Marxism against positivism

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By Júlia Lemos Vieira*

Commentary on the new, revised and expanded edition of Michael Löwy's first book published in Brazil

Fascism is founded on the lying logic of a supposed possibility of pure reports versus impure reports. That is why the reading of the work Marxism against Positivism by Michael Löwy, republished in Brazil by Editora Cortez in 2018, is mandatory reading for the hazy moment we are living in. Löwy reminds us that the influence of positivism in Brazil falls not only on the armed forces and the Brazilian bourgeois elite, but also reaches the social sciences institutionalized here. The positivist current, founded by Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim, descends from the subject/object Cartesian split that rooted the belief in the possibility of building pure reports from a permanent neutral matrix free of prejudices and presuppositions and believes that, as in the sciences natural, in scientific studies on society a neutral subject is possible, bearer of the absolute truth about human facts. The separation between judgments of fact and judgments of value in understanding social events emerges from the view that the laws that govern society do not depend on human will and action, and it is possible to discover them from an objective, “neutral” observation. regarding personal opinions and values.

Löwy demonstrates that the lie of the neutrality discourse is easily revealed in the very justification of the use of the term “positive” as taking sides in favor of a specific political doctrine and referring to the opposing political field as “negative”. According to its main representatives, Comte and Durkheim, “positive” would be the conservative doctrines, opposed to a structural transformation of society, tending to consolidate the public order hitherto established: “[Positivism] profoundly tends, by its nature, to consolidate public order by developing a wise resignation” ” (COMTE apud LÖWY, 2018, p. 13); “our method therefore has nothing revolutionary, it is even, in a certain sense, essentially conservative” (DURKHEIM apud LÖWY, 2018, p. 15). Now, contrary to what they beg, therefore, there is no social absolute, there is not a single possible model of society and, therefore, it is impossible for the sociologist to distance himself from his pre-notions, insofar as these cannot be a accessory apart from social beings. The irony is that, by letting slip the awareness that their social theories have a clear partisanship - the reactionary - the representatives of this supposedly neutral place and bearer of absolute truth, only confirm Karl Marx's honesty and logical superiority by assuming that his Social science itself was not neutral but proletarian.

Löwy demonstrates that, by not claiming to be the bearer of an absolute discourse but a representative of the proletarian point of view, Marx was the only one who managed to provide a coherent solution to the problem of the methodological difference between the natural sciences and the social sciences. Contrary to the accusations of authors such as Karl Mannheim, who insisted on the possibility of a truth based on a synthesis of perspectives, indicating the fragility of a Marx who intended to be the bearer of a neutral science, this one admitted that his critique of political economy represented the point of view of the proletariat: “just as economists are the scientific representatives of the bourgeois class, so socialists and communists are the theorists of the proletarian class” ; “to the extent that this critique represents a class, it can only represent the class whose historical mission is the subversion of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of classes – the proletariat” (MARX apud LÖWY, 2018, p. 23) . For Löwy, the novelty and relevant contribution of the Marxian solution to the problem of the proper character of the social sciences was rarely absorbed in its grandeur by most of his successors, whether on the left or on the right.

In the field of the left, if on the one hand authors such as Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Lukács, Korsch and Gramsci deepened and made important contributions to the questioning of the neutral nature of science inaugurated by Marx, the revisionism and orthodoxy of the Second International – Bernstein and Kautsky – as well as Stalinism, promoted misunderstandings and reductions of the original Marxian thesis.

Bernstein and Kautsky simply rejected the class character of historical materialism, insisting on the perspective of neutrality and indicating it as a science that “is absolutely not linked to the proletariat” (KAUTSKY apud LÖWY, 2018 p. 24). And while Lenin pointed out that “in a society based on the class struggle there could be no impartial social science” (LÊNIN apud LÖWY, 2018, p. 24) – elucidating the possibility of overcoming the class determination of science – and Lukács indicated that the point point of view of the proletariat does not refer to the empirical consciousness of the working class, but to the point of view that rationally corresponds to its objective historical interests – elucidating that it is not a question of giving scientific privilege to direct proletarian practice – Stalinism promoted a gross sociologization of the sciences biological – extinguishing the distinction once admitted by Marx between the methodologies of the natural sciences and the social sciences.

In fact, it is not in fact simple to apprehend the Marxian complexity and originality and that is why so many times the novelty that it brought to the field of polemics in the definition of the character of social science has been misrepresented or overlooked. Löwy demonstrates that, in addition to Karl Mannheim, other relevant authors, such as Max Weber, Althusser and Adam Shaff, sought to resolve this controversy about how to find objective truth in the social sciences without having effectively understood Marx's position in this regard.

In the sense of a more complex understanding of social science in Marx, Löwy claims above all the contributions of Lenin and Lukács, but goes beyond, also elaborating an important additional collaboration. About Lukács, he repeatedly reiterates the importance of the famous “attributed class consciousness” in dissolving the confusion that Marxism would have asserted itself as a product of proletarian practice e not from the point of view of the proletarian class. About Lenin, he recalls the right statement that “the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels certainly contains relativism, that is, it recognizes the relativity of all our knowledge not in the sense of denying objective truth, but in the sense that the limits the approximation of our knowledge to reality are historically conditioned”. (LÊNIN apud LÖWY, 2018, p. 32)

Löwy admits that the problem raised by the Marxian thesis according to which all social science is “partisan”, “biased” because linked to the point of view of a social class is evident: starting from the assumption that there are several truths, that of the proletariat and that of the proletariat. of the bourgeoisie leads us to the risk of falling into “the famous relativist night where all cats are gray” and of denying the possibility of objective knowledge. And that, obviously, this is not Marx's position. For Marxism, there is indeed a true and objective history of the French Revolution and to conceive validity to the counterrevolutionary view of history would be absurd.

 Löwy faces the challenge of untying this quid pro quo by stating, against the risk of falling into relativism, that it is necessary to recognize that some perspectives “some points of view are relatively truer than others”, “that the point of view of the revolutionary class is, in each historical period, superior to that of the conservative classes” and that, as far as the capitalist historical period is concerned, it is only from the point of view of the proletariat, as a revolutionary class, that the truth of its economic laws can be reached. The privileged vision of the revolutionary class would come from its ability to see the transience of the social system(s). The privileged view of the revolutionary class proletarian  – in relation to the other revolutionary classes of other historical moments, as the bourgeois class once was, for example – would come from the specificity of its objective being necessarily an obstacle to lying practices and concealment of the social truth. Löwy explains that (a) the proletarian class not only has no need to hypocritically hide that its interests are class interests – that is, it has no need to carry out a revolution in the name of universal natural rights as the bourgeois did – but, at the same time, On the contrary, it can only necessarily be revolutionary by asserting the defense of the interests of the proletarians against the interests of the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, (b) unlike what happened with the bourgeois revolutionary class, the proletarian revolutionary class needs a clear awareness of social events for its victory. Whereas the bourgeoisie could be carried away by the cunning of reason, the proletariat, on the other hand, could seize power and transform reality only by a deliberate and conscious act. The objective knowledge of reality (...) therefore corresponds to its class interest” (LÖWY, 2018, p. 40).

There is a supposed weakness in Löwy's argument – ​​after all, does it seem absurd at first to say that it can be legitimate to say that one class has a privileged view of social truth in relation to another class? But this fragility is evidently reversed by the logical evidence presented. It is undeniable that the proletarian class has no benefit from concealment and lies about the functioning of the social system that oppresses it, just as it is undeniable that it is the class most interested in unraveling such concealments and lies in order to reverse oppression. . The process of awareness of the effective processes of the system that oppresses it is inevitable in its emancipatory struggle.

Another point that strengthens Löwy's argument is his reminder that the epistemological principle of the proletariat's point of view as that which offers the best objective possibility of knowledge of the truth must not be confused with the dogmatic and reductionist point of view that the point of view point of view of the proletariat is sufficient for absolute knowledge of the truth. The strength of proletariat science also resides precisely in its recognition of the relative autonomy of the social sciences, a recognition that enables it to incorporate, in a dialectical way, partial truths produced by the “bourgeois” sciences, instead of proclaiming fundamental research as absolutely wrong. in another point of view.

Starting from this nodal clarification and his peculiar contribution to the Marxian methodology for the social sciences, Löwy weaves together with the other articles in the collection a series of arguments that corroborate and deepen this perspective. From the resumption of the work of the young Marx linked to the proposal of a rereading of The capital, from Hegel's great logic to a complex analysis of Bolshevism, from the critique of Weberian Marx to the directives of an anti-positivist Marxism by Gramsci and Lukács, Löwy dives at greater length into the elements announced since the first article of the series around the misunderstandings or important contributions in the Marx's peculiar innovation against positivism and in favor of science.

From this selection of articles for our days, the strength of Löwy's argument emerges from the questioning of who and what interests the lie serves and in the demonstration that, certainly, it is not the proletariat: “because the truth is for the proletariat a means of struggle, an indispensable weapon for the revolution. The ruling classes (…) need lies to maintain their power. The proletariat needs the truth…” (LÖWY, 2018, p. 42).

*Julia Lemos Vieira is a postdoctoral researcher in philosophy at UFG. Author, among other books, of Paths of freedom in the young Marx (Anita Garibaldi, 2017).

Bibliographic reference

LÖWY, Michael. Marxism against positivism. Translated by Reginaldo di Piero, São Paulo: Cortez, 2018 (

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