[OPE-L:6070] Re: Against Economic Determinism

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Mon Oct 15 2001 - 08:35:42 EDT

Hi Howard -- it's good to hear from you. Re [6066]:

> There's a theoretical issue that runs through
> discussions of this sort that
> Marx signaled in the 1857 Preface.  There's no doubt that those who act
> motivated by all manner of things, not exclusively economic, especially
> religious, etc.  But it is another thing to argue that events can
> by immediate motivations.  I just read a brief review of the Peasant Wars
> in Germany in the 16th century.  If you looked to the statements made by
> the parties involved you would explain what occurred in relgious terms
> above all.  But that would not constitute a reliable explanation of the
> momentous social and class forces in play.  <snip, JL>

There are several issues here.

1) I agree that one can not take an individual's or group's explanation for
individual or group beliefs or actions *without supporting evidence* to be
a reliable explanation for the historical events that they purport to
explain. One can not, after all, 'judge a book by its cover' (an expression
that Lenin was known to cite).

2) One can not take an outline of historical change -- the long sweep of
history so to speak -- and necessarily apply that to all individual
events. And nowhere does Marx suggest that what he labeled as his
'general conclusion' (in the "Preface" to _A Contribution to the Critique
of Political Economy_) can be applied in all particular instances of class
analysis.  If we were to take Marx's 'general conclusion' as a 'guide'
for conducting class and conjunctural analysis then we would be committing
a version of the *fallacy of division* (the fallacy of believing that the
quality of a group also is a quality of all members of the group).  In other
we can not infer from what is true from the standpoint of class struggle
throughout history is also true (or can be applied mechanistically) to all
individual historical events.

3) Just as there are dangers of moving from an analysis of the general to
analysis of the particular, there are also dangers when moving from an
analysis of the particular to an analysis of the general. E.g. one has to
be careful that one does not commit the *fallacy of composition* (the
fallacy of believing that what is a property for a member of a group is also
a property of the group.)  This might suggest caution when we move from
the analysis of class struggle in an individual nation to the analysis of
class struggle in a region (we also have to be careful when we move from
an analysis of individual markets to the overall macroeconomy and when
we move from an analysis of one economy to an analysis of the international
economy, etc.).

4) All of this suggests that the concrete process of developing historical,
class, and conjunctural analyses from a Marxist perspective is by no means
easy!  Another issue that we must be concerned with -- if we expect our
'analysis' to be something more than ideological in composition -- is to
make sure that there is reliable statistical and/or historical evidence for
analysis.  In other words, we must be concerned that, based on a critical
empirical examination, our 'perceived truths' are actually true: thus our
can not be based on what sounds 'politically correct' (to use an over-used
expression) -- those conclusions must be based on what *is* correct, i.e.
what the facts are (something that is often difficult to get at in practice)
rather than what we want or suppose them to be.

> In other words, in working with oil, religion and other issues, we
> want to sort out not only the immediate motivations in terms of which
> people act, but also the underlying structural forces that drive events
> motivations; we have to distinguish the forms and substance of struggle.

Agreed ... but for reasons cited above (and for *many* other reasons as
well), this is by no means a simple or easy process!

What do others think about these issues?

In solidarity, Jerry

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