Topic 2 - Marxism: Science or Pseudoscience?
In this paper I will attempt to investigate whether Marxist theory falls under the category of science or pseudoscience. Two different philosophers’ theories on Marxism are taken into account here to help me arrive at an answer. First of all, Popper’s requirement of falsifiability is explored as it relates to Marxism. We will then look at Kuhn’s more comprehensive theory involving paradigm shifts. Marxism makes many predictions and claims that can be subjected to Popper and Kuhn’s tests. Despite many bourgeois economists’ and sociologists’ claims to the contrary, Marxism passes both of the tests it is subjected to: It is falsifiable, and is capable of adapting to new situations and data, putting it firmly in the camp of science.
Popper proposed a new way to determine whether a system falls under science or pseudoscience: It is not merely enough for a theory to be verifiable, the claims the theory makes must be precise enough to be falsifiable. It has been claimed that Marxism’s claims are verifiable but too vague to be falsifiable. If one reads the Communist Manifesto, one can easily agree with this conclusion. What is not normally explored is the fact that the Communist Manifesto is written for the layperson – it is not part of Marx’s true academic works. One only need to look into Marx’s Das Kapital to find precise, falsifiable claims. One striking example is the paradox of efficiency in The Law of Capitalist Accumulation: as an economy becomes more efficient, it requires fewer workers to produce goods and services, driving up profit. In turn, the workers laid off as a result of the efficiency create an “industrial reserve army” – a large workforce willing to sell their labour for less than its real value. This in turn drives down the wages of those still employed. The paradox is that this leads to a crisis of overproduction, where much of the produced goods are not consumed, leading to an inability for the employers to maintain business operations (Marx, 1867). In an uncontrolled laissez-faire capitalist economy, Marx predicts the implosion of the system as a result. Looking at the great depression of the 1930’s which followed a period of relatively uncontrolled, highly prosperous markets of the 1920’s, we see the prediction confirmed. If the crash had not occurred, we would label this theory falsified, and therefore we can confirm that one of the main tenets of Marxist theory, The Law of Capitalist Accumulation, is falsifiable.
Kuhn, believing falsifiability to be an inadequate demarcation theory, added a further test: that science maintains a set of criteria and principles which form a paradigm during normal times, and when there is enough evidence to contradict the old paradigm a revolution occurs. A main tenet of Marx’s methodology, which forms the backbone of Marxist theories altogether, is today known as Dialectical Materialism. Marx employed the Hegelian dialectical method, but differed in that he was a materialist rather than an idealist. Summed up, dialectics is the belief that “Everything in the world is in motion. . . . Life changes, productive forces grow, old relations collapse.” (Marx, 1847). Whenever there are competing ideas, forces, or groups, the stronger one grows on a quantitative basis, until a critical point is reached where a qualitative change occurs. If we analyse Marx’s dialectical method, we find that it espouses exactly the same principle as Kuhn. Marxist theory has also been retroactively applied to the failed German revolution of 1848 and the failed Russian revolution of 1905 to analyse the reasons of the failures, much in the same way Kuhn proclaims a scientific framework must analyse and address the reasons for failed predictions. Can a system of critique of a mode of economic production be valid for more than a fleeting moment if it is not open to change and update? Herein we find Marxism’s main advantage over dated, pseudoscientific political ideologies: Marxism, rather than being a fixed dogma, is rather more like a tool of analysis. It is adaptable and receptive to the change that the material realities of the time impose upon it. Marxism isn’t a specific set of eternal predictions, but rather a framework to make those predictions with; simply put, the only fixed facet of Marxism is that it is “is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.” (Engels, 1847) Based on this, Kuhn’s criteria for demarcation put the main backbone of Marxist theory comfortably in the side of science.
We have covered two major pillars of Marxist theory, albeit in very crude detail, and compared them to well-established scientific demarcation criteria. We find that Marxism, due to its ability to make precise, falsifiable claims, satisfies the Popper's requirement of falsifiability for classification as science. By providing an avenue for progressive change, analytical tools for the overturn of previously-held-to-be-true beliefs, and presenting ample opportunity for paradigm shifts, Marxism also complies with Kuhn’s rigorous demands for scientific legitimacy. My personal opinion holds that the defamation of Marxism as a pseudoscience results either from ignorance as to its true nature (e.g., taking the layman’s guide, The Communist Manifesto to be a thorough representation), or as a result of the political-economic establishment’s resistance to a system that may be capable of overturning the current status quo in favour of a more egalitarian system.
1. Karl Marx, Das Kapital: Critique of Political Economy. 1867.
2. Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy. 1847.
3. Friedrich Engels, Principles of Communism. 1847.
4. Thomas Kuhn, Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research? 1970.
5. Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations. 1963.
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.64