M-TH: Re: Abstract & concrete people/s
Charles Brown CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us 
Thu Dec 3 08:47:35 MST 1998 

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>>> Andrew Wayne Austin <aaustin at utkux.utcc.utk.edu> 12/03 3:32 AM >>>
On Thu, 3 Dec 1998, Rob Schaap wrote:

>I mean, what's your take on how to get past this catch-22 (if I read your
>last sentence correctly)? 

On Thu, 3 Dec 1998, Angela wrote:

>how is it possible to assert standpoint theory as a higher form of
>objectivity, since the standpoint itself is conditioned.

The point, I think, shows that idealism is subordinated to materialism in
Marx's scheme, but that idealism is still relevant, particularly in a
future state. 

Charles: Andy, on this aspect, I have often
thought that with the discovery of Marxism
we have an objective understanding of
how history develops. But with that discovery
comes the potential to free ourselves as a 
whole species ( international working class
as the human race as a total)
from the unconscious control of the movement
of human society by those objective
forces. In other words, the impact of
Marxism on its subject matter is to 
begin to turn it into its opposite. It is
a step toward conscious control of the
development of society. Consciousness
determining being.

This is a version of the general scientific
issue of the impact of the scientists'
activity on their object of research.


One cannot change the contradictions of the social totality
by thinking oneself passed them. Such idealism cannot change society, of
course. But it is more than this: the character of society itself is a
barrier to the perfection of such an idealism. So it is not that a people
could never direct the development of society as a democracy, but that it
is not possible now, under these conditions. Thus one must act to resolve
the contradictions of the real world. Once these barriers have been
resolved, cognition can move towards maximal objectivity. It will probably
always be with a degree a refraction, since it is doubtful that
contradiction can be totally eliminated. 

Charles: Contradiction is universal. It is the
basis of change and everything changes, so
there is always contradiction. There will
be contradictions in communism. But they
will be new contradictions. And perhaps because
the general consciousness of the population
will be dialectical in communism, we will
be more conscious and become aware more
quickly of the new contradictions and resolve
them quicker. There will be new challenges.

Thus I believe it is more useful
to speak in terms of maximal, or strong objectivity. This is why Marx lays
so much stress on praxis and criticizes those who only speculate: because
human action is objective activity, we effect the world only when we act.

Charles: And the ultimate test of the truth is
in practice or action Marxism unites epistemology
and ethics ( what we do). How do we know reality
or the truth (the question of epistemology) ?
By the test of theory in practice, which Engels
defines as experimentation and industry. I say
practice or  action is ethics because it is what we do.
Praxis is both ethics and  truth test in Marxism.


Although we act with intention as individuals, under the present
conditions mass consciousness is still emergent from the sociomaterial
conditions. Once the barriers are removed, then mass consciousness will
direct the development of the sociomaterial conditions. But because Marx's
epistemology is at once standpoint and critique, it makes a choice of
comrades, fights for a social class, but also, with critique, accomplishes
two things that allow the partial (I would argue maximal) transcending of
standpoint: (1) critique permits the dismantling of ruling ideas and
employs the methods of science to catch a glimpse of the totality and thus
achieve a higher order of objectivity; (2) communists operate with a
valued endpoint or alternative in mind: communist society. This endpoint,
however unelaborated in its specific structure, is one in which, according
to the logic of Marx's epistemology, cognition can achieve maximal
objectivity because contradictions will have been eliminated or
substantially minimized. This communism is a real movement through whose
action the future state will be objectified. 

Charles: Marx says practical-critical , or revolutionary,
activity. This activity is at once critical and
practical. It criticizes the world in changing it.
It proves its knowledge of the truth or
reality of the world by its ability to change it.
Engels said the proof of our knowledge of
a thing is our ability to make it ( i.e. change it).


I disagree that standpoint, as I understand it, has a necessary parallel
in identity politics as I think you, Angela, mean this term. Standpoint is
inevitable: one must stand somewhere. 

Charles: Have you heard the joke about
when somebody asked somebody what
they are doing here and the other answered
that everybody has to be somewhere ?


The recognition of standpoint is a
move towards stronger objectivity because the myth of neutral knowledge is
revealed as just that: a mythology. In fact, it is liberal bourgeois
mythology. Identity politics, if it were objectively founded on
standpoint, would simply be the recognition of one's own reality. However,
some, perhaps many, identity politics forms are based on fragmented,
incomplete, and false consciousnesses. What Marx seeks to resolve is the
existence of set group identities. The realization of communism raises
social formation to the level of true general interests, a single unified
identity. But one must, in a class-divided society, with gender, racial,
and myriad other divisions, recognize those divisions, recognize where one
stands, in order to struggle with and against identity. Identity is a fact
given. The social system is a structure with locations determined by the
nature of the relations that create and sustain them. The fluidity of
identity over time is because of the fluidity of the social structure over
time. But this simply means that the identity given by the location one
occupies is not eternal, unchanging - it does not mean that identity is
not given. Blacks in white society do not have a choice in being defined
as black if their phenotypic characteristics identify them with blackness
in a system of racialized relations. Black identity from the point of view
of blacks is the process of understanding the identity that were given by
a racist society, taking that identity over and using it as a weapon
against white supremacy. 

What Marx does argue, and I think this is where you have erred in your
criticism of my argument, Angela, is that human beings do not have an
essence inherent in each being, but rather that the essence of human
beings is the totality of social relations that intersect a given
location. In no fashion does my argument represent a Weberian pluralist
form. The difference is crucial. Whereas Weber believes that social groups
are the aggregations of people with common preferences and sentiments
coming together to compete with other social groups on the terrain of a
neutral state that will, through compromise, fashion the general will,
Weber does not believe in the underlying objective class structure. Weber,
therefore, believes that the state can represent the general will, as do
other pluralist theorists, and so neglects the actual division of society
into social classes and other antagonistic groups that make the idea of
general will under capitalism, in reality, completely impossible. Your
argument is backwards in that you have ascribed a position to Weber that
he does not hold, and I suspect this is so because you have taken
pluralism as having something to do with standpoint. It does not. Marx, on
the other hand, understands that interests of different groups rest on a
material basis: the objectivity of social class divisions. This means that
no general will can be had, and that the state fashions one class's rule
over the other social classes. Standpoint is the recognition that a worker
is not a capitalist and that therefore the worker cannot share the
capitalists interests. I think you are little confused on what standpoint
means, at least from the perspective of Marxism. Standpoint is not a
choice, but a real location. Either you recognize your standpoint or you
are falsely consciousness. Indeed, you must recognize your standpoint to
move towards objectivity, especially correct practice. At the same time,
however, critique permits one to transcend their standpoint and to see
longer-range goals and to identify with other social groups that share
similar burdens. Finally, individuals generally do not occupy one social
location, but many, so one's standpoint is probably to a degree manifold. 

Charles: Nice one , Andy.

John Henry


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