- Capitalism and Alternatives -

'Social science' and 'utopianism'.

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on August 31, 1999 at 18:49:57:

In Reply to: Many and several. posted by Red Deathy on August 31, 1999 at 13:06:10:

: : SDF: I'm starting to go back and look at "utopianism," since Marx appears to have been, not a scientist, but another utopian.

: Lets be clear, Marx & Engles referred to themselves as scientific not in some natural science or technocratic way, but rather in opposition to teh Utopians, their distinction being that they claimed to draw their possibilities from actuality, whereas the utopians just designed pretty systems in their heads.

SDF: According to this standard, Charles Fourier could be both a utopian (he designed a system in his head) and scientific (he drew his possibilities from actuality). Similarly, we have a system "drawn in Marx's head" in the Communist Manifesto, for the first acts of the triumphant proletarian regime:

(1) Abolition of property in land and application of all rents on land to public purposes. (2) A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. (3) Abolition of all right of inheritance. (4) Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels. (5) Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly. (6) Centralization of communication and transportation in the hands of the state. (7) Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state, the bringing in cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan. (8) Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture. (9) Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of population over the country. (10) Free education for all education in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination with education with industrial production, etc.

So by your above standard, Marx and Engels are utopians, because they have drawn up a system in their heads. One notes the utopian leap of faith: how these "despotic inroads on the rights of property" on the part of national states ("these measures will, of course, be different in different countries") are supposed to lead automatically to a situation where "production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation" was something that should have been proven by scientific socialism, since M/E are claiming to know the laws governing history, but wasn't. If you would like to see a further elaboration of that system, please read Bertell Ollman's Marx: An Uncommon Introduction.

When Engels describes what makes his system "scientific" in Socialism: Utopian And Scientific, what we get is a recitation of the historical laws he and Marx claim to have discovered, nothing about proof or methodologies of proof or ways of determining the size and growth of the proletariat to discuss optimum times for launching a global revolution. By contrast, he says of the "utopian socialists" that:

Their immature theories corresponded to the immature state of capitalist production and the immature class situation (pp. 51-52)

I don't see why we shouldn't apply this standard to Marx and Engels' theories as well, given that they still lived in an era of peasants (outside of England and possibly France, Germany, and the US). Look, I have nothing against utopians, I don't view it pejoratively as perhaps you do. I just don't think this claim that Marx and Engels knew human behavior well enough to call their system a "science" washes. Where are the experiments, the control samples, the results? What would falsify Marxism? What other standards for "science" can we apply to separate "social science" from utopianism? I don't see them as necessarily being separate entities, since social sciences can make no special claim to being superior forms of discourse than lay discourse. See Andrew Sayer's Methods in Social Science for a full treatment of this.

: :There are four details which inspire in me a serious skepticism about the idea of Marxist "scientific socialism". One: the horribly vague way in which Marx laid out how the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" was to transact its business.

: Democratically- Marx made this clear regarding the Workers of England or holand, whom he said, beecause of Liberal Democratic Structures, could use the ballot box to attain socialism.

SDF: When Hamilton, Madison, and Jay sat down to write The Federalist, they didn't just say "we'll have a democracy, of course," and leave it at the popular will to form democracies. There had to be an idea of process, they understood. Can you understand that?

: :If everything was to be centralized in a single power,

: That single power being the vast majority of the population.

SDF: Go back and read my quote from the Communist Manifesto. Originally it was supposed to be "the state," and how it is to be transferred to the vast majority of the population needs a note on process.

: :then why no blueprint for socialism? Or conversely, if the people are to decide the details of socialism for themselves (the ostensible reason why Marx left no blueprint), then why centralize everything?

: Well, the people are the centre- the centralisation envisaged in the maifesto was intended to dissolve localist aristocratic ties and forms (local rule meant squirarchy rule back then) but that centre was meant to be democratic.

SDF: Who gets to participate in that democracy? How count the votes? Why assume the good guys will win? Notes on procedure, once again, are missing. (Please take these into consideration when evaluating my overall argument, that Marx/Engels were utopians too, that what we have of socialism in their works is a sketch, not something that can be called a fully-fledged science, and that there's nothing wrong with that.)

: On the plan, Marx was very influenced by Hegel here, in that you can't stray away from the actual to be scientific, and straying into abstraction. If he was right about what he saw potentially in the present, then the plan would come, necessarilly, of its own accord when the time came.

SDF: This is meaningless. Abstractions are the actual, thus they are scientific. Plans don't come of their own accord, they are created by concrete human beings.

: :The answer is the one Craig Calhoun gave in THE QUESTION OF CLASS STRUGGLE -- as capitalism matured, the working class had more of a stake in capitalism, thus it perceived that it had more to lose.

: A point Marx deals with in the manifesto- the Master keeps the slave as slave, and the slave will not revolt until the master is no longer capable of keeping the slave, i.e. when teh bourgeoisie become inimicable to society.

SDF: But, regardless of the actual oppression of the working class, the "slaves" are becoming less and less likely to revolt because their perception is more and more one of what they have to lose if they throw capitalism overboard in a general strike. Calhoun showed how this applied to the depiction of English history in E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. In a situation like the one Calhoun described, we will have to abstain from framing general laws presupposing that the bourgeoisie will eventually become inimical to society, since the trend is going the other way, and of course because it's not credible to frame social laws without social evidence.

I'll get to the RD/Stoller debates later, I want to look them over...

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