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Errata and Qualifications for Demarcation & Demystification

My next book, Demarcation and Demystification, will be released this month. I discussed my general reasons for this project in a Medium article, and an early review of the book was recently published at Marx and Philosophy Review of Books––these articles should give the curious would-be reader a summary indication of the book's concerns. In any case, due to the book's impending release, I felt it was worth saying a few things about a book that might be less accessible than my previous works. Although I do my best to make my work accessible, a book on the meaning of philosophy and Marxist philosophy might be less accessible than what I have published to date.

Considering the ways in which some critics of previous works of mine have misrepresented and distorted aspects of these works, often focusing on isolated sections so as to undermine the work as a whole, I feel that it is necessary to immediately deal with parts of Demarcation and Demystification that might be misread or misunderstood. Such misreadings/misunderstandings, though occasionally the fault of dishonest or lazy readers, are sometimes due to my own strident style. When I write I sometimes assume the reader functions according to the principle of charity, and/or possesses a general understanding of my politics, and when I'm too close to the work I neglect those areas where I could have been more careful or elaborated further. With some distance from this text, though, I was able to read it with new eyes and immediately recognized areas that might appear more controversial for some readers than they should otherwise be. Hence, with this post I hope to clear up some misunderstandings/misrepresentations ahead of time so that they do not become red herring points of contention.

1. In the first chapter I discuss how Marx and Engels' break from previous notions of philosophy "was one of confusion." (18-19) To be clear, and as further discussion throughout the book makes apparent, I was not arguing that Marx and Engels were confused about their break from philosophy only that the project of "Marxist philosophy" following the establishment of historical materialism was "one of confusion." My point was that this confusion was largely a result from the fact that their focus on establishing the science of history and society, aside from some cursory and passing remarks on the role of philosophy, did not succeed in fully elaborating/systematizing a theory of philosophy. This should not be controversial since there were a lot of things that Marx and Engels were never able to fully investigate (some of which they could not investigate), and when it comes to philosophy we know that the lack of a full definition and theorization of materialist philosophy existed because of the different attempts to define Marxist philosophy (usually based on different interpretations of the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach) that would eventually follow. Moreover, and this is significant, Marx did intend to write a rigorous book (or series of books) on his perspective about philosophy––which he planned to call Dialectics––but he died before he could even begin this task. The "confusion" then is the confusion he left future historical materialists with, as with the development of the science itself, and this book is in some ways an attempt to piece together what his perspective might have been through the clues left in his work and the work of Engels––who I don't see, as is sometimes fashionable to proclaim, as separate from Marx.

2. Although I quote someone claiming that Marx's Theses On Feuerbach might be "no more than a set of ambiguous aphorisms" (21) I only do so to point out the ways in which some have seen this text to be less important than it has been apprehended by numerous Marxist philosophers. The point of quoting this claim is not, as I'm sure some will contend, to agree with it but to indicate that, regardless of this claim, it doesn't matter. That is, even if this claim about the Theses on Feuerbach was correct (and I don't agree that it is, to be clear), multiple definitions of Marxist philosophy have based themselves on the 11th thesis so the claim is largely redundant. But obviously I do think it is more meaningful "than a set of ambiguous aphorisms" which is why I wrote a whole book inspired by it.

3. At various points in the book I talk about the limitations of the formulaic distinction between historical materialism as the "science" and dialectical materialism as the "philosophy". (Errata: on page 68, though, there is a serious typo where the relationship is inverted so that it seems as if I'm calling the latter the "science" and the former the "philosophy". Clearly this is a typo because it is anachronistic to everything else I write about this formula.) A poor interpretation of my criticism of this formula is that I am rejecting the distinction altogether. I am not, as parts of the book's Epilogue should make clear. Rather, I am rejecting the reliance on textbook formulae. Textbooks and formulas are useful if they're understood as openings to further study. Reduction of thought to textbooks and formula is the problem, particularly when it prevents people from thinking through what these formulaic terms were meant to indicate. If we get caught on trying to filter our understanding of reality through textbook categories we will be stuck at a pre-Maoist style of thinking. In On Contradiction, after all, Mao moves beyond this textbook division.

4. In the second chapter I write about "hostile cartographies" that produce "delineations of the provincial geography of 'Stalinism'." (48) What I meant by this passage was not the codification of Marxism-Leninism by Stalin (in The Foundations of Leninism and other works) but the Trotskyist manner of effacing the terrain of Marxism-Leninism by calling all versions of Leninism that disagree with Trotskyism, and that do not totally denounce the CPSU under Stalin, "Stalinism". The scare-quotes were intentional. Trotskyism functions by producing a counter-theory called "Stalinism" as the enemy theoretical province so that it can declare itself the true inheritor of the theoretical terrain. As we know there is no theoretical development that can be called "Stalinism" since Stalin only systematized, to the point he was capable of systematizing, Marxism-Leninism. This systematization was important for the development of revolutionary science at its date, though ultimately insufficient––hence Maoism as the third stage of revolutionary science. In any case, regardless of my scare-quotes, I admit in retrospect this was an oversight that presumed the reader would know what I meant. I can only fall back on my previous writings on this topic, particularly my section on this issue in Methods Devour Themselves where I mock the use of the category of "Stalinism" to disavow the development of revolutionary theory.

5. My use of Althusser does not mean I am unaware of Althusser's many failings. I use him in the discussion of the meaning of philosophy because, as I point out at various points, he took this problematic to be of fundamental importance as a philosopher. But since, as I also argue, philosophers tend to tail the real movement and in fact fall out of this movement when they are not involved, his use is clearly limited. In fact, I point out his limitations multiple times throughout the text while recognizing his insightfulness in the limited region of the meaning of philosophy. On pages 102-103, in fact, I use him as an example of how Marxist philosophers, no matter how insightful they are, can still fail the test of revolutionary theory.

6. My use of Badiou does not mean that I agree with Badiou's post-Maoism. As with Althusser, Badiou's interventions are useful in some senses but antagonistic in others. I was pretty clear about what aspects were useful and what aspects were not––what aspects could be shorn from his later post-Maoist commitments and what aspects were opposed to Marxism––throughout the text. Aside from pointing out, very early on, that his notion of the conditions of philosophy is flawed, by the fifth chapter I accuse his philosophical project of outright occultation. (Errata: For some reason I failed to place the full citation of Badiou's Conditions in the bibliography even though I cite from it in the first chapter. I'm not sure how that happened but, for those interested, the version I used was the Continuum edition published in 2008.)

7. My use of all non-Marxist philosophers, when I'm not attacking them outright, is only insofar as they get things partially correct. Like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, and so many others I am fine with mining the canon of radical philosophy to see where this canon intersects with Marxist philosophy in the interest of class struggle within philosophy. This does not mean I have to accept their projects as a whole anymore than Marx accepted the projects of Smith, Ricardo, Hegel, and so many others. Some thinkers are correct insofar as their thought intersects with historical materialism, insofar as aspects of their thought can be appropriated by historical materialism. Science has always been happy to appropriate models from non-scientific thought; when it does so the meaning is always altered. Philosophy can do the same, though of course there are dangers. But I was consistent with my critiques for all of the philosophers with whom I engaged.

8. The distinction between the "hard" and "soft" sciences I often throw out, as I did in Continuity and Rupture, is not an endorsement of this distinction's existence. Weirdly, some have thought that I think this distinction matters even though I have always scare-quoted it and often used the term "so-called" as well. I actually don't buy the distinction, and feel it is a result of positivism, as I maintained in an interview with Revolutionary Left Radio. Whenever I mention this distinction it is always scare-quoted to recognize that it is a distinction that is foisted upon the definition of science following the advent of positivism.

There are probably more qualifications that I will need to make, and more errata I encounter, but at this point I can only think of eight. Although I don't believe that clarifying these problems will prevent dishonest interlocutors from misrepresenting my work, as some persist on doing (to the point that the misrepresentations have become silly), they will hopefully clear up confusions for honest and interested readers.