File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-29.113, message 1

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 1997 14:32:45 +0000
Subject: M-I: Andrew Wayne Austin

 Wotschek did not specifically say praxis is shit, but I will. Praxis is
Sorry to bang on old lad, but you have not responded to my earlier posts
(a) excerpting Alfred Sohn-Rethel and (b) my post, copied below.
Instead of flannelling on, please answer the spceific question: is S-R's
indentification of the Kantian Transcendental Subject with the
exchange-abtsraction inherent in commodity-exchange, correct OR NOT?

Mark Jones

>from my post of:  
         Sun, 26 Jan 1997 12:53:31 +0000

         " In a post this morning it was suggested that there existed a
transcendental subject. It was also admitted that Marx did not 
this. I agree with Marx. There is no Abolute Idea. "

Wayne, I also agree with Marx (for what it is worth) and so did Sohn-
Rethel: his whole point was that Kant's 'Transcendental Subject' was 
fetishistic, was a product of the fantastic, reality-inverting world of 
commodity-fetishism. Pity if you throw out the baby with the bath-
If you don't accept the point of S-R's critique of epistemology - that 
you cannot explain the results or categories of Newtonian science 
>from direct observation, because these results/categories are ipso 
facto transcendental, then how DO you explain the immanentism of 
Newtonian science? By recourse to positivism? The Diamat? What?
I hate to make this sound like a viva, but if you do not grasp this 
point then you are still trapped a sociological conception of marxism 
and an idealistic conception not only of science but its subject.

BTW, we can surely forget Althusser who admitted at the end that he 
had never actually read Capital himself.

Wayne says: Note that even if the dialectic we hold subjectively is a 
reflection of an
objective dialectic inherent in nature, we would still behold this
dialectic subjectively.

Who, in the endless iteration of beholding subjects this suggests, 
is the ultimate "we" doing the ultimate "beholding"?
Bourgeois philosophy is a leaking 
ship: transcendentalism seeps in everywhere. Also in your 
formulations of the matter here and throughout your piece. 
That is why we need to acknolwedge the old bastard, the kantian TS,
 and give him a home at last, instead of letting him wander around
like Hamlet's ghost (the proper home being the commodity-form and the 
fetishised forms of thought arising from it).

Wayne said: Humans humanize their world through the labor process. The
material life-process is social practice at its most foundational level.
The labor process in interaction with nature materializes the known and
knowable world. [you immediately ad: "Marx regarded it irrelevant to 
speak of nature independent of humans, because one cannot stand 
outside their humanity, even as the most extreme points of
but infortunately this is what you do most of the time].

This takes talk of 'humanizing the world ' and 'material life-process'
 us straight back to Engels, the human hand, origins of 
labour etc; again it is to anthropomorphise labour, the very thing you 
are supposed to be warning us off. Where, actually, is commodity-
exchange, the commodity-form and the exchange-abstraction in all 
this? If, as you seem to say, Marixsm unites method and result -- that 
he (Marx) eschews a priori laws and therefore methods of research: then 
how is it even possible to talk about 'the dialectic' without talking 
about Marx's specific investigation of the commodity-form? 
You surely cannot say, as yoiu go on to do, 
"The labor process in interaction with nature materializes the known 
and knowable world. "
 without negating the very thing you are trying to prove: namely that 
*for us* nature is not a priori, ie, we only *see* and more to the
*construct* nature *socially*; once again, the fantasised *abstract-
universal* of nature creeps into your thinking, and why? Because 
you have not purged it of its fantasised Transcendental Subject.
 You next quote Marx: "Man makes his life-activity itself the object 
of his will and his consciousness." 
Exactly that is the pooint: Marx never even allows 
some fantasised Nature into his discourse: it is not, for KM, "The 
labor process in interaction with nature [that] materializes the known 
and knowable world." but 'Man's life-activity [which is] itself the 
object'.  Marx himself has been accused of  anthropologising labour 
for exactly this kind of remark, but it seems clear to me anyway that 
Marx discriminates only methodologicaly between a domain which 
is knowable to us directly, ie objectively (the social world of labour) 
and a domain which is not thus knowable, which is therefore only 
knowable (in class-based, commodity producing, dualistic societies, 
which his was and ours still is) in a reified, fetishised, fantastic
and which THEREFORE, for this (methodological) reason only, he 
excludes ab initio from his investigation.
This is why Marx on society is (proletarian) science whereas Engels 
(and Marx) on nature  is not, in my opinion. Engels and Marx may 
both have written about nature and natural science thinmgs
that may often have been right, insightful and even profound,  as 
well as often worng or irrelevant, but in any case what they wrote
 was NOT science, proletarian or otherwise.
Since the whole purpose and object of Marx's critique of political 
economy was to show how the social world has been constructed 
historically out of the natural world (over disucssion of which his
Trappist vow 
held), it follows that for Karl Marx all of natural science - 
physics, chemistry, biology - is radically fetishistic and will not
under Communism BECAUSE under communism, society itself, qua 
reified labour and the social division of alienated labour, will also 
not exist. No TS. Therefore no immanent object.
No society. Therefore no Nature.
Marx's implied (but never more than sketched) critique of (bourgeois)
science is therefore wholly destructive of all its pretensions, as 
Engels's was not and could not have been. Which is no insult to 

Your quotes are the best there are, but I'm not sure about how you use
For instance: Marx:
"The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of man's species
life [ie, the object of labour is NOT, according to KM, "interaction 
with nature [which] materializes the known and knowable world" as 
you have said only moments before, but the 'objectification of 
mankind's species life,', alone: this is either a cumbersome 
and convoluted way for Marx to say 'Nature' or is Marx exactly not 
saying 'Nature' but speaking instead only of knowledge of 
'man's species life']: for he duplicates himself not only, 
as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality. 
and therefore he contemplates himself in a world he created. 
In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, 
estranged labor tears from him his species life, his real species 
objectivity." Marx could not have been clearer (I can't think of a 
clearer way to put it, anyhow): labour, which is always social (as 
KM's criticisms of Robinson Crusoe-ades shows), ie, labour which 
produces society as its object THEREBY denies humankind its own 
objectivity, denies it the possibility of  self-knowledge (those who 
make a political and theoretical fetish of 'labour', usually 
because of a glorifying of the industrial working class not merely as 
the gravedigger of capitalism but as the subsequent Builder of 
Communism, have not followed Marx's argument but instead make 
the mistake of absolutising this century's glorious, but failed, 
experiments in the construction of socialism, rather than learning the 
lessons of this failure).
 Your way of thinking reproduces this, IMO, erroneous view of 
Marxism line by line: "First, Marx is arguing that human beings say, 
imagine, and conceive laws, truth, facts, etc.. Laws, truth, and facts 
are not self-objectifying. [good, I agree, this is truly what Marx 
thinks]. They have a conceptual foundation that emerges from 
the real material life process of human beings [but that is exactly 
what KM *does not* think -- not real material life but real social life,
 etc -- you elide the distinction Marx made in the process of
explicating it]."

I do not propose to comment on your thoughts about Engels's alleged 
racism etc.

You quote Avineri. Unfortunately or not I have lost my copy of this 
book. I know I had one, in the days when I used to subscribe to Verso
book club.
But as is already clear both from your own preceding 
analysis and from what I have just opined, Marx was not guilty of the 
pop-sociological philistinism Avineri attributes to him. [you cite]: 
"According to Marx, nature cannot be discussed as if it were severed 
>from human action, for nature as a potential object for human 
cognition has already been affected by previous human action or 
contact. Hence nature is never an opaque datum. The phrases 
'humanized nature' and 'humanism equals naturalism' recur in Marx's 
writings, and 'naturalism' in his sense is virtually the opposite of 
what is generally implied by this term in traditional philosophical 
discussion. "

I think this is all bullshit, frankly. The succeeding quotes from 
Avineri are less senseless but they surely belong in an outdated Marx 
primer, not here. Your own discussion of the issues is far better!

I omit my comments on the rest of your argy-bargy with co-respondents, 
which mostly is just spleen venting and does not advance matters much.

In the end Austin repeats what he has already made us familiar with 
as his view. 

Austin says: "Do I believe nature is a social construction? No. I 
believe that nature exists mind-independently. I believe that nature is 
prior to human being. I believe in physical reality."

This is mere catechism. I defy anyone to find a similar set of 
unforced (and philosophically idealist) statements anywhere in 
Marx's writings.

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