Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 26, 2012

Guy Robinson Jan. 1928-Oct. 2011

Filed under: philosophy,science — louisproyect @ 5:23 pm

I just learned from Les Schaffer, the technical coordinator of Marxmail, that Guy Robinson died a few months ago. He learned this from Rosa Lichtenstein who received word in turn from Guy Robinson Jr. Rosa has made a number of Guy’s articles available on her website.  Rosa is a well-known and stubborn critic of dialectics as should be obvious from the name of her website and obviously found an affinity with Guy’s mixture of Marx and Wittgenstein:

In my opinion, Guy is one of the few Marxist Philosophers whose work is genuinely worth reading. Indeed, I’d go much further: I cannot praise his book, Philosophy and Mystification (Fordham University Press, 2003), too highly; it seems to me that this is how Marxist Philosophy should be done.

I only encountered Guy’s work in 2005, but I soon saw that he had anticipated several of my own ideas — except he manages to express in two paragraphs what it takes me several pages to say! Unlike the vast majority of work that claims to be Marxist, Guy’s work is a model of clarity. It is no accident, therefore, to see Guy writing in the Wittgensteinian tradition.

I had my own affinities with Guy. Like him, I was a graduate of Bard College. I was also a philosophy major, with 57 credits toward a PhD. Unlike Rosa, I never quite got Guy’s enthusiasm for Wittgenstein. When I was at the New School from 1965 to 1967, mostly trying to avoid being drafted, I got much more out of my seminar on Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Mind” than the one on Wittgenstein’s various writings. The dialectic in Hegel’s philosophy never sounded “unscientific” to me and only prepared me in my postgraduate studies of Marxism in the SWP’s school of hard knocks.

Guy was one of the most genial people I ever got to meet in person as a result of my Internet scribblings. Back in 1998 I attended a talk by Guy at the Brecht Forum in NYC and spoke to him and his son afterwards. Both had been to Nicaragua and worked on a construction brigade. Since my natural inclination is to bond with anybody who was involved with the Sandinista revolution, I made a point of writing up Guy’s talk for Marxmail and PEN-L (this was before the days of blogging). I wrote in part:

Marxism and the Enlightenment

A couple of months ago I attended a talk at NYC’s Brecht Forum on “Philosophy and Marxism” which is relevant to this discussion. The speaker was Guy Robinson, who taught philosophy in British universities for 25 years. He retired in 1982 and moved to Nicaragua where he worked with construction brigades. He now lived in Dublin and his new book “Philosophy and Mystification” had just been published by Routledge.

Robinson’s main point was that modern philosophy evolved in order to meet the needs of the rising bourgeoisie. It aspires to be universal but conceals the very particular and historical needs of the class which was coming to power in the age of Descartes. One of the purposes of Marxism is to make this connection and expose the class bias of bourgeois philosophy.

One of the schools of thought that Marxism vies with in this project is post-structuralism or postmodernism. The pomos are also interested in showing that the claims of universality are specious. Robinson described the pomos in pithy terms, as “hunters of zeitgeists,” who try to capture historical trends as if they were animal specimens to pin on the wall like trophies. In the process of debunking “universality,” the pomos also trash history. This is where Marxists and pomos part company, as well as on the issue of class.

Apparently Guy really liked what I wrote since he not only made a point of looking me up on his occasional visits to New York but also called me out of the blue from Ireland every couple of months.

Guy was always very modest about his writings and even more so about whether he was a Marxist or not. All I can say is that he was a stimulating writer even if I had become skeptical over philosophy as a discipline. When I was first coming around the Trotskyist movement and heard Marx’s observation about “the point is to change it”, I resolved not only to drop out of graduate school but put all the philosophy stuff behind me. That being said, I always had time for Guy Robinson.

In addition to the articles on Rosa’s website, I recommend a visit to Guy’s Philosophical Nuggets, a blog he launched in 2007. You’ll get both aspects of his thought, the one shaped by Marx and the other by Wittgenstein. You’ll also find a fascinating log of his correspondence with Thomas Kuhn that is interesting both for its reflections on science as well as Guy’s considerable charm:

Dear Tom

How could I not respond immediately to such a gracious and enthusiastic reaction to my letter and paper!

Sorry you have had such a tough medical time and hope that’s pretty well behind you.

I’m not surprised that you don’t remember that lunch you gave me in Princeton, (graciously, again as we had only brushed glancingly by one another at that famous Bedford conference in 1960-whatever.) But I have it in my mind that at that lunch you told me that you had been to the same tiny school I went to, Solebury, but only for a year before transferring to Germantown Friends. (We used to play Germantown in Football and always got slaughtered – Well, we only had fifty boys in the whole school.) Am I dreaming all that?

Still keeping to the personal: Who am I? Not sure how to answer. Brief CV: after Solebury, I went to Bard at the time of Mary McCarthy (The Groves of Academe gives a distorted account of those times and my teacher.) It was a pretty interesting place, though. My introduction to philosophy was via Aristotle, and his conception of philosophy’s business, I am coming to see has kept me away from the disastrous ‘theorizing’ conception of philosophy that has held pretty much sway since Descartes. (I’m working on getting clear about that question of philosophy’s business in the process of trying to bring out in an introduction to what has always been there implicit in the scanty few pieces I have published and now want to collect. I certainly don’t think that my second paragraph gives a knock-down argument against Realism. -As you can imagine, I don’t believe in those – But it’s something to think about.

Guy’s articles on Rosa Lichstenstein’s website:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/making_materialism_historical.htm

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Robinson_Essay_Two_Introduction.htm

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Robinson_Essay_Three_The_Concept_Of_Nature.htm

They are all collected here (foot of the page):

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/other_material.htm

Rosa adds that she will be posting his unpublished book Philosophy and Demystification over the next few months.

5 Comments »

  1. How sad such a brilliant writer of marxist philosophy has passed. Hopefully the next generation of marxist will read and learn from him so his legacy will live on. Peace comrade!

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — April 29, 2012 @ 3:15 am

  2. Hello.
    I would like to ask if Robinson’s unpublished book “Philosophy and Demystification” has been posted somewhere, as was mentioned in the end of the article.

    Thank you in advance

    Comment by Kritik — November 30, 2015 @ 6:34 pm

  3. Thanks for the response, but I think there was a misunderstanding. You gave me a link for “Philosophy and Mystification”, and thank you for the offer. But the book I asked for is “Philosophy and Demystification”, the unpublished book of Robinson, for is mentioned in the end of the article that it would be posted somewhere. I quote: “Rosa adds that she will be posting his unpublished book Philosophy and Demystification over the next few months”.
    Of course, I wondered how could an unpublished book be posted, but I assumed that “over the next few months” could mean “after its publication”. So the question remains. Is the (still unpublished?) book posted/uploaded somewhere?

    Thanks again and sorry for any trouble!

    Comment by Kritik — December 1, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

  4. I used to go to the philosophy seminars at Southampton University when I was there (reading English), and I recall the wonderful atmosphere of those meeting with staff and students – and ‘outsiders’ like me – mixed and entangled so very ‘naturally’, if that is the word. Along with Tony Manser and Tony Palmer, sometimes Arthur McIver, Guy made contributions. I recall how often he used to bring his then very young son, Guy, into the discussions! Still an inspiration. I edited the literary magazine then, and did a review of F T Prince’s Doors of Stone, which Guy say as he thumbed through a copy and grinned, “Ah, a crit of the prof.”

    Comment by JOHN HAYNES — August 21, 2017 @ 7:57 pm


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