[OPE-L] Analytical Marxism (was Lange's vindication)

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Apr 23 2007 - 14:06:48 EDT

Hi Jerry,

The usual suspects in Analytical Marxism - dissecting the corpse as it
were - are G. A. Cohen (philosopher), John Roemer (economist), Jon Elster
(philosopher), Adam Przeworski (politicial scientist), Erik Olin Wright
(sociologist), Philippe van Parijs (social theorist), and Robert-Jan van der
Veen (politicologist).
I was a bit harsh in my judgement of what they do, because some of their
insights are very valuable indeed. You always have to remember these people
are socialists, whatever their Marxist faults.

Cohen came from a Jewish milieu and frequented the circles of the Canadian
communists as far as I remember. He wrote the pioneering book about Karl
Marx's theory of history. The basic storyline of this book is oldfashioned
Stalinist historicism, in other words productive force determinism and
economic determinism. Marx himself of course never subscribed to this, or to
a "theory of history" or a "philosophy of history" for that matter. That was
Hegel's  thing, and Marx rejected it, precisely because it was speculative.
The materialist conception of history was to be just a "guiding thread"
(Leitfaden) for empirical historical research, and to be modified by the
results of that research. The most progressive thing that Cohen did was to
ask, "what does Marx mean, in plain English?".

When Cohen stops talking about "historical materialism", and starts talking
about ethics, he suddenly becomes very, very interesting. His best insights
concern the notions of freedom and egalitarianism.

Cohen makes great play about the fact that the materialist conception of
history does not logically entail a labour theory of value. Of course he is
correct about that! As Johan Witt-Hansen pointed out, the analysis of
capitalism using the theory of value was supposed to be a demonstration of
the validity of the materialist conception of history. If it could be
logically inferred from it, it would not be a demonstration at all.


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