Sunday, August 2, 2009

Comments on the comments of J.W., Kirsten and Hasan

Just some brief comments on the comments of J.W. on June 16 and the responses by Kirsten on June 25, Hasan on July 2 and myself on July 29, just to give a little more continuity to the discussion – J.W. and Hasan will be at the summer camp and we can return to these issues, Kirsten won’t so a bit of discussion might be interesting there.

All three of the posts had lots of points (even while being disciplined and short), and most of the points either posed questions already or simply were good points that don’t leave much room for comment.

Here is one thought I had on reading J.W.’s second point. How much is that a description only of when the capitalists took power (or perhaps any class takes power to hold it for itself) and not directly applicable to when the proletariat does? When we look back (say to France or even the more drawn out case in England – but what about Germany, Spain, Italy, …..????) we see just what Marx said – the bourgeoisie had to carry out a program that rallied the masses, but more than that, which was actually in the interests of the masses as well as of itself – hence of “all society” (that is, progress for all society, it of course was not in the interests of the class it was a revolution against). But in the case of the proletariat revolution, the class with hegemony in the revolution IS the masses. That of course is an often made point – that this will be the first revolution where the masses will enter acting at the leadership in their own interest, not following some other class with the eventual result that the revolutionary process is stopped when that class has what it wants. As a side note, in a country at the level of development of Russia it was essential that the proletariat actually make the peasants see the revolution as in their interest and that it actually be in their interest. But is there anything analogous to either that or to the need for the bourgeoisie to make its project the social project in the bourgeois revolution, which means draw the masses in to supporting it, since this will be a revolution by the masses?

First I just wanted to quote several sentences form Kirsten that I thank are one of many important issues we need discuss about the heart of Marxism, to call people’s attention to them. “In The Philosophy of Right Hegel sees a dualism between individual life, or civil life, and species life, and argues that the task of the state is to integrate the individual into the community in a way that does not jeopardize subjective freedom. (As heterodox economists we recognize that this very dualism is taken up in the mainstream of economics with the market mechanism being its resolution.) Marx astutely recognizes that once again that which is fundamentally human, our species being, is now represented in the state, and is held over and above us. The modern state presupposes that egoistic civil society is the "natural" state of man, such that even with the abolition of religious alienation we are still woefully alienated from our species being. Modern constitutions are "constitutions of private property," legitimizing egoistic life and perfectly articulating the inverted logic of modern life. (The inverted logic we so readily recognize in the creation of that creature 'homoeconomicus.')”

So economics starts with (among other things) methodological individualism, and then says the market supplies the social coordination that obviously does occur, and must occur for human survival. Marx gives get importance to this relation of the subjective individual to the issue of our species-nature (and how these are intimately connected to the possibility of authentic human development, to a communist revolution). And I want to push for people to keep looking for what Marx already thought private property had to do with all this, before he began his long detailed study of capitalism. But what I want o then ask about is the state. First, there is the role Hegel gave to it that Kirsten indicated, and Marx rejects. We know that the bourgeois state has the role of enforcing class interest, hence of presenting the elimination of the antagonism between subjective individualism and recognition of and developing one’s species-nature. Then under a worker government it would use the state to repress the class interests of the bourgeoisie - would that already be reducing the antagonism between subjective individuality and their species nature for the masses? And then the state is supposed to wither away. But if it withers away, what agency is there to execute the collective will of the masses? What agency is there to act in the interests of the species-nature of humanity? While one part of what Marx thought about the state – that its repressive role, which is really its defining role under any class society, would wither away, it seems to me there are other questions about the state in a post class society that he did not address that flow from his ideas of some of the characteristics of such a society, and in particular how his ideas of the state fit in with the idea that was so central to him of the resolution of the antagonism between subjective individuality and our species-nature.

One cautionary word on the question Hasan posed that I am almost sure we will want to discuss in eh summer camp. When Loewe uses the word “passive” to describe the proletariat, it can be misleading. Both Marx in this stage, and Feuerbach saw that the revolution would be carried out by the proletariat – in that sense they were not passive. By the term he means that the ideas came in from the outside (from political philosophers), that set the proletariat into action – they were not self-activating. And that is what Marx was to go on and build into the heart of his theory, including his views on the role of himself and other political philosophers.
Here is one question connected to this, and I certainly do not have a definite answer that could be “proved” even in the weakest sense of that term – is that what we have seen in any sense in the last 150 years? Have the ideas for liberation of the proletariat come from the proletariat itself and form their existence in life? And here is an obvious related question that communists all over the world are discussing – why in a situation where at least in the First World the situation, the living existence, of the proletariats has gotten worse for over 20 years (abandoning the slightly gilded cage of the post WWII structure for the bare-knuckles capitalism of neoliberalism) has there been next to no response by the proletariat of some sweeping scope in its own interests (or even ideas supporting that, as this position says should arise from their life experience)

A final sentence on my own entry – while the issues I flagged that I said I hoped people would pay attention to as they read the readings, and I hoped we would perhaps discuss further when we get together are all OK, in fact all the pages I referred to, and the article I was reading as these issues came to mind, was the very early Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State, not the article on the Philosophy of Right (sometimes translated “Law”) that J.W. in fact made his post about – even though I was not directly responding to J.W., sorry about that confusion

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