Sunday, July 05, 2009

Unity, Diversity and Divisiveness in Marxism.

I have already pointed out in Unity, Diversity and Divisiveness in Anarchism, how anarchism is a good deal less sectarian than Marxism, and how its diversity is both a strength and weakness. The question then arises, "why do Marxists have such a problem with diversity and why is sectarianism such a dominant problem?" I should point out that this has been an historical problem, and that at present, Marxists are becoming a good deal less dogmatic and more prone to working together. (1)

Late 19th Century Marxism was infected with positivism, which took the form of regarding social science as a "hard science". Positivist social science was supposed to have clear-cut, accurate and predictable results, more or less like chemistry or physics. Thus, a political party based upon such an underlying viewpoint could have a "correct line" and every jot and tittle worked out before hand. But social science is not a "hard science". While it is scientific because it uses the scientific method – logical argument and evidence - its ability to predict outcomes is much more general and limited.

A politics based upon such tacit positivism will generate factionalism. Since reality is complex, not simple, a number of "correct lines" will be developed, each describing a facet of that complex reality. Furthermore, the real world will intrude into a party's theory, giving rise to dissatisfaction with the party line and generating a faction. Since there can only be one "correct line" within a party, the faction will end up getting expelled and form its own party around its tiny fragment of reality.

Another factor is the internal make up of most Marxist parties. Internal democracy tends to be based upon representative (bourgeois) democracy, rather than delegated power. There is also no rotation of positions or term limits. This makes it easy for a bureaucracy to develop or a clique to hold power. Thus you have parties with the same leadership for an entire generation. Such rigidity leads to factionalism as some members become dissatisfied with both the process and the politics of the party. The dissatisfaction increases as it becomes obvious that change is well neigh impossible, the group leaves (or is expelled) and a new party is formed. And ironically, 9 times out of 10, its structure and underlying way of being will be no different from its parent body.

For an excellent in-depth analysis of Marxism and sectarianism see


Blogger Frank Partisan said...

In the US much of the problem comes from pragmatism. The socialists were good organizers and unionists, but shunned theory. Differences were dealt with bureaucratically.

8:29 PM  
Blogger mollymew said...

Was Kropotkin Wrong ????
I say he was not. Way back then Kropotkinn took Marx to task, not for being "scientific" but for being the exact opposite while pretending to the idea. What Kropotkin criticized Marx for was the illusion that the German philosophical idea of "dialectics" could give an "inside edge" for prediction of the future, an "edge" that was supposedly superior to the ordinary procedure of REAL science. To say the least EVERY prediction that Marx ever made has been falsified. They were all actually falsified at the turn of the 20th century as was pointed out by Berstein. To this day, however, there are still those who think that Marx developed some magically superior way of looking at everything from history to economics to ven, via Engels, chemical reactions.
Kropotkin was writing his diatribes from the English and French point of view, at a time when a certain "way of speaking" had already passed even in its heartland-Germany. The central point is that the term "scientific" was used in certain countries and certain places, such as Germany in the mid 1800s. in way that it is not just different from our present usage (just as it was for Kropotkin a few decades later in France and England) but the precise OPPOSITE of what we mean by "scientific" today. Rather than an inductive enterprise that demanded PROOF Marx's so-called "science" was a deductive enterprise from the childish "dialectics" he had learned in the German academy.
As to the word "postivism" over the decades I have heard nothing but rants against it by Marxists. In the source itself, when Marx deigned to mention either positivism or Auguste Compte it was NEVER in anything but a disparaging way.
It would take EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE to prove that Marx and his followers were "infected" by a philosophy that they held in contempt, and it would take other extraordinary evidence to show that critics such as Kropotkin were wrong when they criticized Marx for "straying" from the scientific way of viewing things. Using Occam's Razor the explanation is that Marx lived in a time and place when "scientific" had a different meaning than we give it today, and that his pretentions had little to do how we view that word today. IN MY OWN LIFETIME this was EXACTLY the interpretation that was advanced by the "real commies" ie that there was something called "dialectics" that was superior to real science. People were murdered in the Soviet Union for holding a "non-dialectical" view of genetics,the theory of relastivity and other things.
Nope, there is nothing wrong with the common sense magnified and concentrated that is called "science" (besides the sociology of science). There is EVERYTHING wrong with a presumed superior method of "logic" that attempts to subvert not just the basic principles of logic but also simple common sense. THAT is dialectics, and THAT is what was wrong with Marx's arrogant and wrong predictions.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

I never said that Marx was influenced by positivism. Later Marxism was. This same Marxism had little time for dialectics but adopted a natural science based approach to social science. During this time period the only people interested in dialectics were the libertarian Marxists like the SPC and Panokeok who were followers of Joseph Dietzgen. The study of dialectics re-emerges with Lucacs with the main current of marxism. .

11:12 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Too tired last night to write any more!

My association, membership, or in depth study of 6 self-styled Marxist parties, (CP, LSA, PW, IS, ICC, SPC) showed me that dialectics has had little if anything to do with the practice of these organizations. Dialectics was either never discussed, or rarely, and then only to rationalize some position already arrived at by other means. What underlay the positions taken by these parties was not dialectics but dogmatism, a shallow empiricism, moralism, pragmatism and positivism. As I once wrote to the ex-SLPer, the late Frank Girard, “The average Marxist wouldn't know a dialectic if it ran over him in a D9 Cat.” The one party that did promote dialectics, those of Joseph Dietzgen - the SPC - was noted for its dogmatism and sectarianism, attitudes completely at variance with Dietzgen's philosophy.

My interest in dialectics came about not through involvement in these groups, but independent study of heretical Marxists like Karl Korsch and Anton Pannekoek. And I first became aware of these thinkers through the anarchist movement!

9:09 AM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Just popping over to support your words regarding the situation at Ren's.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Frank Partisan said...

Most of the Trotskyist movement in the US and Canada, comes from the Cannon tradition. Cannon himself was a good unionist and organizer, but not a Marxist theoretician. He dealt with differences bureaucratically, just like Zinoviev when he ran the Communist International.

The IMT has education be half of our meeting time. Our greenest members know more theory, than other groups.

9:24 PM  
Blogger mollymew said...

Hi Larry,
I guess that we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. Never having been a member or even sympathizer of a Marxist sect, I obviously don't have your experience of same- though I knew lots of commies in my youth and am fairly familiar with both their actions and their rhetoric. I am amazed by your characterization of the last two items on your list, the ICC and the SPC, as "opportunist". To my mind they are exactly the opposite ie, holding rigidly to an ideology (that at least in the case of the ICC includes a hefty dose of "dialectics").
NO DOUBT they ALL used "dialectics" post hoc to justify whatever decisions they had taken on the basis or either common sense, rational weighing of the evidence or simple ideological perversity. Every commie in the world always used "dialectics"- which gave them the illusion of both superiority and eventual victory-in exactly the same way. Still...they made their genuflections to "dialectics" just as a good Catholic will genuflect before the Host without having any clear understanding of the doctrine of transubstantiation.
To my mind Marxists hardly "ignored" dialectics. They taught this method of thought without exception. They even used it for the justification for murder (not just against real genetics but against many other scientific theories in the Soviet Union). This is not "ignoring".
Within the Marxist mindset, however, "dialectics" is in the same position as many theological dogmas are within Christianity ie they have no consequences in the real world except as excuses or supports for belief.
Yes, you are undoubtedly right in saying that "dialectics" hardly informed the decisions of the sects you spoke about. May I suggest that is because it CAN'T. I have already mentioned the fact that pretty well every prediction of Marx that was informed by the "dialectical method" was falsified over 100 years ago. There are innumerable jokes that came from eastern Europe about the use of dialectics as "justification" rather than as a "guide". There are also innumerable comments about how nobody has ever come to a clear definition of "dialectics".
My own opinion..."dialectics" has no value whatsoever beyond an aesthetic way of viewing the world, an aesthetic that I don't share. I would also submit that many of the modern features of general thought such as "feedback loops", "complexity" and "chaos" have been tacked onto "dialectics" even though they are in obvious contradiction (in the real logical sense) to not the the ideas of the majority of Marxists in history (people were killed in the Soviet Union for holding favourable opinions about 1 and 2 above) but also to the binary thought of Marx and his Hegelian buddies themselves.
One is certainly free to view the world in any way one wants, and I have little doubt that the Marxists that you (and I by the way) admire had a different conception of the world than the majoritarian trend in Marxism. I would, however, ask the following question:
When they came to conclusions different from the run of the mill Marxists were they any different from such people in using "dialectics" as a post hoc explantion for something that they already knew either by empirical evidence or by moral sense ? Can you maintain that "libertarian Marxists" arrived at their conclusions because they were amongst the 0.000001% of Marxists who "understood dialectics properly" ? Isn't the other alternative that they were open to empirical evidence (postitivism ?) and were not power hungry much more likely ?

12:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

I don't see where I classified the IC and SPC as opportunist, they are dogmatic, but not that. I did make a list of the underlying beliefs of the various groups I knew and pragmatism was on that list. Certainly would not apply to either. Should have put in an "or" not a comma!

Also empiriciam and positivism are not the same.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Thinking about what you have written and perhaps we are talking at cross-purposes. If by "dialectics" you mean a rigid, absolutist formula, (like applying thesis-antithesis-synthesis to everything and sundry, I would agree. Furthermore even a genuine dialectical philosophy can help make few predictions, and those it does are only in a very general sense. What is important for political/social action is one's underlying world view and this is where philosophy comes in. But I will have to write more on this subject at a later date and perhaps we will find that we agree more than you think at this point.

9:40 AM  
Blogger mollymew said...

I certainly hope we can agree in the future. One thing that I am CERTAIN of is that the libertarian Marxists (and other dissident Marxists)that you and I may admire did NOT (beyond the shadow of a doubt)arrive at their conclusions via some "dialectic". They arrived at them via starting from a set of moral "feelings" (or if you want to be philosophical about it- 'categorical imperatives'-something that Marx and most Marxists disparage)and then examined the evidence scientifically/empirically/in terms of common sense to see if Marxism in power was in accord with the moral "goals". Of course it was not. Before the Soviet Union had established itself as the greatest tyranny the world had yet seen the critics had to extrapolate. Within a very few years of 1917 all that was needed was adding to a list that eventaully included tens of millions of murders.
For what it is worth, to my mind the dividing point between anarchism and Marxism is a "moral dividing point". I have little doubt that some Marxisms have crossed over to the same morality as traditional anarchism. Just as, unfortunately, some anarchisms lie on the same side as Stalinism(primitivism comes to mind). I do NOT, however, see the utility of accepting a philosphical stance that-IN THE MAJORITY OF CASES HAS LED TO ACTIONS THAT ARE PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE OF THE MORALITY THAT I HAVE CHOSEN.
There is a comparison here that just HAS to be made. There are MANY examples where Christian theology has led its believers to adopt moral stances that are "anarchistic". That's all and fine to me as an atheist-but not an "evangelical atheist". The vast majority of Christians actually give little thought to their religion, and I have little cause to argue against the vague beliefs that they do hold. There are, however, those who take their Christianity seriously, and the vast majority of those follow leaders whose theology only puts them "sometimes" "on the side of the angels".
I look at "dialectics" in the same way as I look at Christian theology. Occasionally it leads to conclusions that I could hardly argue with other than on grounds of utility or coherance. In the vast majority of cases, however, it leads to conclusions-and efforts- that I consider immoral. Looking over the history of the past 100 years the evil actions of believers in "dialectics" have overwhelmed those of the believers in Christian theology by anybody's estimate of 'the weight of evil'.
My own view of the world, for what it is worth, is fairly "grim", but the very uncertainty and "greyness" of that view will, I hope, prevent me from commiting any great evil- even if it prevents me from doing any great good. In any case I know that my own position in the universe means that any aspirations to "great" one way or the other are nothing but self-delusions. Modesty is one of the "greatest" virtues" of what leftists like to castigate as "science".
Let's continue this discussion further, and hopefully we won't always talk "at cross purposes".

9:02 PM  

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