pgb

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  • in reply to: commemorations and anniversaries #116078
    pgb
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    FWIW. I'm working on something for the 75th anniversary of the start of the Spanish civil war.

    You had better hurry, the 75th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War was in 2011.

    in reply to: “Yours” (music video) #115561
    pgb
    Participant

    Quite a good song I think AJJ, but what is reformist about it?

    in reply to: Lamark and other things #110307
    pgb
    Participant

    Spot on twc.  I was about to say the same myself.  Steele was not sacked for his "Lamarckism" by a "neo-Darwinist papacy". I will only add that Steele took his case to the Australian Federal Court which found against the University, and he was subsequently reinstated. The University appealed against the Court's decision but lost a second time. It eventually settled with an undisclosed payout to Steele. As far as I am aware, he chose not to return to the Uni of Wollongong but took up a position at Murdoch University in Western Australia.

    in reply to: ISIS #109959
    pgb
    Participant

    Thanks AJJ for starting this thread which follows from a response I made to Robbo (on the Hunter gatherer violence thread) who said that socialists, as "self-respecting hardline materialists", argue that war in the modern world is all about "commercial rivalries in capitalism", in relation to which religious and political beliefs are "ethereal" and "merely ideological smokescreens" hiding these "real" motives. I said it would be hard to explain the present war between ISIS and its opponents as a war arising from commercial rivalries in capitalism and that what drives ISIS et al is not material interest but religious faith. I also put the view that one of the reasons why Marxists in particular might find it hard to accept this (the primacy of religious faith) is that in Marxist terms religion is part of the "superstructure" and so is explained by reference to the "base" (economic activity). It seemed to me that Robbo's position is quite consistent with this – what I called the "conventional historical-materialist analysis of war". Robbo later (#147) restated his claim that the real motives for war are economic whereas religion and ideology serve as a smokescreen by specifically citing the example of ISIS and Boko Haram as cases which reinforce his claim, though he added the caveat that while these religious beliefs help to explain their actions, they don't really explain how or why ISIS et al have come to such prominence. Hence, an argument that wars are fought over religious beliefs, says Robbo, "stops short of a fully rounded explanation". OK, I can agree with that – who wouldn't, regarding anything as complex as war? But it's a long way from seeing religion as "merely an ideological smokescreen" which hides the "real" (economic) motives for war.  Robbo says that ISIS et al "appeal to a constituency whose economic interests have been thwarted …and that the story of these organisations cannot be fully grasped outside of the context of conflicting capitalist interests…" I think there is some truth in the first part of this. I 'm not so sure about the second part. It's easy to see why ISIS would appeal to people who are jobless, have low educational attainment, and have difficulty finding social acceptance, like many Muslims in Western European countries. But many Jihadists don't fit this picture. eg; the Londoner who allegedly decapitated hostages is a university graduate trained in computer programming, or the French middle class teenagers and medical students from atheist families who joined Jabhat-al-Nusra. The attraction of Jihadist groups cuts across classes. And their motives are not material or economic motives, but messianic religious ones which draw on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture. Of course, it could still be the case that these motives are an ideological "smokescreen" for the "real" motives – but what exactly are these conflicting capitalist rivalries which will presumably lead me to discover what these "real" motives are? Hud (#145) says "there are reasons to believe that religion is not the principal factor driving ISIS to kill, nor, from what we know, does religion even seem to be providing an ideological framework for the killing." Well, I'd like to know what these reasons are. And I'd sure like to know what "ideological framework for the killing" drives ISIS if not religion. What I know may well be limited, but I am relying on writers like Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk, the two pre-eminent Independent correspondents on the Middle East; Fawaz Gerge, Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy; Malise Ruthven, Lure of the Caliphate, and Sarah Burke How ISIS Rule, both in New York Review of Books; and others. This is Cockburn writing in The Jihadis Return: "The ideology of al-Qaida and ISIS draws a great deal from Wahabbism…..the fundamentalist 18th century version of Islam that imposes sharia law, relegates women to second-class citizens and regards Shia and Sufi Moslems as heretics and apostates to be persecuted along with Christians and Jews ." What else should we call this but a religious ideology? You say, Hud, that even if religion is identified as the primary cause driving individuals to join ISIS, that in itself would not demonstrate that religion is the determining cause of ISIS' actions. It’s possible, but I don’t see that there is much of a difference between the reasons why people join ISIS, and the purposes for which ISIS exists. Everything I have read says that the purpose or motives of ISIS is the establishment of a theocratic state, a so-called New Caliphate. Since the creation of a new state must involve politics, then it would be fair to say that ISIS' motives are not only religious, they are also political. But that's only because ISIS has to act politically to secure a theocratic state (or any state). What I don't see is that their real motives are "material" in the way most socialists use that term, ie. as an expression of material class interests. I think ISIS' religious ideological ambitions leave little room for material interests. You hold a different view. When you elucidate the meaning of "material" you say: "to achieve anything, we first have to provide for our immediate and longer term material necessities", and "all the religious enthusiasm in the world will not maintain a war unless that war is materially provisioned". Are you saying that unless ISIS fighters can get enough provisions (material) to eat, they will soon cease to be fighters for ISIS? Or unless they get guns and ammunition (war materiel) they won’t be able to fight? Do you think that this is part of the materialist argument (eg as put by the SPGB) on war? If so, I think you are seriously mistaken. However, you also say that “Warfare is an expensive business and has to be funded. It is much more easily explained by following the money". When I read this I thought this is more like it, because it might reveal that behind ISIS are the material class interests of capitalists, who would stand to benefit from ISIS success. This would then go a long way to proving that the conflict between ISIS and its opponents is really a conflict between the material interests of different capitalists, to which religion is indeed the "smokescreen" or the ideological frame in which the conflict is fought out in the minds of the participants. But no such luck. When I read the RT article posted here by AJJ, I learnt that the source of funding for ISIS comes from (a) proceeds from captured resources in ISIS occupied territories (chiefly oil); (ii) kidnapping for ransom; (iii) theft and cash smuggling. No capitalist interests there.                

    in reply to: Hunter gatherer violence #109691
    pgb
    Participant

    Robbo says:  ….I'm a little surprised that the Moderator has taken such a strict line on what is, or is not, off topic. It is relevant to the topic because the whole point of the topic is to discuss what gives rise to war.Hear, Hear!   Perhaps the Moderator could tell us why?

    in reply to: Hunter gatherer violence #109682
    pgb
    Participant

    YMS, your list of "material bases" of ISIS and other similar groups is no answer to the point I was trying to make. A conventional historical-materialist analysis of war in modern times asserts that the "real" cause of war is conflict between different capitalist classes, or between fractions of a capitalist class, over markets, trade routes, economic resources and the like – all of which comprise the "material" base of class society. It's a straightforward base-superstructure model.The examples of "material" bases you have given are not causes of the conflict. Some refer to the material conditions of life in parts of the world where ISIS and others have successfully recruited, some refer to the material (economic) resources that ISIS controls, like Iraqi oil wells, which it needs to run a theocratic, totalitarian state (the New Caliphate etc). But control of Iraqi oil wells is not the aim and purpose of the conflict. It's a means to effect that aim. Likewise, the fact that some Saudis and others are giving material support to ISIS doesn't make this support a cause of the conflict. I think Robbo's quote states the socialist (SPGB) position clearly and correctly: that the real causes of war are economic, and that religion and ideology constitute the "smokescreen"' which hides these real causes. Your "material bases" are not causes of the war involving ISIS et al,  they are not what the war is about, they are not what drives the militants to fight and kill. From what I can see it is religious faith. First warning: 1. The general topic of each forum is given by the posted forum description. Do not start a thread in a forum unless it matches the given topic, and do not derail existing threads with off-topic posts.

    in reply to: Hunter gatherer violence #109665
    pgb
    Participant

    Robbo says:  I thought we socialists argued that war in the modern world is all  about the commercial rivalries in capitalism and, as self respecting hardline materialists,  we look askance at suggestions that  wars are fought over such ethereal things as religious or political beliefs.  These later are supposed to serve merely as a kind of ideological smokescreen  to hide the real economic motives for war.I think you will have a hard task explaining the present war between ISIS and its opponents in Syria and Iraq as arising from "commercial rivalries in capitalism" and to regard ISIS and other militant Islamists' religious beliefs as merely "ethereal".  ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram etc. have disagreements amongst themselves and as often fight against each other as they do against "the West" or against "US imperialism", but what drives them all is not material interest but religious faith. Of course they are not the only religious zealots around. Messianic Zionists of the settler movement in the West Bank, Buddhist monks in Myanmar, Hindu nationalists are pretty much the same, it's just that Islamic zealots at the present time are the worst of them, in terms of the level of violence. The closest comparison in Christendom would be with the mediaeval Crusaders, who were every bit as barbaric as ISIS. Leftists of all stripes, including SPGB socialists, have trouble explaining this upsurge in religious zealotry in the world today, partly because we have all been brought up to believe that religion was an opiate of the masses which must fade with the advance of science and secularism, so it's hard to accept that religious faith can be a driving force of political movements in the modern world. And then there's the firm belief, for Marxists, that religion, along with ideology in general, is part of the "superstructure" and so can only be explained by reference to the "base" (economic activity). This is an ancient belief, but unfortunately, it doesn’t come within cooee of explaining Islamist and other forms of violent conflict fostered by religious zealotry.

    in reply to: Science for Communists? #103327
    pgb
    Participant

    Vin Maratty said: The conclusion arrived at by several writers from textual analysis in simple terms is that Marx used "ideology" in a neutral way.


     I'd really like to know who these "several writers" are Vin because from my reading Marx never used "ideology" in a neutral way ( I take it you mean non-evaluative, value-free). In The German Ideology virtually every reference by Marx and Engels to ideology and ideologists is pejorative. No doubt it would be possible to employ Marx's concept of ideology in a neutral way, but when Marx refers to ideas as "ideology" he's not making a value-neutral statement, he is saying that these ideas are false or illusory even though the purveyors of those ideas – ideologues like philosophers, theologians, professors etc – are unaware of it. In GI he calls certain philosophers and historians "ideologists" because of their philosophical idealism which of course, as a materialist, Marx forcefully repudiates. Eg: "…as in general with ideologists..they inevitably put the thing upside down and regard their ideology both as the creative force and as the aim of all social relations, whereas it is only an expression and symptom of these relations". And: "The whole of historical development consists, according to the ideologist, in those theoretical abstractions which originate in the heads of all the philosophers and theologians of the age." Marx makes a clear distinction between history as ideology and "real" history – history written from a materialist standpoint.  In GI, "ideology" is also given a somewhat different but related meaning, as a sociological concept rather than a philosophical one. This is the major meaning given in the 20th C Marxist tradition which denotes ideology as any set of ideas or beliefs which function to maintain a particular social order or economic system, typically by representing the social order as "natural" and "immutable". In a class society ideology works by persuading the subordinate class to accept it's social position as "natural" and "immutable", along with "natural" and "immutable" features of so-called "human nature", so winning support for class rule. It's an important argument, because it's through ideology, not economic power or physical force alone, that modern capitalist systems maintain the hold of the capitalist class over the working class. Hence the importance, as Gramsci first proclaimed, of socialists challenging bourgeois hegemony in education, media, etc where the dominant ideology rules. I don't think this means that socialist ideas must also be seen as an ideology. Marx believed that his analysis and understanding of capitalist society gave workers a true picture of their real situation; ideology gives a false picture – hence Engels' reference to "false consciousness". (BTW I don't share the view posted here by LBird and mcolome1 that Engels seriously misconceived Marx's view of ideology. It's a weak argument that relies for its support on the fact that Engels alone referred to "false consciousness" some ten years after Marx died. But the term "false consciousness" is broadly consistent with what Marx said about ideology and ideologues in GI – a work co-authored anyway by Engels). Marx was a founder, maybe the founder, of the sociology of ideas, so its not surprising that orthodox (bourgeois?) sociologists today use the concept in studying ideas as expressions of the social, eg. looking at "occupational ideologies" as ideas and beliefs that maintain group cohesion and social position (a functionalist argument). Orthodox sociology also often refers to belief systems as "ideological" where they are action oriented, eg. in pursuit of a political goal, the way that Leninism could be regarded as an ideology. It would be consistent with this view of ideology to regard the SPGB's Declaration of Principles as an "ideological statement", particularly re Clause 6. But this would entail distinguishing between (i) socialism as a body of theory; (ii) socialism as a political movement; and (iii) socialism as a fully established social system. Regarding the latter, there can be little doubt that Marx and Engels believed that there would be no ideology in a socialist society, since to them, ideology arises only in class divided societies, so where class rule ceases to be the form in which society is organised then ideology ceases also. For orthodox sociologists there could still be ideologies in socialism, but not expressions of class interest or position but of social groups such as occupational groups like, say, scientists considered as a professional group (which has nothing to do with the question of scientific practice itself which Marx and Engels consistently saw as anti-ideology, indeed the opposite of ideology).

    in reply to: Science for Communists? #103152
    pgb
    Participant

    LBird says:pgb/ wrote:Marx could never have used the term “scientific ideology” orthe “ideology of science” since *he saw science as an activity or socialpractice free of mystification and distortion*.I'd like to see your evidence for this assertion, pgb, since it goesagainst everything I've read by Marx on the issueThere are many places where Marx talks about "science" which unambiguously treats science as a practice which reveals the "real" nature of things – as distinct from mere "appearance". The distinction between appearance and reality is crucial IMO to understanding Marx's epistemology and therefore his understanding of science. Consider the way he treats "vulgar economy", which he saw as "superficial" because it "holds fast to appearance, and takes it for the ultimate". "Why then," he asks, "have any science at all?" (Letter to Kugelmann, 11/7/1868). Elsewhere (Capital, III) he says "Scientific truth (sic) is always paradox, if judged by everyday experience which catches only the delusive appearance of things". By revealing the internal relationships, the "inner physiology", upon which appearances depend, science "demystifies" reality. There would be no science if appearance and reality coincided, which means that in a socialist society (no commodity production nor autonomous market forces) there would be no science of political economy since there would be nothing to demystify. I agree with ALB that a “science free of mystification and distortion” doesn’t mean that Marx argued for “knowledge as Eternal Truth”. The very idea of “Eternal Truth” would have been seen by Marx as vapid and ideological – exemplifying the worst of vulgar political economy which saw the bourgeois world as eternal (ahistorical) and natural. Insofar as Marx had any view at all about the nature of truth, I think he had a very common-sense view about it which was close to what philosophers call a correspondence theory of truth – a candidate for truth is true only if it corresponds to the facts or "states of affairs", which can be known through use of empirical evidence. Empirical observation is of course theory laden – the standard point made against positivism – and of course there is therefore a process of selection to decide what should count as a fact, and the investigator's theoretical presuppositions, his ideas and values, his "ideology" as you call it will all be relevant. I can't see how this must necessarily lead to "mystification", "distortion" or "bias". If as you say, all humans are "ideological", I take it that no-one can ever be neutral regarding their views on things (I am thinking here primarily of socioeconomic phenomena rather than what you call "rocks") and therefore they can never be objective. Hence no such thing as objective scientific knowledge. I beg to disagree. Marx was certainly not neutral in his views about capitalism, but I believe he was objective in his analysis of it. In using the word "objective" here I am conveying the idea that scientific theories and propositions are distinct from private beliefs or collective beliefs such that their truth or falsity is independent of what anyone thinks or feels about the matter. Eg. Marx's claim that in conditions of capitalist competition there is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall is an objective claim. It is not necessarily a truth claim. Scientific theories etc, can be true or they can be false. Marx certainly believed that scientific objectivity was possible and that scientific research would offset or expunge the distortions, mystifications and biases associated with ideology and class position. The objectivity of his own analysis derived from the rigour of his reasoning and the extensive empirical evidence he collected to support his account………………………………………………….PS: Can someone tell me how to indent quotes and place them on the grey background that everyone here uses. Thanks.

    in reply to: Science for Communists? #103131
    pgb
    Participant

    I think YMS makes a fair point in saying that “ideology almost by definition is unconscious…” and "knowing ideology as ideology destroys its status as ideology". I mean only that his statements sit well with Marx's concept of ideology. For Marx, opinions, points of view, political programs etc are "ideological" where those who hold them imagine them to be the result of intellectual reasoning, or logic, or divine revelation etc, and are unaware of their origin in social conditions and the part they play in justifying and maintaining those conditions. The ideologist is unaware of this functional relationship between his ideas and the social conditions they express (including class interests), hence the association of the concept ideology with "mystification", "delusion", "false consciousness" etc. “False consciousness” does not imply empirical falsehood. Calling ideas or theories "ideological" does not involve any judgement as to their truth or falsehood in a cognitive sense. Marx could never have used the term “scientific ideology” or the “ideology of science” since he saw science as an activity or social practice free of mystification and distortion. Having said that, I cannot make any sense of YMS’ remark that “even the truth is ideological”. Maybe we should declare a moratorium on the use of the term since it’s being used in many different and often contradictory ways.

    in reply to: Cryptic clues #87638
    pgb
    Participant

    "Solicitor's wrong" would be tort, hence an anagram for Trot.  And "island" probably refers to the isle of Skye.  Hence Trotsky (sans the "e" at the end).  A pretty clunky clue though!

    in reply to: Iraq and the oil again #104438
    pgb
    Participant

    Maybe I have been overawed by Robert Fisk's work.  I think he is far and away the best Middle East correspondent around.  So maybe I can't see what you see, for I can't find anything in the article posted that could be called "pro-Islamist".  What is it?

    in reply to: Piketty’s data #101825
    pgb
    Participant

    LBird wrote: Here's the source, pgb. A bit about 'science' and 'disinterested' enquiry, too.Karl Marx, Afterword in Capital, wrote:In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power. Thenceforth, the class struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, there were hired prize fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic.


    Thanks for the correction and the source which I eventually found in my edition (Kerr) of Capital 1 where it is in the Preface to the 2nd German edition. It must be the most extreme statement I think Marx ever made against so-called "vulgar economists". However, reading it in context does highlight the problem I have in understanding your views on Picketty. The "hired prize-fighters" Marx refers to were post-Ricardian "vulgar economists" whom he distinguished from classical political economists (esp. Ricardo) whose work he saw he saw as "scientific" because it concentrated on the reality rather than the appearances of capitalist society and by its honesty and intellectual detachment. This in spite of the fact that Ricardo was seen by Marx as a "the most classic representative of the bourgeoisie". Fairly clearly, in Marx's eyes you could be a representative of the bourgeoisie yet still conduct genuine scientific research on the bourgeois economy. Or, you could be a "vulgar economist" who was unscientific, intellectually dishonest, and an apologist for capitalism (although Marx was more inclined to stress the superficiality as against the apologetic character of vulgar economy). You have obviously placed Picketty in the latter category: you say that Picketty's data is "cooked"; he asked questions that already fitted in with his answers; his book is "ideological" (as opposed to "scientific"); he is a used-car salesman; just another apologist for capitalism, displays bad conscience, and of course is also a "hired prizefighter". Wow.I have been very slow in reading Picketty and am only now up to page 300. But nothing I have read so far gives the slightest support to your claims. Despite my long established skepticism regarding French theorists in many disciplines, I was pleasantly surprised to find Picketty lucid, no bullshitting, fair-minded in his assessment of others (incl. Marx), and certainly intellectually honest. Like Ricardo, he supports capitalism, but like Ricardo he is no apologist for capitalism. I have found nothing in his mountain of data and in his graphical representations, to suggest his data are "cooked". I cannot see why concentrating on inequality of wealth and income rather than the realm of production must render his work "unscientific". Indeed, I think he has done socialists and Marxists a service in mapping in such high detail the distribution of income amongst the wealthy, including the relatively wealthy amongst the top wage earners of the working class, which he reveals by looking at the top percentiles rather then the deciles common in official income statistics (as with most govt. sources I know of). His work also raises issues concerning the real heterogeneity (and fragmentation?) of the working class – something usually obscured in the two-class, owners and non-owners, model of Marx – which has important political implications. Wealth and income statistics, as Picketty argues strongly, are as much a political construction as an economic one.With all this in mind, I asked you in my original post what sources you would use if you were carrying out research into wealth and income distribution in modern capitalist societies, because I couldn't see how you could avoid using the same sort of data as Picketty, even though you claimed his data (or 'data') were "cooked". You said that you wouldn't be looking at Picketty's 'data' because you – as a self-defined Communist – would be looking at other things, specifically exploitation (obviously, because in Marxist terms it is within the realm of production). In the end, all you seem to be saying is that your "ideology" would select different economic and social issues as objects of study than the issues Picketty has chosen. Which is not saying very much, and provides no ground at all for making judgments on the quality and significance of Picketty's research. Which makes me wonder: have you actually read his book?

    in reply to: Piketty’s data #101818
    pgb
    Participant

    L Bird says:  "Picketty is, in the words of Marx, a hired prize-fighter for the bourgeoisie. We Communists shouldn't be taken in by his ideology, methods, 'data', or results."I've not read everything of Marx by a long way, but describing someone as "a hired prize-fighter for the bourgeoisie" doesn't sound like Marx to me. Marx was an indefatigable user of data collected and made available by the British government (eg. the famous Blue Books), and a respecter (and critic) of bourgeois economists like Ricardo and Tooke, whose statistical data in A History of Prices (6 Vols) was used by Marx in writing Capital.You on the other hand, seem to have an aversion to the use of statistical data (and of mathematics generally) in economic analysis. So can you tell me please what sources you would use if you were to undertake the same task as Picketty, ie. to map the elusive shape of wealth and income inequality in modern capitalist societies? Picketty uses the World's Top Incomes Database (WITD, accessible on the Net), National Income and other data from various governments, estate tax returns etc. I like his honesty in saying that these sources, though the most extensive ever assembled, are yet incomplete and imperfect. However, since you believe that facts are constituted by theory (and ideology) I assume that the data you would use re inequality would be quite different than Picketty's data since he is a "bourgeois economist" with a different theory (and ideology) to you, a Communist. So what data would you use?

    in reply to: Piketty’s data #101725
    pgb
    Participant

    This is the best review of Picketty I have read so far – from latest issue of London Review of Books:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n13/benjamin-kunkel/paupers-and-richlings

Viewing 15 posts - 16 through 30 (of 49 total)