We believe that Whitehead is important for Organic Marxism in two ways. On the one hand, he helped to convince Western thinkers in the twentieth century that process is central to both science and human experience, in the way that the I Jing convinced Chinese philosophers of the same conclusion. Especially since the Second World War, many people in the West believe that every nation is either capitalist which they believe is good or Communist which they believe is bad.
Either a country allows market forces to operate, which makes it libertarian and capitalist; or it bans markets in favor of state ownership, which makes it Marxist and Communist. Worse, during the Cold War people in the West argued that freedom, democracy, justice, and human rights are only present in capitalist countries.
Process philosophy - Wikipedia
When one encounters a false dichotomy, the wisest thing to do is to challenge the claim that the two sides are incompatible. This is the core of dialectical thinking, which was central to Hegel and Marx. It seems clear that there are times where market forces bring benefits within a nation and between nations; and there are other cases in which unrestrained markets produce injustices that neither local communities nor the global community should accept. A major contribution of Organic Marxism lies in its ability to blend elements from both of these two socioeconomic systems.
We challenge the claim that democracy and socialism are inherently opposed to one another. Marx was right to view socialism as the most consistent form of democracy. It begins to look as though the one thing democracy has that is worth saving is the freedom of the individual. The freedom of the individual is one. But your knowledge of history will remind you that there has always been misery at the bottom of society…Our own age is the first time when…there need be no material want.
Instead of thinking in dialectical or Daoist fashion, nations have remained locked into one option or the other. Sadly, North Americans have been particularly resistant to blending in the resources of socially oriented thinking.
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Whitehead saw this clearly:. Certainly the last decades have shown an increasing turn toward individualism among Americans—at exactly the time that global climate disruption calls for community-based thinking and integrated international action to reduce pollution levels to which the United States is a major contributor , thereby taking steps toward becoming a more ecological civilization. Both Marx and Whitehead challenge individualism and encourage a more social thinking.
One can identify four central features of process thinking. Each one has deep resonance with traditional Chinese philosophy. When combined, they provide the conceptual foundation for Organic Marxism. Every event is constituted by its relationships to other events. There is therefore no such thing as a discrete individual, existing by itself. The features of one event affect all other events.
Alfred North Whitehead expressed this insight by translating the Western language of things or entities into the language of events. Thus the determinateness and self-identity of one entity cannot be abstracted from the community of the diverse functionings of all entities. Things can only be externally related to each other. For example, two billiard balls can collide, but the effects will only be superficial; the billiard balls themselves remain the same. By contrast, Whitehead affirmed that humans and other living events are actually internally related to each other. Since we all exist in relationship whether we admit it or not , he spoke of the principle of universal relativity :.
In fact if we allow for degrees of relevance, and for negligible relevance, we must say that every actual entity is present in every other actual entity. Process philosophy is thus at its heart an ecological philosophy—which explains why process philosophy plays such a foundational role for Organic Marxism. As the process eco-philosopher Jay McDaniel recognizes:. This means that the very identity of a living being, including each plant and animal, is partly determined by the material and cultural environment in which it is situated…This means that all entities are thoroughly ecological in nature and that human beings are themselves ecological in being persons-in-community, not persons-in-isolation.
Process philosophy takes this basic ecological insight and develops it into a comprehensive philosophical view of the world. On this view, every event is constituted by the events of its past. Each event takes in and synthesizes these past events to a greater or lesser degree. To deny our relatedness to other events, or merely to repeat them, results in less beauty and harmony. The great process philosophers John Cobb and David Griffin expand this insight into a comprehensive principle for all living things:. There is no moment that is not constituted by its synthesis of elements from the past.
If to be free from the past were to exclude the past, the present would be entirely vacuous. The power of the new is that it makes possible a greater inclusion of elements from the past that otherwise would prove incompatible and exclude each other from their potential contribution. Where the existentialist seems to see an antithesis between having the moment controlled by the past and allowing the future to be determinative, Whitehead says that the more effective the future is, the more fully the potential contribution of the past is realized.
Political theory over the centuries has fought an endless battle between approaches centered on the individual liberalism, libertarianism and those centered on the community or society socialism, communism, communitarianism. In Organic Marxism, which weds Marxist thought and process thought, this battle is circumvented.
Following Whitehead, we prefer the middle way, whereby the two perspectives are synthesized. We are different from it, and yet we retain our individual identity with it. This is the mystery of personal identity, the mystery of the immanence of the past in the present, the mystery of transcendence.
Tag: Marx and Whitehead: Process Dialectics and the Critique of Capitalism
Each event is constituted by the past and deeply informed by the past, but none is completely determined by its past. Indeed, as events and systems of events become more complex, this indeterminacy becomes more pronounced:. This reaction is the final modification of emotion, appreciation, and purpose. But the decision of the whole arises out of the determination of the parts, so as to be strictly relevant to it.
In contrast to determinism, indeterminacy is a source of novelty.
After all, only in open systems can new and creative developments occur. Novelty is therefore a key ingredient in process aesthetics, because it is only through creative experimentation that humans find new solutions to global challenges. Whitehead thus provides grounds for hope in history. It must take account of all that has been, but the past never settles just how the future will take account of it. Although Marx upholds materialism here and elsewhere, it fell upon Engels's shoulders to fully explore its implications. Engels is a convenient target for those twentieth century Marxists who lace their thought with idealism.
As Sebastiano Timpanaro writes, "This ostensible self-purification of Marxism is typically concretized by a devaluation of Engels, who for many hold prime responsibility for the decline of Marxism from its true philosophical heights to the depths of a 'popular philosophy. David Harvey cites Engels as an advocate of a "strong version" of dialectics, which has "come in for considerable criticism in part because of its association with ideas of teleology and doctrines of emergence and immanence which appear almost deterministic.
His dialectics does not differ qualitatively from those of non-Marxist thinkers as he freely admits. He groups Marx with Hegel, Heidegger, Foucault, Ricoeur and Derrida--all practitioners of "dialectical modes of thought. Furthermore, the Marxist dialectic is permeated with an understanding that there are sharp contradictory tendencies within nature and society that generate crisis and can only be resolved through struggle. Harvey's dialectics, when finally applied to ecology, lacks these dimensions entirely. Instead nature appears as a network of processes, relationships and flows that are always changing like a grand kaleidoscope.
Not only does he draw from Leibniz, he also enlists Alfred North Whitehead, whom he quotes as follows: "Nature is always about the perpetual exploration of novelty. They build systems around a world that is a grand repository of objects organically and logically connected with one another, where everything has a final purpose. This leads to a view of ecology that virtually excludes anything that is crisis-ridden. Not even New York City can be regarded as unnatural since it represents a system of productively interrelated natural and social processes.
New York City, which Harvey characterizes as an "ecosystem," looks more like a happy, industrious beaver dam than an insane urban sprawl generating cancer alleys, transportation breakdown, tuberculosis epidemics and other ecological nightmares. In the final analysis Harvey's inexplicable denial of looming planetary ecological catastrophe rests firmly on Leibnizian metaphysics, a point that has not generally been made in scholarly venues. If Harvey is correct that nature consists of nothing except transformations and relationships, then presumably nothing can be done to destroy it, as indicated in his criticism of the thinking behind the title of John Bellamy Foster's "The Vulnerable Planet.
We might compare this to the appearance of a pond in the distance, where we can see the confused movement and swarming of the fish, without distinguishing the fish themselves. And these reasonings, which are a posteriori and derived from experience, agree perfectly with the principles which I have deduced a priori above. In distinction to Leibniz's idealist dialectic, Marxism does take into account the very chaos and confusions that are produced by the capitalist mode of production.
After all, what are these terms but synonyms for the contradiction and crisis are at the heart of the Marxist dialectic? Lenin sought to reintroduce these categories into a Marxism that had cast them aside during a decades-long, peaceful expansion.
In many ways the ecological crisis that we face today threatens us as much as imperialist war. It is trench warfare rather than Leibniz's fishpond that should serve as a paradigm. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the aftermath of the horrible destruction brought on by Hurricane Mitch in Central America. Tens of thousands of peasants lost their lives needlessly as flooding was intensified by nearly a half-century of deforestation tied to the expansion of cattle ranching and other forms of export agriculture.
When a wealthy rancher needed new land for his herds, they often hired gangs to go out and burn and slash wooded areas. A more common practice, however, was to con the poor campesino into acting as an accessory. This took place all across Central America. The campesino was allowed to farm the land just long enough to allow the tree-stumps to rot, at which time they were evicted to make room for cattle.
A dispossessed campesino either migrated to the city or deeper into the forest, especially mountainous areas where the competition for land was less severe. When mountainsides are stripped of the tree cover, there are fewer obstacles to the sort of devastating flooding that accompanied Hurricane Mitch. Furthermore, there is mounting evidence that global warming has intensified hurricanes both in frequency and in power.
The use of internal combustion engines in advanced industrialized countries contributes disproportionately to the greenhouse effect, which leaves poor, underdeveloped countries like Honduras or Bangladesh vulnerable to the ravages of hurricanes or monsoons. Engels was on the right track in trying to tie together natural and social processes.
While it was necessary to reject Stalinism's dogmatic attempts to wed natural science to "dialectical materialism," there was a kernel of truth in Engels's investigations. By showing the materialist basis for history, society and the natural world holistically, and how they interact dialectically, he provided a foundation for a Marxist approach to ecology. It can help us understand how disasters like Hurricane Mitch are not "natural" at all, but rooted in the capitalist mode of production.
Voltaire, a leading figure of the eighteenth century French enlightenment, was traumatized by the Lisbon Earthquake of , the Hurricane Mitch of his era. This led him to disavow belief in a supreme being and to stake out his opposition to Leibniz's belief that we live in "the best of all possible worlds. Pangloss in Voltaire's "Candide," whose profession that everything in the world serves some higher purpose is belied by the catastrophes that meet Candide at every step.
In grappling with Leibniz's boundless optimism, Voltaire turned to the Deist Pierre Bayle, whose materialist skepticism served as an antidote to the previous century's belief in a well-regulated universe. In the poem The Lisbon Earthquake: an inquiry into the maxim, 'whatever is, is right,' Voltaire writes:. Plato and Epicurus I disclaim. The philosopher has a role as an engineer of ideas and the abstractive fallacies whereof Whitehead speaks are contingent results of the adventures of ideas, not written deep into the structure of the intellect as in Bergson nor as we shall see below woven into the very dynamism of contemporary society.
This is in many respects a compelling and relevant vision of the function of philosophical or theoretical activity. But, even if we accept this vision of the philosopher as a critic, or better a reformer of abstractions, what obstacles or aporias might lie in its way? From such a standpoint, Whitehead may appear to overesti- mate the reformability, in the absence of systematic social transformation, of our dominant abstractions.
As the Italian Marxist phenomenologist Enzo Paci wrote, in a book where he also tried to bring Whitehead and Marx into dialogue: The fundamental character of capitalism. Categories become subjects, or rather, even persons, though we must here speak of person in the Latin sense, that is, of masks. The abstract, in capitalist society, functions concretely. Specifically, it has orbited around the interpretation of a famous passage on the dialectics of the abstract and the concrete Ilyenkov, whose core is the following: The seventeenth-century economists, for example, always took as their starting point the living organism, the population, the nation, the State, several States, etc.
When these separate factors were more or less clearly deduced and established, economic systems were evolved which from simple concepts, such as labour, division of labour, demand, exchange-value, advanced to categories like State, international exchange and world market. The latter is obviously the correct scientific method. The concrete concept is concrete because it is a synthesis of many definitions, thus representing the unity of diverse aspects. It appears therefore in reasoning as a summing-up, a result, and not as the starting point, although it is the real point of origin, and thus also the point of origin of perception and imagination.
Or rather, Marx reformulates the distinction such that the sensible and the empirical appear as a final achievement, rather than a presupposition-less starting-point Virno, And how might this externality of thought affect the vision of the philosopher as a critic and reformer of abstractions suggested by Whitehead?
This analysis is not only able to unlock the open secrets of capital accumulation, but to reveal their relation to the division between manual and intellectual labour. What Sohn-Rethel is effecting is a verita- ble expropriation of abstract thought. Not only are we enjoined to move beyond the ideological habits of empiricism and to consider the social and material reality of cognition — the solidarity between abstraction and capitalism — Sohn-Rethel is arguing against any scientific autonomy of theoretical practice that the fundamental structures of abstract thought as manifest in the structure of scientific laws, the postulations of mathematics or the very armature of the Kantian transcendental subject are all to be found in the commodity-form and its injection, into the social universe, of the principles of abstract exchange and calculability.
Though both perspectives, broadly speaking, address the processual preconditions for the emergence of the notions of abstraction and equivalence characteristic of modern science, theory and economics, the social meta- history of the transcendental put forward from this Marxist perspective poses a notewor- thy challenge to the largely internalist treatment of abstraction formulated by Whitehead in Science and the Modern World and other texts.
Sohn-Rethel, 21 The reason for this irreconcilable contradiction is that for Marx, to put it bluntly, abstraction precedes thought. More precisely, it is the social activity of abstraction that plays the pivotal role in the analysis of real abstraction. It lies in the prosaic activity of commodity exchange and its grounding in practically abstract labour, and not in both the logical and historical sense in the individual mind of the doer. It is abstrac- tion in its precise, literal sense. Moreover, this concept of real abstraction can be used to account for specific historical transformations within epistemology and its practical applications, for instance, the passage, testified to within the history of architectural engineering, from Egyptian rope-measurement to Greek geometry, on which Sohn-Rethel writes: In order, however, to detach it from such application a pure form of abstrac- tion had to emerge and be admitted into reflective thought.
We reason that this could result only through the generalisation intrinsic in the monetary commensuration of commodity values promoted by coinage. The Marxist tradition appears here as in a sense the less techno- logically determinist, inasmuch as it regards forms of technological framing and equivalence as themselves predicated on practically abstract labour and exchange. A reactivation of Whiteheadian intuitions in social theory should accordingly reflect on the social or economic deficit, as it were, in his otherwise captivating chronicle of abstractive thought.
In other words, the secret of real abstraction is precisely an open secret, to be gleaned from the operations of capitalism themselves, rather than from an ideological preoccupation with a true concreteness or hidden essence that the abstrac- tions of capital may be deemed to conceal. Conclusion: Cultivation or Critique? Any appraisal of contemporary capitalist society cannot do without an investigation into the effective, productive, material — in brief, real — char- acter of abstraction.
To call the critique of political economy intolerant is to evade, without refuting it, its claim that rigid, intolerant and lifeless abstrac- tions are woven into the fabric of our social relations, and not merely a matter of historically sedimented mentalities, or narrow ecological attitudes.
It is also to evade the Marxist contention that no amount of cultivation of new, more tolerant, more inclusive abstractions will ever be capable of replacing not just the critique, but the actual disactivation or subversion of the abstractions that actually frame and govern our social existence.
We cannot be faithful today to his call for a revision of our modes of abstraction without investigating the role of real abstractions, abstractions which, rather than mere sports of the history of ideas, are woven into the very actions of labour, exchange and valuation that produce and reproduce contemporary society.
In such an era, unless the sources of such real abstraction are examined and undermined, the kind of pedagogical reforms and emendations of abstraction suggested by Whitehead will remain powerless. Together, they might allow us to seize the true roots of abstraction in social practice, and, vice versa, to understand the myriad ways in which social life itself is practically abstract. References Althusser, Louis For Marx.
Labica and G. Bensussan, 3rd edn. Paris: PUF. Milan: FrancoAngeli. Paris: Aubier. Ideology, Method and Marx. London: Routledge. Rome: Bulzoni Editore. Ilyenkov, E. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Lenin, V. New York: International Publishers.