Tuesday, September 15, 2020

1987: Ernest Mandel – On the potential of history

This is the text of lecture given by Mandel in October 1987 in a series of lectures by different authors inspired by the work of Leo Kofler. It was first published in a book gathering the texts of these lectures; Die Versteinerten Verhaltenisse zum tanzen Bringen. Beitrage zur Marxistischen Theorie Heute (Berlin, 1991), edited by Thomas Brüsemeister, Christian illian, Uwe Jakomeit, Christoph Jünke, Sivlia Lange, Jan van Lessen, René Reinshagen and Wolfhard Schwarz.
For a materialist conception of history, it is necessary to understand that the world cannot be consciously changed without understanding it correctly.
While I am not a materialist, I agree that a naturalistic method is foundational to modern science, with the proviso that naturalism is a methodological assumption that is often illogically conflated with metaphysical truth. Science doesn't "prove" materialism. It is an assumption, which I take to be excessively reductionistic.

That said, Marx and Marxists make important observations about reality that should be taken into account in making an investigation where naturalism is relevant. So do "scientists" (whatever that means–"science" being a weasel word with respect to both denotation and connotation that is often used to argue from authority, an informal fallacy).

Ernest Mandel's lecture is about class. With the rise in inequality, "class" is becoming an important word again, although it has always been a key term in sociology. The concept that "class" refers to is somewhat fuzzy with respect to boundaries and needs careful analysis. This, of course, relates to the factors of production, labor and capital (as in the production function) and their relationship in a socioeconomic system. So it is pretty important in economics, too.

Neoclassical economics dismisses class as irrelevant, along with distributional effects–or else considers liberal societies to have transcended class distinctions and their effects. This is a weakness in the conventional conception of capitalism as an economic system that is assumed to be characteristic of a liberal society. In the Marxist critique, the conventional conception of captialism is embedded in bouregois liberalism, which is class-based and class-determined. From the Marxist point of view, capitalism is based on class power.

For example, MMT economists often says that certain effects like the level of unemployment are "policy choices." From the sociological point of view, policy in general is an expression of political power and political power is class-based. Conventional economists, on the other hand, may misrepresent economic effects of policy as an outcome of natural forces based on their modeling assumptions.

MR Online
1987: Ernest Mandel – On the potential of history


Peter Pan said...

If capitalism isn't exploitative, then Marxist critiques are moot.

As it turns out, plenty of folks don't believe capitalism is exploitative. Even working class folks.

Tom Hickey said...

"As it turns out, plenty of folks don't believe capitalism is exploitative. Even working class folks"

Yes, Marx and Engels made that point, as well as Marxists that followed.

Workers need to be disabused of their ignorance due "false consciousness before they can realize not only that they are being taken but how the shellgame works against them. This requires understanding class consciousness and class conflict where the ruling class holds the power.

This is the point of Marxist critique. It is not an academic exercise but rather an activist program meant to provoke change.

Peter Pan said...

It's a value judgement for which you'll never get consensus. When the gentle art of persuasion fails, the more determined resort to harsher means. The less determined prefer reform to revolution.

This particular materialist conception of reality has been relegated to the dustbin of history. The only people who continue to discuss it are academics.

Scientists sure as hell don't waste their time on it.