Academic journal article Capital & Class

Marx's Scientific and Political Criticism: The Internal Relation

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Marx's Scientific and Political Criticism: The Internal Relation

Article excerpt


It is a mistake to assume that Marx's political criticism of other theorists of his period stems from subjective, private, and/or personal criteria he imposes from the outside. Instead, his critiques of others' views are steeped in scientific principles but are such that they also reveal the political biases built into those same views. That is, Marx's scientific and political critiques are internally related. If this is the case, it is vital to grasp their interconnection, since only by doing so will we be in a better position to grasp the content of the criticism Marx directs towards his contemporaries and leading ideas of his time, as well as the basis of that criticism. The following discussion explains how this is so.

The philosophy of internal relations

A paper such as this is perhaps not the place to provide a thorough and detailed explanation of the philosophy of internal relations--given that this is the theme of this issue of Capital & Class, other papers will certainly cover some of that ground. In addition, interested readers can avail themselves of existent literature on the topic (see Oilman 1993, 2003; Paolucci 2009, 2011). That said, however, a few words on the topic are in order.

A conventional understanding of reality--whether natural or social--approaches it as a series of interacting parts, where the character of the parts and the form of their interaction creates changes in the parts in question. Here, causal connections are located by examining how changes in one part or parts create changes in others: in sociology, this is basically Durkheim's approach to 'social facts'. This is approach is less 'wrong' than it is limited and even, at times, distorting. The distortion arises from the idea that reality is fluid, interconnected, mutually conditioning, dynamic and complex. Abstracting it into discreet 'parts' to think about and study produces an outlook that is less than sufficient to adequately grasp such interconnections, fluidity and dynamism. This distortion is thus why it is limited.

The internal relations approach is meant as a corrective to the more 'external' relations approach outlined above. In the internal relations view, reality is assumed to be made up of phenomena that are interconnected with one another, rather than having discrete object boundaries. In addition, this view thus assumes that we must abstract these interconnections into our conceptualisation of the world rather than abstract them out of view. That is, by drawing clear-cut boundaries between our objects of consideration, we abstract their interconnections out of view, and these only come into view by 'accident' when we try to reconstruct the influence of one on the other as contingent phenomena in a proposed causal chain. Put another way, in abstracting discrete boundaries between social phenomena, we do unnecessary violence to the reality we wish to grasp. If we start with the assumption of reality's interconnections, then our practices of abstraction and conceptualisation must incorporate such internal relations.

The internal relations view does not deny that reality is made up of 'things' that cause changes in each other, but it approaches this fact by conceiving of 'things' as relationships and processes contained internally within and between such 'things'. For example, Marx's concept of a 'mode of production' does not stand alone, but rather contains class relations, technical capacity, exploitation of labour and so on. That is, these latter concepts" are contained internally within the concept of a mode of production and not externally contingent phenomena. This view extends to the general overall view of phenomena, both social and natural.

How does this outlook apply to the question at hand, that of the interconnection between Marx's form of scientific critique and the political criticisms he applies to various theories, views, and approaches? …

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