[OPE-L:2074] Re: subjectivity

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Sat, 4 May 1996 06:26:49 -0700

[ show plain text ]

As is so frequently the case, current debates on Marxism tend to have
long histories. In what follows, I will briefly assert two factors which
led to this dichotomy re subjectivity within the history of thought.

(1) In Marx's time and in the decades that followed, the major
battleground *philosophically* was between materialism and idealism. I
believe that many German, Austrian, and Russian Social Democrats - after
Marx - believed that any reference to subjectivity was a concession to
idealism. This, perhaps, was also affected by the rise of marginalism and
the subjective theory of value. Yet, the writings of Kautsky, Bauer,
Plekhanov, etc. have a contradictory legacy to the extent that the
subject was vacated from the theory, *but* the political conclusion often
emphasized class struggle. This can be seen most clearly in the political
conclusions of Bauer's and Kautsky's crisis theories. Yet, how is the
subject integrated within the theory itself?

(2) Although there were courtships with idealism by some schools of
Marxism, e.g. Sartre and the existentialists, this debate has primarily
unfolded *within* the materialist tradition. Two factors seem of
particular relevance historically. The primary factor, I would suggest,
was the degeneration and ossification of Marxist theory that occurred
within the Soviet Union following Stalin's rise to power. In many ways,
philosophically, Marxist theory became vulgarized in a similar way that
Ricardian theory degenerated following Ricardo. In other countries, there
was a revulsion against both Stalinist practice and theory. The second
factor was the (coincidental?) timing of the publication (especially in
English) of the _Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844_ and,
later, the _Grundrisse_. In the context of the developments in the USSR,
the publication of these works may have influenced the development of
Marxist theory more than the publication of Volumes 2 and 3 of _Capital_
in the decades following Marx's death. For instance, following the
publication of the _Paris Manuscripts_, there was a "Young Marx" movement
(e.g. Sartre, the Frankfurt School, Marcuse, Korsch, etc.) which, in
turn, gave birth to a counter-tendency perhaps best represented by the
works of Althusser. With the publication of the _Grundrisse_,
developments took a new turn. Clearly, writers like Toni Negri and (our own)
Mike L. were heavily influenced by the publication of that work. Yet,
could the _Grundrisse_ be said to be "idealist"? I think not. Yet, the
Hegelian heritage in that work is clearly more visible than in _Capital_
(although, it is obviously present in _Capital_ as well, as Althusser

Beyond the above, I would also suggest that the question of subjectivity
is related to our interpretations of ... <you guessed it> ... "the 6 book
plan." Was the subject of wage-labor incorporated into _Capital_, as
Rosdolsky suggests, or is there something *missing*, i.e. the book on
wage-labour (Mike L's favorite theme)?

So, in brief, I would suggest that this debate has been framed both by
historical circumstances, the timing of the publications of Marx's works,
and terminological confusion.

With the publication of "new" works of M&E by MEGA and the translation of
previously unpublished works by M&E into English and other languages, one
might expect Marxists to again be influenced by these developments. Yet,
it hasn't happened yet to any great extent. Perhaps that will change.

In OPE-L Solidarity,