Dialectics of Human Nature in Marx s Philosophy

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1 Dialectics of Human Nature in Marx s Philosophy

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3 Dialectics of Human Nature in Marx s Philosophy Mehmet Tabak

4 dialectics of human nature in marx s philosophy Copyright Mehmet Tabak, Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition All rights reserved. First published in 2012 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN in the United States a division of St. Martin s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY Where this book is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the World, this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number , of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave and Macmillan are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries. ISBN ISBN (ebook) DOI / Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Tabak, Mehmet. Dialectics of human nature in Marx s philosophy / Mehmet Tabak. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. ). 1. Marx, Karl, Philosophical anthropology. I. Title. B3305.M74T dc A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library. Design by Integra Software Services First edition: July

5 Contents Preface 1 Marx s Conception of Human Nature: Is There No Human Nature Just As There Is a Universal Nature of Plants and Stars? 1 2 Historical Materialism: General Theory of History 25 3 Dialectical Determinations of the Structure of Society 51 4 Processes of Alienation and the Structure of Bourgeois Society 79 5 Marx s Critique of Law, Justice, and Morality The State in Bourgeois Society 141 Epilogue: Missing Parts of the Organic Whole 169 Notes 173 Bibliography 213 Index 221 vii

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7 Preface The main purpose of this book is to outline Karl Marx s philosophical system. 1 The present interpretation places his philosophy within the tradition of humanism, with the following proviso: Marx s humanism is not a separate doctrine, to be pitted against his materialism historical or dialectical. Humanism, I argue, is the basis of his dialectical and historical materialism. The concept of human nature is the Archimedean point of Marx s philosophy. Through a dialectical construction of this concept, he rejects the dualism between subject and object and comprehends them as the objective totality. 2 This objective totality is the totality of man and nature, 3 perceived as a historical process. Human nature, thus, constitutes the primary standpoint of his thought, precisely because man is the subject and the main substance of the historical objective totality. 4 Human nature is Marx s standpoint in two separate but interrelated ways. It constitutes the first premise of his explanation and of his critical evaluation of the existing state of affairs. Said another way, the concept of human nature is the main determinant of historically shaped social totality (the structure and superstructure as the social whole), as it is also the standard with which a given social reality is measured against human needs. This dual, explanatory and critical, nature of Marx s primary standpoint follows from the fact that his dialectic is at once critical and revolutionary. 5 With this claim, I also seek to restore the unity of the normative components of Marx s thought with his scientific explanations. The kind of science Marx employs, by his own admission, is human science. 6 This form of science is philosophical and cannot be reduced to the observation of dry facts. One of its primary motives is to unearth the human predicament in bourgeois society, as well as the material basis of human emancipation this society engenders. At the bottom, Marx s science is one of human emancipation.

8 viii P REFACE Marx s theory of alienation captures various fundamental aspects of the human predicament in bourgeois society. 7 In this sense, Marx s theory of alienation is an evaluative theory that explains why human essence undergoes a process of alienation as dehumanization in capitalism. However, as István Mészáros rightly points out, the concept of alienation also constitutes the basic idea of the Marxian system, including its explanatory purchase. 8 This is a controversial claim, which I seek to defend and further develop in this book. 9 I attempt to show that the processes of alienation, human alienation to be sure, also explain the formation of bourgeois society, its structure and superstructure. Alienation, thus, is a dialectical process of human realization and negation through which the bourgeois totality is formed. This reading of Marx seeks to correct a widespread misunderstanding of his materialism. Despite some able efforts to counter it, Marx s materialism is still predominantly associated with thing, or matter, determinism, an approach that explains human beings, their activity, relations, feelings, needs, consciousness, and even the society they live in as epiphenomenal reflections of matter through sense perception. 10 Marx s presumed contribution to this form of materialism is the equation of matter with economic factors, such as the forces of production. His materialism is thus equated with the kind of crude old materialism Marx himself strenuously opposed. Contrary to this unfounded opinion, this book shows that the most fundamental basis of Marx s materialism is man and his activity. Since human activity is essentially social, materialism of Marx also, and necessarily, is built upon the social relations of individuals in a given society. Materialism of Marx, dialectically perceived, is thus a form of humanism. Relatedly, Marx s relationship to Hegel is often reduced to the famous or infamous to some claim that Marx turned Hegel right-sideup simply by replacing the latter s Idea with economic matter. The present work devotes much attention to the intellectual debt Marx owed Hegel. It seeks to understand Marx through repeated comparisons and contrasts between his dialectic method and that of Hegel. But it also shows that Marx s inversion of Hegel is based on the inversion of the latter s idealism to dialectical humanist-materialism. With these arguments, I also offer a rebuttal of nowadays popular analytical Marxism, which sees a distinction between Marx s method and theory, dismisses the dialectic method in favor of analytical philosophy, and explains isolated aspects of Marx s theory analytically. 11 However, even though I believe in the superiority of dialectics over analytical philosophy, the present work does not defend the former against the latter.

9 P REFACE ix It merely demonstrates that various important theories and concepts of Marx are incomprehensible, unless adequate attention is given to his dialectical investigations. 12 Marx s concepts, theories, and dialectic method are of one piece. Reading him without his dialectic method is like speaking a language without its grammar. This book neither defends nor criticizes Marx s ideas. It also makes no effort to show their validity and application to today s circumstances or to the past Communist experiences. The space constraint imposed on the book barely suffices to explain Marx s philosophical system. I am convinced that the latter task is the more urgent one. Certainly I am not the first to attempt to explain Marx s thought accurately. There are many valuable contributions out there, some of which will be noted throughout the book. Nevertheless, misperceptions still dominate the discourse. Some of them are deliberately fabricated. Some are construed on the basis of past, secondary, inaccurate accounts of Marx s ideas. 13 Some emanate from looking at Marx backward through the prism of the Cold War politics, or the Communist experience in general. Other misperceptions are due to academic careerism, which often imposes on Marx the currently vogue concepts and methods that have little to do with Marx s own. Marx s ideas have been distorted, and such distortions are overwhelming. In order to minimize the danger of further distorting Marx s ideas, I adopt a strategy of exposition in which I let Marx speak for himself, often with lengthy quotations. Indeed, approximately one-third of the entire book consists of Marx s own words. It seems obvious to me that Marx is the most qualified person to explain his own ideas. The strategy I adopt allows the reader to comprehend Marx beyond what the present author is able to establish on his behalf. It also helps illustrate the continuity in Marx s approach, in contrast to the unfounded claim that Marx departed from the humanist philosophy of his youthful years in favor of scientific materialism a legend that has become a cottage industry in its own right. Lastly, this strategy is especially necessary in light of the fact that Marx s dialectical arguments often express a complex set of internally related concepts. Taking specific utterances out of their broader context is tantamount to producing one-sided legends. This book, then, along with trying to make a comprehensive sense of Marx s ideas, through his own words, also serves as a legend buster. 14 This book pursues its main thesis through six chapters. The main thesis, to repeat, is that the concept of human nature is the primary dual standpoint of Marx s philosophical system, which overlaps with the objective totality it seeks to comprehend. Chapter 1 explains how Marx

10 x P REFACE conceptualizes human nature dialectically as essence and existence. The remaining five chapters demonstrate its application to various important theories proposed by Marx. Chapter 2 explains Marx s general theory of history. Chapter 3 focuses on his dialectical understanding of the structure of societies in general. The main topic of Chapter 4 is the structure of bourgeois society. The concept of alienation as an explanatory and critical standpoint is introduced in this chapter, and further utilized in the ensuing chapters. Chapters 5 and 6 explain how the structure determines the superstructure. The former focuses on law, justice, and morality, and shows how alienated social relations (structure) in bourgeois society internally explain and thus determine these moments of the superstructure. Chapter 6 is concerned with Marx s theory of the state in bourgeois society from the same vantage point. Another important aim of Chapter 6 is to refute the legend that Marx reduces the state to an instrument of the ruling class, ignoring its autonomy. The broader import of this refutation is that Marx s theory does not reduce the superstructure to a mere epiphenomenon of the structure of society. The Epilogue explains why the theories of revolution and communism are necessary for the completion of Marx s philosophical system. Each chapter deals with a complex set of issues, including alternative ways of interpreting Marx. By examining six interrelated topics, this book as a whole seeks to restore the unity of Marx s humanism and dialecticalhistorical materialism, on the one hand, and the unity of his scientific explanation with his critical evaluation, on the other. What the dialectic method does and the manner in which it is utilized by Marx will be illustrated in and through the various Marxian theories discussed in what follows. This mode of articulating Marx s dialectic method follows from his own mode of utilizing it, that is, within the context of his own inquiry and exposition. The contributions of several people to the completion of this book must be duly acknowledged. My friend Shinasi Rama was instrumental in constantly encouraging me to turn my long-time interest in Marx s philosophy into a book. Bertell Ollman has kept my interest alive through many conversations we have had over the past few years. I have learned a lot from him. Bertell also invited me to present Chapter 2 at the Marxist Theory Colloquium he runs at NYU. The participants of this colloquium offered useful comments. The following former students have provided insightful feedback on the earlier drafts of several chapters: Gilad Isaacs, Joe Beaglehole, Gulce Tarhan, Candan Turkkan, Clement Salomon, and, especially, Tyson Patros. I also wish to thank Karen Tang for her invaluable help with typing and probing questions. The anonymous reviewer designated by Palgrave provided a very encouraging and

11 P REFACE xi useful review. Palgrave s editors involved in the production of this book have been diligently helpful. I sincerely thank them all for their help. Finally, writing this book has helped me understand why authors often acknowledge the contributions of their spouses. I am most grateful to Akiko Tabak, who steadfastly supported, inspired, and encouraged me to complete this work with indescribable generosity, love, and care. This book is dedicated to her.

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