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Re: the Communist Manifesto: critique
by kjkhoo
17 March 2002 09:23 UTC
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In response to Daniel Pinéu:

I think I understand what was being questioned. And nowhere did I 
suggest that Marx is the alpha and omega on anything, much less that 
his ideas should be applied indiscriminately, above all to previous 
historical times. Indeed, if anything, I hinted at what I took to be 
the error of mistaking theories,  concepts, alleged universals, for 
reality, and then pursuing, at times deadly, struggles and programmes 
on that basis. Living where I live, I do not cease to be amazed at 
the number of people who continue to spout one or another version of 
development of underdevelopment and de-linking as a programme.

That little bit said, I do apologise to the list if I responded 
inappropriately to what appeared to be a suggestion of the personal 
reasons why people may or may not wish to give up a term, concept, 
theory, position, whatever. I also apologise, unreservedly, if anyone 
took it as casting aspersions upon their loyalty to friends and 
comrades, as impugning their integrity. I only spoke of myself and my 
personal reasons why I do have some difficulty with banishing the 
term altogether even if I use it little in my everyday speech and my 
little writing.

Now to your analogy, which I think inapt. Is warfare an analytical 
category or simply a noun, a classificatory category, under which we 
subsume a number of instances which bear a family resemblance to one 
another such that it is mostly not in doubt that the noun is properly 
applied? Sure, that which we term warfare has changed in its specific 
manifestations. That so, should we therefore call that which Rome 
waged on Carthage, Japan on China, the US on Vietnam, each by 
different terms or are we, if we are to have a certain economy of 
speech, irretrievably bound to using the term warfare (and its 
equivalents in other languages) for all three instances without 
assuming that Agent Orange and other defoliants were available to the 
Romans (although they had their own way of defoliating), that they 
had a similar military doctrine to the Japanese or the Americans, 
that they saw the term "battlefield" in the same way, etc.?

In a sense, all speech is, in some sense, reificatory (and 
hypostasising) -- something that Zen/Chan Buddhists know all about, 
hence the value of silence, the valorisation of immediacy acquired 
through meditation, and the stress on flow and process: letting the 
stream flow all over you, without seeking to capture it, name it, 
seek its essence, only revelling in the flow, and searching for that 
nothingness that is the essence of all things. As the ancient Greek 
said, is it the same stream?

Take the term "United States", as in United States as hegemon, or the 
term "China". Whatever are we to do with those terms? Surely no one 
in their right minds thinks that the United States of 2002 is the 
same as the United States of 1960, 1940, or of 1901, or 1800; heck, 
it is not even the same physical space. Ditto China.

To quote from my little Oxford Dict of Philosophy -- definitely not 
the last word -- "To reify is to treat as a thing. To describe 
philosophers as reifying is usually to charge that they are misled by 
verbal form into thinking simply because some noun has a use, there 
must be something to which it refers. Thus Platonists are charged 
with reifying numbers or universals, and people are supposed to have 
improperly reified great varieties of things, including sets, 
infinite collections, finite things, sensations, physical objects, 
the future, the past, the possible, or the will of the people. The 
charge is itself NOT (m.e.) entirely transparent, and the fault these 
philosophies commit may more helpfully be put as treating things of 
one type as if they were things of another."

I think what you intend to say is not reification, but hypostasis, 
which by the same dictionary: "The underlying subject or substance 
that supports attributes; matter without form. This is a concept 
subject to repeated fatal criticism, and repeated resurrection." I 
think the current equivalent in po-mo circles might be 
"essentialism", but I cannot be sure since I admit to not altogether 
understanding them beyond what I take to be relatively old hat, now 
stretched to absurd dimensions. Others might assimilate this to 
"realism", although, in common with many, I think that "hypostasis" 
needs and must be distinguished from "realism".

Have those who use(d) the term "capitalism" been guilty of such 
hypostasis? The brief answer is: Yes, all too many, in particular the 
marxists. Does this therefore mean that the term must be exorcised? 
Has it a referent, does it refer to any set of circumstances, all of 
which bear a sufficient family resemblance to one another to be 
subsumed under the one term? One might consider Wittgenstein on 
"games" and on definitions.

Repeating myself, I remain unconvinced (not quite as agnostic as S 
Sherman appears to be) that it indeed does not refer to a set of 
circumstances which all bear a family resemblance to one another and 
can be subsumed under the one term. IMHO, this set of circumstances 
has a history, it changes, God knows how it changes, but yet retains 
enough, call it structure/system/whatever, for it to continue to be 
meaningfully subsumed under the same term.

In the same way, we use the terms "family", "state", "class", 
"religion", "world(-)system", "technology", "social structure", 
"economic structure", "international division of labour", etc. 
knowing full well that we would be fools to think that, e.g., that 
family we are referring to in talking about the "family in the United 
States" is the same as that family we are referring to in talking 
about the "family in Malaysia", or that that family anywhere is the 
same as it was 20 years ago or 50, or 100, or 5000 years ago. Heck, 
as any anthropologist will tell you, even the contents of "economic 
structure" is inconstant, with kinship itself intruding into 
"economic structure", perhaps even defining it; yet kinship as we all 
know, would get placed under "social structure", etc.

These are all tools. And just as a screwdriver can be turned into a 
(not very efficient) can opener, and a machete into a (pretty 
efficient, if dangerous) hammer, the point is not to let the tools 
acquire such a stranglehold on the mind such that we cannot see what 
they exclude from view. But, pacé seeking truth from facts, without 
those tools, we would not even have a view with which to start, as 
Darwin said about pebbles on a beach. There is no God's eye-view, 
other than for God, only human eye-views, by virtue of the fact that 
as Marx once wrote, man is not a being squatting outside the world; 
hence we are irretrievably damned to simultaneous blindness and 

So, to the issue. We work, or we should work, as in a bootstrapping 
mode. And on that score did/has the term "capitalism", in a 
family/set of terms, allowed us to perform such a bootstrapping, but, 
to pursue the analogy, do we now need to re-programme or replace the 
ROM BIOS because it only allows us to boot up into one particular OS, 
an OS which no longer meets the demands of the day; or is it still 
sufficiently versatile as with that old PC or Macintosh ROM BIOS 
which allows us to boot into DOS, Windows, or (some of) the various 
flavours of UNIX?

Apologies for getting carried away.

kj khoo

At 2:09 AM +0000 17/3/02, Daniel Pinéu wrote:
>My two cents on this:
>What has been questioned is the reified, unified and most times 
>simplied concept of capital/capitalism. Personally, I find it 
>intellectually very unrewarding to take the thoughts of Marx on 
>capital in the 19th century, and then apply it indiscriminately to 
>both previous and following historical times. First of all, because 
>towering as his theoretical achievements have been, Marx remains one 
>of many social thinkers, and by no means the holder of the truth. 
>Second, and much more importantly, because Marx lived and wrote in 
>the 19th century, in a western society. Are we really supposed to 
>think that the notion of "capital" (and all theoretical work on it) 
>in the 19th century remained the same through two world wars, a cold 
>war, and technological revolution after technological revolution? 
>After social structures mutated greatly, after economic structures 
>evolving, after the rise and fall of "socialist states", after 
>countless historical twists and turns - is capital still a valid 
>notion? When we use the word today, what exactly do we mean by it? 
>Is there a consensus? Is there a clear-cut definition? Can it be 
>equated with its earlier versions? THOSE are the questions to be 
>raised, i believe.
>This by no means descredits the lives, efforts and memories of those 
>who have fought either for or against "capitalism". To make a 
>parallel... When you use the word "warfare" today, i guess it is 
>indisputable that it means (and is perceived) as something radically 
>different from what it meant 50, 200, 5000 years ago. New 
>definitions have come up, the very nature of that specific 
>phenomenum has been greatly transformed. It is on the verge on a new 
>revolution today, edging towards "4th generation warfare". However, 
>if we question the concept, if we analyse military doctrine, if we 
>try to discern patterns of change, if we question it's validity as 
>an analytical category - how does that equate with forgetting or 
>disrespecting the millions of victims of war throughout time?
>Daniel Pinéu
>BA Hons. Political Science & International Relations
>Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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