Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Bhaskar against Marx's Alleged Determinism.

Guess what?

Roy Bhaskar, founder of critical realism, wrote the entry "Determinism", for A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, Tom Bottomore (ed.).

According to him, allegations of determinism against Marx take three shapes:
"In a Marxist context the debate about determinism has revolved around the questions of whether determinate or perhaps even dated future outcomes (conditions, states of affairs, events etc.) are
"(a) inevitable,
"(b) predictable and
"(c) fated (in the sense of being bound to transpire whatever people do)."
What does Bhaskar think about them? Are they justified? In one word: Nope.

None of them is justified.

About (a):
"In any event, given the complexity and heterogeneity of the multiple causes of events within human history, Marxism is only most implausibly interpreted as a deterministic theory in sense (a)."
About (b):
"Turning to (b), it need only be noted here that - with the exception of one or two obviously rhetorical flourishes - all Marx's predictions are conditional, and subject to the operation of ceteris paribus clauses, so that he is not a historicist in Popper's sense (see HISTORICISM)."
About (c):
"On (c) it would seem clear that Marx is not a fatalist. For him what happens in the future will happen because or at least in virtue of, not despite, whatever men and women do; any other view would constitute a gross reification of the historical process and be contrary Marx's repeated assertions that it is 'men who make history'."
Does that mean that critics will recant their unfounded accusation of determinism against Marx?

It would be great, wouldn't it? But I wouldn't hold my breath.

On one hand, beyond Friedman, neoclassicals in general are proudly ignorant of methodological issues. For them the answer is straightforward: "Well, Bhaskar thinks that, so what?"

On the other hand, one could argue that post Keynesians seem interested on methodology. They write endlessly, tediously about that, don't they? Indeed many of them claim to follow Bhaskar's critical realism. Wouldn't his opinion influence them?

I am not optimistic. There are exceptions, to be sure, but in general post Keynesians are no less prone than neoclassicals to dishonesty and fanaticism.

When it comes to Marxism one thing is to be wrong, another is to admit it.

Bhaskar, R. (1992). Determinism. In: A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.139-41.

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