A Marxist Critique of
“A Scientific Critique of Unscientific Marxism”

A Marxist Critique of “A Scientific Critique of Unscientific Marxism”
Reply by Gerry Downing to Steve Ballard’s “A Scientific Critique of Unscientific Marxism”

Gerald Downing, Editor Socialist Fight.  2012
This short document is a synopsis of a much longer one by Steve. However in neither document does he use actual quotations from Marx and Engels. He makes assertions that they ‘recognised’ this, they ‘hypothesised’ they ‘elaborated’, etc. but makes no attempt to prove these assertions. Supplying an academic apparatus would make his “scientific critique” far more scientific. His original text is in bold in quotation marks and this is followed by my reply.

Steve Ballard writes: “Marx and Engels were the first to recognise how:- The essence of capitalism is a system oflaws, created by dynastic owners of surplus property, which ranks their self-aggrandisement above all other socialobligations, including the obligation to nurture all life, human and otherwise.”

The essence of capitalism is not a “system of laws” but, in common with all forms of class society, the private ownership of the means of production. Wealth is privately owned under capitalism but socially produced. The conflict this creates between capital and labour, the means of production and the social relations of production is the class struggle and according to the first sentence of the Communist Manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing (class) society is the history of class struggles”

Already we are on the wrong idealist track, Capitalism rests not on a “system of laws” but on this objective relationship, independent of will and consciousness. We might  therefore acknowledge that whilst Marx and Engels regarded “historical processes as law-governed processes” these laws are derived from a study of the evolution of capitalism and are the laws of Historical Materialism.

It is the task of the revolutionary party to make this historical processes a conscious process, we must become the “conscious expression of the unconscious historical process” (Trotsky, My Life). “Marx determined that the concealed essence of capitalism could be found in its history, and that this essence and history were then preserved in disguise within its existing institutions and beliefs. History thus was the entry point for the study of capitalism. This is the materialist interpretation of history, based on the view that what gives history its meaning is material life, meaning economic forces. From this standpoint, Marx was studying classical political economy, but the method he selected is what married this study to Hegelian philosophy. The dialectical element, derived from Hegel, emerged from the realization that there is extreme tension caused by the unequal relations between the superior and inferior classes within society. The main driving force of historical change is thus seen to be the class struggle, and this is associated with a dialectical view because it reveals a contradiction located within all modes of production, a contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production.”(Marx on Historical Change & Capitalism) http://www.lotsofessays.com/viewpaper/1702624.html)

We really do not know what “surplus property”, might be, the expression is found nowhere in Marx or Marxism and can only refer to a reformist notion that the rich have too much property and we should take some of it off them because they do not need it all. This is in line with the current thinking that if only we could retrieve the bankers’ bonuses and invest that all would be well with the capitalist economy. Such notions are pushed by the SWP and the World to Win in their LEAP stuff for John McDonald and the Labour Representation Committee. Feldman performed a like service for Ken Livingstone in his WRP days. There is, of course, “surplus value”, an entirely different concept which forms the bedrock of Marx’s study of Capital.

And really the notion that the owners of this supposed “surplus property” are very nasty  and irresponsible beasts which, “ranks their self-aggrandisement above all other social obligations” and could not give a hoot for their “obligation to nurture all life, human and otherwise” is simply another reformist moralist gripe about the nastiness of the ruling class. And anyway some of them do give a stuff; that nice Mr Gates gives away untold millions to help the poor, surely  he takes his “social obligations” seriously? Even if that is true that he does he is, of course, amongst the foremost defender of the system that starves a great proportion of humanity materially and whilst the world obviously has the capacity to feed, cloth, give proper healthcare, education, etc. to every individual on the planet. But that capitalism can never do, with the best will in the world.

But here we really need to go into some detail about the effects this private ownership of the means of production has on humanity in general; the details of how these social relations distorts and deforms the human psyche of the whole of humanity (including the capitalists) via the four forms of alienation analysed by Karl Marx’s in his Theory of Alienation:

(1)There is the alienation of the worker from the work s/he produces, from the product of his/her labour. The product’s design and the manner in which it is produced are determined not by its actual producers, nor even by those who consume the products, but rather by the capitalist class, which appropriates labour – including that of designers and engineers – and seeks to shape consumers’ taste in order to maximize profit.

(2) This is coupled with the alienation of the worker from working, from the act of producing itself. This kind of alienation refers to the patterning of work in the capitalist means of production into an endless sequence of discrete, repetitive, trivial, and meaningless motions, offering little, if any, intrinsic satisfaction.

(3) There is the alienation of the worker from himself as a producer, from his or her “species being” or “essence as a species”. To Marx, this human essence is not separate from activity or work, nor static, but includes the innate potential to develop as a human organism.

(4) Alienation of the worker from other workers or producers. Capitalism reduces labour to a commercial commodity to be traded on the market, rather than a social relationship between people involved in a common effort for survival or betterment. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/Marxism.htm)

“Alienation (which) describes the separation of things that naturally belong together; and the placement of antagonism between things that are properly in harmony…Alienation (Entfremdung) is the systemic result of living in a socially stratified society, because being a mechanistic part of a social class alienates a person from his and her humanity… Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realised human being, as an economic entity, he or she is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, in order to extract from the worker the maximal amount of surplus value, in the course of business competition among industrialists.”(Marx’s theory of alienation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx%27s_theory_of_alienation, Wiki – our numbering)

“The capitalist system of secular laws must eventually overwhelm all pre-capitalist systems of religious laws, because of capitalism’s façade of freedom, its semblance of scientific neutrality and objectivity. Capitalism’s self-perpetuating, self-serving, quasi-scientific ideology of ‘survival of the fittest’ obscures the underlying oppression of whole populations, by owners of the greatest amount of surplus property, with complete disregard for the needs of any life that does not serve their self aggrandisement, human and otherwise”.

“Religious doctrinal laws oblige whole populations, including their most self-aggrandising clans, to nurture all life, human and otherwise, however imperfectly and inequitably; capitalism’s state-enforced repudiation of the socially-necessary obligation to nurture all life (a consequence of science’s repudiation of religion), must eventually cause the disintegration of all societies, pending the development of scientific socialism.”

Here again the problem is posed as if it was ideological and even on this level it is wrong. Only in a very few historical instances were whole societies governed totally by religious laws; Israel and Judea in Roman times, the reign of Mohamed, etc. Even the old Islamic Empire of the Ottoman Turks and modern Islamic Republics like Iran are mixtures of secular and Sharia laws. Already by the early Middle Ages conflict between church and state saw increasing secularisation of the state. And this was a progressive thing, an inevitable step in the preparation of society for the socialist revolution and the taking of power by the working class and so to the abolition of all classes. “Religious doctrinal laws oblige whole populations, including their most self-aggrandising clans, to nurture all life, human and otherwise, however imperfectly and inequitably;” seems to suggest that the development of
capitalism was reactionary and not progressive, this is surely a reference to noblesse oblige, a mere hypocritical principle to justify the jus primae noctis etc. And again we really do not know what “pending the development of scientific socialism” means if it does not signify some vague ‘raising of consciousness’ project and not the socialist revolution.

Look at how Christopher Hill describes this transformation in his great analysis of the intellectual and ideological conflicts that took place in the approach, during and after the English Civil War, The World Turned Upside Down (p242-3)

“One of the fascinating problems in the intellectual history of seventeenth-century England is the collapse of Calvinism. It was as though it had performed its historic task with the establishment of a society in which the protestant ethic prevailed. Before 1640 Calvinism had been attacked from the right by sacramentalist Laudians;[1] during the Revolution it was attacked by rationalist Arminians[2] of the left – John Goodwin, Milton, Quakers. Presbyterian discipline was unpopular both with the ungodly lower classes and with upper class anti-clericals. More serious, Calvinism had proved unable to sustain its defences against Antinomianism.[3] So long as the elect were respectable bourgeois Puritans, their sense of freedom through cooperation with God brought no fundamental danger to the social order. But it was impossible, once discipline brisk down, to decide who the elect were. The radicals rejected as hypocrites those Puritans whose faith did not result in works of love. Artisan Fifth Monarchists[4] proclaimed that they were the saints who should rule. Mechanick preachers and lower-class Quakers[5] were convinced that the Holy Spirit was within them. Some Ranters preached a dionysiac Antinomianism that would have subverted all the moral standards of a propertied society”.

Failure to agree who the elect were drove the men of property back to works — by their fruits ye shall know them. Standards and norms of conduct could be established and enforced by lay J.P.s with no danger of a clerical Presbyterian discipline. This was a very different theology of works from that of Catholics or Laudians; it was non-sacramental, in no “dependent on a mediating priesthood. It avoided both types of clericalism. And the sects themselves, once they had accepted the world and the sinfulness of man, cooperated in enforcing a morality of works on their members. We are all so Arminians now that it requires a great imaginative effort think oneself back into the pre-revolutionary society which Calvinism dominated.

The Catholic counter-reformation at the Council of Trent (1545–1563) decreed that an excerpt from the Gospel according to St John which begins; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” be read out in the vernacular (the only part that the mass of ‘the  common people’ could understand, the rest was unintelligible Latin and Greek until the 1960s) in all churches. It was very important for organised reaction to counter the rising materialist ideology which put men above God and welfare above that of the church.

In the Enlightenment it fell to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to demolish this idealistic reaction in the words of Faust: “This is how ’tis written: “In the beginning was the Word! Here now I’m balked! Who’ll put me in accord? It is impossible, the Word so high to prize, I must translate it otherwise If I am rightly by the Spirit taught. ’Tis written: In the beginning was the Thought! Consider well that line, the first you see, That your pen may not write too hastily! Is it then Thought that works, creative, hour by hour? Thus should it stand: In the beginning was the Power! Yet even while I write this word, I falter, for something warns me, this too I shall alter. The Spirit’s helping me! I see now what I need and write assured: In the beginning was the Deed!”  Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

All serious Marxists side unequivocally with Goethe, it is not “thought works, creative, hour by hour” but thought-driven practice, it was not the “battle of ideas” that determined the outcome of the great British miners’ strike of 1984-5 but the Battle of Orgrieve, which they lost. “Marx and Engels hypothesised that the only means to overcome the quasi-scientific ideology of capitalism would be science ­— the deeper and wider understanding of the unity and interdependence of all life, human and otherwise. They characterised their approach as scientific socialism to distinguish it from democratic or ‘utopian’ socialism, which disregards the particular significance of science’s discipline and methodology in the development of society.”

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Marx’s theory of alienation would refute this sentence. Marx never saw the objective as simply the raising of consciousness and enlightenment. We are revolutionaries because bourgeois ideology is constantly re-imposed on the consciousness of the working class by the social relations of production all workers are forced to enter into in order to make their living. They must sell their labour power to the capitalist; they must subordinate their will to the capitalist in a humiliating relationship as explained by Marx:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

Advertisements