who can explain how and why the alleged 'contradictions' in capitalism are in fact contradictions.

The plain fact of the matter is that Hegel derived his odd use of this term from a misconstrual of the so-called 'law of identity' stated 'negatively', which he claimed was a contradiction. But it isn't. From that logical blunder the whole 'dialectic' then flowed. Dialectical Marxists swallowed this error uncritically, and comrades these days just use the term without any thought at all, but apparently just because it is traditional to do so. That is why they cannot explain this notion when asked.

4) Finally, it in fact is quite easy to show that if dialectics were true, change would be impossible. I have summarised the argument that demonstrates this here:

http://z11.invisionfree.com/Kasama_Threads/index.php?showtopic=460&st=0

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Unfortunately, The formatting here does not show the full link I posted.

After the 'Kasma_Threads/index' part, it should read:

'.php?showtopic=460&st=0'

with no gaps or quotation marks.

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

In fact, as I have just discovered, if comrades copy and paste into their address bar the link I posted in my first reply, they will be taken to the right page!

Mark said...

Rosa,

It is hard to take your arguments seriously when you don't provide any citations and baldly ignore what Marx himself wrote. Firstly, I don't know of a document where Marx makes it his task to explicitly explain the way in which he works. However, just because no can find a document where Marx explicitly describes his application of the dialectical method does not mean that he does not apply the dialectical method. Indeed, dialectics is very much core of Marx's method in his critique of the categories of political economy. The first chapter of Marx's Capital is the most explicit in his use of the dialectic method in showing the stages and development of the 'value form' leading to concept of money.

Secondly, it was Marx's position that there was a 'rational core' in Hegel's method as the quote I provided demonstrates. It was not all Marx's position that Hegel's method was "empty" or completely devoid of value as you suggest. As for Marx's stylistic borrowings from Hegel, they are in part documented in a correspondence between Marx and Engels[1][2]. Marx agrees with the suggestion of Engels when Engels writes that "You ought to have treated this part in the manner of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, with short paragraphs, each dialectical transition emphasised by means of a special heading and, as far as possible, all the excurses or merely illustrative material printed in special type. The thing would have looked somewhat like a school text-book, but a very large class of readers would have found it considerably easier to understand. The populus, even the scholars, just are no longer at all accustomed to this way of thinking, and one has to make it as easy for them as one possibly can."

[1] http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867/letters/67_06_16.htm
[2] http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867/letters/67_06_22.htm

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Mark:

"It is hard to take your arguments seriously when you don't provide any citations and baldly ignore what Marx himself wrote."

Well, I thought that you would not appreciate it if I quoted this material at length, but since you ask, here goes.

In the following passage from the Afterword to Das Kapital, Marx quoted a reviewer of "his method" (Marx's words, not mine); here it is:

"After a quotation from the preface to my 'Criticism of Political Economy,' Berlin, 1859, pp. IV-VII, where I discuss the materialistic basis of my method, the writer goes on:

'The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life. Consequently, Marx only troubles himself about one thing: to show, by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions, and to establish, as impartially as possible, the facts that serve him for fundamental starting-points. For this it is quite enough, if he proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it. Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence. ... If in the history of civilisation the conscious element plays a part so subordinate, then it is self-evident that a critical inquiry whose subject-matter is civilisation, can, less than anything else, have for its basis any form of, or any result of, consciousness. That is to say, that not the idea, but the material phenomenon alone can serve as its starting-point. Such an inquiry will confine itself to the confrontation and the comparison of a fact, not with ideas, but with another fact. For this inquiry, the one thing of moment is, that both facts be investigated as accurately as possible, and that they actually form, each with respect to the other, different momenta of an evolution; but most important of all is the rigid analysis of the series of successions, of the sequences and concatenations in which the different stages of such an evolution present themselves. But it will be said, the general laws of economic life are one and the same, no matter whether they are applied to the present or the past. This Marx directly denies. According to him, such abstract laws do not exist. On the contrary, in his opinion every historical period has laws of its own.... As soon as society has outlived a given period of development, and is passing over from one given stage to another, it begins to be subject also to other laws. In a word, economic life offers us a phenomenon analogous to the history of evolution in other branches of biology. The old economists misunderstood the nature of economic laws when they likened them to the laws of physics and chemistry. A more thorough analysis of phenomena shows that social organisms differ among themselves as fundamentally as plants or animals. Nay, one and the same phenomenon falls under quite different laws in consequence of the different structure of those organisms as a whole, of the variations of their individual organs, of the different conditions in which those organs function, &c. Marx, e.g., denies that the law of population is the same at all times and in all places. He asserts, on the contrary, that every stage of development has its own law of population. ... With the varying degree of development of productive power, social conditions and the laws governing them vary too. Whilst Marx sets himself the task of following and explaining from this point of view the economic system established by the sway of capital, he is only formulating, in a strictly scientific manner, the aim that every accurate investigation into economic life must have. The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx's book has.'

"Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?" [Marx Capital (1976), Penguin edition, pp.101-02. Collected Works, Volume 35, pp.18-19.]

You will no doubt notice that what Marx calls "his method" and "the dialectic method" contains not one atom of Hegel; not a single Hegelian concept is to be found here -- no "contradictions", no change of "quantity into quality", no "negation of the negation", no "unity and identity of opposites", no "interconnected Totality", no "universal change", etc., etc.). And yet, Marx calls this the "dialectic Method", and says of it that it is "my method". So, Marx's "method" has had Hegel completely excised --, except for the odd phrase or two here and there with which he merely "coquetted". In that case, Marx's "dialectic method" more closely resembles that of Aristotle and Kant. The alleged "rational core" of Hegel's system is thus empty.

So, it is not I who ignores what Marx actually wrote.

"Firstly, I don't know of a document where Marx makes it his task to explicitly explain the way in which he works."

Except, we have the above outline of "his method".

"However, just because no can find a document where Marx explicitly describes his application of the dialectical method does not mean that he does not apply the dialectical method."

Except the above summary shows that the 'dialectic' as it has traditionally been understood by comrades is incorrect, and is not as Marx understood it.

"Indeed, dialectics is very much core of Marx's method in his critique of the categories of political economy. The first chapter of Marx's Capital is the most explicit in his use of the dialectic method in showing the stages and development of the 'value form' leading to concept of money."

Except he tells us that he "coquetted" with Hegelian jargon in this chapter, which usage cannot be taken to be a serious application of 'the dialectic', as it has been traditionally understood:

"...even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Marx Capital (1976) Penguin edition, p.103. Collected works, Volume 35, p.19.]

"Secondly, it was Marx's position that there was a 'rational core' in Hegel's method as the quote I provided demonstrates. It was not all Marx's position that Hegel's method was "empty" or completely devoid of value as you suggest. As for Marx's stylistic borrowings from Hegel, they are in part documented in a correspondence between Marx and Engels[1][2]. Marx agrees with the suggestion of Engels when Engels writes that "You ought to have treated this part in the manner of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, with short paragraphs, each dialectical transition emphasised by means of a special heading and, as far as possible, all the excurses or merely illustrative material printed in special type. The thing would have looked somewhat like a school text-book, but a very large class of readers would have found it considerably easier to understand. The populus, even the scholars, just are no longer at all accustomed to this way of thinking, and one has to make it as easy for them as one possibly can.""

Yes, I am well aware of the correspondence; but unpublished sources cannot outweigh the significance of published work. In that case, the "rational core" of Hegel's mystical system is indeed empty, as I indicated.

And this is not the least bit surprising, as I noted above. The 'dialectic' makes not one ounce of sense. For example, if it were true, change would be impossible. I refer you once again to the link I posted earlier where I demonstrate why this is so.

Or, you can find a more lengthy version at my site, here:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/page%2007.htm#Dialectics-Cannot-Explain-Change

Mark said...

Rosa,

You are quoting not the Marx's description of his own method, but a reviewer from Russia. While this review provides important clues to understanding Marx's method, it is not the last word on the matter. Also, you should be aware that I am not advocating a so called 'traditional' (or "orthodox") understanding of dialectics as it is understood within the Marxist movement, which by the way, I believe to be a misinterpretation of Hegelian dialectics spread by Engels and later Lenin. I have written article to try to recover the dialectic as Marx understood it and applied it. You should be familiar with it since we already corresponded on this subject. I think your position is totally at odds with Marx, since Marx's concept of societal development is clearly influenced by Hegel's dialectic. You should especially examine Marx's critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Mark:

"You are quoting not the Marx's description of his own method, but a reviewer from Russia."

Except, Marx says this was indeed "his method".

"While this review provides important clues to understanding Marx's method, it is not the last word on the matter."

Sure, but Marx here endorsed this summary as "his method", but which contained not one ounce of Hegel

"Also, you should be aware that I am not advocating a so called 'traditional' (or "orthodox") understanding of dialectics as it is understood within the Marxist movement, which by the way, I believe to be a misinterpretation of Hegelian dialectics spread by Engels and later Lenin. I have written article to try to recover the dialectic as Marx understood it and applied it. You should be familiar with it since we already corresponded on this subject."

It is in fact impossible to decide what 'the correct' interpretation of Hegel is, or what the 'right' Marxist version of it is, since this theory can be made to say anything you like, and its opposite.

"I think your position is totally at odds with Marx, since Marx's concept of societal development is clearly influenced by Hegel's dialectic. You should especially examine Marx's critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right."

Marx's early work certainly was influenced by Hegel; that I do not deny. But by the time he wrote Das Kapital, the best Marx could do was "coquette" with a few bits of Hegelian jargon!

And 'Hegel's Philosophy of Right' has little or no bearing on Marx's mature thought.

Moreover, when I referred to the "traditional" approach to this subject, I was of course referring to your own view (which is traditional in that you think, along with the majority of comrades, that Marx was influenced by Hegel in Das Kapital -- when, according to Marx, he wasn't).

Finally, when did we correspond on this?

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Apologies, Mark; I have now found our correspondence. For some odd reason, I had forgotten about it!

Mark said...

I don't think Marx is at all giving the Russian reviewer an endorsement. I think Marx's attitude here is one of amusement, he is entertained by the different attempts to grapple with the essence of his method, all the while missing the connection between his method and that of Hegel and the fact that he employs a version of the dialectical method. If as you contend, that Hegel has no bearing on the "mature" Marx, then why does Marx say in the Afterword that he "openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker"?, why does he say: "The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell. "? Why does Marx say: "My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite."? This is the "mature" Marx, the Marx who wrote Capital. The general problem with your work, is that you shed no light whatsoever on the connection between Hegel and Marx, for you everything Hegel wrote was nonsense. This is clearly not the approach that Marx took, Marx acknowledges his dept to Hegel, if you were to take a more honest approach to understanding Marx's intellectual development, you would do the same. Ultimately I don't think your work serves the cause of international socialism, for you Marxism has been misunderstood, but you do not devote a single article to explaining Marxism, the Marxism you supposedly agree with.

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Mark:

"I don't think Marx is at all giving the Russian reviewer an endorsement."

Except he says that this is "his method", and the "dialectic method". What more endorsement do you want? In that case, his dialectic method more closely resembles that of Kant and Aristotle, not Hegel.

"I think Marx's attitude here is one of amusement, he is entertained by the different attempts to grapple with the essence of his method, all the while missing the connection between his method and that of Hegel and the fact that he employs a version of the dialectical method. If as you contend, that Hegel has no bearing on the "mature" Marx, then why does Marx say in the Afterword that he "openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker"?"

But Marx put those words pointedly in the past tense: "openly *avowed* myself the pupil of that mighty thinker", and one can judge someone a "mighty thinker" and still disagree with practically everything they say. For example, I think Plato is a "mighty thinker", but I disagree with 99.9% of his ideas.

So, there is no evidence that Marx quoted that reviewer out of amusement (since he was quite clear that that summary was "his method"), but there is evidence that he now thought Hegel was something of a joke -- hence his "coquetting" with Hegelian jargon, which is hardly a serious way to treat the ideas of a "mighty thinker".

"why does he say: The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell."? "

Well, we need not speculate here, for Marx very helpfully added that summary of "his method" in which not one atom of Hegel is to be found. So, according to the endorsed version of "his method", the 'rational kernel' is in fact empty. Spinning Hegel around is to crush his head.

"Why does Marx say: "My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite."?"

But, one cannot get more "opposite" to Hegel than to excise him completely; and we know Marx did that, since the endorsed version of "his method" had every trace of Hegel removed.

"The general problem with your work, is that you shed no light whatsoever on the connection between Hegel and Marx, for you everything Hegel wrote was nonsense."

It is indeed nonsense (and demonstrably so); furthermore, it is not possible to "shed light" on the alleged connection here if there is none, for it had been severed by Marx himself.

And how do we know that? Simple -- because the version of "his method" endorsed by Marx contains no trace of Hegel whatsoever. Moreover, of the few traces of Hegel to be found in Das Kapital, Marx has already told us he was not at all serious by including them, for he tells us he was merely "coquetting" with them.

"This is clearly not the approach that Marx took, Marx acknowledges his dept to Hegel, if you were to take a more honest approach to understanding Marx's intellectual development, you would do the same."

If you were to stop relying on tradition to interpret for you the alleged connection between Marx and Hegel, and were to read what he actually wrote, you'd agree with me.

"Ultimately I don't think your work serves the cause of international socialism, for you Marxism has been misunderstood, but you do not devote a single article to explaining Marxism, the Marxism you supposedly agree with."

Well, if truth is tested in practice, the traditional approach has been refuted by history, since that approach to Marxism (i.e., that which has been dominated by this mystical theory) has enjoyed 150 years of almost total failure. Indeed, over the last 75 years or so, Dialectical Trotskyism is one of the most pathetically unsuccessful wings of Marxism, and I say that as a Trotskyist.

Why you think it important for militant materialists to take heed of anything said by that ruling-class, mystical bumbler, that philosophical and logical incompetent (Hegel), is puzzling in itself.

No wonder Marx abandoned him...

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Finally:

"but you do not devote a single article to explaining Marxism, the Marxism you supposedly agree with."

As I have repeatedly said, I endorse Historical Materialism (without the Hegelian gobbledygook) and Trotskyism, so I do not need to become distracted into giving an account of the sort of Marxism we probably agree upon.

It is more important for me to assist in the destruction of the traditional influence Hegel has had on our movement, since his ruling-class theories (upside down or the 'right way up') have helped cripple our movement.

Mark said...

Rosa,

I'm considering moderating my blog for perhaps only one reason, so you can correct the most blatant errors in your reasoning before you can post to my blog. You are wasting not only my time, but the time everyone who wants to see a serious discussion on these issues.

Marx is not giving the Russian reviewer an endorsement. Marx says of the reviewer that he: "finds my method of inquiry severely realistic, but my method of presentation, unfortunately, German-dialectical", Marx quotes reviewer's positive view of his method in order to combat the reviewer negative view of the German dialectic method, that is why Marx says: "Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?" I think the description is helpful, but it is not adequate description of Marx's method. I think contradiction is essential concept to dialectics, and indeed Marx emphasies this in the Afterword when he says that his dialectical method "includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up."

If you read more closely, Marx says: "just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi [Epigones – Büchner, Dühring and others] who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker." In other words, Marx is clearly responding to people like yourself who treat Hegel like a "dead dog." In whole the later portion of Marx's Afterword, Marx is emphasizing his connection with Hegel. He is not treating Hegel like a "joke" as you claim, he is defending Hegel against people like yourself. I don't think this point deserves any more discussion, you are unwilling to accept Marx's own opinion on the matter, and completely misinterpreting Marx's words to suit your own agenda.

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Mark:

"Marx is not giving the Russian reviewer an endorsement."

Once more, you ignore Marx's own words that this summary is "his method". What better endorsement could one hope for than this?

"Marx says of the reviewer that he: "finds my method of inquiry severely realistic, but my method of presentation, unfortunately, German-dialectical", Marx quotes reviewer's positive view of his method in order to combat the reviewer negative view of the German dialectic method, that is why Marx says: "Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?""

Indeed, and that depiction of "the dialectic method" contains not one ounce of Hegel. Moreover, Marx calls it "his method"

"I think contradiction is essential concept to dialectics, and indeed Marx emphasises this in the Afterword when he says that his dialectical method "includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up.""

1) Marx disagrees with you since he tell us that he was merely "coquetting" with that word.

2) The passage you quote is less clear than you think. Here it is in full:

"In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary."

You will notice that Marx personifies the 'dialectic' here when he says it "lets nothing impose upon it". So, unless you think the 'dialectic' is a human being, or is an agent of some sort, Marx is clearly still "coquetting" with these quasi-Hegelian terms.

And the other things Marx says indicate this too, for the ideologues of the ruling class do not in fact quake before the 'dialectic' (as Marx well knew), they totally ignore it, and they do that because it makes not one ounce of sense. Once more, if the 'dialectic'' were true, change would be impossible.

And, we have already been over this:

"If you read more closely, Marx says: "just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi [Epigones – Büchner, Dühring and others] who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker.""

As I noted earlier, Marx pointedly puts this in the *past tense*.

"In other words, Marx is clearly responding to people like yourself who treat Hegel like a "dead dog." In whole the later portion of Marx's Afterword, Marx is emphasizing his connection with Hegel. He is not treating Hegel like a "joke" as you claim, he is defending Hegel against people like yourself."

Since Marx does not say that he is *now* a pupil of that 'mighty thinker', you cannot infer that he still is. On the contrary, since he expressly puts this in the past tense, I can confidently assert (with the backing of Marx's own words) that he used to be, but no longer is, a pupil of this mystical bumbler (Hegel). And this interpretation is confirmed by the fact that Marx tells us he "coquetted" with Hegelian jargon, and the even more significant fact that he added a summary of "his method" from which every trace of Hegel had been excised.

"I don't think this point deserves any more discussion, you are unwilling to accept Marx's own opinion on the matter, and completely misinterpreting Marx's words to suit your own agenda."

You have an agenda, too. The difference between us is that I pay close attention to what Marx actually said, not what traditional interpretations of him would like him to have said.

"You are wasting not only my time, but the time everyone who wants to see a serious discussion on these issues."

I am sorry you consider it a "waste of time" trying to be clear about what Marx actually said.

And how am I preventing the 'many' (two or three perhaps?) who want to debate this here from doing so? But who tried to post on this thread in the weeks before I appeared here? There was in fact a gap of one month between your last response to the 'many' who wanted to debate this and my first post.

The truth is, I revived a dead thread.

If you delete this, so be it.

But that will be an admission of defeat on your part.

Mark said...

Just to note, I held onto the above comment of Rosa and did not immediately publish it. Below is my response to Rosa via email. Rosa accuses me of being afraid of her views, but that is not the case. I would like reserve the comments section of my blog for meaningful discussion. I don't want argue for days about what Marx meant, when it should be clear to all what he meant.

Rosa,

You can revive a dead thread in a number of a ways, but just because there is interaction does not mean that anything has been accomplished. I holding onto your comment, because I don't think this discussion is going anywhere, right now is it simply a distraction from the original blog post and the thoughtful comments that were posted in response.

By way, it doesn't surprise me they Hegel is all nonsense to you, you have demonstrated that you can't even properly comprehend what Marx wrote. "avowed" is past tense, but Marx says he avowed himself the pupil of Hegel just as he was beginning Capital when Hegel was considered a "dead dog" by others. This is the mature Marx that you say completely cut himself off from any ties to Hegel.

Hegel applied the dialectic not just to the philosophical concept of Being, he applied it to development of human consciousness and the development of societal forms. The mystical side of Hegel's dialectic is that he treats development of thought as an independent subject ignoring the material factors that shape the development of thought, as Marx puts it: "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.""

To me the connection between Marx and Hegel is clear, there is a common form in the method of Marx and Hegel. To say this is not give Hegel an endorsement, it does not mean we all have to read Hegel's Logic and agree with it, it is only to acknowledge that Hegel is one of the sources for Marx's conception of societal development. My only agenda in this regard to develop a more full appreciation of Marx and his work, which in some ways requires an appreciation of Hegel's positive contributions. That is why I reject your approach. If I had more time, I would write more about Hegel and what positive contributions he made that influenced Marx. I think that would do far more to excise the dialectical nonsense found in Marxist groups than to take your approach. With your approach we still don't know what the Marxism that you support is. Since it is anti-dialectical by definition it also goes against Marx and his concept of societal development as employed in Capital.

Mark