Analytical Marxism

Sam Pawlett epawlett at
Fri Dec 4 12:09:08 PST 1998

On Thu, 03 Dec 1998 14:10:37 -0500, "Jim F." <debfar at> wrote: How do you plan on fusing dialectics with r-c theory? R-c theory and dialectics,seem to me, to be mutually exclusive. R-c theory focuses on the behavior of individuals and the unintended consequences of individuals' behavior( invisible hand explanations). R-c theorists believe that the individual is ontologically prior to society i.e. that the part is ontologically prior to the whole. Dialectics, on the other hand, starts with the whole and investigates the dialectical relations between the parts. The parts by acting upon each other change the nature of each other. Levins and Lewontin put it much better than i can; " 'Part' and 'whole' have a special relationship to each other, in that one cannot exist without the other, any more than 'up' can exist wihtout 'down'. What constitutes the parts is defined by the whole that is being considered. Moreover, parts acquire properties by virtue of being parts of a particular whole, properties they do not have in isolation or as parts of another whole. It is not that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but that the parts acquire new properties. But as the parts acquire properties by being together, they impart to the whole new properties, which are reflected in changes in the parts and so on. Parts and wholes evolve in consequence of this relationship. and th relationship itself evolves. These are the properties of things we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist with out the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration." DB p 3.

One of the strengths of marxism is that it analises dynamic processes. R-c theory is a static theory that analises phenomena in only one point in space-time. The Austrians are the only others who examine dynamic processes. R-c theory examines the behavior of individuals and not social relations between individuals it is thus a form of fetishism. What distinguishes marxism from bourgeois social science is above all its method. Consider Lukacs; "Orthodox marxism...does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx's investigations. It is not the 'belief' in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a 'sacred' book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusevely to method....Only in this context which sees the isolated facts of social life as aspects of the historical process and integrates them in a totality, can knowledge of the facts hope to become knowledge of reality... The crudeness and conceptual nullity of such thought lies primarily in the fact that it obscure the histroical, transitory nature of capitalisat society. Its determinants take on the appearance of timeless, eternal categories valid for all social formations. ..The dialectical method was overthrown and with it the methodological supremacy of the totality over the individual aspects; the parts were prevented from finding their definition within in the whole and, instead, the whole was dismissed as unscientific or else it degenerated into the mere 'idea' or 'sum' of the parts. With the totality out of the way, the fetishistic relations of the isolated parts appeared as a timeless law valid for every human society...Marx's dictum 'The relations of production of every society form a whole" is the methodological point of departure and the key to the historical understanding of social relations" Lukacs HCC p1-9.

R-c theory in its analysis often commits a fallacy of composition. Cohen's locked room argument is an example. The IMF-WB analysis is another. ONe country may be able to have export led growth and export its way out of debt, but this is not true for all countries simultaneously. Competition between exporters will force prices down and too much of on eproduct will saturate first world markets.The IMF only looks at the individual country i.e. at the parts. It does not examine the country from the standpoint of the totality of relations between countries.

I do find some r-c theory interesting; the work of David Gauthier and Elster's early work like Logic and Society. Elster points out in Ulysses and the Sirens, that Marx's view of the state is where the state acts as an agent to enforce the cooperative solution to the prisoners's dilemma in the ruling class while acting to enforce that everyone defects in the working class

>Concerning AM, I think that there is still much to be said for G.A.
>original project for bringing the intellectual armenatum of analytic
>philosophy to bear on the problem of elucidating and reconstructing
>Marxist theory. As one who grew up intellectually, admiring such
>philosophers as Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, and Quine I find such
>a project to be irresistable. However, having said that we must query
>the kind of Marxism that Cohen proposes to analyze and reconstruct.
>Right in the intro for _Karl Marx's Theory of History_, Cohen wrote
>that he was relying upon the Marxism of Plekhanov. But Plekhanov's
>version of Marxism was already moribound by the time of the First
>World War!! No wonder as the radical optimism from the '60s faded
>and the USSR later imploded that Cohen should make a 180 degree change
>in course and decide that historical materialism {as he understood
>it) was wrong and he should attempt to substitute what is basically
>an ethical socialism in place of Classical Marxism.
>Lou Proyect has pointed out that the works of Cohen (and of Roemer,
>Elster et al.) are written very much from a First World perspective.
>The quote from Cohen that Bill Magdalene provide make that apparent.
>Cohen expresses pessimism concerning the alleged "inevitability" of
>socialism because he says that the proleatariat is no longer growing
>in size. But Cohen neglects to point out that is only true if we look
>just at First World countries like the USA or Britain. If we take a
>global perspective then it is apparent that the proletariat is still
>growing in numbers but most of this growth is taking place in the
>Third World. Therefore, while many of Marx's more specific predictions
>concerning the development of capitalism may have been in error or in
>need of modification it is by no means apparent that his more general
>statements concerning its longterm prognosis were necessarily wrong,
>especially if we view things on a global basis.
>Concerning the other AMs like Elster & Roemer, I would likewise say
>that yes, rational choice theory undoubtedly has much to contribute
>to Marxism but they are most certainly mistaken if they believe that
>rational choice theory can fully replace dialectics or if they believe
>that they can reduce Marxian theory to rational choice (and as Elster
>proposed, chucking out everything in Marxism that cannot be so reduced).
> Jim F.
>Louis N Proyect wrote:
>> What happened with Cohen is that he has recoiled from his earlier AM
>> "optimism" because he can not reconcile working-class appetites for
>> 4-wheel drive autos, etc. with the overall ecological needs of the planet.
>> This really points to the bankruptcy of market socialism, rather than any
>> flaw in Marxism itself.


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