[OPE] Question to Marxologists: Mode of production

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Tue Sep 02 2008 - 16:33:33 EDT

The point is that, according to Marx, ANY society has a mode of production. It also has - as Marx learnt early on from James Mill - a mode of distribution, a mode of circulation and a mode of consumption, which together define its economy.

If Marx focused specifically on the capitalist "mode of production", the reasons were that:

(1) he wanted to explain what happens when commodity trade subsumes the whole production process of a society, i.e. what happens when production becomes completely dominated and regulated according the movements of capital, such that capitalist production is the unity of production and circulation.

(2) he regarded this particular mode of production as historically rather unique, because it was inherently expansionary, and tended to displace all other modes of production around the globe; world trade was its historical presupposition, but the expansion of the world market led to the capitalist transformation of production all round. In other words, increasingly all inputs and outputs of production were priced commodities within a circuit of capitalist trade.

(3) according to the materialist interpretation of history, the mode of production "determines" the mode of distribution, circulation and consumption in an overall sense.

When Althusser distinguishes in the way that he does between "mode of production" and "social formation", this just creates analytical confusion. [snip] The end result of Althusser's theoreticism is the exact opposite of what he intends - far from equipping people to explain what determines what, and analyze society, "everything (the social, economic, ideological and political aspects) - determines everything else". The different aspects could align or configure in all sorts of different ways and the causal chains could run in all sorts of different ways.

But that is an abuse of the purpose of theory, because theory consists precisely of generalisations from experience but not reducible to particular experiences, which aim to explain why phenomena necessarily occur as they do, and not in a different way, providing an orientation for behaviour. All that Althusser has left is an interpretation, made at an astronomic level of abstraction, according to which "in general" effectively anything can happen, but this theory for that very reason provides nil orientiation or guidance, other than if you believe Althusser's judgement about what determines what, in a particular instance or in general. It just provides a convenient excuse for "authorative" academics to pontificate about their own view of the world, that is all. But a social scientist wants to know why that view is better or more valid than any other, and indeed what produces it, in the first place. All that is really happening is that Althusser inherited dreary Stalinist dogma, and then he tries to relativise it and make it more subtle.

Is there anything salvagable from Althusser? Yes. The notion of a "problematic", i.e. the notion that people problematise situations in different ways, and that in so doing they are influenced by ideology. The "problematic" as a noun is quite an ordinary word in French, German, Dutch etc. referring to a "problem area" or a "set of problems related to a theme" or "the way a cluster of problems are related to each other". The way the problem is framed obviously influences the possible solutions or answers, and thus, as Marx already noted, the challenge is to analyse how the problems and questions are posed, what is really behind the "riddlewords" (the seemingly unsolvables) of the era. Beyond that, the challenge is to understand how things are problematized, what is considered a problem and what is not, "who says" it is a problem, what is being assumed and so on. That is the foundation of critical thought and independent thought. Unfortunately Althusser himself had an uncanny knack for posing problems in a way that they cannot be solved in principle, or at least cannot be solved other than by an appeal to Marxist authority. And thus, while he advocates critical thought, he ends up denying it.


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Received on Tue Sep 2 16:38:44 2008

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