Date: Thu, 5 Mar 98
From: cyrilsmith- at -cix.compulink.co.uk (Mr C Smith)
To: andy- at -mira.net
I was absolutely delighted when Pluto forwarded your letter. I have often wondered what happened to you. I also recall with pleasure our discussions on science, maths, etc., and those seminars we got going at Kings College.
I haven't done much about mathematical philosophy since then, although I now am trying to get back to consideration of Marx and natural science. What happened to me was this: After I published that little booklet, Communist Society and Marxist Theory, in 1988, I thought I ought to do something about 'dialectical materialism and the crisis of Newtonian science'. In the course of doing a bit of reading around this, I made two discoveries: (1) Marx was not a dialectical materialist, nor anything like it; (2) Newton was no Newtonian! This second point took me into a study of the Hermetic tradition, alchemy, Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno, and other stuff, until I realised that I just wasn't equipped to do anything about it.
So I put all that aside, and embarked on the work which led to Marx at the Millennium. To finish that, I decided to take early retirement. (I wish I had done it earlier!) You have seen the result. It is by no means as good as I should wish, but I stand by the main ideas in it. I am convinced that we - and I mean all of us who tried to be Marxists of one description or another - got the old guy completely wrong. I am sure that he had no connection with anything like either 'dialectical' or 'historical materialism'. The Healy explosion had already set me off in the direction of Marx as a humanist of a special kind. That, I believe, is the only way to appreciate his conception of 'revolutionising practice'.
On Engels, I have gone through several stages. I soon decided that much of his work was not in line with my understanding of Marx, but, as you saw in the book, I wanted to avoid just blaming it all on Fred. However, I later decided to re-examine everything he had written on political economy, and the result is to be found in a paper in last summer's Capital and Class (number 62).
I have also spent some effort trying to get to grips with Hegel. I don't believe that anyone could have got the relationship between Marx and Hegel right without the help of the 1844 Manuscripts and Grundrisse, so that means that Lenin didn't stand a chance! Again, I want to keep a balanced view of Lenin: a very great leader, but no philosopher. (Trotsky thought similarly, by the way.) I general, my point of view is this: If anybody discusses anything, without reference to the question of how to live humanly, they must be wrong! (That is only slightly exaggerated.) That is the way that I want to examine the relation between Marx and natural science, but I am not certain how to do this yet.
Of course, all this led many old friends to mumble about my renegacy, going over to the bourgeoisie, etc. Sadly, Geoff was one of these. When he was ill last year, I sent him a 'get well' card, with the message: 'You had better get better, because I haven't finished arguing with you yet!' But he never responded, and I feel very upset about this way that old comrades stop talking to each other, whatever their disagreements. (Bill Hunter is another such, and I told him off about it at Geoff's funeral. It did no good at all.)
These days, I am involved in a journal called International Socialist Forum. I'll send you the two issues which have so far appeared, by snail-mail. Let me know what you think.
I have written quite a lot of other stuff, and I'm trying to persuade Pluto to publish some of it as a series of essays. I don't know if they will go along with this.
Let's keep in touch on these and other issues. I'd be very pleased to hear your ideas on Hegel, in particular.
With best wishes,