Marxism and Science: Analysis of an Obsession

Marxism and Science: Analysis of an Obsession

Marxism and Science: Analysis of an Obsession

Marxism and Science: Analysis of an Obsession


In 1980 Alvin Gouldner identified two traditions of Marxist thought&- Marxism as science and Marxism as critique. This book is concerned with the first and by far the most politically influential of those traditions&- Marxism as science. It analyzes the claim, first made by Marx and Engels themselves, that Marxism is some kind of "hard" natural science of society able to identify laws of social development and to provide a scientific guide to revolutionary activity.

Marxism and Science breaks new ground by using Wittgensteinian analysis of Marxist discourse to construct a totally different conception of Marxism appropriate to the postmodern world. In this conception, Marxism is a point of view that can be advanced, rationally defended, and made convincing and persuasive to others, but that is as partial in some respects as any other political point of view. Reconceiving Marxism thus requires not only understanding language in a different nonobjectivist way but also adopting a new political practice and program, which the book proceeds to outline.

Marxism and Science concludes that, intellectually, Marxism as hard science is fairly obviously and profoundly untenable. But it goes on to argue that the purely intellectual grounds for this claim are much less interesting than the political and psychological purposes that such a claim has always served for Marxists in particular and scientific socialists in general. The most important of these purposes has been to provide a sort of psychological and emotional certitude to set against the overwhelming existential domination of capitalism in the world. Claiming this certitude to be as spurious as the arguments used to sustain it, the author calls upon Marxists and socialists to admit this and accept the doubt and uncertainty that come with a frank avowal of an open and unforeclosed future.


Wittgenstein once revealed to his friend and student G. H. von Wright that he believed himself to be writing for "people who would think in a quite different way, breathe a different air of life, from that of present-day man. For people of a different culture, as it were." Such a statement would apply equally to this book, but there is perhaps a difference of spirit behind the words. Given Wittgenstein's rather curious personality, I suspect that these sentiments were originally expressed with grim satisfaction; in my case, they are reproduced in the spirit of depression and frustration that appears on their surface. These are not good times to be on the Left, and they have not been good times for the last twenty or so years. Those of us who wish to continue arguing for a socialist alternative to capitalism can do so only out of a sense of history's endless love affair with irony, and the conviction such a sense brings that those who capitulate to the mood of any historical moment are likely to end up with a retrospective pie in the face.

But if such reflections give us the courage to swim against the contemporary tide, they must not lead us to do so by simply repeating the old certainties, the old recipes. For times have changed, and in that changing they have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the old notions of socialism -- the notions that have held sway on the Left from somewhere in the middle of the nineteenth century until now -- cannot any longer be sustained. This book argues that case, echoing what a number of others have said and adding a few points of its own. But it also argues that a suitably reformed conception of socialism -- a market socialism -- though it may lack the utopian qualities that inspired the imaginations of so many fine men and women over the last hundred or more years, still offers the . . .

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