This volume contains the following articles:
- Introduction - Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn, Kosmas Psychopedis
- Dialectical Theory: Problems of Reconstruction - Kosmas Psychopedis
- Between Philosophy and Science: Marxian Social Economy as Critical Theory - Hans-Georg Backhaus
- Social Constitution and the Form of the Capitalist State - Werner Bonefeld
- The Global Accumulation of Capital and the Periodisation of the Capitalist State Form - Simon Clarke
- The Bourgeois.State Form Revisited - Heide Gerstenberger
Edited by Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis, 1992.
W. BONEFELD, R. GUNN, K. PSYCHOPEDIS
In 1978 Althusser announced that Marxism was in crisis.
Apparently, throughout the 1980s, this crisis merely intensified: the resurgence of liberalism and the ‘New Right’, the accommodation of socialist and social democratic parties to ‘realistic’ monetarism and — at the close of the decade — the crumbling of socialist regimes in the East. Marxism seemed to become at best unfashionable and, at worst, outdated. ‘Post-Marxism’, sometimes indistinguishable from anti-Marxism, undertakes to announce what it terms ‘new times’. In all of this, however, the target identified by Marxism’s critics has been Marxist theory and practice to which various kinds of ‘closure’ applies. Indeed, the Marxism proclaimed by Althusser to be in crisis was specifically structuralist Marxism, a sophisticated variety of determinism of which his own earlier works had been the prophetic texts. Ironically offshoots of structuralist Marxism flourished in the 1980s under the patronage of what became known as the Regulation Approach. It was as if Marxism felt it necessary to trump New Right sociologies by playing the card of a sociology of its own. Marxism succumbed to precisely the danger of scientism inherent in sociological projects, as in the equation of ‘new times’ with the scenarios dubbed post-fordist: just here, in the celebration of new technology (computers, the microchip revolution) and in the foretelling of a novel historical stage just-around-the-corner, the ancient themes of technological determinism and of a teleological conception of social change broke out. Sometimes, of course, the colonisation of Marxist theoretical and political territory by New-Right liberalism was more bare faced: Rational Choice Marxism, which throughout its development has wriggled on the pin of the atomised, self-interested individual whom Marx condemns, and which makes even the scientism of sociology appear radical by approaching what Althusser called the ‘society effect’ solely in terms of a logic of unintended consequences and equilibria, is the main case in point. What used to be known as the ‘dialectical’ dimension of Marxism was, in all of this, the main casualty. The most rigorous schools of Marxist methodology enunciated in the 1980s — for instance Critical Realism — were animated by a slogan as old (within Marxism) as the 1890s: ‘Back to Kant!’ Or rather back to precisely the Kant of Anglophone, analytical philosophy. Back to the closure and positivism of sociology, too, inasmuch as sociological discipline tapped originally Kantian, or rather neo-Kantian, roots
These methodological shifts had their parallels in Marxist social theory. One central topic of concern was the crisis of Keynesianism and the resurgence of monetarist views. This crisis brought with it a crisis in a ‘Marxism of structures’, à la Althusser and Poulantzas, inasmuch as such Marxism took as its object precisely the structures whose demise now seemed to be sure. The attempt to reconstitute social relations on the basis of flexibilization
and ever more sensitised market relations (imposed, in the event, through international money markets) was proclaimed as the end of Marxist social theorising per se. Underwriting this attempt was the boom of the 1980s. Thus, the ‘legitimacy crisis’ of the Keynesian state
and the ‘crisis of Marxism’ could be portrayed as one and the same. Marxism, where it endorsed this diagnosis, became accordingly disarmed. The resulting incorporation into Marxism of scientism, of structures reinvoked and reformulated, of conceptions of historical periodisation (as in the fordist/post-fordist debate),
dependent ultimately on Weberian ideal-type discourse and of analytical-philosophy concepts of the individualist agent within a market arose, consequently, from particular social and political conditions. The Regulation Approach, for example, holds in the 1980s to the programme of a reformed and restated Keynesianism, a Keynesianism so to say appropriate to new times. The 1980s thus became, all too easily, dismissable as a merely transitional phase — for which teleological legitimation (in the name of a Marxism ‘keeping up to date’) could be no less easily supplied. 1980s Marxism, in this fashion, was all too ready to endorse existing reality (and its ideological projections) so that its project became confined to one of chasing the tail of the capitalist dog. Two points follow from these comments: the first is that a Marxism which restricts its horizons to those of the crisis — of existing structures remains blinkered, in such a way that their crisis becomes its crisis; social contradiction and hence revolutionary practice drop out of sight. The second is that the closure of 1980s Marxism — indeed of all Marxism which takes social developments at their face value — carries with it the danger of accepting reality uncritically and thereby reinforcing the foreclosure upon possibilities which such reality finds itself unable to incorporate as its own. Almost all 1980s Marxism counts as ‘closed’ Marxism in this, scientistic and positivistic, sense. The weakness of 1980s Marxism appears to us consequent upon its endorsement of the thesis that Marxism has been outpaced and defeated, a thesis deriving its surface plausibility from that decade’s social reconstitution and — the other side of the same coin — its abrasive attack on the working class.
Hence, the timeliness of supplying an alternative reference-point: open marxism. ‘Openness’, here, refers not just to a programme of empirical research — which can elide all too conveniently with positivism — but to the openness of Marxist categories themselves. This openness appears in, for instance, a dialectic of subject and object, of form and content, of theory and practice, of the constitution and reconstitution of categories in and through the development, always crisis-ridden, of a social world. Crisis refers to contradiction, and to contradiction’s movement: this movement underpins, and undermines, the fixity of structuralist and teleological-determinist Marxism alike. Rather than coming forward simply as a theory of domination — ‘domination’ reporting something inert, as it were a heavy fixed and given weight — open Marxism offers to conceptualise the contradictions internal to domination itself. Crisis, understood as a category of contradiction, entails not just danger but opportunity. Within theory, crisis enunciates itself as critique.
Critique is open inasmuch as it involves a reciprocal interrelation between the categories of theory (which interrogates practice) and of practice (which constitutes the framework for critique). Of course the question of Marxism’s openness (or closure) is as old as Karl Popper’s polemics of the 1940s;
and indeed Popper’s charge of dogmatic closure could, perhaps, be seen as applying to Marxisms of a deterministic (that is dialectical materialist or structuralist) kind. Their closure is that of the societies to whose conceptualisation they restrict themselves, and whose modus vivendi they take at face value. It should be apparent, however, that open Marxism in the present collection’s title refers to an openness not to be specified in Popper’s sense. For Popper, openness refers to the ability-to-be-continued of empirical research programmes. For us, the continuation of such programmes is in no way incompatible with closure at the level of categories, methodologies and concepts, that is, with precisely the scientism which reflects (and flatters) a closed social world. Openness in our sense refers to categories first and to empirical continuation second; it is the openness of theory which construes itself as the critical self-understanding of a contradictory world.
A further brief indication of what we understand by ‘closure’ in contrast to openness may be helpful at this point. ‘Closed’ Marxism is Marxism which does either or both of two interrelated things: it accepts the horizons of a given world as its own theoretical horizons and/or it announces a determinism which is causalist or telelogical as the case may be. (Closure in Popper’s sense encompasses only teleological determinism.) These two aspects of closure are interrelated because acceptance of horizons amounts to acceptance of their inevitability and because determinist theory becomes complicit in the foreclosing of possibilities which a contradictory world entails.
This being so, a central target for Marxism with an open character is fetishism. Fetishism is the construal (in theory) and the constitution (in practice) of social relations as ‘thinglike’, perverting such relations into a commodified and sheerly structural form. Closed Marxism substitutes fetished theory for the — critical — theory of fetishism which open Marxism undertakes. Hostile to the movement of contradiction, the former reinforces and reproduces the fetishism which, officially, it proclaims against. It follows that the crisis of structures is equally the crisis of the Marxism which takes structures as its reference point, and however allegedly ‘flexible’ the structures, the crisis of their theory runs no less deep. Accordingly, the category of fetishism is one which, directly or indirectly, all of the contributors to the present volume address.
This is not to say that ‘open Marxism’ is a wholly novel approach. Far from it: a subterranean tradition of open Marxism has, since the turn of the century, subsisted alongside Marxisms of more mainstream, and also academic, kinds. Figures in the open Marxist tradition include, inter alia, Luxemburg, the early Lukács, Korsch, Bloch, Adorno, Rubin, Pashukanis, Rosdolsky and Johannes Agnoli (from whom our title derives).
Lists of such a kind are, to be sure, always problematic and not all of the authors represented in the present work would evaluate the figures mentioned in the same way. Nonetheless this tradition supplies a common background against which questions are raised. In the 1970s, the sources of the tradition were renewed through republication and translation, and through a series of methodological debates. A t the same time, in Britain, debates flourishing within the CSE (Conference of Socialist Economists) reopened discussion of categories such as value, labour process, the state, world market, social form, etc., upon the soil of a Keynesianism in crisis.
These diverse debates placed at issue the conceptual and political status of fundamental Marxist categories. For a brief period, it seemed that what was hitherto marginal could lie at the centre. Underlying this centring was the (for the post-war period) unprecedented class conflict of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Along with the exhaustion of this conflict and with the failure of social democratic responses to it, erstwhile marginal theory became remarginalised once again. Realistic and scientistic currents already present in the 1970s (capital-logic, structuralism, realism — however ‘critical’ — and the Marxist assimilation of corporatism)
entered the ascendant, modifying themselves to fit the contours of 1980s terrain. One aim of the present volumes, accordingly, is to reopen a space — only uncertainly established during the 1970s — wherein voices of theoretical and practical critique can gain new strength.
Within the tradition of Marxism which the present volume seeks to develop, the central category of openness is that of critique. The connection between openness and critique is straightforward enough: if society develops openly, and thereby contradictorily, then an identification of its contradiction(s) amounts to a reflection on the instability of whatever forms this contradiction assumes. Social ‘structures’ only have a parlous existence in a contradictory world. Marx launched the term ‘critique’ on its contemporary course when he subtitled Capital ‘A Critique of Political Economy’. However, Marxists have disputed amongst themselves the force and meaning of the term ‘critique’.
Either it can be said that Marx criticised only bourgeois political economy, and sought to replace it with a revolutionary political economy of his own. In this case — and it is the reading of the subtitle favoured by Marxists and Marx-critics as diverse as Hilferding, Lenin, Althusser and Joan Robinson — we are returned to the notion that social structures exist, as facts or artifacts, and that the only problem is to identify the cogwheels which allow the structures to be meshed. Or it can be said that Marx sought to criticise, not just bourgeois political economy, but the notion of political economy as such. This latter is the reading favoured by our authors.
The contributions in this and the following volume address, within a framework of openness and from different perspectives, a wide range of topics which have become classic in Marxist discussion: epistemology, dialectics, theory and practice, crisis, value theory, class, normative values, state theory, historical materialism and questions of periodisation. Implicitly and/or explicitly, each contribution involves criticism of 1980s Marxist debates and seeks to map the outlines of an alternative view. Thematic issues common to various of our contributors include: subject-object dialectics, the relation of abstract to concrete analysis, structure and struggle, logical/historical interrelations, form-analysis and the preconditions for theory of a revolutionary kind. On these scores, the debates are not merely external but internal: an intersecting of differing views is to be found amongst our contributors themselves. We have made no attempt to avoid this, the reopening of a space for critique involving, necessarily, a problematising of the category of ‘openness’ per se. Thus the format of both of our volumes — a collection of articles — is intrinsic to its substance. An open critique enunciated monologically would amount to a contradiction in terms.
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The present volume focuses on dialectics and history, whereas our second volume concentrates on the unity of theory and practice. The questions of dialectics and of the unity of theory and practice are of course interlinked, especially through an emphasis on historical and political concerns. The continuing political and conceptual importance of ‘dialectics’, a term which these days may appear to have an all too unfashionable resonance, is something that we hope to make clear as we proceed.
Within Marxism, an understanding of the term ‘dialectics’ has always been a matter of contention. Sometimes, as in Engels’ later writings and in the ‘dialectical materialism’ of the Lenin and Stalin years, the term has connoted general laws of nature and society: the most famous of these is the ‘law’ according to which quantitative change will at some point become qualitative change (as when a quantitative increase in the temperature of water leads to a qualitative alteration between water and steam). At other times, and especially in Anglophone Marxism, dialectics is taken to mean simply an interaction or interdependency as between two or more terms. Sometimes, indeed, dialectics is dismissed altogether as a Hegelian baggage which Marx, unfortunately, felt compelled to carry around. Writers as diverse as della Volpe, Colletti, Althusser and Roy Bhaskar tend to take this positivist tack. At the opposite extreme there stands a tradition of ‘Hegelian Marxism’ (Lukács, Korsch and Bloch, for example) who emphasise dialectics as signalling a unity of opposites and a movement of contradiction, and who stress the centrality of the idea of contradiction in Marx’s work.
The ‘Hegelian Marxist’ understanding of dialectics moved into the centre of Marxist debates during the 1970s on issues such as ‘value’ and the ‘state’. The theme of the state debate was dialectics understood as movement-in-contradiction. The state debate focused on the question of state-form and the historical periodization of the bourgeois state’s development. Hence the structure of the present volume: two of our contributors (Psychopedis and Backhaus) emphasise the questions of concept formation which are traditional in dialectical theory whereas our three others (Bonefeld, Clarke and Gerstenberger) take up questions of dialectics in relation to state theory. The theory of the state, apart from its evident political importance, is arguably the site where the difference between structuralist and dialectical/critical (that is ‘open’) Marxism emerges most clearly. Structuralist Marxism (for instance Poulantzas) and conjunctural analysis (for instance Jessop)
construe the state, either explicitly or implicitly, as one ‘region’ or ‘instance’ of society amongst others, distinguishing itself from traditional dialectical-materialist or economic-determinist style Marxism only by emphasising the state’s ‘relative autonomy’, whereas dialectical and critical Marxism understands the state as a form assumed by the class struggle. This latter approach allows us to see the separation between the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’ as a difference subsisting within, and constituted by, an active unity. On the other hand the structuralist approach makes a methodological principle out of the economics-politics separation inscribed in bourgeois society itself.
The issues of form and of periodization call for further, brief, comment.
Most often, at any rate in Anglophone discussion, ‘form’ is understood in the sense of ‘species’: the forms of something are the specific characters it can assume. For instance, the state can adopt specifically ‘fascist’ or ‘authoritarian’ or ‘bourgeois-liberal’ or ‘fordist’ or ‘post-fordist’ forms. An enormous amount of Marxism (especially recent Marxism, and not only Anglophone Marxism) has understood ‘form’ in this way. On the other hand, ‘form’ can be understood as mode of existence—, something or other exists only in and through the form(s) it takes. The commodity, for example, exists only in and through the money-form and the credit-form and the world market. Upon these two understandings of ‘form’ crucial theoretical and practical differences turn. Theoretically, the idea of form as a species of something more generic has underpinned both the dialectical-materialist-style conception of general laws which have to be applied to specific social instances and the conjunetural approach which says that ‘intermediate concepts’
are necessary if the gap between generic and specific analysis is to be bridged. What is taken for granted, here, is a dualistic separation of the generic from the specific (otherwise there would be no ‘gap’ to ‘bridge’) and of the abstract from the concrete. On the other hand, the idea of form as mode of existence makes it possible to see the generic as inherent in the specific, and the abstract as inherent in the concrete, because if form is existence then the concrete can be abstract (and vice versa) and the specific can be generic (and vice versa).
Putting the matter in the bluntest possible fashion, those who see form in terms of species have to try to discover something behind, and underlying, the variant social forms. Those who see form as mode of existence have to try to decode the forms in and of themselves. The first group of theorists have, always, to be more or less economic-reductionist. The second group of theorists have to dwell upon critique and the movement of contradiction as making clear, for its own part, the ‘forms’ that class struggle may take. To this, old-style dialectics together with new-style sociology are, thus, implacably opposed.
During the 1980s, those who see form in terms of species have tried to reformulate their approach by drawing upon Gramsci’s ‘conjunctural’ analysis. An example is the debate on the alleged transition, within recent and current capitalist development, from ‘fordist’ to ‘post-fordist’ new times.
Proponents of the thesis that such a transition is under way see themselves as breaking, definitively, with the idea of applying dialectical laws as a means of elucidating historical change.
However, their own approach may not be so very different. A sociological approach to social change still seeks to identify key variables (such as technological development from mass assembly lines to ‘new technology’ or shifting articulations of ‘the economy’ and ‘politics’) which make everything clear. Talk of ‘laws’ may not be in fashion, but the identification of key variables is. And, in the event, the notions of ‘laws’ and ‘key variables’ stand or fall together: identification of laws depends on the identification of such variables and, once such variables are identified, why not speak about laws? Sociological laws and dialectical laws, alike, abut on to determinism and by doing so marginalise class struggle, and historical agency in general, as a ‘voluntarism’ which merely complements the movement of social structures themselves.
The relevance of the issue of historical periodization is this: whoever divides history into ‘periods’, whether or not these periods be termed ‘modes of production’, is thinking of form in a genus/species way. First of all we have a global theory of social change, and then we have its specific, or conjunctural, deployment. In contrast to this, form-analysis construes the historical development of capitalism as discontinuous only in and through the continuity of its form: that is through the movement of contradiction constituted by class. Once the relation between structure and struggle is seen in terms of form as mode-of-existence one can never return to ideas of the development of capitalism on the basis of distinct stages, as it were from the liberal state to state monopoly capitalism (as in Lenin) or from fordism to post-fordism. Dialectics comes into its own as the critique of, precisely, such a division into stages. Critique comes into its own dialectically, as inherent in the movement of contradiction and, so, an open Marxism is able to demystify the notion of new times in a forceful way.
The political implications of all of this are drastic. That is, they are exciting because they open on to a terrain where nothing is assured. If we are told, theoretically, that we live under the sign of some species of capital’s existence then there is nothing for it but to buckle down and make the best of a poor (poor because oppressive) social and technological job. New times are our fate. If, on the other hand, we learn that form amounts not to species but to mode of existence then it is incumbent on ourselves to act within, and through, and against, the form(s) under which we live. In ‘the last instance’, these forms are our own. The traditional Marxist dichotomy as between ‘structure’ and ‘struggle’ is surpassed because class struggle is informed while, at the same time, class struggle forms and informs the conditions which it either takes on board, reproduces, or explodes.
A number of practical as well as theoretical points turn upon the understanding of dialectics. If, for instance, one thinks of dialectics in terms of ‘laws’ it is only a small step to envisage a (Leninist) revolutionary party which, in virtue of its knowledge of these laws, should be entrusted with deciding how they should be applied. If, on the other hand, one sheerly dismisses dialectics then one is forced to think of society as an articulation of static structures and, once again, a pathway is cleared to the notion of an elite (not of dialecticians, this time, but of sociologists) who should intervene in order to juggle the structures in a leftist way. The notion of the movement of contradiction points in a quite different political direction: if society is the movement of contradiction then the further development of such contradictions is a matter of what Marx called the ‘self-emancipation’ of the working class. The dichotomy of immediate struggle and socially static structures has to be transcended. Form-analytical categories are social categories, and vice versa. Such categories exist not just in theory, as generic abstractions from the specificity of political practice, but in and through and as practice as well.
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The contributions to this volume attempt to recover this dialectical insight from different perspectives.
Kosmas Psychopedis, who has published widely on Kant, Hegel and the dialectics of social theory, in the present volume attempts a reconstruction of dialectical theory which portrays Kant as a forerunner of Hegel and Marx. Psychopedis’s reconstruction of dialectics is a critique of varieties of recent Kantian Marxism (for instance Colletti, Bhaskar) which focus only on isolated aspects of Kant such as transcendental deduction. Further, it allows the question of material preconditions of social existence to come (politically) to light. Psychopedis criticises on the one hand the downplaying of materiality in favour of solely formal discussion in Marxist theory of form determination and, on the other hand, the conception of materiality as structure to be found in the scientistic and structuralist Marxism of form-determination’s enemies. These latter — the realists and the structuralists — fail to pose the crucial questions inherent in a subject-object dialectic of materiality and form.
Hans-Georg Backhaus, a student of Adorno’s, is currently researching, together with Helmut Reichelt, the methodology of political economy in relation to critical theory. Backhaus’s publications are devoted to value theory, money theory and dialectics. His concern is with the relation between the philosophic and economic dimensions of political economy’s approach. For Backhaus, a critique of political economy is impossible unless these dimensions are synthesised. His emphasis in the present volume is on the ‘double character’ of Marxist categories (as both subjective and objective, abstract and concrete). His definition of objectivity as alienated subjectivity develops conceptions of Adorno’s. For Backhaus, the abstract categories in Marx are concrete; value thus exists as social practice and, as such, contradictorily.
Werner Bonefeld, who has published widely debated articles on state theory and Marxist methodology, reworks form analysis as a critique of recent Marxist state-debates. His contribution focuses on the internal relation between structure and struggle, permitting an understanding of the state-form as a movement of contradiction in and through class.
Simon Clarke, whose numerous publications have been pivotal for the development of Marxist state theory in Britain, focuses on the form and development of class struggle in the face of crises of global overaccumulation. Clarke’s emphasis is upon the specific functions arrogated to itself by the state in the course of class struggle. His contribution explores and rejects attempts to periodise the development of capitalism in a Marxist way.
Heide Gerstenberger contributed to the state debates of the 1970s and 1980s. Her work has been characterised by a synthesis of social theory and historical analysis. Here, she critically discusses some classic questions of historical materialism: the role of classes in social development, the dynamics of historical change and the nature of ‘bourgeois revolution’. These questions are debated in relation to the new ‘revisionist’ historiography concerning the French Revolution.
This historiography problematises notions of a revolution carried through by a ‘rising bourgeoisie’: Gerstenberger rejects the ‘rising bourgeisie’ thesis in and through a reformulation of historical materialist ideas.