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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  January 2013

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE January 2013

Subject:

Re: Dialectics in Science: An Interview with Helena Sheehan

From:

"Romsted, Laurence" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 7 Jan 2013 05:08:27 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (500 lines)

Ok. This exchange between David and Carrol is for me an example of the
problem of thinking and talking (and shouting) about revisionism.

1. What is revisionism re Marx?  (I have some idea, but I am not sure what
you two mean).

2. Certainly to call someone a revisionist at any type of meeting I attend
would make sense to almost no one.

3. Who is Lars Lith and why do you two disagree about the significance of
his writing?  His being an "academic petty-fogger" has a nice ring, but it
helps me not at all understand his weaknesses.

Larry




On 1/6/13 11:10 PM, "David Westman" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>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
>>> <http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/feuerbach/works/essence/ind
>>> 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
>>>³revolutionary²,
>>> of ³practical-critical², 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 <http://www.thenorthstar.info/?cat=868> ,
>>> interview <http://www.thenorthstar.info/?cat=269>
>>>
>>> 		While todayıs 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-
>>> webster.com/dictionary/weltanschauung> . This was Marxism, founded on
>>> Karl Marxıs 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.
>>>
>>> 		Todayıs crisis of capitalism has, unsurprisingly, led to a
>>> renewed interest in Marxism. Yet any ³return to Marx² will not be
>>>found in
>>> an exegesis of ancient texts but in grounding Marxıs 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, todayıs left has for too long been relegated to social
>>>and
>>> cultural studies, ceding the ³hard² discourse in economics and science
>>>to a
>>> new generation of vulgar scientistic ³quants². 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
>>> <http://webpages.dcu.ie/%7Esheehanh/mxphsc.htm> ).
>>>
>>> 		Ben Campbell: The advances of 19th-century science were
>>> inseparable from the rise of ³materialist² 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
>>>³dialectical²
>>> 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 didnıt
>>>get
>>> lost in the parts.
>>>
>>> 		BC: Youıve written, ³It is no accident that Marxism made its
>>> entry onto the historical stage at the same historical moment as
>>>Darwinism.²
>>> 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
>>> <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/index.htm> ,
>>> 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 Marxismıs 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
>>> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 ³the
>>>dialectic²
>>> 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
>>> ³dialectical² science to transcend this divide?
>>>
>>> 		 <http://www.thenorthstar.info/wp-
>>> content/uploads/2012/12/bernal.jpg>
>>>
>>> 		HS: No, I donıt agree with it. There have always been those
>>> who synthesized these two streams. Most familiar to me is the 1930s
>>>British
>>> Marxism of Bernal <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Desmond_Bernal> ,
>>> Haldane <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._B._S._Haldane> , Caudwell
>>> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Caudwell> , and others, and
>>>post-
>>> war Eastern European Marxism. Regarding the latter, it suffered from
>>>the
>>> orthodoxy of parties in power, but it wasnıt all catechetical
>>>dogmatism. In the
>>> United States, Richard Levins
>>><http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Levins>
>>> and Richard Lewontin <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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
>>> ³materialist dialectic² would really entail. Some, like philosopher
>>>David
>>> Bakhurst, have traced
>>> <http://books.google.com/books/about/Consciousness_and_Revolution_in_
>>> 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 ³radical Hegelian realism², at other times his
>>>philosophy
>>> failed to transcend a rather vulgar materialism. How did any such
>>>ambiguities
>>> in Leninıs 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 Lysenkoıs 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 (1898­1976) 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 ³interference² 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  ³philosophy of
>>>science²
>>> (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 Lakatosı
>>>background
>>> <https://www.dukeupress.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct.php?productid=5986&v
>>> 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 ³falsifiability² 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).
>>> Popperıs 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 ³dialectical² (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
>>> ³dialectical² or even ³Marxist² 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?
>>>
>>> 		 <http://www.thenorthstar.info/wp-
>>> 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 donıt 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 donıt 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 Iıve been intensively engaged lately. One of the
>>>leading
>>> thinkers in SYRIZA is Aristides Baltas, a Marxist and a philosopher of
>>>science.
>>>
>>> 		Thank you, Helena.
>>>
>>>
>>> 		 <http://www.thenorthstar.info/wp-
>>> content/uploads/2012/12/heinrichhoerle_monumentunknownprothesis.jpg
>>> 		Monument to the Unknown Prothesis, by Heinrich Hoerle
>>> (1930)
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>> author- "The Black Holocaust for Beginners"
>>> http://blackeducator.blogspot.com

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