Re: [OPE-L] Derrida's ghosts

From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Wed Nov 09 2005 - 13:26:38 EST


> But then what are economic mechanisms? How must they be defined
> so that they exist cross historically and cross culturally? Where does
> Marx refer to economic mechanisms? Are relations of production
> always economic mechanisms? Does not Marx give explanatory
> primacy to the forms in which and the methods through which
> surplus labor is appropriated by one class from another? But are
> these forms and methods always 'economic'? And why is this Marx's
> theory of historical materialism? Didn't Richard Jones (and less
> so Steuart) say as much as  Marx himself recognizes?
> Why can't a class which does not directly appropriate surplus labor
> become socially paramount--say a bureaucratic elite? Who mediates
> how the even the direct appropriating class interprets and defines
> its own economic class? Why can't such a mediating class dominate
> civil society and politics?

There are too many questions here Rakesh, many of which I'm sure you
can answer yourself. I must admit I'm a bit surprised you ask what
economic mechanisms are.

Marx's 18th Brumaire clearly demonstrates both that he was no economic
determinist and that he analysed events with an explanatory theory of
classes and their economic interests.

> >Economics constrains, but undertermines, social life.
> Why can't we say that about politics, religion, law and culture?

We can: there's feedback between all the ontological "levels". But
just because such phenomena are mutually constituitive doesn't imply
that they are all equally important given specific aims to change
social reality.

Another interesting feature of Marx's theory of historical materialism
is that "capitalism produces its own gravediggers", or more plainly,
the economic structure of society spontaneously generates opposition
to it, due to various internal contradictions. For example, trade
unionism existed prior to Marx's theories. So the subjective aims to
change social reality tend to be caused by pervasive and structural
features of economic relations. The idea there is a "motor" to
history, that there are overriding mechanisms that tend to give it an
intelligible direction, is very Hegelian, and in sharp contrast to
postmodernist views of history.

> Does Marx say that class exploitation is always the cause of net social ills?
> Then why can't it be overthrown at will? Is it automatically abolished once
> it becomes the cause of net social ills (pretending that social
> accounting is possible).

I'm afraid I don't understand you here. But I understand Marx's
scientific aims as an attempt to understand the objective, economic
causes of social ills, in general abstracting away, that is initially
controlling for, individual differences, geographical differences,
temporary scarcities, varieties of state arrangements compatible with
capitalist social relations of production etc. I'm sure he thought
that the study of economics was the most important thing to do in the
time he was living, and was more than happy to tell people about his
scientific findings and its relation to political activity, such as in
the Critique of the Gotha program.

> Well postmodernists whoever they are are obviously saying that Marx's theory
> is simply too abstract, that it gives us no bridge from abstract
> theory to concrete society.

Postmodernists do exist, although they may be jumping ship post-Sokal.
So I wouldn't be too sceptical about the existence of a referent for
this term.

But anyhow, as you know, much of the history of the Marxist movement
consists of the feedback between theory and political practice, i.e.
it is social science with a deliberate attempt at social engineering.
I use the loaded term "social engineering" on purpose because I prefer
to call a spade a spade: politics of all kinds is social engineering
with a mandate. It's about giving direction to society. So if that is
a criticism of Marx's theory I think it completely misses the mark.

> But perhaps the myth/science distinction is not always so clear. Darwin
> for example.

I take it as our job to make it clear, in all areas of knowledge.
Darwin got lucky with an spontaneously constructed, controlled
experiment: the Galapagos islands. Each island was a little laboratory
to study evolution. The original finch species had adapted to the
different niches, but the isolation of the islands controlled for new
species immigration.


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