Marx - materialism - economism

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30bananasaday
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Feb 18 2010 15:34
Marx - materialism - economism

In his Preface to the Contribution of Political Economy, Marx makes the famous claim "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." I have a major problem with the fact that he claims this, but spends all of his time focusing on economic relations. If one accepts that economic relations constitute a framework of great importance to the functioning of a society, this says nothing about the particular relations that individuals will actually be confronted with. In other words, if there is a fundamental relation of production at work in determining the fact that I enter into the paid service of another, this says nothing about the actual social relation that I am confronted with (and which would therefore, arguably, be the primary form of social existence determining my consciousness). How many people are face to face with their actual employer while they are working, being given orders by the actual owner of capital? Not very many. It seems to me that there is a huge and extremely intricate web of relations in which we are all embedded. I concede that the relations of production have some kind of primary role. In a strong sense, this is just chronologically, however, although they do set some kind of limit on what is possible.

Consider the famous quote of Marx's above in the context of the sentences that immediately precede it: "In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness."

Why does Marx move so swiftly from "definite relations" to "relations of production?" If he means by social production something necessarily economic, he gives no reason for beginning his analysis from here. If it can be assumed to have a broader meaning, I agree with him that people enter into definite relations, but I don't think they are relations of production. Take the relation between a schoolteacher and schoolchildren, for instance. It could well be argued that in the current day the school is an ideological state apparatus which equips people for their places in the workforce. This is fine, but it doesn't explain why Marx thinks that all social relations are relations of production. There is a massive difference between the relationship of the bourgeoisie and the proleteriat and the relationship between a schoolteacher and his or her pupils. Whatever the underlying reasons for the relationship existing in the first place, a teacher does not economically exploit its pupils. Therefore, the relationship is very different to the currently existing relations of production. I really cannot fathom why Marx subsumes all social relations into relations of production. The later stress on relative autonomy is again absolutely fine, but it doesn't deal with the whole issue. There is on the one hand the issue of the social totality. Marxists use the idea of relative autonomy to maintain some primacy of the relations of production, without implicating a rigid line of pure determination. On the other hand, however, there is the issue of subjectivity formation, which is of course introduced by Marx's famous quote that I began with. By my understanding there has been very little on this issue from Marxists. I would like to see more. I feel that I should perhaps become better acquainted with Gramsci (if anyone has any texts to recommend, I would be grateful).

It is for these reasons that I find myself drawn to Foucault. He was concerned with a spectrum of factors that play a part in subjectivity formation. There is a lovely quote of his where he says "before one poses the question of ideology, I wonder whether it wouldn't be more materialist to first study the body and the effects of power on it."

Your thoughts, please.

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Feb 18 2010 17:54

Well, first of all, I think the Preface should not be taken too seriously, it's not at all the "birth certificate" of Marx's "historical materialism" that some Marxists considered it to be (and many still do). It's a preface to a much longer and more complicated text, and it presents Marx's views (and their development from 1842 onwards in the first place) in a condensed, simplified way. It does not present a fully developed argument, I think.

Second, in most of his theoretical work, Marx was concerned with explaining how social reproduction is organized within capitalist societies. He considered production of use-values the fundamental condition of such reproduction in any historical epoch, and was therefore interested in analyzing the specific form that this production takes in capitalism. Marx was not interested in explaining all of the social relations of a capitalist society (and even though he intended to, he never even managed to develop a proper theory of the state either!), nor is he saying that all social relations can be reduced to "economic" ones. He just believed (from 1842 onwards, since writing on the famous "wood thefts") that the way a certain society is reproduced is key to understanding the rest of its aspects (and he touches upon this often in Capital, for example).

This means there is still a lot of work to do if we are to understand capitalist reproduction properly smile.

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Feb 19 2010 11:56

i agree with jura

30bananasaday wrote:
I agree with him that people enter into definite relations, but I don't think they are relations of production
Quote:
it doesn't explain why Marx thinks that all social relations are relations of production
Quote:
I really cannot fathom why Marx subsumes all social relations into relations of production

these are the bits which I don't quite understand where you are coming from, and presume relate to the core of your point

Marx's political economy was essentially about looking beyond the material and phenomenal form that characterised the basic concepts of classical political economy (value, money, capital, profit, rent, wages etc..) - while these things can take on a material or surface like form, they are more importantly both an expression and a mediator of underlying social relations of production - those social relations in capitalism are not experienced directly however (re your point about never being face to face with a capitalist employer), but are mediated through and only realised in relations between 'things' (commodities etc.) - this in turn 'gives' those things a sediment of a determined objective social character - this is the basic fetishism that is pretty much at the root of all of marx's analysis

So looking beyond the technical/material form of those economic categories led to the discovery of the social relations of production that formed their essence - so in that sense all 'economic categories' and the relations of production that spawn them are social relations - but it doesn't necessarily imply the inverse is true - that all social relations are relations of production, as you say above. As jura says, it was never the intention to explain all social relations, so i don't think you can derive from marx the proposition that you attribute to him that all social relations are relations of production. That's not to say their isn't an argument that they are not however (sorry for triple negative) - as things like the social relations of education, family etc.. are all critical in the social reproduction of society, but arguably as these use values are not directly and intentionaly produced as commodities they mainly fall outside the scope of marx's project.

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Feb 19 2010 12:21
Quote:
Well, first of all, I think the Preface should not be taken too seriously, it's not at all the "birth certificate" of Marx's "historical materialism" that some Marxists considered it to be (and many still do). It's a preface to a much longer and more complicated text, and it presents Marx's views (and their development from 1842 onwards in the first place) in a condensed, simplified way. It does not present a fully developed argument, I think.

So do you mean that Marx doesn't think the things that I have suggested that he does? Does he not think that consciousness is determined by social existence, and does he not comment only on economic aspects of social existence? It's all very well for you to say that the Preface is not fully representative, but you haven't given any indications of in which areas I am mistaken.

As far as I can tell, Marx clearly thinks that social existence determines consciousness. I don't think anyone woudl debate that. When it comes to subjectivity formation, I don't see how I have said anything wrong. The early Marx said alienation = lack of control over the products of ones labour, species being (i.e. everything being ok) = control over the products of ones labout, while the later Marx spent a lot of time analysing precisely how capitalism works. If you could explain what other aspects would be present in his "fully developed argument" that would be helpful.

It's fair enough that Marx didn't explain everything. I think that the problem, though, is that so many people have taken Marx's work at face value and not used it as a mere starting point for further investigation. To attempt a revolution on the economic reductionism of Marx, in my view, is an entirely unsound move. This economic reductionism is obviously something that Marxists agonise over. You say, for example

Quote:
He considered production of use-values the fundamental condition of such reproduction in any historical epoch

but then you also say

Quote:
nor is he saying that all social relations can be reduced to "economic" ones

Marxists often want to be both an economic reductionist and not an economic reductionist at the same time!

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Feb 19 2010 13:33
30bananasaday wrote:
So do you mean that Marx doesn't think the things that I have suggested that he does?

No, I think that they cannot be taken out of context and made into some sort of a methodological basis of all of Marx's thought.

30bananasaday wrote:
Does he not think that consciousness is determined by social existence, and does he not comment only on economic aspects of social existence?

I've tried to explain in my previous post why Marx "comments only on economic aspects of social existence". Had Marx's Capital had the subtitle "Critique of bourgeois pedagogy", then of course he would have to deal with the teacher-pupil relationship in great detail. But it's a critique of political economy, for reasons he partially also explains in the Preface.

I think there are many aspects to the Preface that suggest it's a simplified version of Marx's outlook. Take, for example, this passage:

Marx wrote:
The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.

This is, of course, the ABC of "historical materialism". If you take it word for word, it says that there was an epoch of social revolution (in the sense of a "bourgeois" or "proletarian" revolution - mass insurrection etc.) during the transition from slavery to feudalism, or from primitive societies to slavery, for example. If you then take a look at what Marx writes about the transition from slavery to feudalism elsewhere, i.e. in Grundrisse, you get an entirely different impression. Clearly, the Preface is a condensed, shortened, and perhaps not very well written (considering the consequences) introduction.

30bananasaday wrote:
As far as I can tell, Marx clearly thinks that social existence determines consciousness. I don't think anyone woudl debate that. When it comes to subjectivity formation, I don't see how I have said anything wrong.

If this means that social consciousness (the legal, political, religious, artistic, moral etc. forms) express aspects of how social reproduction (which is not just a matter of "economics") is organized in a given society, then yes, I wouldn't dispute that. And if it means that without at least a partial social reproduction, there can be no law, politics, etc., then I also agree. But this doesn't imply that "there is nothing in social consciousness which is not in social being" or that social consciousness can be reduced to social being.

30bananasaday wrote:
You say, for example
Quote:
He considered production of use-values the fundamental condition of such reproduction in any historical epoch

but then you also say

Quote:
nor is he saying that all social relations can be reduced to "economic" ones

Nice try. However, if I say that breathing is fundamental for your social being and consciousness, it does not mean that they are reducible to breathing. Fundamental is not the same thing as reducible. You can practically verify that breathing is fundamental to both by sticking your head inside a plastic bag, though.

30bananasaday
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Feb 20 2010 01:43

Jura - thanks for your response.

I think that my approach in this thread has been a fairly confused one, so I apologise for that.

I am in complete agreement with you that Marx should not be held responsible for what he did not do. Instead, we must further the progress he made. Capital, as you say, is a critique of bourgeois economy and nothing else. That is a large subject and Marx covers it in some detail. My concern, however, is that subsequent to Marx writing his books, people have decided that he was materialist. Hegel was an idealist, believing that all aspects of materiality are simply manifestations of the universal Idea. Marx, on the other hand, was a materialist because he made the particularities themselves the starting point of his philosophy. I think that the focus on the particularities was an important move, yet I cannot help but feel that Marx's work is not particular enough (not a criticism of Marx, but a reason not to use the models he produced themselves and instead to pursue his line of thinking further). For me, if we believe that a social revolution would be a good thing, we need to think a lot harder about the means by which people are made into subjects in the currently existing social order. I actually agree with Marx that relations of production are fundamental, but this tells us nothing about the particular forms of subjectivity that exist. Unless we have a good grasp of these particularities, we have no hope of understanding how social revolution might successfully occur.

The reason I say all this, as I hope is clear, is not to denounce Marx, but to suggest that his models are tools for us to further develop and not to follow.

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Feb 19 2010 16:46

Good question. I don't think Marx sort to reduce 'social existence' to just having a job. It's probably more fruitful to understand how Marx and Engels were making a critique of how capitalist social relations had supplanted feudal social relations. Marxism is a critique of the whole of capitalist society. For example, while the unemployed don't have jobs they still need to be given money to buy commodities. Taking your example of a school, the government gives them a budget to cover their running costs. The commodity form is central to capitalist society.

I agree that Marx shouldn't be followed to the letter. What we should take is his method, historical materialism. Marxism is a not a dead dogma, but a living, dynamic weapon in the hands of the working class.

I'm sure Alf can rattle off a good quote or two, but I've got to get off to cook the kids tea...

smile

B.

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Feb 19 2010 17:09
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historical materialism. Marxism is a not a dead dog

Isn't historical materialism something to do with saying everythings inevitable?

What is meant by "economism?" The term was used here as a criticism.

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Feb 19 2010 17:43

If everything was inevitable according to Marx's historical materialist approach, why did he bother devoting his life to the communist revolution? Why did Engels, Luxemburg and others talk about 'socialism or barbarism' as a choice facing humanity?

I would take economism to mean reducing everything to the most narrow economic interests. In Russia at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Economists were a variant of opportunism who argued that workers should focus above all on bread and butter workplace issues and leave 'politics' to the bourgeoisie (since in their view only a bourgeois revolution was possible in Russia)

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Feb 19 2010 18:53
Alf wrote:
I would take economism to mean reducing everything to the most narrow economic interests. In Russia at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Economists were a variant of opportunism who argued that workers should focus above all on bread and butter workplace issues and leave 'politics' to the bourgeoisie (since in their view only a bourgeois revolution was possible in Russia)

I seem to recall Kropotkin making an argument in favor of this sort of idea also (in Conquest Of Bread); that the successful revolution will address the question of feeding the workers.

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Feb 19 2010 19:36

Sheldon - not sure what point you're making there. To get to a revolution, the working class will obviously have to go beyond the limits of immediate economic demands; but certainly one of the first necessities of the revolution will be to feed the world population, a large percentage of which is already severely undernourished.

30bananasaday
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Feb 20 2010 01:36

AIW

Quote:
What is meant by "economism?"

Thank you for this question, I forgot to explain this term. Economism is a term that I have taken from Laclau and Mouffe, who, one would imagine, are not popular amongst the members of this forum. They use it to designate a rigid attachment to the prioritisation of the economy in attempting to understand social phenomena. For them, social antagonisms often cannot be tied down to the economy. This, they argue, is because all human experience is irreducibly contingent. So, for instance, they argue that Luxemburg's notion of spontaneity was an extremely productive development within Marxism, but that Luxemburg's economism meant that "the impossibility of foreseeing the direction of a revolutionary process, given the complexity and variety of forms which it adopts" was never realised by her, the spontaneous action always being fitted into the pre-existing framework of class struggle (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy p10). Laclau and Mouffe are heavily influenced by structuralism and post-structuralism, arguing that in Luxemburg "The unity of the class [at the moment of mass action] is therefore a symbolic unity", because the defining characteristic of the symbol is "the overflowing of the signfier by the signified" (p11). In other words, class unity is simply the most theoretically observable aspect of a fragmented and irreducible phenomenon. To use Althusser's expression, the struggle will always be overdetermined. Before people rip into me, could I point out that seeing value in this critique does not implicate me in the politics of Laclau and Mouffe.

Let me bring this on. Can historical materialism explain mass uprising? In Violence, Zizek talks about the Paris riots of 2005. The protestors, he relates, were not from the very poorest sectors, and yet they had absolutely no demands or political programme, despite the fact that many from poorer sectors have at points in history been able to create certain political programmes. Furthermore, "the protestors' violence was almost exclusively directed against their own. The cars burned and the schools torched were not those of richer neighbourhoods. They were part of the hard-won acquisitions of the very strata from which the protesters originated" (p64-65).

For Zizek, despite the fact that he is fundamentally a Marxist, these protests did not arise from specifically economic causative factors: "The riots were simply a direct effort to gain visibility" (p65). He goes on to say that the riots carried out the linguistic function of asking the question "'Hello, do you hear me?" (p67). He is here much closer to some kind of adaptation of Honneth's recognition theory than he is to classical historical materialism. I would accept, as I am sure Zizek also would, that the capitalist relations of production had a strong role in creating the conditions that led to the riots. To gain a full understanding of social phenomena, however, I contend that we need to spend a lot of time considering the specificities of humans and of human society (arising after the relations of production). What worries me is that a lot of people seem happy with Marx's formulation, once a notion of relative autonomy is casually thrown in without a serious consideration of its consequences.

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Feb 19 2010 23:49

Can you explain what you mean by 'Luxemburg's economism'?

30bananasaday
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Feb 20 2010 01:34

In the context of Laclau and Mouffe's critique, Luxemburg's economism is more or less Luxemburg's Marxism. It is the preconceived notion that class struggle is the fundamental driving force of history.

30bananasaday
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Feb 20 2010 01:49

Alf

Quote:
If everything was inevitable according to Marx's historical materialist approach, why did he bother devoting his life to the communist revolution? Why did Engels, Luxemburg and others talk about 'socialism or barbarism' as a choice facing humanity?

Personally, I don't think that historical materialism necessarily entails an inevitability (although I do think that in its specific manifestations it has led to a narrowing of perspective on the issue of subjectivity formation), but even if it did, why should one automatically assume that the inevitability is at fault rather than the fact that Marx decided to engage in politics?

30bananasaday
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Feb 20 2010 02:01

Beltov, thanks for your response. You mention the fact that the state provides a budget for schools. I have never denied this. My concern is that the relation a child has with her or his schoolteachers is utterly unlike a relation of production, even if it relies upon a relation of production, even though it has certain (limited) conditions imposed upon it by the latter. I said:

Quote:
Take the relation between a schoolteacher and schoolchildren, for instance. It could well be argued that in the current day the school is an ideological state apparatus which equips people for their places in the workforce. This is fine, but it doesn't explain why Marx thinks that all social relations are relations of production. There is a massive difference between the relationship of the bourgeoisie and the proleteriat and the relationship between a schoolteacher and his or her pupils. Whatever the underlying reasons for the relationship existing in the first place, a teacher does not economically exploit its pupils. Therefore, the relationship is very different to the currently existing relations of production.
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Feb 20 2010 13:52

I don't think Žižek is a marxist, in any meaningful sense of the term. Here's what he said in a recent interview in Žižek Studies:

Žižek wrote:
Concretely, this means I see immense problems for example, with all the sympathies for Marx's Capital, but it’s clear that if you want to explain what today is going on with Marx's theory of exploitation, what goes on today with poverty and so on, you can no longer account for it in the Marxist terms of exploitation. Because the Marxist term of exploitation, it’s a very precise term based on his labour theory of value. To apply the Marxist theory of value today, to be cynical, to Venezuela which is doing relatively well because of oil, is to say that Venezuela is exploiting the United States. Because for Marx, it's selling natural resources, oil is no source of value. You know what I mean, the whole situation has changed radically.

Clearly he has a very poor understanding of Marx's Capital, even by the poor standards of contemporary Eastern Europe.

The full interview is here.

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Feb 20 2010 17:33

Wow, that is such an elementary misunderstanding.

Boris Badenov
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Feb 20 2010 17:44

Zizek in leftist quack who misunderstands Marx shocker!

purushje
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Feb 20 2010 18:45

oisleep if you want to understand the Marx analysis of commodities in a sophisticated manner, interpret the following quotes

A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.

But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange things

he analyzed commodity in three broad category

1. Two factors of commodity: Use value and Value
2. Fetishism of commodities
3. Circulation of commodity

production of the commodity M-C-M', we have to look into the sphere of the production of the commodities rather then circulation of commodities

abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.
over flow of the the following discipline
metaphysical - Hard science
theological - Social science and Humanities

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Feb 20 2010 21:34
Society Of The Spectacle wrote:
84

The scientific-determinist aspect of Marx’s thought was precisely what made it vulnerable to “ideologization,” both during his own lifetime and even more so in the theoretical heritage he left to the workers movement. The advent of the historical subject continues to be postponed, and it is economics, the historical science par excellence, which is increasingly seen as guaranteeing the inevitability of its own future negation. In this way revolutionary practice, the only true agent of this negation, tends to be pushed out of theory’s field of vision. Instead, it is seen as essential to patiently study economic development, and to go back to accepting the suffering which that development imposes with a Hegelian tranquility. The result remains - a graveyard of good intentions. - The “science of revolutions" then concludes that consciousness always comes too soon, and has to be taught. “History has shown that we, and all who thought as we did, were wrong,” Engels wrote in 1895. “It has made clear that the state of economic development on the Continent at that time was far from being ripe.” Throughout his life Marx had maintained a unitary point of view in his theory, but the exposition of his theory was carried out on the terrain of the dominant thought insofar as it took the form of critiques of particular disciplines, most notably the critique of that fundamental science of bourgeois society, political economy. It was in this mutilated form, which eventually came to be seen as orthodox, that Marx’s theory was transformed into “Marxism.”

85

The weakness of Marx’s theory is naturally linked to the weakness of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat of his time. The German working class failed to inaugurate a permanent revolution in 1848; the Paris Commune was defeated in isolation. As a result, revolutionary theory could not yet be fully realized. The fact that Marx was reduced to defending and refining it by cloistered scholarly work in the British Museum had a debilitating effect on the theory itself. His scientific conclusions about the future development of the working class, and the organizational practice apparently implied by those conclusions, became obstacles to proletarian consciousness at a later stage.

The point isn't really what exactly Marx thought but what is the most appropriate position for the communists to take.

If we were merely attempting to historically chart the development of capitalism, Marx's Capital is an excellent contribution. Since we're actually aiming to get out of this hell, then Capital has to be counted as being a bit thin on suggestions in that direction.

One of many ironies is that while an enterprise calling itself science (in whatever sense of the word) should both achieve progress beyond the discoveries of it's original formulator and be able to codify its basic positions reasonably simply (one doesn't learn physics by reading Newton's Principia even though this original text is still a correct formulation of Newtonian physics). Yet it seems like a large portion of anti-state communists take "back to Marx" to mean a hermeneutic analysis of Marx's works, becoming so occupied in the process of finding "original intent" that they don't particular consider or argue about the relation of this "intent" to the present evolution of capitalism and its possible negation.

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Feb 20 2010 21:58

Red, so how about "Marx - materialism - economism"? wink

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Feb 20 2010 23:25
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Red, so how about "Marx - materialism - economism"?

I get that whatever it is you're saying is meant light-heartedly but I still simply have no idea what you mean.

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Feb 20 2010 23:37

I just don't know what to make of your post in the context of this thread.

RedHughs
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Feb 21 2010 00:07

I had thought the relation to original point was obvious but I'll break it down:

Consider the original Debord Quote:

Quote:
The fact that Marx was reduced to defending and refining it by cloistered scholarly work in the British Museum had a debilitating effect on the theory itself. His scientific conclusions about the future development of the working class, and the organizational practice apparently implied by those conclusions, became obstacles to proletarian consciousness at a later stage.

According to Debord, the conditions of the 19th century revolt and defeat caused Marx's idea to be expressed in limited, economistic language.

'Bananas:

Quote:
Marx makes the famous claim "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." I have a major problem with the fact that he claims this, but spends all of his time focusing on economic relations.

To me, the Debord quote provides an explanation and rejoinder for this comment. This is relevant because if we going to follow something like historical materialism, we ought to analyze "economism" with more of a comment than "I can use textual proof to show that this does not follow Marx's original intent". We need to look at the historical tendencies which have produced both economism and revolutionary communism. Debord also makes the cogent point the Bernstein codified what had already become the effective practice of the Second International. Economism is thus not product of one person's error but of the historical tendency that might be referred to as "the left" or the fraction of the bourgeois specializing in the management of revolt (Leninism could be called form of economism, since it claims that the working class only gain revolutionary consciousness through having it injected by the revolutionary rather than through it's experiences).

"it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." was the original Marx quote. I don't think it is shallow or unimportant. Indeed, I think that Debord's analysis is following this overall approach when analyzing the practice of Marx and the Second International. For all I care, Marx himself could have thrown this quote out with snicker and grin, or as pure rhetoric against his opponents. The usefulness of the quote should be judged by its usefulness to us for our analysis of the development capitalist society rather than whether this is "the real Marx".

To summarize in even more gruesome on-topic-ness, I would say that I kind of agree with 'bananas complaint but I think framing the question as "Marx bad" versus "Marx good" but I think the challenge instead should be to look at what's useful to us in Marx as well as tracing some somewhat contradictory tendencies in Marx.

(editted since I hadn't gotten jura's comment above before writing this but it still answers him).

Malcy
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Feb 21 2010 00:07

Wow, Zizek really is a complete idiot. I suppose I knew that already though.

30bananasaday
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Feb 21 2010 01:46

mdeans, would you mind explaining why Zizek is an idiot? Do you have an alternative explanation of the Paris riots?

Malcy
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Feb 21 2010 02:46

the quote above where he displays a piss-poor understanding of Marx

Boris Badenov
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Feb 21 2010 03:43
30bananasaday wrote:
Take the relation between a schoolteacher and schoolchildren, for instance. It could well be argued that in the current day the school is an ideological state apparatus which equips people for their places in the workforce. This is fine, but it doesn't explain why Marx thinks that all social relations are relations of production. There is a massive difference between the relationship of the bourgeoisie and the proleteriat and the relationship between a schoolteacher and his or her pupils. Whatever the underlying reasons for the relationship existing in the first place, a teacher does not economically exploit its pupils. Therefore, the relationship is very different to the currently existing relations of production.

This is a bit like comparing apples and oranges though. The class status of pupils is not defined by their relationship to the means of production because they have none. Of course most pupils, coming from working families are very much aware of the realities of class society, and it is in this sense that the school reflects such realities for them.
In the case of higher education things are somewhat different. One can be both a student and an employee, working under a professor, but not directly employed by him. The employer is in fact the "school administration" and therefore the state. Professor and student, despite their unequal relationship, are both selling their labour. So just because the professor does not equal bourgeoisie and the student working class, that doesn't mean that economic class is not a factor in this relationship.

Quote:
For Zizek, despite the fact that he is fundamentally a Marxist, these protests did not arise from specifically economic causative factors: "The riots were simply a direct effort to gain visibility" (p65). He goes on to say that the riots carried out the linguistic function of asking the question "'Hello, do you hear me?" (p67). He is here much closer to some kind of adaptation of Honneth's recognition theory than he is to classical historical materialism.

Riots of this magnitude do not occur because people want just any kind of visibility (it is in fact extremely patronizing to claim that their main function is "linguistic"); people, and in this specific case marginalized immigrant workers, want economic visibility, because their economic exploitation occurs in a way that completely obscures their marginality while emphasizing their "otherness." An immigrant worker in France is both a terrorist/fundamentalist/banlieue scum/whatnot (an image that dominates in the media) and a "regular worker" who is "free" to find a means of survival (the abstract "equality" of the market). They have visibility, quite a bit of it, but not as exploited workers. This is why the banlieue riots have indeed economic causes. I don't see what's so reductionist about this realization.

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Marxists often want to be both an economic reductionist and not an economic reductionist at the same time!

I think this reflects a misunderstanding of what dialectical thinking (and I know using the term "dialectical" is anathema to many anarchists but so be it) is. It is true that class society is driven by economic factors but it is also true that human beings are individuals with ideas who relate to each other in often unpredictable ways. Neither factor is the sole driving force of history. Men "make their own history, but they do not make it as they please" to use Marx's famous dictum.
If Marx had been an economic reductionist he would have presumably had no reason to even mention ideology.

jura's picture
jura
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Feb 21 2010 11:55
RedHughs wrote:
According to Debord, the conditions of the 19th century revolt and defeat caused Marx's idea to be expressed in limited, economistic language.

It would be very convenient to blame it all on the historical situation of the working-class in the 19th century and that nasty left wing of capital, but I think it is more complicated. The contradictory tendencies in Marx also have to do with the general scientific outlook of the time and with the legacy of classical political economy - both of which he sought to overcome, but probably didn't fully realize to what extent he remained indebted to the tradition. (And this is not just the case of "economism", but also of the "substantialist" vs. "social" theory of value etc.)

RedHughs wrote:
Economism is thus not product of one person's error but of the historical tendency that might be referred to as "the left" or the fraction of the bourgeois specializing in the management of revolt

Economism in the sense of economic reductionism existed long before Marx or the mature workers' movement. It may well have played into the hands of the reformists and those who wanted to become the managers of class conflict, but I think Debord is constructing a seemingly all-explaining theory here without providing much evidence. To me, Debord is actually a typical example of the sort of philosophical obscurantism which was an overreaction to economic determinism.

And about discovering the "real Marx", my posts were a reaction to 30bananas' original post which suggested there was some sort of a methodological flaw (reductionism) in Marx's thought. I don't agree with that, and I don't think economic determinism or reductionism, even if it may be present in the Preface, is compatible with the rest of Marx's work. In other words, I think Marx's theoretical work can be plausibly interpreted as non-reductionist, and I believe that is the kind of interpretation that communists need today. And I don't see anything wrong in "hermeneutical" interpretations, as long as they deepen our understanding of Marx's critique and allow us to continue his work.

RedHughs
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Feb 21 2010 19:35

Jura, I actually don't disagree that much with the content of what you're saying here.

Quote:
It would be very convenient to blame it all on the historical situation of the working-class in the 19th century and that nasty left wing of capital, but I think it is more complicated. The contradictory tendencies in Marx also have to do with the general scientific outlook of the time and with the legacy of classical political economy - both of which he sought to overcome, but probably didn't fully realize to what extent he remained indebted to the tradition. (And this is not just the case of "economism", but also of the "substantialist" vs. "social" theory of value etc.)

This seems more like a disagreement about how to express a situation rather than a disagreement about what occurred. If one takes "the left" to mean some group of specific political tendencies, I agree that there was more going on than "the historical situation of the working-class in the 19th century and that nasty left wing of capital". But if "The Left" encompasses the scientific-managerial tendencies of capitalism, then the term can encompass the 19th century scientism you mention. In my understanding of Debord, he too is encompassing the tendencies of 19th century science rather than focusing on some specific political tendency as the problem.

Quote:
Economism in the sense of economic reductionism existed long before Marx or the mature workers' movement. It may well have played into the hands of the reformists and those who wanted to become the managers of class conflict, but I think Debord is constructing a seemingly all-explaining theory here without providing much evidence. To me, Debord is actually a typical example of the sort of philosophical obscurantism which was an overreaction to economic determinism.

And about discovering the "real Marx", my posts were a reaction to 30bananas' original post which suggested there was some sort of a methodological flaw (reductionism) in Marx's thought. I don't agree with that, and I don't think economic determinism or reductionism, even if it may be present in the Preface, is compatible with the rest of Marx's work. In other words, I think Marx's theoretical work can be plausibly interpreted as non-reductionist, and I believe that is the kind of interpretation that communists need today. And I don't see anything wrong in "hermeneutical" interpretations, as long as they deepen our understanding of Marx's critique and allow us to continue his work.

Well, I too was commenting on the original post, not commenting on your reply to it.

I would agree that the SI had an underdeveloped interest in political economy. Debord's weakness in this regard certainly can be in his post-SI writings. Despite this though, I like very much his approach of analyzing Marx as a tool for revolutionaries rather than a static text to be accepted or rejected.

I wasn't accusing you of anything. I don't know your positions well enough to characterize them. I do think that there is an anti-historical hermeneutic Marxist fundamentalist tendency that's visible today and worth remarking on . But the representatives of this I see are folks like the author of "Invaders From Marx" or the "Ruthless Criticism".

Now, what "reductionism" is and who's a reductionist is a different question, one that requires more fleshing out.