Some Scattered Thoughts

‘Marxism’ vs ‘Science’–I

Subhas Chandra Ganguly

How to differentiate between vision and delusion?—Experience tells that more a vision is long term, specific and dependent on some abstract ideas or ideals, more it is likely to turn out to be some variety of delusion.
—From an anonymous source

.... The discovery of truth must be from the subjective side a process of disillusionment. The strength of our opposition to the development of reason is measured by the strength of our dislike of being disillusioned. We should all admit, if it were put to us directly, that it is good to get rid of illusions, but in practice the process of disillusionment is painful and disheartening.....
Reason And Emotion by John Macmurry, (Faber and Faber, London, 1995,
1st Ed. 1935). Chap. I Reason in the emotional life, Page, 9

[A forwarding Note : The presenter of what follows has no sense of finality about these presented perceptions / thoughts. The primary inner drive behind the presentation was getting self-clarification through a process of unloading the thoughts and perceptions, accumulating over a long time during earlier personal journey through life and sharing, if possible, the same with others. Free exchanges (not any self-righteous debate), if any, on the issues touched, will be felt to be a great reward. —SCG]

Influence of a theory or ideology known as 'Marxism' (more appropriately it may perhaps be called 'Marx-Engel-ism') composed mainly in German language, spread out widely across first, West then gradually across sizable chunk of the planet. Product of lifelong effort during enforced exile and under extremely adverse condition, it was born out of 'non-worker' heart oppressed at the sight of outright horrible misery of the toiling people ('working class' or 'proletariat') employed in emerging factories during the first phase of 'industrial revolution' in the west of 18th-19th century. The brain behind was immersed, by the very background of early education and training, in the ongoing philosophical discourses of the time in the West. According to the claim of founders—Karl Marx (5 May 1818-14 March 1883) & Frederick Engels (28 November 1820-5 August 1895)—of this ideology this is the ideology of 'working class" or proletariat. But the claim of the ideology, was not confined to welfare of the 'working class' alone but to the whole of mankind, 'working class' being only the social career of a historical mission as envisaged by the founders of the ideology. And its self-claimed exclusivity lies in its loudly made declaration : The wisdom or insight emerging out of this ideology, is all-inclusive and highest in character, which through internalization and required transformation of all other understanding and realization relating to society, culture, civilization, history, economics and even nature1 stands above all. So on the basis of such insight, unfailing, definite prediction can be made of change of the present well-worn, exploitation-based, darkness-filled human society by ultimately ushering in a new millennia of illumined, beautiful, exploitation-free equality-based future human society, if the social activities are propelled by the wisdom contained in the ideology. And according this claim this ushering will make start not through any welfare measure, here and there (condescendingly termed 'reform') but through overthrowing of the prevailing economic-cum-political-regime by whatever means possible or available. And according this claim, all these are possible because the character of this ideology is supposedly 'scientific' in character.

This write-up is around this claim of this ideology being of 'scientific' character and its consequences and fall-out. For, in that very claim lies its uniqueness and its influence across the planet. There is nothing unique about the claim of this ideology being in the interest of the toilers or even about its call for a change in the system. There were and are contemporaneous to the ideology or later various groups, parties, personalities, equally sensitive to the human suffering and consequent degradations, engaged, according to their respective ideas, in the struggle on behalf of the deprived and the exploited. But none of them had or has a claim to their ideas or ideology being 'scientific'.

The unambiguous message of fundamental changes related to the very character of what is termed 'scientific insights'—as reflected in the recorded perception of the insight-givers themselves—emerging gradually from the end of 19th century have not yet reached, in their real import/essence, the institutional/academic 'science' education. As a result, the same message, generally speaking, has not reached 'science-minded' populace too. This non-reaching has a fundamental role in continuation of 'scientific' aura, misleading in its very nature, around 'Marxism-Engelism'. All such aspects, and some more (like e.g, 'sacrifice', 'discovery') being felt as relevant, have surfaced in this write-up on their own.

The above mentioned claim of this 'Marx-Engelism' being an all-pervasive, definitive, superior wisdom, covering and standing above all other understanding of society, culture or even of nature because of its supposedly 'scientific' character, was the most astounding/notable aspect of this ideology.

It is true that the habitual and unmistakably pooh-poohing,2 dismissive, or condescending tone sounding almost as last words in human wisdom, towards all other contemporary and past attempts of same nature, (i.e. attempts at understanding the reality of life), would remain a visibly un-welcome aspect of such claim. But, that, by itself, would not nullify intrinsic possible worth, if any, or such sincere life-long effort to get glimpses of the inner mystery of any aspect of directly perceivable reality.

Continuing effort to reach, within the limits of human psyche, insights related to the rainbow-like multi-hued, necessarily ever beyond full grasp, hidden reality peeping in and out from behind various aspects of the visible reality of the universe, animate and inanimate, is as old and ceaseless as the known history of mankind. Due to this inevitably interwoven, eluding and multi-hued character of innate reality is caught in the consciousness of travellers-cum-seekers after the truth in different glimpses and different colours from different directions.

Any such attempt at throwing light on multi-hued rainbow-like hidden eluding truth behind the apparent reality, giving some or other glimpses from any angle or angles, has the potentiality to enrich, widen and deepen our under-standing of life and may sometimes also unleash and influence beneficial actions at different levels. Evaluation in terms of 'correct' / 'incorrect' or 'right' /'wrong' in absolute sense does not seem to be applicable here.

In the same way, any dream—no matter however incomplete or with fault(s)/inconsistency and whether realizable or not—of a social system or state, free of exploitation and deprivation as, e.g., it is in Plato's 'Republic',3 is felt by this writer to deserve welcome.

But to take any one of these as the complete-cum-only 'truth' or the 'last words' leads to this rainbow-like truth taking the appearance of monochromatic one. That leads us to our own deprivation, carrying the seeds of choking effect on our psyche, and so in ultimate analysis is likely to have many a harmful aspect in terms of possible social action, if any.

So, if it ('Marx-Engel-ism') with its proposed socio-economic-historical-philosophical-cultural notions (e.g. notions of 'structure', 'superstructure', 'surplus value', 'class struggles', 'historical materialism', 'dialectical materialism' and the like) had stopped at that then the associated insights—as ones originating from the experiences of a particular region (continent of the West) during a particular period (18th-19th century)—would have taken their place and still they do as results of one among the many significant efforts to know and understand, shedding light worth looking into, in the chequered history of human thought, going back over millennia. This is so in spite of some associated distinctly unsavoury inferences (through both open utterance and conspicuous silence),4 related to discovery of America and later slavery of African blacks in that continent as drawn by the founders on the basis of claimed 'scientific' character of the ideology.

But it did not stop at that. Inbuilt into this claim was almost ear deafening calls for action (e.g. "Working Men Of All Countries, Unite" and the like) supposed to be following from that claim, with delusional guarantee of success because of, as mentioned above, supposedly 'scientific' character of this ideology. And it is this call with a prophetic tone, solely on the strength of its claimed 'scientific character', which was the most harmful aspect of the same.

If these had been meant to be just passing calls—here happened to be contained in an widely known inspirational booklet, throbbing with passion, named 'communist manifesto'—reflective of a specific period of a specific region, issued from some platform or other, without any additional or special claim of 'scientific' wisdom behind it, like, for example the famous call of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity',5 during French revolution of 18th century, that would be fundamentally different in the sense of it being not having any presumption, implicit or explicit, of universal key to 'truth' and 'justice' for all time to come, having an oracular air about it, on the basis of such claim. But some other parallel utterances from the same idological source, complementary in nature to such calls, unequivocally indicate such presumption.

For example, another widely quoted saying of the founders was: "Philosophers have so far explained the world in various ways—but the point is to change it" (Theses on Feurbach). Here the hint is, explanations by these other philosophers-cum-thinkers (many of them contemporaries) were not 'science-based'. So, exchanges around those would amount to play on words. That will be of no help in the desired change of society. The desired social change is possible only along the way prescribed by this ideology. The second part of the statement is meaningless unless it is understood in this sense. For, philosopher or no philosopher world has been changing from time immemorial. Depending on the opinion, the change is sometimes for the 'better' and sometimes for the 'worse'.

Many a young person enamoured as they were, with the term 'scientific', acquired from the source of prevailing institutional education in 'science' but having no conscious drive for personal power, fell victim to this claim, because supposedly this claimed 'scientific' character assured (as the 'scientific' formulation relating to physical world bore such assurance earlier in 19th century) with unambiguous certainty, the end of the ongoing economic deprivation/exploitation and replacement of this social system by one which would usher in a new kind of social-political-cultural system where all the current evils will end for sure if social movements/activities are run along the way suggested by this ideology.

And under the irresistible attraction of the term 'scientific' they then joined, leaving their earlier phase of life completely behind, the social activities stamped with this label, declaredly for 'capturing state power by toilers' and lost or almost lost their sanity.6 The most ill-defined terms like 'class-consciousness' , getting 'de-classed' acquired scientific-cum-ethical profound sounding meaning acting almost as a signal tune to call for action. Reality consequent upon the social activities conducted under this label primarily contributed to death and destruction without any foreseeable change for the better in the doubtless evils of the ongoing social system.

Later events naturally have shown beyond doubt un-tenabllity of such definitive social prediction beyond human capacity. The most definitive prediction was relating to 'historical inevitability' of social revolution in the countries of Western Europe, because of its socio-economic stage, which turned out to be all wrong, reflecting not any 'mistake' but result of trying the impossible. But this tone of certainty in prediction ultimately got associated with aimed at changes for all regions and was echoed by others, who came to head 'successful' social changes along paths, claimed to have its primary origin in this ideology.

Usage and meaning/implication of the term 'scientific' would be only a semantic issue, if the term, in the present context, had not had such grave social implication/consequences as sought to be presented, in brief, in this note.

There is no tentative tone in 'Marxism's social/political predictions (all of which, naturally turned out to be wrong by later development) notwithstanding the fact that leaders of that major event (depending on the ideological camp, both glorified as well as vilified with blind passion), named, 'October Revolution',7 would often loudly pontificate to the effect," Marxism is not a dogma but a guide to action..." simply to lend credibility to their own respective utterances in the name of 'Marxism' and led millions to death (and glorifying the death)8 in the name of this supposedly superior wisdom apparently taking care (consciously or sub-consciously) or so it appears, to remain alive themselves. In fact, it is due to this event (October Revolution), that this trend of thought, surpassing all other contemporary parallel trends of thought in Europe, had a worldwide impact, which, in ultimate sense, perceived to be (by this note-writer at this moment), to say the least, far from fortunate, when thought of in terms of action.

It is also notable that, the process of calling the non-worker activists into action gave birth to many a misleading statement, accepted almost as a gospel truth. Calling this ideology, coming out of non-worker section of the society, as 'working class outlook', instead of calling it as 'outlook in the service of working class', is one such early example. Then to bring in forced consistency between the two, such odd statements came later that 'working class outlook' has to be taken to working class from 'outside'!

This, by no means/implies that regimes / social systems changed or attempted to be changed in the name of this ideology was any better in terms of human welfare. Rather it is verily the well-known extreme despotism and suffering during the former regimes that brought forth the change of such regimes. But it is also well-known that there were others too, following various other paths aimed at changing those regimes. And it is equally well-known that after respective regime changes their fates were no less unpleasant than these were in the earlier regimes.

Also, it might be added that such change heralded considerable uplift9 of material-cum-educational condition of those, economically deprived during the former regime, at the cost of, and it bears repetition, uncountable violent death both before and after the regime change, and unleashed different variety of well-recorded horrors. To the present note writer it seems—may very well not appear to be so to all—and figuratively speaking, one nightmare was replaced by another kind, this time with a mixture of an anticipatory happy dreams. It seems to an open question and not a closed one—as is posed by respective staunch advocates of replaced and new regime, grown worldwide around such regime change—as to which regime was worse in what respect(s).

But the present note-writer cannot check, in this context, the temptation to cite an oft quoted saying of the harbinger of the ideology : "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chain" (The Manifesto of the Communist Party). A retort—ignoring the prevailing debate over the meaning of 'proletariat'—purely emotional in nature and in the same tone comes to mind : "But they have their individual respective lives to lose!" And it is perhaps a moot question, or so it seems to the present writer, as to whether, calling/instigating/'inspiring' others towards any course of action (whatever the 'cause'), which is likely to lead to death of the participants (no matter whether few or many), is an acceptable course of action. This last, of course as pointed out in Note 9 at the end, is relevant not only in the case of 'Marxist' 'cause', but of any 'cause', whatsoever, where, in the name of that 'cause' there is a call for 'sacrificing life'.

But for the unfortunate social consequences of the verbal formulation of the ideology and the ensuing ideas being not confined to just theoretical plane, not purported to be followed, on the basis of claim to 'scientific' rectitude and certainty, by action according to its dictum, as is the case with some other social-cum-historical theories, such thoughts as the present write-up contains, would have no occasion to appear. One such example comes to mind where no direct course of action emerges from the presented views about history: Arnold Toynbee's proposed theory of 'cycle of civilization'.10

In this context, it must also be mentioned, that by now and at different interval of time all these newly ushered regimes have crumbled and have gone back more or less to the kind of social-economic regime it sought to replace though in some regions (e.g. China) political structures have remained as authoritarian as before, thus having the worst of both earlier and later system.

All these are not to be interpreted as any panegyric to the prevailing political system of so-called 'democratic' regimes, where the whole process of choice of visible runners of political system is ultimately shaped by what is usually termed as 'industrial-military complex' of the system.11

After these downfalls, from 8o's of last century, there have been innumerable treaties by self-declared 'pure/true' followers of 'Marxism', with hairsplitting analysis of where these former regimes went wrong by deviating from 'true/correct' 'Marxist' way of thought and action. Citation from what Marx or Engels said on what occasion is also a part of such exchanges. For example, one such excerpt, cited on many a occasion : "If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist" [In a 1883 letter to Jules Guesde and Paul Lafarque, Leaders in working class movements in France].

It must also be added in parenthesis that before and after ushering in of the now overthrown or replaced regimes there have been repeated self-righteous debates, sometimes strewn with mutual abusive, demeaning words (e,g,, 'renegade', 'revisionist', 'foreign / imperialist agent' and the like), traditionally termed as fight between 'two lines', around correct 'Marxist' path of social movement or state policies (where the 'Marxists' were in power) among different sections of the followers, all passionately claiming to be 'Marxist', ending in 'victory' of one section or others, through 'majority' decisions in the central bodies (looked upon as the repository of ultimate wisdom) of the corresponding political organizations. And in most of the cases the 'defeated' sections would be, depending on the situation, particularly if the winning side is in state power, subjected to ignominy and vilification accompanied with violence in the form of imprisonment, banishment, exile, custodial torture (many a time for extracting self-incriminating confession—true or not), facing the firing squad, secret assassination abroad and the like.12 The fact that in so-called 'democratic' countries defeated side(s) in the representative bodies (like Parliament, Senate and the like), unless under extra-ordinary situation like National emergency, war etc., does not face such unpleasantness or their 'heresy' may reasonably be ascribed to the factor that none of the contending sides have any claim to 'scientific truth', which can allow only one contention to be consensually valid at a given moment.

The (above mentioned) founders, unlike their later 'successful' leading flag-holders, being, never during their life time, near or after state power at personal plane even in remotest sense, the possibility of the same having any potential influence (however partial and/or unconscious) in moulding formers' stance(s) in such context is totally excluded.

So, it is perhaps a valid guess and most charitable inference about the mind-set of the founders, without any uncomplimentary implication [like e.g,, god-like self-image of omniscience), that this 'cock-sure', prophetic tone of the founders born out of their self-image of being 'scientists', 'social scientists',13 is likely to have its origin in the power or aura of the 'scientific' paradigm of the time—major part of 19th century. This paradigm is usually described as Newtonian notion of a mechanistic universe. This originated roughly from the time of Copernicus (16th century, Poland), Kepler (17th century, Germany) Galileo (17th century Germany), and kind of solemnized by Descartes (16th-17th century, France). Another person Francis Bacon (16th-17th century, England) is also looked upon as among the early contributors in development of such notion. According to the philosophy or understanding as reflected in this paradigm, discovered 'Laws', represent  absolute causal relationship among action/events/phenomena related to material world under observation. This means actions/events /phenomena called 'cause' are inevitably followed by change(s) in one form or other called 'effect', predictable with a machine like precision and 'objectivity'.

This implies a notion of acquired 'scientific' knowledge about universe being under a situation, where phenomena/events as perceived are 'absolute' i.e. independent of the observer allowing for no scope of observation being affected, in any way, by observer himself/herself and/or with the observer's position or motion, given of course that there is no intervention, inadvertent or otherwise, beyond observation, from the side of the observer.

From towards the end of the 19th and specially from the beginning of the 20th century, deeply meaningful questions about the above ideas or notion begun to surface in very specific sense. As a result, overall scientific paradigm started to undergo certain fundamental shift. And beyond that, deepening perception, in a more general sense, of the insight-givers themselves about the character of their own insights came to be recorded more and more. About such eye-opening later emerging notions and perceptions a little later.

But even before that what is to be taken special note of is that this notion of paradigm in both the ages is relevant only when the associated knowledge-cum-inference can be called 'scientific' in true sense. Now, in any specific field of enquiry, the resulting knowledge or understanding deserves to be called 'scientific' only when that is reached through an unambiguously formulated method called 'scientific method'.

There are innumerable treatises on Scientific Method. One possible brief definition of the same: This is a method of gaining knowledge, where verification of the proposed hypotheses in the associated field is performed on the basis of such experiment or observation which are open to repetition and consequent acceptance or rejection by any other competent person. This, as a corollary, implies predictability, within an allowable limit of deviation, about related phenomena.

Some fuller discussion(s) on Scientific Method can be had from the following Links: i), ii) iii)

If there be a field of enquiry where due to the very intrinsic nature of that field such method of repetition -cum-verification of claimed understanding cannot be followed then that understanding or insight does not come under the purview of 'scientific' knowledge or inference.14

Now is it possible to take recourse to this method in its true essence in all fields of human quest? It needs to be kept in mind that this method emerged while attempting to go deeper into the hidden mystery of the material universe, which within a limit can be termed tangible and where through repetition of controlled experiment or of observation beyond experimental situation the extent of validity or of acceptability can be determined.

But in case of social reality, which in its very intrinsic nature is intangible, this method in its full or true sense is unavailable. For, this field of reality, in its very nature does not leave any scope to follow in full or true sense the well spoiled well-defined instruction for verification, through repetition of same experiment and observation. So calling any study related to society 'scientific' is very clearly inappropriate and misleading, unless the meaning of the word 'scientific' is stretched to such an extent that it can no longer be recognized.

The period when 'Marxism' was born was the first period of raising the banner of palpable 'victory'—in the form of marvel of unprecedented technology, marked by new sources of power (steam and electrical), replacing muscular power of animal and man,—carrying the above mentioned promise of 'certainty'.

So, it will not be fully unreasonable to assume, on behalf of the founders of this ideology, that, during that almost the starting phase of an era of social psyche, singing hallelujah to this new emerging 'god' called 'science' in the West, and riding as if piggyback on the wave of enthusiasm around the name of 'science' with the resultant passionate drive to add this word as a touchstone of acceptability of any quest for knowledge or understanding, they (and many other contemporaries) could not remain aware that in their chosen field—society-cum-economy—of study this 'scientific method', in its true essence cannot be followed. This inapplicability becomes more pronounced when there is some attempt at prediction in that field. Combined with that was the look-out by highly sensitive hearts, for a certain assurance for ending the painful sight of extreme misery both for themselves and for the victims of misery. And apparently 'science', supposedly ensured that certainty.

But it deserves attention with special importance that even after such long gap that 'scientific' prejudice continues, as mentioned earlier, unabated and reigns over the world of institutional education related to fields of enquiry inappropriately associated with the term 'science' without hindrance (vide Note 13).

Effort—with however incompleteness or faults—is being made below to go into a few aspects of emergence of fundamental and overall paradigm shift in the world of scientific understanding referred to earlier.

One important angle, relevant for this note, is, it came under the notice that, contrary to earlier notion, understanding at certain level (micro-level) of phenomena has, contrary to the earlier presumed 'objectivity' of a detached observer, has inherently a (clearly perceivable) 'subjective' counterpart to it. That is, what is recorded as being observed is the result of interaction between observer and the observed and, contrary to earlier notion, not independent of the observer.

The following pieces of perceptions, picked up from many such other utterances of travellers, known for their experience of participation in the journey into the deeper recesses of nature/ universe at macro or/and micro level, very succinctly put the new dawning realization about the inherent impossibility of 'objectivity' of what is called 'scientific knowledge' into the realm of sub-atomic world as well as the intrinsic limitations'15 of language in expressing the perceived reality in its true form :

o    Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than this, that it destroys the concept of the world as 'sitting out there', with the observer safely separated from it by a 20 centimeter slab of plate glass. Even to observe so rniniscule an object as an electron, he must shatter the glass He must reach in. Moreover the measurement changes the state of the electron. The universe will never afterwards be the same. To describe what has happened, one has to cross out that old word 'observer' and put in its place the new word 'participator'. In some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe.
—John Archibald Wheeler, 'From Relativity to Mutability', in J Mehra (ed.), 'The Physicist's Conception of Nature', [Cited in The Tao of Physics', by F Capra, Page 153, Chap. 10 The Unity Of All Things.

o    We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.
—Niels Bohr, In his first meeting with Werner Heisenberg in early summer 1920.

o    ...with hydrogen [atom] we have essentially a single light body [electron] moving in a simple and well-known force... If we ask, ...whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the electron's position changes with time, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say 'no'.16 The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the conditions of a man's self after his death; but they are not familiar answers for the tradition of seventeenth—and eighteenth-century science.
—Robert Oppenheimer, Scinece and Common Understanding, (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1954, page 39-40)

o    It is true that the whole scientific inquiry starts from the familiar world and in the end it must return to the familiar world : but the part of the journey over which the physicist has charge is in foreign territory. Until recently there was a much closer linkage; the physicist used to borrow the raw material of his world from the familiar world, but he does so no longer. His raw materials are... electrons, quanta, potentials, Hamiltonian functions, etc... We do not even desire... to "explain" the electron.
—Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, Introduction p.xiii.

It needs special mention here that the interactive-cum-subjective-cum-uncertain character of insight related to sub-atomic world, as caught in the above fragments, can, within a limit, be brought under formulation called, 'Heisenberg uncertainty principle', named after the formulator of this principle. This does not alter the character of 'uncertainty' but shows a way to work with it.

But in spite of the above, and this is of utmost importance and interest to take note of, at macro level, only the presumption of 'objectivity', which works. The magnitude of resultant error is beyond human detection. More, and fortunately so, that required technological application is possible by neglecting that error.
[to be concluded]

Vol. 47, No. 41, Apr 19 - 25, 2015