Marxist and Bourgeois Categories, was Re: GDP is unscientific and unfair for poor people.

Jim heartfield jim at
Tue Aug 31 16:29:19 PDT 1999

I would not get hung up on Marxist categories, but most categories have a capacity for being ossified to the point that they mask instead of revealing the underlying relations.

One of the great difficulties of the formal rehearsal of Marx's categories is that they generally remain a dogmatic assertion with no attempt to relate them to the economy. So the restatement of organic compositions and so on does not really offer a contrast to empirical economic data. On the contrary, failing to engage with it, it simply leaves the field of empiricism to vulgar economics while saving a discrete realm for theoretical correctness, unsullied by empirical investigation.

I thought that the weakness of Shaikh and Tonak's Measuring the Weslth of Nations was that it hoped for too close a fit between empirical economic data and the category surplus value, which, after all, exists at a level of abstraction from the surface appearance of market relations. In other words S&T had the advantage over, say, David Yaffe or Simon Clarke, that they were at least trying to relate the categories to the material. But they tended simply to map Marxist categories formalistically on top of the economic data.

Marx by contrast developed his categories out of the economic material of his day. These reflections of the economy in the minds of the bourgeois were not just illusions, but real forms of existence of capital, as reflected in thought.

I would say that you can just reactivate Marx's categories in relation to the material, but you will still be repeating his results rather than his methods. The greater challenge is to develop theory out of the empirical categories of the economy as it is presented to us today. That means taking the ordinary economic thinking of our own day, and trying to capture the real movement and relations under the fetishistic terminology under which present-day production is reflected in thought.

I would say that the most important contemporary economic discussions are not about financial instruments, or labour processes, but about the environment. Environmentalism is the most developed and ideological discussion of economics at the moment. It is the only discourse in which production processes, global economic relations, class are discussed. Through the prisms of pollution and the environment, the most extensive discussion of socio-economic relations is taking place. But the form of that discussion is deeply fetishised, which is why it is such a pisser that so many here seem to assume the validity of the categories of environmentalism. People who would automatically see categories like 'Capital' or 'profit' as deeply mystified seem to take their modern-day equivalents - 'appropriate technology', 'environmental risk', 'pollution' or 'species diversity' - as if they were transparently self- evident terms.

In message <37CC5863.A005A834 at>, Carrol Cox <cbcox at> writes
>I would like to see more discussion of the intersection and
>overlapping of bourgeios and marxist economic categories,
>but I don't quite see why it has (at least to begin with) to
>be cast in terms of who does what worse.
>Fabian Balardini wrote:
>> On Tue, 31 Aug 1999 17:24:23 Doug Henwood wrote:>
>>>Marxists love to play with the categories of national income
>>>accounting, but I can't imagine any who'd denounce the general
>>>project as fraudulent crap.
>>so what is your alternative to handle data then????
>>You are the one who prefer burgeois categories as opposed to marxist
>>categories derived from them, as you have made clear a while ago on the
>>exchange on productive labor. This means that you believe everything is
>> fine with the Keynesian categories and the theoretical framework behind
>>the measurement of GDP.
>>I don't understand why you now turn around and accuse Marxist
>>economists of 'toying' around with these categories when you are
>>doing the same or worse because you are not even challenging these

-- Jim heartfield

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