January 2013


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David Westman <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 6 Jan 2013 20:10:48 -0800
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On the contrary, revisionism is an ever-present danger during the 
struggle for socialist revolution.   And it is especially true today 
when we are faced with the monumental task of clearing up a century's 
worth of confusion due to the influence of Stalinist/Trotskyist/Maoist 
revisionism which caused tremendous damage to the working class 
struggle.   And as for Lars Lih, he is just another "armchair 
socialist", an academic petty-fogger who has never considered what the 
real tasks of the revolution require.

David Westman

On 1/6/2013 7:51 PM, Carrol Cox wrote:
> As (if) a new mass left resistance grows, the kind of issue represented, a century ago, by "Revisionism" may, probably will, arise. But to shout "revisionist" at the present time is as futile as an argument over Royalism. Debates around Marx, Marxism, Socialism, Revolution have left that ancient quarrel far behind and pointless. As a start, David might read Lars Lih's wonderful book on Lenin & WITBD. These ancient scholastic quarrels among socialists are as depressing as the massing of liberals around Austerity and Repression (as long as Obama can be the Enforcer).
> Carrol
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Science for the People Discussion List [mailto:SCIENCE-FOR-THE-
>> [log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of S. E. Anderson
>> Sent: Sunday, January 06, 2013 4:01 PM
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Subject: Re: Dialectics in Science: An Interview with Helena Sheehan
>> David,
>> Within the article, I posted a foto of Ms Sheehan at a pro Syriza rally. I think
>> this indicates that she has an "activist strain in her thought." As for the
>> revisionism you have mentioned, that may not have been her intent to raise
>> within this interview on a subject rarely every mentioned within
>> mainstream/corporate academia and media.
>> I think it is a small and useful breakthru- especially for circulation and
>> discussion with the US science and academic circles because here it is so
>> deeply anticommunist and anti-intellectual.
>> It will be interesting to hear from others on this listserv about the value of
>> this interview and our struggle to develop a Science for the People
>> Movement.
>> Happy New Year of Struggle,
>> Sam Anderson
>> 	-----Original Message-----
>> 	From: David Westman
>> 	Sent: Jan 4, 2013 4:54 PM
>> 	To: [log in to unmask]
>> 	Subject: Re: Dialectics in Science: An Interview with Helena Sheehan
>> 	This is a provocative posting, thank you Sam!   But the problem that
>> she does not consider is the existence of revisionist deviations from Marxism,
>> particularly the Bernstein-Kautsky revisionism of the early 20th Century and
>> the later Stalin-Trotsky-Mao revisionism of the mid 20th Century.  These two
>> 	revisionist trends which created mockeries of Marxism were
>> responsible for confusing people about the real revolutionary content of
>> Marx, Engels, and Lenin.    And she does not seem to have an activist strain in
>> her thought - for her, there is no need to consider anew the tasks for
>> organization of the proletariat, and to found a modern anti-revisionist party
>> which commits itself to a renewed effort to organize for revolution.    Marx's
>> Theses on Feuerbach provide us with a very clear justification why Marx
>> favored such an activist role, not just a contemplative one:
>> 	First Thesis on Feuerbach:
>> 	The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of
>> Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived
>> only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous
>> human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to
>> materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of
>> course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.
>> 	Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought
>> objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity.
>> Hence, in The Essence of Christianity
>> <
>> ex.htm> , he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human
>> attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical
>> manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”,
>> of “practical-critical”, activity.
>> 	David Westman
>> 	On 1/4/2013 11:22 AM, S E ANDERSON wrote:
>> 		Dialectics in Science: An Interview with Helena Sheehan
>> 		by Ben Campbell on December 15, 2012
>> 		in featured <> ,
>> interview <>
>> 		While today’s left has frayed into many strands, there was a
>> time when the left presented, or at least aspired to present, a coherent
>> Weltanschauung <http://www.merriam-
>>> . This was Marxism, founded on
>> Karl Marx’s brilliant synthesis of materialism and the philosophy of G.W.F.
>> Hegel, which led him and his collaborator Friedrich Engels to an
>> unprecedented coalescence of existing human knowledge.
>> 		Today’s crisis of capitalism has, unsurprisingly, led to a
>> renewed interest in Marxism. Yet any “return to Marx” will not be found in
>> an exegesis of ancient texts but in grounding Marx’s materialist dialectic in
>> the present. Just as Marx critiqued 19th-century advances by incorporating
>> them into his thought, so too must the most promising developments of the
>> last century be synthesized into a radical understanding for the present.
>> Unfortunately, today’s left has for too long been relegated to social and
>> cultural studies, ceding the “hard” discourse in economics and science to a
>> new generation of vulgar scientistic “quants”. The resulting left has too often
>> neglected a dialectical critique, in favor of a dichotomous relation to science.
>> 		It was not always so. In an attempt to recover some of the
>> lost spirit of the scientific left, I will be interviewing subjects at the interface
>> of science and the left. I begin today with Helena Sheehan, Professor Emerita
>> at Dublin City University. Her research interests include science studies and
>> the history of Marxism, and she is the author of Marxism and the Philosophy
>> of Science: A Critical History (available on her website
>> <> ).
>> 		Ben Campbell: The advances of 19th-century science were
>> inseparable from the rise of “materialist” philosophy. While Marx certainly
>> belongs to this tradition, he was also strongly influenced by German idealism,
>> specifically the dialectical system of G.W.F. Hegel. What did a “dialectical”
>> materialism mean for Marx, and how did he see it as an advance over the
>> materialism of his day?
>> 		Helena Sheehan: The materialist philosophy of the 19th
>> century was tending in a positivist direction. It was inclined to stress
>> induction and to get stuck in a play of particulars. Marxism pulled this in the
>> direction of a more historicist and more holistic materialism. It was an
>> approach that overcame myopia, one that looked to the whole and didn’t get
>> lost in the parts.
>> 		BC: You’ve written, “It is no accident that Marxism made its
>> entry onto the historical stage at the same historical moment as Darwinism.”
>> What do you mean by this, and what do you see as the connection between
>> these two monumental figures?
>> 		HS: The idea of evolution was an idea whose time had come.
>> It was in the air. Historical conditions ripen and set the intellectual agenda.
>> Great thinkers are those who are awake to the historical process, those who
>> gather up what is struggling for expression. Marx and Darwin were both
>> great thinkers in this sense, although others were also coming to the same
>> conclusions. Marx and Engels were far bolder than Darwin, carrying forward
>> the realization of a naturalistic and developmental process beyond the origin
>> of biological species into the realm of socio-historical institutions and human
>> thought.
>> 		BC: Engels also wrote extensively on science, particularly in
>> his manuscript Dialectics of Nature
>> <> ,
>> unfinished and unpublished during his lifetime. What is it about this
>> document, and Engels more generally, that has been so controversial in the
>> history of Marxism’s relation to science?
>> 		HS: There is a tension in Marxist philosophy between its
>> roots in the history of philosophy and its commitment to empirical
>> knowledge. For the best Marxist thinkers, certainly for Marx and Engels
>> themselves, it has been a creative interaction. However, some of those
>> pulling toward German idealist philosophy, particularly that of Kant and
>> Hegel, have brought into Marxism a hostility to the natural sciences,
>> influenced by the Methodenstreit
>> <> , an antagonistic
>> conceptualization of the humanities versus the sciences, which has played
>> out in various forms over the decades.
>> 		The critique of positivism has been bloated to an anti-science
>> stance. The tendency of some to counterpose a humanistic Marx to a
>> positivist Engels is not supported by historical evidence, as I have
>> demonstrated at some length in my book.
>> 		BC: It seems to me that this synthesis of dialectical
>> philosophy with materialism has always been contentious. On one hand, as
>> you say, there is the danger of reducing an anti-positivist stance to an anti-
>> scientific stance. On the other hand, there is the threat of “the dialectic”
>> being reduced to a mere rhetorical flourish for an otherwise bare scientism.
>> Other writers, like John Bellamy Foster, have argued that Marxism after Marx
>> and Engels split along these lines. Do you agree with this assessment? After
>> Marx and Engels, what or who best demonstrated the potential of a
>> “dialectical” science to transcend this divide?
>> 		 <
>> content/uploads/2012/12/bernal.jpg>
>> 		HS: No, I don’t agree with it. There have always been those
>> who synthesized these two streams. Most familiar to me is the 1930s British
>> Marxism of Bernal <> ,
>> Haldane <> , Caudwell
>> <> , and others, and post-
>> war Eastern European Marxism. Regarding the latter, it suffered from the
>> orthodoxy of parties in power, but it wasn’t all catechetical dogmatism. In the
>> United States, Richard Levins <>
>> and Richard Lewontin <> .
>> This would still characterize my own position today.
>> 		BC: Yet despite the ability of some to transcend it, there does
>> seem to have historically been much ambiguity concerning what a
>> “materialist dialectic” would really entail. Some, like philosopher David
>> Bakhurst, have traced
>> <
>> Soviet_P.html?id=ZY_r3yYCmsAC>  some of this ambiguity back to the
>> philosophical writings of Lenin. Bakhurst argues that while Lenin appeared at
>> times to advocate a “radical Hegelian realism”, at other times his philosophy
>> failed to transcend a rather vulgar materialism. How did any such ambiguities
>> in Lenin’s own writings contribute to subsequent debates in Soviet science?
>> 		HS: Yes, I would agree with that. Lenin could be very
>> philosophically and politically sophisticated, but I never thought his
>> philosophical position quite gelled. Some of his texts on reflection theory
>> were epistemologically crude. As to the effect on Soviet debates, these were
>> beset by the tendency to deal with writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin as
>> sacred texts. This rigidified further after the Bolshevization of all academic
>> discipline, when there had to be one and only one legitimate Marxist position
>> on every question. A quote from Lenin stopped any further debate.
>> 		BC: Such talk about the rigidity of Soviet science inevitably
>> leads to the specter of T.D. Lysenko. For readers who may not be familiar,
>> could you briefly describe Lysenko’s work? How would you respond to those
>> who use Lysenko as a cautionary tale about the danger posed by Marxism or
>> dialectical thinking to biology?
>> 		HS: T.D. Lysenko (1898–1976) was a Ukrainian agronomist
>> who came to prominence in the U.S.S.R. in 1927 when his experiments in
>> winter planting of peas were sensationalized by Pravda. He became lionized
>> as a scientist close to his peasant roots who could serve the needs of Soviet
>> agriculture in the spirit of the first Five-Year Plan. He then advanced the
>> technique of vernalization to a theory of the phasic development of plants
>> and then to a whole alternative approach to biology. This was in the context
>> of wider debates in international science about genetics and evolution, about
>> heredity and environment, about inheritance of acquired characteristics. It
>> was also in the context of the Bolshevization of academic disciplines and the
>> search for a proletarian biology and the purges of academic institutions.
>> 		The issues were many and complex. There has been a
>> tendency to flatten them all out into Lysenkoism as a cautionary tale against
>> philosophical or political “interference” in science. However, I believe that
>> philosophy and politics are relevant to the theory and practice of science.
>> Lysenkoism is a cautionary tale in the perils and pitfalls of certain approaches
>> to that.
>> 		BC: If we turn from the Soviet philosophy of science to that of
>> the non-Marxist West, you see a greater reluctance to mix philosophy with
>> the content of science. Instead, a lot of canonical  “philosophy of science”
>> (e.g., Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend) has more to do with scientific
>> method. What does Marxism, with its emphasis on contradiction, have to say
>> about the scientific method? I wonder specifically about Lakatos’ background
>> <
>> iewby=subject&categoryid=542&sort=newest>  in Hegelian Marxism and
>> whether there are affinities there.
>> 		HS: One big difference between these two traditions in
>> philosophy of science is that Marxism pursued questions of worldview,
>> exploring the philosophical implications of the empirical sciences, setting it
>> apart from the narrow methodologism of the other tradition.
>> 		However, Marxism also addressed questions of scientific
>> method. There is an elaborate literature dealing with epistemological
>> questions from a Marxist point of view. There have been many debates, but
>> the mainstream position would be critical realism. What is distinctive about
>> Marxism in this sphere is how it cuts through the dualism of realism versus
>> social constructivism. Marxism has made the strongest claims of any
>> intellectual tradition before or since about the socio-historical character of
>> science, yet always affirmed its cognitive achievements.
>> 		The fact that Lakatos had a background in Marxism made
>> him inclined to take a wider view than his later colleagues, but I find that he
>> left a lot to be desired in that respect. Nevertheless, contra Feyerabend, I
>> think that the project of specifying demarcation criteria, so central to the
>> neo-positivist project, is a crucially important task.
>> 		BC: Karl Popper famously invoked a “falsifiability” criterion as
>> a means of solving the demarcation problem, which refers to the question of
>> how to distinguish science from non-science (or if that is even possible).
>> Popper’s solution has influenced many scientists but has been strongly
>> critiqued in philosophical circles. How does a Marxist approach inform this
>> demarcation problem?
>> 		HS: There is a need for criteria to distinguish between
>> legitimate and illegitimate claims to knowledge. The positivist and neo-
>> positivist traditions contributed much to the formulation of such criteria.
>> They did so, however, from a base that was too narrow, employing criteria
>> that were too restricted, leaving out of the picture too much that was all too
>> real, excluding historical, psychological, sociological, metaphysical dimensions
>> as irrelevant. Marxism agrees with the emphasis on empirical evidence and
>> logical coherence, but brings the broader context to bear. It synthesizes the
>> best of other epistemological positions: logical empiricism, rationalism, social
>> constructivism.
>> 		BC: Today, Marxism stands at its weakest historically, right as
>> the global economic crash seems to have most vindicated it. Similarly,
>> Marxism has almost no direct influence on 21st-century science, yet
>> discoveries and perspectives seem increasingly “dialectical” (e.g., biological
>> emphases on complex systems, emergence, and circular causality). What do
>> you make of the situation at present? Would it be possible to develop a
>> “dialectical” or even “Marxist” science without Marxism as a political force?
>> Or will science always be fragmented and one-sided so long as there remains
>> no significant political challenge to capital?
>> 		 <
>> content/uploads/2012/12/sheehansyriza.jpg>
>> 		Helena Sheehan at SYRIZA solidarity rally
>> 		HS: Yes, Marxism is at a low ebb as far as overt influence is
>> concerned, precisely at a time when its analysis is most relevant and even
>> most vindicated.
>> 		I think that people can come to many of the same
>> realizations and conclusions as Marxists without calling themselves Marxists.
>> However, I don’t think there can be any fully meaningful analysis of science
>> that does not analyze it in relation to the dominant mode of production.
>> Such an analysis shows how the capitalist mode of production brings about
>> intellectual fragmentation as well as economic exploitation and social
>> disintegration.
>> 		I don’t think that left parties having any chance of taking
>> power in the future will be Marxist parties in the old sense, although
>> Marxism will likely be a force within them. I am thinking particularly of
>> SYRIZA, with whom I’ve been intensively engaged lately. One of the leading
>> thinkers in SYRIZA is Aristides Baltas, a Marxist and a philosopher of science.
>> 		Thank you, Helena.
>> 		 <
>> content/uploads/2012/12/heinrichhoerle_monumentunknownprothesis.jpg
>> 		Monument to the Unknown Prothesis, by Heinrich Hoerle
>> (1930)
>> author- "The Black Holocaust for Beginners"