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Showing posts from July, 2009

The Tao of Mao: Episode 8

The Science of History (Part 4)

IV - praxis

We can understand the quality of any given Marxist theory by its relation to human praxis. Marx and Engels' writings are no exception. Marx’s occasionally bad work on India, so often criticized by post-structuralists, is the result of his disinvolvement with burgeoning anticolonial struggles in that country. If he had been working with these struggles, perhaps, Marx might have written a different analysis of India. Indian Marxists, after all, have developed their own historical materialist analyses. Knowledge, as aforementioned, cannot be divorced from one’s social position.

We should note here, however, that there is a general tendency to read Marx’s work on India and non-European regions/events through Edward Said’s quotations and commentary in Orientalism, which seriously distorts Marx’s original writing. Aijaz Ahmad, in his book In Theory, claims that “[a] striking feature of this portrayal of Marx as an Orientalist, based as it is on some journalistic observ…

The Tao of Mao: Episode 7

The Tao of Mao: Episode 6

The Tao of Mao: Episode 5

The Science of History (Part 3)

[continued from previous post]

III - science

One of the “logical” criticisms leveled against historical materialism claims that, since historical materialism is itself a theory it falls victim to its own critique. In other words, the historical materialist asserts that ideas are produced/created by humans, but historical materialism is also an idea––a philosophy––created by humans. Thus historical materialism is logically contradictory. Such a critique, while seemingly attractive, is nothing more than sophistry.

Being a methodology, historical materialism is akin to a science. I believe it is important to highlight this notion because there is tendency these days, even amongst Marxists, to ignore the fact that Marx and Engels frequently used this analogy. Since critics of Marxism have often drawn a faulty connection between what Marx and Engels meant by science (and economy, for that matter) and the vulgar Stalinist or Trotskyist mobilization of this notion, many Marxists as well ha…

The Tao of Mao: Episode 4

The Science of History (Part 2)

[continued from earlier post...]

II - knowledge and power as contested

I want to return to the point I made earlier about historical materialism as being able to explain why both incorrect and correct interpretations can be made of socio-historical facts. In a very general sense, bad theory leads to bad explanations––as with my rhetorical example of the medical doctor, or in my real example from the Visual Studies Reader. In a more specific sense, though, incorrect explanations are caused by ideology.

In The German Ideology Marx and Engels define ideology as:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force in society is at the same time its ruling intellecutal force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it. The ruling ideas are noth…

The Tao of Mao: Episode 3

The Tao of Mao: Episode 2

The Science of History (Part 1)

Both outside and inside academia there is a general disregard for coherent social theories. In the latter case, there is a preference to be spoon-fed disparate facts, dismissing any attempts to unify these facts as conspiracy theory. In the former case, the advent of post-modernism has produced a widespread scorn for “grand totalizing narratives”. And the “totalizing narratives” that are still acceptable tend to be idealist garbage, useful only for reinforcing the worldview of the status quo.

It is my opinion that the only social theory or methodology that can be truly critical is historical materialism. All other theoretical approaches are, by themselves, either useless or reactionary. The theoretical tradition of Marxism, then, is what I will defend, broadly, as the only methodology that can properly explain history and society. Furthermore, if one does not adopt a “grand totalizing” theory one might as well not be a social theorist. Historical materialism (Marxism, dialectica…

The Tao of Mao Episode 1