technology ; class struggle determinism; practical-critical activity

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Wed Mar 10 12:15:55 PST 1999

I agree with Carrol. There are:

means of production (technology)

relations of production (classes)

mode of production (property form or relationship between classes and technology).

Marxism holds that the relations of production, class struggle, not technology , is the ultimate determinant of changes in the mode of production. The goal of the communist movement is abolition of private property, not all modern technology. For , capitalist exploitation is not inherent in modern technology. This is Ludditism per se. Marx mentions the Luddite machine smashers in _Capital_.

As Carrol says, it is a form of capitalist commodity fetishism to endow things, objects with control over people, and Marx certainly doesn't make this error. Marx is the one who coined the notion and critique of commodity fetishism.

Marx's shorthand comments about the hand mill and the water wheel might be an appeal to the "Progressive" thinkers of his day to change the world. For Marx the unity of theory and practice, practical-critical activity, is crucial, so he was always propgandizing to the living population, even in his scientific works. This is Marxist unity of epistemology and ethics ,or of the thing being to change the world ,not just interpret it. Only living people can change the world. That's relations of production determinism. So, though theoretically somewhat incorrect, it would be sectarian for Marx not to try to appeal to the "Progressives" of his day to some extent, sacrificing us today to some confusion , in trying to make the revolution in his day. _Capital_ is not just a book for the scholastic ages. It is equally a manual for action in 1867.

Charles Brown

>>> Carrol Cox <cbcox at> 03/10/99 02:35PM >>>
>The question is, how does this relate to Marx's thinking? If modes of
>production (technologies) are the primary determinant of social

The few scattered observations by Marx that gave credence to this idiocy are probably the most disastrous words in his collected works, for the position that technology is in any but utterly trivial ways any kind of "determinant of social relations" is about as profoundly un-marxist as it is possible to be.

Ellen Wood devotes about a third of her *Democracy against Capitalism* to a polemic against technological determinism, a view that she quite properly sees as simply denying history (including class struggle).

What I mean by trivial is that some level of technology is an obvious precondition for almost set of social relations one might name. It would be hard for example to imagine monopoly capitalism in a world limited to paleolithic technology. Big Deal. The use of technology is always determined by social relations, never the other way around. The apparent independence of technology under capitalism is a major element in capitalist ideology, probably related to what Marx called commodity fetishism.

Marxists (or perhaps one should say "Marxists") who adhere to some form of technological determinism usually are at heart believers in the 19th century doctrine of inevitable Progress (with a capital P). Perhaps that had its effect on Marx at the moment when he penned those silly remarks on the hand mill and the water wheel.


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