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11 Letter Page

Llfi’BBS
Dietzgen
Dear Editors,
Adam Buick’ s str iking and sympa th-

etic account of Joseph Dietzgen
(RP10) sheds light on what is surely
one of the most shadowy areas of
Marxist philosophy. Buick places
us all in his debt and, moreover,
demonstrates convincingly that
Dietzgen well deserves to be
rescued from his current neglect.

However, it seems to- me that some
of Buick’s claims for his subject
should be looked at closely.

Dietzgen, he says, succeeded in
backing up the materialist conception of history with a materialist
philosophy, thereby providing an
‘essential complement’ to it and
filling ‘a “gap” in socialist
theory’ • It is relevant to these
claims to ask how Marx himself
regarded Dietzgen’ s views.

In a letter to Kugelmann of 7
December 1867, Marx comments with
reference td Dietzgen that ‘the
autodidactic philosophy’ is indeed
making ‘great progress’. In a
further letter to Kugelmann of 5
December 1868 Marx writes that
Dietzgen’s work, ‘in spite of a
certain confusion and of too frequent repetition, contains much
that is excellent and – as the
independent product of a working
man – admirable.’ This is not unqualified praise: to assert that,
as the work or an autodidact, a
particular piece of work is admirable is a far cry from regarding
that work as an essential complement to one’s own life’s work.

When Engels, in a letter to Marx
of 6 November 1868, writes of
Dietzgen in distinctly patronising
terms, Marx defends the independence of Dietzgen’s thought but

adds: ‘For the rest, I agree with
everything you .say·. It seems
clear, then, that while Marx and
Engels welcomed Dietzgen’s presence
in the ideological ranks they in
fact regarded him (rightly or wrongly) as something less than an
intellectual equal.

sUick’s presentation of Dietzgen’s
views contains many points of interest, and I should like to take up a
few of them. Deitzgen’s poSition,
as described by Buick, emerges as a
sort of ‘dialectical monism·.

•Matter ‘ and ‘mind’ are both merely
abstractions from the one comprehensive reality. (One is reminded
of Spinoza, who likewise postulated
one monistic substance with the twin
attributes of ‘Thought’ and ‘Extension·.) Dietzgen is said nevertheless to be a materialist since he
believes that this monistic reality
exists independently of its being
known or perceived.

One does not have to be a Leninist to feel that this poSition
amounts to something less (or more)
34

than materialism proper. There is,
I think, a terminological confusion
here – one to which, ironically
enough, Lenin himself contributed.

Buick, it seems -to me, shows that
Dietzgen is a ‘realist’: that is,
Dietzgen believes that the reality’

we perceive exists independently of
our perceiving it. A ‘realist’,
however, may be either a ‘materialist’ (if he believes the independently existing reality to consist
of body or ‘matter’) or an ‘objective idealist’ (if he believes that
the independently existing reality
consists of concepts, ideas, spirit
or ‘mind’). Now taking the terms in
this sense J Deitzgen emerges on
Buick’s account as just as much an
‘objective idealist’ as a ‘materialist’. Like Hegel (cf. Marx’s
comment: ‘It is his hard luck that
precisely Hegel he did not study •.• ·)
Dietzgen seems willing to call his
monistic reality ‘God’ or ‘the
Absolute’. Thus Lenin’s suspicion
that Dietzgen was not a consistent
material~st seems justified.

Lenin himself, however, does not
distinguish clearly between ‘realism’ and ‘materialism’, and seems
to feel that in order to show the
materialist character of a given
philosophy it is enough to demonstrate that it is a species of realism. Of course, one can define the
term ‘materialism’ as one likes but if it is taken sometimes to mean
‘materialism proper’ and sometimes
to mean merely ‘realism’, then
confusion is bound to result.

So perhaps, on Buick’ s own account,
Dietzgen emerges not as a materialist but rather as a realist, i.e.

as one who believes that the perceived world, whatever its ultimate
nature, exists independently of its
being perceived. Even here,
however, there are problems. Mind
and matter are both aspects of reality and as such are alike ‘parts of
the world of observable phenomena’.

But ~t is difficult to see how one
can empirically observe ‘mind’ – or,
at least, the doctrine that one can
empirically observe •mind , seems to
raise more problems than it solves.

(For example: is mind a ‘queer kind
of stuff’, a sort of purely mental
substance? How can mind, qua mind,
affect our senses? •• )
All this said, Buick’s presentation of Dietzgen remains a stimulating account of a man who clearly
deserves to be taken more seriously
than he has been in the past. That
Dietzgen still has relevance in contemporary debates on Marxist philosophy is clear from Bertell Ollman’s
discussion of his views relating to
the philosophy of internal relations
in his Alienation. Clearly, we must
now read Dietzgen: and, by convincing us of this, Buick has done
Joseph Dietzgen’s reputation the
greatest possible service.

Richard Gunn
Edinburgh

The Occult
Dear Editors,
I hadn ~ t seen Radical Philosophy fo,!.

some editions when I picked .uP L~umber
9, so maybe I can give you some
comments on the state of the thing
as it seemed to me compared 1w! th
earlier numbers.

Well, all this is very interesting and to the point about Swansea
at the front of the magazine. And
at the back, the pages of reviews
and criticisms are as usual full of
deba te and ideas. However, your two
main articles in the middle seem to
me to be falling back into all the
old complications that you once
seemed to be trying to avoid.

‘Understanding the Occult’ disgusts
me most. Not only is this incomprehensible jibberish, it is, selfconfessedly, ‘a general metaphysical
argument, which ought to be placed
more explicitly in relation to postKantian philosophy (in particular
the views of Shopenhauer and
Wittgenstein) ••• ‘ But, the author
adds (in his Note 1), ‘this would
take me too far, and it would infringe on a study of the nature of.

God which I would like to’ undertake
elsewhere.’ Is this radical philosophy or radical theology?’

I know that you have an open policy
on what you publish, but it is surely
one of the functions of RP to criticise metaphysics and idealist philosophies and not to propagate them.

Patrick Ainley
Walbottle

Recluctionism
Dear Editors,
David Lamb has raised some very
interesting points on my book The
Uniqueness or Man. Perhaps I could
take up one of these? The mistake
of trying to explain thinking in
terms of neural chemistry, or life
in terms of molecular interactions,
the ‘category mistake’, is not in
the least a linguistiC error or a
matter of words. If I point out
that the actual working of a steam
engine has a description that belongs to itself as a fQPCtioning
mechanism, which cannot be dealt
with as such a mechanism in the
terms of the behaviour of its parts
as parts, still less of the molecules and their laws, I am stating
a plain fact, not talking about
words. The same is true of pain
as a fact and the chemical ~ physiological”facts responsible for
it, these facts do not and never
can include the equally concrete and
empirical fact of pain, which is on
a different level. Though dependent
upon the diseased tooth it cannot
be reduced to it. This is not a

pose jor the RPJ not so much problems bral philosophy of the university.

of editoiship as such (it is always
II can’t. say I blame anyone for inexcellent) but problems of basic
decision on this point.

Meanwhile, RPJ is carrying out
theoretical leanings and purposes.

As a reader I am nQt always sure
Mary Warnock’s dictum that philowhether I am reading a~journal of
sophy should follow the discussion
wherever it leads. Ironically,
revolutionary theory or a journal
of radicalism within a discipline.

since it was the RPG’s vigorous
The latter I find, myself, infiniteresponse to Mrs Warnock’s article in
ly less interesting than the first.

New Society which first got me
I am not very interested in whether
interested in RPJ. In a sense, the
or not there is a future for moral
price one pays for defeating Mary
philosophy as such, but I am’ intWarnock to one’s own satisfaction
Yours sincerely,
erested in the contribution moral
is that of embodying, all too
John Lewis
accurately, the gist of what she
philOSOphy can make to revolutionLondon NIO
ary theory, and vice-versa; I see
said. But here, outside and highly
moral philosophy as coming alive by
unphilosophical events may well come
dying into praxis in order to reto the rescue and break the circle:

animate the latter. At the same
I refer, of course, to the very real
Dear Editors,
time I also see a manful attempt to
implications of the Huntington
equate some sort of progress within
Affair and SWansea. RPJ has rightI enclose £2.00 for another year’s
philosophical discussion itself
ly been concerned about these
sub. to RPJ, with many, many thanks
with revolutionary aims and permatters, which, in turn, seem to
to you for all the hard work and unspectives, as if, by addressing ithave out RPJ’s aims into sharper
paid effort that makes it a consistself to the revolution, philosophy
focus. There is nothing like the
ently exciting read. Of course one
itself is revivified. ‘However, rereal world for concentrating the mind
of the exciting things about it is
vivifying philosophy may be the
wonderfully. Meanwhile, it is not
tha t one never quite knows how the
longterm aim of the radical philoRPJ’s fault if conditions are such
story will turn out – who will win,
sopher; it is not the aim of the
that ‘better’ philosophy and revoradical philosophy or philosophic
philosophic radical. And in the
lutionary theory may not be preciseradicalism? Those who want to turn
-ly the same. And the tension between
end – if history is any guide – it
philosophy inside out are running
may paradoxically be the latter who
, these two strains – reflected not
neck-in-neck with those who are
actually does revivify philosophy,
only in the overall composition of
creating a s~rviceable philosophy of
endowing it with an existence it
each issue but right in the heart
the revolution: the first sometimes
never had before. It was not F.H.

of many of the individual articles
in the name of the second, and vice- continues, as I said, to make for
versa. I don’t mean to be unduly
Bradley who revivified Hegel; it was
an exciting read. The day when RPJ
facetious: all this is done in a
Lenin. And that philosophical revican no longer cope with this tension
stimulating manner and at ~he highval did not occur in university
will also be the day when there are
est standard of intellectual rigour.

common rooms but on the streets of
more exciting things to– do.

But it does point to ·serious·diffi- Petrograd. RPJ does not, on the
culties in the RP movement with which whole, know whether or not it preA Reader
you are yourselves familiar and
fers the living philosophy of the
Bristol
always have been: difficulties which
streets of revolution to the cerelinguistic error, it follows the
metaphysical decision to insist on
reducing all levels to the most
general, to the final substantial
essence of existence, which envisages
all of nature, human and animate as
well as non-organic in terms of the
laws governing the behaviour of its
least part. This is not a misuse
of words but a metaphysical dogma,
and a very bad one at that!

Dead or Alive?

RIVIIWS
Literary Production
Pierre Macherey, Pour une Theorie
de la Production Litt~raire, Paris,
Maspero, Fr.23.70
Macherey’s first concern is to
draw a distinction between two types
of literary criticism which could
be described as the artistic and
the scientific. Criticism as literaryappreciation (l’ecole du gout)
and criticism as a form of knowledge (the ‘science of literary
production’). What differentiates
these two methods is that whereas
the former seeks identity with the
literary work, the latter seeks’a
fundamental separation from it, for
the essence of the scientific method
is that science starts out from
reality producing a distance between
itself and its object. A scientific
understanding (knowledge) of a text
is not a translation, a process of
recovering or reconstituting a
latent meaning which is hidden or
forgotten. Its function is to constitute a new knowledge. Thus it
should be considered as a work (un
travail) of transformation and not
an instrument with which to contact a reality or a truth. Literary criticism as an art is com-

pletely determined by the previous
existence of a body of works with
which, in order to find the
‘truth’, it seeks to fuse. Literary criticism as a form of knowledge Ca science), however, has an
object (which is not its given but
its product) which it seeks, not
to imitate, but to transform.

Between knowledge and its object
there is a distance, a separation,
not a conformity. If knowledge expresses itself as a discourse this
discourse is by nature different
from the object about which it
‘speaks’. There is, thus, a radical difference between the discourse of the critic and the discourse of the writer, it can never
be a question of two points of view
of the same object for the work
which is written by the writer is
not exactly the worf which the
critic seeks to explicate, for
writing and reading are not two
equivalent or reversible operations; (they are distinct activities (activites antagonistes) and
to confuse them reveals a profound
misunderstanding of the nature of
the work). While the work of the
writer is not expressed in terms

of a ,knowledge, the activity of
the writer can be the object of a
knowledge. The function of literary criticism is not the description of a finished product, preparing the way for its consumption,
but the elaboration (explication
not description) of this product.

For Macherey the real critical
question is not, ‘What is literature?’ i.e., what do~s one do when
one writes (or when one reads)?

But, what sort of necessity does
a work reflect? Of what is in
made, what gives it its reality?

The real critical question turns
upon the material out of which
the work is produced ~nd upon the
methods of that production. Now,
while the writer i@ .’the worker of
his text’ he does not produce the
materials with which he works. The
language ‘spoken’ by the writer is
not exactly the same as the language of every day use but, and
this point is crucial for Hacherey,
it is not ~ new language. ‘Strictly speaking,’ he says, ‘there is
only one language; it is the mark
of an Hegelian aesthetic to take
all forms. of expression to be a
language.’ For Macberey, the

35

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