Realistic Metaphysics and the Materialist Conception of History

A reading and discussion series with Shane Mage (4 more weeks)

please note that the class is meeting from 6 pm to 8 pm

“This cosmos, the same for all, was not made by any of gods or men. It always has been, is, and will be, an ever-living fire kindling in measures and going out in measures” (Herakleitos of Ephesus, fr. 29 [ed. Wheelwright])

This group will meet as follows: October 21, 28, November 4, 11 and 25.There will not be a session on November 18 as there is a MEP event that evening.

It can scarcely be doubted that the human civilization, pervasively capitalist, has entered a period of absolute crisis in the most literal sense: a condition that, if not resolved by a radical return to survivability, will quickly result in its death.  Of course, Marxists and many other radicals had long seen the capitalist system (the present form of class society) as crisis-prone, marked in its processes over centuries by an increasingly severe succession of wars and economic collapses. But the system had recovered from each crisis and resumed, ever more powerfully, its seeming industrial growth. The present crisis is different. Its dominant feature, global heating (among symptoms of which are the COVID19 pandemic and the growing threat of atomic holocaust) is evidently integral to capitalist industrial growth . However, in the Marxian view, industrial growth is itself the manifestation of something much deeper: the contradictory form of productive labor and technological development in class society. “The growth of productive forces,” is seen as the driving force in the evolution of humanity itself. As such, it far transcends the few centuries of worldwide capitalism and comprises the whole history of the human species. We are, declared Marx in an early text, “species beings.” This should be taken to signify that while we, like all animals, carry our species history in our bodies and subconscious minds, we also, in our evolutionarily acquired capacity for structured symbolic communication, preserve (and even can recover by proper research) important parts of that history in our explicit memories. Therefore the historical crisis of human society is necessarily and simultaneously the crisis of human consciousness.

Marxists have always recognized the centrality of consciousness to the communist project. But marxism’s central preoccupation has been that of *class* consciousness. Marx spoke of the working class’s need to transform itself from a class *in itself* (en sich) into a class *for itself* (für sich). After two decades of revolutionary defeats and counter-revolutionary triumphs Trotsky described the situation as “the crisis of proletarian leadership.”

But these were prescriptions, now plainly further from realization than ever. In describing the proletariat as the “universal class,” Marx projected that by establishing its dictatorship (ie., radical democracy) in the proximate interest of all its members, the proletariat begins the human historical project of complete transcendence of class society. The present crisis, however, demands that this concept of “universal” be deepened and enriched. The politics based on consciousness of proximate material interest must give way to the politics of a *planetary* consciousness. The final line of our anthem, “l’Internationale sera le genre humain,”  should now be taken literally.

If you and I are to be effective agents in the development of that consciousness we should be able to offer radical answers, even though necessarily tentative and incomplete ones, to two fundamental questions: How Did We Get Here? And (what Immanuel Kant considered perhaps the most important of questions): What Can We Hope For?

These are basic philosophical questions, and to deal with them demands an adequate metaphysical basis, an account developing from fundamental assumptions underlying cognition of our world, its history, its reality, its prospects. Marxisms have approached this in terms of two words: “dialectics” and “materialism,” but these terms are almost always used vaguely or–worse—polemically. Their application, the materialist conception of history, should be understood in terms of the long philosophical tradition starting in ancient Greece, with the seemingly contradictory but actually complementary dialectics of Herakleitos (change) and Plato (structure)—the tradition whose varying protagonists include Plotinus, Spinoza, Diderot, Hegel, Marx, and Whitehead (“all philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato”) plus, in parallel to it, the Madhyamika dialectic of Nagarjuna and the Sufi teachings of G.I.Gurdjieff.

The series of discussions we offer will center on that tradition leading, hopefully, to a new coherent cosmology symbolized by the enneagram. A bibliography of readings from Herakleitos, Plato, Diderot, Hegel Lenin, et al will be posted soon.

Shane Mages’s dissertation was on Marx’s theory of the tendential fall in the rate of profit (Columbia U. 1963). Shane taught economics and philosophy at Brooklyn Polytechnic U and Grand Valley State U. He was senior editor for social sciences at Collier’s Encyclopedia through 1994. Among Shane’s publications are a pamphlet “Velikovsky and his Critics;” articles on “Plato and the Catastrophist Tradition” and “Jeroboam and the Israelite Revolution” in KRONOS magazine; articles “Communism” and “Economic History of the USSR” in Collier’s Encyclopedia; and (unpublished still) “The Pilate Papers,” an essay presenting a “Roman” view of the gospel story. At present he is working on a novel (“The Seducation of a Femtaur—a Bead Game”) set in the present and near future with a philosophical theme and elements of science fiction and magical realism.

 

The Orient: Foucault’s Achilles’ Heel

A talk and discussion with Marnia Lazreg

Non-Western Subjugated Knowledges and Michel Foucault’s Limit Experience

Foucault was a critic of Western culture and rationality. However, in his travels in the Orient (Tunisia, Iran and Japan), he claimed these cultures were incomprehensible because they belong to a different rationality. This talk will explore the intellectual sources of Foucault’s anti-humanist approach to non-western cultures as it documents his personal disorientation and struggles in Tunisia, Iran and Japan.

Marnia Lazreg is professor of sociology at the Graduate Center and Hunter College, City University of New York. Her research focuses on social theory, international development, cultural movements, colonial history, and gender in the Middle East. Her recent publications include, Foucault’s Orient: The Conundrum of Cultural Difference, From Tunisia to Japan (Berghahn, 2017); The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question, 2nd edition (Routledge, 2018); Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algeria to Baghdad (Princeton, 2017 paperback).

 

Les Temps Modernes: The Early Decades

2 sessions with Mitch Abidor

Les Temps Modernes, founded by Sartre and Beauvoir in 1945, ceased publication in December 2018. It had been one of the most prestigious intellectual, political, and cultural journals in the world, in its heyday between 1945-1975 setting the terms of intellectual debate all over the world.

This class will examine the first decades of its existence, when such important works as Sartre’s What is Literature appeared in it, as well as the first installments of Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. It will focus on its political positions, as Sartre first attempted to set up a third-way party, became a fellow-traveler of the PCF (publishing The Communists and Peace), then rejected working with the Communists (publishing The Ghost of Stalin). It will trace the journal and its editors’ commitment to anti-colonialism, particularity its courageous work in support of the Algerian FLN. Its role during May 68 and its aftermath will be examined, as Les Temps Modernes espoused the cause of the Maoists and the far left all over the world. Finally, it will look at its position on the conflict in the Middle East, about which Les Temps Modernes published a 1000 page issue.

Mitch Abidor has published over a dozen volumes of translation, including a collection of Victor Serge’s anarchist writings, Anarchists Never Surrender. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and Cineaste. Mitch has been translated into German and Turkish. He is currently writing a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917.

 

This is a two week course. Fees below are suggested and are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay.

Marx and Engels: 1841-1844

Group is moving location to the CUNY Grad Center on 5th Avenue and 34th Street—the former B. Altman Store
Contact sheila.hamanaka@gmail.com or russelleliotdale@gmail.com for more information

Seminar of the NYC Marxist Hegel-Studies Collective at The Marxist Education Project
14 weeks
Fridays, February 17 through May 19, 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Conducted by Russell Dale

This course will focus on two early works by Marx and one by Marx and Engels. The works by Marx are his doctoral dissertation of 1841 on ancient Greek atomistic theory and his Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right” from 1843. The work by Marx and Engels is The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Critique of 1844.

These works by Marx and by Marx and Engels are too little studied nowadays, but play a fundamental role in the development of Marx’s thought, especially when see from the perspective of his break from Hegel and the Young Hegelians. We will be particularly interested in the influence of Hegel and the Young Hegelians in this course and will work at tracing what is retained and what is being left behind from the Hegelian tradition.

We will also be particularly concerned with issues of gender, race, and white supremacy in these works as Marx’s philosophy is emerging from a tradition that was deeply steeped in patriarchy and the growing racism and white supremacy of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

We will be reading (1) Marx’s doctoral dissertation (1841) (in volume 1 of Marx and Engels, Collected Works, International Publishers), (2) Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right” (1843) (translated by Joseph O’Malley, Cambridge University Press), and (3) Marx and Engels’ The Holy Family (1844) (translated by Richard Dixon and Clemens Dutt, Progress Publishers). (Arrangements will be made for students who cannot buy copies of these books.)

Russell Dale is an activist and a philosopher. He teaches philosophy at Lehman College, CUNY. He taught classes on Hegel and various other topics for the last six years. Russell is also on the Manuscript Collective and Editorial Board of the Marxist journal Science & Society, as well as on the Local Station Board of radio station WBAI, 99.5 FM (wbai.org).

The Young Hegelians (1831-1842)

Seminar of the NYC Marxist Hegel-Studies Collective
Marxist Education Project

Conducted by Russell Dale

Hegel’s philosophy has had a great influence on much of what has happened in the world since his time (1770-1831) and is crucial to understanding much of modern social thought and philosophy as well as to understanding Marxism and the socialist tradition in its varied aspects.

Hegel himself died in 1831. In Berlin, where Hegel had taught for nearly a decade-and-a-half up to his death, a small group of philosophers – the so-called “Young Hegelians” – struggled with questions of interpreting Hegel in terms of the actual conditions of life in Germany and Europe at that time. The questions that this group of philosophers dealt with ranged from questions of re-interpreting religion, to the nature of the individual, society, and the state. Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were involved in the work of the Young Hegelians, and ultimately it was the rejection of much of the thinking of Hegel and the Young Hegelians that allowed Marx and Engels to formulate what became the general outlook we today think of as Marxism.

In this seminar, we will study various works of the Young Hegelians including David Strauss, Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner, and others, and including as well some early writings of Marx and Engels themselves.

The philosophy of Hegel as well as numerous of the Young Hegelians also included reactionary, racist/white-supremacist thought, which we will give special critical attention to. The rejection of Hegel and the Young Hegelians by Marx and Engels is also in important ways a rejection of the racism and white-supremacy and all that that has historically entailed in the development of contemporary capitalist society. This theme will be of fundamental importance in this class as will be the critique of the system of patriarchy – the oppressive subordination of women to men – the struggle to end such oppressions being fundamental to Marxism.

The course will run for 14 weeks on Friday evenings from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM starting September 16, 2016 and continuing until December 16, 2016. We will be reading the book The Young Hegelians: An Anthology, edited by Lawrence S. Stepelevich. (Arrangements will be made for students who cannot buy a copy of this book which costs about $12 online in a Kindle edition, or from about $25 and up for a used copy on abe.com or elsewhere.)

Russell Dale is an activist and a philosopher. He teaches philosophy at Lehman College, CUNY. He taught classes on Hegel and various other topics for the last six years. Russell is also on the Manuscript Collective and Editorial Board of the Marxist journal Science & Society, as well as on the Local Station Board of radio station WBAI, 99.5 FM (wbai.org).

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

14 week course
Seminar of the NYC Marxist Hegel-Studies Collective
Spring and Summer, 2016
Conducted by Russell Dale

Hegel’s philosophy has had a great influence on much of what has happened in the world since his time (1770 – 1831) and is crucial to understanding much of modern social thought and philosophy as well as to understanding Marxism and the socialist tradition in its varied aspects.

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is generally considered the first exposition of and an introduction to Hegel’s later work, what is often referred to as Hegel’s “system.” Thus, knowledge of the Phenomenology is indispensable for anyone interested in today’s world.

At the same time, the Phenomenology is an extremely difficult work to read, so it really helps to do so with a group of fellow-readers.

In this course, we will read the entire Phenomenology of Spirit. Discussion will focus on Hegel’s view of history, the history of philosophy, subjectivity, the self, and society, and Hegel’s influence on later thinking and history. An important part of our discussion will be the socially reactionary conclusions that Hegel ultimately drew, while at the same time HHegel’s work became inspirational for so many radical and progressive thinkers as well, including Marx and Engels. We will give special attention to and treatment of the fact that Hegel had white-supremacist, racist views, and played an important role in the development of the pseudo-science of biological race theory. We will look at what these views mean for the tradition of thought that stems from Hegel, which includes some of the greatest thinkers of African descent in the twentieth century, such as W. E. B. DuBois, C. L. R. James, Frantz Fanon and others.

The course will run for 14 weeks on Friday evenings from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM starting on Friday, May 27, 2016 and continuing until Friday, August 26, 2016. We will be reading the edition of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit translated by A. V. Miller, and published by Oxford University Press. (Arrangements will be made for students who cannot buy a copy of this book, which costs about $11 – $15 online.)

Russell Dale is an activist and a philosopher. He teaches philosophy at Lehman College, CUNY. He taught classes on Hegel and various other topics for the last six years. Russell is also on the Manuscript Collective and Editorial Board of the Marxist journal Science & Society, as well as on the Local Station Board of radio station WBAI, 99.5 FM (wbai.org).

Hegel’s Science of Logic

Hegel’s philosophy has had a great influence on much of what has happened in the world since his time (1770 – 1831) and is crucial to understanding much of modern social thought and philosophy as well as to understanding Marxism and the socialist tradition in its varied aspects.

Hegel’s Science of Logic is considered by many the most important and developed of all of Hegel’s works. It is essential for understanding Hegel’s other works and therefore it is essential for understanding the works of Marx and Engels as well. We will discuss in detail the text of roughly the book’s first third, called “The Doctrine of Being”, and how it relates to Hegel’s overall system and European social theory after Hegel, including Hegel’s patriarchy and white-supremacy and their influence on the development of capitalism.

We will be reading the edition of Hegel’s Science of Logic translated by A. V. Miller, and published by Humanity Books. (Arrangements will be made for students who cannot afford to buy a copy of this book which costs about $33 new online.)

RUSSELL DALE is an activist and a philosopher. He teaches philosophy at Lehman College, CUNY. He taught classes on Hegel and various other topics at the now-no-more Brecht Forum for the last five years of that institution’s existence. Russell is also on the Manuscript Collective and Editorial Board of the Marxist journal Science & Society, as well as on the Local Station Board of radio station WBAI, 99.5 FM (wbai.org).

Suggested donation: $95 to $125 or $10 per session
No one turned away for inability to pay