Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 8. April 30 1968
Dogma And Dialectics
Dogma And Dialectics
The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism by Z. A. Jordan (Macmillan, London, $8.50) Reviewed by Owen Gager.
It was, I think, a Yugoslav writer, who first said the tag "Marxism is not a dogma but a guide to action" had itself become a dogma.
Even the most apparently open-ended Marx statements seems quickly to acquire an encrustation of dogma— this book is perhaps the first major attempt to explain why.
There have been many previous discussions of dialectical materialism some of the worst of which have ended up as Victoria Political Science Texts.
Dr Jordan is the first writer to portray Marx as an empiricist with affinities with Comte and Saint-Simon, a naturalist rather than materialist whose strongest debt was to Feuerbach rather than Hegel, whose views have been edited and distorted by 'Hegelianising' disciples beginning with Engels.
Other writers have seen Marx as a cross between an atheist and an existentialist (Rubel), an apolitical sociologist (Bottomore), a second-rate metaphysician (H. B. Acton), a semi-pragmatist (Bertrand Russell), a dialectal idealist (Jack Lindsay), and of course a dialectical materialist (Plekhanov and Lenin).
It is easy to get lost in this maze of interpretation and as Marx had the misfortune (for a writer who was trying to say something relatively precise) of founding a movement which placed a high premium on "orthodox" belief in basic texts, conflicts within the movement have led to almost as many versions of what Marx really meant as there are different interpretations of the Bible.
The real danger to Marxism at this period, when one dogmatic interpretation has ceased to emanate unquestioned from Moscow, is the works of Marx suffer the same fate as the Bible during the Reformation—they may lose their status entirely as writings written at a specific time with a definite meaning.
Dr Jordan's book, though it documents the major differences between Marx and Engels and charts dialectical materialisms slow drift in the works of Plekhanov, Lenin, and Stalin (for some reason Mao Tse-Tung is ommited though he illustrates Dr Jordan's basic thesis excellently) is not sufficiently well-organised to break through the academic smoke-screen put up by commentators who have imprisoned Marx in their systems.
We still do not really understand the working relationships between Marx and Engels—in default of written evidence (and surely there is more material in the complete correspondence on this point than has so far been made available in English) Dr Jordan could have at least made an effort to make some educated guesses about the psychology of the two men.
Marx, after all, needed some intellectual support and his only reliable intellectual co-worker was Engels. Did a time perhaps come when Marx was afraid to upbraid Engels for over-simplifying his (Marx's) thought? Or is it not done to attribute to Marx such purely human qualities as friendship and need for intellectual company or tact?
Dr Jordan, of course, really only needs to show there are fundamental differences between the thought of Marx and Engls to make a prima facie case that they did not work together as closely as has been though—evidence from the history of ideas should surely be treated as much more reliable than dubious biographical data culled from Engels' obiter dicta.
This is in fact what Dr Jordan does but unfortunately so anarchically that half of what is said about Marx and Engels in part one is substantially modified in part three.
There is a real case for the thesis of this book but the author has so presented his case that the reputation of his argument will depend far too heavily on the charity of reviewers.
For the orthodox Marxist as much as the academic reviewer there will be a lot of excuses for not taking this book seriously not the least of which is Dr Jordan's leaning on Bernstein in his epilogue (he earlier described Bernsteins advocacy of some of his ideas as "unfortunate").
Marx is half a naturalist with affinities with Comte and Saint-Simon and half a metaphysician although perhaps half-heartedly.
We are not sure of the exact proportions of the mixture after reading this book. All Dr Jordan can probably hope to do here is to set up a thesis with a lot of evidence for it which will be left for someone else to finally prove.
His real achievement is to show how Engels' introduction to a 'dialetics of nature' introduces into a thesis which could have been an empirical theory of historical sociology a metaphysical element to which Marxism-Leninism has been added.
It will be asked why Engels should be entirely the villain—did not Marx's theory of 'productive forces', a term with no empirical reference, do as much harm? Or Marx's insistence that there was a material basis? That such questions can be asked shows in a way that the answers are still open—to paraphrase the Theses on Feuerbach the question of whether there can or cannot be a Marxism which is naturalistic rather than metaphysical is not a theoretical but a practical question,