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I'm trying to track down a remark I remember reading in college, I think made by some early to mid 20th century French Marxist, to the effect of "Marxism could be said to be true, even if its specific predictions were falsified."

The context, if I recall correctly, was the writer's view that Marxism was better understood as an interpretive method than as a specific historical narrative.

I would be grateful for any help in identifying the author and work I'm referring to.

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    After a 15-minute internet search, it seems that a lot of people noticed the same problem with Marx’s falsified predictions. Do you know anything more about this quote? Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 23:39
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    This question is related, but it doesn't seem to answer your more specific question.
    – user64708
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 18:02
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    @MarkAndrews I wish I did, but no Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 4:35
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    I'm curious as to what specific predictions that would be. Afaik he predicted capitalism would destroy itself, but he also predicted seven loopholes that they could use to prevent imminent collapse. If you mean communism, he never really predicted what that would look like.
    – Jumboman
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 20:00
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    I don't have a refence handy, but I believe that Popper discussed the non-falsifiability of Marxism as a historical/political theory.
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 22 at 15:35

2 Answers 2

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Maybe Louis Althusser? His work is early-mid 20th century, and also French. It seems he did not agree with Marx' historiographical views (bold mine):

Althusser [..] argues against the idea that history has a subject (such as the economy or human agency) and that history has a goal (such as communism or human freedom). History, for Althusser, is a process without a subject. There are patterns and orders to historical life and there is historical change. However, there is no necessity to any of these transformations and history does not necessarily progress. Transformations do occur. However, they do so only when the contradictions and levels of development inherent in a mode of production allow for such change.

The reference probably would be Althuser (1967b) “La tâche historique de la philosophie marxiste” tr. by G.M. Goshgarian as “The Historical Task of Marxist Philosophy” in The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings (London: Verso 2003) (found in the same entry).

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Though I can't offer a reference, I can offer some idea on what could have been true in Marxism and where it made a wrong turn -- and, perhaps, it will help you to find what you are looking for.

Karl Marx believed in a bright future of humanity, which he called communism. To a significant degree, it would be a return to the tribal living of our distant past -- doing away with traditional family structure and trading it for free-love/polyamorous1 families raising children together. There would be no need for power/social hierarchies -- everyone is caring and enlightened, understanding rationally, as well as emotionally, that their own happiness depends on that of everyone else.2 It's one for all and all for one -- extending that proposition beyond friends and family, even beyond your community, and to the humanity as a whole.

Many believed that such a society was not only possible but, in fact, is representative of our distant past:

The most ancient human beings lived with no evil desires, without guilt or crime, and, therefore, without penalties or compulsions. Nor was there any need of rewards, since by the prompting of their own nature they followed righteous ways.
– Tacitus, a Roman poet, 1st century AD

The age-old myths of the Golden Age, of the humanity living in this Paradise -- before the Fall of Man -- reflected this idea.

Related is the proposal, articulated by many philosophers, that evil is always a result of ignorance (of our own nature, first and foremost):

Once a man knows good from evil, nothing on earth can compel him to act against that knowledge.
– Socrates

He who has only adequate ideas has no concept of evil.
– Baruch Spinoza

Even though these ideas have deep roots, they describe a human nature and a way of a life that is very different from the life that we know. Anyone born into our "civilization" (which is everyone at this point) would be skeptical. Marx, as many others before him, would find little understanding -- even among the educated elites, even among the bourgeoisie, the "new money", those who only recently had to fight their way to the top and should have known better. And, as so many before him, he mistook this lack of understanding for malice. They don't understand because they don't want to -- because of their greed, because their livelihood depends on not understanding.

And this is where Karl Marx went astray. He was facing a psychological problem, but he saw it as a socio-politico-economic one. This interpretation and all predictions based on it turned out to be wrong. And, unfortunately, this is also what Marx is mostly remembered for -- not for what he might have well gotten right, his original vision of our better future.

1 There is even an allusion to that in the Communist Manifesto.

2 "I can't be happy when others are sad" -- this is the literal meaning of the Zulu word ubuntu (yes, like the open-source OS). There are words in other indigenous languages referring to the same concept, like Javanese guyub.

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  • OP did not ask for your personal analysis/opinion.
    – Jumboman
    Commented Feb 23 at 8:27

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