Ian Birchall’s reply to my article on Goldmann is to be welcomed as a contribution to the debate between ‘neo-Hegelian’ and ‘scientific’ maxism. Obviously this debate cannot be solved in a few short polemics, but I should like to take this opportunity to answer Birchall by clarifying some of the fundamental points made.
1. I do not claim to have made a comprehensive analysis of Goldmann, as Birchall implies, but merely attempted to analyse the basic concepts which Goldmann uses, and the way these interrelate to form a coherent theoretical framework, referring primarily to his sociology of literature, and briefly to his other work. However it would have required a much longer article to do justice to all his writings on philosophy and epistemology.
2. The sense in which marxist theory is ‘outside’ the society it seeks to transform is epistemological, not, as Birchall imputes, geographical. The passages adduced by David Fernbach make this abundantly clear in Marx’s case, and Lenin restates this position in What is to be Done? The social locus of revolutionary theory is a factual question: Lenin acknowledged the obvious fact that the intelligentsia were in bourgeois society the carriers of ideology and that the working class would have to acquire Marxist theory from the pioneer marxist intellectuals, but Lenin, and revolutionary marxism following him, aims precisely to reverse this initial ‘anomaly’ by the formation of cadres both practically and theoretically competent from the working class itself. Gramsci’s conception of ‘intellectual’ covers the same phenomenon.
Thus marxist theory is not ‘outside the working class, manipulating it’. Theory is distinct from the social structure, and its truth does not depend on it. It is not society that marxist theory divides into two parts; the division it makes is that made by every science between theory and its object, between reality and the scientific description of reality. To refuse this distinction is to fall back into Hegelian idealism.
3. Birchall’s attempt to confound fact and value has equally little to do with marxism. What led the young Lukács to reject an autonomous societal rationality, for fear of a choice between immutable laws and a purely ethical humanism, was a mistaken, empiricist conception of science. But historical materialism, like every other science, has a specific object with a specific determinacy, in its case the socio-economic formation. What is Capital explicitly about, if not the ‘autonomous rationality’ of the capitalist system of relations of production, which, as Marx points out time and again, depends in no way on the subjective motivation of the capitalist? It is because the socioeconomic formation has its ‘autonomous rationality’ that marxist analysis— the scientific comprehension of this rationality—is possible, and that the working-class movement can act consciously to transform society in the direction it proposes.