Friday, 23 January 2015

Quotes from Wayne Price- Anarchism & Pragmatism.

Very clear, concise,informative, well argued, considered and thoughtful essay!  10/10!

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” (Marx, 1938)

"“Pragmatism,” in popular speech, is regarded as meaning a shallow opportunism. This is not its philosophical meaning. Philosophically, it means, literally, “practicalism” or “praxis.” William James (who initiated the pragmatic movement) called much of his philosophy “radical empiricism.” John Dewey (who continued to develop pragmatism) preferred the label “instrumentalism” or “experimentalism.” "

We have no “God’s eye view” of the world. For us there is no “absolute truth.” (Accepting that we may be wrong about anything is “fallibilism.” But pragmatism rejects the idea that we cannot know anything at all, which it calls “skepticism.”) All we can know about anything is to create the best, most “truthful” belief—to produce enough evidence to make a “warranted assertion.”

Central to pragmatism is the idea of “lived experience,” or active experience. Experience does not exist in our heads or in our bodies but in the active interaction (or transaction) between our selves and the world. We act on the world and it acts on us. Our actions change the world, as it changes us. We experience our actions and their consequences. “Actions” include touching and moving things as well as looking and thinking about things. Our experience is not a passively mirrored reflection of external reality (according to a crude “correspondence” theory of truth). Rather it is an active creation of sensations, pictures, models, and operations which we use to cope with reality. Faced with some problem, we have to work out a way to solve the problem, by enquiry. We may rely on those things which are not problematic at this time, develop hypotheses as to how to deal with those that are, and then act on the problem to see if our hypothetical solution will resolve the uncertainty. This is a “scientific” approach to enquiry, although not literally using the exact same techniques of physics or chemistry in solving social difficulties.
The basis of pragmatism has sometimes been formulated as “The truth (or the good) is what works.” To pragmatists, this does not mean that “the truth” is what makes us feel good in the short term, or that “the good” is what is immediately expedient. By “works,” it means works overall, over time, and for a community of enquirers. Nor does the formula mean that there is no objective reality. Exactly the contrary. A hypothesis can only be said to work if it somehow matches with independent reality. A key can only work to open a lock if it fits the lock, which does not mean that it looks like (or “represents”) the lock.
They are instruments of satisfying my needs, reaching my goals, and realizing my values, and therefore resolving my problems. They were each made through someone’s actions (including measuring and digging, or painting). They may be checked for accuracy by my further actions (such as driving on the roads or digging for minerals).
Our experiences are never just between us and the physical environment. They are social. We could not think without the language and concepts that came from our cultural environment. Our experiencing is communal, as is that of science. Like scientists, we do best when we can exchange ideas and experiences, share thoughts, and argue out competitive solutions. Enquiry is social and works best when cooperative.
Pragmatism is a commitment to this idea of cooperative enquiry and experiencing in all areas. This is the ground for its belief in participatory democracy. It rejects rule by “enlightened” experts. The more that the people themselves are directly involved in working together to develop their culture and satisfy their needs, in pooling their experiences, the better they will do. This means a pluralistic openness to the experiences of the marginalized, the outcaste, and the oppressed: the working class, African-Americans (West 1989), women (McKenna 2001), and others.
Pragmatism distinguishes between “democracy” as an ideal to be striven for and “democracy” as a label—and not a very accurate one—for the existing state. Similarly there is a distinction between “democracy” as the machinery of a state and “democracy” as a way of life, something which pervades every aspect of a society: its politics, its culture, its religion, its economy, and its relationships
Pragmatism does not accept the distinction between “facts” and “values.” Even the most objective science involves the value of truth. In our experiences, we will have problems with values, conflicts between different moral standards, questions about the right way to behave. Factually, human beings have moral and other values (leaving aside a few psychopaths). All our values are never in question at once. Basing ourselves on those values we are not questioning at this time, and on whatever facts are relevant to the situation, people can do the same as with other problematic situations: work out hypotheses, and then act on them to see if they can resolve moral problems.
From this perspective, means and ends interpenetrate. Ends “justify” means, but only if the means really lead to the desired end (the “end-in-view”) and do not have negative side products (other, unwanted, consequences). Dewey also applied his method to aesthetics. His key concept here was that art aims at “consummatory” experiences, which are fulfilling in themselves, even as they lead on to the next experience.
The whole point of philosophy, to Dewey and James, was to deal with the problems of people, not only professional academics. Pragmatism aims to provide methods for coping with difficulties in culture, science, politics, economics, and social thinking and behavior.
Jurgen Habermas…remarked that American pragmatism should be seen as the ‘radical-democratic branch of Young Hegelianism’…” (Westbrook 2005; p. 124
Dewey completely rejected Hegel’s determinism and teleology. (Teleology is the belief that processes have inevitable ends built into them—such as the Marxist belief that “socialism is inevitable”). He saw the world as still open, still being made. Perhaps he went too far in rejecting historical determination, as I will argue in Part II.
"Dewey had a radical conception of democracy. As mentioned, he was a liberal. He supported the US imperial state in World War I and II, the Korean War, and the Cold War, and he opposed any idea of revolution. But unlike most liberals, he did not support Roosevelt’s New Deal. He tried to build a third party to the left of the Democrats. He came to reject capitalism and advocate the socialization of the economy. He defended the rights of women and of African-Americans. He supported union organizing and the struggle for teacher unionism. He was active in the anti-war movement before Pearl Harbor. He played a key role in giving the exiled Leon Trotsky a hearing in Mexico after his frame-up by Stalin (the “Dewey Commission”). Of course, he was the leader of the movement for progressive education. None of this makes him an anarchist, but neither was he a moderate sort of wishy-washy liberal."
“The identification of the idea of democracy and the idea of community may be Dewey’s most characteristic doctrine” (Manicas 1982; p. 143).
Dewey’s vision of democracy was participatory and decentralized. He advocated a federalism which would be rooted in local communities with directly democratic decision making. “In its deepest and richest sense a community must always remain a matter of face-to-face intercourse…. Democracy must begin at home, and its home is the neighborly community” (Dewey, quoted in McKenna 2001; p. 121).
"Dewey rejected state socialism in favor of worker management of cooperative industries. “He was drawn to various forms of decentralized socialism” (Westbook 2005; p. 96). This included an attraction to the British guild socialists (a reformist version of anarcho-syndicalism). He wrote that he wanted a “cooperative society where workers are in control of industry and finance as directly as possible through the economic organization of society itself rather than through any superimposed state socialism” (quoted in Westbrook 2005; p. 92). “Dewey was thinking of workers’ management and education for workers’ management” (Goodman 1970; p. 84). Workplace democracy he saw as important not only for political reasons but for the sake of the worker’s creative and personal growth. (For more information on Dewey’s views on industrial democracy, see Ryan 1997 and Westbrook 1991, also Stikkers 2009.) "
"Whatever Dewey thought, there is not a big step to anarchism from a program of decentralized and participatory democracy, including workers’ management of socialized industry. It is virtually the anarchist goal. When everyone is involved in governing then there is no government. Anarchism is democracy as a way of life, without the state. A federation of workplace councils, community assemblies, and a popular militia (so long as it is needed) would be capable of coordinating society, developing from-below economic plans, and protecting its people. It would be the self-organized people and not a state. That is, it would not have a socially-alienated bureaucratic-military state machine standing separate and above the rest of society"
"While Dewey never called himself an anarchist, his pragmatist predecessor did. In his last decade, William James came to identify himself as an anarchist (Coon 1996). In his 1907 Pragmatism, publically published, he declared that there were two types of people with attitudes toward “government, authoritarians and anarchists” (James 1981; p. 9). He went on to criticize the “airy and shallow optimism of current religious philosophy” (p. 16) by referring to the work of a well-known radical who had championed the homeless and unemployed: “that valiant anarchistic writer Morrison I. Swift. Mr. Swift’s anarchism goes a little farther than mine does, but I confess that I sympathize a good deal…” (p. 16). "
"In the 1970s and ‘80s, a professional philosopher, Peter T. Manicas, made contributions to the study of the relation between pragmatism and anarchism (Manicas 1974; 1982). He proposed to “take a fresh look at [Dewey’s] writings from the vantage point of anarchism” (1982; p. 134). He concluded, “Dewey’s idea of democracy…is anarchist… contain[ing] a view of an ideal, noncoercive, nonauthoritarian society; [and] a criticism of existing society and its institutions, based on this antiauthoritarian ideal…” (p. 136). Influenced by Murray Bookchin, Manicas declared that “the democratic community presupposes radical decentralization—the dissolving of the dinosaur industrialized nation-state and the disintegration of the monster institutional complexes of present-day societies” (1974; p. 251). Pointing to ecological and other problems of oversized and overcentralized industrial societies, he advocated federations of integrated, collective, directly-democratic, communities. "
"A few other authors have written one or two papers on the anarchist/pragmatist relationship, such as Bartenberger (2014), DeHaan (1965), and Pereira (2009). Dabrowsky & Schmidt have written, “…Anarchism and pragmatism have an essentially symbiotic relationship; pragmatist principles bolster the anarchist case and vice versa” (2014; p. 1). (There are also a few people calling themselves “anarcho-pragmatists,” who are pro-capitalist, false “libertarians.” Since real anarchists oppose capitalism as well as the state, I will ignore such people.) "
"The intersection of anarchism and Deweyan educational theory and practice is a fascinating topic. (Paul Goodman would be an important figure in any such discussion.) But I am not going into it here."
"John Dewey explained his nonrevolutionary views in a few places. In his 1935 Liberalism and Social Action, he asserted, “Liberalism must now become radical, meaning by ‘radical’ perception of the necessity of thorough-going changes in the set-up of institutions and corresponding activities to bring the changes to pass.” (McDermott 1981; p. 647). Such changes, he stated, included “a socialized economy” (p. 662). But the “corresponding activities to bring the changes to pass” did not include working class revolution. "
"Dewey favored class struggles in the limited sense of workers’ forming unions and striking, but rejected such struggles culminating in workers’ revolution. In that sense he denounced “class struggle whose spirit and method are opposed to science” (p. 654). “The question is whether force or intelligence is to be the method upon which we consistently rely…” (pp. 656–7). Manicas responds, “Dewey’s absolutist either/or, either force or intelligence, is unwarranted. No serious revolutionary, not Marx, not Lenin, not even Bakunin, so tied his hands in the way that Dewey suggests…” (2008; p. 16). "
"Dewey recognized that “our [political] institutions, democratic in form, tend to favor in substance a privileged plutocracy” (McDermott 2008; p. 661). "
"Dewey admitted to “one exception….When society through an authorized majority has entered upon the path of…great social change, and a minority refuses by force to permit the method of intelligent action to go into effect. Then force may be intelligently employed to subdue and disarm the recalcitrant minority” (p. 662). Even in this case, Dewey does not advocate preparing the workers and oppressed to be ready to resist and defeat “the recalcitrant minority.” He does not advocate warning the people ahead of time that this might happen. The whole of his influence would be to direct the “authorized majority” into legal and electoral channels. This would disarm the working people in the face of what is not at all an “exception” but is the most likely probability. "
"Such an overturn might even be fairly nonviolent: IF the big majority of the population is united behind it and determined to carry it through--IF the ranks of the military (the daughters and sons of the working class) come over to the side of the majority--and IF the ruling class is demoralized (especially if revolutions have been successful in most other countries). All this is possible, but….iffy. For example, the October Russian revolution which brought the Soviets to power had minimal bloodshed. It was only later, when foreign imperialists pumped up counterrevolutionary forces into fighting a civil war, that the revolution became bloody (and the worst traits of the Bolsheviks were encouraged). It is likely that the US ruling class will try to resist loosing its power and wealth, as violently as “necessary.” The best way to limit their violence is to be prepared: to organize the workers and oppressed as solidly and strongly as possible.
Dewey and his followers often refer to the US political traditions of democracy, liberty, and equality. Dewey openly admired Thomas Jefferson. Yet he never discussed the US revolution, of which Jefferson was a leader. Apparently at least one revolution—“violent” and “bloody” as it was—was a good revolution, consistent with the dictates of “intelligence.”
In brief, Dewey’s naive faith in the probability of legally and peacefully taking away the capitalist class’ wealth and power, does not seem to be based on creative intelligence but on a fixed prejudice. "
"Hook’s main goal was to expound a “revolutionary interpretation” of Marx. In the course of his book, he answered most of the arguments which had been and would be raised against revolution. Hook focuses on Marx’s theory of the state. “…It is Marx’s theory of the state which distinguishes the true Marxist from the false….Since the acceptance of the class theory of the state is the sine qua non of Marxism, to be a Marxist means to be a revolutionist” (pp. 270, 273). He interprets Marx as saying that the state is an organ of a ruling class; therefore the existing state cannot be used to remove its own ruling class and to liberate its working class and oppressed. "
" Hook believed that Marx’s speculations of a peaceful revolution were unrealistic even at the time he made them, let alone a century later. "
"I agree that Hook was wrong to make political repression of the bourgeoise, after a revolution, into an apparent principle. It should be a matter of expediency, with as much freedom as possible for everyone and political repression only if necessary (if they organize sabotage and armed counterrevolution). Making repression a principle reflected Hook’s Leninism. "
"Christopher Phelps has sought to revive interest in Sidney Hook’s revolutionary period (Phelps 1997). He argues that Deweyan pragmatism is still consistent with a socialism which is revolutionary, democratic, and Marxist-- a socialism-from-below. He rejects arguments that it was Hook’s pragmatism which led him to move to the right. However, Phelps’ Leninism (and Trotskyism) mar his efforts to make a radically-democratic case for a pragmatic Marxism. Granted that Lenin was not Stalin, he and Trotsky did establish a one-party police state which laid the basis for Stalinism. Phelps does not consider the alternate approach for a radically-democratic socialism-from-below--namely revolutionary anarchism"
"Influenced by Hegel, pragmatism has a holistic and dynamic viewpoint. It includes some of the most positive aspects of Marx’s method, while rejecting its rigid determinism and teleology. It shares with anarchism a belief in radical, decentralized, democracy, including in the industries of a socialized economy. Like anarchism, it seeks to replace authoritarian rule by cooperative self-determination through discussion, intelligence, and collective problem-solving. Pragmatists have usually rejected the need for a social revolution, but there have been some who have seen its necessity.
It is possible to be a pragmatist in philosophy and a revolutionary anarchist, or so I believe. I think this combination provides the best tools for consistent revolutionary praxis. It is at least worth exploring. "

1 comment:

  1. Scott, this was an EPIC blog post, my friend. And I say that pragmatically :)